Life in the Early Days
By Maggie Magoffin
From “Life in the Early Days” by James K. Ramstetter 1910-1996. Permission of use granted by Mary Ramstetter.
Snow Storm of 1913
The weather in Golden Gate Canyon is varied. Most of the time, even in the middle of winter, the weather is pleasant and the roads are passable, but there were times when floods and heavy snows blocked travel.
Snow was, and still is a problem, particularly at the higher elevations. Golden is slightly over 6,000 feet in altitude and Central City is about 8,000 feet. Many parts of the road are over 9,000 feet high. It is not unusual for some storms to leave snow over five feet in depth. Any snow storms of two feet or more usually stopped all traffic, forcing people to stay at the nearest stage stop until the weather cleared.
One of the worse snow storms happened during December, 1913. This particular storm was statewide and left snow over four feet deep in Denver and Golden. Railroads and the street cars operating from Denver to Golden did not run for several days until rotary plows were used to clear the tracks to Golden. In the mountains, particularly up Golden Gate Canyon, travel was at a standstill, as the snow was over five feet deep.
At the time we were living about five miles out of Golden at a house that was a half-mile from the main road. The storm got so severe that many people were unable to reach their homes and finally had to unlock the horses from the wagons and rode bareback to the nearest home or stage stop. Twelve people and fourteen horses came to our house to get out of the storm. I was about three years old and remember when my father opened the kitchen door, and the snow was up to the top of the door opening. Our Uncle Otto, who lived over the hill about two miles from us, walked all the way through the storm to borrow a sack of flour and then walked back home with it. The storm finally let up after three days. With all the extra people and horses, we were soon out of food and hay.
When some of the snow had melted, everybody decided to try to get to Golden. Our father was lucky to have a large bobsled. With our father driving the team and bobsled, we had our mother, me, my younger sister Frances, and my twin brother Ralph on the sled with the Nelson family of four who lived near us. Our neighbors who had come to our house to get out of the storm rode horseback ahead of the sled to break the path through the snow. It took nearly eight hours to travel the five miles to Golden where things were not much better. The No. 84 street car from Golden to Denver had started to run again, so we got on it and went on into Denver to stay with our maternal grandmother. Ralph told our grandmother that we rode out of the mountains on a board.
Denver was in bad shape from the storm. Our father found out that there was a heavy demand for horses and wagons to haul snow. He went back to Golden and returned to Denver with four horses. Somebody furnished a large wagon, and he hauled snow for about six weeks. The snow was dumped in what is now the Civic Center Park just west of the State Capitol.
Snow Storm of 1918
This particular snow storm of 1918 turned out to be a five-footer. Now we were living on a ranch about seven miles from Golden where we had cattle and horses. Only about ten percent of the ground was farmable due to the rough mountain country. This storm started on the 17th of April. Coming home from school we were frightened by the dark appearance of the sky, and the horizon had a yellow hue to it. The weather had been very mild, with only rain storms from February to April.
It had seemed like spring was on us, and we had changed our farming habits to go along with it. Some of the ranchers had even moved part of their herds to the grazing grounds near the Continental Divide. The evening of April 17th it started snowing. The snowflakes were very large and falling fast. The snowstorm continued the next morning and measured about eighteen inches in depth. It stormed all day long and we did not go to school. By nightfall the storm was still heavy with no sight of letting up. The folks were worried about the younger livestock. The previous fall our large log barn had burned (something to do with the twins), and we had replaced it with a temporary shed. It was fully occupied by our horses and cows with calves. The two-year-old cows were left outdoors.
Finally, the folks decided the only way we could save the younger livestock was to bring them in the house. We had one extra room which was soon filled up. We took care of the remaining stock by tying them up to the foot of our three beds. It was odd sleeping with three heifers tied to the foot of my bed.
Near noon the next day the storm let up after three days. The snow was over five feet in depth. While we did lose some livestock, our neighbors who had moved their livestock to the high country lost them all.
During winter time, the mountain people used snow boots made from burlap. They were inexpensive compared to overshoes, and in several ways were superior as they kept feet dry and warm when walking through the snow. They were homemade and were usually made before the first winter snow storm from strips of burlap cut from gunny sacks. Several strips were needed and were wound around the shoe or boot making several layers and then sewn together with a large needle threaded with twine. If made with proper care, the completed burlap boot could easily be removed from the shoe or boot. This was necessary, because, after a day’s use, the burlap became wet with pieces of ice frozen to it. The boot was hung up behind a stove or near a fireplace to dry out. The burlap boots gave a firm grip in the snow and made the wearer surefooted.
From Maggie: If you have any interesting stories about family or acquaintances who have lived or still live in Gilpin County or the surrounding areas, please contact me. You can reach me at 303-881-3321. Email me at Maggie@Maggiempublications.com, or mail me at P.O. Box 746495, Arvada, Colorado 80006.
Be sure to check out my website for past columns at www.MaggieMPublications.com.
The first two books in my Misadventures of the Cholua Brother’s Series are available on my website, on Amazon.com, Lulu.com and BarnesandNoble.com for $12.99 ea. + shipping. They can also be bought through the Gilpin Historical Museum and Mountain Menagerie in Central City. Watch for the release of the third and final book in the series Bonanza Beans available in late February or early March.
Cholua Brothers Mining Company specialty coffees can also be purchased at Mountain Menagerie in Central City or from their website at www.choluabros.com.