Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fire Center has a long and colorful history



Today, if you wander through the area that surrounds Monument Rock and the nearby Monument Fire Center, it is still possible to dance a little, back though time, and into the mission of caring for the land and serving the people.
 "The area has a long and colorful history, beginning with the establishment of the nursery in 1907, to its current-day headquarters for two national wildland fire fighting crews," says William R. Nelson, who served as District Ranger there from August of 1999 to January of 2005.
Nelson now lives in Falcon, but in addition to his stint as District Ranger, served at various times in his career as a Helitack crew member, Type 3 Incident commander, and Type 1 information officer.
"Its original purpose as nursery was to provide tree seedlings for National Forests in the surrounding five state area making up the Rocky Mountain Region, areas that had been heavily logged or destroyed by wildfires. It served in that capacity for 58 years. Many residents of Monument may have either worked at the nursery or know others that did," Nelson wrote in a booklet about the Monument Fire Center that was published in October of 1997.
Longtime Monument resident Bill Simpson remembers well, as he described several years ago in a phone interview.
Among his fondest memories is his time spent out at the Monument Nursery and the sign shop there.
“I worked over there pulling weeds and picked up pine cones by the bushel,” he said.
The nursery would let the cones dry out and then put them in a big tumbler that looked like the drum that produces Colorado Lottery winning numbers. The loose seeds were planted, grown locally, and then shipped around the country.
“White Fir cones were the most lucrative,” he said because they only produced cones in the very tip-top of the trees.
“We were paid $4 or $5 per bushel for White Fur. That was a lot of money back then.”
One technique involved finding and raiding a squirrel’s cache. You could take half and leave half of the cache with no negative effects on the squirrel, he said.
“Sometimes a cache would have five or six bushel in there.”
Established in on Mayday (May 1), 1907 as the Mount Herman Planting Station, the center was one of the first such nurseries in fledgling National Forest system and important in the reforestation of public lands. The name was changed to the Monument Nursery two years later.
In its 58 years of operation as a nursery, millions of seedlings of Douglas-Fir, Engelman Spruce, Western Yellow Pine, Limber Pine and Bristlecone Pine.
One of the earliest reforestation successes was on nearby Mount Herman.
"Rising just west of her, Mt. Herman was nearly barren of trees after intense fires from the 1880s. within 20 years of operation, thriving seedlings from the nursery transformed the mountainous slopes from an ugly black and red scar to the healthy green of a young forest," according to the 1997 booklet about the history of the center.
"As growing techniques improved, and transportation became less costly, the nursery became one of the most important in the Rocky Mountain region. Through the years, seedlings grown here were used in national forests from New Mexico to South Dakota, and for windbreaks on prairies from Texas to Iowa."
In 1920, the site was also selected to the be the home of 'Memorial Grove,' established in memory of deceased Forest service employees  for the region and during the '30s became home to one of the largest Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps.
"The residents of monument saw hundreds of young men come and go from the train station as they fulfilled their six-month hitch. Today, we still enjoy and appreciate the results of their work. The Mount Herman and Rampart Range road are examples," says Nelson.
He is proud of the preservation efforts in partnership with Colorado Historical Society and the development of the center into its current role as home base for a 20-person Pike Hotshot team and a six-person Helitack crew. The elite Hotshot crew has been at the center since 1979 and the Helitack crew was added in 1996. The center remains a top-notch training site for firefighters.






