Sunday, February 28, 2010

They don't write like that anymore


Having just returned from days of working with newspaper people at the Colorado Press Association's annual convention, you would think that I would have had my fill of newspapers for a day or so. But I just stumbled upon these old stories in some of my stuff. They are taken from the files of the Pikes Peak Journal, a paper for which I once served as publisher, unfortunately the last one, as the company I worked for then, closed the paper in 2001. When these articles were written more than 115 years ago, they exhibited a little different style. A style, and color, and texture that, I am afraid, is sometimes missing in modern newspapering.

Bitten by a Dog
Ralph Aldrich, one of the carrier boys for the Journal was attacked Monday night on Ruxton avenue by a pointer dog belonging to Henry Mueller, and badly bitten in the shoulder and side. The boy is the son Alderman Aldrich, and was delivering papers when attacked. Mr. Mueller took the boy to Dr. Oglibee, who dressed the wounds. The dog was shot.
__ January 26, 1895

Adopt him and make a man of him
Tuesday afternoon as Marshal Elerick had locked a couple of worthless tramps in one of the cells of the town jail and he turned to leave the building he noticed a pale-faced, poorly clad, bright-looking little lad, about ten or twelve years old standing in the corridor. The little fellow had gone to the jail to apply for something to eat as he had doubtless done in other towns when hungry. Mr. Elerick seeing that he was a stranger asked him who he was and where he came from. The boy said his name was Johnny Warren, that he was eleven years old and that his father and mother were both dead. He had no relatives that he knew of. He said that he was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., where his father died three years ago. After the death of his father his mother took him to Missouri, where she died a year later. His parents were poor and no estate was left him, but his mother had arranged that he should live with one of the neighbors, a widow lady who had two small children of her own. This woman left Missouri going first to Nebraska and then to Denver taking him with her. A few weeks ago he says she told him she could keep him no longer and that he must find him a home somewhere else. The day following she left the city. The boy wandered around in Denver for a week or so, then boarded a freight train and went to Colorado Springs. From there he walked to Colorado City where he remained two days and came over to Manitou. Such is his story and it touched the heart of Mr. Elerick. He took him to his home, gave him a bath and a new suit of clothes and with three square meals a day the boy is happy. Mr. Elerick has written to the addresses the lad gave him, and if his story is straight, he will adopt him, send him to school and make a man of him.
__ January 26, 1895

Highest birth on record
On Saturday last a son was born to the wife of Mr. John Taggart on Pike's Peak at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Mr. Taggart is section foreman of the Cog road and for the past six weeks has been living at the Saddle house near the summit of the Peak. This is the first recorded birth at so great an elevation in Colorado, and probably the highest on this continent. The little fellow weighs ten pounds and starts out in life high up in the world. He has been named Pike's Peak Taggart.
Mrs. Bee Cullen Brooks contributes the following lines:
LITTLE "PIKE'S PEAK."
To a home upon the mountain,
On the Cog road to Pike's Peak,
Came a stranger, shy and silent,
His inheritance to seek.
Upon this broad expanse of earth
-These mountains towering high,
He sought his home among them
'Neath Colorado's sky.
With faith at once so perfect,
Unquestioning and true,
He takes his home contented
"Neath skies of western blue.
No questions asked of any one,
With philosophy true he takes
Things here just as he finds them,
And the best of each he makes.
Like the pioneer who came here
In days long, long, ago,
To find the summit of the Peak,
Clad in perpetual snow.
He stopped before he reached the top-
He dreaded the steep incline,
And will be content for some years to come,
Just above the timber line.
__ May 18, 1895
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Robbing that train at Stoner Creek


