GRAND LAKE TALES by Ed McCrillis

As I grow older and older, I become more and more thankful for my boyhood summers at Grand Lake, Colorado. It was probably the summer of 1921 when Pop first took Mama, Lucille and me to the cabin. I was not yet three years old. That would have been shortly after he had won a lawsuit that restored the ownership of property to his client, Jarvis Davies, and resulted in a 50% interest in the property for him.

 

The site of the property that made these “Grand Lake Tales” possible consisted of a log cabin on a roughly triangular plot of ground fronted by 300 feet of lakeshore, plus 50 feet to the middle of the Colorado River, then 750 feet northwest through the middle of the river to intersect the north boundary, then 405 feet east to the eastern boundary to the high water line of lake covering an above water surface in excess of two acres.

 

I have many stories to tell. I shall start with the history of property rights and the legal proceedings. The following is what I remember from what Pop told me, together with what I have extracted from his files and court records.

 

About 1908 and before David P. Howard joined the law practice of Ralph W. McCrillis, Howard defended and lost by judgment in the Supreme Court of Colorado, on January 11, 1919, an action through which the plaintiffs, William Baird Craig and William B. Craig, claimed the property which Davies had purchased from Joseph Wescott. Howard sued the Court with a Writ of Error. Howard, who then felt the need for a stronger link with the legal community of Colorado, contacted Pop and they became partners. (Captain Howard, as Pop always referred to him, was the only partner he ever had). Howard explained the Davies case and suggested that if Pop had the time, he might enjoy becoming involved. Howard was convinced that Davies was honest and had the right to possess the property. Therefore, Pop traveled by rail to the Pacific Northwest and, in an attic trunk of a surveyor’s widow, located field notes of the original meander survey of 1881 around Grand Lake. The parties then agreed to treat the case under the statute concerning lost or disputed boundaries and the court ordered two commissioners to retrace the original meander survey. Their report favored Davies. The attorneys for Craig and Craig objected and the court appointed another commissioner, who agreed with the former report. Finally, after considerable testimony, the court on July 5, 1921, reversed the judgment of January 11, 1921, and ordered that Davies be entitled to possess the property. Further, on December 4, 1921, the court ordered that Davies recover his costs. After the case was won, Davies said to Pop and Howard, “The property is yours because I cannot pay for your services.” They said “No, but we will accept a 50/50 partnership.” Pop bought Howard’s 25% share for $2,600.00.

 

During the period of litigation, Davies told Pop that Reverand Craig had suggested he build a cabin on the ground being litigated to pay off a $1,200.00 loan. Pop’s advice was, “Let him build it, if we win the case you will at least have a roof over your head.” Timber and stone from the property became a split log cabin having a large living room, a large granite fireplace and two bedrooms at ground level. Above was a single large room entered through a door from the roof of an add-on kitchen accessed with a ladder. The walls and floors were never sealed. Security consisted of a front door with an inside latch and a skeleton key to unlock the kitchen door. Water safe to drink was obtained with buckets carried from the lake outlet (the headwaters of the Colorado River). Candles and kerosene lamps provided night lighting. Wood burned in a fireplace and a small flat top stove provided heat. There was an outhouse. Pop said, “It is better than a tent.” He named it “Wind Whistle” because of the good ventilation. I loved it.

 

Through the years that followed, Pop spoke frequently of the proceedings described above. He was convinced that Preacher Craig and “Judge” Wescott were in cahoots and manipulated data from two early surveys, both of which were conducted in 1881; the original meander survey, which was retraced; and the other, which plotted original lot boundaries. The field notes obtained by Pop were the key to solving the case and exposed the fraud. Upon every trip to the lake, Pop determined that the altered concrete monument representing the correct and disputed property corner was visible. The original marking was either VIII for eight or LIII for fifty-three. The manipulated data based upon the mutilated closing cornerstone required the finding of a missing cornerstone that the retrace survey located under Wescott’s pier.

