Reckling: Ruedi reminiscence
I love you! I wish you were here with us. We have been taking a walk every day, we play hide and seek, and we had a pony ride this afternoon. There are too many wildflowers to count, and we wade in the river after we pick flowers. I certainly hope you will be here with us soon! Fay and I put on our overalls pretty near every day and dig in the cave. We feel sure we will find treasures!
Lovingly, your little daughter, Mary Randolph
The earnest voice of a little 7-year-old girl writing to her father about a beautiful place is endearing. The year is 1917, and this little girl was my Aunt Mary writing to her father, my grandfather, about the beauty and outdoors of Ruedi, Colo. The letters are numerous, and through the years her documented activities of time spent in Ruedi develop from simple childhood tasks, like feeding chickens, to more advanced hobbies, such as sketches and watercolors of Colorado wildflowers.
Some may not realize that at the bottom of what are now the deep waters of Ruedi Reservoir, there was once the town of Ruedi. The small community was surrounded by family farms and ranches, which added to its idyllic beauty. Yes, where there is now that immense, government-mandated reservoir and the appropriation of water to the Front Range, there was once a verdant valley of pastoral homesteads where early settlers chose to build a life.
John Ruedi was a Swiss immigrant who settled on the Fryingpan River (or Frying Pan, if you prefer the original spelling) in 1880. Little did he know that, several years later, the Colorado Midland Railroad would be running through his front yard. By 1888, the new line ran the entire length of the Fryingpan Valley, from the silver-boom town of Leadville down to Basalt, and beyond. John Ruedi established a post office, and he became the postmaster. A school was started, and this small hamlet grew even busier when it became a whistle-stop on the rail line.
The earliest photographs of my grandparents, taken at the Ruedi train station, are dated 1911, and one can only imagine the long journey from southeast Texas with small children in tow. My grandmother was a staunch believer in the salubriousness that resulted from time spent in the mountains of Colorado and how it benefited her children. In 1918 they stayed the year in Ruedi and some time in Denver, due to threats from the Texas Ku Klux Klan. The Klan had expressed its intolerance of my grandfather’s engagement in business with and support of his Jewish friends.
As a result of this frightening situation, a family tradition began. Having fled to Colorado in order to put some distance between his young family and serious threats from the Klan, the Wilson family became enamored with their rural mountain destination.
My father was born in 1920, and, like his older siblings, he fell in love with Ruedi, and his magical boyhood times spent there remained a strong influence for his entire life. This story and the traditions that sprang from it are especially important to me because they are the reason I live here now.
In his later years, my father would often reminisce about his summers at the Smith Ranch, just outside Ruedi, and its picturesque setting on the river. As I sift through old sepia-toned photos of my grandparents, aunts and uncle from the 1910s, I can see the indescribable joys they had playing in the giant haystacks, wading in the cool river, sitting astride large, gentle draft horses, all the while showered with sunshine and carefree smiles.
Though he was born a bit later, so sentimental were my father’s feelings for that place in time, and the sweet memories it held for him, that he continued to travel up that valley throughout his life. The construction of the dam commenced in 1964, but that didn’t dissuade my dad from purchasing land above the reservoir near Thomasville in the late 1960s. It was covered in wildflowers when he first saw it, and it reminded him so much of his mother, and his young years there as a boy, that he purchased it on the spot from Bud Crowley.
Though the purchase by an “outsider” may have sparked some friction within the Crowley clan, my father forged a long, treasured friendship with Jim Crowley, “Father of the Fryingpan,” who still lives (now summers only) on his family’s ranch that was adjacent to my dad’s land. My father and I often would pack a picnic and drive up to Thomasville to enjoy the wildflowers and the good fishing in the Fryingpan and have a nice visit with Mr. Crowley. We spent many a summer day searching for that perfect egg-shaped rock along the edge of the river, days I’ll never forget now that my dad is gone.
Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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