A Page Out of the Book Cliffs
Page 27 - Elmer Bair - Part 5
by AJ Rogers
Sep 13, 2018 | 400 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Any of you dear readers who have been keeping up with this column week by week will now know young Elmer Bair pretty well. You’ve heard the tales taken from his own personal autobiography about his trials and tribulations during the winter of 1920-21. He had been fighting for the right to run his large herd of sheep in the Book Cliffs of northern Grand County before range allotments became the rule. He had been threatened by the local cattlemen, nearly had his camp wiped out, and spent a while in the Grand County jail on a trumped-up charge after being framed as a horse thief. Through good luck, good timing, and the Good Lord, Elmer had persevered and come out okay.

As the story continues in his own words, Elmer writes the following:

I have always given my Father in Heaven credit for sending the District Attorney to me while I was in the Moab Jail. He was a cowman himself and had never seen me before. Also, I was released from jail and returned to my camp in the nick of time to save it from being burned, which was a blessing because our backers, The Utah-Idaho Loan Companpy had learned about our bad luck of losing 400 head of sheep earlier when we unloaded them at Shoshone in the Glenwood Canyon. They were reluctant to let us have enough expense money to buy a few groceries, let alone a new camp.

The previous fall Elmer had met a young lady named Ida Smith on the Colorado mountain where he was running his herd. He felt he’d seen her before but couldn’t pin it down. Before long he realized Ida was his dream girl. The one who had appeared in a very vivid dream a year or two previously. It was a busy time of year and Elmer says he had very little opportunity to spend any time with her before leaving for the desert and the hornets nest he found himself embroiled in shortly after staking out some grazing range in the Book Cliffs benches between Thompson’s and Green River.

I could go on and on, because the story of Elmer Bair’s life is a long one, and full of adventure that is hard to imagine, including many things a lot of us would give our eye teeth to have shared. Of course, it was also chocked full of lots of hard work and down and dirty nitty gritty times that we probably would not have cared to live through. But it was his life and I doubt he’d have changed very little, if anything, after looking back on the whole works.

I’ll continue this last part of the Elmer Bair story by filling in the next 65 years of his life with a few of the highlights. He did marry his dream girl. He once said this about her: “Well, I never found the Queen of Sheba but I found a helpmate that was always there when I needed her and she knew how to adapt to the most crude situations in time of need." Together they raised a nice family.

Elmer was basically always in the sheep business. His headquarters, in partnership with other family members etc., was at what is still the Bair Ranch. If you ever drive to Denver pay attention as you start into Glenwood Canyon a few miles east of the Springs. There is now an exit called Bair Ranch and a bridge crossing south over the river and on to the ranch itself. Until the big Glenwood Canyon I-70 build happened in the latter part of the 20th century, you had to come into the ranch from the south side of the river some way or other, or wait till autumn’s low water times so you could swim your horse across. Otherwise you had to ride the train from town, get off with your gear and your groceries, then cross a single-wide swinging foot bridge to get on up to the ranch.

Elmer ranged his herd mainly in the Colorado Flat Tops mountains area north of Rifle and Glenwood Springs for many years. He writes about myriad adventures that happened in that country. Many winters in the earlier years were spent working odd jobs to help make ends meet while the family watched over the home place and hired men minded the herds.

Elmer had always been a good horse breaker and continued to do so as a sideline and for his own use. He rode some humdingers to hear him tell it. During the early part of the depression era Elmer spent a winter or two carrying the mail and other supplies on his back to a mine high in the Rockies using snow shoes and skis. It was a terribly tough trail at that time of year and would probably kill the majority of folks these days to even attempt it. He was chased down the mountain by a massive avalanche once and was highly amazed to survive it. He spent quite a bit of time as a motorman at the Marble, Colorado quarry, tramming large chunks of marble to the main railhead. He was also on the town council in Marble at that time.

I believe that in Elmer Bair’s mind his largest hurdle came later on in his career after he was well established as a stockman and an all around “Go To Guy.” He had grown wiser and more thoughtful as the years passed, bringing his childhood teachings back to the forefront. Never having belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am not the one to say what is in the heart of those who do. However, I’ve lived in Utah among those good people all my life and have noticed many young men who were raised in the belief, then went a little wild or “Jack” for 5, 10, 20, or 30 years before returning to the church and making up for lost time getting back to the lifestyle they were raised in. In Elmer’s case, when he felt in his heart and soul that it was time to return to his roots, he had a problem.

He lived in the Glenwood Springs and Marble areas of Colorado where there was no LDS church to be had for many miles. So, he gathered together a few like-thinking brethren and formed the first ward in the area. From there he never looked back, working every spare minute to bring more folks into the fold, and build enough places of worship for them all in many towns across western Colorado.

It was not long before he began his climb up the church’s chain of command. I said his climb, but it was more like being shoved, in Elmer’s case. He frequently wrote that he never felt worthy enough for such responsibilities, but always endeavored to give the job his all. He became very instrumental in the church and this necessitated his traveling around Colorado and Utah almost constantly as he received higher and more important callings. Elmer wore out a few good pickups following these callings and he was beloved by an incredible number of folks.

Though his church has never been the one for me, I cannot help but be amazed at the fortitude it took for Elmer to run his business, work pretty much 24-7, and oversee his followers in a round-the-clock manner for so many years. The copy of his autobiographical book, “Elmer Bair’s Story 1899 to 1987” which I feel blessed to own, is signed: Patriarch Elmer O. Bair.

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