Washington Held in high esteem
March 15, 2008
The new town of Craig offered many opportunities for people to build prosperous lives. Many took advantage of them and, in doing so, became cornerstones of today’s community.
Others contributed as well but for one reason or another never saw the prosperity of their neighbors. Washington Held was one of the latter.
Born May 26, 1853, in Saxeburg, Pa., Held was one of six children born to a physician husband and his wife on the edge of the frontier. There was little opportunity for the Held children to attend school, and Washington only sat at a desk through two or three semesters before picking up tools and going to work. He would continue to work in one trade or another until his death.
At age 19, Held went west, trying his hand at cow punching before taking a job with the Santa Fe Railroad pounding stakes for the new railroad that was crossing the country. He literally had his hand in the creation of the new frontier.
He followed the railroad job to its end in Pueblo and then headed for the mine fields that offered quick riches for anyone willing to work hard in the right spot. Unfortunately for Held, his timing wasn’t always perfect, and he missed the riches of his mines – sometimes by only a few weeks – by selling out or being sold out by unscrupulous partners.
Held made his way across Colorado and Wyoming before hitting the Hahns Peak country during its gold fever. He served as an Indian scout for the United States Army in a couple of Ute outbreaks and ended up in Craig in 1900.
As so many others before and after him, Held found in Craig a place to call home. “Settle” is a relative term as he didn’t take the usual route of homesteader and homemaker. He enjoyed the variety of changing jobs and was willing to work wherever there was need for help.
Despite his lack of education, his intelligence and winning ways soon made him an integral part of the growing Craig community. He served as justice of the peace for many years and was well known for his fairly accurate weather predictions that were carried in the Empire Courier.
In April 1931, Held’s prediction read, “Easter Sunday will be fair. You can plan to wear the new Easter bonnet and go to church.” The women of Craig took him at his word and swarmed into the shops to purchase hats, coats and dresses, “confident that they could appear in new raiment at churches Sunday before large and attentive audience. Like magic, stock of spring clothing disappeared from Craig stores,” according to the April 8, 1931, Empire Courier.
While the folks of Craig and Moffat County took Held’s forecasts at face value, outsiders often thought that he was a figment of Editor Neil Kimball’s mind.
“His prophecies, based on old Indian lore and records kept for years on old livery stable doors and in frayed account books, were more often right than not,” Kimball wrote.
In December 1931, shortly after writing what would be his last weather prediction, Washington Held suffered a stroke while visiting with friends in a pool hall. He was taken to the Craig Hospital where he seemed to rally for a day before dying on Christmas Day.
For every person who was laid to rest in the Craig Cemetery under an ornate stone, there were several who went to unmarked graves, forgotten by future generations. There were many bachelors and indigent people who slipped silently from the rolls of the living.
But for the generosity and love of the community he had adopted, Washington Held would have been one of those anonymous people, but Kimball and others were determined that Held would not be forgotten. They took up a collection to cover funeral expenses and the cost of a simple gravestone.
Held’s funeral was held in the Armory – now the Museum of Northwest Colorado – with notaries of the community attending and taking part in the service. Lieutenant Governor E.C. Johnson sent a tribute to Held and his contributions to Moffat County and Craig. Members of the Colorado National Guard escorted his body to the cemetery and fired a salute at the grave.
Five months later, Kimball reported in the May 25, 1932, Empire Courier that, “Money was received from all parts of Moffat County. It came in dimes, quarters, dollars and some pennies. The place the old pioneer held in the affections of the citizens of Northwestern Colorado is shown not only by the amount of money received but in the fact that so many who could ill afford to give wanted to have a hand in providing for his last resting place.”
In all, the community gathered $39.53 to pay for the cemetery plot and the brass marker. Local contractors donated the concrete slab that was used to mount the simple plate that reads:
Pioneer, Prospector, Scout, Friend”
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Article written for the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Craig Daily Press