Monday, July 14, 2014

Death under a falling car in the shaft



With Victor's Gold Rush Days coming up this weekend, and having just visited with Jeff Tapparo at the annual open house of the Western Museum of Mining and History (Tapparo is on the museum's board and gets to operate the Osgood steam shovel,) I have mining on my mind.
He called my attention to the following story in the Cripple Creek Morning Times death notices of 1898. The Times is actually and ancestor to the Courier. I felt was appropriate to remember how dangerous the industry once was.
Sep 20, 1898: Victor:
"The remains of E.O. Alexander will be buried today from the residence of his daughter in Strong’s camp. Sickening Catastrophe in a Mine. – Patrick Fitzpatrick and Mathew Branigan were killed yesterday and W.D. Crawford terribly injured by one of the most shocking accidents since the day of the Anna Lee disaster.
"They met their death under a falling car in the shaft of the Union company’s Orpha May mine on Bull Hill. All three of the men were employees of the Union company, and were employed in sinking the shaft, working at a depth of 900 feet below the surface. Several of the upper levels are operated by lessees, whose rock is hoisted by the company for a consideration. H.P. Funk, a trammer, working on the lease at the fourth or 200-foot level, yesterday morning pushed a car of rock up to the shaft, to await the cage which would hoist it to the surface. The shaft is guarded by a chain, which is always fastened across except when a car is being rolled onto the cage. The car, weighing, with its load of rock, 1,700 pounds, rolled against the guard with such force that the chain was broken, and the car, load of rock and all, toppled down the shaft on the heads of the men 700 feet below.
"The unlucky trammer, knowing that men were at work in the shaft, driven mad by grief and fright at what he had done, climbed up the ladder and took to his heels. Below, the men at work in the shaft never knew what happened. Fitzpatrick and Branigan were working and the awful force of that load falling 700 feet struck them squarely. When their mates went below to hoist their bodies, they were so crushed beneath timbers, rock and the wreck of the car, that they could hardly be identified at all. The car had gained such momentum that it took out the bulkhead at the twelfth level, and two sets of timbers lower down, as if they had been made of straw. The whole mass of wood, iron and stone struck the men as swiftly as the lightning’s bolt.
"Branigan was found under the car, with his head split wide open, and nearly half of it shorn away. His body was reduced to a pulpy mass of flesh, bone and cartilage absolutely indescribable. Fitzpatrick was pinned down under rock and timbers, his head mashed flat, and his body a veritable jelly of flesh and crushed bone. Crawford’s escape from instant death is little short of miraculous. He was working in a corner of the shaft, doing single-hand work. He declares that he never heard a sound, or had warning of any kind of what was about to happen, and knew nothing of when it id strike. The first thing he knew was the open air and the sunlight after he had been lifted to the surface and restored to consciousness.
"Though not killed, he is still in a pitiable condition. His skull is fractured, and his head looks as if it had been slashed in a dozen places with a razor. His left hand is shattered, and his right foot crushed as flat as if it had been put through a cane roller. The knee joint of the same leg has been split open, and it is a question whether the leg will not have to be amputated above the knee. The ambulance was called, and Crawford, accompanied by Dr. Johnson, who had dressed the wounds as well as he could temporarily, was brought to the hospital. There Drs. Johnson, Chambers and Hassenplug amputated the leg about six inches above the ankle. The surgeons think the man has a fair chance for recovery, but state that the cut into his knee joint is the most serious of his many injuries. Both the dead men were single, and about 30 years of age.
"Branigan has a brother at Central City, who has been telegraphed for, and Fitzpatrick has a brother at Goldfield, in this district. Both were members of the Miners’ union. The remains were removed to the rooms of Mulligan and Dunn at Victor, where they now lie. Arrangements have not been made for their interment."
















