IAWC and Colorado Canyons Assoc. recently hosted a tour of the Escalante Canyon for those interested in the preservation of its structures and history. Courtesy photo.

IAWC and Colorado Canyons Assoc. recently hosted a tour of the Escalante Canyon for those interested in the preservation of its structures and history. Courtesy photo.

By Caitlin Switzer

DELTA—(April 1, 2014)  Along with the bright sun and hushed quiet comes a sense that time stands still in Escalante Canyon.  And yet, the ravages of the years are visible for those who look—some of the buildings left by the canyon’s early homesteaders are now in danger of being lost to neglect.  The buildings themselves are the remnants of a grand history, of generations of ranchers and pioneers who braved the remote depths of the canyon to live a challenging life with few amenities. Over the past centuries, this peaceful setting has seen life, death and plenty of drama—from the livestock wars, to the Ben Lowe-Cash Sampson shootout, to the universal ravages of disease and heartbreak.     Today, many of the cabins constructed by the original pioneers are falling apart.

And just as the stories are lost when older generations pass on, the loss of historic buildings can leave a rift in the fabric of memory.

The Interpretive Association of Western Colorado (IAWC) and Colorado Canyons Association recently hosted a bus tour of the Escalante Canyon homestead properties, including those listed on the 2013 Colorado Preservation Inc. listing of the state’s Most Endangered Places, the Water Wheel on the Gunnison River, the Walker Homestead Cabin, and Tombstone Carver Captain Smith’s cabin.

“All three present themselves as community resources in which local citizens can relate to their history,” notes a fundraising letter released by IAWC Executive Director Chris Miller. “The three homesteading sites of Escalante Canyon are all unique to the Canyon area, not only for their manner of construction (cabins built in 1911) but for the historical elements attached to them.”

Miller is currently lobbying the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, which owns the historic properties, to allow the non-profit IAWC to submit a grant application to the state historic fund for a historic structure assessment. Both the Walker Homestead and Captain Smith’s Cabin were designated to the Colorado Register of Historic Places in 1997, she notes.

Highlighting the deteriorating condition of the structures was the point of the March 15 bus tour, which carried 66 participants on an informative excursion.

According to Chris Miller, if permission is obtained from the Division of Parks and Wildlife, IAWC can take advantage of the available grants to complete assessments of structures. Such assessments include historical information about the properties, examination of all structural components (e.g. foundation, framing, walls, and roofing), interior and exterior finishes.

IAWC is also interested in honoring the human legacy of the canyon. On March 13, the group hosted a lecture entitled, “The Pioneer Spirit of Escalante Canyon” at Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta, at which they paid tribute to Bernice Musser, beloved matriarch of the Musser Family.  More than140 attended the lecture, Miller said.

“The program covered the historic events and the people that shaped the Canyons History,” she said. “The tale of Escalante Canyon is a tale of struggle, change, frontier, and friendship all that is part of the story of the West itself.”

Miller also noted that the Musser family was the glue that held the canyon together for more than four generations through good times and bad times. To honor Bernice and her lifelong generosity in sharing the history of Escalante Canyon with others, Miller hopes to preserve the canyon properties for future generations. To learn more, call 970-874-6695, or visit http://www.interpcolorado.org.