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A touch of class for Northwest Colorado

Shannan Koucherik

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.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Northwest Colorado still was sparsely populated, and many of the homesteaders were yet to arrive.

Craig was established as a town, and her citizens were beginning to move from survival mode to enjoying some of the finer things in life.

It was also a time when a different breed of people began moving into the area.

H.W. Gossard first came to the far corner of Colorado in 1908. He was impressed with the area and purchased the Battle Era Mining Co. in Morgan Gulch. A businessman from the Midwest, Gossard didn’t plan to homestead, but he did recognize the wonderful potential that the land held.

Gossard founded the Gossard Corset Co. in 1900 in Chicago, and he used the profits from this business to buy up land for his avocation, eventually owning more than 4,000 acres in Colorado, as well as other farms and ranches in Preston, Kan., and Martinsville, Ind.

He imported purebred Percheron draft horses, Arabian saddle horses, Ayrshire cattle and Berkshire hogs for his Axial Basin facility.

In 1919, Gossard put on an exhibition to show his neighbors some of his best stock, and to share with them the advantages of breeding quality animals.

“The Gossard Breeding Estates, whose ranch at Axial is the purebred livestock breeding center of Northwestern Colorado, will present at Craig next Wednesday a free horse fair of purebred Percheron draft horse, the equal of which has not been seen in Northwestern Colorado – if indeed it has ever been equaled anywhere in the state.” (Craig Empire, May 28, 1919)

The exhibit allowed people of Craig and surrounding areas to see animals worth thousands of dollars (as high as $40,000) and learn management techniques to improve their own stock.

“Two representatives of the celebrated Epochal Berkshires, the strain of purebred hogs which the Gossard Breeding Estates sold several boars for the world’s record price of $10,000 each, will also be shown. These are young gilts, both daughters of the great boar, Epochal, and sisters of the $10,000 boars.

“Taken all together this event marks perhaps the greatest educational uplift that has ever taken place in Northwestern Colorado livestock circles.” (ibid)

The Gossard family made Steamboat Springs their permanent home in the early 1930s, and their two children, Bill and Gloria, attended local schools. The family became strong supporters of their new community. They were principals in the development of the city of Steamboat Springs.

There were some lean years when fashion trends loosened up and women gave up corsets, followed by the Great Depression, but by the late 1930s, things were looking up for Gossard enterprises.

“With the appointment of Charles A Van Dorn of Craig as resident manager, the Gossard Breeding Estates Inc. is perfecting plans for extensive improvements on its big 4,000 acre ranch in Axial basin of Moffat County, thus demonstrating the faith of its owner, H.W. Gossard, that the tide has turned and that ranching and livestock raising are again to be important industries in Northwestern Colorado.

“The ranch is one of the most valuable in this part of the state, including as it does the homesteads of many of the first settlers, Dave and Charles Morgan, Joe and Ed Collom and others who settled in Axial Basin in the early days.”(Empire Courier, March 8, 1937)

H.W. Gossard died in July 1965 and left his empire to his wife and children.

Bill Gossard learned the ranching business, and managed the Axial facility for more than 30 years as the ranch grew to more than 35,000 acres.

The emphasis moved from show animals to well-bred commercial stock. This fit better into the local and national economy.

He served as a major in the U.S. Army during World War II, receiving the Member of the British Empire medal from the United Kingdom and a citation for outstanding service from King Olaf of Norway.

He was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1960, and served four terms.

When he and his wife, Carol, moved to Denver in 1982, he became a strong supporter of the fine arts in Colorado, serving on the board of the Central City Opera and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

“In recognition of his role in the recovery and renewed vitality and success of the opera, he was designated Chairman Emeritus by the board upon his retirement. As a trustee for the Denver Symphony Association, he saw the symphony through bankruptcy and the creation of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra where he served as a board member until 1994.” (Craig Daily Press, Nov. 18, 1997)

The Gossard ranching operation ended in the early 1980s when the land was sold to Colowyo Coal Co.

Bill died in November 1997, and his wife of 49 years died in May 2007.

Gloria Gossard still lives in Steamboat Springs, where she has been a strong and generous supporter of her community throughout her life.

The Gossard family came to the Yampa Valley because of its beauty and the promise that it held.

They spent their lives contributing to its improvement, both in agriculture and genteel culture.

Museum of Northwest Colorado may be reached at musnwco@moffatcounty.net.

Shannan Koucherik may be reached at honeyrockdogs@msn.com.


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