 

There is a warranty deed from J. L. Wescott to Jarvis W. Davies transferring property for the sum of $900, paid in full, recorded October 9, 1893. The Abstract of Title, prior to Davies purchase, shows fourteen instruments involving Wescott. The first two in 1880 and 1885 appear to be a clearing for a third in 1887 as a patent from the U.S. to Wescott for 154.32 acres, homesteaded. The other eleven instruments show Wescott’s wheeling and dealing with parcels of the 154.32 acres. How the Craigs became the plaintiffs against Davies is an intriguing question because there were many with the name Craig who owned large tracts of lands north and northwest of the Davies property. A letter from Davies to Pop, dated January 1, 1945, describes many crooked deals by Wescott and indicates Rev. Craig wised up to Wescott. Davies’ letter does not say when. It is also interesting that while both Wescott and Rev. Craig were alive during the early part of the court trial that ended with a Writ of Error January 1919, Wescott testified by deposition and corroborated testimony that later proved to be incorrect. The court documents further show conflicting field notes from the two surveys conducted concurrently in 1881.

 

It is abundantly clear to me, after having reviewed all of the documents, that Wescott was the master schemer. Mary Lyons Cairns, in her book “Grand Lake: The Pioneers,” published in 1946, writes about both Craig and Wescott. Wescott was reported to have been the first white settler at Grand Lake, arriving June, 1867. The Reverend W. B. Craig was a minister of Central Christian Church in Denver and conducted many services for the pioneers at Grand Lake. His last service there, according to Cairns, was September 4, 1984. In addition, Dorothy O’Donnell O’Ryan, in her book, “Sailing Above the Clouds,” states that the Reverend Craig had been Chancellor of Duke University for five years before coming to Colorado. He became involved with the Grand Lake Yacht Club as Fleet Chaplain. He was known to have a desire and a skill for acquiring land and offered to donate land for the Yacht Club boathouse. He was a popular member of the Grand Lake community. Therefore, even though Pop had valid reasons to believe that the Rev. Craig was in cahoots with Wescott, it is possible that Wescott deceived even the Craigs for his own gain after having regretted the fact that he had sold prime property to Davies. Further, as the court records show that sometime between 1908 and his death in 1914 at age 76, Wescott gave testimony which told of his presence and participation in both of the 1881 surveys. Therefore, the Rev. Craig could well have been convinced that he owned the Davies property. Ironically, for Wescott and Craig, they both died before the case was closed.

 

Pop described Jarvis Davies as a self-proclaimed woman hater, a Seventh Day Adventist, a vegetarian and a self educated geologist. His letters to Pop, written with excellent penmanship, proved that he was intelligent and had strong survival instincts. My guess is that he arrived in the mineral area along and above the North Fork of the Colorado River as a prospector. He spent winters in the Southwest and southern California, with trips to Colorado in the summer. His income was always meager; how he had $900.00 to buy the property in 1893 is a mystery. His mode of travel mostly started and ended on two feet. I got to know him during the summers between 1929 and 1941 when his bed was on the north side and mine on the south side of the cabins’ upper level. He was a good talker and told many interesting stories. He was a gentleman to all. I liked him.

 

How many times we went to Grand Lake while Mama was alive, I do not know, perhaps only once. I do remember that she boiled water and let it cool for drinking. Our brother Albert was born in 1922 and died in 1926. Mama died at 1:00 a.m. on May 27, 1928, at age 42, one hour after the close of Lucille’s eleventh birthday. Lucille has pictures of us as a family at Grand Lake in 1924. We all enjoyed the seven-mile hike around the lake and several times went up the East Inlet to have a picnic at Adams Falls. On at least one of those outings Pop frequently carried Albert. Therefore, the possible years for Mama to have been at the Lake were 1921, 1923, 1924 and 1925. I remember being at the Cook ranch with Mama after Albert died. I also remember Grandma McCrillis being at the cabin at least once, possibly 1927 or 1928 or both. She died June 2, 1929. Between the deaths of Mama and Grandma, I had pneumonia, which left me rather puny and Pop further depressed.

