GJ HISTORY: Halloween circa 1890 with Grand Junction’s own ‘Little Rascals’
It was a dark and dreary Halloween night in Grand Junction in the 1890s. Ghosts and goblins were all about and mischievousness was in the air.
A group or “gang” who named themselves the “Rocky Mountain Detective Association” (RMDA) were young teenagers who lived around Sixth and Pitkin Avenue in the 1890s and their leader was a 15-year-old boy named Andrew “Andy” Wayne Willauer. They were also referred to as the South Side Boys and it’s not clear as to why the “Rocky Mountain Detective Association” name was chosen; apparently a secret that remains to this day.
Andy, the son of Isaac Wayne Willauer and Elizabeth Mahoney Harris, was born on Dec. 8, 1877, in Denver. In the 1880s the family made their way to Grand Junction. Tragedy struck this family when Isaac and Elizabeth lost two of their three sons to typhoid fever — Willie in 1888 and Harris in 1890. Then on Jan. 24, 1892, Isaac died leaving Andy and his widowed mother to fend for themselves. Isaac, Willie and Harris are all buried in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery. Elizabeth became a nurse at the Teller Indian School and later helped take care of George Crawford during his last illness.
One of the reasons the RMDA was formed was to raise funds to build a fence around his father and brother’s graves by traveling to different communities. However, as young people of that time, they were limited to the area of Grand Junction.
With the loss of their lofty goal, the club became fertile ground for pranks, practical jokes and mischievous behavior. The Alphin family had installed the first “genuine” bathtub in Grand Junction, complete with running water. Fellow detective, Charlie Alphin invited the RMDA club members to come to a private viewing of his first bath in the tub. However, problems ensued when the mother of the house found the boys had allowed the bathtub to overflow.
One night the RMDA ventured out to “borrow” Charles Sieber’s new buggy from his home at 10th and Main. The idea was to take it to the other side of town and hide it. However, Sieber got wind of the plan and laid in wait for the boys. As Andy and his crew got the buggy out of the barn, Sieber stepped out with three buckets of coal and started pelting them with the rocks. Sieber’s arm was strong and his aim was good and almost every piece of coal found its mark. The boys quickly backed down, returned the buggy to the barn and retreated in haste.
For a time their mischievous behavior led them to sneak into backyards of homes on the north side of town and engage in turning over outhouses. A few times the pranksters caught girls from the north side of town known as the “Bloody Robber Gang” inside the outhouses as they went over. The “Bloody Robber Gang,” which included a girl named Merle McClintock, who later wrote for the Daily Sentinel, was not happy with the RMDA so when it came time to invite kids to a big Halloween Party, Andy and his group were not on the list. This turn of events set the stage for the raid on the City Water Tower or “Standpipe” which was probably one of the RMDA’s greatest claim to fame.
BIGGEST PRANK EVER
The water tower for the City of Grand Junction stood at the northeast corner of Seventh and Ouray. The standpipe was solid steel, 80 feet tall, and held water pumped up Seventh Street from the river. Between the years 1889 and 1906, it supplied water to the homes in Grand Junction. There is an interesting photo taken from the top of the tower of downtown Grand Junction. The standpipe reigned on high and so many people tried to climb to the top that the lower rungs on the tower were removed to keep people off.
While McClintock and her gang were pulling taffy, bobbing for apples and telling ghost stories, Andy and the Rocky Mountain Detective Association gang, armed with a ladder, were pulling the delivery wagon from Arthur Wadsworth’s grocery store to the standpipe. There they took the heavy wagon apart, and piece by piece, took it to the top of the 80-foot tower and reassembled it for all to see the next morning.
The next day, Wadsworth went out with groceries to deliver and discovered his wagon gone. He started looking around for it and happened to look up and there at the highest point in Grand Junction, perched on top of the tower was a familiar sight, his wagon.
Wadsworth while trying to figure out how to get his wagon down went to the tower and found some boys hanging around. He offered to hire them to bring the wagon down and they eagerly agreed. The boys climbed to the top and piece by piece brought the wagon down and put it back together. Wadsworth was so glad to have his wagon back he paid the boys $5 for their hard work, not realizing they were the same boys, yes, the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, who had put it on top of the tower in the first place.
This prank was never repeated and in April 1906 the City of Grand Junction found a new water source and the tall tower was pulled down on April 26, 1906, by Charles Hawkins and his team of horses. The noise was so loud, the steel made a hideous grinding noise, the earth trembled, and most people in town thought it was an earthquake when it fell.
GANG MEMBER GROWS UP
As for Andrew Wayne Willauer, he finished high school in Grand Junction while helping his mother. He married Daisy Lee Strong on Jan. 23, 1907, in Grand Junction, and became a member of the first fire hook and ladder hose cart team, of which the team competed with other fire teams from all over the state. Andy and Daisy had their only child, a son, E. Wayne Willauer born in 1910 and he died in 1912. Andy’s widowed mother, Elizabeth, lived with him and wife Daisy until 1929, when she moved to Tennessee where she passed away in 1934.
Andy started to work for the railroad as a call boy while in high school, riding his bike all over town to call the railroad men to work. He was promoted to brakeman, then a conductor and retired from the railroad in 1943. Andy passed away Jan. 4, 1965, and wife Daisy died on July 23, 1976. They are both buried next to their son in the Orchard Mesa Odd Fellows section of the cemetery.
Andy always said his mother recognized the need for a boy to have fun, and that a little mischief is OK. She also cautioned him to “never gamble or drink, or steal,” which he said he never did.
Andy was always proud he was the “First Kid” of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association and Andy and Merle McClintock of the “Bloody Robber Gang” grew up and the two of them became great friends.
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. Email Garry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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