A founding father | CraigDailyPress.com

A founding father

R.V. Bryan helped lay Craig's foundations

Shannan Koucherik/Special to the Daily Press
A portrait of "Bob" Bryan taken in about 1916 when he was mayor of Craig. After working odd jobs throughout Colorado, Bryan married and originally settled in the Yampa Valley in July 1885. After living in other towns for a few years and losing his wife to typhoid, Bryan returned with his daughters to the valley and built a house in Craig.
Courtesy Photo

— There is a good chance that when R.V. “Bob” Bryan first came to the Yampa Valley, he wasn’t planning to become one of the foundations of the area.

Born on Feb. 8, 1853, in Russellville, Ark., Bryan grew up learning the value of hard work and skilled hands. His family moved to Illinois when he was 4, and he had already completed his schooling when he heard about the opportunities opening up in Colorado.

Sheepherders were earning $75 per month and cowboys $45 per month in the new territory. Those wages made it an easy decision to move west. He spent his first few years in Colorado working odd jobs. In 1879 and ’80, he drove teams of mules delivering freight to Colorado’s highest boomtown, Leadville, from Canyon City.

“The mules were shipped by the thousands from Missouri,” Bryan wrote decades later in his memoirs. “The men didn’t understand them, and they died like flies.”

The mules, soft from working flat land at low elevation, couldn’t handle the rough, high-altitude terrain and often succumbed to colic.

By 1882, Bryan had married Lucy Ann Goodwin and wanted a home. A friend told him about the Bear River area – now the Yampa Valley – and they arrived in July 1885 to settle down. There was no town then, just the cabins of W.H. Rose and Barclay. The Taylor brothers and Archie McLaughlin had started ranches north of the river, but there was a lot to be done to make a community.

Bryan and Lucy found that the valley wasn’t what they had expected, so they packed up and headed for the booming town of Aspen. They made it as far as New Castle where he found steady work building homes and a mine. The couple and their daughters – Myrtle, born in 1883 at Silver Cliff, and Maude, born in 1885 at Sunbeam – were full of enthusiasm and looked forward to a long, happy life together.

Unfortunately, typhoid spread through New Castle, and Lucy and the girls were taken ill. Lucy died Aug. 26, 1886, after a two-month struggle with the disease. The girls survived with the nursing of their father and grandmother, Elizabeth Goodwin, but the loss of his wife was to affect Bryan for the rest of his life.

He moved the surviving family back to the Yampa Valley as soon as they were healthy enough to travel and settled in to make a new life. He was determined to educate and raise his daughters the way he knew his wife would have wanted.

Elizabeth Goodwin took up a dugout in Jackrabbit and helped to raise the two girls when their father was working away from Craig. When he was able, Bryan brought them back to the small frame house he built for them on Russell Street.

When she died in 1893, Elizabeth Goodwin became one of the first people to be buried in the Craig Cemetery. The Bryan girls and their father became permanent fixtures in the growing Craig community.

Bryan was most well known for his term as the Routt County Assessor. In this capacity, he realized that many of the large cattle operations in the western part of the county were moving their stock around to avoid assessment. Bryan contacted the assessors in Uintah County, Utah and Sweetwater County, Wyo., and arranged to meet with them for a united head count. The ranchers were caught with no place to move the stock, and the tax income for the county was raised significantly.

Bryan was not re-elected as assessor but was elected Craig’s sixth mayor in 1916.

He knew the ups and downs of business from running a meat market in Craig, losing a ranch during the depression and seeing his life savings dissolve due to the actions of a dishonest banker. He proved up on two homesteads on the north edge of Craig, about where 13th Street and Rose Street meet now. He managed to overcome these trials and was an important part of Craig’s social and political life until his death Nov. 13, 1937.

Bryan’s two daughters stayed in Craig, and his legacy lives on today with nine direct descendants and their families still making important contributions to the Yampa Valley and Craig.

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