Thursday, July 28, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
"When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing - just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?" __ Ralph Marston
I am not real sure of the details, but when I was a young buck, there were a couple of ponds near the river in the upper end of the town of Dolores, Colorado. One pond was fenced all around by a big chain-link barrier with locked gates and had something to do with the drinking water supply. The other was for recreational purposes, I guess. At least that is the way we looked at it.
My compadres and I spent fair amount of time at what we called “the town pond,” or the one sans chain-linked barrier. It was a favorite year-round destination.
In the winter, the fire department would sometimes flood it by pumping water out on the top for a refreeze and its smoothing effect to make a better skating surface. We played hockey for hours there, but later found larger and better options downstream near the bridge as you come into town.
I remember at least once, a group of high school kids dropping a small car, part of the way through the ice into the pond, while cutting doughnuts out there.
But the summer fun I recall quite fondly because of the “lively” aspect of our endeavors and the ‘nature’ of our experiments,
The ecosystem included, but was not limited to, frogs, ‘crawdads,’ snakes, salamanders, various sucker-fish, ‘mud dogs,’ carp, small trout, maybe blue gill?, or even Pike, and bugs galore. Perhaps even a small pet alligator or two, at least until the first hard freeze, may have found freedom there … I don’t know. It was a lively place.
I personally owned a seine, with a tightly meshed bow-crossed frame about three feet square, that you could drop in the shallow, crawling waters … wait a few minutes, and then pull to the surface with all manner of evil creatures on it. I remember pulling it up several times, only to drop it right back in hurry, because I was not sure what the wiggling mass discovered flopping in the netting was when I brought it to the surface.
Another favorite feature was a makeshift raft, (let’s just call it ‘The Calypso,’ Aye, I sing to your glory,) created by nailing two sheets of four’ by eight’ plywood on each side of several square wooden fence posts. You could pole it anywhere in the mucky mess of a pond and fit three or four of the delinquent, would-be life scientist passengers on at a time.
When archaeologist excavate the area 1,000 years now, imagine the significance they will ascribe to the thousands of unpaired canvas shoes they find in progressive layers of fossilized tar pits … slime, muck and goo, that would suck a Converse All Star Chuck Taylor Special, right off your feet and down deep into the mire, never to be seen again for thousands of years.
There must have been selenium, or other mutation-inducing glop filtering into the pond because, to this day, I have never seen freshwater crawdaddies, the length and girth of those Big Boys wrestled from that location.
Dam building was also a beloved activity, acquired skill, and required course of education, incumbent on students of pond-life. Small streams fed into the top end and often, an overflow ditch, cut in bank between the pond and the river, ran a healthy watercourse between the two connected bodies of water. But what flow could not stand a few modifications and improvements by a troop of adolescent human beavers?
Nearby, just downstream, on the river bank, were the Post Office is now, was a huge willow thicket with bent over clumps that made excellent lodges for the beaver army that tunneled through, and wove together, and dug under room-like caverns, hallways, and hidey holes. And then, down from there, the Big Rock with a diving hole right off the point, and long dark suckers swimming in the backwater behind.
You learned to respect the river, and love it. You cared about the pond. You lived and played in the willows. The crawdads, frogs, snakes, and mud dogs were just some of your friends. No matter how much you dammed it, altered it, slopped in it, swam through it, rafted on it, trapped creatures from it – in essence, it flowed through you. But, I guess, I am not real sure of the details.
Monday, July 11, 2011
"I wish I could find words to express the trueness, the bravery, the hardihood, the sense of honor, the loyalty to their trust and to each other of the old trail hands. They kept their places around the herd under all circumstances, and if they had to fight, they were always ready. Timid men were not among them — the life did not fit them. I wish could convey in language, the feeling of companionship we had for one another. Despite all that has been said of him, the old-time cowboy is the most mis-understood man on earth. May the flowers prosper on his grave and ever bloom, for I can only salute him in silence."
