Friday, May 28, 2010

Ceremonial silver spike missed getting hammered


Angelo Donghia is credited with the idea that “Assumption is the mother of the screw-up.”
Maybe so, but intoxication is often the other responsible parent.
And so it was, in the case of the missing silver spike intended to mark the completion of the Denver Pacific Railroad on June 24, 1870.
Most of Denver’s nearly 5,000 residents at the time, marked the occasion by lining the streets from 15th Street and Larimer to 19th Street and Wazee, helping to usher in the first Colorado railroad.
“Late in the fall of 1869 the road had been completed from Cheyenne to Evans, a distance of fifty-eight miles, and was being operated with three locomotives, two passenger cars, and a dozen freight cars,” wrote a reporter for Denver Republican in a story 25 years later in which Colorado Governor John Evans, the former president of the railroad, recalled the festivities.
“The Denver Pacific was formally accepted at June 24, 1870, though the first Locomotive, named the D.H. Moffat, arrived with the construction train on the 15th. The driving of the last spike was deferred until St. John’s Day, June 24, and made a great public event, all the Masonic bodies participating,” according to the Denver Republican.
“We had a great time that day,” said Evans. “The terminus of the road was about four blocks north of the present Union Station. We had built a neat, two-story brick station, which stands there today, and it was in front of this that the ceremonies took place. The miners from Georgetown sent down a big spike of pure silver, 6 inches in length, which was presented to me, on behalf of the people of Georgetown,” reported the Republican in 1895.
Or was it.
The mines of the Georgetown area had previously agreed to provide a spike made pure silver for the celebration, wrote Ken Jesson in his 1994 book “Bizarre Colorado: a Legacy of Unusual Events & People.”
“Billy Barton, proprietor of the Barton House in Georgetown, was given the responsibility of safely delivering the silver spike. When the day of the celebration approached, Barton and his friends left Georgetown for Denver. On their way through Golden, they stopped to quench their thirst. In the process, they got royally drunk. To keep their party alive, the needed to purchase more booze and pawned the spike. They then slept off their binge and the next day failed to rise in time to reach Denver for the ceremony,” Jesson wrote.
According to the story, Evans was able to retrieve the spike later and kept it as a souvenir.
The former governor admitted that the silver spike had never been driven that day, according to Denver Republican story 25 year later.
“Here the venerable ex-Governor produced the same silver spike from the drawer in his desk, explaining the spike that was driven that day was a common one of iron wrapped in paper, so that the crowd thought it was a sliver one.”
The ex-Governor fondly recalled that day when talking to the Republican’s reporter.
“I didn’t make much of a speech,” he said. “I just drove the last spike and we had lots of music and cheering. All the prominent men were there — Moffat, the Claytons, Eicholtz, and others whose names I can’t remember. It was a great day and it was the beginning of an era of prosperity which I had predicted, and which has been gloriously fulfilled.”
It was certainly a watershed for Denver.
“Till this first railroad connection with the outside world was consummated, it was a question of whether Denver would ever make a town, and had the road not been built, through the strenuous efforts of such men as Evans, Moffat, the Claytons, and others, the population would have left the place to the coyotes,” according to the Republican story."
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ghosts from the fire across the street?



