Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Homeland security in the 1980s


It seems particularly important to reflect on homeland security and how our views change over time.
In response to a different threat and a different world back in the early 1980s, American civil defense planners became concerned about an evolving large-scale Soviet civil defense plan in addition to a Soviet nuclear threat and started drawing up their own blueprint for right here in the States.
The "crisis relocation plan" as it was known nationwide at the time, called for each state to develop individual versions that could be integrated into an overall picture. Because the North American Air Defense Command system was headquartered in Colorado Springs, it was considered a likely target.
Likely targets or "high risk" areas were to be evacuated and residents would be moved to nearby safe areas in times of escalating tension between the two super powers.
According to articles by staff writer Alan Gottlieb in early 1980s Ute Pass Courier, the El Paso County crisis relocation plan called for up to 8,000 people from the Springs to be temporarily housed in Teller County. Additional population was to be housed in eight other outlying Colorado counties: Fremont, Chaffee, Gunnison, Sahwatch, Rio Grande, Mineral, LaPlata and Archuleta.
In the event of an attack , the visitors would remain in the safe areas until harmful radiation effects had dwindled, according to Frank Mollner, acting regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as reported by the Courier articles.
These visitors were to be temporarily housed in public buildings like schools, courthouses, city halls and other similar locations. In addition, the articles by Gottlieb noted that some local residents had made preparations for such a dire occurrence as well.
Woodland Park resident Richard Carvill began building a fallout shelter during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and still maintained it at the time of Gottliebs articles in the early 'eighties.
An electrical engineer at NORAD for 25 years prior to retiring, Carvill was quoted at the time on his beliefs that the Soviets would launch a first strike.
"That is why I live up here instead of the Springs. I think there will be an attack, and it will be with nuclear weapons."
In tune with other survivalist philosophy at the time, Carvill told the reporter that his shelter was for his family only and he was prepared to protect it from trespassers with "a whole arsenal of guns."
"I built it for my family and there is just no room for anyone else," he said. Other local survivalist expressed similar sentiments.
Another Teller County man who also had built a shelter and stored food was also quoted anonymously.
"Somebody who comes for my food is in trouble, big trouble," he said. "He has two choices, go back or go down."
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Martha Maxwell and womens' work


“Historians relate not so much what is done as what they would have believed.” __ Ben Franklin, 1743
I was reminded recently that one must be careful in considering history. It often depends on who wrote it. Traditionally dominated by white men in the winner’s circle, their fantastic adventures, war stories and “important” achievements take on nuances that cast their kind in favorable or at least forgiving, light.
Their kind is my kind. Maybe that explains my predisposition to consume and my historic inclinations. But, in the interest of equal time, or at least a feeble attempt to acknowledge others might have had a role in what came before, I discuss today one of my young daughter’s heroes.
Martha Maxwell, a self-educated naturalist and artist, first came to Colorado during Pikes Peak Gold Rush in 1860 with her husband, a Pennsylvanian coal miner. Reportedly, her childhood affinity for animals developed into a taxidermy hobby and eventually an all-consuming nature study .
“In an effort to preserve a record Colorado’s wildlife, Maxwell created dynamic displays of wild animals.” notes Women of the West Museum. “ She single-handedly mounted and arranged them in detailed realistic habitats. In 1876, she exhibited one such diorama at the Philadelphia Centennial under the title ‘Women’s Work.’”
Maxwell dedicated her life to taxidermy and considered it “as a fine art, subservient to science.”
According to Bios In History, Maxwell was the first woman to collect and prepare her own skins and mounts. “She spent nearly eight continuous years in the field in the Rocky Mountains, documenting the presence of species previously not known to live here.”
Much of her camping and hunting for unique animals took place in the mountains around Boulder and many of her diorama display techniques are still used in museums today.
For these notable contributions, the respected ornithologist Robert Ridgeway named a new variety of screech owl (some accounts say she discovered the first one) Scops asio maxwelliae or Mrs. Maxwell’s owl after her. She is the first woman to have a subspecies named after her.
“To a naturalist, intent upon knowing the secrets of the natural world, the capture of the smallest bud or insect gives as much pleasure as to have outwitted and slain the fiercest grizzly in the mountains or the largest buffalo on the plains,” wrote Maxwell in 1878.
That is different historic perspective than I’m used to. As I said, we must consider who has been writing all the history.
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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shine restored to '34 fire truck


