100 Years Ago Today: Wealthy Rancher Murdered, Buried Under Manure

Wray Rattler, February 27, 1919

John Breuss went missing from his Silt, Colorado ranch home on November 18, 1918. By late December of that year, Sheriff Charles W. Fravert of Garfield County, on suspicion that Breuss was dead, offered a $250 reward for the recovery of Breuss’ body, and another $250 for any information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators of the alleged murder.

Fun facts about Sheriff Fravert: he was a German-born immigrant who listed his occupation at various stages of his life as Coal Miner, Sheriff, Woolgrower, Contractor, Driver, Live Stock, Stockman, Ice House Owner, and Shop Raiser. Fravert Reservoir and Fravert Avenue, near Rifle, CO, are named after the late Sheriff. 

Breuss was known as one of the wealthiest ranchers in Garfield County at the time, and his murder made newspaper headlines. However, police were not making any headway in the case until a local Glenwood Springs jeweler named Tom Dever stepped in and cracked it wide open.

Dever had been asked to repair a 21-jewel Hamilton movement watch by Joe Sessions. When Sessions came to pick up the watch, Dever questioned him about its origin. Sessions told Dever that when he was working down in Silt, he traded Cruz(e) Romero a watch and a pair of gloves for the jeweled Hamilton watch. Hamilton watches were renown as ‘The Watch of Railroad Accuracy’, and they were famous for being the official wristwatch of the U.S. Army, as well as being used in the first ever American airmail service between Washington D.C. and New York.

Hamilton Movement Watches

The jeweler, Dever, suddenly realized that he had worked on the watch before. He checked his records and saw that he’d repaired it for the now-missing John Breuss in 1914. Dever and Sessions took the information to Sheriff Fravert who arrested Cruz Romero and his former roommate and coworker, Lee Martinez, the very next day.

Hamilton watch from 1919 being sold on ebay in 2019 for $895

Sheriff Fravert then rounded up Lee Martinez’s brother, Tonio, from Monte Vista, CO, and questioned the three suspects. The Sheriff had also gathered information that Lee Martinez’s young son was telling people that his father did not kill Breuss, but rather it was Cruz Romero who beat the 58-year-old rancher to death. During questioning, Fravert and Deputy W. G. Cardnell sweated Lee Martinez until he cracked. Martinez revealed that Romero killed Breuss and they buried the rancher beneath a pile of manure near his barn.

Sheriff Fravert and Deputy Cardnell then went out the Silt ranch and found Breuss’ badly decomposed body right where Martinez said, buried beneath four feet of manure. The body was brought to a coroner’s jury which ruled that Breuss was killed by Romero and the Martinez brothers.

Romero confessed that he had beaten Breuss to death, but he said he only did it out of self-defense after a fight over a horse trade. Lee Martinez admitted to helping Romero bury the body with manure. On March 8, 1919, Cruz Romero was found guilty and sentenced to death for the killing of John Breuss. Lee Martinez (whose suname in some articles is Martini), was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murder. There is no mention of his brother, Tonio.

In June of 1919, Cruz Romero was given a 30-day stay of execution while Governor Shoup reviewed his case. Then, in August of the same year, Shoup commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

100 Years Ago Today: Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and VDs, Oh My!

Herald Democrat, February 26, 1919

Dr. Alice L. Goetz (née Littlejohn) was a lecturer on the subject of sexually transmitted infections, then known as venereal diseases, from the late 1910s into the 1920s. She joined the Bureau of Social Hygiene in 1920, which operated under the State Board of Health as a part of the broader American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA). Sadly, she died at the young age of 48 in 1929. She is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in her home state of Ohio.

Bureau of Registration of Nurses
Report for December, 1921

The Bureau of Social Hygiene was started by John D. Rockefeller Jr. after he served on a grand jury investigation of “white slavery,” aka forced prostitution, in New York City and became proactive in addressing the social ills of the day. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, “from 1911 to 1934, the Bureau of Social Hygiene (BSH) funded research and sought to influence public policy on a number of issues related to sex, crime and delinquency.”

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John D. Rockefeller, Jr., founder of the Bureau of Social Hygiene

In 1920, the State Boards of Health reported that there were 326,117 cases of STIs, with 172,387 cases of gonorrhea and 142,869 cases of syphilis in the U.S.. In New York City in 1917, it was reported that there were more cases of syphilis than tuberculosis, with syphilis occurring at a rate of 3.5 cases per 1,000 people. The stigma associated with discussing VDs, let alone reporting them, meant that thousands more likely went un-diagnosed or treated.

