Pioneers of the Colorado Parks by Richard Barth

Review by Ed Quillen

Local History – March 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Pioneers of the Colorado Parks – North, Middle, and South Parks from 1850 to 1900
by Richard Barth
Published in 1997 by the Caxton Printers
ISBN 0-87004-381-1

IN THE MOUNTAINS of Colorado, a park is not a playground, but a mountain-rimmed valley. This usage comes from the French trappers’ parc, which meant an enclosed space. French influence from the north pretty well stopped at the Arkansas River, which is why there’s a South Park from the French, and a San Luis Valley from the Spanish.

Such parks can be relatively small, like Taylor Park or Estes Park, but the three main parks are North Park (Jackson County), Middle Park (Grand County), and South Park (Park County).

This book has a section for each of the three major parks. Each section offers fifteen tales from yesteryear, with each story getting about four pages. In other words, this is a collection of well-told anecdotes, each capable of standing on its own, rather than any sort of narrative.

Topics range from those who seldom appear in other histories (Rattlesnake Jack, a gamey-smelling fellow hired in 1900 to exterminate wolves in North Park) to familiar tales, like Old Mose and the Espinosa brothers in South Park. Murders and lynchings get a fair amount of attention, but so also does the fabric of daily life, as with the account of Grandma Martin in North Park, drawn from diary selections and amplified by the author’s copious research.

In general, the prose is smooth and swift. Here’s a sample, from a chapter about Gottlieb Fluhmann, who had a small ranch in South Park:

“In the early 1880s, Fluhmann built a beautiful log cabin at the edge of a lush, spring-fed meadow near Tarryall Creek…. Large windows, five in all, overlooked the surrounding meadows in all directions except the west…. Inside, thick planks covered the floor and sanded boards lined the interior walls. Attention to detail was found everywhere, and perhaps best exemplified by the built-in cabinets and the molding around the plank ceiling….

“Few visitors ever enjoyed the beauties of Fluhmann’s cabin, for he was a suspicious, argumentative, and flighty old man with almost no friends and no relatives closer than St. Louis…. With his faithful dog, he carefully checked his cattle every day, armed with an 1886 model .38-caliber Marlin rifle strapped to his saddle and a .45-caliber pistol under his coat. Fluhmann was convinced that someone was stealing his beloved cattle, but he was at a loss to stop the rustling.”

Fluhmann constructed a perch about a mile away, in a high rock cleft, where he could peer through his surveying transit and perhaps spot the rustlers. But nobody in South Park knew that; his neighbors missed him, and eventually he was declared dead in 1894 and his estate was disposed of.

But in 1944, “a hiker on military leave decided to tackle the rock outcrop overlooking the remains of a long-forgotten cabin…. Finding himself stranded, he started down the northeast face of the outcrop. Part way down he encountered a crevice, then noticed a window sitting upright in a frame. He slid the window to one side and peered into Fluhmann’s hideout….

“Fluhmann’s possessions were found undisturbed and in excellent condition. The old rancher’s body was near the center of the hideout. Beside Fluhmann was his Marlin rifle, loaded and cocked, and the remains of his faithful dog.

“The mystery of Fluhmann’s disappearance was finally solved, but not that of how he died.”

Barth then examines the rumors of murder, and concludes that the suspect named by the local gossip mill was an unlikely candidate — it’s the kind of good and interesting writing that appears throughout the book.

My quarrels with it are minor. I used to live in Kremmling, where we put out the weekly newspaper, the Middle Park Times. We certainly thought we were in Middle Park, but Barth draws the park’s western boundary at Byers Canyon, rather than 20 miles to the west, at the Gore Canyon boundary that everybody else uses.

But that’s a quibble; this book offers thorough research and solid writing while enhancing our regional lore with some stories that have either fallen out of circulation, or never gotten the circulation they deserved in the first place.

— Ed Quillen