Garry Brewer
Grand Junction Free Press History Columnist

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February 20, 2012
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GJ HISTORY: Gus Anderson takes on the 'Gentlemen of Leisure'

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Grand Junction has always been a railroad town. It is an oasis in the middle of someplace between here and there, the only green spot in the middle of a desert. Its weather for the most part is wonderful; it's just a great place to live.

That's why in 1900-1902 when the trains rolled through Grand Junction, it was a resting place for a group of people. The newspapers of the time referred to this group as hoboes, tramps, bums, vagabonds...

Soon these "Gentlemen of Leisure" began to infest Grand Junction. They came from far and near to bask in the Grand Valley sunshine and feed upon the generosity of the residents of Grand Junction who believed their tales of woe.

In fact, they accumulated at such a fast rate, they were becoming a nuisance to the general public.

Thus begins our story of August N. "Gus" Anderson, a strong-minded businessman of Grand Junction, who just had enough.

Let me tell you a little about Gus.

Gus was born in Christiana, Norway, April 24, 1859. He along with his parents and family were descended from strong Viking stock. They left Norway and after a long sea journey of nine weeks landed in Montreal, Canada. The Andersons then took an immigrant train to Chicago. The train cars were no more than cattle cars fitted with boards for seats.

Gus' father was a blacksmith, and Gus followed in his father's footsteps and moved west to Las Vegas, N.M., where he worked for $3.50 per day. While there he heard people were being paid good wages in Pocatello, Idaho, and off he went to make more money. However, when he arrived he found out the stories were untrue and for a short time went to work for the railroad at $2 per day.

He found his way to Denver just in time to hear about a new Colorado town in the west - Grand Junction. That sounded perfect for this young man seeking a place to settle and make his mark.

So in 1882, with a small savings of $1,000 he moved to Grand Junction and for a time tried ranching north of town. In 1886, he set up a blacksmith shop on Colorado Avenue. Later, he sold that business and set up a retail business of used secondhand goods on Main Street called the Anderson's Big Bargain House.

On June 2, 1892, he married Mary Bartlett and they had two children, son Kenneth and daughter Eulalia "Eula." Life was good for Gus and his family.

In 1901, the City of Grand Junction erected a high stockade fence on the corner of Sixth and Colorado Avenue. A large rock pile was placed there and all the hoboes would be given a "taste of city life" by being allowed to break large rocks into small ones to cover unpaved streets. In fact, at the top of the fence were several strands of barbed wire to prevent the gentlemen from hopping over the fence and ceasing their labors.

When there were large numbers, working guards were placed there to make sure work was done and to keep the "tramping tourists" out of town. This provided a way for them to pay for their keep. The rock pile also served as a deterrent to other hoboes coming through who might want to stop and stay awhile.

This brings us to the big Turner Society Event in town June 24, 1901. According to The Daily Sentinel, the Turners were a class of people, mostly Germans, who had no higher aim than to gather together at certain times and have drinking bouts. Of course, this was a joke on the real purpose of the Turner Society. In real life, they were an organization used for systematic physical training of the youth of the country.

At a meeting at the Park Opera House, Mayor Sampliner of Grand Junction welcomed the group to town with a large sign that said, "WILLKOMMEN TURNERS." The mayor pointed out the aims and purpose of the group as the training in gymnastics and track for youth.

There was a Turner Parade on Main Street and a few of the hoboes saw this as an opportunity, while employees were out watching the parade, to slip into the stores of Anderson Bargain House and Thompson Jewelry Store and hide until closing time. After the stores were closed, the hoboes broke the glass on the back doors and let their friends in to help themselves to Mr. Anderson's and Mr. Thompson's goods.

When Gus Anderson came to his store the next morning, he noticed items were missing and realized the store was robbed. Gus noted a peculiar track from a shoe in one of his show windows. He followed the tracks to the railroad bridge across the Grand River, where he noticed two men sitting on the bridge talking to a small boy. Gus called to the boy and the boy came to him from the north end of the bridge. Gus asked him what the men were doing. The boy said the men offered to sell him some jewelry and other items they had.

Gus then walked across the bridge past the two men. He was not armed so he didn't confront them. After crossing the bridge he walked to the railway pumping house and asked the brakeman if he had seen any hoboes. The answer was yes, there was about a dozen or more making their headquarters on the little island at the bridge. They had been there for more than a week. Gus then borrowed the brakeman's gun and started back toward the bridge. He noticed City Marshal Allison and Deputy Isaac Wesley Smith (former Mesa County Assessor) entering the bridge from the other side.

The two men on the bridge noticed the marshal, the deputy and Gus coming at them from different directions. Not wanting to be caught the men swung down from the central pier of the bridge to the island. Once there the two men together with four others tried to run. Two were quickly caught and placed in the capable hands of Gus who held them at gunpoint while the marshal and deputy went after the other four. Two of them were captured and two tried to swim the river toward Orchard Mesa. One of them was caught and one man was successful in making his escape, however, he had no shoes, hat or coat.

The five men captured were searched and all the items taken from Anderson's and Thompson's stores was secured. In all 16 watches, a Colt revolver and jewelry were retrieved.

Gus, the marshal and deputy then marched the five men to the city jail. It was reported the man who escaped was asking for clothes at a house near the Teller Indian School. He was later captured in Glenwood Springs and returned to Grand Junction for trial.

The hoboes, tramps, bums, vagabonds and "Gentlemen of Leisure" were for many years invited to move along if they were without funds to support themselves. Of course, there was always the rock pile at Sixth and Colorado for them to spend their days.

Gus died in Grand Junction July 3, 1942, and he and his wife are buried in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery. Mary died Dec. 5, 1918, in Grand Junction in the first wave of the flu epidemic that spread across the world.

Many of Gus and Mary's descendants are still living in Mesa County through the Baughman and related families.

Gus was an enterprising CAN-DO businessman of Grand Junction who tracked down the looters of his store and in so many words said to hoboes of Grand Junction: Don't mess with my store.

But Gus true to his business nature ran an ad in The Daily Sentinel which said, "The Burglars are caught-Chinaware cheap at Anderson Bargain House."

Now that's making lemonade out of lemons.

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Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom.


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 24, 2012 05:38PM Published Feb 20, 2012 01:42PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.