Colorado had been a destination for trailblazing cowman Charlie Goodnight and his partner Oliver Loving when they first drove cattle across “the Graveyard of Cattleman’s Hopes,” “the Bitter River,” the Pecos.
For almost two decades, blazing trails through the cattle country from the Brazos in Texas, on into New Mexico, to the Arkansas and the Platte in Colorado, he was searching for his own “Shangri-La,” where he might one day settle.
“In the summer of 1868, he found “The Spot.” It was a green little valley along the Arkansas about five miles upstream from Pueblo, surrounded by bluffs of shale,” wrote Ralph C. Taylor in his Colorful Colorado column in early April of 1950. (The column was sponsored by Coors Brewing for years and aired on radio stations and published in Colorado newspapers, including the Pueblo Chieftain.)
“This, he decided should become the headquarters of his vast cattle business. Around it lay thousands of acres of uncropped Gama grass that fattened steers almost as fast as corn.”
Finally closing the partnership maintained long after the death of Oliver Loving in the winter of 1868-69, he established his headquarters at a spot (one among many) known as “Goodnight.”
“Most of the land of his new domain he acquired in partnership with Jacob and Peter Dotson and Mrs. Annie Blake. Mrs. Blake had only recently acquired from the heirs of Gervacio Nolan the 48,000 acres which the U.S. government had recognized from the 300,000 originally granted the Frenchman Nolan by the Spanish government when it controlled all the land South of the Arkansas River,” noted Taylor.
“Mrs. Blake bought the land for $10,000 and then sold one third to Goodnight for $5,000 and another third to the Dotsons for a like amount, retaining her third. The deal gave Goodnight access to most of land from the St. Charles River on the east to Hardscrabble on the west, with the Arkansas River as the northern boundary. The tract formed a triangle, the southeastern boundary going along the St. Charles and the Greenhorn Rivers to meet the western boundary along the Greenhorn Range.”
It included what was later to become the town site of South Pueblo. With big plans set in motion, he left for Kentucky to be married to Mary Ann (Molly) Dyer. Goodnight met Dyer in Texas during the Civil War in Cross Timbers and they had maintained a relationship since. She was 31 and Goodnight was 34 when they were married in Hickman, Ky., on July 26, 1870.
They went by boat to St. Louis, traveled to Abilene, Texas, by train, and then set out by stage to Pueblo.
En route to Pueblo, Goodnight had discovered the trail of two cattle thieves associated with the notorious Coe gang and alerted Colorado Vigilance committee upon his arrival in Pueblo. His alarm allowed them to quickly capture the rustlers and they were placed in the Pueblo Jail. However, the unfortunate souls were taken from the jail in the night and hanged from a telegraph pole outside the Drover hotel in which the newlyweds were staying. Goodnight first tried to keep the lynching from his new wife Molly, but was unable to do so.
“The bride accused Goodnight of associating with Yankees and ruffians and demanded to be taken back to Texas,” wrote Taylor.
In Goodnight’s own account in letters, he recalled he and his wife’s exchange.
“I understand they hanged them to a telegraph pole,” she exclaimed in her distress.
“Having been married such a short while and not accustomed to making excuses, I hardly knew how to reply, but finally stammered out in very abashed manner: “Well, I don’t think it hurt the telegraph pole.”
Goodnight agreed to return his new wife to civilized Texas, allowing she would rest a few days. But the growing and developing town in the meantime offered the promise of becoming civilized itself — and she soon forgot about going back.
Pueblo, with about 600 residents in 1870, found Charles and Molly Goodnight as good neighbors. Goodnight, intent on improving his herd, imported shorthorn bulls to the range of the plains. He also started extensive farming operations, growing corn to fatten cattle and planted several thousand apple trees. Additionally, he built irrigation ditches, and tried to improve the streambed to protect his trees and increase his land holdings.
