GJ HISTORY: Grand Junction town founder George A. Crawford — A witness to early American history | PostIndependent.com

GJ HISTORY: Grand Junction town founder George A. Crawford — A witness to early American history

George Addison Crawford, one of Grand Junction's founders was interred in a "Masonic vault/tomb" here in Mesa County for seven years, five months and nine days between Jan. 29, 1891, and July 7, 1898. It remains a mystery to this writer and researcher as to "where" his body was placed for those seven plus years. After extensive research of the Mesa County Cemetery Records (Masonic section), his probate file, family records, Masonic records and the newspapers of that day, nothing indicates where he was originally laid to rest.

We know he was originally buried on Jan. 30, 1891, by Harvey C. Bucklin, undertaker; but this burial doesn't show up in any records until a letter dated, March 9, 1897, from Charles B. Rich, nephew and trustee of his estate, reminding the heirs that they will need to consider the proper time to move Uncle George's remains from the temporary vault to the permanent site George had chosen prior to his death. A Daily Sentinel article on July 7, 1898, informs the readership that his remains were removed from a Masonic brick vault to his chosen burial place in a stone vault, overlooking Grand Junction, the city he founded and loved.

Why did this man who had the dream to build a new city with his friends, Capt. Richard D. Mobley, Henry E. Rood, half-brother Congressman Allison White and others believe they could form a town company and start a new community in the wilderness?

EARLY YEARS

George Addison Crawford was born July 27, 1827, in Pine Creek Township, Clinton (then part of Lycoming) County, Pa., to Judge George Crawford and Elizabeth Weitzel White (she was first married to James White Jr. and widowed). Her sons by Mr. White were Allison and James. Elizabeth married Judge Crawford on Jan. 29, 1822, and George was the third of nine children — Charlotte Guyer/Fredricks, Robert, George Addison, William H., John who died as a baby, Elizabeth McKinney, Frances who died as a child, Mary Rich and James.

(For the reader's information we have used the married names of the George's sisters.)

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George received his higher education at Clinton Academy, Lock Haven Academy and Jefferson College, where he was sent home for a term due to ill health. He was able to keep up with his classes and graduated in June 1847. He then went to Salem, Ky., where he taught school for a year and returned home to Pennsylvania in 1848 to study law with his half-brother, Allison White.

George, while still pursuing his law studies, became the editor and proprietor of the Clinton Democrat, the county political newspaper. He became active in the Democratic Party and received personal thanks from President Franklin Pierce. He also helped elect James Buchanan, and on Sept. 16, 1856, received a highly complimentary letter of thanks from President Buchanan.

'BLOODY KANSAS'

In spring 1857, he traveled to Kansas by steamboat, landing at Leavenworth with his friend, Dr. Norman Eddy, a U.S. commissioner for Indian Lands. Upon landing they traveled on to the abandoned military post of Fort Scott, Kan., where George, Dr. Eddy and their associates purchased claims to 520 acres and organized the Fort Scott Town Company. George was elected president of the town company and ordered a survey and named the streets after his friends, Bigler, Hendricks and others.

While in Fort Scott, George bought a hotel that had belonged to a pro-slavery man and made it a Free State Hotel. Kansas was a territory at the time not a state, and the issue of the day was whether Kansas would be free state or a slave state. He later purchased a saw mill, flour and woolen factory, foundry, machine shops and established a newspaper, The Daily Monitor.

The following years, 1858-1860, violence and anarchy visited upon the Fort Scott area as the Jayhawkers Free State anti-slavery men led by John Brown and pro-slavery men known as Border Ruffians turned Kansas into "Bloody Kansas."

George Crawford, a free-state man, was opposed to the plans of the pro-slavery men who sent many letters of warning to George to leave Kansas or face assassination. Failing to make George leave, they delivered a final written notice stating: "To George A. Crawford, William Gallaher, and Charles Dimon: Gentlemen, you are very respectfully invited to leave town in twenty-four hours, Friday afternoon, April 27, 1858." It came with a verbal notice that if they did not leave they would be killed. George Crawford's answer was: "I don't exchange messages with horse-thieves" and George and his friends armed themselves for defense and the pro-slavery men fled town.

