Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mystery of murdered miner never solved


“Old men’s prayers for death are lying prayers, in which they abuse old age and long extent of life. But when death draws near, not one is willing to die, and age is no longer a burden to them.” __ Euripides (438 B.C.)


Clement S. Parks lived alone in an old two-story house on South Second Street in Cripple Creek in the winter of 1944. The building had 10 rooms but he kept to only three of them. He had arrived in the mining district in the heyday of 1896 and worked at the Portland for 32 years, but in 1928, his failing vision forced him to retire. His vision continued to falter quickly.
By 1944, as he had aged, he became increasingly more feeble and his sight had slipped so far that he could barely tell daylight from dark. In his eighties, the retired miner came to depend on the kindness and generous nature of his neighbors.
At least twice a week, his neighbor W. R. Thumback, an elderly man himself, would saunter by to help Parks in obtaining food and essentials, and with whatever the blind old man needed.
On the morning of Dec. 28, 1944, when Thumback came calling, his friend’s outside door was unlocked when he entered at 7 a.m. Parks, the harmless, old, blind miner that was not known to have an enemy, was found dead in his bed, shot once through the head.
Thumback had notified Mrs. A. W. Oliver, in charge of the Teller County welfare office, who in turn called A.C. Denman, corner, who went to house immediately and found Park’s body still warm, according to a paper written for the Denver Westerners by Carl F. Mathews in 1962. Mathews was the former superintendent of the Bureau of Identification for Colorado Springs Police Department.
“Sheriff Cecil Markley and Police Chief Steve Playford said they had a murder mystery in which they found no clues. At the end of a day’s work on the case they had no idea who fired the shot,” wrote Mathews.
“Markley said an extensive search failed to reveal the presence of a gun, thus putting the question of suicide out of the question. In the hip pocket of Park’s trousers, which hung at the head of the bed, the officers found a wallet containing $445. The bullet, a .38 caliber, had passed through the man’s head and the officers found it embedded in the wall. The shot had evidently been fired from the direction of the outside door. Parks was not believed to have had any money other than that in his pocket, the officers said, nor anything else of value… They said it would not have been necessary for anyone to kill him to rob him.”
According to reports, both officers said that while Thumback had been questioned at length, no suspicion fell on him. The Sheriff and the Police Chief made a thorough search of the entire building but nothing in fingerprints, tracks other indications had been found that would throw any light on the mystery. Markley said he could find no grounds for supposing that treasure of any kind was hidden in the old building.
A.C. Denman, coroner held an inquest at Law Mortuary in Cripple Creek on Dec. 29 and reached the conclusion that Parks had come to his death by gunshot wound to the head, inflicted by a person or persons unknown, and that his death was felonious.
On Sunday, January 8,1945, Sheriff Markley said “everything is at a standstill,” in efforts to solve the case. According to all subsequent reports, nothing more was ever learned. To this day, there is no clear picture who, or why, someone would choose to shoot a blind, feeble, retired miner, more than eighty-years-old, in the head as he lay in his own bed.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On a flatcar, headed out of the yard


The town had marks of the railroad all over it. But Dolores in the 1970s had been separated from the rails just long enough to have an identity crisis, but not long enough to forget where it came from.
It was as Mark Twain said. “A railroad is like a lie, you have to keep building it to make it stand.”
Galloping Goose #5 was out in the town park over by the marshal’s office on the jail side of the town hall. If you were a skinny runt, you could squeeze into the cab through the loosely chained bus-like doors and pretend.
“Driving that train… Casey Jones you better watch your speed.”
The main highway in and out was called “Railroad Avenue.” Various buildings around town were labeled with left-over monikers such as the ‘track warehouse’ or the D&RG Southern Hotel.
Corrugated tin, painted Denver & Rio Grande yellow, covered the outside of dozens of other buildings, and platforms, built to service freight from boxcars, still appeared in front of about a third of the businesses in town.
The boarded-up section house still stood between the Sixth and Seventh Street out on the highway.
Legions of cub scouts were still able to gather rail spikes, track hardware and telegraph insulators from the rotting ties and weathered poles in Lost Canyon and pack them over across the rusting Fourth Street Bridge back into Dolores. They would end up in a coffee can in someone’s garage or as tent stakes, or sold for scrap at Curt’s Trading Post.
The town of Dolores was born with the railroad in mind.