He took an active interest in the business community as well, giving $1,000 to found an educational institution and requiring it to be independent of all sects and religious creeds. His wife was instrumental in the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Pueblo — the first of its denomination in southern Colorado.
“Money was a costly matter to borrow. Goodnight was paying one and a half to two percent per month. He joined others in 1873 in organizing the Stock Growers’ Bank, which advertised six percent on three month deposits, and eight percent on 12 months,” noted Taylor.
“Goodnight owned and operated the opera house and many business properties in Pueblo, but when the panic hit, it just about wiped him out. (He) turned again to the cattle ranges to regain his panic losses and formed a partnership with John W. Prowers, the lower Arkansas valley stockman who was the father of Lamar and Prowers County. Prowers & Goodnight started a meat packing business at Las Animas, which in the early seventies was the end of the Santa Fe Railroad. Goodnight's aim was to improve the quality of the range cattle by using better bulls; by slaughtering inferior stock and sending it to eastern markets.”
But he became discouraged by the slow financial recuperation process and the increasingly crowded southern Colorado range. He decided once again to relocate. This time back to Texas and the Palo Duro area he knew as a Texas Ranger and scout.
“In the fall of 1875, he took was left of his Colorado outfit and herded it past Two Buttes to the Cimarron, past the ruins of Robber’s Roost and down the Canadian River… Goodnights established their home ranch, 100 miles from their nearest neighbor, 250 miles from Las Animas were supplies were packed,” wrote Taylor.
Using his land near Pueblo as security, he borrowed $30,000 from George W. Clayton. He paid 18 percent interest per year and eventually befriended Clayton’s agent, John Adair, who had a large estate in Ireland but wanted to get into the cattle business. Adair and the Goodnights formed partnership, which became widely known as the JA Brand.
With Adair’s money and Goodnight’s know-how, the operation flourished and had nearly a quarter million acres under fence by Adair’s death in 1885.
The JA has survived, and today is still run by descendants of the Adair family. Today, it has 1,335,000 acres of land and 100,000 cattle on range, and includes operations in six Texas counties, and a ranch near Larkspur, Colorado.
Two years later, Goodnight dissolved the arrangement and moved to a smaller spread of 140,000 acres with 20,000 head of cattle in nearby Goodnight, Texas, his namesake.
In later years he dabbled with breeding experiments designed to produce better beef cattle ... as well as the ill-fated “Cattalo.”
“The latter resulted when his buffalo bull ‘Old Sikes’ became enamored with longhorn cows,” wrote Mike Flanigan of the Denver Post in a 1986 article.
In addition to all these accomplishments, he is credited with the inverntion of the Chuck Wagon, when he converted an old military Studebaker wagon during his early trail days, by building shelves and compartments on the wagon to make cooking on the trail easier.
He invested (with little or no success) in mining operations in Mexico, and once even tried his hand at producing a movie to show how he remembered the West. Shown only at a cattleman’s convention and at a dinner in New York, the flick never caught on with the viewing public because of its decided lack of gunfights, and the Indians portrayed were as likely to be friends as they were to be hostile.
His first wife, Mary Ann or “Molly,” as she was known, died in 1926.
After her death, a sick and despondent Charlie Goodnight was nursed backed to health by a 26-year-old nurse and telegraph operator from Butte, Montana, that he first came in contact with because of their shared surname.
In March of 1927, right after Charlie turned 91, the two un-related Goodnights, Charlie and the very young Corrine, married. Charlie died of a heart attack two years later in Tucson, Arizona, after selling and delivering Buffalo roasts to butcher shops in Phoenix, on Dec. 12, 1929.
Years later, Ralph C. Taylor captured the sentiment of the moment.
“The great, driving spirit of the old cowman had gone on, but the civilization he had blazed in Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado has remained. The cowboys, with tears streaming down their leathery cheeks, laid his body under the verdant grass on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon. It was the end of a long and famous trail — the Goodnight trail.”
