Cold, hard winters didn’t stop Meeker area pioneers

This classic sleigh, used to battle the snowy elements in Rio Blanco County in the 1900s, is on display at the White River Museum in Meeker. The sleigh was donated to the museum by the Sprod family.

This classic sleigh, used to battle the snowy elements in  Rio Blanco County in the 1900s, is on display at the White River Museum in Meeker. The sleigh was donated to the museum by the Sprod family.
This classic sleigh, used to battle the snowy elements in Rio Blanco County in the 1900s, is on display at the White River Museum in Meeker. The sleigh was donated to the museum by the Sprod family.

MEEKER I The last few weeks have seen the temperatures plummet and the cold could invoke some complaining. After all, the cars are cold, the roads are slick, and the kids have to walk from the car to the school in sub-zero temperatures.
Perhaps a quick trip back to the old “school days” will ease the chill, warm the heart and provide perspective.
Imagine the temperature is an average low of 4 degrees and a high of 36. It is December 1913, in Meeker. The students and teachers in the rural schools have grown accustomed to riding a horse-drawn sleigh, skis, sled or simply walking or riding a horse to school in the cold and snow.
Some children use heated rocks to keep their toes warm on the way to school and they will have the chance to reheat the rocks at school for their trek home.
The school house is warm as the teacher arrives an hour early to start the fire in the stove. The snowfall is usually heavier in February and March, but on Dec. 4 a record storm hit, dropping between 45 and 86 inches of snow in various cities across the state.
The amazing thing about the storm is that it seemed to have much less effect on the actual carrying on of the communities. They simply dug out, they didn’t wait for someone to come, and they helped their neighbors so everyone could get back to work.
The rural schools like Marvine, Wilson Creek, Powell Park, Coal Creek, the Mesa and throughout the county no doubt had to have “snow days,” or, in the case of “Lime Kiln,” snow months. But winter did not stop education.
The work the teachers did was incredible. They not only taught school, they were in charge of keeping the building warm, often making soup for the children and so many other chores. There was no indoor plumbing in many of the rural schools, but the teachers, then as now, did what they needed to do for the kids.
One rural teacher was Jennie Spence. The Coal Creek School is what got her family to stay in Meeker as her father taught there during the fall and winter of 1898.
C.F and Rose Brown, Jennie’s parents, came to Meeker by covered wagon and were on their way to California when they stopped in the area. C.F. Brown became friends with Mr. Wilber, who had school-aged children, and C.F. was convinced to stay and teach as he had a certificate from Illinois. He later became the superintendent of schools for Meeker.
Jennie was a teacher at the Coal Creek School and some surnames of the kids she taught included: Wilber, Bloomfield, Howey, Smith, Amick, Lunney, Murray, Sorrenson, Sykes, Dunham, Kracht, Richardson, Raley, Pearce and more.
Instead of getting up, going outside, starting the car, putting on battery-operated hand-warming gloves and driving on recently plowed roads to drop their children off on the shoveled sidewalk 20 feet from the enormous, new well-heated school of today, the morning ritual may have included getting up early, adding wood to the fire, milking the cows, gathering eggs and getting dressed for the trip to school.
Kids traveled up to five miles to school. After the five-mile return trip, they completed their chores and, only then, ventured inside to eat a home-cooked meal, do their homework and then return to bed.
Some weather facts for our community are: The coldest day recorded here was minus-48 in 1963. In 1990 the town endured the longest stretch of record cold with the days around Christmas dropping to minus-42 and staying for 11 days below minus-15. In 1972, we had the coldest December.
Nonetheless, it is the weather in Colorado that brings so many people in. It is the toughness of those before us and the genetic predisposition to survive that keeps families in Meeker for generations.