GARRY BREWERGJ HISTORY COLUMNIST

Back to: News
March 26, 2012
Follow News

GJ HISTORY: Mayor Isaac Newton Bunting - right mayor for the right time in 1906

During mid-February to April 1906, the citizens of Grand Junction, were just beginning to look forward to the coming spring, sitting on their front porches, enjoying the early evenings and reading their newspapers. The local news was reporting of the upcoming opening of the new railroad depot; the new Odd Fellows Hall dedication at the corner of Fifth and Rood (now Roper's Music); the death of a local Civil War veteran, Louis Farmer, who was buried in the Whitewater Cemetery; and the old 80-foot steel standpipe at the southeast corner of Seventh and Ouray scheduled to be pulled down at the end of April.The newspapers were also reporting news from around the Pacific Rim. Little did they know these events so far away were a precursor to another happening along the Pacific Rim that would impact this small community and people living here in Mesa County.There were stories of "Tidal Wave's Awful Work" on the coast of Colombia, South America, followed by "Terrible Tidal Wave" that brought death to thousands in Tahiti and other islands; then on the heels of those events the major earthquake in Japan with large damage to property and citizens.For one local man, Isaac Newton Bunting, mayor of Grand Junction (and also publisher of the Daily Sentinel), the item of highest priority in the newspaper was the upcoming opening of the new Railroad Station in Grand Junction, a true gem of the city. Mayor Bunting was charged with planning the event.The mayor was born in Pottstown, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa., on Feb. 24, 1862, and was educated at Pennington Seminary. Later, he became a traveling salesman where he met his wife, Maude Wilson, while on the road. They married on Nov. 20, 1886, at Ironton, Mo. Isaac and Maude settled in Richfield, Kan., where he and his brother, Howard, had a mercantile business and also raised stock at the firm of Bunting Brothers.In the 1890s, like many businesses of the time, their business failed and Isaac became a school teacher to support his family. However, fate came along in the form of Samuel Wheeler of Grand Junction, who asked Isaac to move to Mesa County and take up the newspaper business. With Maude and their three children in tow they moved to Grand Junction and he became business manager of the Grand Junction Town Company's Newspaper, the Daily Star, in September 1890. Leaving the Star in 1893, Isaac and business partner Howard T. Lee, formed the Daily Sentinel and Isaac became its publisher.Isaac had learned a hard lesson when he and his brother lost their business, which was to save during prosperous times and prepare for bad years. The lean times had made him ultra-conservative and this is what the citizens of Grand Junction needed in a mayor in 1906. He was the right man for the time.On April 3, 1906, the Grand Junction Electric and Gas Co. had just finished the new lighting system at the depot. With over one hundred light bulbs installed, the depot was the brightest building in the city.On April 17, 1906, with the furniture in place the depot was complete. The depot's interior beauty was outstanding, with costly woodwork, lovely decorations, high ceilings, unique finishing designs and a handsome exterior. The cost of the building was $60,000. The division superintendent W.G. Choate and inspector D.W. Spellman for the railroad walked newspaper reporters through the glass and oak doors into the big waiting room for a preview.Shortly after 5 p.m. of the same evening, just as the first train, the D&RG #6, pulled into the new depot, Mayor Bunting and the town fathers with the general public in attendance dedicated the new railroad station at the foot of First and Pitkin. The lights in the old depot were turned off and the new depot lights were turned on for all to see the brilliance and loveliness of the new building. It was the pride of the city of Grand Junction.The town fathers discussed tearing down the old station so it would not become an eyesore to the public and become a home to the local transients.The next morning, April 18, with the excitement of the previous evening still on the minds of the citizens, that big issue about the fate of the old depot would be taken from the hands of the mayor and town fathers by Mother Nature.WORLD COMING TO AN END?April 18, 1906, was the day of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.Just at dawn the telegraph started to hum about the great buildings in San Francisco toppling over; water works destroyed; the city at the mercy of the fire demons; block after block swept by flames. Many prayed in the streets thinking the end of the world had come. Local Grand Junction photographer Frank Dean reported his mother was missing in San Francisco. The great city had vanished from view, and little remained. Reports from telegraphs at that time said 300,000 people now slept in the open with a half-million in want of food and medical care. The California Governor asked Colorado for food and to send relief trains.Mayor Bunting issued an appeal to the local citizens for donations to help the people of San Francisco. He urged them to give all they could, by bringing their dollars, half dollars, quarters and dimes for the local relief fund for the purchasing of supplies.On April 24, 1906, a supply train was sent with $2,000 worth of groceries, provisions, blankets, clothing, boots and shoes, along with six tons of flour, 2,500 pounds of sugar and 5 tons of potatoes.Sending supplies to San Francisco was not the end of the appeals because refugees from the city were now coming through Grand Junction on their way east. The old depot would become the temporary haven for the refugees traveling through.MAYOR'S APPEAL FOR HELPThree hundred Frisco refugees will arrive in Grand Junction... They will have had nothing to eat for 12 hours... all citizens are asked to prepare lunches for two or three people and bring or send to the depot.Put a lunch into a small paper box or basket. Send only dry food, such as sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, ham, bacon, pickles, biscuits, bread, cakes or meat.Good citizens of Grand Junction, we must heed this appeal and feed the hungry; Tents will be erected at the station to store food.