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Saturday, July 9, 2011
“I was on the frontier carrying a gun when I should have been in school,” an aging Charles Goodnight told his biographer years later.
Goodnight was born in the farming region of Macoupin County, Illinois, (three days after the forming of the Republic of Texas) on March 2, 1836.
His exploits are legendary and are woven into the very fabric of the West in general, and the histories of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and the cattle industry in specific.
“He rode bareback from Illinois to Texas when he was nine years old. He was hunting with Caldo Indians beyond the frontier at thirteen, launching into the cattle business at twenty, guiding Texas Rangers at twenty four, blazing cattle trials two thousand miles in length at thirty, establishing a ranch three hundred miles beyond the frontier at forty, and at forty-five, dominating nearly twenty million acres of range country in the interest of order. At sixty, he was recognized as possibly the greatest scientific breeder of range cattle in the West, and at ninety, he was an active international authority on the economics of the range industry.”
So wrote J. Evetts Haley in his 1936 book “Charles Goodnight – Cowman and Plainsman.’
“He always rode beyond the borderlands, upon the ranges of unspoiled grass. He knew the West of Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Dick Wooten, St.Vrain and Lucien Maxwell. He ranged a country as vast as Bridger ranged. He rode with the boldness of Fremont, guided by the craft of Carson. The vast and changing country which he moved, the fertility of a mind that quickly grasped the significance of climate and topography, the inexhaustible energy of his mind and body, and the long period of time which he constantly applied himself to the Western World, operated to produce in this man an ample nature surpassing many more famous characters of frontier history… Now, a hundred years after his birth, his massive frame looms strong among the horsemen of the storied West,” wrote Haley.
Much of Charlie Goodnight’s early experience was in fighting Indians, particularly Comanche raiders on the edge of the Texas frontier. First serving in the local militia, then as a Texas Ranger, and with the onslaught of the Civil War, as part of the Confederacy.
But that was only the start.
Please see related story:
Monday, July 4, 2011
I know the rest of the country is entitled to celebrate Independence Day but there seems to be something uniquely tied to Colorado and Fourth of July, in my mind.
Maybe it is just fond recollections from July Fourths of the past, in places like Telluride, and Monument, and Dolores, and up in Teller County.
Legendary celebrations have been held here and after all, we are the Centennial State.
Congress had approved Colorado admission to statehood in March of 1875 and laid out provisions and conditions of statehood but it wasn’t until August 1, 1876, when President Ulysses Grant ratified admission. Communities all over the state had already begun celebrating, and really, have never slowed down.
In Denver in 1890, in celebration of the Fourth and the completion of the Capitol building, reportedly five miles of tables were set up for the barbecue attended by over 60,000.
“There were no greedy gluttonous displays, but every man, woman, and child clamored for food until they had their fill. Just think of it! Three hundred and fifty sheep, 75 calves, 237 fat steers, 13,000 loaves of bread, 3,000 pounds of cheese, 10 barrels of pickles, not to mention a 1,000 gallons of lemonade,” itemized the Rocky Mountain News at the time. “The run on the beer saloons was unprecedented.”
Ouray Teamsters and Packer Union, Fourth of July, 1906
Float in front of the Munn Brothers Assay Office, Second Avenue, Ouray. The float consists of an eight-horse team hitched to a wagon decorated with stars and stripes and young girls in white dresses. The horses have tassels on their heads and blankets with the letters O.T.P.U. Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library
Palmer Lake on Independence Day, Fourth of July, 1893
Three photographers photograph the Palmer Lake resort on Independence Day. Two men and a boy stand behind them and watch, water squirts out of the lake fountain and Denver & Rio Grande passenger parks at the depot water tank.
Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.
Celebration in Victor, Fourth of July, 1898 or 1999
Man on tight wire walking between commercial buildings in tights, and with a balance pole. Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.