The Nasons and the Monarch Slide of 1907

Fred and Florence Nason in Gramsey’s Locket

My father, Eugene Nason Doherty, was a wonderful storyteller. But not all of his stories were the same.  Family stories could be rich and encompassing. They could also be grim with scanty details and trail off to a dead end.

One such story was about my grandmother, Edna Nason Doherty, who survived an avalanche that killed her parents and orphaned her brothers and sisters.

Family stories about the same event can have similar and much different details. My father told me the story about the avalanche, but he never told my sister, Sharon, who lived in Colorado for a few years. Perhaps he didn’t want to upset her? Dad was very circumspect in telling stories involving violence and death.  I thought it was an exciting story about life in the Old West. If you read accounts of frontier life, they are riddled with stories of unexpected catastrophes and sudden death. When I lived in Alaska, I could hear avalanches from my house.  It’s a roar that sounds like an express train.  They are so fast and so huge that you can’t get out of their way.

According to Dad, Gramsey and her family moved from the Midwest to Garfield, Colorado and had a ranch.  In another version, it was a hotel.  An avalanche hit the building, killing her parents and burying the children under the snow.  The children were all dug out alive by rescuers.  They were sent back to live with relatives in Chicago or Indiana.  There were no details, but the impression was that the relatives spent most of the parents’ estate.

Lenore, a Nason cousin from, confirmed some of the story and gave me some new information. The parents, Fred and Florence Nason, were part-owners of a mining company, and had a boarding house/hotel and general store.   The avalanche occurred on February 4, 1907 near Salida, Colorado in Chaffee County. Her grandmother, the baby of the family, survived since her cradle was in a room which kept a pocket of oxygen.  The avalanche destroyed everything and killed the parents. After the disaster, the children were returned to relatives in Indiana.

Fred Nason was on born January 27, 1861 in Girard, Pennsylvania. He married Florence Curtis in Chicago, Illinois or Berrien County, Michigan on February 14, 1885.  They had eight children: Sophronia (Fronie), Florence, Frank, Margaret, Genevieve, Edna, Lillian, and Edward.

His wife, Florence Curtis Nason, was born in 1863, probably in Porter County, Indiana. Her father was Philander A. Curtis (born 1825 in New York State); and her mother was Melinda J. Davis (born 1833 in Kentucky).  (Thank you, Ron, a Curtis cousin living in Hammond, Indiana for background on our great, great grandmother.)

My grandmother, Edna Nason (Doherty), was born in Hammond on April 14, 1898.  She must have been five or six years old (?) when she moved to Colorado from Indiana. Not all the family left for the West; Frank, about 17, stayed in Hammond and his sister, Sophronia, was a sister in a religious community and taught in Indianapolis.

Thanks to records and the internet, family memories of the event can be filled out enough to construct a good story.

The Monarch Slide of Monday, February 4, 1907

“Mr. and Mrs. Frankie Nason are anxiously awaiting a telegram from Salida, Colo.,” a newspaper account began, “with some definite information as to how many of the members of the family of Fred R. Nason were killed in the terrible landslide which took place at the mining camp of Monarch, Colo.”

The Monarch slide came down shallow slopes that had been considered safe from avalanches.  Monarch was not a town, but an active mining camp located in Chaffee county, Colorado. The area had been the site of a huge silver mining boom for the past twenty years.  The closest towns are Salida and Garfield.  They were connected to Monarch by a one-track train line.  In the winter, the track was often covered by deep drifts of snow.

“The slide started at 9:15 pm last night and made a noise like the roar of a cannon…The slide as it now lies, is 500 feet long, 300 feet wide and fifty feet deep.  It “came down a gulch east of the Madonna Mine and started from a height of about a thousand feet, of course gaining speed at every foot and gathering up all trees and boulders in its path…”  The avalanche struck that part of the mining camp containing a saloon and boarding house.

Monarch Camp after avalanche

The slide came after most of the people in the buildings had gone to bed. There was no warning and no opportunity to escape.  “The story and a half structure occupied by the Nason family, and which was used as a boarding house, was in the direct path of the slide.”  The buildings and occupants were buried under fifty feet of snow, dirt, and trees.  Altogether 22 people were buried. Six died and 16 were eventually rescued.

“The two-story log house, with a saloon on one side, belonging to Steve Skinner, and the boarding and rooming house on the other, conducted by Fred Nason, was completely demolished and carried across the street. There was not even a whole piece of furniture found, even a piano being reduced to kindling.”

“Steve Skinner, owner of the saloon, was found on the floor of his place of business with a keg of beer on his chest. His head was driven through the floor and his skull crushed…It was evident that his death was instantaneous…Brains scattered about furnished mute testimony of sudden death.” “The body of Mrs. Nason was the first discovered and was fearfully bruised and mutilated.”  The rescuers speculated that she suffocated to death.

“The scenes at the place of destruction are heart rending.  Strong men are weeping while the work of rescuing the stricken people goes on, and little children are crying for their parents whom they believe are shut from their sight by the avalanche of snow and dirt.”

“In most cases death resulted from suffocation and a number of those now living were so far gone as to be unconscious. Among this number was Miss Florence, the oldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nason.  She said that although somewhat injured, her greatest inconvenience was breathing, and her struggles for air were shortly stilled by blissful unconsciousness, and she knew no more until revived by the fresh air.  She was under the snow four hours. The younger children were up stairs and thus were covered but a few feet and were quickly rescued.”  Most of the Nason children were thrown out of second story windows and covered with flying snow.  The children that were rescued included Florence, 19; Margaret, 15; Genevieve, 11; Edna, 8; Lillian, 6; and Edward, 4.

“The most miraculous escape was that of baby Edward, who lay under the snow, snugly tucked in bed, for 14 hours when finally dug out. A section of the roof had fallen over him in such a way that snow and rock could not reach him but was in such a small space that he was overlooked for a long time.  He was happy and laughing when taken out, and happily is too young to realize the awful calamity that had taken his natural protectors from him. The rescuing of this babe was a scene that caused many strong men to break down who had withstood the stern duties of taking out dead comrades.”  Edward had been sleeping in his parents’ feather bed when the avalanche hit.

“The discovery put heart into the workers in their search, which finally resulted in the (recovery) of the body of Fred Nason.”  He died of a fractured skull.

One of rescued miners, H.L. McCabe, said that “just before the slide came his dog came to the bed in which he was sleeping and pulled the covers from him, but before he had more than time to wonder at the dog’s strange action, the crash came.  Did the animal know that a calamity was impending, and try to warn his master?”  Rescuers were able to locate the dog and nurse it back to health.

The list of known dead in the Monarch slide included:  Fred Nason, 46; Florence Curtis Nason, 44; Jack Emerson, son of Superintendent Emerson of the Madonna Mine; Charles Gilette, a miner; Steve Skinner, a saloonkeeper; and James Boyle of Denver, a miner.  Miners were able to rescue all the camp’s children, including the Nason children.

Edna and Edward

When news of the avalanche got to Salida a rescue party started toward the mining camp.  “A relief train started over the Monarch Branch from Salida at 1 o’clock this morning…the train was able to proceed only to Garfield, on account of snow, and from there the (relief) party was obliged to walk up through heavy drifts of wet snow….”

The Aftermath

The bodies of Fred and Florence Nason were returned by train to Hammond, Indiana for burial. “Mr. Nason was a member of the Catholic Order of Foresters and also of the Modern Woodmen of this city and it is expected that they will bear the expense of the funeral.”

The children also returned to Hammond to be raised by relatives.  I don’t know where Gramsey and her sisters and brother lived once they got back to Hammond.  In a newspaper account, it was noted that Mrs. Henry Nondorf, 546 Plummer Avenue, was appointed administratrix of the Nason estate.  The two older Nason children had stayed in Hammond and did not go to Colorado with their parents and siblings.  Fred Nason had three brothers who also lived in Hammond:  Frank B. Nason, E.W. Nason and S.C. Nason.

Two years later, Frank Nason, 19 years old, was decapitated in a fall from a freight train.  Frank and another young man, Lester Vaughn, were headed to Denver, Colorado.  The July 27, 1909 story by the Hammond Times implied violent death was the “Nason Nemesis.”  Frank’s parents were killed in an avalanche.  David Nason, his paternal grandfather, fell from a ladder and died from injuries; and Philander Curtis, his maternal grandfather, was killed in a coal mine in Joliet, Illinois.

Between family stories, records and newspaper accounts, I was finally able to construct a Nason family avalanche story.  But no matter how much information one can gather, questions always remain or new ones appear.

  • Why did Fred and Florence Nason leave for Colorado?
  • What did Edna Nason remember about the avalanche?
  • When did the Nasons become Catholic?

I had been under the impression that Gramsey wasn’t born Catholic but was received into the faith after her return to Indiana.  Obviously, that wasn’t true.  Based on his disdain for Puritan authorities, his protection of Quakers from religious persecution, and the fact he was fined for not attending church services, I wondered if our earliest American ancestor, Richard Nason, was a secret Catholic.  His neighbor in Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare, was rumored to be Catholic. Catholicism was underground but it was present in the New World. Rosary beads, saints’ medallions, a crucifix and even a reliquary were found by archaeologists excavating in the earliest settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. Richard Nason’s house and life were spared in the many French and Wabanaki raids along the Newichawannock (River) in coastal Maine.  Perhaps his Wabanaki neighbors and trading partners knew something secret about him? Was it that they all shared a Catholic faith?  Perhaps that’s why he wasn’t killed or burned out when so many settlers perished.

