A man on a sleigh being pulled by a horse in front of a one-story clapboard house. Another man, carrying a shovel, is at the iron gate to the house. Snow piles surround the men and horse. Date and photographer unknown. 1991.42.1115J, City of Greeley Museums, Hazel E. Johnson Collection.

Keeping warm was a priority in the winter months of Greeley’s early days. During the 1870s, The Greeley Tribune reported many incidents of people who had frozen their feet and hands while working on the plains in severe weather conditions. Ads appeared for down-filled petticoats for women.

In a Nov. 9, 1878, edition, the Tribune astutely observed: “There are many weddings in town as of late — this is surely a sign that it’s going to be a hard winter — don’t forget to order more coal.” Coal was burned by the majority of the people in Greeley for cooking and heating. It was available for $6 to $7 per ton depending on the quality and availability. Coal could be scarce. In November 1874, the coal miners in Colorado Territory went on strike, hoping to increase their wages for a 12-hour workday from $4 per day to $6 per day.

Snow received a lot of attention, especially when it was unexpected, deep, and stayed until spring. In his book “Colonial Days,” Greeley pioneer James Max Clark recounts the following: “In the winter of 1872 and 1873 occurred the great snow fall that has never been equaled or approached since that day. For a period of more than three months, it lay upon the ground to a depth of more than 2 feet. A crust soon formed over the top, as it settled under repeated layers of 3 or 4 inches which fell as often as the weather moderated sufficiently to thaw a little, until a man could travel for miles in any direction on the range without breaking through. I remember that I took the rammer from an old-fashioned shotgun one day when I was out hunting jack rabbits, and probing it down to the ground in dozens of places all over the surface of my farm, found that it averaged 28 inches deep. Then it was that our fence counted for nothing, and thousands of head of starving cattle roamed at will over our farms, invaded our stacks of un-threshed grain, and ate the little hay we had on hand for our own stock. Corrals were broken into and even granaries proved no sort of barrier to the starving brutes who bellowed by day and by night for food.”

Written by Peggy Ford Waldo
Originally published December 5, 2008 in The Greeley Tribune

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