Western Memories: The “queen” of the mesa on Battlement Mesa
Citizen Telegram Contributor
In 1987, Lee Hayward, a member of one of the founding families of the Battlement Mesa and Parachute area, wrote about the Battlement Mesa Schoolhouse:
“Look at her. If she could emit tales, there would be enough to fill a book. I attended the old Battlement Mesa School and carry a soft spot in my old heart for that building. Every time I drive by her I have to look at her. There is a certain dignity about her. She looks over and around the mesa as the ‘queen.’”
Built in 1896 and added on to in 1907, the stone building served as a schoolhouse for half a century, sometimes with as many as 70 students.
“It was a really important building to him,” Judi Hayward said of her late husband, who passed away in 1998.
It’s also one of the last vestiges of Battlement Mesa’s earliest settlers and the thriving community they established long before the oil shale boom/bust cycle began. At one time, some 60 families made their living raising cattle or sheep on the mesa. According to Judi Hayward, those pioneers named their fledgling community after the two peaks to the south that resemble the defensive walls of a fortress or a castle.
Lee Hayward’s grandfather, Dr. Corydon Hayward, traveled from Maine to Leadville to make his fortune in the silver mines. When that failed, Dr. Hayward and his two brothers, Ben and Nelson Goode, traveled to Glenwood Springs and then to the Grand River (now Parachute) area.
“Dr. Hayward was probably the fourth or fifth settler in this area,” Hayward said.
Corydon Hayward sent for the Goode brothers’ sister, Minnie, and asked her to marry him. She arrived in 1885 or 1886 via train and stagecoach.
“She (Minnie) was a pepper pot,” Hayward said. “I think she was a mover and shaker.”
Minnie helped her husband in his medical practice and was one of the area’s midwives. The couple homesteaded a tract of land along the river, where Dr. Hayward tended his beloved roses. Their three sons, in turn, bought more land, including the 40-acre tract that would become the site of the Project Rulison nuclear test blast in 1969.
“Lee’s dad negotiated the lease with the federal government and the oil company for $100,” Hayward said.
Lee Hayward was born in 1918. The family moved to Oregon when he was very young. When his parents divorced and his father returned to Battlement Mesa, Lee stayed with his mother in Oregon until his father sent for him.
“At 7 years old, he took the train by himself from Oregon to Parachute,” Hayward said. “He lived with his grandmother, Minnie, and used to say she kept him in stitches with her stories. I think he learned his storytelling from her.”
“When I met Lee, he was a guide and outfitter,” Hayward continued. “He could enamor a group of hunters with his stories. He loved to tell them over and over and you never got the feeling he was just repeating them. He used to say, ‘If I can just get some of these people to feel just a little bit of what I feel for this area, I’ll be satisfied’.”
Since her husband’s passing, Judi Hayward has picked up the charge to preserve and protect the history of the community her husband loved. She’s the president of the Grand Valley Historical Society.
“I learned from him the importance of giving back,” Hayward explained. “He’s been gone now for 15 years, and I’m still here. The schoolhouse is one of the reasons. I love the local history, and appreciate that this building, because of the people in this area, is back to living and able to be used.”
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Rifle’s CMC campus is closed today for a water main break.