What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than to remember a woman who died on March 8, 1919. Ida Herwick was part of Eagle County history at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, during the pioneer era when living conditions were strenuous at best. Ida Oyler married Josiah Herwick when she was a teenager and the rest of her life was spent following her husband along the Eagle and Colorado Rivers.
“Si” Herwick “tried homesteading, worked at supplying game meat for mining camps, ranched, and operated a sawmill. Always, he thought there was a better opportunity, and a chance to get ahead, trying something new. … He pulled his family all over the Western Slope.” [Kathy Heicher, Daily Trail Oct. 4, 2000 p.5] From 1881 until her death, Ida lived in cabins, tents, dugouts, even a few houses, while Si earned a living. She had fourteen pregnancies during these years with her son, Frederick, born in 1882 being counted as the first white child born on the Eagle River. Just the thought of the laundry she did and the conditions in which that was accomplished gives one pause.
We are grateful to Carol Herwick McManus, Ida’s granddaughter, for writing about Ida’s life in Ida: Her Labor of Love, published in 1999. McManus did a tremendous amount of research in the newspapers of the day which she added to family stories. Ida’s story is compelling through McManus’ use of plausible dialogue to accompany historical fact. It gives an amazingly personal interpretation of what it meant to be a woman and a pioneer in the early days of Western Slope settlement. In 1881, Si and Ida arrived at Avon (the latter Nottingham Ranch). Soon after, Ida’s mother-in-law was buried at Edwards, later to be joined by three of the Herwick children, the last one in 1898. They then moved to Mill Creek to cut timber for the railroad. Wolcott was next, where Si helped build State Bridge, then Burns (Catamount Creek). With each new job, came a new location and another form of housing. The dugout at Catamount Creek is especially memorable given that nothing covered the door but a quilt. One of the happier times for Ida was when Si bought property owned by A. D. McKenzie in Eagle and built a house for his family. According to property records, Josiah Herwick bought the lot at the corner of 3rd and Howard Streets in Eagle on July 3, 1899. The house was built in 1899 and Ida finally had a place where she and her children could live comfortably. It is also engenders one of the most frequently asked questions from our summer visitors: “Where’s Ida’s house?”
This comfortable arrangement didn’t last long, however, and the Herwick family moved to Glenwood and on down the Colorado River finally to Grand Valley (Parachute) in 1910. Ida died of stomach cancer on March 8, 1919, at Grand Valley and is buried there. Josiah joined her on March 28, 1930. Their five remaining sons served as pall bearers at both funerals.