If syphilis goes untreated, it could result in neurological problems, stroke, blindness, deafness, dementia, and a host of other problems. Untreated gonorrhea could lead to infertility in both men and women, infection that spreads to other parts of your body, and (today) an increased risk of HIV/AIDS.

The American Social Hygiene Association was “established to stop the venereal disease epidemic by educating the public about sexually transmitted infections, working to break down the social stigma attached to VD, and encouraging high moral standards.”

Anti-Prostitution Pamphlet published by the Bureau of Social Hygiene, 1920

As the U.S. began enlisting and drafting 18-30 year old men into military service for WWI through the Selective Service Act of 1917, the ASHA was thinking of STIs. They contacted the War Department with a set of guidelines to help keep its soldiers sans syphilis and gonorrhea. They advised the U.S. military the following:

“While there is no single panacea for the venereal diseases, they can be kept in control by a fourfold campaign that embraces law enforcement, medical treatment, sex education, and wholesome reaction, – a program that is now often spoken of as the ‘American plan'”

A History and A Forecast (c.1919) by the American Social Hygiene Association

The War Department took the American Plan into action — focusing on the law enforcement part especially — by passing the following law prohibiting brothels:

The Secretary of War is hereby authorized, empowered, and directed during the present war to do everything by him deemed necessary to suppress and prevent the keeping or setting up of houses of ill fame, brothels, or bawdy houses within such distance as he may deem needful (~5 miles) of any military camp, station, fort…and any person, corporation, partnership or association receiving or permitting to be received for immoral purposes any person into any place, structure, or building used for the purpose of lewdness, assignation, or prostitution…be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than twelve months, or both.

Federal Reporter, 1917

They also adopted a philosophy of NO, which was NO sex, NO alcohol, NO prostitutes, NO spreading diseases.

The Social Hygiene Bulletin, 1917

After the war was over, they brought the so-called American Plan back to the U.S., promoting “the cultivation of a healthier, more normal sex life among people generally, and conversely the elimination of prostitution, venereal diseases, and pathological sex conditions of whatever type.”

This largely amounted to a nationwide crackdown on brothels and other prostitution rings, but it also included the introduction of reform schools, industrial schools, and other institutions that aimed to set prostitutes on a different path now that their livelihood was gone.

Pamphlet produced by the Bureau of Social Hygiene,

Bureau of Social Hygiene, 1916

The following are excerpts from a Social Hygiene periodical from 1919:

Regarding law enforcement:

When the prostitute is convicted and punished for violating the criminal code, her male companion is given a similar sentence.

Regarding sex ed:

Sex education in institutions for formal instruction, namely high schools, normal schools, colleges and universities.

The efforts to direct the attention of parents to the vital importance of instructing children in matters of sex health and morals are being renewed and redoubled.

Regarding brothel studies:

From the studies made in a good house of detention it is found there is no single type of camp follower. There is the silly, run-away girl, who ought to be sent home; feeble-minded girls who need permanent custodial care; girls who can respond to strict probation; and nervous, under-nourished, over-sexed girls and women who need training in an institution.

100 Years Ago Today: Norlin Elected President of CU Boulder

Herald Democrat, February 25, 1919
In the mid-1920s, University of Colorado president George Norlin refused state funds in defiance of orders from the Ku Klux Klan.
Dr. George Norlin, President of CU Boulder
Carnegie Library for Local History

Dr. George Norlin’s legacy as President of University of Colorado is primarily two-fold:

1. He expanded the campus to allow for the student body to grow from 1,500 to 5,000 by bringing on board architect Charles Z. Klauder to design 15 buildings over the course of 20 years.

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Norlin Library, CU Boulder
Designed by Klauder in the Tuscan Vernacular Style

2. He resisted the Ku Klux Klan when Governor Morley and KKK Grand Dragon, John Galen Locke, told him to fire any Catholic or Jewish CU faculty member.

Photos: Ku Klux Klan in Colorado in the 1920s
Boulder Chapter of the KKK Exchanging Documents, 1925

Prior to taking on the acting president position in 1916, Dr. Norlin was a professor at CU teaching Greek language and literature. According to a brief biography from Rutgers University, his colleagues knew him as a renaissance man, for “he was an athlete (boxer, swimmer, hiker, angler, tennis player), cook, poker player, and writer of poetry, as well as a skilled translator of Greek literature and analyst of contemporary issues in education and politics.”