 

Fortunately, Pop had a friend, Joe Pender, with whom he fly-fished and hunted. In the spring of 1929, he invited Pop, Lucille and me to his cabin on the lower South Platte River to trout fish. Pop bought two new fly rods, one for him and one for me. When we arrived at Pender’s place, he placed Pop and me on grass for casting lessons. He was an expert and taught what was known as “the twelve o’clock stop.” 1929 was the first summer that Lucille and I spent a large part of the summer at Grand Lake. Sometime prior to our arrival, the ladder leading up to the second level had been replaced by an outside staircase. That was a blessing for all. Our colored lady housekeeper, Lulu, was with us. Pop commuted from Denver arriving Friday evening and leaving Monday morning.

 

I had the use of a borrowed rowboat, which I faithfully used to regain strength. I also spent many hours standing on the footbridge practicing the fly-casting technique taught by Pender. In time, I was able to cast the entire length of line spooled on the small reel. Therefore, by the time school started that fall I was fully recovered. By the next summer, I was catching trout, especially when Pop was there, and we would drive to beaver dams below Columbine Lake or to the meadows up the North Inlet.

 

One evening, shortly before sunset, during the third year of my fly-fishing career, I was on the footbridge over the outlet. I made a last cast downstream to one of the prime pockets. Immediately, I had a good strike and realized that I was connected to the largest trout I had ever hooked. The trout had the advantage because there was no way to lift such a heavy fish to the footbridge without having the leader break. In addition, I had to let the fish have enough line to become exhausted enough to handle. Somehow I managed to maneuver it through the rocks to the shallows of the south shore. By that time it was almost completely dark and as I considered the risk of jumping from the bridge, I heard a girl’s voice just as she netted my “monster” fish. Together we rushed to the cabin and with light, I had my first view of a German Brown Trout. The girl’s name was Gladys Schultz. That was our first meeting even though I had seen her several times fishing from the bank. The dry fly that attracted the German Brown was a number fourteen Yellow Body Grey Hackle.

 

The next day I removed my prize from the icebox, made a profile tracing for the wall, and walked to the village for a weigh-in. I do not remember the result, but because conservation had not yet been practiced, any trout then over one pound from that water would have been rare.

 

Relatives with whom we shared good times at the lake included Aunt Ella, Uncle Harold and cousin Elita, as well as Aunt Cora and Carolyn McCartney. When Aunt Ella and Elita were there, Uncle Harold commuted with Pop. Of course, my dog, named Mysty because of his mysterious lineage and origin, was always with me. Porcupines were a menace to Mysty, whose mouth and snout had to be dequilled several times. One day, when I was chopping wood, a porcupine in the large high tree above me made his presence known. When I went for Pop’s 22-caliber rifle, Aunt Ella became very annoyed. However, I prevailed and solved Mysty’s problem. Aunt Cora liked to chop wood and was a great help to me.

 

Pop and I spent many hours sitting together on a pine stick bench between two trees that Davies constructed. We talked about many things and gazed upon Mount Craig (Baldy) with its symmetrical round shape, the west face of which appeared to be a vertical cliff. We also gazed upon Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak as viewed across the lake up the North Inlet from our vantage point. He fascinated me with stories about his early days in Colorado and especially an adventure that had to have been before 1906. He graduated from East Denver High School in 1903 and from the University of Michigan with a law degree in 1906. During one of the summers, while in either high school or college, he hiked with two friends from Estes Park over the Continental Divide on an Indian trail, part of which Trail Ridge Road now crosses several times. They camped one night at Pouder Lakes and climbed Specimen Mountain the next day before proceeding down the North Fork of the Colorado River to Grand Lake.

 

At Grand Lake they found sustenance and rest at the Langley Hotel and caught many large trout from both the lake and the outlet. They also spent some time with the Cook family (not relatives) in their cabin on the rock on the south shore, and had a sailboat ride. That Cook family was among the very early settlers at Grand Lake and owned the first cabin built at Grand Lake in 1886 by Jay E. Adams. I also visited there with Pop, perhaps with descendents of Pop’s former friends. Access to the cabin, until recently, was only by foot or boat. Pop and his friends returned to Estes Park by leaving Grand Lake on the Tonahutu Creek (North Inlet) Trail to the top of the pass (Continental Divide), climbed Hallett Peak, 12,713 feet, and then descended probably to Bear Lake. At that point, they would have still been about twelve miles from Estes Park. Perhaps they hitched a buggy ride from there. By mapping the route that I presume they traveled, their round trip would have been a distance of approximately sixty miles.