“In 1889 plans were made by Otto Mears for a railroad running through and around the western flanks of the San Juan Mountains from Ridgway in the north to Durango in the south,” according to the Mountain Studies Institute. “The railroad would tap the riches accumulating in the booming mountain mining towns of Telluride and Rico and the smaller mining camps between the two towns. The 162-mile railroad would, as well, link two segments of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad coming into Durango from the east and into Ouray from the north. The new railroad would be known as the Rio Grande Southern.”
But as we all know, it is important to be near where the action is.
The fledgling settlement of Big Bend, which had been located nearly two miles downriver from present-day Dolores since 1878, basically pulled up stakes and moved to where the rails from Durango entered the Dolores River Valley.
“In 1890 two Big Bend businessmen laid out the town site of Dolores at the mouth of Lost Canyon. The rest of the citizen’s of Big Bend soon followed. By the time the tracks reached Dolores on Thanksgiving Day, 1891, the community of Big Bend was no more,” according to Mountain Studies Institute.
Born as a product of the rails, for 60 years Dolores lived in the shadow of the line, finally waving goodbye from the platform in 1951 when D&RG Southern closed and most of the track was pulled up and sold for scrap.
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Only here for the beer, or 'Black Cow.'


If I could figure out how to time travel, I would like to party like it was 1899. The city of Cripple Creek or Victor might be a good place to start.
At that time, Cripple Creek was the fourth largest town in the state. 32,000 people lived in the district and business was booming.
The city directory of 1900 listed 52 stockbrokers, 3 banks, 3 stock exchanges, 10 insurance representatives, 9 jewelers, 49 grocers, 68 saloons and numerous gambling halls and sporting establishments.
But what would the party be like?
Any good revelry, in my humble opinion, finds a great starting point with beer. In this case, you’re talking about the days of Coors as a microbrewer.
In fact, Adolph Coors owned a building in Cripple Creek at the time.
“German born, Coors has been accustomed to the European tradition of breweries owning local pubs to help distribute their product. Coors carried on that tradition in Colorado. As his brewery prospered, he purchased buildings to lease back to prospective saloon owners who, in turn, would sell beer in their establishments,” wrote Brian Levine in Cripple Creek, City of Influence.
The Coors building was at 241-243 E Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek, and he leased the property back to Henry Bunte for his B. B. Saloon.
“Although Adolph Coors did not finance the original construction of this building, Coors purchased it from stock brokers William P. Bonbright and J. Arthur Connell a year after it was built (1896),” according to Levine.
But it seems the most popular brew at the time, among the rising young stockbrokers, mining speculators and bankers, was the stuff served at the Denver Stock Exchange Saloon which is where Bronco Billy’s is today.
E. A. Asmussen, who was also a town trustee, was bartender, owner and when occasion called for it, bouncer. Asmussen contracted with well-known Denver brewers, the Zang Brewing Company and Rocky Mountain Brewery (owned by Zang).
Son of the founder, Phil Zang was the brewery manager for years after the English company Denver United Breweries purchased the company from his father Adolph in 1888. It became one of the largest breweries in the West.
“Adolph became interested in two of the district’s noted gold producers – the Anaconda and the Vindicator – and thus, became financially and politically involved in the Cripple Creek District. After the Anaconda and the Vindicator were absorbed by (A.E.) Carlton interests. Adolph Zang became a shareholder in The Golden Cycle Corporation,” wrote Levine.
Other beers served in the district might have included Tivoli Brewing Company or Union Brewing Company products, which were also two well-known Denver brewers that merged in 1901 (producing where the Auraria Student Union is today, in downtown Denver). In many locations, five-cent (nickel) draws were the going rate, except in the bordellos, where it was markedly more expensive.
If you had a taste for something stronger, of course that was readily available, often labeled affectionately and colorfully, ‘nose paint,’ ‘tonsil varnish,’ ‘tongue oil’ or ‘liquid muscle,’ in the vernacular of the period.
But a fellow didn’t have to drink alcohol exclusively.
The "black cow" or "root beer float" was created on August 19, 1893. Frank J. Wisner, owner of Cripple Creek Brewing in Colorado, served the first root beer float. Inspired by the moonlit view of snow-capped Cow Mountain, Mr. Wisner added a scoop of ice cream to his Myers Avenue Red root beer and began serving it as the "Black Cow Mountain." The name was later shortened to "black cow."
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mean, green, and not too far in between


Green technology is really nothing new with me.
My first car was a ‘green’ 1974 Vega that I bought in 1978 from some friend of my older sister. I paid $750 for it and the purchase included the quadraphonic Pioneer 8-track, AM-FM stereo and Citizen’s Band radio plus a full tank of gas.
