Museum of Northwest Colorado: Family tradition that touches the community
There aren’t too many businesses in Craig that have stood the test of time, but Mathers’ Bar has been in the Mathers family since 1953. Pete Mathers, son of Spring Creek homesteaders northwest of Craig, graduated from Craig High School in 1934. After working for a few years as a roughneck in the oil fields he went into the Army during World War II, returning to Craig at its conclusion. In addition to working on the family ranch, Pete picked up a few in-town jobs including working for Millie and Bruce Castine, owners of the White Horse Inn. In 1953, Pete purchased the El Ray Club located at 420 Yampa Ave. and renamed it the Mathers Lounge and Bar. He continued to help on the family ranch out near Great Divide but invested most of his energy in his new family-run business.
Pete, who had spent Christmas away from home both in the oil field and in the service, knew what it felt like to be away from family on that holiday. He was adamant in his conviction that no one should have to spend Christmas alone. The year after opening his bar, Pete started a tradition of providing holiday dinners for sheepherders, oil field workers and hunters who otherwise might have spent the day sitting alone in a hotel room or diner. The whole family pitched in to make Pete’s dream a reality, and this began a heart-warming tradition that is still carried on today and is open to everyone in the community. One of Pete’s granddaughters, Chris Oxley, still carries the sweet memory of Pete standing in the crowded dining area and calling out in his booming voice, “Women and children first!”
In 1956, Pete was featured in The Craig Empire Courier’s column titled “Familiar Faces,” which was created by cartoonist Chet Klock. Klock described Pete as a friendly, good-natured guy with a big smile and a glad handshake. Pete told the cartoonist that he liked to think of his bar as a place where the patrons could come and enjoy a decent meal, a drink and some genuine hospitality. In the small town Pete was a friend to many and was known to help out those who needed a little assistance.
Pete sold his business to his sons Tom and Michael in 1974, just as Craig was beginning to feel the effects of the boom and the population growth due to construction of the power plant. Though he wasn’t involved in the day to day operations at the bar anymore, Pete still dropped by to greet old friends and to lend a hand with his pet project, the annual holiday dinner. He continued to raise hay on the ranch out on Great Divide and spend time with his grandchildren.
Pete died in 1985, and left behind a legacy of strong family ties and commitment to the community through his generous heart. The family still owns and operates the Mathers’ Bar, carrying on Pete’s belief that it can be a good place to go and relax.
Sixty years later the Museum of Northwest Colorado is reviewing the old Chet Klock columns from the newspaper as a way to salute the entrepreneur attitude that has helped grow Craig into the great town it is today. The museum is located in downtown Craig and is open Monday through Saturday with free admission. The museum staff is dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of our special corner of Colorado. Include a visit to the museum on your calendar and enjoy a nice cool hour or two learning more about our regional history.
I spent this past Saturday morning preparing for Sunday’s lunch branding — at least what I could get done early. I cooked pasta and boiled eggs. I made a gelatin salad. I decided to bake a banana cake, a family favorite, for dessert.