Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

October 31, 2018

A Coal Camp Ghost in Southern Colorado

Ruins of coke ovens at Cokedale. Coke is made by heating soft coal in an airless atmosphere,
so it is to coal as charcoal is to wood, sort of.
Today is Halloween, which means that newspaper editors are open to ghost-hunting stories.
In this case the ghosts are in a southern Colorado coal camp. The most infamous of those was Ludlow, the company-owned coal-mining town forever associated with the Ludlow Massacre of April 1914.

This ghost-hunting, however, takes place in nearby Cokedale (not to be confused with Coaldale, which is on the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida).
For the past several months, Light in the Dark Paranormal — a local group that specializes in ghost towns and mining sites — has focused its investigative efforts on the Cokedale Mining Museum, a onetime company store located in the heart of the former coal mining camp west of Trinidad.

These investigations, Paul Hill said, were prompted by reports of unusual activity from museum staff and even Cokedale's town clerk.
Cokedale's mining musuem.
"We conducted an initial investigation back in February," said Hill, joined by his wife Adrian and Louise Bosche in Light in the Dark Paranormal.
"And we discovered, quite readily and easily in a short time, quite a bit of evidence."

Evidence, Hill said, that included an antique wooden wire cutter mysteriously spinning around and Maglights turning on in response to questions.

That's all well and good. But I wonder if they would have the cojones to go ghost-hunting at Ludlow. Occasionally I visit the monument where the strikers died — the last time was in September — but I go only in the daytime, and the place gets under my skin even then.

October 26, 2018

Back Across the Wide Missouri: This Explorer's Record Was Real

Leaving Pierre for Fort Pierre. You know it is pronounced "Peer," right?
When I re-crossed the wide Missouri at Pierre, South Dakota, homeward bound, I stopped to see a historical spot that I had never visited.

Looking across the Missouri R. at Pierre, South Dakota, from the Verendrye Site.
The Verendrye Site is in Fort Pierre, Pierre's smaller sibling on the west side of the river. The leaders of a French expedition in 1742-43 left a lead plaque here memorializing their visit as they gazed over the junction of the Bad and Missouri rivers.
There is a small public park at the site today.


The French explorers placed their lead plate in a cairn, which fell down or was destroyed, but local children found it again in 1913.

Unlike the Thoen Stone, which is sort of the Kensington Runestone of South Dakota, the veracity of the  Verendrye plate has never been questioned.

Found in 1887, the Thoen stone was supposedly cut by the last survivor of a group of gold prospectors who had entered the Black Hills illegally in 1834..  If you know the history of the Kensington Runestone, you can see a certain parallel: "I (we) am (are) the last survivor(s)"
Looking downriver across Fort Pierre from the Verendrye Site.

October 25, 2018

"Fields End Freedom"

Harvested cornfield and corn bins, North Dakota
"As centuries, then millennia passed, the areas open for retreat [back to a hunter-gatherer way of life] dwindled, and farming culture became ingrained and habitual. The assumption of its  'superiority' has likewise become ingrained in us, its modern inheritors.This is the assumption that we now have to question. Superior it certainly was in most cases as the mode of production at the base of a new competitive complex — the militarized urban-agrarian state. But in terms of the quality of life for the general run of the population at the time of its introduction, as opposed to the elite? It seems doubtful. It must be remembered: fields end freedom. Whatever the astonishing subsequent achievements of civilization, it had a little-recognized price: humanity itself became one of its own domesticated species. We enslaved ourselves to conquer."

Chapter 5, "War and the Logic of Short-term Advantage."

August 20, 2017

The Frontier American Log Cabin . . . Was Finnish


You may already know that in 17th-century America, there was New England (Plymouth, etc.), and south of that was New Amsterdam (New York), and south of that were more English colonies. But in between, in parts of what are now Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, was New Sweden, which lasted roughly from 1635–1655, when the Dutch took over.

You may have even heard that the traditional American log cabin came from New Sweden. Further south in Virginia, the English colonists were building  houses with wooden trusses whose walls were filled with with wattle-and-daub and later with brick, "Tudor" style. In New England, they did something similar but with clapboards.

But the settlers of New Sweden, who were largely ethnic Finns, put their axes on their shoulders, looked around at the trees, and started building log houses. At that time, today's Finland was part of the kingdom of Sweden, and the two populations were intermingled.

As the log cabin building style was diffused on the American frontier, a lot the refinements were lost, such as how to build log joints that shed water.

Here, in some kind of "living history" village, you can see Finnish carpenters building a little house in the traditional way. Lots of nice broad-ax work there!

If you want to get deeply into the 17th-century history of the Atlantic seaboard, then I recommend The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America--The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675

Usually, all you get is Jamestown > Pilgrims > Salem Witch Trials > American Revolution, and this book fills in a lot of gaps.

July 02, 2017

Mining Camp Medicine, from a Plain-Spoken Memoir

From The Life of an Ordinary Woman by Anne Ellis (1875–1938), first published in 1929:
When anyone fell sick, the first medicine was whiskey, then came quinine and camphor (this camphor prepared at home from the gum and whiskey); then turpentine. One was pretty far gone when one or all of these did not bring him out of it! There was also a good deal of virtue in a chew of tobacco bound on a sore place. I have had many a chew on a cracked toe. Fresh cow manure was also considered good for this, leaving such a white place! For babies with bowel trouble Mama [a "born doctor"] fixed brown flour of which I would steal nibbles, and if this did not help, rose-root tea would, and I would be the one to dig the roots. She was always brewing sage* tea for some tenderfoot, who was getting "climated." Then there was Oregon grape root, brewed with rock candy, supposed to be fine for the kidneys, when juniper and a lot of whiskey were added to it. I have known men in Denver to send to us for the roots, supplying their own whiskey.
Compared to the "Little House" books, Anne Ellis's memoir of childhood and marriages in Colorado mining towns of the 1880s and 1890s (among others, Querida, Bonanza, Coal Creek, and Victor), is relatively un-prettified.  Daughter and wife of hard-rock miners, she grows up accustomed to swings between good times and bad, mixed with sudden moves to some other place which everyone knows will be a "sure thing."

