Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is that wild woman still wailing?


When silver was still king in San Juans, miners told the story of a wild woman’s blood-curdling scream that periodically jarred the sand out of their sluice boxes up near the head of Horse Gulch on the ridge between Dunton and Rico.
Loggers who followed, told tales of the same scream as they canted around logs in the lake around Barlow. Acid plant workers had similar yarns, as they walked back and forth between the mountain towns for dances and such, in the ‘30s, ‘40s and the ‘50s.
Some claimed it was mountain lions. Or the winds whistling through the bare gaps above timberline. But for many who had heard it first-hand, the scream had a human quality, though admittedly, it could have been from another world.
The trail snaked its way up Horse Gulch through the ‘quakies,’ pine and spruce. Then out into the open on an old roadbed with steep bare slopes above it, where the snow runs in slides, even in driest of winters.
It is best to ski in the several miles, or use the snowshoes, by the light of the moon because of avalanche danger, especially that particular year -- with seven, maybe eight, feet of snow in the flat areas. The five skiers parked the trucks down near Orville Jahnke’s place, strapped on the equipment, made their way around the gate used to close Lizard Head Pass, and were headed up through the darkness on the trail by 9 p.m. It was slow going up through the trees, but after reaching the open areas, a person could see forever up the steep embankments.
Finally, on a wide, flat bench that originates on the dark side of the gulch, and in the daytime, reaches clear out into the sun -- the trail leads to the big cabin, the smaller one, and other outbuildings. Positioned on a 100-year mining patent, the buildings look almost like a little town there in the high country. The main cabin hangs near the bench’s edge so it is easier to get rid of the snow accumulation on the one side.
When skiing group reached the cabins about midnight, two of them tunneled down to the door on the high side with an aluminum scoop they brought with. Another two went to shovel down to the outhouse with a beat-up scoop they found hanging under the rafters on the small cabin, and the last one was in charge of taking care of the skis and other equipment.
All the doors opened to inside in this country. If not, a person would have to shovel all week to get enough space for a door to swing outward like some external doors in town.
The plan was to try to eventually get the main cabin warm enough so the snow would slide off the tin roof and down over the benches edge into the creek. That’s the main reason they were up there. The seven feet of snow needed to be removed this winter to avoid roofs collapsing. A few years earlier, in ’78, everyone was complaining about a dry winter. Not a soul would complain about too little snow this year.
In less than 30 minutes, the skier/shovelers had the front door open and were working on getting a fire started and the propane lights working. Little steps made of snow and ice in the tunnel allowed them to navigate down the nine-foot drift into the cozy cabin. Windows on the ledge side of the cabin provided plenty of light from the moonlit snowscape inside to get the fire started.
They spread out their sleeping bags in the floor near the sunken fireplace, at least for the first night. When they able to get the temperature above freezing, they could move back into the bedrooms. In an effort to do so, they filled and stoked up the cook stove on the one end of the cabin and banked huge logs in the main fireplace on the other end.
At sunup, three of them grabbed shovels and headed over to take care of snow removal on the smaller cabin and the two remaining set to work, trying to conjure up breakfast. By 8:30, the starving shovel crew switched places with the breakfast bunch and they traded back and forth for the rest of the morning as someone got cold or wet or hungry, or all three.
By noon it was a tolerable 55 degrees in the center of the room and water was starting to run on the ledge side of the eaves. Around 4 in the afternoon, there was a slow rumble, a muffled crunch and then a big loud swoosh as two thirds of the sunny side snow pack slid off the roof. By sundown that side of the roof was clear and the shadowed side of the building was nearly bare as well. It looked like they would be able to ski all day tomorrow.
In celebration of their progress that day, the little cabin crowd stretched the poker game into the night. When one of them whined about funny noises, ‘like a woman screamin’ following his trip to the outhouse, the rest dismissed it as too much bourbon, too much imagination and too little experience in high country woods.
Most of them struggled a bit the next morning with the effects of limited sleep and some were slowed by their own excesses. It was at least 9 a.m. before the first of them crawled up through the tunnel out into the intensely bright, white snow and snapped into a pair of ski bindings.
They spent the day playing in the deep powder and didn’t make it back to the cabin for lunch until at least 2 p.m. By the time they had eaten, re-stoked the fires, changed socks, climbed back out through the tunnel and snapped back into the bindings, the sun was already edged by the high canyon walls.
The sun’s low angle and the 13,000 and 14,000 foot high peaked ridges made for spectacular shadow play, photos and the best skiing ever. The five pressed higher up the draw to see if they could see Dunton from the ridgeline. Though it was starting to get dark, the ridge loomed only a few hundred yards above them and they told themselves that they couldn’t ski out past those slide areas until 9 or 10 p.m. anyway. So they pressed on.
The first low moans went mostly unnoticed. But as they topped the high saddle promontory, all five couldn’t help but hear a sound like the wailing of a banshee. But what was it? It sounded like crying, or screaming, or what?
And then one of them spotted the dark figure, barely moving at first, then shuffling faster and faster in the shadows, near the rock outcropping almost a quarter of mile away, down on the Dunton side.
Although it was way too far off to say for sure, it looked like someone on snowshoes, a small man, or a woman, with a pack or something on his or her back.
Or did they see it at all? It would be too dangerous to try and follow. But they did see it, didn’t they? And screams, or wailing, or cries … those were real, weren’t they?
No one is going to believe this, they all agreed.
Skiing out, after gathering their stuff and resealing the cabin, they still fumbled with it.
As they carefully edged down toward Rico and out to the blacktop, the thought echoed between them in the steep canyon’s snow-buried walls.
No one is going to believe this.
And no one did. Years later, they began to doubt it themselves.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