Tuesday, July 1, 2014

All depends on what the dog thinks of you



My dad would always come up with these ridiculous theories about dogs and the true measure of a person.  He held that if a dog didn't think well of someone, there was good reason.
Over the years he had a considerable amount of experience of judging people this way.
The first dog that I remember in our family, was a singularly-focused Beagle by the name of Suzy.
No matter what the circumstance, you could not pull that dog off of scent.
Rabbits bedeviled her. Put her in the woods, and in a few minutes at most, she would begin a bay sequence that would would honor hounds of the centuries.
More than a few times, we were forced to physically remove the crazy Beagle from stimuli, (meaning carrying the psycho, obsessed animal out of the woods before her heart stopped). Bahr... bahr... Bahr... a bay every three seconds or so, and with an intensity and focus unlike anything we understand as humans. It ran though her blood.
Suzy had other qualities, like a protective nature (of a spayed female hound).  She positioned herself incognito, under the end table, next to where my mom spent a lot of time. Door-to-door salesman, totally unnerved. Jehovah's Witnesses ... completely demoralized.  Neighbors and friends... well, TRUE friends understood you had to put up with some barkin' and bayin'.
Another famous dog that befriended my father, was my younger brother's black Whippet-like, Labrador mix with an outlaw nature, named Shea. The only reason that animal put up with us Carrigans, is that at a very young age, while chasing elk on the hill above our house, it had acquired a bullet crease between its shoulders and the accompanying lesson of not to chase the local wildlife.
We were also close to the the Ponderosa Restarant's dumpster, and important convenience to an independent animal such as Shea.
Perhaps one of his greatest challenges for my dad was what to do about Amos?
Amos was a Great Dane, (also an outlaw, belonging to my brother originally) that had a record of tearing drywall out of garages and ripping up houses on whim.
Hard to handle, one of the salient stories of Amos, however involved his exodus, though the glass of my parent's front window, when he saw another dog that pissed him off.
That involved many stitches at the vet, and the realization that Amos does, pretty much what Amos wants.
But my dad loved that dog. People I don't even know, tell me how special it was, watching my dad take Amos for a walk in Dolores. It gave my dad focus and purpose for that monster to drag him around the river town. And it lasted for years.
Dad was starting to lose his focus by the time he met my hound dogs, but it was great to see his eyes light up when those two barkers made his acquaintance. His approval meant a lot to me.
Because, you know, according to his theory, the true measure of a person was what the dogs thought of them.  
In all the years, with all the different dogs over time,  I never saw a dog that didn't like my dad.




Haunted by the ghosts in town




I am still living with your ghost
Lonely and dreaming of the west coast
I don't want to be your downtime
I don't want to be your stupid game
__ Songwriters: Art Alexakis, Craig Montoya, Greg Eklund