Speaking of contemporary issues, in 1917, sensing a tide of tyranny flowing from Germany, Norlin wrote an address to Phi Beta Kappa graduates at the University of Missouri titled An Odious Comparison that was a warning against patriotism that leads to hatred, fear, and war. He compared Athenian aggression in the Peloponnesian War to Germany’s aggression in World War I, and how Germany had changed from “a people so rich in what we term the gifts of civilization that their wealth has overflowed their boundaries and penetrated the world” into a people who worshiped iron and war. Later, in 1932, after a trip to Berlin, he would warn of the coming Nazi fascism.

Norlin was also an excellent scout for talent, as evidenced in his choice of Charles Z. Klauder as architect for CU’s expanding campus. Klauder and his partner, Frank Day, were chosen to create a Campus Development Plan and design buildings around that plan. Sadly, Frank Day died in 1918, leaving Klauder to design the buildings alone.

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Frank Day (left) and Charles Klauder (right)

Klauder’s designs are a twist on the collegiate gothic style, which he called the Tuscan Vernacular Style, or colloquially the “University of Colorado Style.” Dr. Norlin characterized Klauder’s buildings as “a physical body complementing the academic soul and spirit of the university.” They stand today as “multi-hued sandstone walls and tile roofs, off-white limestone trim, and black metal accents. Exterior walls built of locally quarried sandstone vary in color from light buff to reddish purple.”

Sewell Hall, CU Boulder Campus
A Klauder Design in the Tuscan Vernacular Style

According to the Campus Design Principles, which were developed in 1919 and continue to guide CU Boulder building design today, ideal architectural forms for all new campus buildings should be:

  • Soft, playful, non-serious forms that are natural and simple
  • Forms that are picturesque and exhibit charm
  • Modest in massing with detail reserved for focal points
  • Interesting in silhouette with roofs of various heights and intersecting forms

George Norlin’s name lives on today, for the Norlin Library on CU Boulder’s campus is named after the late president, and a quote from Isocrates, who Norlin translated extensively, is written over the doorway to the library. It reads, “Who Knows Only his Own Generation Remains Always a Child.”

The Norlin Charge is a speech written by Norlin for the 1935 University of Colorado commencement, and it has been read at every commencement ceremony since. In the speech, Norlin argues that graduation is not a separation of student and university, but rather the beginning of a lifetime union between them. He says, “the university consists of all who come into and go forth from her halls, who are touched by her influence and who carry on her spirit. Wherever you go, the university goes with you. Wherever you are at work, there is the university at work.”


100 Years Ago Today: Rugged and Raw, Rocky Mountain National Park

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San Juan Prospector, February 21, 1919

What a wild experience it must have been to explore Rocky Mountain National Park in 1919. The park was practically brand new, having been established on January 26, 1915 as the ninth National Park in the United States. The National Park Service was not established until August 25, 1916, when it was created as a response to the trampled wild lands and polluted conditions at Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. So RMNP also went without supervisory oversight for the first year and a half of its existence, which is why this article writer is excited that the park will finally “be developed in a manner worthy of its unsurpassed scenic attractions.”

Rocky Mountain National Park dedication, September 4, 1915
Rocky Moutnain National Park Dedication Ceremony, Sept. 4, 1915

On April 6, 1917 the U.S. entered WWI, which took over all federal government interests, and the National Parks fell far down on the priority list during the years 1917 – 1918. This meant that RMNP had only built a dozen or so trails that were relatively un-maintained based on today’s standards, and route finding to most peaks was very difficult. One could, however, find four shelter cabins and four ranger stations in remote locations along the trails. Most travelers would use horses to cover the bulk of the trail distance before trading in their spurs for hobnail boots on their approach to a mountain summit.

The Geologic Story of the Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado,
Willis Thomas Lee, 1917

The Ute Trail was one of the longest and most epic trails in the park. It followed what is now Trail Ridge Road. The Ute Trail spanned almost the entire park, with most travelers departing from Moraine Park on the east side and trekking up to altitudes that exceeded 11,500′ for seven continuous miles, until they crossed Milner Pass on the west side of the park and headed down toward Poudre Lakes.

