History in Focus: To name a town
Like many towns across the West, Craig started as a speculative real estate gamble. The work of William H. Tucker and Willard F. Teagarden along with the cash infusion of wealthy investors in Denver, namely the Reverend William Bayard Craig, made our city a reality and was also the inspiration for its name.
William Bayard Craig was born in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada in 1846. As a young man he came to Chicago, experienced a conversion to Christianity, and became a minister. He graduated from the University of Iowa and later Yale Theological Seminary.
Encouraged by his sister-in-law Eliza Routt, the wife of John Routt (Colorado’s first governor), Craig moved to Denver in 1882. As a dynamic pastor he led the construction of two churches. In 1894 he left Colorado and by 1897 was back in Des Moines as the president of Drake University.
Meanwhile in 1889, Tucker and his brother-in-law, Willard Teagarden, headed north out of Glenwood Springs to survey the Yampa Valley for a new townsite. The goal was to organize a town, attract a rail line, and then sell the valuable lots. In a 1934 interview for the Colorado Historical Society, Tucker determined the confluence of Fortification Creek and the Yampa River was ideal due to its proximity to established railroads to the north and south and its access to the West. (Craig Daily Press, 7/3/89).
Next, Tucker traveled to Denver and met with Craig, who he already knew from their days in Iowa. An investment group was quickly formed, and as Tucker put it, “They told me to go back and get to it.” He purchased 160 acres from rancher Alvor Ranney, 160 from the state, and then mapped out the original townsite. On July 1, 1889 the Craig Land and Mercantile Company was open for business.
The actual decision to name the city “Craig” is not clear. In 1958, on the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Craig itself, a series of history articles were published in the Craig Empire Courier. A short introduction to one article simply states, “He (Tucker) gave the name of one of his associates, the Rev. Bayard Craig, to the town and so Craig came into being” (3/27/1958). Besides his investment, it’s possible naming the city after a celebrity minister of the Front Range would help spur development.
But growth was slow, and by the early 1900s, Tucker wanted to lower lot prices to kick start growth, “but the men back in Denver could only see the dollars and would not hear of it. So we split up and each of us took lots according to our stock,” stated Tucker in his 1934 interview.
However, Craig did visit and had an affinity for the people. On July 4, 1891, he described the early settlers as “well dressed” and with “the energy and intelligence that belong to the pioneer.” (Colorado Prospector, 1/84 cited in Moffat County News, 11/2004)
In a 1902 visit, he preached at the brand new Congregational Church and also gave a more practical interview on the future of the city. The Craig Courier stated, “he feels beyond reasonable doubt the Moffat line must come here if it follows the lines of permanency, an easy grade, and the best and most feasible route.” (9/26/1902)
The newspaper described Craig as “an affable gentleman, an up-to-date businessman, and doubtless is a man who can be counted upon to do the right thing at the right time.” In 1912 he was true to his namesake and deeded 25 of his 80 acres to the south of town for the right of way, side tracks, and depot grounds, and the railroad finally arrived in 1913 (Moffat County Courier, 12/12/1912)
The reverend also had a tough business edge. He owned land around Grand Lake, and in 1908 he filed suit for control of a strip of land bordering his property that just happened to contain 400 valuable feet of north shoreline. After a seven-year legal battle, the state Supreme Court finally decided against Craig. The Steamboat Pilot described Craig’s ideas for the boundary dispute as “strange and unaccountable.” (10/13/1915)
Even though he lost the shoreline, Craig did gain more geographic fame. 12,007 foot Mt. Craig (aka Mount Baldy), hovering over the shores of Grand Lake is also named in his honor (Craig Empire, 7/24/1911). While his investment in Craig was vitally important, it was the “boots on the ground” hard work of Tucker that forged Craig into a reality.
Thanks to Dan Davidson for photos and access to the archives of the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
This week’s picture book for children was written and illustrated by David Litchfield who lives in the United Kingdom. “The Bear, the Piano, the Dog, and the Fiddle” is a sequel to “The Bear and the Piano,” a best-selling picture book.