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April 29, 2012
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GJ HISTORY: A forgotten founder - Capt. Richard Daniel Mobley, first elected judge of Mesa County

In the Orchard Mesa Cemetery on the southwest corner of the Masonic Section, between the tool shed and the old administration building, sits two headstones bound on the east by a cement path and on the west by a paved road. These two graves with their headstones sit there all by themselves, almost forgotten, containing the remains of some of the oldest pioneers and founders of Mesa County.One headstone is for five unknown Civil War veterans and Masonic Brethren who died in Mesa County between 1887 and 1892. We now know the names of three of the five, but that is another story.The other headstone is for Capt. Richard Daniel Mobley, Company D, 17th Kansas Infantry. He was one of the first along with his wife, Emma, who came with former Gov. George Crawford of Kansas and J. Clayton Nichols to open up this county and found the town of Grand Junction in September, 1881. He was 48; his wife Emma was 33. For the next 12 years before their deaths, they were a driving force in the opening of Grand Junction and Mesa County.But who was Richard Mobley before he came to this wilderness that many now call home? His life reads like a walk through the pages of American History, which prepared him for the role of groundbreaking founder.Richard was born in Graves County, Ky., on June 24, 1833, the son of Richard Mobley Sr. and Mary Riggs. His father had served in the War of 1812 with Capt. Zachary Taylor (later president of the U.S.). He was educated at the Aurora Academy in Filiciana, Ky. At age 18, supporting himself as a school teacher, young Richard headed to Texas. He traveled all over the state, as well as through the Western wildlands which today cover parts of Colorado.When he returned home to Kentucky he found his father, Richard Sr., had inherited the family slaves; and abhorring the institution of slavery had freed them all. Richard and his brother, Claiborne, feeling differently from their father immigrated to Kansas in 1855 to join the pro-slavery forces and help settle the question: Should Kansas be a free or slave state?During this time the Free State (anti-slavery) men formed the Kansas Jayhawkers and the Red Legs Militia to protect the Free State men from the pro-slavery men, or the Missouri guerrillas. This was the same time as Fanatic Pottawatomie John Brown (anti-slavery) was running around Kansas, also when the Missouri Ruffians (pro-slavery) burned Lawrence, Kan., in May 1856. Observing the conduct of the pro-slavery group, Richard changed his views regarding the issue and became a free-state man and joined the Republican Party. Richard's brother Claiborne remained a pro-slavery man and a Confederate.During the Civil War, Richard became the Captain of Company D, 17th Kansas Infantry, stationed in Lawrence, Kan. He helped defend Kansas from the raids of Confederate Gen. Sterling Price, William Clarke Quantrill and other bushwhacker's forces.After the war, Richard married Miss Emma Dawson in Topeka, Kan., on Dec. 24, 1868. Emma was a lady of culture and educated at Edgar Academy in Illinois. The couple moved to Ottawa County, Kan., where he had previously been a freight hauler on the Western plains and had been captured and escaped from the Indians. Thinking a career change would be safer, he became a farmer.Richard was admitted to the bar in 1863; appointed county attorney in 1865 in Ottawa County, and elected to three terms in the State Legislature. This is where he first met George Crawford. In 1869 he was appointed as land commissioner by the governor of Kansas. He helped make 37 new counties in Kansas as the head of the new counties committee. He had previously visited the Territory of Colorado in 1856 and again in 1877.NEW BEGINNINGSWhen most men would be happy to remain at home with their life secure, Capt. Richard Mobley and George Crawford made a plan to start a new community on the Western Slope of Colorado.In 1880, Richard and Emma, together with Crawford moved to Gunnison County, to wait for western Colorado to open for settlement. They worked on their plans to build a new community at the point where the Grand and Gunnison rivers met, in what is now Grand Junction.Crawford hired William McGinley to be the guide for a party consisting of Richard, M. Rush Warner, Colonel Morris and S.W. Harper. They crossed the Grand River on Sept. 22, 1881, and on the 26th, formally located Section 14 as the town site for Grand Junction.On Nov. 19, 1881, the certificate of incorporation of the Grand Junction Town Co. was filed with the Secretary of