Sunday, April 26, 2009

Right place at the wrong time


“Four corners.” Almost everyone used the label to describe that part of the country. The whole general area, for 50 to 100 miles in every direction, was identified by that cement slab surrounded by guardrail out in desert just off of Highway 160 -- I couldn’t believe it.
I also couldn’t tell you when the first time I visited the monument, but it must have been a windy, early-spring day sometime in the 1960s. Tired of snow and mud at 7,000 feet altitude on the Dolores River, the whole family would pile in the car and head for someplace lower, warmer, drier.
Memory tells me it was certainly warmer and drier, but windy enough to blow your eyes dry, when we got out of the car down there. Just a few hearty Navajos with rickety back-sheltered, car hood ‘storefronts’ were offering jewelry, maybe some frybread, and miscellaneous other wares -- to us, and a few crazy tourists.
Even my little seven- or eight-year-old brain was developed enough at that time to figure out that this thing is in the wrong place.
That’s why, when the Associated Press reported that an 1868 survey was off by as much as two and a half miles west of where it should be, then followed it up a few days later with a correction saying it is off, but now its 1,800 feet east of where it really should be, I was a little surprised.
I don’t think I was the only one.
In fact, Park Manager Dewayne Johnson was quoted in the Farmington (New Mexico) Times, “It’s nothing new. It has been questioned before. We were a little startled that they are bringing this up now,” he said.
“The majority of people that thought this was a big deal are non-natives. It appeared that the media broke this story, but we’ve known it,” said Johnson according to an Alysa Landry story in the Times.
An Associated Press follow-up cites Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for the National Geodetic Survey, which defines and manages the national coordinate system, as saying that though the marker is about 1,807.14 feet east of where it should have been placed, given the tools of the time, it was amazing they were able to do what they did.
“Their ability to replicate the exact point –what they did was phenomenal, what they did was spot on. Nailed it,” AP quotes Doyle.
The story holds that there would be about a 2.5-mile difference if measured to the 109th Meridian west of Greenwich, England. But statute creating Colorado's western boundary called for measuring it from the Washington Meridian, which passed through the old Naval Observatory in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Besides, this is not the first time it has come up. Colorado was a tough state to survey.
“At first glance, Colorado looks like a perfect rectangle,” notes Historical Atlas of Colorado by Thomas Noel, Paul Mahoney and Richard Stevens. “A closer look, however reveals only its eastern boundary is a straight line – the other three sides are crooked due to survey errors. None of the corners are precise,” says the 1994 book.
One error in Archuleta County, by Ehud Darling, was not resolved until 1960 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided the boundary dispute between New Mexico and Colorado when it held that an official boundary survey – even an erroneous one – was valid.
“Thus Darling’s error persists, as do A.D. Richard’s error, in his 1873 survey of the Wyoming border; Rollin J. Reeves’ 1879 blunder on the Utah border; and Chandler Robbin’s 1875 mistake, in placing the Four Corners marker a half mile east of its true position,” writes Noel, Mahoney and Stevens.
The first marker, placed in 1875 and made of sandstone, apparently had to be moved and the current location has been located where it is now since 1912.
In 1992, the cement (with guard rails of my memory), was replaced by a granite marker with a bronze disk in the center.
“And, two years after a granite marker embedded with a bronze disk was placed in 1992, surveyors reported the state borders on the marker did not match the actual boundaries,” according the Farmington Times.
“It was out of whack,” the Times quoted Ranger Johnson. “They just turned the disk so it lined up.”
Close enough for government work.
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Murdered mysteriously, brutally, viciously