 

Pop’s stories excited me and while he was aware of my adventurous spirit his restrictions were few, and provided appropriate freedom. Therefore, one day Mysty and I climbed up the ski jump hill on Shadow Mountain and bushwhacked through dense and fallen timber to the top at 10,155 feet, where a Fire Lookout Station provided a panoramic view over long distances. It was the ranger’s lunchtime, and he shared freshly baked muffins and other offerings. He then invited me to climb the ladder to the enclosed viewing platform and use his binoculars. By his suggestion, we bypassed the three-mile trail down the southwest side and descended the cut in the timber through which the phone line was strung. I do not think we were missed back at the cabin. When I told Pop what I had done, he did not, to my surprise then and now, scold me. I was only eleven years old and to me it was not a big deal. Apparently, it was not to Pop either.

 

The next summer I told Mysty to stay and I took the trail leading to Lake Verna, to a spot north and above Adams Falls to begin the ascent of the West Face of Mount Baldy. Instead of a sheer face, I found terraces that provided good hand and foot holds. After watching a deer in the valley to the south, I was soon on top at 12,007 feet. Under the cairn I found the Colorado Mountain Club Register contained in a bronze weatherproof cartridge anchored with a metal cable. After signing, I descended the north side through a couloir to Lake Verna. From there it was an easy trail walk of seven miles back to the cabin.

 

The following year Charlie Thomas wanted to climb Mt. Baldy, which we did via the longer, but less steep route, ascending and descending the couloir above Lake Verna. Later, I made a third ascent with Don Jones with whom I had been on several JCMC trips. That time we followed the route of my first climb.

 

We did not own a boat, but because sailboat racing had been popular for years, some well-established families, whose grown children had moved away, wanted their boats rigged and entered into the Annual Regatta competition for the Lipton Cup. Therefore, I was welcomed to join the task force composed of teenagers from the Thomas, the Wilkins and the O’Donnell families. Each fall the boats had to be either de-rigged and beached or housed well above lake water that freezes to depths of three feet. Then the most time consuming work begins early the next summer. Mrs. O’Donnell owned one of the oldest boats, the “Dorothy II,” which had not been in the Regatta for several years. She and her daughter Dorothy wanted it entered, perhaps for the last time, in 1936. I was invited to sail the “Dorothy II” with Dorothy. It was well known that a boat of such ancient design deserved a good handicap, even if in mint condition, which it was not. With lots of help, we caulked, sealed, painted, repaired rigging, patched sails, etc. It was fun, and all were happy that “Dorothy II” participated. Charlie Thomas suggested that after its last race, the “Dorothy II” be set afire at night for a glorious ceremony. Recently, while talking with Dorothy O’Donnell O’Ryan, I learned that the event occurred and that “Dorothy II” found her well-deserved rest on the bottom of the lake.

 

LAKE VERNA ON SKIS

 

Before spring vacation of 1936, Charlie Thomas and I decided to go to the cabin and talked about a skiing tour to Lake Verna that would have to depend upon weather and snow conditions. Transportation would be by rail through the Moffat Tunnel to Granby, and the mail truck to within ¼ mile of the cabin.

 

On day one we scouted out enough firewood for the fireplace and cook stove, shopped for grub and were ready for the tour to Lake Verna. However, because Pop had told me he wanted to take a day for a drive to the cabin, and because the weather was very favorable, we expected Pop that day and waited for his arrival that did not happen. That evening we had dinner in town and told of our plans for the next day. After dinner, Charlie and I sat on the shore in front of the cabin to observe a full moon rise over the top of Mt. Baldy. It was beautiful; no wind, but cold.

