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