Surviving the Grand Valley’s worst winter

The morning after Thanksgiving 1919, Charlie Rump trudged out his back door, measuring stick in hand, to see how much snow had fallen over the previous two days. He measured 19-22 inches across the yard.

He saw his foreman plunging through the white stuff.

“It sure feels cold,” Rump called.

“It’s 27,” the foreman replied.

Rump said it sure felt colder than that, and the foreman replied, “That’s 27 below.”

That November snowfall marked the start of the Grand Valley’s worst winter on record.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, “The Daily Sentinel” headlines proclaimed, “Snow record over valley is exceeded, roads are blockaded.”

Rump’s son, Bill, remembered his mother’s ordeal driving to town for supplies when the roads reopened. Their spirited, high-stepping horse navigated the Redlands while pulling a buckboard. The way back was even more harrowing because the horse was in a hurry to get home. When the snow finally melted, it left deep, slick mud.

Alice Wilson remembered 18 inches on the ground by Thanksgiving, and claimed it went on to snow six to 12 inches every night until spring. Her husband worked at the foot of the Bookcliffs on Garmesa Ranch, which never recovered from its loss of livestock that year.

Weather Bureau records from that winter indicate the area received 65 inches of snow between October 31, 1919 and April 16, 1920.

Every night or not, it was bad. Trains couldn’t reach Grand Junction, and some roofs collapsed.

The Corn family had recently purchased a ranch on Pinyon Mesa, and their cattle were wintering on open range on the Redlands.

Boots Corn, 11, and his 13-year-old brother, Edger, spent the winter shooting wolves that prowled around their herd, killing cows without eating them. The boys regularly counted 15-17 wolves stalking the herd.

Their father, George, was confined with the flu, a devastatingly contagious illness at the time. The boys skinned the dead cows and sold the skins for what money they could, but by spring, most of the herd was dead and they couldn’t make the payment on the ranch. The family lost everything.

On December 9, 1919, the “Sentinel” headline bellowed, “ALL RECORDS FOR LOW TEMPERATURE WERE BROKEN TODAY.”

The official Weather Bureau temperature from the top of the Federal Building reported 20 degrees below zero. Ground level was 24 below. The lower valley near Loma reported 30 degrees below zero and Orchard Mesa reported 27 below zero. Temperature inversions came and went all winter.

Weather Bureau records from that winter indicate the area received 65 inches of snow between October 31, 1919 and April 16, 1920. The average depth of snow on the ground from November 26 through February 4 was three inches.

This year’s unseasonably warm weather has caused some grumbling, but it’s important to remember the way winter can be here in the Grand Valley—the way it was 100 years ago.

Eileen O'Toole

Eileen O'Toole

Eileen O’Toole loves her history and pretty much everyone else’s too. Her family has lived in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area since 1882. Eileen’s grandmother homesteaded on the Redlands in 1909. Her great-great grandmother—along with other ancestors, cousins and grandparents—are buried in Fruita and Grand Junction. She lives in the house her grandparents built in 1914. Many of her younger cousins are still in the area as well. Eileen likes writing history for The BEACON Senior Newspaper and the Mesa County Historical Society. She also reads a lot of it. She is an artist, has two cats and a dog and loves waking to the Colorado National Monument every day.
Eileen O'Toole

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