The little stage stop and railroad station 23 miles east of Gunnison is virtually unknown today, but in the early 1800s it was one of the most important places in the Gunnison country.
Crookston was begun by Cyrus Crooks of Kentucky in 1877. He came into the Gunnison country following an Indian trail over Cochetopa Pass and there, on Tomichi Creek, as his niece later recalled, “Along the trout stream and marvelous meadow, he found his own kind of gold a place to found a little private cattle kingdom and all the trout he could eat.”
After a deal fell through on a ranch near Parlin, Crooks went east about 10 miles and took up a 160 acre ranch at a place that would bear his name. He then returned to Kentucky and came back with his wife and sons Henry, Ed and John. The little cluster of buildings on the Crooks Ranch were called Crookston and it soon became a stage stop on the Barlow and Sanderson line, and then a station for the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad when it built along the Tomichi in 1881.
The fare from Denver to Crookston on the railroad was $18.15. A dozen buildings existed then and the little settlement soon got a post office with Jesse Corum the first postmaster as well as station agent.
Crookston had a Rio Grande siding and it also had three loading pens where cattlemen loaded cattle for shipment to the Denver Stockyards. The siding was 990 feet long, allowing for 22 railroad cars, was on the south side of the track, and cattle, hay and timber were shipped out from it. There was also a bunk house, coal house and pump house and on the siding was a windmill which supplied the water tank with water. Frank Stephenson, a rancher from Doyleville, recalled waiting for the D&RG train to stop in Crookston for water and then quietly coming up with a team and sled and stealing coal from one of the cars to keep his house warm on cold winter days.
New York reporter, John Hallowell, after visiting Irwin and Crested Butte, caught the D&RG and came to Crookston in July of 1882 and stayed with the Crooks family overnight. The next day, while waiting for the train which was hours late, Hallowell and some local ranchers fished the Tomichi. The fishing was tremendous and Mrs. Crooks cooked the fish for the men. Hallowell recalled, “The section house was invaded, the stock of ranch butter was secured, as well as the use of a stove and frying pan and we had a meal fit for the Gods.”
Crookston became both a ranching and farming area. By 1911, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, parsnips, peas, carrots, beets, onions, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, gooseberries, strawberries and currants were raised.
A couple of tragedies hit Crookston around the turn of the century. In August of 1900, Harry Stewart, a machinist from Salida, was crushed to death. He had come with a friend to fish the Tomichi, became tired, sat on the railroad tracks, pulled off his rubber boots and fell asleep. A D&RG train coming from Gunnison hit and killed him. Four years later in 1904, M.C. Walker, postmaster at Crookston, was shot and killed by George Neal, a farm hand, while in his yard. Bad blood had existed between the two. After an argument, Neal shot Walker, a bigger man, after he came after him. Neal was tried and found innocent on the grounds of self defense.
Cyrus Crooks died in 1886 at the age of 54. His son Henry kept the ranch for a year and then sold it, taking up another ranch near Waunita Hot Springs. Henry later moved to Gunnison and served as town marshall from 1896-98. He died in Gunnison at the age of 78. The old Crooks Ranch was bought by S.W. Waters after World War I.
Today, Crookston has long faded from history but in its time it was very important as a stage and then railroad station and great cattle and farming area. It will always remain as one of the important places in Gunnison country history.
- Duane Vandenbusche