I wrote this story more than 24 years ago when I was still in J-school and working summers and holidays at Taylor Hardware in Dolores. It first appeared on the front page of the Dolores Star (edited at the time by Melinda and Sam Green) on August 2, 1984. Unfortunately, I can no longer put my hands on the photos that appeared with it. The above model is similar, minus the brass rail where this one has a windshield and pump connections and gauges on the front. If anyone has a shot of the Dolores Old ’34 Dodge, please send me one.

Even though they had a debt for one bottle of whiskey and no assets, the Dolores Fire Department began planning to buy their first fire truck more than 50 years ago.
The department, which had been Dolores Hose Company #1, was forced to reorganize and would years later become Dolores Fireman, Inc. A winter fire, early in 1934, left virtually all of Hose Company #1’s equipment, including the hand-drawn or horse-dawn hose cart, useless because of frozen hoses, said Merton Taylor, a long-time Dolores fireman.
The fireman had charged a couple of bottles of whiskey to help fight cold during the fire, Taylor said. After the fire, they returned one of the bottles, leaving them with a debt for the other bottle and a bunch of useless equipment. The town was left with very high fire insurance rates.
The Dolores Town Board decided on July 15, 1934, to buy the best new fire truck available, even though it was expected to cost as much as $1,400 for the chassis and about the same for the body. The money came from the town itself and from donations from local businessmen.
The truck, purchased through the local Dodge dealer, Musgrave and Calhoun, and constructed by W.S. Darley of Chicago, arrived in Dolores in late October, 1934.
M.A. Plumlee, his wife Helen, and their daughter Ramona(now Becher) who was not quite four years old at that time, had ridden the train back to Chicago, picked up the truck, and had driven it back.
The truck had an open cab but a canvas cab was built for the trip home.
“It was a little cold,” said Helen Plumlee, “and Morey (M.A) had a sore throat afterwards, but we made it.”
Mrs. Plumlee said the train trip to Chicago took two days and they had to wait there for nearly a month for the truck to be completed. They took in the World’s Fair while they waited, she said.
The truck was “absolutely the latest thing in that class of equipment” and “one of the finest pieces of firefighting apparatus of any of the towns in the Basin,” according to the Dolores Star at the time.
The truck had a ton and a half Dodge chassis and a pumper that could pump 650 gallons a minute and 300 pounds per square inch. It also had a 300-gallon storage tank.
The Dolores Star of October 26, 1934, said, “Mr. Plumlee said the new truck attracted a great deal of attention in the cities and towns he drove through between here and Chicago. In some places, the police and wouldn’t let him go until their firemen had a chance to examine the new truck.”
The truck provided fire service a number of years for the town and then was sold to Pleasant View Fire Department in 1954 for about $1,000. Pleasant View used the truck for a while, then sold it back to Dolores in 1960 for $325. Dolores has used it in parades and conventions since then.
A year and a half ago, David Doudy, captain of the fire department now, and other members of the department, began restoring the truck back to its appearance when it first arrived in Dolores. They used a picture that belonged to Ramona Becher to make the truck as close as possible to the original.
Doudy said he personally had about 450 hours of work in the truck and that other members also worked a lot on the truck.
Doudy estimated the restoration project was worth about $3,000 to $10,000. The department spent nearly $2,500 on materials, Doudy said.
The truck will be used for show only, but it is in working order. It has already won a second place in the Ute Mountain Rodeo Parade in the antique car class since it was completed earlier this summer, and the department plans to take it to other shows, Doudy said. The truck will definitely be in Mancos this weekend for the Tri-State Convention there. And it will make its first appearance in restored condition at Dolores’ own Escalante Day parade Aug. 11, looking much as it did when it was first welcomed by the community 50 years ago.



