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Centennial celebration at Pipher homestead

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Photo submitted Luce Pipher at the house he built on the homestead 57 years ago.

More than 150 people joined Luce Pipher and family July 23 for a centennial celebration of the Pipher homestead on Crystal Creek, south of Crawford.

Charles Herbert Pipher, aka Coyote Curley, of German descent, came to Crawford from Ohio in 1914 and homesteaded the original 160 acres beginning in 1916. He ran sheep and cattle there and was a professional trapper. In 1926 he married Katie Claudine Collins, a local school teacher, and they had eight children: Charles, Alova, Thursa, Luce, Myrtle, Crystal, Hetty and Kermit.

Back then the buildings on Crystal Creek were a three-room cabin, a cellar, an old barn and a sheep shed.

"I had to go up to Crystal Creek in the summer and herd the sheep, starting at about age nine," 82-year-old Luce recalled. "Alova and I were up there and we could hear the sheep bells ringing about midnight. Some of Dad's enemies had one lamb tied up, and they'd been in the cellar stealing canned food. We didn't have a lock on the door but we put a bench against it. They opened the door and pushed the bench over ­-- talk about a couple of scared kids. They were banging stuff around in the kitchen. Finally Alova had me hold the kerosene lamp and she said, "We're coming out (of the bedroom)." She shot one of them with the .22 and the other pulled him out of the house. She went to the door and hollered 'if you want some more come back.' I'll never forget that." It's believed the intruders got medical help in Salida and survived.

After that Alova wouldn't leave the farm near Crawford to go up to Crystal Creek so Luce had to go by himself to keep the coyotes away from the sheep. "The old man wouldn't let me have a dog because he didn't want the sheep dogged. The sheep always shade up at 10 when they got a belly full, they'd lay there until two or three in the afternoon until it cools off and then get up and eat again. I had two fields full of stick horses I'd cut to occupy time. Hell, I had all kinds of stuff I'd made or dreamed up."

"Didn't see a lot of coyotes, but I could get on the big rock in the hay field in the evening and howl and could get one coyote to answer me way off one way, I'd howl again and one way out another way would answer me. I told Dad "You know those coyotes will answer me howling." He didn't believe me so I took him down to the big rock just before dark, got up on that rock and howled like a coyote and pretty soon they answered. 'Well, I'll be damn' he said. He couldn't believe it. I was getting just as wild as the coyotes."

"I'm up there by myself, a kid's got to be doing something. I could set all the 3-1/2 coyote traps. Dad had three or four #4 Newhouse and I wanted to set all of them. I think I had three of them set and was trying to set the other one when I slipped and one of them got me by the pant leg and another one got me by the shoulder. I ripped the one off the pant leg. The other one had ahold of a chunk of meat on my shoulder. I'm 10 or 11 years old. In those days there was maybe a car a day on Highway 92. I'm trying to hold that trap up so it doesn't tear that chunk of my shoulder off. I got up to the road and sat there until finally a car comes by. I stopped it and said 'can you take this trap off my shoulder?' He jumped out and got the trap off me. I grabbed it and ran while he was hollering 'come here, let me look at that.' My shoulder was swelled up, black and blue, hurt for a long time but it finally got well. I left them alone until I got a little bigger."

At age 16, Luce's dad "ran him off" and he went to Helper, Utah, where he worked on the garbage truck and the railroad. He returned in 1957 because his dad wanted to sell him the outfit -- the homestead on Crystal Creek and the "Poor Farm" outside of Crawford. However it was heavily mortgaged and the farm at Crawford was auctioned off to satisfy the creditors.

Luce managed to keep the homestead on Crystal Creek through very hard work and his wits, along with the help of Paonia banker Don Foster.

He and Shirley raised five kids there: Pauline, Rinda, Diann, Curley and Luther. The Pipher family lived for the first summer in a one-room cabin Luce traded Wayne Brandon a sow and two piglets for. During the next few years, he built a six-bedroom log house, a big shop and barn, all sitting picturesquely near the banks of Crystal Creek.

Luce worked building the Paonia and Crawford dams. When those jobs were over, he bought a sawmill for $500 from Girling and Coutts in Lazear.

"They delivered it and I walked around it for a week. I didn't know what to do with it. Its former owner Les Beason showed up and said 'I'm going to help you set that up for $3 an hour.' I don't have $3 an hour. You will have he says and we went to work and got it set up and the Meek brothers, Glen Stewart and maybe Otis Porter showed up . . . We fired up the old Cummins and Les rolled a log on the carriage, cut it up, backed the carriage up, shut it off and says, 'There it is.' That was my education. The rest of it I learned just by doing it."

Luce gives a lot of credit to the men who worked for him during those early years -- Logan McMurray, Albert Hawkins, Grant Farnsworth, Glen Stewart and Lilborn Ferrier. Jim Guderski was a faithful employee for 32 years. He also gives credit to his kids who worked in the sawmill when they were old enough, from shoveling sawdust to pulling the green chain.

By providing a good product and through good marketing, the sawmill, along with guiding hunters, helped expand the Figure 3 Ranch, which is all together thousands of acres on which Gelbvieh cattle are raised.

Luce's sons Luther and Curley, with their wives Mary and Shawna, run the ranch these days. Luce's partner Sue Reynolds is also instrumental in ranch operations and hosted the centennial celebration. Pauline Pipher has lived on the homestead off and on for all her life, loves it and works to maintain its original character.

Luce has a million good stories to tell and Diann is compiling them for future generations while Rinda works on family genealogy.

"It's been a lifetime of work and fun and I wouldn't change any of it," said Luce, who feels that the future of his efforts are in the good hands of his family.

Photo submitted The Pipher homestead in the 1940s when Luce was a kid staying there protecting the sheep from coyotes.
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North Fork
Crawford, history
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