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Rabbit Creek Country

Three Ranching Lives in the Heart of the Mountain West

Jon Thiem with Deborah Dimon

Publication Year: 2008

In 1997 Jon Thiem was hiking in Livermore country near Fort Collins, Colorado. Following one fork of Rabbit Creek, he discovered an abandoned house and literally walked into the lives of John and Ida Elliott and Miss Josephine Lamb. Tacing the flawed humanity of these three intertwined lives, Thiem opens a window on life in the mountain West throughout the last century, including ranching methods and women's changing roles as wives, mothers, and property owners.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I walked into the lives of John Elliott, Ida Elliott, and Josephine Lamb. The chance discovery of a deserted house on Rabbit Creek in the northern Colorado foothills turned me into a biographer. I have spent the better part of a decade researching and composing the story of the...

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pp. xv-xxvii

In the early 1840s, John Charles Fremont pushed north through the eastern foothills of the Rockies in what is present-day Larimer County, Colorado. He was a little off course. Instead of ascending the main branch of the Cache la Poudre River, as he thought, he was going up its north...

Part One

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pp. 1-164

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1: Elliotts Go West

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pp. 3-28

Daniel Elliott first came to Colorado on a wild horse chase. For the previous ten years, he had been farming in northwestern Kansas. There, his oldest son, John—one of the three subjects of my narrative— spent his boyhood years...

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2: Ida Meyer

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pp. 29-56

When Ida Meyer was twenty-four, she shot a bobcat. One of the earliest photos of her in the West records that event, which took place in Livermore in 1898. Whoever snapped the picture probably used Ida’s Eastman Kodak camera. It seems she took it with her everywhere...

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3: Rabbit Creek

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pp. 57-70

Ida Meyer married John Elliott on December 3, 1908. They had known each other at least five years, likely more. John worked as ranch hand for Ida’s employers, the Horsleys, from 1903 to 1905. Ida later told a nephew of Josephine Lamb that John met her when she was waitressing...

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4: Seeing the Land in Time

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pp. 71-98

The first major explorer of the interior West to see Rabbit Creek country was John Charles Fremont, who passed near the mouth of the stream in 1843. Fremont was leading his second expedition into the Rocky Mountains to find, as he put it, a new...

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5: Miss Lamb

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pp. 99-137

The Elliotts’ toddler had become a boy. Ida photographed him in various poses, wearing his cowboy hat, sitting on a pony, working the hay stacker. In one photo, he looks like little Lord Fauntleroy. He is dressed in a suit with knee breeches, worsted jacket, and matching cap...

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6: “Aspens and Backswarth”

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pp. 139-164

It is a fall day of unusual clarity. I am headed up to the Laramie River valley. The road out of Fort Collins, where I live, passes the cemetery. I slow down. I want to look at the elms, a majestic variety now rare in the United States, and I want to see the final destination of so many...

Part Two

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pp. 165-345

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7: John Elliott

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pp. 167-201

Margaret Ann McLean visited the Rabbit Creek ranch as a girl. That was in the 1930s. Later in life, she shared with me her memory of a little incident concerning the owner. “John Elliott had a doll, in Levis, shirt, and bandana—a cowboy—and he had it in his room. I was...

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8: Cattle on the Land

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pp. 203-229

My first hike to the abandoned ranch house took place in 1997. Since then, for a decade now, I have walked and explored Rabbit Creek country. I carry with me USGS topo maps. On them, I pencil in the derelict buildings and homesteads I encounter, and trace with a marker my...

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9: A Livermore Home Companion

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pp. 231-261

John’s death in 1961 brought to an end a marriage that had lasted fifty-two years. When he died, Mrs. Elliott was eighty-six and bedridden. It is doubtful she attended the funeral. In any case, she was in no condition to stay at the old Livermore Hotel, where the three...

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10: Woman Rancher

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pp. 263-286

The ranch men of Livermore belonged to the Larimer County Stockgrowers Association. The ranch wives had a sister organization called the Cow Belles. Jo Lamb was a little out of place in both groups, but in the 1950s she was one of two women members of the Stockgrowers...

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11: Citizen Lamb

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pp. 287-317

Eleanor Roosevelt visited Fort Collins in August 1958 to receive an honorary doctorate from Colorado State University. Josephine Lamb drove down from Livermore with a woman friend to hear the former First Lady. They met Mrs. Roosevelt and shook her hand. A crowd of...

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12: Three Lives

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pp. 319-345

A life trajectory is the trail that forms in our wake when we are thrown into time. At birth, we are cast into some region of the planet. Certain beliefs and customs fall to our lot. We are born to this mother and this father. We are a girl or a boy, and we did not choose...

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pp. 347-359

The objects of history are ever on the move. Most of those associated with my subjects are beyond my grasp. Ida’s recipes are no longer to be found, the taste of her cooking lost to my tongue. Thus, I have relied on records and people’s memories of the things that my...

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pp. 361-367

The Rabbit Creek project grew out of oral history and was an intensely collaborative effort. Deborah and I found special pleasure in conversing with people about our subjects’ lives and hearing about their own. The dedication at the front of the book recognizes the cooperation...


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pp. 369-403


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pp. 404-428

Names Index

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pp. 429-435

Subject Index

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pp. 436-440

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826345394
E-ISBN-10: 0826345395
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826345370
Print-ISBN-10: 0826345379

Page Count: 468
Illustrations: 33 halftones, 2 line illustrations, 1 map
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Elliott, John, 1878-1961.
  • Mountain life -- Colorado -- Larimer County.
  • Larimer County (Colo.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Larimer County (Colo.) -- Biography.
  • Landscape changes -- Colorado -- Larimer County.
  • Larimer County (Colo.) -- History.
  • Larimer County (Colo.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Elliott, Ida, 1874-1967.
  • Lamb, Josephine, 1897-1973.
  • Ranchers -- Colorado -- Larimer County -- Biography.
  • Ranch life -- Colorado -- Larimer County.
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