Moffat County History: Oral history preserves Moffat County treasures
December 26, 2009
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.
From the earliest days of civilization, people have passed on their life experiences to their families and neighbors. The verbal histories that were passed from generation to generation provided valuable information and enriched the lives of those who heard and later passed them on to others.
Unlike other parts of the United States, where the foundations of community are buried under hundreds of years of living, there is a unique opportunity in the West to capture the verbal histories directly from the people who lived through the early days of Craig and the development of Northwest Colorado.
The tradition of collecting oral history in Moffat County began in the early 1970s, when several members of the Library Board became interested in such a project.
Joann Stoddard contacted the Colorado Historical Society's oral history department and requested information from W.E. Marshall asking about tape recordings that had been done with Routt County rancher and politician Ferry Carpenter.
She learned the basics of interviewing pioneers and taping their conversations, and the small group began seeking out subjects — focusing not on people who were very well known, but on the people who lived their lives quietly and productively.
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Each person's story added another strand to the tapestry of the community and the region.
The first published collection of transcribed interviews was issued in February 1980. The collection was edited and organized by A. Dudley Gardner, an instructor for Colorado Northwestern Community College. Some of the students in his Colorado History and Oral History classes also became involved with the interviews.
Some early subjects were interviewed multiple times by family members as their stories were incident oriented. Others wrote their stories out and submitted them to the volunteers for inclusion.
As the program developed throughout the years, volunteers became more professional in their interviews and transcriptions.
As legal requirements changed, the volunteers learned about the necessity of releases from their subjects to allow publication.
Sadly, some subjects allowed interviews but then decided not to permit publication of their stories.
In the mid-1980s, Maybell librarian Katie Buffam became interested in the project.
She and Jeanne Baker began conducting interviews with residents around Maybell. Several transcripts from this period exist, but the releases have not survived with the transcripts so the stories cannot be published today.
As taped interviews were completed, they were added to a little-known collection in the Moffat County Libraries.
A second volume of collected histories were published in 1986. "Oral Historical Accounts of NW Colorado" was edited by A. Dudley Gardner and Verla R. Flores and published by Western Wyoming College.
After that volume, individual histories were printed in their own volumes. The Moffat County Libraries covered printing costs and maintain copies of the histories for public use.
LeAnn Davis-Kling, Sharon Andrews and Larry Pletcher began conducting interviews in the early 1990s. Andrews completed 10 interviews during her tenure.
As the program grew during the 1990s, the Museum of Northwest Colorado and the library worked together to develop interview guidelines, information forms and releases to permit publishing of each interview.
They used the "Idaho Oral History Center Field Notebook for Oral History" as a guide. This allowed for continuity and ease of management as new interviews were conducted, transcribed and printed.
Currently, there are two interviewers working on the program — Larry Pletcher and Wilma Taylor-Baker, who joined the program in the mid-1990s.
Today's subjects are longtime residents of Moffat County.
There is an urgency to get these early residents before they die and their stories are gone forever. When each subject agrees to be interviewed on tape, the program is explained to them and a meeting time and place is arranged.
They are asked how they got to Moffat County and their family history. There is no set direction for the interview as each subject remembers and relates in a different manner.
When the interviews are completed, they go to a transcriber. The interviewer then proofs the transcript and returns it to the subject for their approval. Subjects may remove or change details until they are satisfied with their history.
After the subject approves the text, it goes back to the transcriber who cleans up the text and creates an index for each volume.
The index allows researchers or family members to search for specific areas of interest. Laurie Davidson, Sherrie Johnson and Trish Snyder have worked as transcribers for the 57 histories that have been gathered in the past three decades.
The entire process and procedure of collecting and publishing oral histories has been smoothed out and updated using modern technology. Pictures now are added to enhance the final volume.
Two new volumes of histories are coming out this year, as well as a special volume of World War II veterans' oral histories. The histories now can be sold as print on demand technology has developed.
The Moffat County Libraries absorb the cost of printing and binding, and all proceeds go back to them to allow the program to continue.
The Moffat County Commission continues to be strong supporters of the Oral History program, recognizing the importance of capturing the past for the future.
Without their help, the personal histories of Craig and Moffat County would be lost.
As this year draws to an end, there are several biographies pending that will be finalized in 2010 and several additional WWII vets' histories are waiting to be transcribed.
The work continues as time permits. And the search continues to find Moffat County's stories before they are gone forever.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at email@example.com.