The Sportsmen’s Hotel in Cebolla

Photos and text are from our family archives unless otherwise noted. This photo has a notation on the back: “Mr. Harry Carpenter, from Dad, Jan. 21, 1917.

“Probably the best known resort was Sportsmen’s Hotel at Cebolla Creek and Gunnison River, founded by J.J. Carpenter in 1882.

David Primus, from the Digitization Project on Facebook

The town of Gunnison, Colorado was founded in 1874 during the Colorado Silver Rush. Gunnison became a smelting, railroad and supply town, with chief exports of coal and cattle. Several communities sprung up nearby, including the town of Cebolla, named after a wild onion that grew in the area.

My grandmother’s grandfather, J.J. Carpenter, settled in Cebolla sometime after 1878. He built his first lodge across the river, and later (around 1903) rebuilt it on the other side of the river, to be nearer the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) Railroad which had linked Gunnison to Grand Junction in 1883. According to my grandmother, “there was also a wagon road leading west to Sapinero and east to Gunnison, though most travel was by train.”

That building would come to be known as the Sportsman’s Lodge, Sportsmen’s Hotel, and later, as Carpenter’s Fishing Lodge. J.J.’s son Harry, and Harry’s wife Velma Eastman, continued to live there after they married in November 1907. Their daughter – my grandmother Mildred – was born there in September the following year, and recounts from her later childhood that “I used to wash dishes at Gram’s hotel [the Sportsman’s Lodge] for a nickel, and then spent it for a Hershey candy bar, so Gram got her dishes done pretty cheap.” My grandmother also went to school there with 7 other children, in one of the tourist cabins that was converted for schooling during the winter. After Mildred married, she and her husband worked there for awhile in the 1920’s.

My mother was born in Kelso, Washington in 1930, but was raised in Cebolla for her first few years. “My earliest childhood memory was when I must have been two or three years of age. I was pushing my great-grandmother in a swing… It may have been my great grandmother Carpenter [J.J.’s wife Louise Wiseman-Carpenter] or possibly my great aunt Maude Carpenter Darlington.”

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed people to gain legal title to 160 acres of public land by paying a $10 filing fee, clearing and improving the land, and living on it for five years. J.J.’s first Land Patent, issued on November 11, 1904 was for 80 acres. He expanded his claim by an additional 160 acres with a second Land Patent on July 1, 1908 (Homestead Certificate No. 38, signed by President Roosevelt.)

In the April 17, 1894 edition of The Salida Mail, there was a notice that a “new post office established at Cebolla, Gunnison County – Jacob J. Carpenter, postmaster.” My grandmother told me that the train left a mail bag there at noon and again at 4 PM when the train returned. She also recounted how tiresome it was to fetch the mail twice a day from the train.

J.J. Carpenter marketed his establishment to fly fishermen and big game hunters across the United States. He showed his guests the best places for fly fishing, while his twin sons – Howard and Harry – led hunting parties into the hills to hunt deer, elk and mountain sheep. One of our family stories claims that at least one of those hunting parties included Buffalo Bill Cody. I asked my grandmother if she remembered anything about that, but she said “Nellie [her sister] and I were always sent outside to play. Grampa didn’t want us disturbing the guests.” We also have a family theory as to the demise of Howard Carpenter, as told to my grandmother by her father Harry.

Postcards from my family collection

And, there was a bear, rescued by J.J. who found her as an orphaned cub and brought her back to his hotel as a pet. Guests would feed her beer from a baby bottle and the bear gained nationwide fame. Published stories list the bear’s name as Maude, but the hand written note on the back of this photo from my collection notes the name as “Nellie Bear.”

“Nellie Bear” on her post, waiting for the train to arrive. The lodge guest cabins are in the background.
My Great Grandmother, Velma Eastman-Carpenter (Harry’s wife) playing with Nellie as a cub.

Montrose Daily Press, February 3, 1913: Nellie, pet bear to J.J. Carpenter, is dead and the entire town mourns … “The town of Cebolla gave Nellie a funeral that attained the proportions of unanimous display of public grief. A handsome stone monument will mark the bear’s grave.”

The D&RG stopped serving Cebolla in either 1933 or 1954 (depending on the source), and Cebolla, along with the nearby towns of Iola and Sapinero, were submerged by the Mesa Reservoir in 1961. In September 2022, I went to Colorado to look for the marker at the reservoir, and was thrilled to find that the building had been moved before the valley was flooded, and is now an apartment building on the edge of Gunnison.

