Vagrancy was a problem in early Glenwood Springs |

Vagrancy was a problem in early Glenwood Springs

Frontier DiaryWilla KaneGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo Courtesy Frontier Historical SocietyDignitaries from President Benjamin Harrisons party enjoy the pool before a group of spectators May 10, 1891. Trying to present a good image to the president, the town of Glenwood Springs worked to remove those considered to be vagrants from the town before the presidents arrival.

“Whether it is the well-known generosity of Glenwood’s inhabitants and the alacrity with which they respond when panhandled, be the application for a preacher or pugilist, certain it is that the town is a paradise for vagrants.” – The Avalanche, May 22, 1891 Glenwood Springs’ first settler, James Landis, was a homeless man. First coming in 1878 to the place that would become Glenwood Springs, by 1880 Landis had squatted on property located near the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Grand rivers. He had no right to be here. This land in the eyes of the United States government belonged to the Utes.That changed in 1881, when the Utes were forced to reservations and Western Colorado was opened to white settlement. Thousands of people uprooted themselves, becoming homeless for a time, to come to a place which offered opportunity. Landis stayed, and his hard work and leadership provided the foundation for what was to become Glenwood Springs.Frontier towns provided promise, but dreams would only be fulfilled through hard work and determination. Fledgling towns and counties short on resources frowned upon those who were perceived to come not to contribute to the building of a community, but instead settled here only to reap the benefits. These people were classified as vagrants. In 1881, Aspen’s town council defined a vagrant in part as “any person able to work and support himself in some honest and respectable business … who shall be found within this town, loitering, strolling about, frequenting public places where liquor is sold, begging or leading an idle life.” Such people in Aspen were charged with a misdemeanor and fined not less than $5 nor more than $100.The hot springs and the economic boom of the 1880s brought many to Glenwood Springs. With the building of two railroads in 1887, the Ute Chief newspaper noted that with so much available work, there was no reason for any man to be idle.Some lacking personal resources and possessing ill health came seeking a cure from the hot springs, only to become wards of the county. By 1891, Dr. G.H. Moulton meticulously examined and interviewed each pauper seeking medical care from the county. Garfield County was compelled to care for the truly destitute, but did not want to become the primary health care provider for those perceived as unwilling to work. Indigent care had cost Garfield County $3,500 in 1890 – the equivalent of more than $79,000 in 2007 dollars. Without control, the costs would inevitably rise and threaten the county’s financial health. Dr. Moulton noted that “if we took care of one (tramp) we would be expected to take care of all and Glenwood would become the Mecca of that class.”The large number of vagrants within Glenwood Springs gained further attention in 1891. Glenwood Springs was a tourist town built on image. Increasingly, crimes committed by and against transients as well the blatant panhandling of tourists marred the good face Glenwood Springs tried to present to her visitors. With Glenwood Springs hosting its first state convention – the International Order of Odd Fellows – the celebration of the opening of the Grand Avenue Bridge, which would bring regional dignitaries to town, and the visit of United States President Benjamin Harrison all scheduled for the spring of that year, the pressure to remove transients from the town grew.The question of how to best deal with people classified as hobos, tramps and vagrants continued to be debated in Glenwood Springs as the 20th century dawned. Old buildings used as shelter by the homeless were destroyed. Efforts were made to break up transient camps that had been established west of town. Those who broke the law were vigorously prosecuted. Law enforcement officials physically drove vagrants out of town.In 1899, an idea was floated by people from the eastern part of the United States to establish pauper colonies in the west. Touted as a second chance on life and an opportunity to “contribute to the public wealth and public welfare,” these colonies essentially would transfer the issues and costs associated with the transient population from the public eye into the vastness of the west. However, the western expanses could not solve the issues living deep within those who would be classified as vagrants. Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448. “Frontier Diary” appears the first Tuesday of every month.

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