High on the southwestern slope of the Colorado Rockies lies an area known as the Gunnison Country. It encompasses broad valleys, varying in elevation from 7,500 to 9,000 feet, and towering 14,000-foot crags. Here the face of nature is as that of other mountain regions – grass-cloaked bottom land, willow-fringed streams, eye-soothing sagebrush slopes, and lofty peaks with their alternate shades of dark green pine, fir, spruce, the light shimmer of aspens, the rock-ribbed crests tipped with snow.
Only the surface is familiar. What marks the region as different from other portions of the West is the succession of shadowy figures that pass before the inner eye. The lazy smoke of the Ute campfires rises from mesa and streamside. Their tepees spire the evening dusk. Notes of song and laughter, the guttural murmur of voices, drift on the gentle breeze.
Trappers and fur traders, Spanish gold-seekers and missionaries arouse the Ute’s yapping dogs, stir the camp to activity to welcome these strangers. These are the hazy, grey-shrouded predecessors of the post-Civil War migration of prospectors, adventurers, and settlers that will soon swarm into the broad valley of the Gunnison. Here at the junction of the two streams – the Gunnison and the Tomichi – a town will rise, like the hub of a wheel, its spokes leading out to richly varied lands.