 

Skiing across the frozen lake at daybreak went well, as did the first few miles up the east inlet trail. However, as full sun began melting the snow, breaking trail became more difficult and my supply of wax was soon exhausted causing snow to stick on the ski bottoms. I stopped breaking trail and suggested that we stop. Charlie did not agree, and he started breaking trail. I followed a short distance under protest, but soon realized that Charlie would not quit as he talked about digging into the snow for the night at Lake Verna, which we reached about sunset.

 

Finding firewood was difficult because of the deep snow; and because there was not any clear ground, the fire that we accomplished melted the snow and extinguished the fire. We waited for moon light to illuminate a safe downhill return. Being in a canyon with Mt. Baldy blocking the moon, it was a long wait.

 

The trail through heavy timber on frozen snow was hard to see even with moonlight. I led, making short runs and telling Charlie how to maneuver. When he fell, he wanted time to rest, and three times I climbed back to arouse him. We reached Grand Lake about daybreak and reached the cabin at sunrise.

 

We took off our boots, gloves and jackets and crawled into our sleeping bags. About an hour later, there was a knock on the door and the local Forest Ranger walked in. He told us that Pop had looked for us the day before and had consulted with our friends in the village to learn of our plans. He asked about snow depths along the trail and said he would phone Pop. Charlie and I went back to sleep.

 

About an hour later Pop, Mr. Thomas and Lucy Thomas walked in. Pop saw my frozen leather jacket upright in the corner and said, “Get up, we will take you back to Denver.” Fires were started in the fireplace and kitchen, and Lucy prepared breakfast. Packing up and getting into Mr. Thomas’ open touring car did not take very long. But the ride back to Denver was cold, weather-wise and attitude-wise.

 

Later I learned that Pop’s trip to see us was with his client Mrs. Lester, and before leaving our friends in the village, he had asked that a rescue party be arranged and established a telephone exchange. Because he had no good news around daybreak, he called Mr. Thomas and told him he was going to return immediately to Grand Lake. Mr. Thomas said, “I will pick you up and drive.”

 

After Pop listened to my account he was more concerned about the frostbite on my fingers. I was not grounded, but Charlie was. The news of our adventure spread quickly around high school with mixed comments, especially with my friends of the CMC. Soon thereafter, when peace and harmony prevailed again, Charlie credited me for saving his life. Even though that may or may not have been true, I would not have deserted him. And my arousing him did not compare to his heroism when he saved my life later on Lindbergh Peak.

 

LONE EAGLE PEAK

 

Charlie told me he wanted to climb Lone Eagle Peak (Lindbergh), which when viewed from the ground to the west of the west face became famous through photographs for its beautiful symmetrical spiral. Climbing that face is extremely technical. However, I was aware that the peak had been named for its beauty instead of height, and the CMC register had been secured at the lower end of a ridge that extended from a greater elevation not visible from the vantage point of the scene for which Charles Lindbergh is commemorated. I also knew that the southeast ridge route was technical, but less so than the west face.

 

Therefore, using the Thomas family car, we drove to Monarch Lake and beyond as far as possible from where we climbed to the top of the ridge. I began a straddle decent to a point that required a reverse straddle and soon realized that my legs were not long enough to reach the lower level. Charlie was able to climb down and around me to where he crouched on all fours in a back raised position that reached my hobnailed boots and permitted me to reposition myself without risking a fall from either side of the knife-edge ridge. We soon found the register, signed it and scrambled down without further incident. I credited Charlie for saving my life in a much more heroic act than was my keeping him awake on the trail from Lake Verna.

 

FOURTEENERS

 

Charlie also wanted to climb some fourteen thousand foot peaks and I remember very well that together we climbed four; Lincoln 14,286 feet, Bross 14,172 feet, Democrat 14,148 feet, and Quandary 14,265 feet. When, I do not remember, but probably all four were in 1936, on two separate trips. I had not climbed Quandary, but had climbed Lincoln, Bross and Democrat easily one day with the JCMC.