A few days later the pro-slavery men under the command of Capt. Charles Hamilton of the militia attacked a local trading post taking 11 free-state men into a ravine and shooting them, killing five and wounding six. This became known as the "Marais des Cygnes massacre." Some of the survivors stated the men were also looking for George Crawford.

On Dec. 16, 1858, George was in his hotel/store with John H. Little, ex-deputy U.S. marshall, when a raid was made upon Fort Scott by the forces of anti-slavery men John Brown and James Montgomery. They were there to rescue Benjamin Rice, a follower of Brown, who was being held by Deputy U.S. Marshall Campbell. Brown's men showed up and attacked the hotel/store. John Little was standing next to George when Little was shot in the head, killing him almost instantly. Crawford, for the next three hours, was trapped in the room with his dead friend while the attack continued.

When a cannon was brought up and readied for firing, a woman's voice was heard crying out that there were women and children in the building and calling for a truce. Realizing there were women and children in danger, George stepped into the open doorway in the face of 100 rifles all aimed at him. Someone fired at Crawford but fortunately for him the rifle misfired. James Montgomery recognized Crawford and told his men to "stop," that Crawford was a free-state man and gave orders for Crawford's safety. The men freed Rice and plundered the store. A warrant for the arrest of Brown and Montgomery was issued for the murder of John Little and the robbery of the store. Crawford and his anti-slavery stand helped him survive as the only witness of the murder of John Little.

John Brown left Kansas in 1859 taking 12 freed slaves. Pottawatomie John Brown, in October 1859, led a failed raid on Harper's Ferry in Virginia where he was captured. He was hung on Dec. 2, 1859.

James Montgomery, at the beginning of the Civil War, became a colonel in the Union Army and organized the 3rd Kansas Infantry and then the 2nd South Carolina African-American Troops made of freed slaves. Montgomery led a raid on the coastal town of Darien, Ga., made famous in the movie "Glory." The town offered no resistance, saying they were not secessionists. However, Col. Montgomery, wanting to show the Southerners what real war felt like and saying that he was an outlaw and not bound by rules of war, ordered his troops and the 54th Massachusetts Colored Volunteers under Col. Shaw to load up all the furniture, supplies and other goods from the homes and town and when that was done they burned the entire town to the ground. Col. Shaw, commander of the 54th and a subordinate to Montgomery, condemned the action.

With the presidential election of 1860 where Stephen A. Douglas lost to Abraham Lincoln we find George a friend and supporter of Douglas. When the Civil War broke out, Douglas gave his support to the Union and Lincoln asking his followers to follow and help the president.

George Crawford as an anti-slavery man helped form the 2nd Kansas regiment and equipped many of the men of the different regiments before the federal government could make arrangement for expenses. After the Battle of Wilson's Creek (called the Bull Run of the West) near Springville, Mo., where the Union Army lost the battle, George asked that the money due him should go to the families of the dead soldiers rather than to enforce collection for himself.

In 1861, he was elected as the first state governor of Kansas by a two-thirds vote. However, the election was set aside by the Kansas Supreme Court because of a controversy as to when Kansas actually was admitted to the Union. While he did not serve as governor he was allowed to keep the title.

On July 1, 1863, George signed up for the federal service at Fort Scott, Kan., but was told he was needed to help with the civilian government.

On Nov. 1, 1870, his flour and woolen mill filled with wheat, flour, wool, cloth and yarn was destroyed by fire with a loss of more than $80,000 and no insurance. By May 1877, after 20 years of giving his work to machine shops, the flour mill, newspapers and all the hazardous risks of running large and varied businesses, the fire left him so far in debt that he no longer even owned a cemetery lot in Fort Scott.

George later served as the Commissioner of Kansas Immigration; associate editor of the Kansas Farmer; appointed by President U.S. Grant, as one of the Centennial commissioners for the State of Kansas; and in 1879, President Hayes appointed him as a representative for the 1883 Chicago World's Fair. He also served as the second president of the Kansas State Historical Society.

TOWN OF GRAND JUNCTION

Builders and dreamers never quit, and after the Meeker massacre and the Ute were to be moved and the land to be declared public lands, George turned his eyes to the West. With his half-brother, Allison White, and Henry E. Rood as investors, George formed a group to develop town-sites in the wilderness on the Western Slope of Colorado. George gathered a group of experienced men and came to Gunnison to wait until the scheduled land rush of Sept. 4, 1881.