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Friday, December 26, 2008

Masterson: Gunfighter to ink slinger


Perhaps it is not really that far from gunslinger, Indian fighter, and frontier lawman in the hardscrabble cowtowns and mining outposts of the old west -- to newspaper sports editor, Broadway cult hero, and friend of the president in the “Big Apple.” But as far as I know, it takes a unique sort to travel such a road.
William Barclay Masterson, 67, or “Bat” as he was commonly known, was found slumped over his typewriter one late October Tuesday morning in 1921, in his office at the Morning Telegraph.
It was the end of the trail for Masterson who had spent the last 18 years (three days a week) writing his column “Masterson’s Views on Timely Topics.” The heart attack that finished him, gave him just enough time to finish his last dispatch. The following last words were found still in the typewriter carriage.
“There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter, things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I'll swear I can't see it that way."
“His body was taken to Campbells, the famous New York funeral parlor where a simple service was held in their chapel with burial following in famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. His large upright marker is emblazoned with the epitaph: "Loved by Everyone," according to a biography by Donald Greyfield.
Having served as buffalo hunter in Kansas, Indian fighter in Adobe Wall, Texas, lawman in Dodge City, Kansas, Trinadad, Colorado, and Tombstone, Arizonia (with the likes of his good friend Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday) hired gun, and security for Judge Roy Bean in Langtree, Texas, principal in the"Royal Gorge" war between competing railroads in Colorado, federal marshal appointed by the president in New York, fight promoter, professional gambler, faro dealer, saloon owner in Creede, Colorado, and theater owner in Denver, Colorado, as well as inspiration for movies, books, pulp magazines and Broadway plays, his big old heart finally gave out.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

100 years no big deal when old as a mountain


In the Centennial state, celebrating a 100-year anniversary is always a big deal. That was especially true in this area more than a century ago, when locals planned to mark such an occasion for the first recorded sighting of “America’s Mountain.” The Peak, of course, had been there for a while.
“In 1906, the City of Colorado Springs celebrated the Pike’s Peak Centennial. The event attracted from around Colorado and all over the nation. Special excursion trains were run from Pueblo and Denver, and many leading hotels in town were filled to capacity. Always eager to cash in on tourism, The D & RG (Denver and Rio Grand Railroad) advertising departments distributed brochures describing the festivities,” writes Allen C. Lewis in his 2006 photo book “Railroads of the Pikes Peak Region, 1900-1930.”
But the D & RG was not the only railroad that promoted the event.
“The 1906 Pikes Peak Centennial was a major event for Colorado Springs, and a large celebration was planned. Many railroads were quick to capitalize on the celebration, including the Rock Island. The advertising departments of several railroads shared resources in an effort to attract additional passengers,” wrote Lewis. The Rock Island collaborated with Frisco Railroads on their advertising efforts.
So the hotels were full, the trains to this area were packed, and great fanfare planned and expected for the weeklong schedule of events from September 23 to September, 29 in 1906.
An effort to build a monument to Zeb Pike apparently fell flat when the coins minted to finance the effort did not sell but other elements of the celebrations were carried off without a hitch. Instead of the statue, a huge boulder from the mountains was moved into the Springs to mark the event. Also, the weather did not cooperate fully as cold and snow marred at least one presentation at the top of the mountain that week.
In addition to changing weather here in the shadow of the peak, it was a changing nation and world in 1906.
In mid April, a devastating earthquake had ravaged the Bay Area of San Francisco killing more than 3,000 people and injuring 225,000. Property damage expense ran to $400,000,000 in 1906 dollars according to the University of California at Berkeley.
In Russia, Czar Nicholas had announced the implementation of the “Fundamental Laws,” and then dissolved the Duma and began purging of the dissidents. Also, U.S troops occupied Cuba at Cuban leader Tomas Estrada Palama’s, request for intervention.
But when all was said and done, the mountain, awe-inspiring and steady, looked like it would stand and deliver for at least another 100 years.
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Ralph Carr sharpened his wits in the district