CCC Camp info goes around, comes around


When looking for information about the CCC Camp in Monument recently, I ran into Mike Smith’s extremely valuable blog about the Civilian Conservation Corp titled “Forest Army.”
Not only did Smith know about the Monument camp, but his grandfather had spent time there.
“In a 1970s newspaper interview, my grandfather William Rutherford stated he went into USFS service with the third CCC camp in Colorado and left the service while at the last CCC camp in Colorado - the last of his USFS letters are from the Monument camp, so I presume that was the last camp. (It may have been the last USFS CCC camp in Colorado - a distinction the uninitiated might miss,)” Smith wrote in a recent email.
He explained the information he had available, originally came from here in Monument as the result of an inquiry by him and a 1995 note from the postmaster in Monument, stating that they passed the inquiry along to a local bookstore, Covered Treasures.
“Leona Lacroix at Covered Treasures wrote me a note stating that they had passed my inquiry along to "The Tribune" and to the Pike's Peak Region of the USFS. I did not receive any correspondence from the newspaper but the District Ranger sent me the excerpts from the 1938 district annual, parts of which I've passed along to you now. (Neat how research sometimes works.)”
Smith asked if I found any reference to a William I. "Bill" Rutherford from Georgetown, Colorado in the CCC camps, to let him know as that was the aforementioned Grandfather.
“He was hired by the USFS in mid-1933 and worked at Wuanita Hot Springs, Norwood, Delta, Gardner, San Isabel, Idaho Springs and Monument - perhaps more,” Smith writes.
“He worked on the new divide road, did insect control in the Uncompagre and fence construction out of the Norwood camp. He was at a FERA camp in Florence for a short time, working with transient workers. He fought forest fire in the Hardscrabble Creek area and was in charge of the quarry that produced all the stone for the dam at San Isabel (on Charles Creek). He was in charge of the Gardner camp for a time and wrote about bad flooding they experienced. I believe he had some involvement in construction near La Veta, including a tunnel project.”
But the family was headquartered in Georgetown.
“Frankly, he didn't particularly like Georgetown and wrote often of how much he liked the country down around Gardner and Rye. I think he hoped to bring his whole family down there, but alas they stayed in Georgetown and today one of my uncles still lives there.”
The file he received from the district ranger in 1995 offer insight into the coming and goings of the camp.
“I don't know what was there in 1942 when they liquidated the place but I'd be interested to know what's still standing today.”
“My Monument file is rather thin, but it does include excerpts from a 1938 district annual. The excerpt covers the Woodland Park, Colorado Springs and Monument Camps. I'm attaching the three pages that deal with the Monument Camp.”
The information in the district annual is as follows.