The Ute Trail, which was the Indian’s route over the Continental Divide, whose altitude throughout is never less than 11,500 feet and at one place attains 12,227 feet, offers an experience not to be duplicated in any other national park. The entire crest of this remarkable ridge is scenic to a sensational degree.

Rocky Mountain Rules and Regulations, 1920
Trail Map of RMNP from 1919

Flattop Trail was another incredible route that early mountaineers crossed in the early years of the park. It spanned from Estes Park to Grand Lake, topping out on Flattop Mountain at 12,300′ on the Continental Divide. In the event of a storm, hikers might have stopped at the shelter cabin built by the National Forest Service right at timberline just two miles south from the peak of the mountain.

Finally there was the grandest climb of them all: Longs Peak at 14,259′ high. Known as the King of Rocky Mountain National Park, it was first summitted by a team led by William Byers and Major Powell in 1868. In 1915, 260 people signed the newly installed registry at the summit. By 1916, the total was up to 623. Today, more than 15,000 people attempt the summit, although only about 47% make it to the top and back. More than 60 people have died on the climb, most on the Keyhole route, which was the primary route back in 1919.

Approach to Longs Peak in RMNP
Mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Roger W. Toll (1919)

There were very few roads in the park in 1919. Fall River Road, the first in the park to climb up and over the Continental Divide, was not finished until 1920. This dirt road was notorious for its hairpin turns, burly 16% grade, and 14-foot-wide path, which meant two cars could not pass each other safely unless they’d reached a pullout.

Trail Ridge Road, today the most famous and popular road in the park, was built from 1929 – 1932 in order to avoid the pitfalls of Fall River, namely, avalanches, car accidents, poor views, and a grade so steep that cars would need to drive backward to make it up.

1920 RMNP Automobile Rules:

Speeds.—Speed is limited to 12 miles per hour on grades and when rounding sharp curves. On straight open stretches when no team is nearer than 200 yards the speed may be increased to 20 miles per hour.

Horns.—The horn shall be sounded on approaching curves or stretches of road concealed for any considerable distance by slopes, overhanging trees, or other obstacles, and before meeting or passing other automobiles, motorcycles, riding or driving animals, or pedestrians.

1919 USGS Map of Rocky Mountain National Park

100 Years Ago Today: Magic Rope Wards Off Rattlesnakes

Herald Democrat, February 20, 1919
Two campers, who look like they rode a bike attached to boat, think this horsehair rope will protect them from rattlesnakes.
Popular Mechanics Magazine, Jan 1919

Myth alert! It doesn’t matter what kind of rope you put around your campsite, bedroll, naptime knoll, or burrow, if a rattlesnake is headed toward a rope and it wants to cross it, the snake is probably going to slither right on over. Regardless of whether it’s made out of horsehair, cow hair, sisal, unicorn hair, or dragon heartstrings (shout out to my Harry Potter heads), most snakes are not afraid of ropes.

Mythbusters shakes out the truth about snakes

The rope-averse-snake myth likely originates from a few theories:

  • Theory: Snakes are afraid of horses, and they’ll be able to detect that the rope hair is from a horse.
  • Busted: Snakes use their tongues to capture smells, but even if they do recognize the smell of a horse, they also have excellent vision, so they can clearly see this rope is not a horse about to stomp them.
  • Theory: Snakes have soft underbellies, so they don’t like going over rough surfaces, and the coarse horsehair will deter them.
  • Busted: Snakes’ underbellies are not human baby butts. They’re fairly tough, what with crawling over cactus, sand, and rocks.
  • Theory: Snakes will think the rope is a rival snake, so they’ll avoid it.
  • Busted: Not every snake is a rival to a given snake. Ever see a rattlesnake den?
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Regarding the use of the term tenderfoot in the article, according to journalist and American English scholar, H.L. Mencken, the American origin of the word resides with cowboys of the West, who used the term to describe a cow that was new on the range. I appreciate the imagery of a hot stepping calf who walks like my dogs do when I put booties on them.

Tenderfoot was then applied to anyone who was new to the West and therefore inexperienced in the outdoors. The term became especially popular with miners and those who were new to working underground. The Boy Scouts picked up on the term, making the Tenderfoot Rank one rank higher than Scout rank and one rank lower than Second Class.