It is interesting to me that great talent seems to collect like iron filings around a magnet, even before anyone recognizes it as such. History is full of such examples: Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, and Cleopatra were of course contemporaries; Mark Twain and Nikoli Tesla palled around together and complained about Thomas Edison; and Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Horton, and Roy Orbison all shared the same studios at Sun Records back when their weekly royalty checks were less than $10 combined.
It seemed to also be true in the case of green young reporters in the early part of the last century, as illustrated by the friendship of Ralph L. Carr and Lowell Thomas.
Carr and Thomas, in fact, became lifelong buddies after first meeting when working for rival papers in Cripple Creek Gold District. Ralph Carr edited The Times of Cripple Creek, at the same time Thomas was at the Victor Record and News. The two were steadfast friends up until Carr’s Death in 1950.
Carr, himself, actually became more famous as a politician, after his career as a newsman.
“Between 1939-1943 Colorado had one of the most courageous and independent governors ever to be elected,” notes a biography by Jason Brockman in the Colorado State Archive.
“Ralph Lawrence Carr was born in Rosita, Colorado and educated in the Cripple Creek school system. After receiving his LLB from the University of Colorado, Carr moved to Victor, Trinidad, and then Antonito where he practiced law and became a publisher. Carr served as a county attorney of Conejos County, and then as Colorado Assistant Attorney General. The apex of his legal career occurred when he became a United States District Attorney. As a Republican, Carr lost this influential post when the Democratic "New Dealers" began to dominate national politics. Despite this loss he was able to stay in the public eye by becoming a powerful and prominent water/irrigation lawyer.”
In 1939 a struggling Republican Party supported Carr as their gubernatorial candidate, and won. Within the first half-hour of his term, Carr proposed a plan for a balanced budget by transferring state income taxes from public schools to the state's general fund. These immediate fiscal measures helped to save our state from imminent bankruptcy. Also due to Carr's leadership, the Legislature passed the State Reorganization Act, which greatly increased the efficiency of state government. As a result, Carr is one of the few governors known for making the Colorado bureaucracy more operative, according to the Archive.
While Carr's policies were aimed at dismantling the expensive bureaucracy of the New Deal, Carr still supported Roosevelt's foreign policy and favored American entrance into World War II after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The war with Japan initiated a chain of events that bred discrimination and intolerance toward Japanese-Americans. In 1942 an estimated 120,000 Japanese-Americans were stripped of their property and possessions. These displaced citizens were resettled in land-locked states by the War Relocation Authority so that the supposed "yellow peril" could be contained. The question on many Coloradans' minds was not whether American citizens of Japanese decent should be stripped of their rights and put in internment camps, but where the camps should be. The overwhelming opinion of the populace was typified by a series of highway billboards proclaiming, "Japs keep going."
In other states, the Governors took aggressive stances against allowing relocation camps in their States.
The Governor of Wyoming went as far as saying:
“There will be Japs hanging from every pine tree.” If the Federal Government tried to relocate West Coast Japanese Americans there.
One of the few voices of reason during wartime was Governor Carr, who continued to treat the Japanese-Americans with respect and sought to help them keep their American citizenship. He sacrificed his political career to bravely confront the often dark side of human nature.
At one time, the New York Times consider him as being on the path to become president of the United States.
"If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you." Carr's selfless devotion to all Americans, while destroying his hopes for a senate seat, did in the end become extolled as, "a small voice but a strong voice."
A new book: The principled Politician: The Ralph Carr Story by 9News reporter Adam Schrager, has brought new attention to the forgotten hero and as recently as last year they renamed U.S Hwy 285 from Denver to the New Mexico state line the “Ralph Carr Memorial Highway.”
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Billy the Kid and the parallel universe


