History column: Boxing, brick-laying and homesteading

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Frank “Russell” Rasmussen poses for a formal boxing portrait circa 1928.

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Frankie "Russell" Rasmussen, left, poses with Charlie Caustin, fight manager, and Bud Hurd "The Denver Kid." Frank married Bud’s sister, Irene in 1933, and took up homesteading with her, in addition to his "day job" as a brick layer.

Lured by the promise of free land, Stephen and Harriet Hurd came to Moffat County from Iowa in 1917 with their children Irene, Bud, Lela and Celia. They filed on a homestead site 18 miles northeast of Craig near the Little Bear Creek. As with many of the later homesteads in Moffat County, the Hurd homestead was situated on the edge of the forest reserve. This land was generally not suitable for more than subsistence gardening and stock raising. Stephen Hurd frequently had to work elsewhere for short periods of time to augment the homestead income.

There was a school for the children 4 miles from their home at Dry Fork on the Little Bear. The school was usually in session only in the milder summer months, when the students would not have to fight the bitter cold and deep snows to attend. The Hurd family would move into Craig during the winter months so the children could attend school in town.

Irene Hurd graduated in 1924 from Craig High School and went on to obtain her teaching certificate from the Colorado State Teachers College, now the University of Northern Colorado. She returned to Craig and taught in rural schools throughout the county. During that time, boxing was fast gaining in popularity, and Irene’s brother Bud was a boxer and fight promoter. Many professional fights were held in Craig at the Armory on Yampa Avenue, which now houses the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

A friend of Bud’s, Frank Rasmussen, who was fighting under the name Frankie Russell, had moved to Craig from Illinois after falling in love with Colorado and the West. He also was a professional a brick layer when not in the ring. Bud introduced Frank to Irene, and Frank soon was smitten with the girl from Craig. At that time, it was a school district policy that only unmarried women could teach school. In an effort to circumvent that policy, Irene and Frank secretly married in June 1933 while visiting the World’s Fair in Chicago. Their secret leaked and was announced in the local newspaper in December, thus ending Irene’s teaching career.

The young couple moved up to the Hurd homestead on the Little Bear and took up ranching while Frank continued both his boxing and brick-laying careers. Irene shouldered much of the homesteading and homemaking duties in that remote location during those early years. The Rasmussens lived on the homestead until Frank’s death in 1960. Irene then sold the homestead and moved to Craig, where she lived until 1992 when she moved to Colorado Springs to be near her nephew Jim Hurd. She died Sept. 18, 2002, at age 98.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado now has a display featuring the Hurd homestead years and another display filled with Frankie Russell’s boxing gear. These two displays highlight just another of the many homestead families that contributed to the history and formation of our community. Be sure to include a visit to the museum this summer; it is open Mondays through Saturdays with free admission.

Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar of the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

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