At least one fellow employee in the historic, downtown Denver building where I work swears the place is haunted. And maybe it is.
I don’t know much about the history of the building itself, but I suppose it is possible that ghosts, from the terrible 1951 fire across the street at the Denver Athletic Club that killed four people and injured dozens, could have wandered over to our side of Glenarm Place.
What is haunting to me, however, is the photograph snapped by legendary Rocky Mountain News staffer Bill Peery showing two men, twelve or fifteen feet apart, at two, different, fourth-story windows, hoping for escape or rescue by the fire department.
“’Why the hell don’t they do something?’ One bystander asked,’” according to Dick Kreck in his 2000 book “Denver in Flames: Forging a New Mile High City.”
“Trying to find firm footing on six inches of ice in the alley behind the building, firefighters strained to raise a heavy, fifty-foot wooden ladder to the window while carefully avoiding telephone and high voltage electrical wires crisscrossing the alley like a spider web. ‘The suddenly,’ the Denver Post Reporter wrote, ‘the man’s hand relaxed. The hat dropped straight, brushed against the wires and tumbled to the alley. There was nothing but smoke at the window. ‘He’s gone,’ someone said.”
The Peery photograph, winner of a national Headliner award for spot news photography, shows Dr. Dan Monaghan and J. Charles Wild trying to escape smoke pouring out the windows of the DAC. Monaghan was rescued in time by the firefighters.
Wild, a fifty-five-year-old retired businessman living at the club at the time, perished along with three others in the $1.5 million fire.
“The DAC had planned a Valentine’s Dance on Saturday, February 17, 1951. There were 400 reservations made for dinner and dancing that night. Many Members/Owners had decorated the gymnasium (which is the ballroom today) with cardboard cupids and Valentines hearts. The excitement was building for what was to be a memorable event,” says the DAC’s web site www.denverathleticclub.org.
“About 3:00 p.m. that day, a flash of flames came from the speaker system. Something had gone wrong with the wiring and the flames leapt to the curtains and tablecloths. There were about 100 people in the Club at this time. The fire grew so quickly that four of them would not get out alive.”
Dozens of employees and residents were trapped in the smoke filled building that had recently been renovated. Nearly 600,000 gallons of water from 18 fire trucks was dumped on the building to douse the fire.
According to firefighter Stan “Smokey” Sorenson quoted by Kreck, “That Glenarm entrance looked like Niagara Falls.”
In the March 2 edition of the Rocky Mountain News, Denver safety manager Harold MacArthur explained the firefighters decision process in a public statement.
“Due to the direction of the fire and smoke, it was necessary to make evacuations from the alley side. Life nets could not be used as this alley carries electrical wire on alley fixtures. Some of these wires carry as much as 4,000 volts and clearance between DAC and the alley fixtures carrying these wires is about three feet. The order of evacuation was so made because it appeared the one initially evacuated (Dr. Monaghan) was in much more precarious situation. It was honestly felt that this individual might jump because the smoke and noxious fumes about his window were terrific.”
In addition to Wild, those killed in the fire were Ernest D. Bowman, 55; John McGinley King, 65; Jane “Jennie” Meade, 63.
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

I just can't wait to get on the road to Rico again


“People on horses look better than they are. People in a cars look worse than they are.” __ Marya Mannes, 1958

