Preserved under a layer of stucco, chicken wire, tar paper, and homemade drywall, the 150 year old Lyells/Jones cabin on North Creek has recently been revealed and is now fully restored by the great, great grandson of R.C. and Sarah Lyells along with children, originally homesteaded the land and hand-built the cabin in 1872. This is the incredible story of the modern day Lyells finding deep roots in Beulah and their calling to preserve their legacy for generations to come.
It’s almost a straight shot west from Union County Illinois to Beulah, Colorado. A thousand-mile journey over the Santa Fe Trail by covered wagon could be completed in 4-5 months—travelers would walk alongside the wagon hoping to cover 15-20 miles each day.
Married in Jefferson, IL in June of 1854, Richard Clayborn and Sarah Toney Lyells started their family in 1855 with the birth of their eldest son. By 1869 the couple enjoyed a full house with six children alongside their two nieces who they helped to raise. In the early 1870s the large family made the bold decision to go west in order to pursue 160 acres of ‘free land’ offered by the Homestead Act of 1862 (a land patent required living on the land and cultivating it for five years in order to ‘prove up’ on the property). Compared to the average 3-acre farm size in Illinois at that time, the prospect of cultivating a spectacular 160 acres for their large family must have served as big motivation.
From Illinois the family likely traveled to Franklin, Missouri where the Santa Fe Trail begins—the first wagon train used this route in 1821. The Lyells loaded all their belongings into a covered wagon pulled by oxen and walked to Colorado in order to pursue a better life.
R.C. and Sarah brought nine children with them, including George Washington 1855-1924, Elizabeth Jane 1859-1919, Jerome ‘Rome’ (a bachelor) 1861-1930, Margaret Ann ‘Peggy’ (Wm. Walk) 1862-1944; Deborah (Claude Edwards) 1865-1933; Ephraim Alonzo (Sadie Prosser) 1867-1924, and William Franklin (Lela Patton) 1869-1901, while also raising nieces Minnie and Ruhama ‘Hamey’ (Joseph Saunders) Toney. After arrival in Colorado, two more children were born. David died as an infant of Scarlet fever in 1874, and the youngest Susan ‘Susie’ (Stephen B. Frazier) 1876-1906.
R.C. applied for a land patent on North Creek Road, placing them right along the 120 mile mail route from Canon City to Greenhorn—making stops in Hardscrabble, North Creek, Mace’s Hole (Beulah’s former name), Dotson’s ranch (Osage post office). The mail was attempted twice a week on horseback, but if the weather was bad the trip would take a week.
When the Lyells family arrived at their picturesque location their first task was carving out a tiny dugout, where they lived prior to constructing a single-story one-room log home in 1872. The following year the Lyells built a second, and separate, two-story cabin adjacent to original cabin. Remarkably, the two cabins were held together by wooden pegs, which are still found in the home. Every massive log in the home tells a story in the marks left by an axe, adze, draw knife, chisel or mallet. The exceptionally tight fit of the logs at the corners of this building is a testament to the skill of the builders at that time.
Listed as a stock raiser on the 1880 census in Beulah, R.C. and his family enjoyed a creek teeming with fish and flowing throughout the year. The immediate proximity to water made it easier to care for livestock and grow more bountiful gardens. Being self-sufficient was the name of the game despite the Aquila Davis general store and post office being located four miles away at the junction of North Creek Road and North Creek Cut-off.
The 1884 photo on the cover, shows the two conjoined cabins in the background with the mailman, Claude Edwards on a mule delivering mail to the North Creek home of the Lyells. The staged family portrait includes cattle/oxen, and a wagon. Deborah Lyells is at the center in white receiving/giving the post to Edwards. Coincidentally the two ended up marrying each other.
A large barn, essential for brutal Colorado winters and summers was erected to the south of the home. Of note, North Creek Road once ran south of the barn, before it was routed right between the barn and the home. The open flat ground to the south of the home was widely known as a productive area for crops even into the 1930s.
To the east, a bustling community was forming along North Creek “just above Panther Creek” spurred on by abundant timber in the area. In particular, the rail road tie industry was flourishing with the high demand for new track being laid by the D&RG Railroad from Denver to Pueblo. Hillsides filled with the sounds of axes and saws taking down the large trees, before the simple but arduous task of hand hewing the log into the proper size. Steam-powered machines were also known to exist on North Creek providing any size of lumber one might need.
The unrelenting demands of the home-steading effort was not the destiny for every Lyells child. The arduous lifestyle motivated young William to strike out on his own at age 15, documenting his thoughts in journals. Several other siblings also relocated to nearby Florence and Rockvale.
The children who lived on North Creek attended school wherever the timbering operations were located. The first school on North Creek was located near Panther Creek, and the next was in the Lyells west room (the first cabin built). A permanent school was built nearer to what is now called the Red Mountain Youth Camp.
R.C. and Sarah sold the cabin and land to Percy Jones in 1890 for $800 and, perhaps due to their failing health moved to Brewster, located just west of Florence. Despite the dire look of the photo, the frail Sarah Lyells survived the illness that confined her to bed. She would even outlive her husband R.C. who died of a stroke on Thanksgiving day in 1897. Sarah passed away a year later. They are both buried in Florence.
Amazingly, the story of the Lyells’ time on North Creek doesn’t end with their sale or passing, as through the years, the stories and photos of the family homestead were shared from one generation to the next. The stories of how R.C and Sarah Lyells homesteaded on North Creek always ended with the footnote that the home was still thought to exist.
In 2009, Gary (R.C. and Sarah’s great great grandson via Ephraim) and his wife Kaylyn Lyells travelled to Beulah with their extended family on a hunt to find the old cabin. Upon arriving to the home—covered in 1975-1976 with stucco by the Jones’ and now owned by local Micky Bonham—they met Jim Madone, a mason who learned his trade in Canon City and built rock walls at Bonham’s nearby Red Cliff Ranch. Jim invited the family in to see the orignal homestead, although it was barely recognizable hidden beneath the stucco and additions. Madone encouraged them to visit the upper level where they could plainly see the exposed original beams and ceiling woodwork of their pioneer family home.
Back home in Ogden, Utah, Gary could not stop thinking about the home on North Creek. He told Kaylyn “I want to own that home, and have it back in the family.”
Despite telling themselves the sale may never happen, they visited the site two to three times over a ten year period. A trip in 2019, had them passing by the Red Cliff Ranch gates where, as luck would have it, they met a friend of Bonhams on the road. After a quick introduction, he opened the gate and told them to follow him. Minutes later they were finally meeting Bonham in person and sharing their family story. “He loved our story! He looked through our scrapbooks, and told us he had no idea of the story behind the home. He said he would consider selling because the house was now vacant and needed to be addressed.”
In June 2020, exactly 130 years after the Lyells family first sold, Gary and Kaylyn Lyells bought the place back! With the help of local contractor Justin Bonham, Micky’s son, the pair have been working tirelessly for the past 14 months restoring the home with the ultimate goal of utilizing as much of the original wood and logs as possible.
And so they did, but that’s another story.
Gary and Kaylyn moved into the restored cabin this past month, thrilled to share the remarkable legacy with their five children, their partners, and grandchildren.
Welcome home Lyells family! v