The History of Jackson County
"The valley narrowed as we ascended and presently divided into a gorge, through which the river passed as through a gate- beautiful circular valley of 30 miles in diameter, walled in all around with snowy mountains, rich with water and grass, fringed with pine on the mountain sides below the snow, and a paradise to all grazing animals." ~Lieutenant John F Fremont
Commonly known as “North Park,” Jackson County is a high, isolated intermountain basin that lies in the northern tier of Colorado counties. Prior to 1820, the Ute Indians spent their summers in North Park, living on deer, buffalo, antelope and other wild game. The severity of the winters forced both the Indians and wildlife to lower altitudes in the late fall. As soon as white people began settling around what is now known as Bellevue, the Ute Indians made frequent marauding expeditions on the settlers, stealing horses at night and then slipping back into North Park where the whites were afraid to follow. These trips took place over the low Medicine Bow Pass, known today as Ute Pass. The Arapahoe also frequently hunted in North Park, coming in from the southwest over a pass described by Lt. John C Fremont, as “one of the most beautiful seen” and was named Arapahoe Pass after the Indians. The Ute and Arapahoe were bitter enemies and many battles took place in the North Park valley when they chanced to meet. Besides these well-worn trails, other mute evidences of Indian life of pre-settlement times are found at the north end of the Park. Several large wiki-ups still stand in a sheltered and secluded spot, left by a band of Ute Indians who fled into North Park after the Meeker Massacre in 1879.
The first white men to visit and explore North Park were the fur trappers. They called it “New Park” to distinguish it from Middle Park. Famous trappers who ran lines in North Park were Kit Carson, Captain Gaunt, Jim Bridger, Old Bill Williams and Jim Baker. In 1844, Lt. John C Fremont came through North Park and was taken with the place describing it by saying that “no river could ask for a more beautiful origin than the Platte.”
In 1861, when the Colorado Territory was organized, there were 17 counties and North Park was at that time part of Summit County. In 1874 both Larimer and Summit/Grand County claimed jurisdiction over North Park. In 1886, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the territorial legislature of 1861 intended that North Park be part of Larimer County and until 1909, it remained so. Jackson County gained its own jurisdiction on May 5, 1909 and was named after President Andrew Jackson. This is an exciting time to be studying the history of Jackson County because it is also the Centennial!
After the trappers and explorers, the miners and prospectors came to North Park. James O Pinkham was the first prospector to come and spend a winter in the North Park valley. This Irish Canadian became a famous and important figure in the early history and settlement of North Park. He believed that North Park was the richest and finest country in the world and in 1874, he built a home and interested others with his tales of a rich placer land. Prospectors made trips in and out of the park, carrying tales of a land that was a stockman’s paradise. Ranching became a way of life as much as hunting for early day settlers. Cattle ranching, hay production and some sheep production have remained dominate in the county since its discovery.
By the early 1890s, North Park was a well-established place and in every direction growth was happening. A need for a central point for securing supplies was necessary and the town of Walden, the current county seat, was established in the middle of the Park. The town was named after Mark S. Walden, a postmaster of the nearby settlement of Sage Hen Springs. Until the railroad came in 1911, teams from Laramie, Wyoming supplied the county with goods of every kind.
A number of mining booms left ghost towns scattered throughout Jackson County in the last 150 years. Copper, coal, silver, gold and fluorspar all had predominated trade and commenced extensive development. The first oil well in Jackson County was hit in 1926, establishing the North McCallum Oil Field. By 1960, the field was producing 2.5 million dollars worth of oil annually, but has since declined in production. In the mid-1930s, commercial lumbering began and remained an economic force until the mid-1980s when the Michigan River Timber Company left North Park.
The economy of Jackson County is presently based on ranching and agriculture, but mineral exploration, logging operations and outdoor recreation are mainstays as well. The economic base has been fairly stable throughout the history of the country. The population of Jackson County has remained fairly stable as well throughout its history only experiencing fluctuations as a result of mining booms. In 1970, the population of the county peaked at 1,811 and currently stands at 1,700, of which half reside in the city limits of Walden. Jackson County represents a disappearing culture basic to our American Heritage. It is one of the few remaining agriculturally based mountain communities in the West.
Bailey, Adah B., Bibliography Jackson County (North Park), Colorado
Jackson County Planning Commission, Walden, CO 2008
Land Use Study of Jackson County, Colorado 1975
North Park, by Hazel Gresham, 11th Edition, Pioneer Printing, 1975
A Tough 100 Years, Oley Kohlman, 2000
The Jackson County Star, local newspaper
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