The story behind the Sportsmen’s Hotel and the dynastic family who operated continues to fascinate me. The Carpenters appear to have been well known in Gunnison society. The following clippings as well as those I will present in future posts, give a glimpse into their activities deemed important enough to chronicle in the daily news. [Sourced from ColoradoHistoricNewspapers.com]

  • Dubois Chronicle, April 21, 1894: The West Denver lode, owned by J.J. Carpenter, is the extension of the Pride of Denver on the west. A tunnel is now being driven to work the lode…assays run from $7-$10 in gold at the moment.
  • Gunnison News Champion, January 19, 1906: J.J. Carpenter and sons are working 5 men at their saw mill, cutting railroad timbers. Sportsmen’s Lodge now has 12 bear dogs and plans to add 2 more – giving him “the finest pack of bear dogs in the state”.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, February 23, 1906: New cabins are being built at Sportsmen’s Hotel – cabins will reach over the water so guests can fish off their porch or lie in bed and fish out the window.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, July 14, 1905: An advertisement for the Sportsmen’s Hotel, “Rates $2 per day!”
  • Gunnison News-Champion, March 15, 1907: Mrs. Carpenter was left in North Carolina with her aging parents – she has malaria – J.J. returns to Sportsman’s to prepare for a big bear hung on March 25 with Ches. Gates, son of New York multi-millionaire John Gates. They’ll take 20 horses and 26 dogs to Crystal River. Harry and Howard [Carpenter] will go as guides. It’s the Gates’ second trip.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, July 1, 1910: J.J. Carpenter says he’s expecting a big crowd on the Fourth. Sportsmen’s Hotel is doing better business this year. “River clear, fly fishing good, some fine catches being made.” Among the newcomers at the hotel are Guy U. Hardy from Canon City, Mr. Douglass from Denver, and Mr. Baldwin of Denver. All are enjoying meals prepared by the new Scotch cook.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, February 9, 1912: J.J. Carpenter anticipates a business trip to Denver this week.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, October 11, 1912: Harold Carpenter [son of J.J.] is missing – was to marry a Montrose girl. [I will include additional news articles in a subsequent post specific to Harold.]
  • Gunnison News-Champion, August 15, 1913: J.J. Carpenter is in Denver this week with a carload of cattle.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, May 14, 1916: Garages to house 8 autos are added to Sportsman’s Hotel.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, February 11, 1916: 30 inches of snow in Cebolla, J.J. Carpenter’s barn roof collapses. His wife returns after her recent operation.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, March 23, 1923: J.J. Carpenter changes the name of his famous tourist home from Sportsmen’s Hotel to the Carpenter Fishing Resort.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, April 27, 1923: J.J. Carpenter celebrates his 71st birthday [at the Carpenter Fishing Resort].

The following comments were left on my original post at Daveno Historica (a family histories blog). I have edited some comments for clarity.

  1. Lee Carpenter(March 15, 2021) The bears name was Nellie. They left it alone too long and the bear malled one of the hands that fed it so they shot it. I have the original picture of the tack room with the eagle and the stuffed kitty. My great grandfather [Earl John Carpenter, Sr.] killed that mountain lion with a bowie knife at 13 years old. Earl John Carpenter Sr. married Dottie Dillie. They had 3 children: my grandfather Earl John Carpenter Jr. and my two aunts, Charlotte, and Betty. I have Howard’s pocket watch.

augustphoenixhats (March 15, 2021)

That is sad about Nellie, I had not heard that story. Cool story about the mountain lion. I have several photos of that, it looks like they moved it around for various photo opps.

  1. Anonymous(April 11, 2021) Hi Lee, my name is Lynn Carpenter Cadrin and I am related to you! My great grandfather was Lloyd DeVere, one of your great grandfather’s older brothers. I am fortunate to still have my uncle George living… I believe that is Howard, that is the watch chain hanging out of his pocket. I have that watch.
  2. Justin Wean(August 24, 2021) Hi! I’m Justin Wean. I am related to both of you. Betty Carpenter is my Mema. I am so fascinated by both the Carpenter and Devere sides of this family. My father is Gregory John Wean. Son of Betty Maude Carpenter and Frank Peter Wean Jr.
  3. Claudia (December 30, 2021) Hello, J.J. Carpenter was the brother of my great grandmother Sue Carpenter Childs (one of the siblings that stayed in Mitchell County NC). I have been reading the news articles about Howard’s death and the inquest once his remains were found. Several news articles mentioned that J.J. had mentioned who he thought had killed Howard. Do you know who that was?
    1. augustphoenixhats (December 31, 2021) My grandmother was told by her father, Harry (twin to Howard) that it was the priest who went with Howard on that hunting trip. Two men left but only the priest came back. She also said that her family left the Catholic church and became Episcopalian after that. I have not yet confirmed the story.
    1. doveoysterachilles90645(March 1, 2022) I found where the priest, Father O”Farrell, died from a crushed skull in 1923. He was late for a wedding, driving fast after a New Years Eve Party. A sketch of him accompanied the article. He was young and nice looking. I also found written that Howard’s fiancee, Anna Landry, was a part time housekeeper for Father O’Farrell.
    2. augustphoenixhats (March 2, 2022) I had also heard there was some connection between Anna and Father O’Farrell that hinted at the priest’s jealousy of Howard regarding Anna. Thank you for this information.

Thanks for your note! As an anti-spam measure, comments are moderated and will appear once they are approved :)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: