Mountain Man Mobley wasn’t as mean as he looked


By Pat O’Neill

Tribune staff writer

John C. Mobley was just a man who came and went through Rifle, never stopping to do much business here or make any kind of a fuss.

He was no desperado, no crazed coot out of the local hills or no early day lawman in search of an outlaw from Robber’s Roost.

But he sure managed to leave his mark in this old west community.

John C. Mobley is that “ornery lookin’ cuss” in a pair of enlarged photos around town, and the source of many an argument between old timers, some of whom swear up and down “that fella in the pitcher is Cedar Post Bill”.

Well, Cedar Post Bill is another story altogether (the Tribune will take a look at him some time soon).   But, delving a bit into the character at hand, we find that John C. Mobley was an early pioneer who helped found the town of Marble and who, from all indication, wasn’t as mean as he looked.

The whiskered man with the battered, wide brimmed hat was the grandfather of Carl Mobley of Silt Mesa who is the husband of Rifle librarian Dee Mobley.   He was, from what we can gather, a quiet-spoken man with wandering feet who was fond of rough country and new frontiers.

Old-timers old enough to remember the craggy mountain man passing through Rifle are few or a thing of the past.   So, with the help of the family, this is what we’ve been able to piece together.

“Grandpa” Mobley came from out in Nebraska country where he ran cows for the Russell and Brown Cattle Company following a stint with the Union Army in the Civil War.   And from there, his itching feet took him to early day Julesburg, Colo., where he kept peace on the streets as that town’s man behind the badge.

In 1880, Mobley traded in his silver star to join the procession of dreamers across the mountain to the bonanza camps of the Crystal River Valley.   Wife and kids in tow, the man with the “determined look” headed for what is now the ghost town of Crystal City and eventually laid claim to a homestead at the confluence of Rock and Carbonate creeks.

On his way there, he encountered one of several natural obstacles to his life of 90 years.   He, the wife Julia, two little boys and one girl found themselves on Schofield Pass in late summer.   The heavy wagon that carried the pioneer family bogged down on the narrow mountain pass.   In fact, it proved too big for the trail.   With winter and unforgiving snowstorms not far off, the wiry Mobley had only one alternative.   He dismantled the wagon, packed the pieces on his horses and continued on foot.

Before coming off the mountain, the family ran out of supplies – the going was slower than anticipated.   The kids stayed healthy with meals of wild game and a generous handful of salt given them by a passing miner.

If history had changed just one of its tiny details, it is possible that Mobley would have built a town of his own.   Near his homestead on the banks of the two creeks, Mobley laid out the townsite of Clarence.   And it seems the little mountain community was well on its way to growth, and at least temporary prosperity, when an acquaintance and rival, William Wood, managed to procure a post office in his town nearby which he was calling Marble.   There was no use duplicating efforts after that, so the two men combined their layouts and Marble was ultimately incorporated on Aug. 5, 1899.

But that lead to “too damn many folks” for John Mobley, so he packed up the brood and set up the Mobley Camp at the junction of Rock and Avalanche creeks.   And this time, no one beat him to a post office.   In August of 1887, he was appointed postmaster of his camp, which, by then, had come to be called Janeway.

It wasn’t too long though before there were 50 folks calling that place home and Mobley again hauled the brood down valley to a quieter spot near Carbondale, where he took to ranching.

Now, times must have been pretty good for John Mobley because he proliferated his stock of children and cattle.   The next time he felt a burr under his saddle and decided to make for the northwest, he claimed eight youngsters and had 75 horses and over 100 head of cows to contend with.

That was in 1902 and the whole lot of them passed through or near Rifle on their way north.   That was in early fall – not a generally good time for long distance travel in those days.   And a man that should have known better, found himself and nine members of his family huddling in a tent at the mouth of Wolf Creek when the season’s second snow fell.

The three boys- one of  whom, Charlie Mobley, now lives in Meeker – slept under tarps and blankets in the back of a buckboard, due to the fact that the tent was “a might crowded”.

The quiet man was beginning to age a little at that point of his life – he was, we guess, about 60 years old.   And that winter, spent rustling up venison and trying to prevent the ultimate loss of most of his livestock, took a great deal of the itch out of Mobley’s shoes.

He headed for “the boonies” near Blue Mountain some 60 miles northwest of Meeker – a landscape left mainly to the Indians.   There, he filed on 160 acres encompassing an area of ample water supply knows as Three Springs.   There was a cabin there, which the family made livable and moved into.

About the only visitors consisted of Indians, former cowboys turned game wardens and quiet characters on horseback who came in from the direction of the infamous outlaw den, Brown’s Hole, to the west.

Ute Indians, so the family stories go, camped more or less on the front lawn of the Mobley estate, without the courtesy of permission while on hunting excursions to the south.   But the understanding in the family “we won’t say anything if they won’t”.

That wary trust and familiarity with the hunting bands of Indians was solidified following a “fracas” between a hunting party and a pair of game wardens in Gillian Draw outside of Rangely.   The way the tale is told, one of the wardens, dethroned from his horse in the skirmish, headed into what locals like to call “the badlands”.

That warden wandered onto the Mobley ranch and wanted to hide out there until the Utes cooled down.   The unfriendly looking Mobley, more concerned about his golden scalp and those of his family, told the man if he valued his, to “hightail it out of the country about as fast as yer feet’ll take ya”.

Not long after the frightened warden left for parts unknown, a band of irritated Indians arrived at the cabin and demanded to know if the white warden was stashed anywhere about.   Mobley reportedly told them the fellow had been there but moved on.   He was then told that, if he spoke the truth, he would “wakum up in the morning”.   If not, he “not wakeum up in the morning”.

He woke up – aged, golden hair still intact.

Now, reference has been made to John Mobley’s long head of hair and if the reader will notice in the photos encompassing this article, Mobley made no attempt to hide it under his hat.   In fact, they say, he was rather vain about the unkempt looking mop.

There’s a story about that too !   It seems Mobley was partial to trading in Glenwood Springs, as he had earlier established good credit there, when living near Carbondale.   And, on one particular afternoon, he was having lunch with a fellow traveler at the Hotel Colorado.

During the course of absorbing his groceries, he became aware of stares and pointing gestures from a nearly diner.   The man persisted, they say, in making loud comments to the effect that Mobley’s hair was “sissy”.

The whiskered Mobley finished his meal, dabbed his chin and walked to the heckler’s table.   He bent over close enough for strands of his hair to dip in the man’s soup and said “Son of a bitch, would you like to pull it?”

A long moment of silence ensued and Mobley later told a son “no one seemed inclined to take me up on my offer, so I left”.

Mobley died in the 1920’s.

Up until now, he has been known by most of as only “that ornery old cuss in the picture”.

After moving at least 8 time in his life, John C. Mobley was finally content – and sufficiently far enough from the rest of the world’s population – when he claimed 160 acres of no man’s land north of Rangely.   He and his wife Julia, pictured here with him, came over Schofield Pass from Nebraska.   Mobley was one of the co-founders of Marble