Your top destination to learn about Steamboat Springs history! Your top destination to learn about Steamboat Springs history!
Your top destination to learn about Steamboat Springs history! Your top destination to learn about Steamboat Springs history! Your top destination to learn about Steamboat Springs history!
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Colorado Western History Book Recommendations

The following books are recommended reads for anybody interested in the history of Northwest Colorado. Stories of western life and significant events that shaped the development of this area can be found among these books. If you would like further direction, please inquire at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

Top Book Recommendation

Nothing Daunted
This book reads like a fascinating novel, but it’s a true story of two restless society girls who left their affluent lives to "rough it” as teachers in the wilds of Colorado in 1916. In the summer of 1916, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, bored by society luncheons, charity work, and the effete men who courted them, left their families in Auburn, New York, to teach school in Northwest Colorado. They lived with a family of homesteaders in the Elkhead Mountains and rode to school on horseback, often in blinding blizzards. Their students walked or skied, in tattered clothes, and shoes tied together with string. The young cattle rancher who had lured them west, Ferry Carpenter, had promised them the adventure of a lifetime. He hadn’t let on that they would be considered dazzling prospective brides for the locals. Nearly a hundred years later, Dorothy Wickenden, the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff, found the teacher’s letters, which captured the voices of the pioneer women, the children, and other unforgettable people in the area. In reconstructing the journey, Wickenden has created an exhilarating saga about two intrepid women and their adventures in the West.

Yampa Valley Sin Circuit
Written by author and historian Laurel Watson, this book takes a look at the formidable side of civilization during the mid to late 1800s in Northwest Colorado. "The other side of the tracks” or Brooklyn, in Steamboat Springs, represents the Red Light District. However, this way of doing business was not exclusive to Steamboat. The book covers related stories that span the area of Craig, Hayden, Hahns Peak and Steamboat. It’s one of the few books of this time period that provides insight on life as a woman, and life as an unmarried woman. Despite the glory that goes along with the cowboy, they were the main solicitors of these establishments. Prostitutes, alcohol, and gambling were hand in glove activities. The best way that the "civilized” persons were able to manage the situation was to create a "district” or an area that was "outside” of town. The stories in this book reveal real human struggles and what life was like then: no fairy tales, just the unpleasant truth about humanity. Prohibition enforced in 1920, basically shut down most areas of ill-repute. However, this is not entirely true either, this marked the beginning of bootlegging. Prostitution existed in conjunction with bootlegging; both activities became a part of the "underground.”

The Shepherdess of the Elk River Valley, written and narrated by the Author Margaret Duncan Brown. Provides vivid insight on life as an early rancher, turned Shepherdess, in the Elk River Valley. Unique stories are told by a widow who pursued the sheep business as a single woman. Like many early settlers, she reflects on the consuming beauty of this area. Her experiences working with sheep, life on the farm, and living a simple lonely life, are the embodiment of her tales. She is a thinker and writes with rich reflections on life, life as a widow, and as a rancher in the early 1900s. This is a unique book for that time and any time, past or present. She makes a statement for women, for humanity, and the will to be an individual.

Miracle on Buffalo Pass
A memoir of Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217. This incredible story told by author and passenger Harrison Jones, is about how Flight 217 in December 1978, went down just east of Buffalo Pass. The miracle part is that out of a total of 22 passengers, 20 survived. It’s also about how rescue teams formed in Steamboat and surrounding counties, and even the Steamboat Ski Area donated snowcats to assist with the rescue. The story of the crash victims is graphically described in a truthful manner, letting the reader peer into human character at their most desperate level. At the very least, this story reminds Steamboat residents what an isolated area we live in and mother nature is not to be contended with. Bad weather means stay home. Planes crashing just west of Steamboat, over the continental divide, has become a recurrence from the time of Flight 217 crash. This plane was downed not just due to snow and icy conditions. The tremendous downdrafts rolling over the divided, combined with icing conditions is what forced this plane down. A must read for any person who thinks they can commute to Steamboat on a definitive schedule.