In May 1938, 1st Lieut. Alvin C. Jenkins, then commanding Company 3810, CCC, Monument, Colorado, was advised that his Company was to be disbanded, and that the camp was to be reoccupied by a new company from the First Corps Area. Accordingly, the members were sent to three nearby camps: 1st Lieut. C.A. Davis was transferred to the Oklahoma District: and Lieut. Jenkins was attached to Camp SCS-5-C Springfield, Colorado. Adviser J.W. Herrick and Contract Physician H.B. Frosh were retained to function with the incoming company.
Meanwhile, at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, many CCC enrollees were gathering. On July 18, 1938, Company 2124 was organized with Lieut. Walter E. Quinlan Commanding, and 2nd Lieut. As Junior Officer. The trip west was begun on July 20, 1938. Of course, all the members were eager to start for the new location because it meant travel, new sights, and perhaps a little adventure. Their enthusiasm dimmed somewhat, however, as the train rolled forward, and the monotonous scenery failed to fulfill expectations. Once their destination was reached, a different feeling took place – a feeling hard to describe. The lasting beauty of the mountains, the magnificence of the vari-colored rocks, ant gorgeous panorama of far-reaching plains studded with tableland made an impressionthat was to last a lifetime. Yes, their new home at the foot of rugged Mt. Herman was indeed a welcome sight.
The New Englanders found a well-maintained camp – one that had been built from the ground floor by Company 3810. This Company was formed in July 1935 and established in Dublin, Texas, as a soil conservation project. When the work in that vicinity was fulfilled, the company moved to Monument, Colorado. The men were accompanied by Captain Paul N. Ivancich Comanding Officer: 1st Lieut. J.E. Burch, Company Officer: Captain George A. Ashfraugh, Camp Surgeon: and Mr. R.G. Stevenson, Educational Adviser.
The site for the now well developed camp was overgrown with brush and covered with rocks. As the only permanent building completed at this time was the mess hall, tents were set up until more permanent buildings could be established. Within three months, the portable barracks had arrived, and their erection gave the camp an appearance of permanency. The buildings were arranged circularly so as to allow convenience in passing from one barrack to another.
Superintendent William Brisbane and his competent staff of foreman instructed the new men in the work which they were to carry on. They were told that the primary function of the Camp’s work program was to furnish the necessary labor for raising and shipping of seedlings from the Monument Nursery to the various United State Forests throughout this region. It was pointed out that this process of raising trees consisted of a series of operations that varied with the seasons. Cone collecting, seed extracting, seeding, weeding, cultivating, watering, shading, protecting, transplanting, and stock distributing were given the major divisions for each year’s work. In addition to these regular Nursery operations incidental to the raising of trees, considerable construction work was completed by company 3810. The blacksmith shop, seed extractory, implement shed, seed storage building, tree packing shed, garage, barn and two pump houses will long remain as a tribute to the superior workmanship of these enrollees. Interest in the project ran high for the members realized that they had an excellent opportunity to learn the nursery business as a career. Enrollees Corbell and Little were rewarded for their distinguished work by being selected as semi-skilled foreman.
Sports were extremely popular with the Texans, and their teams were consitently among the best in the District. The baseball team proved its worth by winning by winning all but one of its games in a difficult schedule. An enthusiastic basketball team, not to be outdone, ran up a score of victories with only two defeats. Swimming, boxing, and tumbling teams also created records of which the Company was justly proud.
Classes of study were organized, and the educational program was functioning smoothly when Mr. Stevenson was transferred to Arizona. Mr. Vern C. Howard was sent to take his place with the disbandment of Camp SP-12-C which was located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He brought with him radio equipment, woodworking tools, and wide assortment of books to strengthen the educational set-up. Recognizing the fact that more adequate teaching space was necessary, Mr. Howard constructed a schoolhouse entirely built from scrap lumber. Assistant Educational Adviser James Leasure, who had learned radio while a member of the Civilian Conservation Corp, established his own station using the call letters W9ZCX. He sent and received messages to and from every part of the world.
At the present time well balance educational program is being maintained. Planned courses in academic, vocational and job training subjects are conducted regularly, with determining factors being the needs and desires of members. Unusual interest has been taken in the informal groups of photography, woodwork, dancing, and the various arts and crafts. Week-end trips to the Royal Gorge, the State Penitentiary, the coal mines, the Garden of the Gods, and Pikes Peak have already been taken with other scenic spots remaining on the “must see list.”
Dr. Samuel Lilienthol, one of the first Camp Surgeons to go on duty in the district, was assigned to Company 2124 in August,1938. Since his arrival, many significant improvements have been made in the Mess Hall and the Infirmary.
The work of the 2124th Company is far from complete. Its actual history still lies in the future. Mr. Donald J. Hodges, present Project Superintendent, has intensive plans for the present and the future. Several new buildings will be erected, a large amount of fence will be installed, roads will be built, and new areas will be developed to further expand the Nursery. Two side camps are in operation this summer. One to locate at Devil’s Head is developing a new camp ground, and the other situated at Indian Creek is constructing a road which will make it possible to thin a large area of the forest land to market Christmas trees.

