On or about November 20, 2015, Michael Warner Kiser died in his home of a heart attack. He was 65. His death marked the end of a century of Kiser/Barrick family history in Moffat County. This is the story of those families.
Early Northwestern Colorado
To understand northwestern Colorado it is important to know the context of the political and cultural history that shaped its destiny. Until 1847, northwestern Colorado was part of northeastern Mexico. In that year the Mexican Government signed the Treaty of Hidalgo Guadalupe at gunpoint after losing the Mexican American War. Colorado did not become a State until 1876 and Moffat County did not exist until 1911.
In 1847, Mexico was forced to relinquish all of northern Mexico to the United States, including what would become northwestern Colorado.
While Native Americans, primarily the Ute Indians thrived in northwestern Colorado, the opinions of early European explorers in the late 1700’s and 1800’s about the value of the area were not kind. In 1844, John C. Fremont said the country was nearly worthless. In 1869, John Wesley Powell came to the same conclusion, holding out that with massive irrigation the area might produce crops, but there wasn’t enough water.
In the 1860’s gold had been discovered in the mountain creeks west of Denver and men fanned out into the Rockies. In 1865, a group of men found small quantities of gold around an extinct volcano in northwestern Colorado. The primary discoverer, Joseph Hahn was apparently betrayed by one of his partners who left him and another man in the field while he allegedly was off to get supplies. He never returned and Hahn died in an attempt to reach civilization in April of 1867. The extinct volcano was named Hahn’s Peak in honor of him.
Hahn’s Peak and the town 40 years after the gold rush
Mining continued to expand in the late 1860’s in northwestern Colorado, but the lack of significant ore deposits and lack of access to and from the area brought an end to the fickle growth created by prospectors.
Farther west in the high desert of northwestern Colorado, Native Americans, primarily the Utes, maintained their traditional nomadic lifestyle; however, some western Europeans sought to retrain the indigenous people and make them adopt the western culture. The effort created conflict between the Native Americans and the caucasian invaders. In 1879, a minor incident of shoving an agent, Nathan Meeker, led to him requesting troops be sent to the area. Ultimately, both sides lost control of the situation and a U.S. Army detachment was attacked resulting in 50 men wounded or killed. An outcry for ‘justice’ led to the 1881 relocation of all Ute Indians from their Colorado lands into Utah. This opened the door for Congress to declare the vacated lands open to homesteading in 1882.
As the Utes were moved out, the cattle ranchers moved in. This created a pressing need for better transportation to the area to ship cattle to Denver; however, a centralized gathering point had to be established to move cattle in and out of the area and many of the existing towns lacked the geographic qualifications needed as a cattle and transportation center.
In the late 1880’s, the founding of Steamboat Springs created a target for those who sought to create a transportation link to northwestern Colorado. It also had the benefit of being near the Oak Creek area where new coal deposits were discovered.
Almost simultaneously, the inflow of homesteaders coming from the Denver side of the Rocky Mountains created the need to build roads and rail lines over the high altitudes and steep terrain of the Continental Divide, but the challenges would take years.
The railroad challenge was to build a mountain railway that would access all points west.
It would not be until 1909, that the railroad would reach to Steamboat Springs, and almost overnight Steamboat Springs became the largest cattle transportation center in the country. Had the railroad ended in Steamboat Springs, the town might have become twice as large and hindered the growth of any other communities in northwestern Colorado, but the plan for the railroad had never been to end in a community just on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.
Knowing the railroad was coming farther west, William H. Tucker established a townsite about 40 miles west of Steamboat Springs. One of his primary financial backers was Reverend William Bayard Craig, and so he named the town Craig. The first census of Craig in 1910 was only 392 people; however, with the completion of the railroad to Craig in 1913, the town would triple in size by the 1920 census to 1,297 citizens.
Population growth of northwestern Colorado
In 1911, the State legislature created Moffat County by carving out the western two-thirds of Routt County and made the three year-old town of Craig the new county seat. Growth in Steamboat Springs flatlined for decades after Craig and Moffat County were established and even with the development of one of the nation’s premier ski areas in 1963, Steamboat Springs remained Craig’s junior until the late 1990’s.
Two years after Moffat County was established, the Barrick family came to homestead. Five years after that the first Kiser family would follow them. That would begin a century of intertwining history of these two families that would end with the death of Michael Kiser in 2015.
NEXT: Part II – Two Family’s Destiny Unfolds
ALSO: Part III – Another Radiator Springs