One of the enduring facts of being an outlaw is that you sometimes are blamed for things you had nothing to do with, and perhaps no knowledge of.
From the folklore, rumors and fairy tales of southwestern Colorado, comes the idea that Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker) and perhaps other members of the notorious “Wild Bunch,” robbed the train at Stoner Creek. The idea probably originated because of Butch's and Matt Warner’s legendary status resulting from a previous successful bank robbery in Telluride a few years prior. And the Wilcox train robbery and dynamiting in June of the year following the Stoner holdup, adds to the romance.
Chances are, it was someone else who held up the Rio Grande Southern that summer day in 1898 — but it makes a livelier story to blame it on Butch and boys.
Following is how the Telluride Daily Journal reported it on its front page “Four Masked Men Capture the Durango Flyer This Morning Below Rico,” relates a “Special to the Daily Journal.”
We all know newspapers never get the facts wrong.
“Rico, July 5. — Train No. ? on the Rio Grande Southern, the San Juan Special, north bound, was held up by four masked men at Stoner Creek, twenty four miles below here, at 11 o’clock today. The bandits secured about $80 in money, a gold watch and chain and a Winchester rifle. No further particulars are obtainable.”
Not the kind of loot Cassidy and friends were used to, if correctly reported, and you consider that their haul from San Miguel Valley Bank was nearly $20,000.
“Later — several persons who were on the train arrived in Telluride at 3 o’clock, among them two ladies from New Jersey who had not yet fully recovered from their fright. One of them said she had a thousand dollars on her person which she promptly stuck down in her stocking.”
The paper went on to speculate, “The fellows appeared to be amateurs at the business, and were evidently Mexicans.”
What evidence pointed to that was not revealed in the story.
“One man stood at the car door while another went through. The fellow at the door told his partner not to disturb the women and they were not bothered. They took $4 from a Catholic priest and gave him half of it back.”
But the desperados were not above the use of violence.
“There is only a water tank at Stoner Creek and the fireman, who was taking water, did not hear the order to hold up his hands which was repeated, when they took a shot at him and his neck is badly powder burned as a result.”
The story of the train robbery at Stoner, like a small seed cast into the wind long ago, perhaps found fertile ground and imagination in the bottom land of the river valley, sprouted, and grew into something completely different than the "genuine article." Not that the genuine article was correct either.
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Photo info: Rio Grande Southern narrow gauge locomotive, engine number 20, engine type 4-6-0, Robert W. Richardson, photographer. Right rear view of engine, close view, at water tank, brush at rear of tender. Photographed: Stoner, Colorado, May 23, 1951. Western History Department, Denver Public Library.











Sunday, February 14, 2010

Telling tales and Butch's first bank


“An honest tale speeds best being plainly told,”
_ William Shakespeare

Back East, the story is usually some variation of “George Washington slept here.” In the Wild West, however, we seem to carry more respect for the violent and hardnosed. The best yarns usually have some element of “‘Butch’ and ‘Sundance’ robbed the train here,” or members of “the ‘Wild Bunch’ knocked off the bank over there,” or “this fellow was killed on the ‘Outlaw Trail’ while shooting at so-and-so...”
There is a metal plaque on the outside of the Mahr building at the corner of Pine and Main Streets in Telluride. It reads, simply, “Mahr Building. Site of the San Miguel Valley Bank. Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery. June 24, 1889.”
The bank building burnt down long ago, but stories are still being told about what transpired there one summer day shortly after noon, when three outlaws rode into to the mining town wearing “silver-studded bridles, spurs, saddles and artillery, five-gallon hats, red bandanas, flashy shirts, chaps and high-heeled cowboy boots,” according to an account by one of the men involved, Matt Warner.
Warner took credit for having the idea to rob the bank. Both riders with a regional reputation for winning horse races, Warner said he approached his friend and fellow racer Butch Cassidy — and then, his own brother-in-law Tom McCarty. According to his version, Butch was excited by the prospect, while Tom was more reluctant. After riding into town and up to the bank, Warner says he placed his gun under the teller’s nose, while Cassidy gathered the cash, and Tom McCarty held the horses outside.
An account reported by a teller was slightly different, having one man coming into the bank, initially pretending to cash a check but then grabbing the teller by the neck, and then calling in his accomplices from outside.
According to reports the haul was nearly $20,000.
Perhaps because it was their first bank job, the inexperienced outlaws led the teller outside with his hands up, and in the process, alerted the entire town.
After firing a few shots to back off the crowd, the three made a beeline out of town, eventually ending up in the mountains near Mancos. Running so fast that they left the fresh horses behind, they ran into one of their former employers, Harry Adsit, who later helped the posse identify them and tell the pursuing group what direction they were headed.
Interestingly enough, Telluride Town Marshall, Jim Clark later confessed to Gunnison County Sheriff to being involved — by not being involved.
Clark reportedly told the Sheriff he received $2200 of the stolen money as payment for being out of town during the robbery and later acquired one of the horses used in the robbery.
Certain accounts speculate that the two horse racing friends, and now, bank robbers, along with McCarty and perhaps additional accomplices, changed horses in the Cortez area (perhaps even at Longabaugh ranch south of Cortez, home of Harry Longabaugh’s father. Harry, (a.k.a. ‘The Sundance Kid”) would later befriend Cassidy and famously ride with the “Wild Bunch,” in Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Texas and New Mexico.
One longtime resident of the area relates the following tale.
“My grandparents were John and Clementa Sagrillo,” says Sandra Watkins. “They had a place down around Lakeview. When Butch robbed the bank at Telluride the gang ended up in Mancos but Butch headed for his friends here in Cortez area, but it got dark and he had to stop. He ended up staying with my grandparents. I have a story written up in the family history that was told Aunt Jessie by her mother, she is the oldest child to John,” Watkins says.
“Grandpa was so impressed with Butch's six shooter that when he could afford it, he bought one just like Butch's. Butch told him that he and his gang had robbed the bank but, being new to this country, they kept their mouths shut. Grandma bragged that he liked her cooking and really liked polanta.”
The bank robbery at Telluride is cited as a turning point in Warner and Cassidy’s career as outlaws, as the Adsit identification allowed them to no longer dabble in the outlaw business — they began running from the law full time. They are given credit for various criminal activities in that area near Telluride, and all over the Western United States in the years to come.
Anecdotally, stories of them robbing the Rio Grande Southern train at Stoner, holing up in the Dunton area (one report has (Robert Leroy Parker’s initials, Butch’s given name, carved in the bar up there) and various deeds and misdeeds in the canyon country from Hole in the Wall, Brown’s Hole, Robber’s Roust, and all along the “Outlaw Trail” that connects them.
From information about the only train robbery at Stoner Creek that I can find record of, it didn’t sound like them. But then again, that is another story.
Undoubtedly some of the tales are true, and some are not.
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Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Man, Bears in the city, and Orange Crush




