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Turner genealogy is Durango history

Book traces four generations of local family
The Turner Tradition by Suzanne Turner Belt and Frederic B. Wildfang, self-published, ISBN# 978-0-615-67483-4, 80 pages softcover, $15.

If you’ve lived in Durango long enough, chances are you’ve met a Turner or two. And even recent arrivals may know the name, if only from the Bodo Park thoroughfare named for the family that has been in Durango longer than Durango itself.

Local author and historian Fred Wildfang has put the Turner family history into a succinct and easy-to-read package. With help from Suzanne Turner Belt, a granddaughter of John Charles Turner, Wildfang recently wrote and self-published the short history he calls The Turner Tradition.

J.C. was a fascinating person who first arrived in Colorado Territory in 1858 (it would be another 18 years before Colorado gained statehood). He was a gold hound who followed news of strikes throughout the Four Corners, a quest that first brought him to Southwest Colorado at the start of the Civil War.

During the next several years, he would witness history firsthand as a Union combatant in the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico, a horrified soldier at the Sand Creek Massacre and a Colfax County sheriff battling outlaws such as William H. Bonney, also known as “Billy the Kid.”

When he started a family and moved back to the Animas Valley in 1871, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Million Dollar Highway were still a decade away. The Turners arrived by covered wagon.

They homesteaded a 160-acre ranch south of Bakers Bridge (J.C. had crossed paths with the ill-fated Charles Baker years earlier), raised eight children and established the Turner name as one of Durango’s oldest.

After such an illustrious and adventurous life journey, J.C.’s end was a bit anticlimactic. In 1902, he fell from a pile of hay and died from his injuries a week later. But the Turner family was on its way, and ensuing generations would help form the financial and cultural infrastructure of the growing burg.

His son, John W. Turner, made and lost a fortune in land speculation as well as more traditional forms of gambling. He also was part of the group that started Durango’s first radio station, KIUP-AM, in 1936.

A generation later, another Turner, Nick, would be instrumental in the creation of Purgatory Ski Area. His father, Dick, had been the first to put a lift on Chipmunk Hill. Purgatory came to be in 1965. The ski run “The Bank” was named in honor of Nick Turner, who arranged the financing that made possible the expansion of the resort in the 1970s.

Nick also was a player in saving Durango’s railroad in the 1960s, preserving the tracks to Silverton when the Denver & Rio Grande wanted to abandon the line. The Durango-Silverton Corp. was a precursor to today’s multi-million dollar tourist draw.

Suzanne Turner Belt provided Wildfang with historical family photographs – and the short book contains almost as many photo pages as text.

Of particular interest are reproductions of J.C. Turner’s journals in his hand writing. The Turner Tradition is a fun, quick and easy way to not only learn about one of Durango’s most influential families, but also the town they influenced.


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