I am haunted by the ghosts of this town.
At the first of the year, I stood on the hill, looking down through valley and thinking how familiar this all was... But now also, how surreal.
It had been years since I had been in town at all, and longer than that since I stood on the hill.
The place doesn't change much. Guess that I had changed a bunch. Or at least the fabric around me.
Years ago, I might have been standing there with Lynn Leavell, James Biard, Mark Thompson, Rusty Hector, Scott Weinmaster, Brent Hamilton, Andy Pleasant ... or maybe even Ed McEwen, Edena Akin,  Jay Dee Burns, Chuck Randall, Micheal Billie.
Always, the river defines the valley, and the ridges on each side. I can look down and pick out my former boyhood home on the corner of Seventh Street, and Hillside Avenue, the empty lot where I once worked for Taylor Hardware, the building where the garage was in which my dad worked, even far off in the distance, the old football field and rounded rib beams of the old gym.
Climbing up, to get an even better view I stumble over a blue, glass telephone insulator laying in the gravelly, blue-yellow dirt by a couple of Yucca plants and the Mountain Mahogany.
I wondered if I strung some wire and hooked up the Groundhog line equipment I remembered as kid, with wooden boxes, bells and cranks ... I could dial up the past. Take me way back
"Father Fray Francisco Atanasio awoke somewhat improved, and in order to change terrain and climate rather than to make progress, we set out from the camp and Rio de San Lázaro toward the northwest. We traveled a little more than a league, swung west by west-northwest, and went five leagues through leafy forests and good pastures. Then we turned west, traveled two and a half leagues through a chamise thicket with little pasturage, went a quarter of a league to the north, crossed Rio de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, and camped on its north bank. This river rises on the north slope of the Sierra de la Plata, and runs southwest to this place, where it makes a sharp turn. It is a little smaller than the Rio del Norte in this season. - Today a little more than eight and a half leagues," wrote Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, on August 12, 1776.
Not far from this very spot, hundreds of years ago. The next day, in the Diary and Itinerary of Fathers Dominguez and Escalante (English Translation), the padres found it hard to leave.
"We remained in camp, partly so that the Father might improve a little and be able to go forward, and partly to observe the latitude of this site and meadow of the Rio de los Dolores where we were. An observation was made by the sun and we found we were in 38° and 13 1/2' north latitude. Here there is everything needed for the establishment and maintenance of a good settlement in the way of irrigable lands, pastures, timber and firewood. On an elevation on the south bank of the river in ancient times there was a small settlement of the same form as those of the Indians of New Mexico, as is shown by the ruins which we purposely examined. Father Fray Francisco Atanasio felt better, and we decided to continue our journey next day,"Escalante writes August 13, 1776.
Ancient times settlements were looked at again by the archeologists, or 'Bonediggers,' (as we were prone to call them) from Washington State and University of Colorado. I recall Dr. Bill Lipe's visits, most afternoons in the hardware store.   Odd how the friars thought of it as "ancient," even a few hundred years ago. The padres followed the river for a while, to the North, as I did. 
"We set out from the meadow and river of Dolores toward the north, and having traveled a quarter of a league we turned northwest for a league, and northwest by west five leagues through a somewhat difficult chamise thicket. We then entered a deep and broken canyon, and having traveled in it two leagues to the north, we arrived a second time at the Rio de los Dolores, which here runs northwest. We crossed it twice within a short distance and camped on the west bank, naming the place, which is a small meadow of good pasturage, La Asunción de Nuestra Señora. This afternoon we were overtaken by a coyote and a genizaro of Abiquiú, the first named Felipe and the second Juan Domingo. In order to wander among the heathen, they had fled from that pueblo without the permission of their superiors, protesting that they wished to accompany us. We did not need them, but to prevent the mischief which either through ignorance or malice they might commit by traveling alone any longer among the Yutas if we tried to send them back, we accepted them as companions. - Today eight and a quarter leagues," noted the entry of August 14, 1976.
Of all the changes, perhaps this northern swing has changed the most. The lake was a big deal when I was growing up. Tunnels moled. Gravel pits now under water, dig up parts of the graveyards to relocate, log off the gambel oak brush, houses abandoned, the old lumber town of McPhee submerged, dams built, lakes created, "Ancients" and their stuff recovered.
Like Fathers Dominguez and Escalante,  by now I've 'wandered among the heathen' for more years than I spent in the little town on the river.
But I recall the time and place fondly and intensely...  folks like my dad and mom, Merton Taylor, Don Ripley, Larry and Marilyn Pleasant, neighbors and even some of my girl friends (not that there were that many.) Old buildings, new shanties. Still, I find connections there on the banks.
Still, I'm haunted by the ghosts. I say their name, but can't always see or touch them. Always, they are there, part of the fabric.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Still eating is enough, here in the hardscrabble



His answer was always the same: “Still eating.”

Rain or shine, good times or bad, my grandfather always answered that way, when anybody asked him, “How is it going?” or “How are you?” or “How do you do?”

He had other little endearing comments and sayings of course (for example, calling black table pepper the Sioux word for fly poop).  But “Still eating,” was his trademark and it reflected his hardscrabble existence as a homestead rancher on the Western Slope of Colorado.

Owen Carrigan, my granddad, filed his first Colorado homestead claim 1914. After subsequently 'proving up' on that, and additional filings, he ran cattle, sheep and other livestock and harvested alfalfa hay for nearly half a century on Morapos Creek near the Hamilton turnoff, between Craig and Meeker.

Prior to that, he hailed from Minnesota country, by way of the Dakotas. He came here to escape Asthma and finish recovering from a broken leg he suffered when a horse fell with him while punching cows for a Texas-owned outfit in the Dakotas.