More than a few times, working as a reporter and covering a specific event, I have read accounts of the same event by other reporters in the morning paper and wondered if we were in the same universe the night before. History can be the same way, I think. Consider the legend of Billy the Kid.
“I don’t blame you for writing of me as you have. You had to believe other stories, but then I don’t know if any one would believe anything good of me anyway,” according to Billy the Kid's comment to a Las Vegas (New Mexico) Gazette reporter in December of 1880.
So many different versions of The Kid’s life have bubbled to surface over the years, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to separate fact from fiction, real from make-believe.
Popularity of the story and embellishments in the form of fabrication, speculation, and supposition for the last 130 years, only add to the difficulty in locating the truth.
Historians generally can’t agree on his date of birth, his real name, where he was from, crimes he committed, number of men he killed, or even when he was killed. Shoot, they can’t even decide if he shot people with his left hand, right hand, or both.
The origins of the legend may explain some of that.
The first widely-circulated version of the story came from the man who claimed to be his killer, Pat Garrett, and a biographer, Ash Upson, who helped Garrett write “The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid,” shortly after he hunted him down and shot him in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in the summer of 1881. Various accounts have Garrett and Billy the Kid as friends, or at least acquaintances. But Garrett’s version of the story, a year after The Kid’s reported death, is considered by many to be self-serving and sensational to enhance the Sheriff’s own image. Other suspicious facts, such as Ash Upson’s recorded birthday coinciding with The Kid’s, and details of his life and death, (i.e. 21 murders, one for every year of his life) don’t universally hold water.
The only known photograph of him further distorted the story when, though the young outlaw appears to be left-handed in it because of the positions of his guns, it was revealed that the ferrotyped photo had been flopped by examining the Winchester rifle that appears in the photo. Unfortunately, that was discovered after the 1958 film “The Left-Handed Gun” starring Paul Newman.
Perhaps one of the most interesting disputes over the life of Billy the Kid is the date of his death. And I guess that is at least one way that Colorado figures into the picture. Several people have claimed that the young outlaw was not killed by Garrett in Fort Sumner in 1881, but instead, the death was faked and “the Kid” lived out his days in other locales.
In 1949, “Brushy Bill,” also known as Ollie P. Roberts claimed to actually be the outlaw, sought a pardon from the governor of New Mexico, but died shortly after making public his claim. His hometown of Hico, Texas, however has capitalized enough on the idea that they now host the Billy the Kid Museum. John Miller’s family, in Prescott, Arizona made a similar claim.
Which brings us to the Colorado tie.
After his reported death in 1881, Billy the Kid sightings were made in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Colorado. Claims were made that he lived under his many aliases (Billy McCarty, William H. Bonney) and mischievously flaunted his identity.
The Meeker Hotel, for example can show you the faded signature of one “William H. Bonney” lingering in the dusty hotel registry from the summer of 1889.
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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hayman Fire and the newspaper