Its publication in 1929 meant that it could not be completely unvarnished, but you do pick up some of the slang of the times. When the young miners from Bonanza went to Salida to "get their teeth fixed," the operations took place after dark at a house on Front Street and did not involve dentistry. 

This book had a sequel, Plain Anne Ellis, which I might have to find. (Martha Quillen at Colorado Central reviewed her third and final memoir, Sunshine Preferred and liked it less.)

* I assume this was Artemisia, not Salvia.

March 10, 2017

Nuts to You, Says Abert's Squirrel

Abert's squirrel in ponderosa pine.
Everyone thinks of squirrels as caching nuts (thus inadvertently planting trees), but not the Abert's squirrel of the Southern Rockies and Colorado Plateau.

They just eat their favorite tree, ponderosa pine, which happens to be my favorite tree too, although I rarely eat any parts. (The pollen is a tonic, though.) Colorado Parks and Wildlife says, "Abert’s squirrel does not hoard food, but eats whatever part of its host tree, ponderosa pine, is available in season: cones and inner bark of twigs."

Many are a sort of salt-and-pepper grey (like these), but in southern Colorado they are mostly black. I think I have seen one grey one near the house in twenty years.

This degenerate squirrel has abandoned its healthy wild lifestyle
to eat sunflower seeds under the bird feeder.
Its name is one of those 19th-century "Westward the course of empire" relics, for it is named after James William Abert—explorer (Corps of Topographical Engineers), artist, and Civil War staff officer.

James William Abert
As Lieutenant Abert roamed the West in the 1840s, his proud father wrote to John James Audubon, "My son, Lieut. A., has some taste for Natural History. He has just returned from Santa Fe, having been on General Kearney's expedition. . . "

Together with collecting specimens, he also discoursed in the 19th-century manner on color theory for artists interested in natural history.

You can see Lt. Abert's reconstructed room and sketchbook at Bent's Old Fort, where he (and Everyone who was Anyone) stayed c. 1846.

April 10, 2016

Why the Comanches Feared the Infantry, and Other Stereotype-Busting from a 1870s Cavalry Sergeant

1870s cavalry trooper
1870s cavalry trooper
At the end of the Civil War, H. H. McConnell had served in a Union volunteer regiment (i.e., not Regular Army) — he does not say which one — but he had not had enough soldiering.

So he re-enlists in the Regulars, trains at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, and after a few weeks boards a steamboat for Galveston, Texas, with a new draft of troopers for the 6th Cavalry, stationed on the northern Texas frontier at Fort Richardson.

Being already experienced, literate, and probably not a raging alcoholic, he is quickly promoted to first sergeant of his company.

In 1889, having settled in nearby Jacksboro and served a time as its mayor, he publishes a memoir, Five Years A Cavalryman Or, Sketches Of Regular Army Life On The Texas Frontier, 1866-1871 — my copy was reprinted by the U. of Oklahoma Press in 1996.

This is not a book about campaigns and generals,  but it is filled with social history — the inside story of how things worked. Is a Spencer carbine missing from the company weapons inventory? Have the company "affidavit man" swear that the last deserter certainly took it with him.

Just a few highlights:

• For the first years, the troopers spend less time patroling and more time building or re-building posts abandoned at the start of the war, or altogether new. "Armed laborers," McConnell calls them.

Nevertheless, the top brass announce that the Comanches and Kiowas are no longer a menace to the settlers. The surviving settlers beg to differ. Government policy vacillates between a military solution to the "Indian problem" and the "win them over with love" approach of certain Quaker Indian agents. It's too much like Vietnam or the current campaign against the Islamic state.

• Not just officers but enlisted men, even privates,  are addressed as "Sir" in a very 18th-century style.  "Who gave you permission to go fishing last Sunday, sir?" Sgt. McConnell is angrily asked by the colonel in one incident.

• They seem to have enough weapons, but not enough horses. When the whole regiment is transferred, at least a third of the troopers march on foot.

"Buffalo soldier" reenactor, probably at Fort Sill (US Army photo).
• For the first time in his life, he encounters "colored soldiers," but he is less impressed by the "buffalo soldiers" of the 10th Cavalry at Fort Sill than by the black 38th Infantry stationed for a time at Fort Richardson. Of the latter, he writes, "Many of them were exceedingly clean and neat as soldiers and were often selected as 'orderlies' for the officer of the day," whereas the "buffalo soldiers" of the 10th he dismisses as "unsoldierlike and slovenly." (Don't tell the reenactors!)

