History: Danford Noble Wheeler — ‘A man to match our mountains’
GJ History Columnist
Give me men to match my mountains, Give me men to match my plains,
With courage in their hearts, and Empires in their brains
Danford Noble Wheeler was a man born with “sand in his shoes,” as he was always looking for the next adventure.
Dan was born in Wilkes Barre, Penn. on Aug. 11, 1841, where he grew up and worked as a mechanic until age 21. Over the objections of his parents he went west with his cousin to enlist in the 153rd Illinois Infantry Volunteers on Feb. 12, 1865, for the last great push to conquer the south during the Civil War. He was proud to be known as a volunteer — joining of his own free will and not drafted — to help save the Union.
Like many young men of the day, he caught “Gold Fever” and went west to the mining towns of western Colorado.
To support himself, he learned the art of photography from Thomas E. Barnhouse, his business partner; they also did gold mining on the side. Traveling the mining towns he took many photos of the early towns and mines of Colorado.
In one boom town he met a young lady by the name of Lillie Belle Barrett. She was the daughter of George N. Barrett and Caroline E. Berlsford Barrett, who operated the Stage Stop at Wagon Wheel Gap in Lake City. Dan and Lillie fell in love and were married in Lake City on Nov. 11, 1881. From this union came three children — Carrie, born in Colorado, and Leta and Danford Jr. born in Kansas.
Dan and his family moved to Leadville, where he opened a photography studio and after a time they moved to Colorado Springs. There he met former Union General William Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs. Palmer was the man that Mesa County was to be named after. The original bill for the formation of our county set forth Palmer County as the designated name. However, Governor Grant had a dislike for Palmer and changed the name to Mesa County.
After a few years in Colorado, the Barrett and Wheeler families moved to Kansas — but the families deeply missed the beauties of the mountains over the flat and unappealing land of Kansas, so after some researching they decided on Grand Junction as their new home.
Unfortunately as they were preparing to move, Lillie suddenly died on June 3, 1890, of an abscess to the head. She wanted to be buried in Colorado Springs, so Dan escorted her body to Colorado and buried her in Evergreen Cemetery.
Afterward as he took the train back to Kansas he stopped in Grand Junction and made living arrangements for his three motherless children and his in-laws.
Upon arriving in Kansas, Dan sent his mother-in-law and three children to Grand Junction by train while he and his father-in-law, George Barrett, followed with wagons and teams with supplies, belongings, and livestock including mares, a colt and a milk cow.
In late 1890, Dan met an old Civil War friend, and former business partner, T.E. Barnhouse, who owned a photography studio. Dan bought an interest in the business and began taking outstanding photos of early Grand Junction. Some of the most notable pictures were taken of the Fireman Hose Company Race from the top of the old bank building (now Wells Fargo bank) at the corner of Fourth and Main streets.
Dan built a home for his family at 112 Ouray St. (now Colorado Stamp and Seal); it was a home where he would remain the rest of his life. He became an active member of the community and joined the Grand Army of the Republic, John A. Logan Post 35 (GAR), the Odd Fellows Lodge and many other groups.
In 1906, he sold his photo studio and, along with his father-in-law, purchased property near Mount Lincoln in the Fruit Ridge area. There they planted a peach orchard. True to his calling as a photographer, Dan took many photos of his orchards near Mount Lincoln as well as Mount Garfield. The Loyd Files Research Room at the Museum of Western Colorado houses a large box of his interesting photos.
In late November 1909, Dan came down with pneumonia and suddenly passed away on Nov. 28, at 68 years old. His remains were buried next to his wife, Lillie, in Colorado Springs.
Townspeople were shocked when they learned of his death and, whether by coincidence or by plan, a poem appeared on the same page of his obituary that said:
A Little Cold
He caught a little cold
That was all
So the neighbors sadly said
As they gathered round his bed
When they heard that he was dead
He caught a little cold
That was all. (Puck)
Dan and Lillie Wheeler have many descendants in the area from their son Danford Jr. and their daughters, Carrie Howell, and Leta Sykes.
Danford Noble Wheeler, Senior, left a legacy of orchards; photos and events in our town; and an ever-living family that he and Lillie planted with love so many years ago.
Photos and information: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Research Room, Michael Menard and David Bailey: Marie Tipping: Wanda Allen: Grand Junction News: Daily Sentinel: Snap Photo: Colorado Stamp and Seal.
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 email@example.com.
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