The first day I owned it, I backed out of the Dolores High School parking lot in a simulated Rockford Files style peel out and tagged the corner of a parked orange and white Ford Pinto. Fortunately, I didn’t hit the gas tank side of the Pinto or my story could have ended right there. The incident foretold of a violent future of bent fenders, broken glass, twisted sheet metal and dinged paint jobs that was to be that car’s legacy.
Before retiring its services, (It was still running when I sold it for $300 to some ‘bigger fool’ that was going fix it up) I think we attributed seven real accidents – not to mention dozens of ditch drives, near misses, killed animals and true cliff hangers. By my definition at the time, a ‘real accident’ would involve a report to the authorities.
“The 1974 Chevrolet Vega concentrated on cosmetic extras in a period when gas shortages and high car insurance rates were spelling the end of performance as a selling point,” wrote the editors of Consumer Guide in “How Stuff Works.”
Lack of performance was a constant theme regarding the Vega and other vehicles of the era. Not many had good things to say about Detroit’s offerings of the period. Here in the Rockies, it was no different, as evident in comments such as this by Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen’s recent missive on the auto industry.
“The newest car I've ever owned was a 1974 Chevrolet Vega that I bought in 1976. Early in 1977, it burned up in front of the Kremmling post office because the cigarette lighter stuck, overheated, and ignited the dashboard,” wrote Quillen.
In an unfortunate failure in long-term testing of engineering, the aluminum block in the beast, the first of its kind, was brought to production in only two years. Reynolds Metal Co. came up with an alloy called A-390, composed of 77 percent aluminum, 17 percent silicon, 4 percent copper, 1 percent iron, and traces of phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and titanium. The A-390 alloy was suitable for faster production diecasting which made the Vega block $8 less expensive to manufacture than other aluminum engines. Less expensive with good reason, the 85-horsepower engine with a two-barrel carburetor would start burning oil like a Kuwaiti pipeline terrorist after about 30,000 miles.
But despite such a poor reputation, a lot of them were produced. In 1974, it was among the top ten best selling cars in America and 450,000 of that model year hit the blacktop on U.S. highways.
The Vega was also the first American car to use the structural aluminum for bumpers. It had a huge front bumper, beginning in 1974, when new federal impact rules kicked in. The new standards forced a slight redesign to soften the front by sloping the metal grill with cooling slots, similar to the Camaro.
In my particular case, the huge front bumper was the car’s saving grace.
My ‘so-called’ friends were known to drive it over retaining walls in Rico, through the ditches of Lebanon, and the fires of the Pump Pasture. I myself, had executed a silver fox at the top of the hill on the way to Cortez and put it into a 360 spin to avoid elk out on the Ridge. My next door neighbor in Dolores ran into the back of it at a stoplight in Cortez. A driver in New Mexico, (with no insurance, I might add) jacked it up down on the border. Air band concerts took place on the hood as music from the soundtrack of the movie FM blared from the speakers inside.
"It's alright if you love me. It's alright if you don't. I'm not afraid of you running away from me, honey. I get the feeling you won't," sang Tom Petty . Break down, car. Go ahead and give it to me.
Sometimes I would pound them out, and spray gray primer over them. Sometimes I would buy replacement fender that was painted black. Some I would patch with “Bondo.” Some I would just leave for artistic effect in the sculpture it became.
But it survived. The dents and damage added character, if not style.
When I hit the fox, for instance, a passenger who claimed to know what he was doing, tried to skin it in hopes of salvaging the hide. Unsuccessful, the car wore the foxtail on CB antenna for months.
The floor in the back seat was frequently obscured by empty Coors bottles. In place of the gear-shift knob, I had drilled a hole and tapped out threads to place a 14-ball.
I have to say I very much enjoyed my own tenure and the interesting quirks involved with Vega ownership. I am proud to note that I owned a ‘green’ car, 20 years before it was ‘in thing’ to do. All you hybrid drivers and bio-diesel jockies perhaps have nothing on me. But where can I get bumper like that for my Subaru.
“Now, fill up the oil, and check the gas.”
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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Here for the summer, then gone for good


Try to remember because it is important. That’s what I’ve been telling myself about conversations I had more than 30 years ago, places that we went to, and people I knew then.
In the conversations, stories of the past rolled off their tongues and took me back to times and places long since disappeared. The world was changing – markedly, even then. But not so much as it had already changed.
We were trying to put plastic storm windows on the outside of the old house, the kind you stretched and then tacked in place with the little wooden strips. That’s how the topic came up – the old house.