For three intense weeks in June of 2002, the Hayman fire, Colorado’s largest wildland fire in recorded history, ravaged our circulation area. Hayman burned over 137,000 acres of prime forest in five counties, destroyed at least 132 homes and reduced over 800 other structures to ash piles.
The Ute Pass Courier and The Gold Rush were paid weekly news products servicing the U.S. Highway 24 corridor with circulations of about 4,000 and 1,200 respectively. They were produced in Woodland Park, Colo., and delivered by U.S. Mail on Wednesday. A total market coverage shopper was also put together at the same location and mailed, bulk rate, to every mail box in Teller County. I was the publisher at the time of the fire of these three products and managed operations and about 20 full and part-time employees. We printed at a centralized plant 50 miles away in Castle Rock, Colo.
Highway 24 snakes its way up through Ute Pass and the communities of Manitou Springs, Cascade, Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park, Woodland Park and then meanders over the ridge at Divide and drops down into Florissant.
Eventually it finds its way to Lake George. The fire started a few miles northwest of Lake George and then traveled, mostly along the South Platte River watershed, torching, scorching and threatening subdivisions and our readers homes and land.
For weekly newspapers such as The Courier and The Gold Rush, covering breaking national spot news on deadline in the same environment with radio, TV and daily newspapers was an awesome challenge. With four full and part-time news employees covering six or seven communities 60 or 70 miles apart, it was tough getting the papers out every week. Now try to beat outfits that send teams (larger than our whole staff, publisher and paper carriers included) out for up-to-the-minute reports.
For members of our staff at the newspaper, the weeks of stress related to intense long-term sustained coverage of a big story was compounded by whether or not their house, or place of employment, or both might burn. And all their friends and neighbors were in a similar predicament.
Tuesday, June 18, tested our collective nerves the most, I believe. Woodland Park rests in a bowl. In the sky above the ridges surrounding us, the air was filled with smoke and was an ominous bright pink in color. City officials with bull horns were driving up and down the streets warning residents that they were on standby evacuation alert.
Reports vary on how close we were to being evacuated that night in Woodland Park. Some officials say 15 minutes was all that separated us from the “trigger points” on evacuation. At the newspaper office, we went as far as pulling our main servers and made plans to put the next week’s papers out in staffers’ homes and/or the printing plant in Castle Rock.
We were a Macintosh-based operation and pulling servers meant backing up everything by burning CDs and grabbing two G3 blue boxes. Theoretically, we could have put PDF pages together on any Mac and e-mailed them to the plant to be imaged through the raster image processor — theoretically. Fortunately we didn’t have to test the theory.
If Highway 24 was closed, we were to drop mail deliveries at the U.S. Postal Service’s Fountain distribution center at the south edge of Colorado Springs and carriers would originate from there instead of two post offices in Woodland Park and one in Cripple Creek.
Tuesday night, the fire burned up to the Manitou Experimental Forest about seven miles from town and then fell down and went to sleep. Our offices and other businesses and residences in Woodland Park were removed from standby evacuation warnings two days later.
Our fire coverage ran through much of the main news sections in the coming weeks but we also tried to dedicate four broadsheet pages in the center of the paper as an information guide for relief efforts.
As that was updated, and as needs changed, the pages became more of a forum for people in the community to give their take on what was happening.
In addition to our own staff coverage, we felt it was important to offer our readers a mix of submitted material as well. Some of the voices brought forward in our pages included a diary of the first weeks of the fire as seen through eyes of local volunteer firefighter, exceptional photos from those documenting the loss of their homes, and excellent accounts of animal rescue efforts from those involved.
For three weeks during the height of the coverage, we overran our primary product, The Ute Pass Courier, by about 500 papers. About half of the overrun was distributed free at Red Cross and Salvation Army shelters in Woodland Park, Divide and Lake George. The rest of the additional papers sold on the newsstands and to locals who continued to wander into our office for months after the fire, saying they missed the paper during the conflagration.
For years afterward, we continued covering the fire in various aspects. The effects on the tourist-reliant business community, the government responses, the cleanup, the flooding, and all the evaluation and Monday morning quarterbacking were continuous elements of our weekly products. Personally, I know I will always remember how ragged we felt, even months after the intense initial three weeks of baptism by fire. Today, talking with survivors of Hayman and hearing about their experiences still brings back images in my mind of that weird pink, smoky glow on ridges above Woodland Park.
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Texas Seven out the front window