 

What I remember very well is that Charlie told me that he had heard of an easy route up Quandary. Even though I did not have with me at Grand Lake, my CMC Route Guide Book, I knew that all four of the above-listed peaks were in the Mosquito Range; and it seemed reasonable to anticipate an easy climb on Quandary. Therefore, we drove to the top of Hoosier Pass at 11,542 feet. We could see Quandary north across the valley through which we had driven. The idea was to drive up the ridge to the west as far as possible (which we did) and then continue on the ridge visible, first west, than north, then east to the top of the mountain. We left the Plymouth and began the horseshoe traverse. Upon reaching a low point west of what looked to be the final push to the summit, we encountered many deep cuts difficult to negotiate and consumed valuable time. We finally reached the last of many false summits and duly recorded the time of our presence.

 

The obvious descent was on the east slope to the road some 3,000 feet below, which we reached at nightfall. Now, under starlight, we trudged up the road another few miles to regain the top of Hoosier Pass. At that point, I reclined with my sheepskin vest and enjoyed the stars while Charlie hiked the distance to retrieve the Plymouth. We then drove to Fairplay and had dinner in a café bar with sheepherders and miners. Either before or after the Quandary climb, Charlie and I climbed Lincoln, Bross and Democrat, retracing my previous route.

 

THE COLORADO-BIG THOMPSON WATER DIVERSION PROJECT

 

Because topographical features affect climate greatly, land areas east of the Rocky Mountains receive less precipitation than areas west of the Rockies. As populations grew, organized irrigation occurred in northeastern Colorado about 1860. Water diversion projects with high elevation ditches and tunnels under the Continental Divide followed. In the spring of 1935, the Bureau of Reclamation allocated $150,000.00 for surveys that became the Colorado-Big Thompson Water Diversion Project. Pop and Davies had been following the politics of the irrigation needs of northeastern Colorado for years because the possibility of diverting water from Grand Lake had long been considered. Therefore, when a family in Denver offered to buy the property for $15,000.00, Pop and Davies had a dilemma, but declined the offer.

 

I became very interested in the project and collected much published information. Earlier Pop had been told that the project would inundate most of our property. But because I knew the elevation of a benchmark on the property and had reviewed the published design, I was confident that we would not be adversely effected except for construction equipment access.

 

Pop received a letter from the Bureau of Reclamation, dated August 24, 1944, with an

 

offer to buy the land with improvements for $5,500.00. He wrote to me (envelope dated 8/25/44) in Middleport, Ohio with the news and a plat of the property. Davies had previously written to Pop (7/14/44) giving him full authority. Another letter from Davies (8/28/44) says, “Let them have ALL of it.” A Land Purchase Contract dated September 25, 1994 conveys the property to the United States fee simple for the sum of $5,500.00.

 

Pop’s file from which I obtained the legal information and letters from Davies is in my two-drawer file. I found the correspondence very interesting. I hope present and future family members will also.

 

For many years, I was very disappointed that Pop and Davies had not accepted the option of retaining that portion of the property that would remain above the high water line upon completion of the project. During the family reunion in 1948, it was obvious that the engineering design that I studied had been followed. Subsequent trips also showed that the shoreline was not being eroded and the ecology of the property had recovered. Therefore, I decided to make an effort to regain the property.

 

In October 1963, Betty and I visited Washington, D.C., and conferred with key officials in the General Services Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Interior. We were well received and a conference telephone call was made to the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver setting up contacts. I then hired Fletcher Thomas to explore further. He did great research, but because his investigations proved the effort hopeless, I stopped the effort. On subsequent short trips to Grand Lake, I have been extremely pleased to observe the natural beauty and tranquility of property not threatened by the abuses that were feared by Pop and Davies. Later I learned from Dick MacCornack that he had also tried unsuccessfully to purchase our former property from the Bureau of Reclamation and had to settle on buying from the City of Grand Lake a piece of land that bordered downstream and west over which had been our access. If Pop and Davies had decided to keep the higher portion, Lucille and I would probably have sold to MacCornack. That would have threatened the perpetuity of the natural quality I prefer. I am very happy. Thanks be to God and Pop.