Merton Taylor had moved it from the abandoned lumber town of McPhee, and he and Cecil had lived in it for years ever since. I, of course, had heard many accounts of McPhee. But then, they began to take on new meaning with the understanding that area would all be under water in a few years.
At the turn of the century, after the Rio Grande Southern Railroad arrived in the area and Edgar Biggs of the New Mexico Lumber Company began buying up cutting rights to newly accessible timber that now could be shipped somewhere, it was only a matter of time before all ‘woodcutting hell’ broke out in the forests north of Dolores.
“Biggs hired Arthur Ridgway to survey the region for its timber potential. Ridgway’s report estimated that 210 square miles or 134,400 acres of prime western yellow pine were available in the area. He proposed that Biggs construct a sixty-five mile logging railroad with which to harvest close to 135,000 narrow gauge carloads of lumber,” according Frontiers in Transition: A history of Southwestern Colorado. The book was developed for Bureau of Land Management’s Cultural Resource Series and written by Paul M. O’Rourke in 1980.
Biggs, who had worked with C.D. McPhee and J.J. McGinnity of the New Mexico Lumber Company at operations in Pagosa Springs and Lumberton, New Mexico, had planned to harvest the timber north of Dolores without the new Mexico Lumber Company backing. “McPhee caught wind of Biggs plan however, and purchased the Denver-based lumber company which Biggs had hoped would finance the operation. Although Biggs remained affiliated with New Mexico Lumber until 1917, McPhee and McGinnity, after their coup of 1907, took charge of operations in the Dolores River Valley.”
By 1913, they had amassed rights for cutting nearly 90 million board feet of lumber in the area. With another huge purchase of rights in 1924, the company made plans to build a mill town about four miles north of Dolores.
“The town of McPhee was only part of the company’s expansive lumber monopoly,” writes Lisa Mausolf in her book The River of Sorrows: The History of the Lower Dolores River Valley. “During its peak in 1927 McPhee and McGinnity had five lumberyards in Denver, five in San Luis Valley and five on Moffat Road with 25 branches in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.”
The company originally looked at placing the mill in or near the town of Dolores but local opposition forced them to look elsewhere. That is how they arrived at the 800-acre site of the old Charlie Johnson homestead.
“The town site was originally known as Ventura. It was also temporarily called Escalante. McPhee was situated on the alleged spot where in 1776 Father (Silvestre Velez de) Escalante stopped for several weeks beside a stream he called the Dolores River. The town was given its final name after an influential visit to the site by William McPhee in 1924,” wrote Mausolf.
By 1925, the mill at McPhee was producing 61 percent of all lumber in the entire state, more than 27,445.360 board feet.
The mill itself covered a city block with a three-story main building, three-acre pond planing mill and box factory.
The town had 1,400 people living there, with a school for 500 enrolled students, company store complete with its own ‘picture show,” church, boarding houses and restaurants. It was connected to logging camps via 60 miles of logging railroad.
“The majority of the Anglo employee housed contained five rooms… The houses were simple rectangles capped by broad gable, with front and rear porches and painted dividing. In many cases the rear porch was screened for an additional sleeping area. Rent was $10 a month and was deducted automatically from wages. Electricity was provided by the company, as was running water. Sewers were connected to the superintendents’, doctors and some of the larger homes. The rest of the town had outdoor privies,” says Mausolf in her book.
“A separate area ¾ of a mile away from the Anglo community was reserved for the Mexican-American employees. This so-called ‘Mexican town,’ ‘Chihuahua’ or ‘Chilitown’ consisted of two rows of small houses of unfinished lumber, spaced at 15-feet intervals… Rent averaged about $2 per month.”
By 1945, the timber was all but gone, and the dismantling of a town had begun. The houses were sold at average cost of $100 to $125 but they had to be moved. It reportedly would take two days to jack one up and a day to move it.
Houses ended up in Dolores, Dove Creek and out at Lebanon.
Merton and Wilson Brumley bought several of them, relocated to 17th Street and Merton lived there the rest of his life. The superintendent’s house was moved out on Summit Ridge in the late 1970s and Evelyn Royce lived there for years. Dr. Speck’s office was moved to Cortez where it served as his office and then his son’s until 1968. The Catholic Church at McPhee ended up out in Dove Creek.
The town had lasted only 24 years.
The Bureau of Land Management purchased the old town site property to begin preparing for the McPhee Reservoir project from Fred and Margaret Sheperd who bought it in 1948 in the waning days of lumber production.
Today, I try to picture in my mind's eye what the area looked like before it was submerged under hundreds of feet of reservoir water. I try to remember the conversations of those who had been there and peer through the film-covered windows of times past.