One Monday morning more than seven years ago, we watched out the front window of the Ute Pass Courier newspaper office in Woodland Park, Colo., as multiple emergency vehicles began filling up the newspaper parking lot.
“No information at this time,” is what they emergency staff told us when we tried to find out what was going on.
After nearly 20 minutes of being completely in the dark of what kind of operation was taking place in our own neighborhood, we discovered that police, including local city and county officers, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, FBI and federal marshals, arrested members of the Texas Seven in the Coachlight mobile home park directly to the east of us.
The seven inmates made their break from a maximum-security prison near San Antonio, Texas, six weeks prior to the excitement near our office. Before showing up in our town, police say the fugitives killed an Irving, Texas, police officer, shooting him 11 times and then running over him as they looted a sporting goods store for clothing, weapons, ammunition and more than $70,000 in cash.
On August 14, 2008, Michael Anthony Rodriguez became the first of the gang to be executed for his part in the killing of Irving Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve in 2000. The rest of the surviving Seven’s cases are in various stages of appeal in the Texas courts.
Rodriguez, claiming a religious conversion on death row, asked for years that his appeals be dropped so that he could face his punishment and stand a better chance at going to heaven.
Three of the escapees were surrounded in Woodland Park by a police SWAT team at a convenience store a few miles down the road as they left the Coachlight RV Park to get their morning coffee. At the same time that was happening, police surrounded the RV in the park with two other fugitives inside. By using a bullhorn, police were able to get one of the two in the RV to surrender. The holdout, Ron Harper, took his own life by shooting himself twice in the chest. He used two different weapons, according to information released later by the county coroner. Two of the men remained at large for two more days and were finally captured in a Colorado Springs hotel room about 15 miles from here.
By the time we knew what was happening, the calls from Texas television stations, CNN and other national media were already coming in. At times, three people from our newspaper would be on a phone with TV stations or other news organizations. With only four voice lines, it made it tough to get our own business taken care of. The TV stations would call and then pass us back and forth between affiliates, live talk shows, and various news programs. By late afternoon, however, area phone lines became too busy to call us or anyone else in Woodland Park.
From Monday night until early Wednesday morning, TV trucks with satellite dishes on top and shivering reporters out front, stretched from the bottom of our parking lot, down a half mile of Highway 24. We loaned phone lines, fax machines, desk space, and offered directions, travel advice and restaurant recommendations for reporters and photographers working for outfits including Reuters, The New York Times, America’s Most Wanted, Time, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune and others.
The media circus gradually split up and migrated to several nearby locations including the Teller County Jail, the Teller County Courthouse in Cripple Creek, and down the hill to Colorado Springs where the last two were captured.
Reporter stragglers for various national publications and TV shows were still wandering into our office a month later.
In the midst of the excitement that Tuesday morning, reporters and photographers from The Denver Post, working a story about the little newspaper office near the big story, had a good laugh about our light tables.
Their amusement with our antique equipment, the instant info and live feeds, along with the exposure to national media’s top-of-the-line technology made us realize how fast the news business is evolving, even in the weekly newspaper world.
Granted, our papers were probably about seven years behind where we should be in terms of technology, but how things have changed, even for a one- or two-horse operation like ours. Seven years ago, a small weekly probably wouldn’t be moving photos and pages around on the Internet. No PDF workflows. No affordable digital cameras. No cell phones that worked in our mountains. No laptops connected to the cell phones to file stories with. Not even much of a World Wide Web.
This story broke on a Monday, which from a deadline standpoint was not bad for us as a weekly newspaper. We print our main product, the Ute Pass Courier, Tuesday afternoon and are on the street by Wednesday morning. Our initial coverage was very similar to that of the local dailies and national reporters.
On that first day, everybody was being fed much of the same info as fast as the police could pull it together. Tuesday, a few minutes before we were leaving for the printer, we received word that the police had found what they thought to be the remaining two fugitives’ van, and were conducting a room-by-room search of nearby hotel rooms in Colorado Springs. With this information, we ran with a small update box on the front of our paper near the main write-through.
As fast-moving as this story was, however, by the time we hit the street with our edition Wednesday, the remaining two fugitives were in custody, having been talked out of a Holiday Inn room with the promise of five minutes of airtime each on a local TV station.
Wednesday morning, after speaking with our news staff and realizing how frustrated they were at not being able to keep up with the story with our regular weekly schedule, we bumped the press time for another of our weekly news products and made arrangements for a special edition that would hit Thursday night. We printed enough of the special editions to insert in all three of our weekly nameplates, each having different drop dates beginning with Friday and carrying through the following week. We also printed an additional 2,500 to distribute free as soon as they were back from the 100-mile round-trip to the printer Thursday afternoon. All 2,500 were distributed to countertops at local high-traffic areas in our market by Friday night.
Competing with local dailies, national newspapers, magazines, television and news services that had larger crews dispatched on this story than we have staff in the whole building, we tried to put a good package together with "first-light" information that still had a shelf life into the next week. The special edition stretched our resources to see-through levels, but when it was put to bed, we felt pretty good about both our first-day information and the special section.
One of our reporters, Pat Hill, put together two excellent color pieces on the role local emergency services played in the raid. She then left immediately for an emergency appendectomy before the editors had a chance to read her stories.
Other reporters on our staff were offered as much as $250 per quote to shag quotes for national media outlets.
Even after a few months, locals were still talking about it, of course, and comparing their own Texas Seven stories. A few area businesses with little or no shame are trying to capitalize on the national attention, by doing things like offering "Texas Seven pizzas" or trying to auction off a pool table on Ebay that the infamous group reportedly played on. I’ve even heard members of the local chamber of commerce half-jokingly suggest changing the chamber motto from "City Above the Clouds" to "Escape to Woodland Park."
But most people here in Woodland Park are just happy that none of the locals were hurt, the bad guys were caught, and law enforcement was able to perform so efficiently.
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Monday, December 1, 2008