Yet since most of the black soldiers are illiterate, having been born as slaves, their white officers are unable to delegate paperwork in the same way that Sgt. McConnell handles much of his own company's. Consequently, they are better officers:
The company officers of white regiments have very little of the detail of their companies to bother them — competent Sergeants and clerks are always to be had, who relieve them of such duties. Not so with the colored troops; every detail of duty, looking after their sanitary interests, performing the clerical work, the books, papers, and the thousand and one things that go to make up the routine of life in the service, all must be attended to by the officers themselves. [Because they thus gain practical knowledge and carry more responsibility, this] accounts for the marked efficiency I have noticed among them as a class.
• Heretical as it may sound coming from a cavalryman, he writes that the infantry could often function better in the field against the Indians:
I should observe here that the Indians greatly preferred to fight cavalry, or mounted citizens, to fighting infantry, for the obvious reason that, owing to their superior and, in fact, unequaled horsemanship, they had their enemies at a very great disadvantage  . . . It took our people a long time to find out that a dozen infantrymen with "long toms" [rifles that out-ranged the cavalry carbines], riding in a six-mule government wagon, were more dreaded by the Indian than a whole squadron of cavalry or [Texas] rangers; but in the last days of Indian fighting or scouting this became the usual mode of arming and equipping parties of soldiers.
• Oh yes, the fabled Texas Rangers. McConnell's considered opinion:
These Rangers were tolerable Indian fighters, but most of their time was occupied in terrorizing the citizens and "taking in the town." Shooting scrapes and rows between citizens, soldiers, and Rangers in this year (1874) were so frequent [that Jacksboro voted to incorporate in order to have government and a city marshall]
• One stereotype that he supports is the predominance of Irish immigrants in the Army: "Nearly all the old soldiers in my time were Irishmen (by old soldiers I mean those of fifteen or twenty years service)" and he calls the Irishman "the best soldier in our army."

Other nationalities were represented too — many Germans and some French, among others. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870–71 was echoed in the barracks by brawls between the nationalities. The French were "few in number [but] they made up for it in an excess of patriotism."
But the Germans had the best of it; the majority of the [regimental] band was from the "Fatherland," and the "Wacht am Rhine" and other of their national airs were played morning, noon and night, to the disgust of the "enemy." 
 After further brawling, the officers "prohibited the playing of the aggravating tunes for the time being."

February 21, 2016

Winter Camping and the "Hundred-Mile Stare."

The view from my tent
Winter camping

It's the third day, and my hands are already looking wrinkled and cracked. It's so easy to get dehydrated.

Last night I kept zipping up my oversize Big Agnes sleeping bag more and more as drafts snuck down my back. And sometimes my feet slipped off the closed-cell foam pad, so with only some snug socks and two layers of nylon between them and the snow, they got cold.

It must have been colder than the previous night. My confact lenses froze in their case, but if I slip them in the pocket of my nylon cargo pants, they will warm up quickly.

I sit up, slip on a jacket, and pull the Nalgene water bottle out of the sleeping bag, where I put it so it would not freeze.

I pour some in a pan, click a cigarette lighter under the stove, and whoosh. Soon I will have a mug of tea to clear my head. The view from the tent door is a perfect Colorado winter day.

This is winter camping too

Your name is Sarah Graves Fosdick. You are 22 years old. Eight months ago, you married a man named Jay Fosdick, age 23. You thought that he was Mr. Right. You were happy together as the wagons crossed the Kansas prairie in the summer of 1846.

Now, just a few feet away from where you sit in the snows of the Sierra Nevada mountains, someone is roasting his heart on a stick over a campfire. You don't mind. You took the one usable item of clothing from his frozen body — a black silk scarf he had wound around his neck — everything else is rags — and you turned your back. In fact, you told the others, "You cannot hurt him now."

For reading, I had tucked into my pulk* a copy of The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party.



Sarah Graves Fosdick (undated)
I thought that I knew something of their story, but Brown gives it greater depth, and he goes into "rabbit trails" on such topics as the celebration of Christmas in the 1840s, the physiology of starvation, and how 19th-century people had no concept of "post-traumatic stress disorder." 

Many people perhaps assume that the Donner Party, about eighty people, after taking bad advice about a "cut-off" south of the Great Salt Lake, were snowed-in and forgotten at Truckee Lake, now called Donner Lake.

Not so. Their companions who had taken the longer, less-risky route missed them and wondered why they had not come over the mountains on time. Were they camped for the winter at Truckee Meadows (site of Reno, Nevada today)?

Actually, two members of the party had already crossed the mountains to get provisions at Sutter's Fort and take them back to the main group.

When the heavy snow of that El Niño winter came early, the Anglo pioneers already living in this area near today's Sacramento organized several relief expeditions, but initially found it impossible to bring horses and mules through four then six then eight feet of snow. Rescuers had to travel by snowshoe.

Relief parties did reach the stranded pioneers, although for some it was too late. Men carried small children for days on their backs, and some of those children lived well into the 20th century.

Sarah's father, Franklin Graves, age about 57, was a frontier farmer. He was a skillful man, and he knew about snowshoes from his boyhood in Vermont. He split the wooden wagon bows to make snowshoe frames, and the women cut strips from the hides of the oxen they had eaten and wove the webbing and made harnesses — fifteen pairs in all.

The "snowshoe party" was one of several breakout attempts from the famished camp on the eastern slope. It was successful, sort of.

Fifteen of the fittest people, including Sarah, Franklin, and Jay, started out. (Two of them were Miwok Indians who worked for John Sutter of Gold Rush fame, whom he had sent east to meet the travelers earlier, along with supplies.) There were nine men, five women, and a boy.

They left the lake on December 16th, struggling with unfamiliar gear in fresh powder snow. They were slammed with more bad weather as they topped the range. The sun shone on the alpine landscape, and they had no protection against snow blindness. Progress was slower then they had planned, and their provisions ran out.

Their guide — one of the two emigrants who had already crossed over and come back — was suffering snowblindness and exhaustion. Eventually he sat down to smoke his pipe and refused to get up. They went on without him. (His bones were found later, at the spot where he smoked his last tobacco.)