Edgerton was once a bustling little village on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad about nine miles north of Colorado Springs (near the present location of Ice Lake at the United States Air Force Academy.) It took its name from one David Edgerton who homesteaded there in 1872. Nearly 350 people called the place home by the turn of the century. There was the railroad platform, V.C. Lewis Hotel, a general store that also served as the post office and was operated by W.M. Smith, a doctor’s office, and even the Cascade Ice Company that cut ice from three reservoirs on the stone damned west fork of Monument Creek. For the most part, it was peaceful haven for ‘lungers’ and farmers, ice cutters, railroad workers and their families.
That is why news of two murders, an elderly woman and her young grandson, on a ranch two miles northwest of the Edgerton post office, was such a shock when reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette on April 29, 1888. Not only murdered, but mysteriously, brutally, and viciously.
Neighbor, S.K. Harris, and Mrs. Kearney’s daughter, a Mrs. Beach of St. Louis, discovered the victims, Mrs. M.J. Kearney and her eight-year-old grandson, little Jimmy Hand. The daughter and the neighbor had been alerted by other neighbors that perhaps something was wrong. Mrs. Beach had traveled here from Missouri after a telegram addressed to her mother, Mrs. Kearney, was undeliverable. The telegram messenger, from Husted, which was the nearest station, found all the doors at the ranch locked and no sign of any recent activity. The neighbor and the daughter decided to go see for themselves what was going on the morning of April 28.
“That afternoon they proceeded to the ranch where they found all the doors locked, strange to say, from the inside,” wrote Carl F. Mathews, in a historical paper called “Unsolved Crimes of the Pikes Peak Region,” in March of 1962. Mathews was a noted historian with the Denver Westerners and a 32-year veteran of the Bureau of Identification with the Colorado Springs Police Department. “Forcing one of the doors, they found Mrs. Kearney’s hat, bonnet and cloak in one room and on the kitchen table two pans of biscuits and some pies ready to place in the oven. A more complete examination resulted in finding two sets of dirty dishes, consisting of three plates each. One set had been used for a meal and set aside; the other on the table apparently used.”
Finding nothing more in the house they continued to search the surrounding ranch buildings.
“They went to a small stable near the house, where they made a horrible and ghastly discovery. In one corner of the little grain room was the body of Mrs. Kearney in an advanced state of decomposition, and the examination of a grain box in another corner disclosed the body of the little boy. So small was the box that one foot was left protruding. His body was not badly decomposed and blood could plainly be seen on the neck, evidently from a wound,” wrote Mathews.
“On May 1st, Coroner Davis, in company of Dr. S.A. Fisk of Denver, a friend of the family, reached the premises and it was found necessary to drag the body of Mrs. Kearney from its position in order to examine it closely. Buried in the right side of the skull was the head of a hatchet with a newly whittled handle about two feet long. Examination of the body of the little boy led Dr. Fisk to believe he had been shot but the coroner found a large gash on the side of the forehead about three inches in length, cause by the sharp edge of the hatchet.”
The police at the time followed several leads and developed a number of theories and possible suspects.
The hatchet was found about three years previous by W.H. Thompson, who had given it to a Mr. Haliday, who at one time rented the ranch.
“Thompson’s cabin was only a few hundred yards from Mrs. Kearney’s house; he cut kindling wood for her, did her chores and carried her mail from the post office for a long time,” noted Mathews in his 1962 paper. “Thompson loved his whiskey and about June 1st came to Colorado City, became drunk and was arrested. On the expiration of his sentence he became intoxicated again and while in jail let fall a word or two conveying the impression that he knew more about the murder than had been told. In one of the saloons he stated in the presence of four witnesses: ‘I killed Mrs. Kearney but I did not kill the boy.’ A preliminary hearing was held on July 24th and twice continued to July 27th, at which time Justice Gorman could find nothing to warrant holding him for trial, so he was accordingly released.”
Other possible scenarios that were suggested but never wrapped up in the form of convictions or even arrests were that the killer was a transient woodcutter hired by Mrs. Kearney, or perhaps a man she had arrested and tried for theft about three years prior to the murder, or perhaps a vagrant wandering through, that supposed she had large amounts of money stashed.
To date, no one is really sure what happened at the house and in the stable located in a deep gulch, two miles northwest of the vanished town of Edgerton. Even the roof of the lonely outpost could barely be seen from the road, and the nearest neighbor was largely considered the prime suspect. The brutal hatchet murder of the elderly Mrs. Kearney and little Jimmy Hand has never been solved.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Missy Willard is special


I originally wrote this feature in early March of 1987 while working at a paper in Saratoga, Wyoming. My story is interspersed with a short piece by Erma Bombeck that the mother in this story, Carol Willard, gave me to help explain what she was going through. Bombeck died in April, 1996.

