Steamboat Springs History
Area lore says that a Ute tribal leader cursed the Yampa Valley, but as curses go, it's not a particularly bad one to have. "Those who come to the Yampa Valley to live will never be able to leave … If they do succeed in leaving the valley, they'll be forced to return," the Ute predicted. Modern-day locals would probably debate that people return for the area's beauty, not because of a curse.
Long before settlers arrived in the West, the nomadic Ute and Arapahoe Indians were using Steamboat Springs' Yampa Valley as a summer home for hunting and fishing. The medicine springs provided soothing relief and the mountain country provided abundant vegetation for food. A Ute legend says that when the Great Spirit wearied of heaven, he made mountains as stepping stones to the pleasures of Earth.
James Harvey Crawford, Steamboat Springs' first permanent settler, brought his family to the valley in 1875. James' wife, Margaret B. Crawford, was said to have brought grace, hospitality and culture to the settlement, characteristics that Steamboat still exemplifies today.
Crawford named the settlement Steamboat Springs after an unusual spring in the area. When French trappers or prospectors were traveling through the area, they heard a noise to which they exclaimed "Steamboat, by Gar!" The noise turned out not to be a steamboat, but a spring that sounded like a steamboat laboring upstream.
Steamboat's namesake spring is silent today. While workers in the early 1900s were building a railroad track parallel to the Yampa River, they disturbed the spring's foundation with dynamite, causing the spring to cease chugging and spewing water.
Historically, Steamboat Springs flourished as an agricultural center, and its cowboy heritage thrived with it. Several legendary cowboys and outlaws passed through Steamboat, including Butch Cassidy, Kit Carson and Jeff Bridger. Steamboat's rodeo grounds were built in 1909. Back in those days, the rodeo ring was made by spectators forming a circle. Today, Steamboat has a modern arena, and the area's rodeo traditions continue with the popular summer ProRodeo series. Steamboat's ranching history is also evident in its main street, Lincoln Avenue, which was made wider than usual so ranchers could drive cattle down it. Every summer, Steamboat still holds a cattle drive down Lincoln Avenue as part of its Fourth of July celebration.
Steamboat Springs is known as Ski Town USA® because of the many Olympic skiers it has produced. Carl Howelsen, the Flying Norseman, introduced Steamboat to recreational skiing in the early 1900s and attracted many world-class skiers to the area. Howelsen Hill is the oldest continuously-operating ski area in the United States and has one of the only 90-meter ski jumps in the country. Several local athletes who went on to become Olympians have trained at Howelsen.
Local lore also tells of a visitor who asked a Steamboat rancher, "Can you tell me what the summers are like around here?" The rancher paused and then with a bemused smile said, "Well, to tell the truth, I don't really know. You see, I've only lived here 10 or 12 years." Maybe he didn't want to let out the secret of Steamboat Springs in the summer. Or maybe he didn't want the visitor to succumb to the curse of the Yampa Valley.