They missed the route — the wagon tracks were buried under snow — ending up in the canyon of the North Fork of the American River.

Out of their home country, the two Miwoks were as lost as the others. Antonio, one of Sutter's vacqueros who had been sent to aid them, was also lost.

Franklin Graves died during a storm, urging Sarah and her sister to push on for the sake of their mother and siblings back at the camp. Another of the party, an Irishman named Patrick Dolan, died the next day, as did Antonio, followed soon by the 13-year-old boy.

The cannibalism began. Carrying more flesh for provisions, they pushed on. Eventually they could travel without snowshoes, but they had to fight through manzanita brush and mud.

One man killed a deer, but it was not enough. Jay Fosdick, weak and falling behind, heard the gunshot but was too feeble to catch up. Sarah stayed with him as he died during the night.

It was mid-January when the survivors (two men, five women) came to a settlement, and mid-February before the "First [Successful] Relief Party" in turn reached the camps at Truckee Lake. And the saga was far from over.

People talk about combat soldiers displaying the "thousand-yard stare." Not to say anything against them, but I think that Sarah and her companions in the "snowshoe party" must have had "hundred-mile stares."

A young Engishwoman living in California met Sarah and the other snowshoe survivors and wrote, "I shall never forget the looks of those people, for the most part of them was crazy & their eyes danced & sparkled in their heads like stars."

Yet they carried on.


• • •
Brown's writing is restrained. He lets the Donner Party speak for themselves, but diary entries and letters are often so terse that it is hard to say whether their style reflects hunger and fatigue or just a controlled habit of mind. What he offers is not speculation but context for their suffering.**

The Indifferent Stars Above is meticulously documented, and Brown traveled much of the party's route from Illinois to Bear Valley, California. Oddly, it lacks maps, but you can find those online.

If, like me, you thought you knew the general story of the Donner Party, you will get much more from reading it.

 * Pulk: a human-drawn transport sled, from the Finnish pulkka.

** As the emigrants struggled in the snows, Sir John Franklin's two doomed ships were icebound looking for the Northwest Passage. No one was expecting him to return until at least 1848, however, so they were not yet a subject for concern.

January 02, 2016

Propping up Charlie Goodnight's Barn

Goodnight's barn — the oldest standing structure in Pueblo?

"Charles Goodnight c. 1880" (late 40s) by University of Oklahoma Press; photo by Billy Hathorn -Wikimedia commons.
Famed cattleman Charles Goodnight is usually associated with the Texas Panhandle region, but he had a ranch in the 1870s that stretched southwest from Pueblo into the Wet Mountains. A feature of this ranch was a sandstone barn built in 1870. Goodnight dreamed big, but he never would have dreamt that his barn would have its own Facebook page.

And its own preservation committee, whose website says, 
Charles Goodnight was born in 1836 in Illinois and when he was 10 years of age his family moved to the newly formed State of Texas. Here learned about cattle herding and began his life-long love affair with Texas Longhorns. He and Oliver Loving began trailing Longhorns north to Colorado and Wyoming in the 1860s. Goodnight invented the chuck wagon in order to more easily feed the drovers on the trail.
In 1868, Goodnight put down roots just west of the newly created town of Pueblo, Colorado. He built his Rock Canyon Ranch below the bluffs of the area just west of what is named Goodnight Street. He ran his cattle all over the Gervacio Nolan Grant and had line camps over the area, including Babcock’s Hole Ranch in Wetmore, Colorado. The ranch remains today as a testament to Goodnight’s western heritage.
Goodnight and his wife lived several years in Pueblo before he transferred his headquarters to Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo. The barn lies between the Arkansas River and Thatcher Boulevard/Colorado 96 on the city's west edge. Formerly it was surrounded by the buildings and machinery of a gravel operation mining the alluvial deposits. Now all that is gone.

In a classic bureaucratic snafu, there is a sign by the barn about its history, but you cannot
The Goodnight barn about 1900 with windmill.
(legally) enter the property, even it is (I think) state-owned now. Bring your big telescope.

The barn needs structural help. As the committee reported last week,
The City and County are set to approve $5,000 each toward the cost of Construction Documents and Specifications. The total for the documents is $37,500.00! Frontier Pathways and HPI are funding $1,000 each toward this amount. The Committee is giving $26,540.00 which we raised already! . . . . In April we will be writing a State Historic Fund Grant for $200,000 to begin the exterior work on the barn next Autumn. Our grant writer is also submitting grants to go toward the cash match and more. We are looking forward to a HUGE 2016!
Assorted factoids about Charles Goodnight from Wikipedia and elsewhere.

• Young Charlie was too busy being a cowboy and then a Texas Ranger to be bothered much with schooling, never learning to read and write. About the time the barn was going up, he married Mary Ann "Molly" Dyer, a Texas schoolteacher, who handled all written matters for him. She died in 1926.

• He smoked numerous cigars every day.

• He is credited as the (very loose) inspiration for the character of Woodrow F. Call in Larry McMurtry's novel Lonesome Dove (1985) yet also appears himself as a minor character.

• At the age of 91, after Molly's death, he married a woman of 26. She got pregnant, but miscarried. (He and Molly had no children either.) He died two years later at the age of 93.

June 21, 2015

Walking with Dinosaurs at the Summer Solstice

Led by a white Forest Service pickup, the "auto tour" forms up.

What I think of when I hear "auto tour."
There is something old-fashioned about the phrase “auto tour”— as in Picketwire Canyonlands Guided Auto Tour — which suggests maybe a 1920 Studebaker Big Six “touring car” with the top down. Goggles and dusters absolutely required.