Did you ever wonder how mothers of handicapped children are chosen? Somehow I visualize God hovering over the earth selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. As He observes, He instructs His angels to make note on a giant ledger.
“Armstrong, Beth son Patron saint Mathew. Forrest, Marjorie, daughter, patron saint Cecelia. Rutledge, Carrie, twins … give her Gerald. He’s used to profanity.”
___ Erma Bombeck


Missy Willard is special. Everyone who is in contact with her knows that. Her parents, her teachers at the Playing and Learning Center here in town, the children at the center, everyone knows how special.
Missy has a disorder known as Cerebral Palsy. “Cerebral Palsy is a general term used to describe a wide variety of conditions which result from damage to the infant brain before, during, or in the year or two following birth,” says Parents Magazine’s Mother’s Encyclopedia and Everyday Guide to Family Health.
Missy struggles with movements that you and I take for granted. It is hard work for her to muster enough strength to knock a stack of play blocks down.
Born two months premature, she spent the first three years of her life on oxygen. After her birthday in May, it was July before her parents, Mike and Carol, could even hold their child in their arms. She has additional problems with her sight and has spent more time of her four and half years in this world in the hospital than out. But everyday she makes progress.

Finally he passes a name to an angel and smiles. “Give her a handicapped child.” The angel is curious. “Why this one God? She’s so happy.”
“Exactly.” God smiles. “Could I give a handicapped child a mother who does not know laughter? That would be cruel.”


Having a handicapped child is difficult but rewarding, say the Willards.
“It has torn us apart and brought us together,” comments Mike. “It’s a big responsibility.”
“We have learned to rely on the family more. The family becomes much more important,” he said.
And they have felt their marriage stressed. “Our relationship has been through a lot but right now, I don’t think there is anything in the world that could pull us apart.”
The Willards have another daughter, Joy, who is 10-months-old and they say the little one has help a lot with Missy’s development.
“They play together all the time and they really miss each other when they are apart,” said Carol.
Carol has to spend much of her time at home with Missy and at first, she says she felt isolated. “Sometimes I felt like I just had to get out and see someone.” Mike said she was even a little jealous of him for being able to work.

“But has she the patience? Asks the angel.
“I don’t want her to have too much patience or she will drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wears of, she’ll handle it. I watched her today. She has that feeling of self and independence that is so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, that I am going to give her has his own world. She has to make it live in her world and that is not easy.”

Patty Butler, who works with Missy at the Playing and Learning Center, notes her unique way of grabbing your heart.
“She is so special, the kids and the staff just have to fall in love with her. She is doing more for this school. The kids compete to be with her. They say, ‘Please, can I help you with Missy,” Butler says.
Missy began working at the Playing and Learning Center last July when her parents moved here, says P.A.L. director Dawna Erickson. She has been involved in the Home-bound program since she was about 18-months-old.
The staff at P.A.L. works with her for two-and-a-half-hour intervals Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Bulter visits her for and hour at home on Tuesday and Thursday.
Bultler says“it is a give-and-receive” situation. “It is rewarding for me when she does respond.”
The school uses a number of tools in Missy’s training; A swing, to stimulate her sense of moving, a huge beach ball for the same stimulation, and various toys to develop her other senses, such as sound and smell. Missy is even working with computers at the school.
Mike and Carol notice any and all improvements in their child’s life. “Any little progress is wonderful,” said Mike and they live for the day-to-day progress. “She can go anywhere,” he said.

God smiles, “This one is perfect. She has just enough selfishness.”
The angel gasps, “Selfishness? Is that a virtue?”
God nods. “If she can’t separate herself from the child occasionally, she will never survive. Yes, here is the woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn’t realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a ‘spoken word.’ She will never consider a ‘step’ ordinary. When her child says ‘Momma.’ for the first time, she will be present at a miracle and know it! When she describes a tree or a sunset to her blind child, she will see it as few people ever see my creations.”


The Willards say they really like living in a small town but it has its drawbacks for Missy’s care. The respirators used to sustain her life after she was born damaged her lungs and she is still very vulnerable to colds and other sickness. She often has to be hospitalized for the slightest ailment. And with the closest hospital 40 miles away, that can create a problem.
One thing they find particularly welcoming about Saratoga is acceptance.
“Staring is a problem,” said Carol. “People stare at her and ask questions. Here they only ask once and that is it. They accept it.”