State. Building a town from the bottom up was a tough undertaking. Grand Junction was a primitive frontier town and didn't have a store or saloon. All supplies had to be purchased at the Army post south of Montrose or the town of Gunnison. Most folks lived in tents or cabins made of hand cut logs, with blankets for doors. The residents stayed cool by navigating around their abodes, following the shade as the day progressed.Life was tough during this time; the new town was being overrun with cattle thieves and hoodlums. Some were arrested, and some escaped. On April 1, 1882, Deputy Sheriff Benjamin Scott of Gunnison County, Patrick Henry Gordon, and C.A. Pierson were part of a group of citizens going after some escaped men who had crossed the river near what is now the 5th Street Bridge in a boat ferry.There were two boats of citizens crossing the river after them. The second boat back carrying Deputy Scott, Gordon, William Nishwitz and Pierson, began to sink. Pierson jumped out and barely made it to shore; Nishwitz was found hanging onto the boat; but Deputy Scott and Gordon perished. Gordon, a widower, left a large family behind.Burial services for Gordon and Scott were read by J.W. Bucklin and closing remarks by Capt. Richard Mobley.Richard and Emma took in one of the orphaned Gordon children, Rose. In the June 1885 census of Grand Junction, Rose Gordon is listed as Rose Mobley. Rose later married E.R. Gallagher in 1890.On June 22, 1882, the election to incorporate the City of Grand Junction was held with Richard Mobley, J.M. Russell and Newton N. Smith as Judges of Elections. Richard was also appointed one of the first Justices of the Peace in the city thus giving him the title of Judge.The first 4th of July event in Grand Junction was held in 1882, at the school house. Judge Mobley read the Declaration of Independence to the children and general public. Emma Mobley and the other ladies prepared a picnic dinner. A dance finished the very pleasant evening.Judge Mobley ran for the position of the first Mayor of Grand Junction on July 17, 1882, at a meeting on Colorado Avenue, but lost the election to Charles F. Shanks. Prior to the election, anticipating a win of the race, Judge Mobley resigned his position as local postmaster.On Oct. 9, 1882, at a general election, voters passed a ballot question to form Grand Junction and the surrounding area into a separate county from Gunnison County. The vote passed and on the same day a major earthquake hit the Grand Valley. The shock wave was felt through the entire state.Feb. 11, 1883, a bill establishing Mesa County was passed by both the House and Senate of Colorado. Judge Mobley as chairman of the county organization called for all residents to come together for "holding a grand meeting tonight" to share the news. Part of the story written in the Grand Junction News said: "Mesa County was born and Christened on Sunday, February 11th, in the year of our Lord one thousand, eight hundred and eighty-three."In November 1883, the first county officers of Mesa County were elected, and high on the list of names was Richard Daniel Mobley, first Mesa County judge. It was mentioned at the time of his election that the citizens of Mesa County held him in high esteem because of his character.Not wanting the history of Mesa County to be forgotten, Judge Mobley and others formed the Pioneer and Historical Society of Mesa County on April 15, 1885, at the courthouse on Sixth and Main Street. Only settlers who arrived prior to July 4, 1882 were to become members of the society.THE FATE OF EMMA MOBLEYLife in a frontier town is trying on all who journey to the wilderness for a new life. Emma Mobley, who was used to a more genteel life, began to wear down mentally from the hard life of a pioneer woman. The local paper said Emma was the "first white woman in the Grand Valley," and first to help all, and always trying to make life better in this new town. A group of friends, among them, Mr. and Mrs. Barnhouse, F.P. Brown, W.P. Elam, W.P. Quinn and others led by J. Clayton Nichols, who had known the family for years and even lived in their home, expressed worry that she was insane or distracted in her mind as to endanger herself.On April 30, 1887 this kind, gentle woman was committed to the home for the insane in Pueblo, Colo. Her husband, with heavy heart, escorted her to the hospital, and stayed with her a couple of days as she settled in. He returned home alone.Four years later in May of 1891, Emma Mobley was released and stayed with her sister, Lydia Dawson Brownlee, in Topeka, Kan. In August of that year, Richard joined his wife, and they were together for eight short weeks before her death on Oct. 20, 1891.The Grand Junction News wrote: "She gave a