Back when I didn’t know any better, we would fly down the highway from Rico to Dolores. I think the record was about 45 minutes -- and the road has been improved since then. Such ‘flights’ and speed was not always possible. Transportation on that stretch of the upper Dolores River has always been a challenge – one that travelers of various eras have risen to accept. Improvements have come in fits and starts.
“After the current contract on the Sullivan-Gould grade on the river road is completed and about 3 miles from the West Fork bridge down is constructed, our road won’t be half bad to travel,” wrote longtime Rico columnist Hart Lee, in the Dolores Star on Jan. 21, 1949. “One will be able to pass a car or truck most any place along the line without being sideswiped or being rammed into a head-on.”
Lee was always a booster of the route and noted that, “even under present conditions, the out-of-state traffic almost doubled last year over 1947.”
If not the road itself, weather could also be factor. A week later Lee reported, “Due to the blizzard that got off to a darn good start early this morning, I don’t know of a single person trying to leave town or entering, even the mail truck hasn’t shown up.”
But at that time, they still had the train in a pinch.
“Due to the heavy snow and drifts, the mail truck Monday was forced to turn around at the Gould grade and return to Dolores, however the following day two engines with a couple of box cars managed to get thru bringing in mail, express and freight. Thanks again to the old rusty rails. We’re always mighty grateful when we see the smoke drifting up the canyon.”
The following week, Feb. 4, 1949, Lee relayed the bad news.
“The latest report out is that the famous Galloping Goose will discontinue to gallop for an indefinite period, however we are still enjoying daily mail service by truck, while freights are still taking care of the concentrates.”
It hadn’t been that long since the days of horses and wagons.
“I was born in 1923, and we moved to Rico so my dad could mine, Trouble was his life. They didn’t have cars or trucks. They only used horses and wagons. The dirt road to two had two big ruts that your wheels went in,” according longtime Rico miner Myron Jones in Colorado Mining Stories: Hazards, Heroics and Humor ( by Caroline Arlen, 2002).
“One time my dad met some other guy coming the other way in the ruts. The other guy said ‘Pull over.’ My dad said, ‘You pull over.’ So they got out the whips and started whipping each other’s teams. It was such a mess of whips and horses, it wasn’t really clear who gave in.”
Jones described to Arlen the method of transportation in Rico in his early years there.
“In Rico we got around on donkeys, horses, snowshoes and skis. Skis were different in those days. They were just a couple of boards with the ends turned up. Probably weighed about three times what skis weigh now. However you got up the hill to the mine, you packed your skis up with you and went down on them. You had to enjoy skiing a lot then.”
With the arrival of cars, that did not end hazards of traveling to Rico however.
“While enroute to home from an extended trip to California Thursday night, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Calloway encountered the most unusual experience,” wrote Hart Lee in February of 1949. “Driving up the river road near the Ross Thomas ranch they noticed the lights of an oncoming car. Figuring the road might be a little narrow, decided to stop. Well just about that time a big bull elk came galloping down the road and instead of keeping to the right as the law provides for, landed right on the hood of their car and while scrambling over the top, poked both hind hooves through the windshield. For an instant they thought sure that the fool animal would be occupying the back seat, but their steel top stood the racket. Joe decided it wouldn’t be any use to call the Courtesy Patrol so came on home and called it a day.”
Perhaps talking about the same (or at least similar) incident in Colorado Mining Stories, Aubrey “Blizzard” Lillard, who also mined in Rico in the late ‘40s, had the following account.
“She was going down the road to Cortez, one time, and a bunch of elk run near over the top of that brand new Buick she had. That was really sickening to her, but it tickled a lot of other guys,” he said according to Arlen’s book.
“Hardly anybody else had a car. Every time you would buy a new car, the dang mine would shut down, and you couldn’t make your payments. So people would drive their cars over that steep place and call it an accident. I thought about it, but I loved my car. And they’d have caught me just as sure as thunder.”
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Friday, May 7, 2010