We were instead in M’s faithful 1997 Jeep Wrangler, and I was shifting in and out of 4wd low range all day long, mostly when descending steep, rocky, glorified wagon roads into the Puragatory Canyon.*

Seventeen vehicles full of people who had paid $15 apiece for adults started out; fifteen made it into the canyon. Flat tires were like a spreading virus — blame the sharp shale up top or the sharp rocks anyplace?

Friends in Pueblo set this up—we were supposed to have gone in May, when it would not have been over 100° F as it was on Saturday, but all tours were canceled due to wet weather. We still had to skirt a few mud bogs, but most of the roads were dusty. Very dusty. And there was little shade, and if there was, the piñon gnats were waiting.

The centerpiece of the tour is the famous dinosaur trackway, which preserves more than "1300 prints in 100 separate trackways  [along] a quarter-mile expanse of bedrock," to quote the brochure. And there are more waiting to be uncovered.

Credit for the discovery goes to a 1936 schoolgirl in the downstream hamlet of Higbee; some paleontologists made quick visits shortly after that — and then scientific interest languished until the 1980s when they were "re-discovered."

Scaled-down dinos play out the tracks' drama
Now there is signage, and a pilgimage to "the dinosaur tracks" has become One of the Things You Do in Colorado.

In the photo, our Forest Service interpreter-guide-wagonmaster has set down  Allosaurus and Apatosaurus models — placing them in the tracks made by real things in the muddy shore of a Jurassic lake.  At this spot, the carnivorus Allosaurus has stepped directly on the tracks of an apparent family group of large and small Apatosaurus browsers. The presumption is that it was stalking them.

Some smaller dinosaurs, Ornitholestes, also left their tracks. They too walked on their hind legs and weighed maybe 25–35 pounds.

As Anthony Fredericks wrote in Walking with Dinosaurs: Rediscovering Colorado's Prehistoric Beasts, "You don't have to be a dinosaur fanatic to enjoy this venture."

In fact, the different stops are like an experiment in temporal dislocation. While it is 150 million years ago at the trackway, at another stop, it is a few hundred years or a couple of millennia ago. At yet another, a 19th-century family cemetery holds the graves of New Mexican settlers who farmed from the 1860s to the early 1900s, while up the canyon, time has stopped in the 1970s, when the Army condemned thousands of acres to create the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. All of this in eight hours of dusty roads!
A juvenile hominin follows adults across the trackway by the Purgatory River. No Allosaurus is chasing him!
Kevin, our guide, held off on the "get out of Purgatory" jokes until it was time to do just that, for which I thank him.

*In Spanish, El rio de las animas perdidas in purgantorio (River of the lost souls in Purgatory); in fur-trapper French, Purgatoire; and in cowboyese, Picketwire. Named for members of a 17th(?) or 18th(?)-century Spanish expedition wiped out by Indians, an expedition that no one seems to be able to date or accurately describe. Nowadays often just called The Purg. But the name is old. M. is dismayed that the Forest Service has given its official blessing to "Picketwire" in its maps and signage on the Comanche National Grasslands.

April 30, 2015

Colorado Ghost Towns You Never Saw?

How to write a clickbait title: "Five Colorado Ghost Towns You Probably Never Knew Existed."

Except that one of them is St. Elmo, which even has highway signage. Hasn't everyone in central Colorado been to St. Elmo?

So let's call this "Four Colorado Ghost Towns . . . and St. Elmo."

I give the Gazette credit for mentioning "coal towns abandoned when the coal, or need for it ran out," but the "coal camps" never make it into the books. (Sandra Dallas, I'm looking at you.)

Coal is dirty? Too many coal miners spoke Italian or Slovenian? 

How about a hashtag, Twitter users? #coalcampsmatter

April 26, 2015

A Question of High-Altitude Terminology

I saw Marie Arana's biography of Simón Bolívar on the library shelf, and realizing that I knew only the minimal facts about him, checked it out. It's a good read.

At one point in 1819, he is leading one of his small, ragged armies (including some British soldiers of fortune) from Venezuela into New Granada — today's Colombia — which means crossing a 13,000-foot Andean pass in the Páramo de Pisba, with a plan of attacking Spanish forces an unexpected direction.

Arana writes,"As they rose into thinner air, the icy wind and hyaline numbed some minds, clarified others."

Psychology aside, I thought, what is "hyaline"?  "A substance with a glossy appearance," says Wikipedia. Does she mean the same as verglas or black ice? (I picked up verglas as a kid while reading Dad's Road & Track magazines —  Coloradans usually say "black ice.")

Mountaineering friends, do you ever speak of "hyaline"?

Meanwhile, eight years since the declaration of the first republic of Venezuela, we are now up to the second. A three-cornered war has raged — the Spanish, the mostly white Creole revolutionaries  (Bolívar's class), and the third force of ex-slaves, mixed-race people, Indians, and poor rural whites who are not so much pro-Spanish as they are opposed to replacing the old ruling class with a new one that looks much the same.

Bolívar blows his first chance for American aid when he orders the execution of eight hundred Spanish prisoners held in a fort, which does not go over well with President Madison. (And then the War of 1812 complete distracts the United States.) There is much genocidal massacring going on, leaders and soldiers switching sides to their own advantage — imagine the American Revolution with not one but multiple Benedict Arnolds.

At least, for his second try, Bolívar realized that he had to free the slaves, even though it meant many of his own social class lost their labor force.

