Museum of Northwest Colorado: The start of a Moffat County family line |

Museum of Northwest Colorado: The start of a Moffat County family line

Mary Pat Dunn/For the Saturday Morning Press

George Durham, left, and his nephew Dutch Williams smile as they recall family stories while they relax on the Durham porch.

Communities are comprised of so many types of family structures, some very mobile and far ranging, others stationary for generations. One early settler into Northwest Colorado was A.L. Durham, who came into the area in 1879 with his freighting business out of Rawlins. On one of his trips back from Meeker to Rawlins in September of that year, Durham met Major Thornburg with his soldiers, heading towards Milk Creek.

Thornburgh asked Durham if he had seen any Utes, which Durham had not, and the major and his troops continued on south to the battle that would leave them under siege for a week.

A.L. Durham left his freighting behind in 1880 and homesteaded land near Axial Basin on what was later known as the Circle Bar Ranch. He spent the next eight years working the homestead and in February 1888 he was finally convinced of his success in the West and so returned to his boyhood home in Epworth, Iowa to marry Martha Jane Dickinson. This was the beginning of a truly pioneer family that has lasted five generations in this area.

The Durhams sold out and moved to a ranch near the site of the Thornburgh battle. They raised their family of four children there and in Meeker until a later move to Waddle Creek in 1902. Al served on the first elected board of commissioners for Moffat County, and later was director of the Craig National Bank. At the time of his death in 1931, all of the Durhams' children and their families were living in Moffat County.

Harry, the second son of the Durhams, married Olive Van Tassel, in March of 1911, and they were the first couple to be married in the newly established Moffat County. Harry had already had a home built on Waddle Creek of the Williams Fork River, in anticipation to his marriage, and the young couple settled there. They were to have a total of seven children, most of whom also stayed in the area.

In August of 1933, the Harry Durhams' oldest daughter, Dorothy was at her parents' ranch with her husband Max Williams who was helping out with the haying. Dorothy gave birth to her son Everett (Dutch) on Aug. 18, and just a week later, Dorothy's mother Olive, gave birth to her last child, George. It has always been a bit of a joke between the two men, that George, the younger by seven days, is actually uncle to Dutch who had been born a week earlier.

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To have a mother and daughter give birth in the same home within the same week is not a common occurrence today, and possibly not even 80 years ago. This double birth underscores the geographical permanence of this particular family. Most of the Durham family still resides within the county today.

George and Dutch didn't see much of each other while growing up. Dorothy and Max settled with their children in the Hayden area, managing the Cary Ranch for awhile, and then moving east of Hayden. Dutch attended Hayden schools and raised his family in that area, where most of them still live today.

Olive and Harry Durham stayed on the ranch where they had first settled, and the demands of ranch life in those early years precluded any extra time to go visit family. The Williams and Durham families did manage to get together for the branding season, which was a large scale event held annually at Harry and Olive's place. That was about the only time the young uncle and nephew got to see each other.

Now in their early 80s, the men spend each Thursday together having lunch at a local restaurant. Dutch's first wife died in 2011 and he remarried in 2014. Dutch and his new bride Pat, enjoy visiting with George and his wife Sharon, as they share family reminiscences and swap tales. A special bond was formed during that hot August in 1933 on the ranch where the two babies were born to a mother and her daughter. But it wasn't until their more recent years that retirement from ranching has allowed George and Dutch the luxury of visiting and enjoying that bond.

The Durham and Williams families are just a small representation of the geographical intransience of some families in Moffat County. Without discounting the amazing contributions that newer residents bring to the area, pioneer families add a stability and sense of community continuity to the region. With the elements of permanence established by pioneer families and the mix of fresh lives and experiences brought in with newcomers, our community benefits from the strength of both established and incoming family groups.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado loves to document the lives of those who make up the fabric of our community, whether new-timers or old. Drop by the museum for a visit, and enjoy the history of our area as it is presented in the exhibits. Located at 590 Yampa Avenue, the museum is open Monday through Saturday and has free admission.