I will permit her to see clearly the things I see … ignorance, cruelty, prejudice … and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be by her side every minute of every day of her life because she is doing my work as surely as she is here by my side.”

Missy also has a lot of contact with the Willards pets, Zues the cat and Spike the dog. “In a way,” Mike said. “The animals are a part of her therapy. They play and the animals are very protective of her.”
What hurts her parents the most is their child’s suffering. “The biggest thing was that she was so sick for so long that she no longer reacted to pain. She no longer cried. They would stick needles in her and she didn’t even flinch. She became so used to it.”
With the help of her parents, her little sister, the animals and training at school, Missy continues to progress.
Mike, holding his little girl in his lap on the sofa at home, reflects. “We have come a long way, haven’t we Missy?” She flashes her heart-tugging smile and responds.

“And what about her patron saint? Askes the angel, his pen poised in mid-air.
God smiles. “A mirror will suffice.”
___Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Make new friends, they are silver and gold


If wealth makes many friends, Colorado is just about the most popular state in the nation.
The state’s mineral wealth is legendary.
According to WesternMiningHistory.com, Colorado ranks second among the gold-producing states. Nearly 75 percent of the nation’s all-time gold production yields occurred in only five states. In order of dominance, those states are California, Colorado, South Dakota, Alaska and Nevada.
“Since 1859, Colorado Mines have produced about 45 million ounces of Gold,” says the Mineral Information Institute (MII). “Colorado’s largest gold discovery was the Cripple Creek district in 1893. This one district alone produced over 22 million ounces of gold. The Cripple Creek district contains the sole remaining gold mine in Colorado with an estimated annual production of 240,000 ounces in 2000.”
In addition, MII notes that Colorado is also blessed by Molybdenum, Uranium, aquamarine, rhodochrosite, beryl and even diamond gemstones.
“Diamonds were discovered in 1975. The Kelsey Lake Mine in Larimer County began commercial production in 1996 and quickly produced some outstanding gem quality diamonds -- as large as 14 and 26 carats,” says MII’s Colorado state mineral production summary.
But you must not forget about silver.
“From 1887 to 1893 Aspen was the richest silver mining area in the US. It boasted six newspapers, two banks, a water works, telephone service and the distinction of being one of the first towns in America to run on electricity,” writes Bruce Caughey and Dean Winstanley in their 1989 book, The Colorado Guide. “During this heyday, Jerome Wheeler built the Wheeler Opera House and the magnificent Aspen showpiece, the Hotel Jerome. The hotel opened on Thanksgiving eve 1889 with Aspen’s biggest social event to date. Guests came from as far away as Europe; and for perhaps the first time in their lives, miners spruced up with starched shirts, top hats – and bay rum. This soiree helped bring Aspen into the national spotlight, but the attention was short lived.”
By 1893, silver had been “demonetized” and prices for the metal fell like a rock.
“Within a week the mines had closed and people were moving out. The Smuggler II Mine on Smuggler Mountain managed to stay open for while longer, and in 1894 produced the largest silver nugget in the world weighing in at over a ton. But not even the richest Silver mine in the world could afford to stay open,” wrote Caughey and Winstanley.
The claim to being the largest silver nugget in the world is disputed but a number of big silver chunks were pulled out of Aspen mines including a 1840-pound beauty from the Mollie Gibson in 1893 and the aforementioned nugget from the Smuggler II weighing in at 2,054 pounds. The nugget from the Smuggler was 93 percent pure silver. (A 2,750 pound silver monster was reportedly pulled from a mine in Sonora, Mexico in 1821 and was later “appropriated” by the Spanish Government.)
The largest gold nugget in Colorado is claimed by folks from the Breckenridge area in the form of “Tom’s Baby.”
Tom Groves, according to lore, strolled into town one July day in 1887, cradling a 13.5-pound gold nugget, wrapped in blanket. The nugget was sent on to Denver and appeared and disappeared several times over the next 85 years, but the nugget (minus nearly five pounds) resurfaced in 1972 when the State Historical Museum discovered “Tom’s Baby” among gold specimens deposited in a Denver bank in 1926.
One other important mineral of note found in Colorado is marble.
The largest single slab of marble ever found weighed 100.8 tons and was quarried in Yule, Colorado. A portion of that slab was cut for use as the copingstone at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
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