Early GJ was real Wild West: Indians, cattle rustlers and all

Grand Junction’s first water pipes were laid late in the fall of 1888. The city built a 100-foot high standpipe at the corner of North Seventh Street and Ouray Avenue. The pump was located at the foot of Fifth Street, by the original bridge across the Colorado River.

When 9-year-old Mark J. McKeel arrived in Grand Junction with his father on that clear, bright morning of June 17, 1887, the city was still a small frontier town. There were no water or sewer systems, no electric lights or telephone, and few sidewalks, streets or roads.

“You just wandered through the greasewood,” McKeel recalled in a memoir he wrote in 1936. The pioneer resident’s depiction of Grand Junction’s earliest days came from his grandson, Russ McKeel. Mark J. McKeel, who had been a butcher in various local grocery stores, died Feb. 19, 1959.

Among McKeel’s colorful recollections:

When cowboys came to town they would drive their cattle to the end of Main Street, then race back to the saloon. They’d be there for half an hour or so and then round up the cattle and be on their way. Cattle thieves were plenty thick, and they weren’t particular about whose cattle they took. Everyone rode with a six-shooter strapped on. Some of the cowboys had two — and maybe carried Winchesters on their saddles.

There wasn’t a water system in town. You could, however, get water delivered for 25 cents a barrel. George Barr had a water wagon, and he backed up to the door to fill your barrel with water that was used mostly for drinking and cooking. To do the scrubbing or washing, water was carried from irrigation ditches that ran down the street. The first water pipes were laid late in the fall of 1888. The city built a 100-foot-high standpipe at the northeast corner of North Seventh Street and Ouray Avenue. The pump was located at the foot of Fifth Street, by the original bridge across the Colorado River.

Log and adobe brick cabins were located all along the main street. One of the cabins was a confectionery shop, and another was a saddle and harness shop.

The corner of Fifth and Main streets was made up of the First National Bank, housed in a small, wood-frame building on the northwest corner; Grand Junction’s first hotel, the Randall House, on the northeast corner; a real estate office on the southeast corner; and a frame building about 75 feet long and 16 feet wide, divided into four or six rooms and located on the southwest corner.  This building housed the justice of the peace, a shoe shop, a barber shop and a furniture repair store.

The first school built with taxpayer money came in 1884. It was a four-room building of brick at the southeast corner of White Avenue and Fifth Street. The teaching staff was made up of three women and one man. The city of Grand Junction first remodeled the school and later scrapped it to build the present City Hall.

In the 300 block of Main Street stood the Brunswick Hotel, owned by Grand Junction founder George Crawford. A blacksmith shop stood on the southwest corner of Third and Main streets.

Louis Strause, whose building was at the corner of Fourth and Main Streets, ran a clothing store and also bought and sold hides of all kinds.

McKeel wrote that Colorado Avenue was called Hoodoo Street, and gambling ran rampant with such games as Four Banks, craps, poker and roulette. Saloons ran day and night, never closing for any reason.

There were two Chinese laundries. Yup Mow owned the one on Colorado, and Sam Sing owned the one on Main Street.

P.A. Rice ran a lumberyard at the northwest corner of Fourth Street and Ute Avenue. The lumber was brought down from Pi&#241on Mesa, then loaded onto the Gordon Ferry to cross the Grand (now Colorado) River. On the city side, the ferry dock was in the Riverside area.

Teller Indian Institute, now the Grand Junction Regional Center, was maintained by the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. In addition to regular schoolwork, Indian children could learn a trade such as shoemaking or harness-making. McKeel said the parents of the Indian children in the school came to visit about twice a year. Some of the students came from the Uintah reservation and others from near Fort Duchesne, Utah. Very few Ute Indian children attended the Teller Institute.

The Indians all rode bareback, and few horses had bridles, most sporting rawhide hackamores (a kind of noseband without a bit). McKeel wrote that Grand Junction looked like a typical Western frontier town, as the Indians would string their horses three or four blocks down Main Street. According to McKeel, the Indian families would stay and visit for about a week and then return home.

McKeel summed up his memoir with: “I have seen the city in balmy days and in the depression days, I have seen the city bought and sold a number of times, and still it’s a pretty good place to live in.”

I agree it is a pretty good place to live.

Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.


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LOS ANGELES — Drew Carey is bringing his improv stylings back to TV.

Carey will star in an improvised sketch comedy series that’s set to debut next spring on the Game Show Network.

Joining Carey will be some of the comedians who appeared with him on the ABC improv series “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

The cast of the new GSN show has yet to be set, Carey said Thursday, but likely will include, among others, Ryan Stiles, Chip Esten and Kathy Kinney, who was a regular on “The Drew Carey Show.”

The 40-episode show will be taped on weekends at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Carey, who stages improv shows at clubs there and elsewhere around the country, will continue as host of “The Price Is Right.”

Unlike “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, in which the cast worked from producers’ suggestions, the new show will rely on the audience to provide ideas for sketches, Carey said.

“‘Line’ was structured and this show is a lot more free-form,” he said. Carey added that he doesn’t plan to “hog the stage,” tipping his hat to colleagues he says trump him at the art of improv.

Carey also is a producer for the new show, which will feature guest stars along with a rotating cast.


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