Yule log warms through the ages


Photos courtesy of Palmer Lake Historical Society
/Lucretia Vaile Museum

A heart-warming celebration of holiday season, steeped in tradition, and shared with friends, has way of taking the edge off tough times.
To put things in context, a person has to think about what was going on back in 1934.
That year turned out to be the worst year of the ‘dust bowl’ and the depths of the ‘Great Depression.’ Dust storms ruined nearly 100 million acres and damaged another 200 million acres of cropland in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. The gross national product of this country was cut in half from 1929 to 1933 and nearly 16 million people -- a third of available work force -- were out of work. More than 2 million were homeless and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was forced to declare a ‘bank holiday’ the day after his inauguration.
Also in 1934, Adolph Hitler became the Fuehrer of Germany when the chancellery and presidency were united. Bonnie and Clyde died in a bullet storm from automatic weapons fire and shotgun blasts (at least 130 rounds) in an ambush by Texas and Louisiana lawmen. John Dillinger suffered a similar fate outside a movie theater in Chicago. Mao Zedong began the ‘long march north’ with 100,000 soldiers. And to boot, the year goes down in the record books as the warmest in history. Remarkably, it still holds that record.
But here in Palmer Lake, in the festive spirit of the holidays, it was shaping up as year to remember.
For 1934 was the year that a small, well-dressed librarian in a hat, who loved the arts, brought back a splinter of a log from Lake Placid, New York.
Though Lucretia Vaile is fondly remembered for many accomplishments and noteworthy acts of kindness to the town she loved, the founding of the Christmas Yule Log Celebration stands out, especially this time of the season. It has become one of the most enduring and endearing celebrations of the holiday spirit in the state and perhaps the nation. Coincidentally, just one year later, another long-held tradition -- the lighting of the star on Sundance Mountain, helped seal Palmer Lake’s reputation as a Christmas town.
According to the Palmer Lake Profile – 1920 to 1972 portion of the updated Marion Savage Sabin’s book “Palmer Lake: A Historical Narrative,” the Depression brought many hardships, the W.P.A., and little growth to Palmer Lake. But it also brought us the Yule Log celebration.
“An old English custom was adopted in 1934 which has far-reaching effect on the town and its residents,” the book holds. “At the suggestion of Miss Lucretia Vaile, Miss (Evalena) Macy and the young people of the church (Little Log Church) sent for a splinter of the Lake Placid Yule Log in New York and organized the first Palmer Lake Yule Log ceremony.”
The event was held in the Charley Orr-Dr. E.M. Spaulding home and fifty people wearing red or green capes, went on the hunt in Sherwin Canyon. The first Yule Log was discovered by C.R. Hays, principal of the elementary school.
In 1935, the ceremony became a community project and as crowds grew, it was moved to the Town Hall in 1937 and has been there since.
“Every year except in World War II, this heart warming, free ceremony has occurred on a Sunday before Christmas. Hundreds of Yule Log splinters have been sent to communities to start other ceremonies,” says Sabin’s book.
"It started because Lucretia thought it would be a fun thing to do here," Susan Davis, curator of the Lucretia Vaile Museum in Palmer Lake at the time, was quoted in a Gazette story by Linda DeVal in 2001.
In the same story, Virgil Watkins, then president of the Palmer Lake Historical Society, said Vaile participated in the early festivals, and "she even got us a sliver of the Yule Log from Lake Placid (N.Y.) to start our first fire."
This year, the president of the celebration, Kurt Voelker, says he expects from 200 to 450 people. “It depends on the weather and what football games are on.”
The Yule Log Celebration itself, begins at 1 p.m. at the Town Hall on Dec. 11.
Wearing red and green capes, every year the crowd searches for the log with a notch on the end and a red ribbon. “It is eight to twelve inches in diameter and eight to twelve feet long and is cut on town property,” Voelker said.
Voelker says entertainment has been lined up and will be provided while the search is underway. “Nothing too fancy, but it all is very nice.”
How much entertainment?
“It depends on how long it takes to find the log, it has been found in few minutes before, and sometimes it takes much longer,” he said.
Part of the log is then burned in a townhall ceremony in which people gather to drink wassail, carol and watch the Yule log burn. The event provides an excellent opportunity to take the edge off the hustle and bustle of a busy season, forget about tough times, and warm your heart in the spirit of the season.
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