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Tenderfoot Rank Emblem, Boy Scouts

Here’s the original Popular Mechanics article about magic ropes, from the January 1919 issue:

Popular Mechanics, Jan 1919 issue


100 Years Ago Today: Carnegie Libraries

Craig Empire, February 19, 1919

Andrew Carnegie, best known as a steel magnate and a philanthropist, donated 90% of his earnings during his lifetime, which amounts to an unparalleled 350 million dollars. That’s the equivalent of billions of dollars today. Jeff Bezos, are you taking notes?

Carnegie Libraries are pillars of Andrew Carnegie’s enduring philanthropic legacy. A Carnegie Library is a public library that was built with money donated by the philanthropist, though the architectural design and construction of the building was handled locally. Many of these buildings not only stand today — in both large cities and small towns — but they continue to operate as public libraries.

Carnegie Library in Silverton, Colorado
Silverton Public Library in Silverton, CO
A Carnegie Library

Between 1883 and 1929, more than 2,500 libraries were built worldwide because of Carnegie’s donations, with more than 1,600 of those in the U.S., and 35 of those libraries in Colorado. The donations were sometimes in the tens of thousands for a small town library, which was a tremendous amount of money for a building in a town with only a few hundred people, like Craig, CO. A building like that immediately became a central community hub.

In order to apply for public library funding, a local official would contact Carnegie directly, and Carnegie’s personal secretary, James Bertram, would make sure the local government could do the following:

  • prove the community’s need for a public library
  • provide a building site
  • pay staff and maintain the library
  • draw from public funds to run the library, aka tax its citizens
  • provide 10% of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation
  • provide free service to all

Carnegie saw public libraries as a service that would provide long term benefits to an entire community, so he wanted to make sure there was enough buy-in from the town’s citizens, as well as financial stability in the local economy, to make the library sustainable long term.

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Andrew Carnegie, framed in books

“An endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself.”

Andrew Carnegie, “The Best Fields for Philanthropy”. North American Review (1889)
Woodbury Branch of Denver Public Library (built 1912)
A Carnegie Library

Unfortunately, the town of Craig did not build a Carnegie Library, although they’d been digging up support since at least 1907. But they did stabilize the library over the next few years. In March 1919, they moved into a small building next to the Webb Hotel, with local women taking turns acting as librarian. They bought a lot in December 1919, and moved into a former realty office on Yampa Ave in November 1921, with an official librarian, Mrs. Webb. In 1925, they finally built a library when the lease ended on the realty office space. At that point they had 3600 books in their collection. Today, the Craig Branch of the Moffat County Library is located on Green Road in Craig, CO.

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Craig Branch of Moffat County Library

100 Years Ago Today: Animas River Turns Cow Teeth Gold

Alamosa Courier, Volume XXXI, Number 7, February 15, 1919

The Animas River turned cow teeth gold? Never heard of anything like it! Oh wait, isn’t this the river where the EPA accidentally blew out 3 million gallons of water containing high levels of iron, arsenic, and other toxins during the Gold King Mine cleanup, which turned the Animas River into something resembling toxic butterbeer in 2015? As if that weren’t bad enough, for the next week after the initial rupture, the Gold King Mine continued to leak toxic material at the rate of 500 gallons per minute.

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Animas River after the Gold King Mine spill in 2015

Isn’t this the river that in 1974 suffered an inundation of 100,000 tons of tailings and waste in the form of gray slime from a failed retaining pond? And isn’t this the river that turned into a chocolate colored sludge from the 416 Fire runoff and drought in 2018?

Animas River in 2018 after ash and soil from the 416 Fire flowed into it

The Animas is certainly not the only river in Colorado that has suffered the devastating effects of pollution, drought, mine runoff, wildfire runoff, warmer temperatures, and bacteria. But it regularly shows the effects of one or all of these in the form of dead fish and plant life.

According to the state’s Division of Mining, Reclamation and Safety, there are 23,000 abandoned mines in the state, many of which are leeching toxic matter into nearby waterways, especially throughout the Colorado Mineral Belt.

Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety

One barrier to effective cleanup of these dangerous mine leaks is a disagreement over whether to designate these areas as Superfund sites. Although the Superfund designation comes with lots of federal money, locals fear the stigma that comes with it, which could negatively impact tourism. This is important because in Silverton, for example, the last of the active mines closed in the 1990s, and the town’s economy now relies heavily on tourism.

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Durango Herald

Although fish and wildlife have, in many parts of the river, survived these massive stresses to their environment, and the EPA has found ways to proceed with water cleanup without the Superfund status in Silverton, history points to more catastrophes coming soon to the Animas and other rivers throughout Colorado.