Augusta and A.G. Wallihan are shown, along with an unknown woman, in front of the Lay Colorado Post Office

Museum of Northwest Colorado/courtesy

Augusta and A.G. Wallihan are shown, along with an unknown woman, in front of the Lay Colorado Post Office

Moffat County History: Town of Lay faded into history

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Museum of Northwest Colorado/courtesy

This view of the Wallihan homestead in Lay includes A.G., left, Augusta, right, and several of their friends

photo

Museum of Northwest Colorado/courtesy

A.G. Wallihan took this photo of Lay in about 1891. Augusta Wallihan is in the middle, and the woman on the left could be Augusta's niece, Ada Higgins. The man on the right is unknown.

Editor's note: The stories of Craig and Moffat County's history written for this series in 2009 are made possible through a generous grant from the Kenneth Kendall King Foundation to the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

Craig wasn't the first community to develop in Northwest Colorado, nor was it the largest in the early years of development of the area.

While Craig originally was settled by businessmen hoping to turn a profit from land sales, its closest neighbor to the west began for a different reason.

After the Thornburgh Battle and the Meeker Massacre in 1879, several military posts were set up during the relocation of the Utes to Utah.

The "Government Road" ran from Fort Steele and Rawlins, Wyo., to the garrison in Meeker.

Camps were set up at strategic places along the road, to protect the soldiers and provisions that traveled the road.

One of those was under the command of Lieutenant McCalla.

Traditional history claims that McCalla named his command, Camp Lay, in honor of his sweetheart back home in Chicago. The camp was operational until 1881 when the Utes had been removed from Northwest Colorado.

McCalla became a colonel and married Miss Lay in Chicago.

The creek that ran through the area eventually was named Lay Creek, and when a post office was established there in 1881 by cattle king Ora Haley, the name became permanent.

Haley built several log structures near the post and made them the headquarters for his expansive operations that ran as many as 40,000 head of cattle throughout Routt County.

"It was about the center of his cattle range, and vast herds of cattle belonging to him and the other cattle outfits of the time passed twice annually going to their summer range in California Park country in the spring, and back to their winter range in the fall and early winter.

"In these migrations, they were helped by the riders of the different outfits who were practically the sole inhabitants of the country. The 'spring roundup' and the fall 'shovedown' were the two great events of the year. From 25 to 50 riders made the hills ring with their whoops and cries to the cattle as they brought them to the round up grounds in the different sections of the country." (A.G. Wallihan, Craig Empire, December 30, 1925)

Allen G. Wallihan, a 20-year-old, left his home state of Wisconsin in 1870 to find adventure in Colorado.

He didn't stay long on his first venture and returned home.

After a few years, he realized that he missed the mountains and the spaces in Colorado and in 1879 he headed back West, spending time hunting in Leadville and Colorado Springs before moving on to Lily Park in July 1882. He eventually would become one of the most recognized people living in the unique little community of Lay.

Wallihan became the second postmaster of Lay in February 1885 and kept that office for decades. He gained world renown for his wildlife photography and he and his wife, Augusta, were outspoken proponents of wildlife conservation.

They took up a homestead in Lay, but Wallihan was more interested in photography and writing about his adopted homeland than ranching, and he kept minimal livestock and hired out most of the work on the land.

Other families who moved to the Lay area took up homesteads and worked the land. In addition to cattle and sheep, these settlers also planted large amounts of wheat, rye, corn, oats and potatoes.

Those family names became foundations of the development of Northwest Colorado and Moffat County.

The homesteaders didn't limit themselves to livestock and grains. They discovered gold and limestone and developed a hot spring that had been used by the Utes for centuries. They used their creativity to survive. Some became politicians and others astute businessmen and women.

On Oct. 23, 1918, the town site plat was filed by the Wallihan Townsite and Investment Company, with A.G. Wallihan as president and Louis B. Wakeland as secretary.

In 1920, Wallihan reported that the previous year had been a prosperous one for Lay.

The Pioneer Hotel and a blacksmith shop were built by Andy Cowan, a garage was built by the Lay Motor Company, and several new homes were constructed in or near the town.

Attendance at the white schoolhouse, built in 1910, had risen to 20, and despite a drought, the ranchers were "holding their own." A total of 57,000 acres had been filed on or around Lay under the first homestead act. (Craig Empire, January 21, 1920)

When it became clear that the Moffat Road would never extend past Craig, dreams began to fade in Lay.

By 1950, there was still an active community, as second generation ranchers kept the town alive. A weekly contribution to the Craig Empire Courier reported parties, 4-H meetings, visitors and minor landmarks.

"Mr. Ralph Ostrander, the postal inspector, was here at the post office Sunday afternoon. He swore in Mrs. Anna Maudlin for acting postmaster to replace Mr. O.L. Wilson, who has retired." (Craig Empire Courier, April 4, 1951)

Elmer and Anna Maudlin purchased the homestead from the Wallihan's.

When they sold the property in 1951 to L.S. Wyman and R.H. Pitchford, they reserved a 20-by-20 plot of land that contains the graves of A.G. and Augusta Wallihan. In 1995, Anna Maudlin donated the land to the Museum. Augusta had died in 1922 and A.G. died in 1935.

The site offers a breathtaking view of the valley on all sides and makes it clear why so many people found the area such a promising place to call home.

In the years to follow, ranching families moved out as their children grew and took up other interests. The original homesteaders were gone and much of the vision went with them.

Coal mines were proposed but not developed. Gold claims proved unprofitable.

Around this town site and throughout the area, a number of new homes were built in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, the Lay schoolhouse sits with broken windows and a sagging roof. Barn swallows have taken the place of students and old textbooks molder in a corner of the classroom.

Faded 4H pledge banners still hang on the wall and someone's birthday greeting still is scrawled on the worn blackboard. The swing set still stands firm, but seatless, with hand forged fittings that have worn into the dark smoothness of old iron.

Remaining fragments of streets are quiet now, and the few remaining original buildings have only a few contemporary homes scattered around them.

Motorists speeding along U.S. Highway 40 aren't likely to take more than a glancing take of what was once a bustling community.

Why some towns develop and grow while others fade back into the land is subject to the whims of fate more than the hard work of settlers.

Future historians likely will debate the reasons as they sift through the remnants of lifestyles long gone.

Shannan Koucherik may be reached at honeyrockdogs@msn.com

Comments

RangerDoris 5 years, 2 months ago

Did you know there is a National Park site devoted to telling the story of the Homestead Act of 1862? To learn more about what may be the most influential piece of legislation this country has ever created go to www.nps.gov/home or visit Homestead National Monument of America. Located in Nebraska, the Monument includes one of the first 160 acres homestead claims but tells the story of homesteading throughout the United States. Nearly 4 million claims in 30 states were made under the Homestead Act and 1.6 million or 40 percent were successful. The Homestead Act was not repealed until 1976 and extended in Alaska until 1986. Homesteads could be claimed by "head of households" that were citizens or eligible for citizenship. New immigrants, African-Americans, women who were single, widowed or divorced all took advantage of the Homestead Act. It is estimated that as many as 93 million Americans are descendents of these homesteaders today. This is a story as big, fascinating, conflicted and contradictory as the United States itself. Learn more!

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