Is There a Hospital in This Place
Author Christine McKelvie, tells the historical story and timeline of the Steamboat Memorial Hospital as it develops over the decades. The hospital opened April 13th, 1914 and so did the story of the evolving hospital. The original hospital staff consisted of one head nurse and five attending physicians, which included the dedicated Dr. Willett. The development of the hospital has always been and still is, community-based. Tax dollars have not been used to sustain or develop this organization. It is the earliest example of philanthropic giving to better the Routt County community. The hospital brought the community together by providing employment and service to this area. Many of the stories touch on the joining of community members, staff and doctor’s willful efforts to make the hospital what it is today. The Yampa Valley Medical Center, is a place that local residents and hospital staff are very proud of. It is an institution that has bonded this area from the beginning and still is a major part of the fabric of Routt County today. This book is a must-read for locals or those who wish to remember the impact this caregiving center has had on their life.

The Boys at The Bar
Sureva Towler, an award-winning history author who resides in Steamboat Springs, brings a colorful book of modern western tales to life. She captures the current changing times of modern civilization, between the "new” populous and the not so distant past, traditional western lifestyle. The stories express struggles, ironies, and progress in a dialogue between the then and now, making reference to the "Boys at The Bar” throughout the book. The "Boys” provide insight into how things used to be. These reflections are juxtaposed against the current "now” and depict how our community is being shaped. The characters in the book are real people from this area. The stories and reflections are also true; however, the points of view are perhaps slighted and often placed in a comical context. The book provides a view into our current era, a time that is not frequently captured in story and easily overlooked.

Then and Now History Pictures
The Then and Now History Pictures published in 2009 is a collection of images that compares historical buildings and landscapes as early as the late 1880s to 2009. The book has high-quality images and includes historical references to put into perspective the influences of the times. It's an enticing book to look at and review. Although the historical time span covered is not that long, at most 200 years, the landscapes of the Yampa Valley have changed dramatically. The reader gets to peer into the window of the not so distant past with a real sense of familiarity and belonging.

How Pleasant is The Valley
Elaine Gay was a true pioneer in Routt County, a ranch wife, mother of three, and famous cook; her hospitality was widely known. She was fearless in preserving the ranch lands of Pleasant Valley, 12 miles south of Steamboat Springs, from development. She calls her book a "historical perspective”’ and she writes on topics from the early day buffalo "wallows” and Native Americans to her personal history and encounters with neighbors in Pleasant Valley. Reading her descriptions of early life on the ranch are a delight, and her book contains many fascinating stories of rural life in early Routt County, eccentric neighbors, and often survival and adventure. This book is a must read and a true treasure to savor.

Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp
This is a story of two young women who had a vision of developing a performing arts camp nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield lived this dream when they opened Perry Mansfield in July, 1914. Perry Mansfield is recognized as the oldest continuing performing arts camp in the U.S. today. The camp was and is full of novelties such as, combining dance with nature, modern dance and ballet, English and western style horseback riding, and fine arts too. The camp and the Perry Mansfield story brings hope to all. It was especially liberating for women, in the early 1900s, to be able to express themselves in the arts and allowed them to be ambitious, outgoing people. The story follows the camp from the beginning, and progresses into PM dance performances throughout the country and what it is today. It reflects PM during war times, square dances in Steamboat, the influence the camp had on famous actors and their careers, plus more. It’s fascinating to read about such an impressionable achievement that came right out of Steamboat in such a raw day and age.

Steamboat Springs Memories of a Young Colorado Pioneer
Marcellus Samuel Merrill, the author, shares his life experiences as a youth growing up in Steamboat Springs, CO., during the early 1900s. His stories take the reader back in time to the simple life of rural Routt County, where fun was catching grayling fish in Fish Creek or playing marbles. However, much of his life along with those that lived in NW Colorado was not easy. Surviving meant being self-sufficient. Jobs where hard to come by and very labor intensive. His stories tell us about the beauty and difficulties of living in Routt County. Although struggles were different during the early settlement time, NW Colorado remains a challenging place to live.

Steamboat Round the Bend
This book illuminates Steamboat from its founding until the mid-1970s. Dee Richards’s book is a fascinating snapshot into the past. It has a detailed and concise storyline of early life in Steamboat Springs. The story starts with the arrival of the Crawfords, the founding family and first homesteaders. With each chapter, another layer of the community’s growth is added as the evolution of the town progressed. Roads, schools, churches, a library, a newspaper, the hospital, and hotels were built creating a tight-knit community at the turn of the century. Included in the book are many pictures, maps, and statistics that bring the past alive to its readers. As the book was written to commemorate the city’s Centennial Birthday, so the history ends in 1975. And how times have changed since then! Enjoy this reflection on a simpler way of life in Steamboat Springs.

