Local Legends: Polly Brinkhoff and “Rattlesnake” Jack

Photo Credit: Archive at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery Image #1

If you’re a resident of Poudre Canyon, chances are you’ve heard of the infamous couple Polly Brinkhoff & Rattlesnake Jack. This post was originally intended to focus on the Whale Rock in Rist Canyon, but you can’t talk about Whale Rock without talking about Jack & Polly. Legends in their own right, they moved to Colorado in the 1950’s, finding work at a Dairy Farm in Owl Canyon before taking over an old Copper Mine near Stove Prairie. It was a gig they heard of from “Old Gabe” who they met near The Mishawaka. The US Forest Service allowed them to live on the land for free in exchange for regular assessments of the mines.

Photo Credit: Archive at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery Image #2

They built a “Hole in the Wall” cabin in Skin Gulch (pictured left), where Polly lived for 40 years, almost 30 of which were by herself after the death of her husband. She is the epitome of a true mountain woman. Many of their stories are well known & documented. Broker/Owner, Norman Wyatt, grew up hearing their stories from his dad, Bill Wyatt, a local lawyer who recently passed away at the age of 90. Bill had an exchange of his own with Polly & Jack. At one point they came to see Bill at his office in Old Town for some legal advice. They did not have the funds to pay for counsel, so Polly, who was an incredible artist, offered to carve the butt of Bill’s Remington Model 700 7 MAG Rifle as payment (pictured below), and he accepted. Polly was also the original painter of the iconic Whale Rock in Rist Canyon.

Ever creative, she applied her skills to any material she could get ahold of: canvas, rocks, wood, frying pans & more. She also competed 8 times in the annual Burro Race from Leadville to Fairplay on an ass named Loco. She died in 1999, in the canyon she loved, suspected of falling asleep at the wheel at 84 years old. So, what started out as a blog post about Whale Rock turned into a lot of interesting reading about the life of Polly (Powell) Brinkhoff, and her fascinating legacy. She and Jack are buried together in an old cemetery in the abandoned mining town of Manhattan (pictured below), about 4 miles North of Rustic. Yup, they just don’t make ‘em like Polly anymore…

Rifle art carved by Polly Brinkhoff, copyright Mile High Land & Homes, Inc.

Rattlesnake Jack's grave (right), copyright Mile High Land & Homes, Inc.