Portrait of Russell Coles from the American Legion Post No. 62 collection.

Museum of Northwest Colorado/Courtesy

Portrait of Russell Coles from the American Legion Post No. 62 collection.

Coles kept the books for Moffat County

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Museum of Northwest Colorado/Courtesy

This photo of Russell and Catherine Coles was taken in 1972 at their 50th wedding anniversary party.

While some of Craig's leaders worked in the limelight, helping the city to grow, others stayed in the background, providing invaluable guidance in critical areas.

One such person was Russell H. Coles, who kept the books of Moffat County for nearly 30 years.

Coles was born July 8, 1894, in Morris, Ill., to lawyer Nathan Eugene and his wife, Mary Elizabeth. The young boy spent many hours with his grandmother and her teaching was credited with the character and integrity he displayed throughout his life.

In 1904, his father became a partner in the law firm of Bucklin and Coles, and the family moved to Grand Junction. Ten-year-old Russell made the railroad trip from Illinois with his father in an immigrant car, tending to his pony along the way.

The cars were a common way for newcomers to the west to move their possessions. Household goods were packed in one section of the car and livestock traveled in another. Upon their arrival at the travelers' new home, the cars were pulled onto a side track for unloading.

Russell made his first trip to Northwest Colorado as a teenager in 1908, when his father homesteaded a ranch in southern Moffat County. When he was 15, he worked during the summer months for D.C. Weyand, tending the horses used on the Craig-to-Axial stage line. Those early experiences led the young Coles to make the decision to settle in the area as an adult.

He graduated from high school in Grand Junction in 1914 and then attended the University of Denver. He entered the military in 1918 and served in WWI until 1919. When he was discharged, he headed back to the ranch at Axial Basin to settle down.

He attended a dance at Waddle Creek School in 1921 and met a young school teacher from Pagoda School. The pair hit it off, and he married Catherine Craig on April 27, 1922, at her parents' ranch on Williams Fork. After the ceremony, the couple returned to the Coles ranch and began their lives together.

They spent the next 15 years ranching and raising their five children on the ranch at Axial Basin and another in Mesa County. Russell spent a short time serving in the Mesa County treasurer's office, and this experience gave him a taste of his future. The Great Depression took their land in Mesa County, and the family moved back to Moffat County.

In 1936, he ran for the position of Moffat County Treasurer, but was defeated. However, he was hired as Deputy Treasurer by his former opponent Chester James.

James was called into active duty in 1940 during WWII, and Coles was appointed to take his place. It was a position he would hold for the next 30 years as his constituents re-elected him many times. When he first took over the treasurer's position, the county's average balance was $120,000. By the time he retired in 1967, the balance was many times that amount.

He had promised his wife that if he got a job, he would never quit it, and he was true to his word. Upon his retirement, his friend I.P. Beckett said of him, "Politicians run until they are defeated; statesmen run until they resign." (Craig Empire-Courier Jan. 5, 1967)

The Coles were active in the social side of Moffat County, including the Congregational Church, Lions Club, Yampa Lodge 388 AF&AM, Colorado Anita Chapter OES, and American Legion Post No. 62, of which he served as commandant.

Catherine credited the guidance of her stepmother, Maude Campbell, and the struggles of raising five children during the Depression with her strength of character. She supported a son, son-in-law and two nephews in letters she wrote as they served during WWII and actively supported her husband's political career.

Russell was the first treasurer for The Memorial Hospital and had the honor of receiving the first dollar donated for the construction of the facility. He worked tirelessly in the community to promote the hospital and facilitate its existence.

Russell Coles died Nov. 7, 1973, at the hospital he helped to build. Many Craig businessmen showed their respect at his funeral. After his death, Catherine moved to Littleton to live near three of her children. She died at the age of 92 on Feb. 7, 1994. The Coles are buried next to each other in Craig Cemetery.

- Written in cooperation with the Museum of Northwest Colorado and the Craig Daily Press.

Shannan Koucherik may be reached at honeyrockdogs@msn.com

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