Happy 120th Birthday, Rio Blanco County! March 25, 1889

Happy birthday, Rio Blanco County.
A special section in today’s paper honors the history of the county and recognizes the men and women who serve the county today.
You may not have know it, but 2009 to 2010 has marked the 120th anniversary year for the county, which, according to records, was originated March 25, 1889.
The top story in the March 23, 1889, issue of The Meeker Herald, which was all of four pages, proclaimed, “All Hail! Rio Blanco!”
Here are excepts from the story:
“Governor Cooper has signed House bill No. 107, creating the county of Rio Blanco, and all that remains yet to be done at the capitol is the appointing of the various county officers. … It is merely a question of time and we will be in running order.
“… a meeting was held at the Meeker school-house to suggest a list of names for the offices of the new county of Rio Blanco to be appointed by Governor Cooper.
“Action was then taken on the recommendations of the outside precincts and resulted in the endorsement of the following gentlemen for the offices named: For County Commissioner for Upper White — Wm. Welty; Lower White — Arthur B. Critchlow. For Sheriff — Duncan K. VanCleef. For Clerk and Recorder — George W. Temple; For Assessor — Oliver P. Y. Burch. For Superintendent of Schools — Chas. Y. Grimes. For Judge — Henry A. Wildhack. For Treasurer — Henry J. Hay.
In the previous week’s issue of The Herald, the main headline read:
“AT LAST! The Rio Blanco Bill Passes Both Houses. After a Four Years’ Struggle the White River People Triumph.”
The story in the March 16, 1889, issue, documented the efforts to form Rio Blanco County.
“After several weeks of suspense and attendant anxiety the bill creating Rio Blanco County has at last passed both houses of the State Legislature.
“The struggle just closed marks the third and last effort by the people of White River in favor of a division of Garfield County and the creation of a county out of the territory drained by White River.
“The first attempt at division was made at the session of 1885, the next in 1887 and the last and successful effort at the present session. In ’85 Garfield County was thinly settled and had very little taxable property, so the division was not pressed very hard at the session. Before the session of ’87 convened the county has increased rapidly in both population and taxable property and the citizens of this side made their second effort to have a county established on the banks of the White River, but again met with failure.
“… The various opposing factors were too strong in ’87 and the effort to cut loose from the southern end of Garfield County died aborn’ at that session.
“White River entered the fight for the third and last time under more favorable auspices than on either of the two previous occasions. The time we had the earnest and hearty support of a man who is destined, at no distant day, to become the foremost Republican in Colorado. We refer to Hon. H. H. Eddy, Speaker of the House, who fought hard and faithfully for the bill from beginning to end and finally triumphed over the most powerful opposition brought to bear against any measure introduced in the present session. Without Mr. Eddy’s aid the bill creating Rio Blanco County could never have passed either branch of the Legislature.
“The bill was originally introduced in the House by Mr. (Charles) Bartholomew of Summit, our Representative in the House, under the title of Sherman County, which name was changed at the (insistence) of Mr. Eddy to Rio Blanco (White River) County. Rio Blanco is appropriate and meets with the approval of the people.
“Rio Blanco County is the outcome of a long and hard fought struggle. … It was the unanimous wish (with two or three exceptions) of the residents of the White River country that the new county be established. A large number of our heaviest taxpayers spent value time, paid their own traveling and hotel expenses, and worked and watched the bill throughout all its stages. We believe these men were all influenced solely by motives in the interest of the whole people, and The Herald would be derelict in its duty to them did it fail to render unto them the full measure of praise they have so justly earned and merited.”
The Herald’s editor and proprietor (as he was listed in the paper, which, by the way, was published on Saturdays), James Lyttle, went on to list the names of the men, which included the likes of J.W. Hugus. The two-story downtown building at the corner of Sixth and Main in Meeker still bears his name.
Lyttle ended his reporting with these words: “And now that the White River people have gained what they have long, earnestly and justly contended for, let all turn in and work with one common end in view — namely, the welfare and advancement of Rio Blanco County.”
Seems to me, those same sentiments should still apply today.
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As Lyttle noted, the formation of Rio Blanco County was not without opposition.
The following is from the New Empire, a newspaper at the time in Glenwood Springs:
“If The Meeker Herald may be taken as a criterion our neighbors of White River, but not more accurately designated as the good people of Rio Blanco County, are nearly wild with joy over the successful ending of a twice-made attempt at secession. Rio Blanco is indeed come into the family circle of counties of Colorado, but the jubilant Herald greatly exaggerates the opposition to the measure put forth by Glenwood Springs. To be sure the bill was never endorsed by a majority of the citizens on this side of the plateau, but opposition had only begun when it was found that the fight would most likely fail … Many of our citizens came around to the conclusion that Garfield County would be better off with division. … So, after all, we are quite willing to rejoice with the Herald and Rio Blanco over the result. Our best wishes go with the people of the new county, and we sincerely trust they may have no more occasion to regret the separation in future years than the people of the county have at the present time. We are still honestly of the opinion that the taxpayers of Rio Blanco will be losers by the transaction.”
Talk about a backhanded compliment.
In a year of milestone anniversaries, this is the 125th year of the town of Meeker, of Range Call and of the Herald Times.
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Kathleen Martynowicz of Rangely, recruiting assistant for Rio Blanco County, reports, “Just wanted to let you know that the census is still recruiting and hiring people. In fact, more people are now needed because of the big upcoming operation — following up with people who do not send back their census forms.”
If interested, call 675-5008.
• • • • •
My apologies to James Branch of ExxonMobil, Bob Tobin and Sandy Rick for misidentifying them in photo cutlines in last week’s edition.
It was one of those weeks.
• • • • •
Regardless of where you come down on the health-care debate — and I don’t trust either side — all I know is I’ve been turned down for health insurance at least three times for pre-existing conditions, one of which I’ve taken medication for for 20 years. Yet, I exercise every day, I don’t drink alcohol, my cholesterol and blood pressure are excellent and I’m not overweight.
But, according to some insurance underwriter’s formula out there, I don’t qualify for health insurance. I’m sorry, but something’s wrong with the system.
• • • • •
In researching the county’s history, it was fun reading the old copies of The Herald.
Here’s an item I found that was included under the column “Home News,” which was made up of tidbits about local happenings.
“Ed. Smizer informs The Herald that he has been gathering important statistics of late concerning the welfare of the new county. Among other things he says there are 176 unmarried men over the age of 26 years, on Piceance and White River; and as an offset there are but 25 girls, old maids and widows over the age of 22 and without mates. Needless to remark, Ed. is one of the 176, and we can easily see why he is bothering himself with such statistics.”
You’ve gotta love a small town.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.