Rifle’s history of river crossings
When the first settlers arrived in the Grand Valley there were no bridges across the Grand River, which is what this end of the Colorado River was known as at that time. It was bigger and much more “untamed.”
The great diversions to the Front Range were yet to be built as well as the many irrigation and dam projects that would siphon water and control flooding. Crossing the river was risky business and areas shallow enough for a horse or wagon to ford were few and far between.
In 1885, three years after Abram Maxfield claimed the land that is now Rifle, a young couple from Aspen and established their own homestead just three miles upriver in an area known as Cactus Valley.
William and Hannah Crann made history on May 16, 1882 when they were the first couple married in Pitkin County where Hannah worked as a young waitress and William was a miner. Hannah had grown up in Ohio where she had become accustomed to rowing the swift currents of the Ohio River.
After establishing their homestead near the Grand River she soon found herself employed rowing other homesteaders and travelers across the swift currents with their horses swimming behind. This was the first known river crossing in the Rifle area.
It wasn’t long before a ferry was established near where Hannah had her boat crossing. Operated by Charles L. Todd and his brother Silas, the ferry allowed passengers to cross the river with their wagons and without getting their horses wet.
This would be the area’s only river crossing until the first bridge was built in Rifle in 1890. Charles L. Todd would become one of Rifle’s first merchants, owner and editor of the Rifle Reveille newspaper, member of the first school board, president of the first Fair Association of Garfield County and Rifle’s second Mayor.
Rifle’s first bridge was a narrow, three span, wood and iron structure. The day it was dedicated in 1890 there was a great celebration in Rifle. Community founder Maxfield gave the dedication speech, according to the book “Rifle Shots”. He talked of his difficulties of bringing his family to the valley without the use of roads or bridges.
During Maxfield’s speech some local cowboys got a hold of a Danish native by the name of Mr. Claussen, who spoke in broken English and had actually been in the area before Maxfield. The cowboys plied Mr. Claussen with alcohol, which was flowing freely for the occasion.
After several rounds of liquor and taunts, such as “are you going to let him get away with that,” the Dane couldn’t take it anymore and climbed aboard the stage, shaking his fist, waving his hat and shouting “Laties and Chentlemen, I built der trails dat Maxfield’s shackasses came in on.”
Rifle’s second bridge was completed in 1909 and was the largest, most modern bridge in the area at the time. It would serve the Rifle community for the next 60 years until the concrete bridge that connects Rifle to Interstate 70 was built in 1972.
Rife resident Jake Mall remembers pushing cattle across it on horseback. He said the weight and motion of the cattle would cause the bridge to start bouncing. That had to be quite the feeling when you are sitting on a horse high over the Colorado River.
This 106-year-old bridge remains a part of the Rifle landscape and it is hoped that one day it will be part of Rifle’s trail system.
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