I think it is important.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Eustache Carriere's La Grand Montagne


Sometimes in history, it is difficult to get noticed. No credit where, perhaps, credit is due.
Colorado historians, in general, give recognition for the first discovery of gold in Colorado to a group of California-bound members of the Cherokee tribe from Georgia, and specifically Louis Ralston. That group was unimpressed enough with their findings that they continued on to the California gold fields. They kept track of their discovery, however, and rumors of it swirled around for years. Then, in 1858, William “Green” Russell, who had connections to the Cherokee tribe and had heard of the initial strike, organized a group of prospectors and began a search that eventually ended up near the mouth of Dry Creek on the South Platte River in what is now Englewood. Here they found a significant amount of gold in a placer, and with a little advertisement in the form of guide books, word of mouth, and tall tales, by 1859 the “Pikes Peak Gold Rush” was on.
But poor Eustache Carriere, nobody really remembers those nuggets he staggered into Taos with, back in the mid-1830s. They didn’t give him respect then, and he is lucky if he even gets a footnote today when we talk about the history of gold discovery in Colorado.
Born in Quebec, a native of La Rivifcre du Chene, the son of
Baptiste and Marie (Lajeunesse) Carriere. He married at Florissant,
Missouri, January 3, 1820, Josette Therese Jusseaume, daughter of
Rene Jusseaume, the Indian interpreter.
By 1812, Carriere began working for Manuel Lisa, according to the Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography by Dan L. Tharp.
“He was reputed to have discovered gold in the Rocky Mountains in 1835, this believed later by some to be the original Colorado gold strike.”
But that is about the extent of his 15 words of fame. Manuel Lisa, on the other hand ¬ his boss for a time, is recognized as the founder of Fort Lisa on the Bighorn River in Montana, president of the Missouri Fur Company of St. Louis, sub-agent for all the Indian tribes on the upper Missouri, and pal to William Clark.
While working for Lisa, he was attached to a hunting party that ended up in the mountains of Colorado. Carriere, who according to lore had a history of being a bit of a straggler, remained behind when the hunting party set out for Taos without him.
“He was confident he could overtake his companions within a short time,” wrote Nolie Mumey in a paper for the Denver Westerners in August of 1961. “He took a long look at La Grand Montagne, as a fix on his bearings, and thought he could take a short route and overtake them. While walking along the bank of a stream, he saw a shinny pebble in the sand, which he picked up and examined. Quickly realizing that it was pure gold, he made a further search and was rewarded with a large number of gold nuggets which he put in his trap-sac. He became lost and confused in his directions. He thought his companions would wait for him or send someone back to find him. All this they did, but he was not found.”
Because it was late in the fall, Carriere knew he couldn’t wait around forever, and burdened by the weight of the gold, he decided to keep only a few, hide the rest, and come back for them later. He then made his way through the San Luis Valley to the Rio Grande and on to Taos to meet up with his original party.
“He tried to explain his tardy arrival by showing them the nuggets he had retained and telling them he had become lost while searching the stream,” wrote Mumey.
“His companions made fun of him and said that he had the nuggets in his trap-sac for years, or that he must have obtained them from a party of Utes, or that his absence could be explained by being in the company of some young squaw.”
However, they were intrigued enough by the nuggets to help him organize a trip in the spring guided by Carriere back to La Grand Montagne.
That spring, the searching party of trappers-turned-prospectors failed to locate the bonanza Carriere said he had seen the previous fall.
“Members of the party became angry, cursing and threatening him. They held a meeting, called him a liar and an imposter, and said they thought he was deliberately deceiving them as to the exact location of the gold. They decided to tie him to a tree and give him a whipping, which they did, then returned to their hunting grounds,” says Mumey in her paper.
After the failed gold hunting trip, Carriere was treated as an outcast, fool, or worse, and shunned by many in the trapping community. Eventually, burdened by hearing loss and years of loneliness, he lived out his old age in a log cabin built by Madame M.B. Chauteu in the woods north of Theresa’s Seminary, where 10th Street runs between Pennsylvania and Washington Avenues in Kansas City, and later moved on to St. Genevieve, Missouri, and eventually died there at the age of 90.
By the time of his death, the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 had come and went. The rush of the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp” at Cripple Creek was creeping up on the horizon, and years of production from that district, and other gold discoveries in the San Juans have proven, over and over again, that Carriere had been right all along.
The mountain he called his La Grand Montagne has never since been positively identified. It just possibly could be Pikes Peak.


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