kindly welcome to all who came to the Grand Valley in the early days, a lady of noble qualities and her death will be sincerely mourned by all who knew her."Emma was born January 12, 1848 as Emma Dawson, daughter of Thomas Dawson, in Edgar, Ill. She is buried in the Topeka cemetery. She was 43 years old at the time of her death.LATER YEARS OF RICHARD MOBLEYJudge Mobley returned home and is mentioned in the local newspaper, buying land, and looking for eastern capitalists to purchase land in Grand Junction. About April 1892, he was appointed Commissioner Registrar of the U.S. Land office at Montrose by President Harrison and relocated to Montrose for his work.On Nov. 20, 1892, Richard Mobley married Sarah J.P. Kerston in Minneapolis, Minn., and brought her to Colorado. His new bride was reportedly a very "British Woman" and was of the historical House of Paddington England. Life was starting to look better for Richard after the long years of hard work and Emma's illness.On Oct. 11, 1893, Judge Mobley's nephew George Yates who had been ill with typhoid fever and lived in the Crawford Addition of Grand Junction, asked for his uncle to come and visit him. Judge Mobley took the Sunday train from Montrose to Grand Junction.While staying with his nephew, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 1893, Judge Mobley arose early and started a stroll close to the railroad yard. The early morning train had just arrived from the west, and the switchmen were making their usual changes and preparing the train for its departure east. Judge Mobley was walking leisurely down the track when the switch engine with a sleeper car came up behind him. Passengers and trainmen frantically called to him, but it was too late. The train struck him. He fell under it and was dragged about 200 yards before the train stopped. He was so badly injured that Dr. Bull, who happened to be at the depot, didn't recognize him. He searched the mangled man's pockets and discovered it was his friend, Judge Mobley. Richard Mobley died about an hour later.He was married twice with no children. His second wife, Sarah, settled his estate in 1894 and moved back to Minnesota. She died of heart failure upon reading of the death of King Edward of England on May 9, 1910.Judge Richard Daniel Mobley's funeral was conducted by the Masonic Lodge 55 and the Grand Army of the Republic, John A. Logan Post 35. As one of the founders of Grand Junction and Mesa County, he left his mark on the city and county of which he helped to build. He had many good traits of character, and a kindly heart. He was a man of more than ordinary ability, but did not try to force his knowledge upon the people.Judge Richard Daniel Mobley is buried in the corner of the Masonic Section of the Orchard Mesa cemetery. His second wife, Sarah, did not put up a headstone for him, but his Civil War comrades in Grand Junction ordered a headstone for him from the government in 1901. The stone was shipped in 1924, and installed in the cemetery by the John A. Logan Post 21, Grand Army of the Republic on Dec. 17, 1924.So in the southwest corner of the Masonic Section of the cemetery lies a true pioneer, almost forgotten by the city and county he helped found. His headstone is worn and almost in the same condition as George Crawford's Tomb on the hill, worn by time and damages of man. But the dream of a city, Grand Junction, and a county named Mesa flourishes long after the dreamers have died.Think of Richard and Emma Mobley the next time you are driving in from Orchard Mesa and try to imagine what they must have seen when they crossed the river near the Fifth Street Bridge and the vision they had to build our home, the Grand Valley. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. - Ecclesiastes 1:4-----------------------------------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.=====================SOURCES & PHOTOS: Wanda Allen, Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room; Michael Menard & David Bailey; Grand Junction News; Daily Sentinel files; Snap Photo; Mesa County Library; Progressive Men of Western Colorado; History and Business Directory of Mesa County, 1885; United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men of Kansas; Probates of Mesa County 1883-1900; Colorado Magazine Vol. 29, Jan 1, 1952; City of Grand Junction Cemetery Information; Vicki Beltran; Joan Kruckenberg; K. Don Thompson; Debbie Brockett; Sons of Union Veterans, Grand Army of the Republican Post records, 35,18 & 21; J. Clayton Nichols and George Crawford diaries.

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The Post Independent Updated Apr 29, 2012 05:22PM Published Apr 29, 2012 05:20PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.