Charles and Dorothea “Etta” Bernklau boarded a train in Arkansas on Dec. 1, 1900, with their two young children for what Etta later recalled as “a cold and miserable trip” to Colorado.
Their destination? Rifle, Colorado, where Charles’ two brothers John and Fritz were living.
“Like a lot of people, Colorado was a new frontier for them,” said Paul Bernklau of his grandparents.
John and Fritz didn’t stay in Rifle ” after homesteading in Rifle for a few years, they continued west in covered wagons to Oregon.
But Charles and Etta stayed on, starting a 100-year legacy of Bernklaus in the Rifle area.
Charles’ first job in the area was a ditch rider for a canal, which ran Colorado River water through and under Webster Hill to Parachute. Later when the canal caved in, he got a job hauling lumber and working at a Grand Valley mercantile store. Soon the Bernklaus purchased land up Cache Creek, and started a lumber yard and sawmill.
Carl Bernklau, now 86, is the youngest of Charles’ and Etta’s six children. He was 12 years junior to the youngest Bernklau child. He was born at the Bernklau homestead south of Rifle, where he lives today, and grew up ranching and farming.
“When Grandpa was a boy, more people worked as farmers than any other occupation,” wrote Diana Bernklau Casey, Carl’s granddaughter.
Charles died when Carl was just 14. He left his children several farms and ranches to run. Through the years, the Bernklaus raised cattle, hay and more than 3,000 chickens. The Bernklaus sold fryers and delivered eggs.
Paul Bernklau is Carl’s nephew, and the late Ed Bernklau’s son. He has spent much of his life in Rifle, living the ranching life like his ancestors.
“Clear up through the 1960s and 1970s, agriculture was the driving force behind the Rifle economy,” Bernklau said.
He laughed when he was asked about the family trees of longtime Rifle families. For starters, the Bernklaus can claim the Meads, Alexanders, Morrows, Mackleys, Sours, Caseys, Rohrigs and
Vondettes as members of their tree.
“Before my two daughters got married, I was related to half of Garfield County,” Paul Bernklau said with a laugh. “Now I’m related to the whole place.”
Thank you to Carl Bernklau, Paul Bernklau and Diana Bernklau Casey for sharing family information for this story.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon closed around 9 p.m. Thursday for a flash flood warning.