August 17, 2014

Blog Stew, Listed with Sotheby's

¶ Want to buy a southern Colorado ghost town? It has been mostly restored, and it is a National Historic District too. Listed with Sotheby's real estate division, so not cheap.

¶ Wolverines will not get federal protection in Colorado as a "threatened" species. The pro-protection argument was based on projected climate change.

¶ This sounds like something from the Daily Mail — but can the Lone Star Tick force you to become a vegetarian (or at least a piscavore)?

July 08, 2014

Changes in the Neighborhood, 1887 to Now

A. C. (or A. Q.) Monroe's Cash Store, 1887 (Denver Public Library)


I found this photo while researching the Squirrel Creek Lodge series. It was taken not far from where I live. My first thought was that that is more people than live on that road now.

My second thought was, "Maybe not, but the population skewed a lot younger in 1887. The school bus does not even come halfway up the road today."

Here is another photo dated 1887, with the store in the center. Click for a bigger image, and you will see a man sitting in a wagon.
Denver Public Library collection.
Not one of those buildings remains today. In the Teens and Twenties, some new cabins were built there— a little resort catering to the new automobile tourists, called "Greenwood Cabins," I have been told. Some friends have one of the cabins (no heating, no plumbing) on their property and use it as a summertime guest bedroom.

I wonder about the photo dating, though, because in the larger photo, the false front of Monroe's store is not missing a corner.(Update: See comments for probable explanation.)

I was in the area today (a cloudy day) and tried to replicate the photograph, lining up the two little rocky ridges on the hillside behind.

Actually, this is the biggest house on the road, so not typical of the area.
I think the store stood just to the left of the large house, which was built in 1989. There is a cement foundation there too, but I suspect that it is early twentieth-century. Those 1880 buildings were lucky to have a row of rocks in a shallow trench for a foundation.

And what were all those people doing? Ranching (the public land was open and un-managed) and small-scale sawmilling (ditto)? This was not a mining district. There were coal mines and even oil wells in the next county north, about 10–15 miles away, but back then miners usually lived within a mile of the mine and walked to work. There may have been some small dairy operations.

Denver Public Library collection.
One thing has not changed. A lot of backyard target shooting goes on. That is Mr. Monroe (of the store?) fourth from left. I don't recognize any of the surnames, although one of them, Holbert, is the name of a drainage about twenty miles north, as the Mexican spotted owl flies — M. and I found a nesting pair there twenty-two years ago when we were paid by the BLM to census owls.

I am tempted to check these names against the oldest graveyard hereabouts.

And the forest looks a little different too. Put that down to a century-plus of fire suppression and and cessation of local logging. It's mostly private land, with a little BLM at the far left of the ridge.

The burnt tree in the foreground of today's photograph is a relic of the 2,500-acre fire in 2012 that cleared away most of the houses on that side of the road.

Now there is a row of concrete foundations there for visitors of the future to wander among and wonder about.

July 07, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge - Part 4

Missouri-Pacific Railroad tourism brochure, 1927

Selling the San Isabel to Out-of-State Visitors

The first post in this series described Arthur Carhart's vision for scenic roads connecting campgrounds, picnic grounds, and private resorts in the Wet Mountains, the "cradle of car camping."

But what about out-of-state visitors? From the designation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 into the 20th century, many North American tourists arrived at the nearest railway station to their destinations.

Then they might walk or take a coach to the nearest hotel. Some were grand, like the Banff Springs Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888–89. From the hotel, they could self-guided or escorted tours, such as by stagecoach from Livingston, Mont., into Yellowstone under U. S. Army escort (the Army patrolled the park until 1918, when the National Park Service took over). 

The Baver Li Lodge on Highway 165, late 1920s or 1930s.
The Missouri Pacific RR operated a route west from St. Louis to Pueblo, Cañon City, and on to Salt Lake City via Grand Junction. Eager to attract passengers, it provided this 16-page brochure about the San Isabel National Forest, "Colorado's newest playground." 

According to the grandson of the Baver Li Lodge's founders, the Missouri Pacific tried to buy the lodge (built in 1927) in 1929, but his grandparents would not sell. (It closed as a lodge in the 1960s but is still in the family.)

The brochure offered numerous one, two, and three-day automobile tours, for example, this one booked through the San Isabel Forest Tours Co. of Pueblo: 
"No. 1" — One day. Includes automobile transportation and mid-day dinner. From Pueblo via Rye and Willow Creek Camp to Squirrel Creek Community House [Lodge] for dinner; returning through Squirrel Creek Canyon [Colorado 76], Pine Drive to Pueblo. Fare, $8.00 per person.
Another day trip went from Pueblo to Wetmore and Westcliffe, included a meal at the Alpine Lodge, and returned through the Arkansas River canyon and Cañon City to Pueblo. When you consider that was almost all on gravel roads with a maximum possible top speed of perhaps 40–45 mph, it would have been a long day's car ride for your $10.50 fare.

In today's dollars, that trip cost $142 per person, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics site. A cabin plus meals (fireplace heat, no plumbing) at the Baver Li Lodge cost $40–$50 in today's money (I would book one, definitely). I have not yet seen a menu for the Squirrel Creek Lodge, but I suspect that it featured fried chicken, since the archaeologists identified one foundation nearby as the chicken house.

The Missouri Pacific's brochure gushed about "Mountain Trout," "History and Romance," "The Wooliness of the West," "Altruistic Purposes" ("exorbitant charges for accommodation and services will not be countenanced"), "Scenic Grandeur," and "Special Vacation Summer Fares," among other headings.

