Saturday, December 29, 2012

Marking the trail in the Ute Pass



In the spring, after the first thunder is heard, it is time for the bear dance.

The origin of the Ute Bear Dance relates the time when two brothers were out hunting in the mountains and as they became tired, they laid down to rest. One of the brothers noticed a bear standing upright facing a tree and seemed to be dancing and making a noise while clawing the tree. Ute legends or stories remember the time when the elders asked the hunters to go out and gather meat. As they were out hunting, they encountered some small people who ran into the rocks in the hills. They told the elders about them and the elders told them that they were called cliff dwellers which according to archaeologists were called Anasazi, the ancient ones. The one brother went on hunting while the other brother continued to observe the bear. The bear taught the young man to do the same dance and also taught the young man the song that went with the dance.
He told the young man to return to his people and teach them the dance and songs of the bear. The songs according to legends show respect for the spirit of the bear and the respect to the bear spirit makes one strong. After a long winter, everyone was ready to be outside. The Bear Dance was one way which people could release their tensions. The men and women, as they entered the corral, would wear some sort of plumes which at the end of the fourth and final day, they would leave on a cedar tree at the east entrance of the corral. As the Ute's say, leaving the plume on the tree was to leave your troubles behind and start your life anew."
__ Information from the article Bear Dance, by the Southern Ute Drum
Dances, ancient customs, and Utes, and spring...

Some of the white marble markers still tell the story, though not as audibly and obviously, as they first did in 1911. U.P.T.  routed out in relief on the flat slabs. Originally, there were 15 of them placed by the El Paso County Pioneers. The group said they wanted to mark what was left of the ancient Ute Pass Trail between Cascade and Manitou Springs.
The group was to dedicate the newly-marked, but anciently-traveled, route in 1912.  Only trouble, according to Ute Pass historian Jan Pettit, was getting real Utes to help dedicate. 

"The town of Colorado Springs held an eight-day summer carnival in 1911. The carnival committee had requested a group of Utes Indians from the Southern Reservation for exhibition at that event. The good citizens were informed by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that he did not favor the promiscuous employment of Indians in Wild West Shows . He was, however, not opposed to their employment in exhibitions of a historical and elevating character. A small group of Ute Indians would be allowed to participate in the marking of the ancient Ute Pass Trail and to appear at the carnival. The carnival organizers were required to enter into a contract with the Indians by posting a bond and agreeing to pay travel and other expenses in addition to paying each adult Ute five dollars. The Indian events were so polar with those attending the carnival that the celebration's name was changed to Shan  Kive (good time) with the hope of having more Indians attend in 1912," wrote Pettit in her book "Utes: The Mountain People."

But not everyone was happy. For at the carnival, Utes performed the Moon Dance and other customs that were discouraged at the reservation. In fact, most of the customs that were uniquely Ute, were discouraged by people of influence at the time like School Superintendent Werner of the Southern Ute Agency. They were apparently afraid all dancing, revived traditions and such, might set the tribe, once again, back on the war path. 

But after a series of letters between Cato Sells, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, E.E. McKean, Superintendent of the Southern Ute Agency and Fred Mathews, general freight and passenger agent for the Florissant and Cripple Creek Railroad and chairman of the Shan Kive celebration, it was finally agreed that a party of 50 adult Utes, and their families could attend the 1912 dedication and carnival. The contract called for expenses and payment of a dollar in cash, with the express prohibition of allowing the tribal members to purchase intoxicating liquors.

"A large group of Ute Indians accompanied by several dignitaries began their ride down the Ute Pass Trail from Cascade toward Manitou Springs mounted on horses furnished by the Cusack family." wrote Pettit. 

Buckskin Charlie, Chief of the Southern Utes, and Chipeta, widow of Ouray, were among the 75 or so Indians, that proceeded down the trail.

