Looking back at haunted hunting grounds

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Doesn’t everyone love a good ghost story? This is the season for unexplainable phenomena and whether one believes that houses can be haunted or not, the stories of spirits coming back and unnerving the current residents of some historic residents continue to appeal to many. The continued reports of televisions’s turning on and off, doors opening and closing, and lights flickering on and off at the Meeker Hotel demonstrate that most of us are fascinated by such things.
Interviews with some of the local pioneer families for the Rio Blanco Historical Society’s “This Is What I Remember” series brought to light all sorts of interesting accounts of such things. Though it is hard to verify the individual sightings, stories told throughout the years seem to validate themselves through the telling, becoming local legends. In the late 1800s, some wealthy individuals who came to the White River Valley to hunt discovered they could purchase huge amounts of property on the lower White River, as well as miles and miles of unspoiled acreage on the upper White River. Benjamin M. Vaughan was said to be one of the first of these millionaires, when he purchased the Cross Bar Z ranch, as well as property on North Elk Creek.
One story passed on year after year was the reported sights and sounds of regular visitations to Vaughan’s local residences. The lodge had an aspen log ceiling in the shape of a spider’s web and door windowpanes in the shape of diamonds with special significance to the family. Apparently his ranch manager A.C. Ellison shared many a mysterious tale about the suspicious goings-on after the death of Mrs. Vaughan, as her spirit was said to have returned to both the lodge and the house in town. The most unusual sound heard after she was gone was rustling sound of her silk skirts, but it was also reported that sleigh bells could be heard in the summertime as well. Some of the reports were more commonly associated with spirits, such as wooden floorboards creaking, or knocking sounds on the walls and doors like furniture was being moved around.
Although many people were skeptical of Mr. Vaughan’s strong belief in ghostly spirits and their ghostly appearances in his lodge, they weren’t surprised by the story that circulated the last time he visited there. Reportedly Vaughn instructed his employees to set the dining table with the best linens, china and crystal, and prepare a fancy dinner, so that the spirits would be able to dine well in his absence. He never returned to the Upper White River Valley again, and the lodge was left to the spirits.
Margaret Smith Isaac reported in her book “The Henry Smith Family and People and Places In Their Lives” (1974), that the grandson of A.C. Ellison, the Vaughan ranch manager for so many years, said that Vaughan’s saddle horse died at the Cross Bar Z Ranch at the same hour that B.M. Vaughan died in New York. His sister, Mrs. Annie Watson, had the lodge torn down, and although no one could be sure the reason, it was said that Mr. Vaughan did not want anyone to disturb the spirits living there.