Coffee swilled around the character magnet



The coffee pot at Taylor Hardware in Dolores apparently had a character magnet in it.
I say that, because when I was a youngster working there in the ‘70s and ‘80s, all sorts of characters would show up about 9:30 every morning. One of the most memorable was Don Ripley.
Ripley was a tall man, prone then to wearing bibbed overalls and a stark white goatee. He reminded me of Burl Ives, with a similar look, voice and demeanor as the Sam the Snowman narrator in “Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer.“
Aside from the favorite Christmas program link, Ripley was memorable for other reasons. Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, all those signs became trademarks for him.
“Donald Gilbert Ripley, the first National Park Service ranger assigned to Hovenweep National Monument and the woodworker who designed the original signs for Mesa Verde National Park, died of respiratory failure May 7 at the Vista Grande Nursing Home in Cortez. He was 92 years old,” read his obituary by Claire Martin in the Denver Post on Sunday, May 18, 2003.
“Don was the chief ranger, the maintenance director, the caretaker and basically Hovenweep’s entire staff of one for many years,” the Post’s story quoted retired park ranger Bill Wade, whose father was the chief ranger at Mesa Verde National Park.
Wade recalled Ripley using a router to cut grooves for lettering and squeeze bottle filled with orange paint to tidily fill in the letters.
“When I think of him, the memory of those signs comes back immediately. They had a distinctive pattern that he designed, and he also made a kind of thing that went on top of the sign. You know designs you see on Navajo woven blankets? That zigzag thing? It resembled that. These were roadside sign and there were a lot of ‘em up there,” Martin quoted Wade.
With his attention to detail and respect for native culture, Ripley won friends and influenced people from the many walks he traveled in his life. In addition to his Park Ranger duties at Hovenweep and Mesa Verde, he worked at other parks including as superintendent of Salinas National Monument in New Mexico from the fall of 1965 to the fall of 1967. It seemed he always returned to his home in Dolores.
Utes, Navahos, and Crow all called him friend and the University of Colorado, through the Cortez Cultural Center, honored him as well for his archaeological work in 1992, according to the Cortez Journal.
“The Crow Tribe made Ripley an honorary brother, a tribute that he considered one of the highest complements of his life,” according to the Denver Post. “When Ripley finally finished his house in Dolores in 1958, he like to tell guests that he had asked for the blessing of Old Coyote, the sly, legendary medicine man. Old Coyote, Ripley often said, was his brother.”
At the hardware store back then Don, and occasionally his wife Bessie, whom he married in 1939 in Victor, would come in and grab a small item like sand paper or hinges for his woodworking “Jones” and would then put it in his own personal charge book for Taylor’s, without needing help from any store employee. Occasionally, owner Merton Taylor would convince him to make some sort of sign for a local service club that the two of them were involved in. Rotary, American Legion, NRA, CU Foundation, or maybe the Dolores Public Library Board would be the usual suspects.
Throughout my life, as I have traveled the west in California, Wyoming, New Mexico, and the four points of the compass in Colorado, I often would run into folks that knew, respected and enjoyed Don Ripley during his lifetime. I shared that respect and enjoyment.
One regret, I guess however, is that I didn’t seek more from such a memorable character as he sipped his coffee, and fished out a flat bastard file (or some other item) from the cabinet up front and scrawled it in the book marked “Don Ripley” every morning in hardware store, all those years ago.



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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Give up Gatling when pried from the crank














"You can get a lot farther with a kind word and a gun than a kind word alone."
__ Al Capone

"The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun."
__ Richard Buckminster Fuller