Tribes of hunters in northern Europe believed that The Bear came from the heavens, and according to Finnish folklore, after riding in the sky upon the Great Bear’s shoulders, he was let down to earth because of an infraction against some unnamed taboo. “Where was Bruin given birth, the bear’s cub brought up? In a little woolen box, in a little iron box. Where was Bruin given birth, the bear’s cub brought up? On the peg of a small cloud. How was he let down to earth? On a nameless, quite untouchable string.” (Finnish Folk Poem)

When I was much younger — let’s say, for illustrative purposes, in the last two years of high school — I often had some sort of scheme or small-time con working. Usually, it was minor, with no real victims (except perhaps myself and a few of my accomplices) and was perpetrated only as a method to, and within the intention of, specifically sticking it to The Man.
Born of such a scheme was a trip to Denver one spring, paid for (at least in part) by your hard-earned tax dollars. Forgive me, as I don’t remember all the specific details, but here are the generalities of the story.
Despite my philosophical aversion to pork-barrel politics, or perhaps to illustrate a point, I discovered that certain amounts of potential funding was available under the guise of ‘career exploration’ and ‘opportunity development’ funds for students of my particular age. I applied, and subsequently was approved for a grant from Southwest Board of Co-operative Services (B.O.C.S.) to go and visit the Broncos off-season training facilities in Denver.
Understand, of course, that no one in the right mind would picture my career path on a trajectory to becoming a professional football player. However, quite cleverly I believe, I deflected potential nay saying and outright dismissal of my plan by choosing the potential vocation of sports medicine and ‘professional trainer’ for a shadow program. B.O.C.S. generously sprung several hundred dollars for a trip up to the city so that I could explore the opportunity and the possibility that I might one day choose a career in sports medicine.
Originally, with the initial award of the grant, two other students from Mancos, Mark and John Ott, were also to go to the training facility with me. But a last–minute schedule conflict prevented them from attending, and for a time, I thought the gig was up for me as well.
But because the money had already been allocated and a genuine interest in doing right for the good, young students, soon to be cast out in the cold, cruel world, it was suggested that I ask a couple of friends, perhaps from good old DHS, Home of the Bears, to join me on my journey. I obliged of course, choosing Scott Weinmaster and James Biard to accompany me instead.
It was at precisely at that point, the journey veered dangerously away from an “educational experience” and more towards a fearful and loathsome junket to the capitol city with a fist full of taxpayer’s dollars.
We borrowed a car belonging, I think to James’ mom or his grandfather, but naturally Scott and I would not, under any circumstances, allow James to drive. To do so would have been suicide.
Seven or eight hours on icy roads with the Commodores and Foghat alternately blaring out “Slow Ride” and “Just to be Close” as we lumbered over Wolf Creek, through the San Luis Valley, up the gun barrel and into the city.
When in Denver, we stayed at Weinmaster’s house, but only briefly.
We had things to do and people to see. I remember something about Figaro’s Pizza, and there may have been beer involved, though I hope not at the taxpayer’s expense.
We did, in the interest of education, make it to our prescribed appointment at the Broncos training facility.
It being the off season, there was not a lot of the big names hanging out but it was fun for us back-assed country hicks to get to see grid stars like Rob Lytle, Randy Gradishar, Joe Rizzo and Roland Hooks (Hooks was from the Buffalo Bills, as the professional training facilities were open to other teams through reciprocal agreements) in their various stages of repair.
I remember thinking, that Rizzo had tree trunks for legs, but Lytle (at 6’1”, 196 pounds) seemed to be almost a regular-sized cat. Lytle spent seven seasons with the Broncos and scored their only touchdown in Super Bowl XII. Back in the days of Red Miller.
Rizzo and Gradishar also played in Super Bowl XII as part of the Orange Crush Defense. Gradishar was with the Broncos for 10 seasons and still sells cars for Phil Long dealerships in Colorado.
Just so you know, in the true spirit of politics, that trip was over 30 years ago and you taxpayers are never getting your money back.
My version, I guess, of sticking it to The Man.
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