One section, "The Hospitality of Colorado, reads as follows:
The spirit of wholesome friendliness is one of the refreshing pleasure to be anticipated in a visit to Colorado, and particularly to the San Isabel. The inhabitants of this country seem to be imbued with the bigness of their environs and manifest a sincere cordiality. In Colorado, all class distinction seems to be neutralized.
I wonder what areas we were being compared to.

To be continued at some point.

June 29, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge - Part 3

It's not just an incinerator, it is a "Kernerator,"
by the Kern Incinerator Co. of Milwaukee.

The US Forest Service's remaking of Davenport Campground into something like Arthur Carhart's original vision, as mentioned in my last post, was praise-worthy.

But does it make up for the Service's obliteration of much of Carhart's original vision for recreational faciltiies? Not really.

Under the supervision of Carhart and his former landscape-architecture professor-turned-business partner, Frank Culley, Boy Scouts and other workers built facilities on South Hardscrabble Creek — the Florence Picnic Ground — and on North Creek, just north of Beulah. Another picnic ground was built at Smith Creek, in Hardscrabble Canyon above Wetmore.

In the late 1970s, the Forest Service demolished them all. According to a friend of mine, a life-long area resident who attended a public meeting about this decision held in Beulah, the USFS representative claimed these facilities were "inacessible" and "rarely visited."

Another friend, a Westcliffe resident, said he had heard they were demolished due to vandalism problems. In any case, the Forest Service no longer wanted to maintain them.

Instead of picnic tables, trash receptacles, outhouses, etc., the new model was "dispersed camping." Tack up a sign saying "Pack in it, pack it out," and all is good. Of course, no one packs out human shit.

A lot of this dispersed camping takes place in very locations where Carhart laid out picnic and campgrounds!

We have come full circle back to 1919, except that the standard of environmental education among forest visitors is a little higher. Sometimes.

The incinerator built to burn trash from the 1920s Squirrel Creek campsites slowly crumbles away.

Arthur Carhart's contract with the Forest Service lasted only from 1920–1922, after which time funding was . . . lost. He went into private practice and did other interesting work, but eventually became a full-time writer of fiction and nonfiction with outdoor themes.

Just tonight, I heard a professional chef praising his The Outdoorsman's Cookbook. Of course, this praise was from a guy who has walked the Squirrel Creek Trail himself.

Until recently, recreation was not truly a Forest Service priority — at least that was my perception. As a specialty, it lacked prestige. From its early twentieth-century creation onward, the Forest Service was all about timber management — and also grazing management — and firefighting to protect those two priorities.

I remember Dad when he was a USFS district ranger in the Black Hills saying (without irony), "We're tree farmers."

As opposed, it did not need to be said, to the pressed-pants-wearing, somewhat sissified  (Dept. of the Interior) National Park Service rangers who led tourists around by the hand, (Dept. of Agriculture) Forest Service rangers did real stuff with horses, axes, increment borers, cruising rods, and log-scaling rules.

Recreation on his district was handled by one man, a "recreation guard," who lived in a cabin off away from the work center and had a crew of seasonal workers in the summer.

People who rose in the hierarchy came from a forestry background, not a recreation background, although that has changed some in the last generation.

But thanks to the San Isabel Public Recreation Association and Carhart's and Culley's work, private interests began pushing tourism in and around the San Isabel National Forest, something I will look at next.

June 26, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge, Part 2

Here are the 1947 flood waters one drainage north of Davenport Campground, near Baver Li Lodge.
What was then described as the Davenport Camp-Picnic Ground evidently survived the flood of 1947, which was most destructive in the narrow canyon of Squirrel Creek.

This photo is probably Davenport Picnic Ground in the 1920s, as the valley here is wider.
1920s-style cooking shelter recreated at today's Davenport Campground.
In 2004, Forest Service archaeologists Steve Seguin and Jennifer Cordova, together with historian Jack McCrory, prepared documentation to place the "Squirrel Creek Recreational Unit, " otherwise known as the "cradle of car camping," on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bases of guard rail posts at scenic overlook
on what was Colorado 76.

They listed all manner of remaining relics, down to guard rails and sign posts, but did not (so far as I noticed) say anything about a telephone line. But I found two mentions of a line that connected the Baver Li Lodge (of which more later), built in 1927, to the town of Beulah, running mostly along Squirrel Creek and the now-vanished Colorado Highway 76.

According to a 1967 article in the Pueblo Chieftain, summarized on this site,
The telephone line had been installed through Squirrel Creek by the Forest Service in the 1920’s. As their private line, Tena and later, grandson, Chuck, had to maintain it. Every spring one of them would ‘walk the line’ to find where the breaks had occurred and repair them. One year the Boy Scouts from Rye came up to help.
A short historical article about Beulah's Pine Drive Telephone Co. mentions it too:
One notable line was the one maintained from Baver-Li Lodge in Ophir Creek down Squirrel Creek. It took great fortitude to maintain that line after the ‘47 flood!

In 2009, as part of the U.S. Forest Service's centennial, Davenport was remodeled into a "retro" tents-only campground—and it remains popular.

You have to drive down into the campground (trailers and motorhomes should park above the entrance, in the Second MaceTrailhead parking lot) to see the interpretive signs.

There is nothing about Arthur Carhart's vision for forest recreation in any historical marker on any highway at this time. More signage, including a panel about him, has been proposed for the junction of Colorado 67 and 96 in Wetmore, part of the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway.

