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I like finding interesting art as I travel. Imagine my surprise upon finding a small sculpture and history park behind the Holiday Inn Express where we were passing through in Fraser, Colorado.
On our recent road trip through Rocky Mountain National Park, we stopped to spend the night in Fraser, on the southern side of the park, before moving on with the rest of our Colorado road trip. Behind the Holiday Inn Express where were were spending the night, was the beginning of a the paved five mile Fraser River Trail which extends all the way to the Winter Park ski resort. In Fraser, this trail is anchored by the “Walk Through History Park” with sculptures in bronze created and donated by J. M. Hoy. For Mr. Hoy these sculptures and the research into the stories of each character, were a labor of love. They were made as a part of his Western Heritage Collection as a means of inspiring young people to learn about America’s frontier. The original sculptures were carved from native Colorado Engleman Spruce trees, some as old as 500 years. Time and weather have taken their toll, and the wood sculptures have been replaced by bronze. Beside each sculpture is a plaque with the detailed frontier history that inspired the piece.
The American West is characterized by dry arid land. Grass lands that were once grazed by herds of buffalo, were eventually taken over by herds of specially bred Longhorn cattle. By the 1880’s beef was in high demand and cattle ranching was extremely profitable. Large herds were driven from Texas north to Kansas to connect with the newly expanded railroads which moved the beef east to meet the growing demand.
No other figure epitomizes the American West as the Cowboy. Mr. Hoy dispells the Hollywood myth and clarifies that a cowboy’s job was more about fixing fences, chasing strays and sitting in the saddle for hours in the rain during a drive. Not the romantic, gunfight version from the movies.
Jeremiah Johnson was one of many legendary Mountain Men that came west to hunt and trade with the native Indians. After the Crow killed his Flathead Indian wife and unborn child in 1847, he waged a personal 20 year war against the Crow nation, killing many Crow for revenge, and supposedly, eating the raw liver of his defeated foe. He eventually made peace with the Crow and even fought on their side against other Indian tribes. He fought in the Civil War, and then moved into law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in Wyoming and then as a marshal in Montana. As the west disappeared, so did this wild mountain man, dying in an old soldiers home in Los Angeles in 1900.
The Frontier Infantry
The army’s foot infantry have never gotten the same recognition that the cavalry has received when it came to settling the west (after all, in movie westerns, it’s always the bugling cavalry that come to save the day). But, apparently, the foot infantry actually outlasted the horse cavalry in a long campaign. Both of these groups played a critical role in the expansion and settlement of the west, acting as the long-arm of the president and congress, battling with the Indians in order to make the American expansion possible. After the Civil War, many of the frontier regiments were black soldiers, and were called “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Indians because of their dark skin and curly hair.
For 49 years, Doctor Susan Anderson was the only doctor in the town of Fraser. “Doc Susie” a she was called, got her MD from the University of Michigan in 1898 and then went back to Colorado where she eventually was able to set up a practice in her log home on the front range. She spent a lifetime caring for the sick or injured, getting to them by whatever means possible – horseback, snowshoe, buckboard wagon or train – but never a car. She was one of the early women doctors, making a name for herself in a field dominated by men, and did not retire from practice till 1956. She was born in 1870 and lived to be 90, dying in 1960. How much had the west changed in her lifetime?
A Mountain Man, Jim Brdger was considered to be one of America’s greatest frontiersman and the Rocky Mountain’s greatest scout. In his youth he explored the west as a fur trapper and trader. Eventually he established his own fur company and trading post which served pioneers on the Oregon Trail. He was one of the first white men to see the geysers in what is now Yellowstone and is attribute to be the man that discovered the Great Salt Lake. He found a pass through the mountains, now named after him, that shortened the Oregon Trail by sixty one miles. Bridger Pass was eventually used by the Union Pacific Railroad and eventually also became a route for Interstate 80.
Lawman and rancher. Bill Cozens was a tough sheriff in a tough town – the gold mining town of Central City, Colorado. Eventually, he settled his family in a 700 acre ranch in what is now the town of Fraser – basically in the area where the Holiday Inn Express is located. He was the first to settle in this valley, and his huge ranch included a stage stop, a hotel and the first Fraser post office. Bill Cozens served as the postmaster until his death in 1904. The family ranch is now a historical museum on Rt. 40, about half way between Fraser and the ski resort of Winter Park.
Touring this little sculpture park did not take long, but learning about these local figures added immensely to my understanding of the history of this area – something I knew nothing about. Finding hidden gems like this adds meaning and context to my travel experiences beyond taking the perfect photo or adding a check mark to my bucket list.
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