Dad could relate only a few details about the avalanche.  I am not sure if Gramsey didn’t remember very much or didn’t want to talk about it.  My grandmother died when I was eight—the same age she was in 1907– but I have very clear memories of her.  I’m sure she would have some memories of Colorado and would certainly have grown up hearing stories about the Monarch mining camp and her mother and father.  Sometimes grief is so deep we cannot talk about it.

Why did the Nasons go to Colorado?  Perhaps the romance of the West was calling to them; they wanted a new start, a different life. We have always been a restless family willing to experience the unknown.

Now I know “Frank” is a Nason family name!  I’m sure Gramsey named her oldest son, Frank, after her older brother.

Thank you again to my cousins, Ron and Lenore.

Information on the Nasons and Monarch snow slide was drawn from these publications:

Historic Avalanches in the Northern Front Range and the Central and Northern Mountains of Colorado by M. Martinelli, Jr. and Charles F. Leaf, USDA, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, September 1999.

The Salida Mail, Tuesday, February 5, 1907.  “Many Lives Lost in Snow Slide at Monarch Last Night. Bodies of Seven Have Been Recovered: FRED R. NASON, WIFE AND TWO CHILDREN, H.L. McCABE, JACK EMERSON AND STEVEN SKINNER. Several Bodies Believed To Remain”

 Herald Democrat, Leadville, CO, February 5, 1907. “Mining Camp of Monarch Buried Under Avalanche – Twelve Persons Supposed to Be Entombed Beneath Terrible White Death of Mountains. Rescuers Frantically Seek Lost”

The Rocky Mountain News, Denver, CO, Wednesday, February 6, 1907. “Bodies of Six Dead Removed; One Missing.  Details of Snow Slide at Monarch Only Add to Horror of Catastrophe Which Destroyed Camp”

 The Times, Munster, Indiana, February 7, 1907. “Nason Family Await Tidings. Do Not Know Yet How Many Relatives Were Killed in Snowslide. The Baby Is Saved. Fate of Five Other Children Not Known—House Overturned and Buried In Snow”

 The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, February 7, 1907. “Nason Family Caught in Snowslide. Fred R. Nason, His Wife, and Six Children Buried in Avalanche at Monarch, Colo.—Bodies Recovered”

 Hammond Times, Hammond, Indiana, July 27, 1909. “Strange Fate Grips Nasons. Frank, Aged 19, Is Killed at Blue Island Last Night by Fall From Freight Train. Nemesis Pursues. Shocking Occurrence Recalls Snowslide in West Two Years Ago”




  • […] Fred Nason and his wife were killed in an avalanche in Colorado on February 4, 1907.  The six youngest children with them (Florence, Margaret, Genevieve, Edna, Lillian, and Edward) were dug out alive and sent back to Hammond, Indiana with the bodies of their parents. Read the story of the Monarch Slide here. […]

  • Thank you for posting this. I’m Edward Nason’s granddaughter. I never had the chance to meet him but it’s nice to learn a little bit of the family’s history.

  • Hi Mary-Ann, thank you so much for writing. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I thought of Edward Nason when I visited Albuquerque this past September. My father told me that he lived there and had a daughter. I don’t think Dad or his brother, Frank Doherty, were in touch with their Uncle Edward after Gramsey’s funeral; but I could be wrong. Stay well and safe. Karen

  • Hi. I am Edward Nasons only child and still reside in Albuquerque. Your account was well written and very enlightening. Since my Dad was 4 when this happened, I had only vague mentions of the incident growing up. I do know he was raised by Aunt Lenny and my impression was life was difficult for him.
    Thank you for posting this.

  • Hi Kathleen, thank you so much for writing! I would like to corroborate your story. My dad, Eugene Nason Doherty, said his mother also had a very unhappy childhood being raised by a relative. The relative was not nice, and took the children’s money. Perhaps that contributed to her early marriage, and leaving Hammond, Indiana for good. Can you please identify “Aunt Lenny”? Thank you again .

    • Aunt Lenny was Helena Nondorf. She was his Mother’s sister. I understood her husband was pretty mean. I believe they had a number of children when they took in the orphans. My Dad was somewhat bitter about lawyers that were involved. I saw pictures of the huge monument for his parents in Indiana. Somehow that seemed ridiculous considering there were children to be raised. Anyway, he only went through 8th grade and went to work. They did not have a great life as children. My parents were in their 40s when they had me so I am the bottom end of that generation.

  • My Dad called her Aunt Lenny but she was Helena Nondorf. She and husband had a large family already. My impression was her husband was not kind. I also understood lawyers were responsible for missing monies. The monument to parents is huge and odd considering there were many young children to raise. My Dad only got to 8th grade and went to work. My parents were in their 30s when the married and in their 40s when I was born.

  • Dear Kathleen, thank you so much for writing. You helped to solve a family mystery for me. I am very happy we were able to connect! It seems like the parents took the children to Colorado with such promise, and the return to Hammond continued the tragedy. My personal email is I will continue to write about our Nason ancestors, and hope you enjoy the stories. Warm regards, Karen

By Karen