Frontier Diary: Mining speculator played a role in South Canyon
Frontier Historical Society
Mr. Pray is a person who has great ability for making money.
— Mary Collis Locke Pray, Oct. 11, 1888
Edward Everett Pray was a mining speculator. Through the undeveloped riches of the Western United States, Pray sought to make his fortune. It was that speculation that elevated Edward Pray to great financial and personal heights and dropped him into financial and personal lows.
Born in Andover, Massachusetts, on March 16, 1849, the son of Seaver and Susan Pray, little is known of Edward Pray’s early years and education. However, it is known that he was a clerk, spent a brief time enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then by 1873 was working the gold fields of Benton, California, as a miner.
By the late 1870s Edward Pray was living in New York City, still interested in mining but instead now as a speculator in mining stocks. On March 20, 1879, he married Mary Collis Locke, and by June 1881 the couple had two sons, Frederick and Everett.
Locke came from a family of position and financial security. Born on Oct. 28, 1855, she was the eldest daughter of Civil War Brevet Brig. Gen. Fredrick T. Locke and Margaret Ellison. She was small in stature — about 5 feet 4 inches tall — and a woman of principle who was willing to make a new life with her husband in the west.
In the early 1880s, Pray’s mining interests focused upon Colorado. When Garfield County was formed in 1883, Pray and four investors formed the Pray Syndicate, combining resources to invest in mining at Carbonate on the Flat Tops.
The rich coal fields west of the new town of Glenwood Springs prompted Pray and investors to speculate in the South Canyon area. It was during the summer of 1887 that Pray also began the funding of his plan to create an irrigation system from Rifle Creek, through Harvey Gap to the Colorado River. His formation of the Grass Valley Irrigation Co. was dedicated to turning 20,000 acres of arid land near today’s town of Silt into productive agricultural land.
To the west of Glenwood Springs near today’s Meadows development Pray constructed a large brick house, richly furnished. It was approximately 1887 when Edward, Mary and their sons settled into the house, which was surrounded by 160 undeveloped acres possessing a beautiful view of Mount Sopris. A ferry, known as Pray’s Ferry, transported people and necessities across the Colorado River to and from Pray’s isolated ranch.
Publicly, Pray was a rising star, but in private his financial life was in shambles due to poor management and overextended financial obligations. In December 1885 one of his associates, mining land surveyor Frank Swindler, had been investigated by a grand jury on accusations of land fraud in Garfield County. Swindler was never indicted, but the incident cast suspicion upon Pray’s enterprises. Lawsuits became more frequent, and judgments were being found against Pray.
December 1887 found Edward Pray’s household in the spotlight when he brought a Chinese man to Glenwood Springs to serve as his domestic. Anti-Chinese sentiment was strong nationally and reinforced by the U.S. government’s passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act a few years before. Some community members called for the lynching of the Chinese servant. However, for the servant’s safety, the Chinese man was relocated out of Glenwood Springs and out of Pray’s household.
In April 1888, Mary Pray went into Glenwood Springs for errands and to collect her mail. In the mail was a letter marked personal, addressed to her husband, originating from an address on Holladay Street in Denver. Mary opened the letter and discovered her husband had been seeing a “common courtesan” at a house of ill repute. On Oct. 11, 1888, Mary was granted a divorce from Edward. She vacated the Pray home, which was actually owned by her father, and relocated to New York with her sons. She never remarried, traveled the world, and lived comfortably with her sister in New York City until her death in January 1931.
Edward Pray attempted one last business venture in the Roaring Fork Valley in 1889 with the proposal of a rail line in Aspen. By 1890, Pray relocated to New York City. He remarried, and eventually moved to Los Angeles, continuing to promote real estate. When he died on Sept. 4, 1934, Pray was comfortably living in the Benevolent Order of Elks Home at 607 Park View in Los Angeles, a place for the wealthy and influential to live and to meet.
When Pray departed the Roaring Fork Valley, he left behind a legacy of productive coal mining at South Canyon and flourishing agriculture near Silt. He may have been plagued with financial difficulties and personal hardships, but he built an economic foundation Garfield County relies upon today.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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