Having problems with labor? Can’t get a strike settled? Uppity miners won’t go back to work? Two, out of three turn-of-the-century Colorado mine owners prefer martial law, military force and the use of a Gatling gun.
A hand-cranked weapon with six barrels revolving around a central shaft with cartridges gravity fed into the top through a hopper, the Gatling gun was invented during the Civil War by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling. The first version of the gun was capable of firing 600 rounds a minute. Each barrel fired 100 rounds per minute and could continue at that pace for hours without overheating. By 1900, most armies around the world included the Gatling Gun in their arsenals.
In 1877, Dr. Gatling was living next door to the widow of the late Samuel Colt (of Colt Firearms) at whose factory the Gatling Gun Company then manufactured their guns. Colt’s neice, Elizabeth Jarvis, was a frequent visitor to the Gatling's home in Hartford, Connecticut, and Gatling explained to her in a letter his beliefs in developing the guns.
“In 1861, during the opening events of the war, (residing at that time in Indianapolis, Md.,) I witnessed almost daily the departure of troops to the front and the return of the wounded, sick, and dead. The most of the latter lost their lives, not in battle, but by sickness and exposure incident to the service. It occurred to me if I could invent a machine--a gun-- which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a great extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease be greatly diminished. I thought over the subject and finally this idea took practical form in the invention of the Gatling gun.”
In Colorado, during the hard rock miners strikes in Cripple Creek and Telluride, and during the Coal Wars in the southern part of the state after that, the gun was an instrument of intimidation.
“At the time of the 1904 strike a group of the strikers had been arrested by the militia under Adjutant General Sherman Bell,” wrote Raymond Colwell in 1961. “The District Judge, Lewis, I believe, issued a writ ordering Bell to produce the prisoners in court for a habeas corpus proceeding. The District was under martial law of the State at the time, and Bell refused to turn the prisoners over to the civil authorities, but did bring them in under military guard. The District Court room then was in the Mining Exchange Building.”
Colewell was a freshman in high school at the time and attended classes just across the alley from the excitement.
“There were militiamen all over the place, sharpshooters on the top of the National Hotel and the high School, which was just across the alley from court room, and Gatling guns in the street intersection. Militiamen were lined up practically shoulder to shoulder on the Fourth Street side of the Mining Exchange Building.”
In Telluride it was a similar story.
Capitalist Author A. Collins, to make the mines there more profitable, instituted a contract system that in effect reduced the miner’s standard $3 per eight hour a day pay rate and pushed them into working longer and more dangerous shifts. In protest, the union miners went on strike in 1901. The union, Western Federation of Miners, agreed to having issues arbitrated by the State Board of Arbitration, but the offer was rejected by Collins, and he hired strikebreakers at the same rate that he refused to give to the union. Armed union miners tried to discourage non-union laborers from working for weeks and violence broke out one morning eventually, and resulted in three deaths and six serious injuries as well as strikebreakers being forced out of town. The violence on both sides continued for years.
Collins was assassinated with a shotgun blast through his window nearly year later while playing cards with friends. And the Telluride district also fell under martial law administered also by Sherman Bell but eventually turned over to a citizen’s militia.
“In preparation for the transfer of military command, Bell took Troop A through maneuvers around town at a gallop, trundling the Gatlin gun along and out to the ballpark,” wrote MaryJoy Martin in her 2004 book, “The Corpse on Boomerang Road.”
“Sergeant Jack Bowman put the men through training and target practice, cutting down trees at 800 yards... Bowman allowed Sheriff (John) Rutan to have a ‘crank’ and the sheriff was aghast at the firing power. ‘That’s the most wicked machine I ever witnessed in operation,’ he said. And once again, Bell impressed upon the town that he meant to use the wicked machine if necessary. Intimidation at its finest was meant to scare off the remaining union men and Socialists,” wrote Martin.
In the southern Colorado coal mine areas, it was once again a strike, though by a different union, that brought out the Gatling gun.
In 1913, when the United Mine Workers of America went out on strike in the southern coalfields of Colorado, additional detectives from Baldwin-Felts were brought in from West Virginia by the Coal operator Colorado Fuel & Iron (CF&I) for the express purpose of protecting mine property and strikebreakers.
With them they brought the “Death Special.”
“To goad the strikers into violent action, the coal companies mounted a harassment campaign, shining high-powered searchlights on the tent colonies at night or using the “Death Special,” an improvised armored car to which a Gatling-type machine-gun was affixed, to periodically spray certain colonies with machine-gun fire. On more than one occasion people were killed,” according to historic information on the Colorado Bar Association’s Web site.
“A discussion on the Death Special was included in a Congressional investigation by the House Committee on Mines and Mining after its use in West Virginia earlier. The first Colorado use of the Death Special was at the Forbes colony of October 17 where the entire unprotected tent colony was raked with machine gun fire. One miner was killed, one child shot nine times in the leg, and 148 bullet holes were found in one tent alone.”
The troubles increased for both miners and operators eventually resulting in one of Colorado’s darkest miner-operator incidents, the Ludlow Massacre, in which 25 people were killed in a single day. Among the dead: 11 children, most of which suffocated in pit under a tent that was set afire by Colorado militia. The incident occurred in one of the union’s largest tent cities known as Ludlow. Afterward, a battle waged for weeks in the camps and towns from Walsenburg to Trinidad and President Woodrow Wilson was finally forced to call in federal troops to end the carnage.
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