Our town came into being under interesting and peculiar circumstances. Soon after the Meeker Massacre, a permanent military camp was established and built on this spot. When the work of construction had been finished, there appeared one of the most complete and efficient military establishments to be found on all the frontier. The buildings were erected in regular order, facing inward, along the four lines of a quadrangle or parade ground extending approximately 800 feet from east to west and having a width of 475 feet. This is the ground which is presently occupied by the courthouse and grade school buildings.
The soldiers’ barracks were situated along the south border of the quadrangle and consisted of nine long adobe, or more familiarly known as “dobbie” brick buildings, constructed with walls 16 inches in thickness, wooden floors, shingle roofs and brick chimneys. On the north borderline of the parade ground were five commodious two-family log residence buildings, used as quarters for the officers and their families. Four of those building still stand on their original locations, three of them have undergone but slight change in appearance during the 68 or 69 years intervening. Two similar structures were located at the west end, while in the center of the eastern extremity there stood a large log hospital building. This in later years served the settlers as the first school, the first church, and was the center of all community activities. In this building in 1884 the first Fourth of July celebration was held.
A flag pole stood in the center of the parade ground, and the military reservation was laid out extending four miles each direction from that flag pole, and any person within that eight mile square area was subject to military rule.
To the south and southwest of the military buildings various structures were located, such as quarters for the civilian employees, the Post Trader or Sutler’s Store, the officers’ club, and the soldiers’ club known as the “Bounce House.” The two latter were amusement and recreation places with billiard, pool and card tables, and also where the essence of “barley corn” was dispensed.
This post was known as the military camp on White River, or merely as the Camp on White River, and presented a spectacle of color and interest. Several hundred soldiers were quartered here, mule and ox-drawn supply trains were coming and going, soldiers were drilling on the parade ground, military bands played, and occasional calvary troops were seen on maneuver.
In the late summer of 1883, the government started removing the soldiers, and when nearly all were gone, a sale was held on the 13th of August and the buildings sold at auction. There were but few here to buy and they brought trifling sums. Newton Major, manager for Hugus and Company, bought the first adobe building for $100, into which he moved the Hugus store. Mrs. Susan C. Wright came in from her claim at the foot of Nine Mile Hill, just outside the military reservation, and bought the second adobe building. Charley Dunbar bought the third, and these two pooled their interests and opened the Meeker Hotel.
Mr. Allsebrook bought the one where the Odd Fellows building now stands for $30. Samuel Fairfield bought the last of the officers’ quarters for $100. Then came one long blast of the bugle, the last of the soldiers were marched out, and the few settlers were in possession of a ready-made town, which they unanimously named Meeker in honor of the slain Indian Agent, Nathan C. Meeker.
Shortly thereafter, a gentleman from Denver, Mr. D. M. Richards, a promoter, came in and organized the Meeker Town Company with a membership of 20 persons. While the post had been abandoned, the military reservation had not been returned to the public domain, and it was uncertain as to whether this would be accomplished, consequently no filing could be made on the townsite or any other land within the 64-square-mile area surrounding the flag pole. Mr. Richards, discouraged and apparently believing there was little chance of booming the town and making a quick profit, took his departure and did not return.
But the 19 remaining members of the Town Company were not discouraged when the found themselves to be merely “squatters” on the forbidden ground. They were not so much interested in quick profits as they were in making their “squatter” town a better place in which to live. Three members of the Town Company, Samuel Fairfield, Frank E. Sheridan and Ed P. Wilber laid out the town ditch with a tripod and constructed it in the spring of 1884. Lateral ditches were constructed and little rivulets of pure, cold water ran down both sides of all the streets that occupied a portion of the townsite.
Upon the recommendation of Mr. Thomas Baker, the old parade ground was set aside as a Town Park. The Town Company enclosed the entire area with a picket fence and under the supervision of Mr. Baker, box elder and cottonwood trees were planted, lateral ditches were run to provide irrigation water, and the completed Town Park was turned over to the citizens free of all cost.
The town was incorporated in 1885 and William H. Clark was elected mayor. The newly elected mayor, being a surveyor, made a plat of the town and steps were at once taken to procure patent, but it was not until 1887 that they were able to cut through all the government red tape, when the mayor made filing on behalf and for the use of the citizens.
In July of that year, Mayor Clark, James L. McHatton, president of the townsite, and Dana Thayer, Town Clerk, drove to Glenwood Springs and made final proof on the Meeker Townsite. The mayor then issued deeds to each citizen for the lot or lots occupied for the consideration of $2.63 per lot, that amount being the proportionate cost of procuring patent plus legal expense.
The town of Meeker was the first, and for more than 20 years, the only incorporated town in all northwestern Colorado. It was the hub, the business and banking center of that vast territory. The settlers from Bear River came to Meeker to trade and do their banking, and many of the settlers came from Grand River until the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad was constructed. Four men, J.W. Hugus, John C. Davis, Newton Major and Dana Thayer, through their collective efforts in establishing the firm of J.W. Hugus and Company, merchants and bankers, provided the magnet of attraction for drawing business to Meeker. The settlers had little money and no security to offer. This pioneer firm sold them supplies on credit to bring their land into production, then loaned them money to get a start in cattle.
The Indian trade was also a profitable addition to the business of the town. While the Utes were supposed to be on their reservation in Utah, many bands had permanent camps in the western part of the country, going to the agency only to collect their “head money,” then coming to Meeker to trade.
Two outstanding leaders were George S. Allsebrook and James L. (Uncle Jim) McHatton. The former, a fine Christian gentleman, in the spring of 1884 organized a Sunday School and held the first religious service, the forerunner of Saint James Church. He was the chief influence in building a full roller process flour mill, and extended the agency ditch in Powell Park to Strawberry Creek. He was the leading spokesman for creation of Rio Blanco County. Uncle Jim McHatton brought in the first sawmill and in company with Frank E. Sheridan, established the first lumber yard. He was the first to raise alfalfa successfully. He was always a liberal contributor to everything for advancement of the interests of the town and its citizens, and during the last 20 years of his life developed two splendid ranches.
Mrs. S.C. Wright, the only woman member of the Town Company, was sometimes called the “Mother of Meeker.” This appelation perhaps stemmed from an incident of the winter of 1883 when the little village was snowed in, with no communication whatever with the outside world. The food supply had been taxed by winter, and the late wintertime supply of white flour was exhausted. “Old Maj” had plenty of cornmeal in the store, but most of the ladies were unskilled in its use. Mrs. Wright said, “Maj., bring that cornmeal over to my kitchen and we will see what can be done about the situation,” and from that time until the arrival of the supply train in the spring, the settlers ate “Mother Wright’s” good, old southern-style “Johnny Cake.”
It would require hours to tell the story of early Meeker. Time will not permit further comment on the experience and accomplishments of that most remarkable group of pioneer people, the founders of Meeker, who were so outstanding in their possession of strength of character, self-reliance and an undying faith in the future.
Rio Blanco County, population 5,225, covers an area of 3,264 square miles. Elevation varies from about 5,000 feet on White River at the Utah line to 10,000 feet on the broad, forest-covered tablelands of the eastern part, with a few peaks rising to over 12,000 feet. The greater portion of the county consists of gently sloping mountains and tablelands, with many beautiful valleys. Natural resources include an immense area of farm lands, abundance of water for irrigation, boundless forests of pine and spruce, vast grazing slopes covered with cedars and pinons, petroleum deposits, gilsonite, asphaltum, uranium, vanadium, and vast reservoirs of natural gas.
Presented with permission of The Meeker Jaycees
Written in 1972