A group of young men trying to get by the Army patrols made an early run for the land and on Aug. 28, 1881, J. Clayton Nichols, William McGinley, cousins Merrett and Emmitt Van De Venter were caught and taken to the Army fort below what is now Montrose. They tried again and were caught and thought they were going to be put to death but were held in the fort until Sept. 4 when they were released and made the run and on Sept. 8, 1881, the men crossed the river. On or about the same time the Russell Brothers, J.S. Gordon, William Green and Mr. Forbush also entered the valley.

The men staked their land and returned to Gunnison for provisions and reported to Gov. Crawford who interviewed them at length. George asked William McGinley to return as his guide along with the rest of his party of Richard D. Mobley, M. Rush Warner, Colonel Morris and S.W. Harper.

On a rainy Thursday, Sept. 22, 1881, the Crawford party crossed the river at 3 p.m. and that night caught and ate a 3-pound white fish. The next day Richard D. Mobley, George Crawford and others began to walk the area for a town-site. On Sept. 26, Section 14, Township 1 South, Range 1 West, was selected and George and company laid out the official town-site. George named some of the streets after his partners, Allison White and Henry E. Rood. Beginning the next day, in the rain, Mobley and Crawford began to lay cabin foundations.

During this time a lot is happening. The Mormon Railroad crew is moving closer to the valley; George sends Mr. Russell to Gunnison for supplies and Mr. McGinley to the Grand River for horses; claim jumpers are starting to show up; a gentleman named William Keith starts to build a cabin on Crawford and Mobley's claim.

George Crawford has a meeting of the settlers with Richard Mobley presiding, where they read letters from Gov. Pitkin and petitions were presented for postal routes, county roads and surveys. Mobley was to travel to Gunnison with a letter to settle claim difficulties and George Crawford and William Keith begin to talk on who is the rightful owner of Section 14.

On Sunday, Nov. 20, 1881, Keith showed up at George's cabin with pistols half drawn. George asked him to come in to talk with cool heads. This was the beginning of a lawsuit that would not be settled until the 1890s when George bought out Keith's interest "if any." On Dec. 12, 1881, Crawford and Mobley adopted town company bylaws. After the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881, George named the promontory that stands above the valley, Mount Garfield.

And Mr. Forbush found out about the "rocks that burn" when he built a cabin and made his fireplace chimney out of the oil-shale-filled river rock. Upon lighting the first fire in his fireplace the chimney quickly caught fire and burned leaving him only the cabin.

Thus ended the first three months of the settlement of the Town of Grand Junction in Gunnison County, later in 1883 to become Mesa County.

George for the next nine years, five months and nine days of his life would be hard at work, planning, building, helping to bring the railroad to the area, laying out the Town of Grand Junction, the County of Mesa, and promoting the area of western Colorado as the pre-destined metropolis and undisputed "Most Westerly City of Colorado" and the "Queen of the Region."

History hung by a thread when back on Dec. 16, 1858, a rifle misfired and George Addison Crawford's stance as an anti-slavery person spared his life and the vision of Grand Junction was allowed to be born.

Next week, read about the last three months of George Crawford's life, his burial and the burial vault on the hill overlooking Grand Junction.

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 brewer62@bresnan.net.

SOURCES AND PHOTOS: Wanda Allen, Museum of Western Colorado, Lloyd Files Room, Michael Menard & David Bailey, Bill Buvinger, 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, City of Grand Junction Cemetery Information, Vicki Beltran, J. Clayton Nichols History, George Crawford diaries, Herman Vorbeck, Centennial celebrations, Kathy Jordan stories, Marie Tipping, Garry Brewer book 125th Mesa County History, Grand Junction Star files, 75th Anniversary Mesa County Lodge 55 1958, Lodge 55 cemetery book 1889-1906, James Rankin History of Grand Junction, Richard E. Tope History of Mesa County, Edwin Price, Yesteryear, James W. Bucklin History, Miss Merle McClintock history, Thomas B. Crawford history, John J .Lumsden history, Harvey C. Bucklin history, Bill McGinley history, Crawford Family Bible ,Terry Mangan history, Annabelle McKinney Dorsey history files, Colorado state archives, Paul Levit & Kevin Luy archivist, Marilyn Crawford Fillmore files, John Groves, Lodge 55, Robert W. McLeod, "A Valley So Grand."