The Cabin at Medicine Springs Experience life with the Crawford family as they establish their homestead in Steamboat Springs. This novel entails stories of daily life challenges when living in this unsettled territory. The time is the late 1800s, and the Crawford land filing coincides with the events surrounding the Meeker Massacre. The novel is captivating and brings an intimate feeling to the surrounding territories, the presence of Indians, and struggles. The story draws you into the rawness of the land and the eerie somewhat mystical events that lead up to their land claim.

The Shining Mountains
In 1873 when Lulie Crawford was just eight years old, she and her family left their farm in Sedalia, Missouri and headed west in a covered wagon, over the Rocky Mountains to homestead in what is now Steamboat Springs. From the age of 12, Lulie kept diaries and years later, her daughter Lulita Crawford Pritchett transformed these diaries into two books, one of which is The Shining Mountains. This book is fascinating as it brings a first-hand account of life on a covered wagon and what it was like to travel to an unknown place. You feel how scary it was to leave the wagon train in Denver and travel by themselves, struggling up Rollins Pass, how lonely it was for Lulie with no friends or pretty clothes, or toys, and how delighted she was when her beloved piano arrived from her grandparents in Missouri. This is a must-read for anyone who wants a true insight into the challenges, loneliness, and beauty of the Yampa Valley.

Cowpokes Cowpies & Otherwise
A cookbook written by local rancher Elaine Gay. The book opens with tales of living on a cattle ranch in the early to mid-1900s and how life revolved around the seasonal chores of calving, fencing and putting up hay. The tales are reminiscent of things from that past such as cowpies and cowpunchers. Everything revolved around getting work done, building an appreciative appetite (hunger) for the reader. Back then everything with the exception of basic commodities such as flour and sugar was cooked at the ranch. Meals were a notable part of the day and "all hands” came to eat, making meal preparation another important part of ranching. The cookbook includes recipes from all aspects of cuisine found in the daily diet of life on the ranch. Many of the recipes are favorites of today but often have slight twists or use products from the old. Many recipes include wild berries, wild game, ranch livestock or other local ingredients. Good wholesome cooking would be the best way to summarize the recipes. nts a true insight into the challenges, loneliness, and beauty of the Yampa Valley.

Historic Guide to Routt County
This historical guide book helps put into perspective the towns and special places that developed in Northwest Colorado during the turn of the century. It provides a historical overview of events dating from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s. The reader gets insight into significant events and changes in culture, including wars, the gold rush, development of coal mining, and how the county seat ended up in Steamboat. The book systematically reviews significant developments, businesses, schools, hospitals, and events that shaped Routt County and Steamboat.

Other Recommendations:

Where The Old West Stayed Young
This fascinating book is a must-read for the historian intrigued about western development. Events covered in this book are historically correct, providing an in-depth understanding of early pioneering and wars. Wars between the US government and the Native Americans are covered along with wars between cattlemen, sheepmen, and homesteaders. All of these fascinating facts are described in actual recounts of colorful western stories. Author, John Rolfe Burroughs, brings real meaning to life as a cowboy and living on the open range.
This book is only available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library - View book details here.

The Complete Cowboy Reader
This book begins post Civil War era; however, it explains the influence of the Spanish colonies' northern frontier into Texas during the 1700’s. It was this influence that developed the Texas Longhorn cattle and other hearty types. Once the great plains and Rocky Mountain region was "open”, clear of Native Americans. The open range cattle business began. Cattle was primarily driven out of Texas and into this region. The development of the Northern Pacific Railroad increased the demand to drive cattle north in order to ship cattle out. Along with the open range cattle business, the Cowboy, and all the romance surrounding this character also took shape. This book provides intricate details about the "Cowboy”. Their dress, their demeanor, and a rather clean-cut character is described. The dynamics of cattle drives are depicted. Even recounts of the excitement of working cattle and riding cow ponies. Overall this era is instrumental in developing the landscape of the west, most notably cattle ranching and brings understanding to how the American "Cowboy” came to be.
Book available at Barnes & Noble

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Tribal Lands Acknowledgement
The Board and Staff of the Tread of Pioneers Museum respectfully acknowledge the Ute people, the original inhabitants of Northwest Colorado, and other Indigenous Nations of this area where we now reside. We recognize that the establishment of this region impacted the lifeways of Native peoples and their communities. In accepting this, we are called to utilize this educational institution to teach stewardship of the land and continuing commitment to the inclusion and respect of these Nations and their traditional values for their homelands.