- I.N. Bunting, MayorThe first train of refugees arrived the same day and the thankful passengers were fed. They commented that the taste of hot coffee was wonderful. There was a large crowd of Grand Junction citizens to help serve the food.In a short time, more than 50 gallons of milk and coffee were served along with the lunches. Additionally, 40 more pounds of meat, 16 dozen rolls and 30 loaves of bread were served.Medical aid was given by local doctors to all in need. Among those a young man with a badly burned arm; a child with convulsions; and many other medical needs dealt with before they could move on to Denver and points east.One young couple of considerable wealth in San Francisco before the earthquake, appeared well-dressed, but now unkempt, showed a handful of keys to reporters stating this was all that remained of their fortune. All was gone but the keys to buildings no longer standing. The wife, who was quite handsome, sat on a pile of railroad ties refusing to eat until others on the train were fed.The refugees said they felt as ants, which had just had their ant hill stepped on by some passing heel. Now they knew how the small ants felt.Between April 24 and April 30, five trains carrying more than 1,000 earthquake refugees came through Grand Junction and each time the citizens heeded the call and fed and cared for these displaced souls. The refugees on the April 27 train shouted as the train moved out, "God Bless you all and Hurrah for Grand Junction."Frank Dean finally heard from his brother that their mother was safe in San Francisco. She had managed to get out of the burned district and stayed in a church along with other displaced people. Also on April 27 the people of Grand Junction thought the earthquake had finally come to town. The old 80-foot water standpipe at the corner of Seventh and Ouray was pulled down by order of the city council. It had been a part of the old Junction Water works and over the years, the steel pipe had reigned high on that corner. It was many inches out of plumb and threatened to fall at anytime. So the city had Charles Hawkins, a house mover, hitch up his ropes, wire and tackle and together with his horses, pull down the pipe. The pipe fell, dropping hard along the east vacant lots of Ouray Street.Members of the city heard the hideous grinding noise, and felt the trembling of the earth. It caused men, women and children who for weeks had helped San Francisco refugees, to run out of their homes and into the streets yelling: "It's a earthquake! It's an earthquake!"BUNTING'S LEGACYMayor Bunting proved that the city of Grand Junction could rise to the cause and help those in need. He was 44 years old and a strong, hard worker. He believed in active participation in all his business and social dealings. When asked if he would ever slow down, Isaac would say, "I can't do it, I had rather die in harness, I can't just be contented to quit the game."In 1911, Isaac was giving a eulogy at the Elks Club for his friend, John O Boyle, owner of the local Flour Mill, who had just passed away. Isaac was in the middle of his eulogy and the last speaker on the stand, when he suddenly turned pale, and walked toward his seat with slow, measured steps; as he reached his chair he lost his balance and Samuel McMullin and Samuel Wheeler caught him. Isaac died before he was placed in his chair. The time was 9:05 p.m., Dec. 3, 1911. He was 49 years old.His remains were taken and buried next to his father in Pennsylvania. In Denver the train carrying his body was met by the Denver Press Club so that they might honor one of their own, a member of the press.Walter Walker, who had been one of Isaac's reporters but was then-publisher of the Ouray Plaindealer, wrote that I.N. Bunting answered "30" in newspaper business terms and had gone to the "Great Unknown" to meet and hold an interview, face to face with the main source.One of the finest moments in his short life was the day he asked the citizens of Grand Junction to call themselves to a higher plane, dig deep, give freely of their goods, feed the strangers and love their unknown neighbors.The next time you drive past the old train depot think of this old building and when it was new, 106 years ago. It shone like a bright star in the heavens and became a beacon of hope to the tired strangers in need during the depot's first month of life.You might also think of Mayor Isaac Bunting and the people of Mesa County for their caring generosity.---------------------------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.===============PHOTO CREDIT AND RESOURCES: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room, Michael Menard, Grand Junction News, Daily Sentinel files, Snap Photo, Wanda Allen, Richard Tope, Objective History of Grand Junction, Colorado, Mesa County Library and Ken Johnson.


Explore Related Articles

Trending in: News

The Post Independent Updated Mar 30, 2012 04:27PM Published Mar 26, 2012 04:43PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.