Frances Heizer, of the founding families of Cascade, described it thusly, at the time:
"Buckskin Charlie, chief of this tribe, had not been over the trail since the Utes had left this country over thirty years earlier. His birthplace was Garden of the Gods and he remembered every turn in this trail he had ridden in his youth. 'I'm seventy years old,' he said. "I never so happy in all my life.'"

The aging chief explained en route, that neutral territory topped the route, were Utes smoked the pipe of peace with enemies such as Comanche, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Sioux. They cached their arms and substituted choke cherry branches as an indication of peaceful intentions as they proceeded down to the "medicine waters" with ailing. They believed the springs were the abode of a spirit who breathed through the water, causing them to bubble and cure, at the same time.

As early as 1847, historical accounts by early travelers to this area like Frederick Ruxton, noted that the springs (which now are in Manitou Springs) was collector of native people, and trading location as a result.

"The basin of the spring was filled with beads and wampum, and pieces of red cloth and knives, whilst the surrounding trees were hung with strips of deer skin, cloth, and moccasins. The Indian regard with awe the "medicine" waters of these fountains as being the abode of a spirit who breathes through the transparent water, and thus, by his exhalations, causes the perturbation of its surface," wrote Ruxton in 1847.

Maude McFerran Price, curator of the El Paso Pioneers Museum, is quoted in Pettit's book regarding the importance of the trail marking. 
"Today the trail lies marked forever, not alone by the marble tables, by the hopes and fears and joys and tears of the fast disappearing race of red men."

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Photo Information: Creator, H.S. Horace Swartley Poley. 1911. Native American (Ute) Chief Buckskin Charlie (Sapiah), poses with two children and his wife, Emma Naylor Buck (To-Wee), Chipeta, widow of Chief Ouray, sits to his right. He is wearing a Rutherford Hayes Indian Peace Medal. His wife wears  a beaded necklace.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Clear to me, like rattlesnake's tale


It became clear to me. Simplified. Like the Navajo woman staring out to the west in a R.C. Gorman painting. It is not what you say that is important. How do you say it?
The woman, of course, has big feet and hands, abnormally so, as she stares off the page. An inverted sphere, or bowl, describes the light to me. A faint shadow, back on the unseen wall behind her jet-black hair, fills in the detail. The geometric design on the bowl reminds me that not all of life is a circle.
The steam rises from the hot swirling water to soften philosophy in front of me. It is an intended, programed, planned softening.
Folklore says the Ute figure Ouray spent a lot of time in the latter part of his life, languishing in his namesake springs. Utes thought of the springs as sacred ground. Others say the waters softened the edges on his Arthritis, or aches and pains from the strange path he followed.
Ouray popped up like a Forest Gump figure, from culture to culture. From family connections with the Jicarilla Apache, to the French, Spanish and Mexican traders of old Santa Fe, to the negotiations (perhaps with no authority) in Washington ... with Otto Mears, Kit Carson, and the "great white father" Abe Lincoln. Being an Indian was more complicated then. Choose your battles, careful who you befriend. Choose your enemies.
My own family struggled with it. Enemies or friends? Great-grandmother Minnie Buce Carrigan described the horror in her book, "Captured by the Indians."
"My father began talking to the foremost Indians. My brother has told me that father asked them to take all his property but to let him and his family go. But the Indian replied in the Sioux language, "Sioux cheche," (the Sioux are bad.) He then leveled his double barreled shot gun and fired both barrels at him. He dropped the baby--she was killed--and running a few yards down the hill, fell on his face, dead. The same Indian then went to where my mother had sat down beside a stone with little Caroline in her lap, reloaded his gun and deliberately fired upon them both. She did not speak or utter a sound, but fell over dead. Caroline gave one little scream and a gasp or two and all was over with her. The cry rang in my ears for years afterward. My father was thirty-three and my mother thirty years of age when they were so cruelly murdered by the Indians."
She was captured, and then finally liberated 10 weeks later.
Yet, she later worked as a cook on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. My Granddad Owen, grew up there.
Though, in those days, they didn't give you much time to grow up. He worked as a cowboy with a cattle outfit moving herds from the Dakotas to Arizona with the seasons, from age 12, until a horse threw him and he broke his leg. He later homesteaded here in Colorado.
Growing up and Southwestern Colorado, I had some experiences myself with Navajo, Ute, Hopi and the Pueblos of New Mexico. I saw a measure of racism toward Native Americans. Things that were just not fair, not right.
 Listen to me... I will tell you more.
As the Navajo proverbs says, "There is nothing so eloquent, as a rattlesnake's tail."