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Not in Love, but still a Wild Bunch






A while back, I wrote a speculative column wondering why the Wild Bunch, considering their time of operation and amount of activity in the Cripple Creek District, never were given credit for jobs in the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp.” After all, that is where the money was.
I wrote that perhaps the answer was Love.
Love was a small village at the far east end of the district, made up of ranchers, a few miners, sawmill workers and such. I thought it possible that is was also a hideout for itinerant bank and train robbers. One of the sources I referenced in that article, Jan MacKell, who has served for years as the director of the Cripple Creek District Museum, set me straight a few weeks ago.
“I just ran across your Maybe the answer was Love. Restless Native piece about the Wild Bunch hiding out in Love. You referenced something I had written about it. Well alas, further research revealed that the Bob Lee I found in Love was not the Bob Lee of the Wild Bunch. (Bob was a cousin to Harvey Logan and was implicated in the 1899 robbery at Wilcox, Wyoming - the one where they blew the train car to smithereens). Still, the Wild Bunch did hang around in these parts, particularly after the robbery, and Bob Lee was arrested at the Antlers Saloon (formerly Uncle Sam's Casino) in March of 1900. Just thought you would want to know.”
Of course I would, and I asked about where her information originated.
“Some of it came from Pinkerton files and other came from books about the wild bunch, I had many sources when I researched this. The Pinkerton files are tricky - some have been lost, some are open to the public and some are closed files. I got some information from Wyoming since that is where the Wilcox robbery was. J. Maurice Finn was Bob Lee's lawyer and a newspaper account I read had him huffing and puffing all over the courtroom. Funny to picture.”
Indeed it is.
And while we are in the speculation mode, I have always wondered about whether Etta Place (Harry Longabaugh, a.k.a. Sundance kid's love interest) might really be Ann or Josie Bassett as some historians have postulated. The Bassetts, of the Brown's Hole area in Northern Colorado and Utah and famous for their interaction with Tom Horn, had numerous connections to the gang, but for whatever reason, have never been definitively linked and most discount the possibility. The first photo above is Ann Bassett and the second is image of Longabaugh and Place taken in New York.
Incidentally, MacKell is the author of several books about rough and tumble times in the mining districts including “Brothels, Bordellos and Bad Girls,” and has a new title scheduled to appear in March called “Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains,” but I guess that is all together a different kind of “love.”
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Sunday, February 1, 2009

From Victor to the White House


For a short time in 1905, Charles G. Ross was editor of the Victor Record. A fact, in itself, is not particularly remarkable. The Victor Record was a happening place for a recently minted journalism graduate of the University of Missouri. More interesting, however, is where the young editor ended up.
On Dec. 5, 1950, Charles G. Ross died of a heart attack at his desk in the White House, moments after concluding the afternoon radio and press conference for Harry S. Truman. Ross served as press secretary to the president from 1945 until his death.
Ross’s long and distinguished journalism career included teaching journalism at the University of Missouri, serving as chief Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and winning the Pulitzer Prize serving as the editorial page editor of the St. Lois Post-Dispatch, among other things.
“My advice to all presidents is not to put a newspaper man to meet the press. Choose a politician … Newspapermen expect a former colleague to deal with them on their own terms. When he doesn’t – and often he can’t – they are resentful.
On the contrary, they expect on the average amount of assistance from a press secretary who has not had newspaper training,” wrote Ross in the Post-Dispatch in 1931, years before his childhood friend Harry Truman countered that advice.
Ross, Truman, and Bess Wallace were members of the class of 1901 at Central High School in Independence. Bess would later marry Harry at the Presbyterian Church across the street.
According to the Jackson County Examiner that reported the commencement exercises, “Charles G. Ross has a wonderful record in 11 years ward and high school. He has in that time never missed a roll call.” He was also mentioned as first in his class in scholarship, according to the article references through materials in the Kansas City Public Library.
A little over a month prior to his death, on Nov. 1, 1950, Ross is credited with pulling the president away from a window during an assassination attempt at the White House, according to historian Jim Caldwell.
A White House guard was killed and two others were wounded when two Puerto Rico nationals tried to storm Blair House on the White House grounds. The president, taking a nap at the time in Blair House, rushed to the window in his underwear to see what was going on. A guard outside yelling at him and Ross, pulling him away from the window, may have saved his life. Of the two attackers, one was killed in front of the house and the other was gravely on the front steps leading to it.
Of Truman, Ross was quoted on the incident, “I never in my life saw a calmer man.”
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