June 19, 2014

Looking for Squirrel Creek Lodge, Part 1

It is 1923, you are suffering the summer heat in Pueblo, Colorado, and you want to go car-camping up in the cooler Wet Mountains. So you load your blankets, quilts, and canvas tent in and on the Ford, pack some flour and bacon, maybe grab a fishing pole, and off you go. You take Colorado State Highway 76 (a gravel road) southwest to the foothills town of Beulah, then stay on 76 as it enters Squirrel Creek Canyon and the San Isabel National Forest.
1948 San Isabel National Forest map shows Colorado 76 coming southwest from Pueblo.
Bridge dated 1916 on Squirrel Creek Road, formerly Colorado 76, in Beulah.
You know this part of the road is new — in fact,  it was laid out by Forest Service landscape architect Arthur Carhart. His former professor from Iowa State, Frank Culley, was involved too on the project to design numerous campsites along the road, all with hand pumps, designated concrete garbage pits, and "sanitaries" (outdoor toilets) — all a response to the trash and piles of human waste that popular campsites had been attracting.

The first picnic and camping sites there had been designated in 1919. That was just five years after the southern Colorado Coalfield War that culminated in the 1914 Ludlow Massacre. It was two years after the Russian Revolution, which had segued into civil war, and one year after the end of World War One.

Private money — the San Isabel Public Recreation Association (SIPRA) — helped pay for the first improvements. Colorado Fuel & Iron, southern Colorado's industrial behemoth, with its coal mines, coke ovens, and steel mill, was the largest contributor. Wholesome outdoor recreation will lure its workers away from Red agitators.

Carhart writes,
There is a chance in this sort of [forest] camp to teach better Americanization of the people of foreign blood now living in our midst . . . these men will become better citizens and far less open to insidious suggestions of the radical agitator to strike at this land they have come to know and love.*
Enjoying one of the new campgrounds on Squirrel Creek. Woman takes photo of men by fireplace. Check gen-u-wine ten-gallon hat on man in foreground.
The campgrounds are wildly popular. On summer weekend days, as many as 700 cars pass up Colorado 76, which connects to Colorado 165, the north-south road through the Wet Mountains.

Many people stay or take meals at the privately operated Squirrel Creek Lodge, a two-story log structure in the center of the camping area. It stays popular until the World War II era, when it faces competition from the San Isabel lodge (which also began as a SIPRA project).

But Carhart's cool, winding creekside road is vulnerable. Rockslides menace it from the slopes above, and in 1947, a major flash flood rips down the narrow canyon, destroying all the little bridges, tearing out campsites, and wrecking many parts of the road.

Squirrel Creek Lodge: A central room with two wings, front porch on the left.
Dinner • Refreshment • Lodging • Souvenirs.

Click to enlarge for photos of original lodge.
The lodge falls into disuse and eventually burns in a 1979 forest fire.

The state builds a new highway from Beulah to Colorado 165. Formerly the Twelve-mile Road, it is now designated Colorado 78, and it  takes a higher route up a ridge.

Its last nine miles are still gravel today, and according to a friend on the Custer County Road & Bridge Dept., are the last gravel stretch of a state highway. (Many state highways around here were gravel roads into the 1960s, when there was a big push to pave them.)

Mentally remove the young trees along the trail, and there is the old Colorado 76.
Hiker at mortared wall that marked a scenic pull-off on Colorado 76.
Colorado 76 devolves into a Forest Service trail — one that oddly features mortared-stone retaining walls, log guard rails, and steel culverts. It passes the ruined campsites, where campers improvise new fire pits, and the ruins of the Squirrel Creek Lodge and its associated cabins.

You, meanwhile . . . Dad is in the steelworkers' union and has a new car with a powerful V-8 engine. Mom doesn't wear those 1920s cloche hats anymore.

You can go anywhere — Yellowstone, Banff . . . no more chugging up Squirrel Creek Hill with the Model T threatening to boil over.

Remember those days when you were younger, when the Squirrel Creek campground was the oldest auto campground in the national forest?

Next: Part 2: Davenport, the "Retro" Campground

*Tom Wolf, Arthur Carhart: Wilderness Prophet  (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2008), 55.

April 20, 2014

100 Years Ago Today: The Ludlow Massacre and its Aftermath.

Funeral procession of miners' leader, Louis Tikas, in Trinidad, April 27, 1914 (Denver Public Library)

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the actual Ludlow Massacre, but the ambushes, gunfights, dynamitings, etc. started beforehand and continued for about ten days afterwards.

From the accounts  that I have read, the spokesman for the striking miners at Ludlow, Louis Tikas, was himself killed by Colorado National Guardsmen, no doubt "while trying to escape." He was born Ilias Anastasios Spantidakis in Crete.
Louis Tikas

I always heard—and this may just be urban legend—that the legacy of Ludlow is why there are no infantry units in the Colorado National Guard. I don't necessarily accept that as fact, but it is interesting as folklore.

Colorado Life magazine has a good article in their March/April 2014 issue, which can be ordered here.

Here is one summary from the official Ludlow Centennial website:
At the height of this conflict, on the morning of April 20, 1914, a skirmish broke out between striking miners and the Colorado State militia. This event, labeled the Ludlow Massacre, ended with the deaths of over 20 people, which included a guardsman, miners, and their wives and children. The death of children at the Ludlow Tent Colony thrust the Coalfield War into the media spotlight, with national scrutiny focused on the Rockefellers, who were majority shareholders in [the Pueblo steel mill and its mines] CF & I [Colorado Fuel & Iron]. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the Rockefellers and CF & I developed an employee representation plan that transformed industrial worker-company relations.
Stop by some time — Exit 27 from Interstate 25 north of Trinidad — and walk the ground.

But the fact is, even in Pueblo, not to mention the Denver-plex, 4/20 means something else these days.