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MEEKER I “I learned something I never forgot on that trip. If you hire on a job, finish it,” said Meeker native Arlene Fritzlan about a two-week pack trip all over the upper White River area when she was very young and working for her Uncle Joe.
Arlene had quit her town job after just a few days. She was tired of “pulling off a lady’s shoes in the evening,” so she turned her horse, Prince, toward home and rode all night to get there. When she arrived, she told her mother what she had done. Her mom packed her a lunch and sent her right back up the trail.
It was one of many lessons learned growing up in the rough North Fork area. The country was tough and the times tougher for families just trying to survive. Arlene and her brother, Bill, worked from the time they were young to help make ends meet.
They worked for Elwood Livingston, helping his herder watch over the sheep. Livingston had created jobs for the kids in previous years, but on that particular occasion, he really needed them. The sheep had gotten into poison, Elmer Perry had reported to Livingston.
“Livingston) told us kids to stay behind and get the sheep they left to get up and travel,” Arlene said. “He would give us $5 a head for every one we brought in. We worked our butts off with those stupid sheep, but we had around 30 head we trailed on to the Big Beaver Ranch where Mr. Livingston had a check for our labors. I know this man made a job for us kids and we made hands for him that he never regretted hiring.”
Arlene’s mother was about five months pregnant with Arlene when the family decided to move west from Chicago. Her father, mother, sister and brother arrived in Seibert, Colo., in a 1928 Studebaker. Her mother’s sister, Edith, and her sister’s husband, Joe Fox, were living there, but times were very bad.
Joe decided to get what he could for what he had and sold his cows for $8, hogs for 50 cents and gave away his chickens. They kept a couple hogs to cure the meat, and both families headed west. They went over Independence Pass and down through the Roaring Fork Valley, then turned north to Meeker and on toward Craig, finally stopping in Axial.
Her father wanted to see aspen and pine trees and turned back toward Meeker and headed up the White River Valley. While on the road, they cooked over an open fire and camped in tents.
“This type of life would be passed down for generations to come,” Arlene said.
The group traveled past the Buford store, then owned by Tom Offerly and family, and past the ranch owned by Paul Dunn. They turned right, up the Ute Creek drainage.
Joe went on and found the place he was looking for and applied for the land to homestead. He had a Teddy Roosevelt grant that allowed him to homestead wherever he wanted. He had served in World War I and received a pension because he had been exposed to mustard gas and suffered medical problems as a result.
Arlene’s father, Floyd Bert Gulliford, could not homestead the area so he moved to the Curry place, about 1.5 miles above the Buford Ranger Station. Arlene was born there that winter and the family moved to the Delaney place on Burro Mountain that spring. Above the Delaney ranch was the Sterry place, occupied by the widowed Mr. Sterry, his son and wife and their 15 children.
All the children attended Buford School, which was quite a walk. In the winter, when they went on sleds pulled by horses, they all got a rock their mother had kept in the oven. They would put the rock in the bottom of he sled to keep warm. When they got to school, they put their rocks in the oven there. As the years passed, the Gullifords attended different schools and moved to town during some school years.
Arlene’s late husband, Calvin, was born and raised in the area. His father, Guy Fritzlan, did some prospecting from the Parachute area and homesteaded down below Piceance Creek, where the creek and the White River come together. Guy married Anna McGruder, whose parents had come from Montana and homesteaded below Fritzlan’s place. Guy and Anna had 10 children: William, Cora, Bob, Bertha, Aldean, Shirley, Harvey, Andrew, Calvin and Thomas. They all started working early and Cal was no different.
He worked on several different ranches while growing up. After marrying Arlene, they worked for Jeb and Hattie Wise. Cal was hired on as a ranch hand and Arlene as a cook, although she said she didn’t know how.
Later, they would start the Fritzlan Ranch, where they guided hunters and fishermen and Arlene cooked at the Fritzlan’s Cafe. She sent Christmas cards to all the guests that signed the book and she ran a business that became a tradition in many people’s lives — from hunters coming every year, to locals getting dinner once a week.
Arlene learned at an extremely young age the significance of hard work and she is one of the few who started her life up the North Fork and will always call it home. She and Cal passed down a love for the outdoors and survival skills learned from doing just that, surviving.
Their children — Mona (Avey), Betsie (Thompson), Beverly (Bloch), Sandra, and Jackie (Bissell) – all have learned the value of a sense of humor and the importance of dependability. Arlene travels some, has been known to out-walk her grandkids on hunting trips, and continues to “tell it like it is.”