His mother, Minnie Buce Carrigan, wrote the popular book “Captured by the Indians, Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Minnesota.” It is an account of the murder of her father, mother, two sisters, and her captivity among the Sioux after the 1862 uprising and her subsequent experience as an orphan. In the book, she describes her life as a young German immigrant girl prior to her capture and the ten weeks she lived with her captors until being freed by the United States Army.

In a state where “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” two bodies of water in Rio Blanco County bear granddad’s name, Owen Carrigan Reservoir and Owen Carrigan Ditch. I am proud of the fact that, as a family, we go way back around here. Not everyone can say that.

Even after he sold the ranch, he counted irrigation as one of his favorite chores. He liked to make the ditches run. I am probably around to tell stories today, however, because he had a healthy respect for fast moving water. He saved my life one morning when I was about six or seven when he fished me out of the opening in irrigation tube near the 'Grand' as he called it, or Colorado River, before I could be sucked down the tube into oblivion.

Grandma would have given him hell, however, if he somehow managed to allow one of the grandkids to drown while he was checking ditches.

When I was very young, my grandfather would take me with him as he caroused downtown Grand Junction. The trip usually involved a jaunt into a hardware store where he ended up buying me something like an electric drill, or bench vice, or a set of wood chisels.

I think his reasoning was twofold. He was concerned about whether or not I would have the proper tools to survive in the modern world; and he wanted to encourage my creative side, that he saw when I spent hours trying to make boats, cars, spaceships, and such, with the tools on his extensive work bench at the back of his house.

He was a pretty fair blacksmith, ferrier, and agricultural mechanic, himself. Though he tended to cobble stuff together, using whatever scrap material he could scare up.

Another part of those downtown trips involved a stop at one or more bars in town. My granddad liked to make his own beer, but he also always enjoyed company while he drank it. And the bars offered that. That might have been where I picked up my eventual calling — as I listened and learned the art of story telling from the old cowboys, and steam tractor mechanics, and loggers and miners and bums.

Some of the stories were even about him, though I was young enough, and was mostly concerned with the Coca-Cola in a beer glass, I don't recall all the details.

Always, always, always, the folks in the bar seemed to enjoy the salutatory greeting when his shadow graced the door. "“How is it going?” or “How are you?” or “Howdy do?” they called out.

But as my grandfather was prone to say, there really was only one answer that could come back.

“Still eating,” his reply. And that was more than enough, then.


Friday, June 6, 2014

River smoothes over us hard cases



The river smoothes over us hard cases.
In the spring, it is wild and dangerous.
But summer reflects upon us cautiously.
By fall, we are weak, diminished, stagnant.
The ice of winter traps us, first at the edge.
Then, you may walk across, smooth again.

I remember the girls in the water of summer.
I forget that I was wild and dangerous.
I think of my friends in reflections of the fall.
I feel the bitter bite of the cold in the winter.
I brave the thin ice around frozen banks.

Anger wells up from the spring's runoff.
Violence in the mood of warm reflection.
Falling into pools of stagnant water.
Living on the edge where the ice forms.
But the river smoothes over us hard cases.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Don't want anything to do with the place



Don't want anything to do with the place.
Can't stand the smell, color, the looks on his face.

Lots money spent, people hired — all in the name of healin' ya'
Watch you, tube you, wire you — and with any luck, avoid killin' ya'

The bear went in, just as he did in the old days.
They patched, and scratched, dosed and said "No ways."

He thought he was a goner, started saying goodbyes.
Reached for something way down, as we all just stood by.

Saw him after few weeks, other trouble seemed to focus him.
No grey color, fogged eyes, sissy grip, some pain — but rising like a crocus then.

Don't like it. Have trouble, don't want anything to do with the place.
Keep me out, can't stand it.  The smell, color, the looks on his face.