 (to be continued ....)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Leaving it to beavers


Beavers, considered a “keystone” species for their dam building efforts may actually be helping Colorado landowners and others weather recent drought conditions. But how are the beavers faring in the dry conditions?
“Drought does have an impact on beaver though we haven't heard or seen significant impacts thus far,” says Randy Hampton, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Public Information officer.
“In areas where streams dry up, beaver are known to abandon lodges and dams to find other water sources. One advantage this past year was that reservoir storage was high and most larger bodies of water in Colorado were managed to keep minimal flows,” Hampton says.
“Smaller streams were impacted but in the case of beaver, they often store up enough water behind their dams to actually make it through dry periods - as long as the dry periods are short. We would expect to see larger negative impacts to beaver if drought persists into next year and beyond.”
The beaver fur trade reached its peak in the Rocky Mountain West sometime between 1830 and 1832.
"At that time, pelts brought trappers an average of $4 to $6 per pound. A resourceful mountain man could trap 400 to 500 pounds per year. By 1840, the price had fallen to $1 or $2 per pound, and depletion of the beaver reduced the average trap to 150 pounds -- hardly worth the the time of ambitious man who could otherwise earn $350 to $500 per year. By 1840, perhaps only 50 to 75 trappers remained in the West, a far cry from 500 to 600 who worked the region in the 1820s," writes Thomas G. Alexander in "Utah, The Right Place."
"During the early years Rocky Mountain bison meat served as the main substance for the the trappers. By the early 1840s, the mountain men and the Indians had annihilated the buffalo in the Rocky Mountains. The trappers also helped reduce the herds of elk, moose and deer. The communities of small fur-bearing animals dwindled the same way . By the early 1840s, the beaver were almost extinct," according to Alexander.
Beaver expert David M. Armstrong, of the Department of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History, University of Colorado-Boulder, notes that many mountain ponds, willow thickets and meadows are the works of beavers over time.
“Beavers are active year-round. Their ponds provide navigable water beneath the ice. No mammal other than humans has a great an influence on its surroundings. This is a `keystone species' in riparian communities; without them the ecosystem would change dramatically,” Armstrong says in information provided by the state parks and wildlife department.
And they have a historic role.
“As abundant as beavers are today, it is difficult to believe that once they were on the verge of extinction, trapped for their under fur, which was used to make felt for beaver hats. In the mid-19th century, silk hats replaced beaver felt as a fashion, and that probably saved the beaver from extinction. But, before it ended, the beaver trade opened the mountains of Colorado to European exploration.
The largest rodents native to North America can be greater than three feet in length, and weigh up to 55 pounds.
“It takes a beaver approximately 30 minutes to fell a 5-inch diameter tree,” says Armstrong.
Beaver Breakout Box 
Beavers are fairly well protected from predators by their large size and aquatic habits. Mink eat some kits, and coyotes can capture a beaver waddling on dry land. Aside from that, floods may be the largest cause of death. Beaver in Colorado are managed as furbearers.
Range: The beaver lives throughout Colorado in suitable habitat, although it is most abundant in the subalpine zone.
Habitat: Beavers live around ponds and streams that are surrounded by trees.
Diet: Beavers feed on grasses and forbs in the summer, and bark in the winter. Beavers eat the upper, tender branches, leaves and bark of trees. They do not eat the inner wood.
Reproduction: The den houses a nuclear family: parents, yearlings, and four or five kits. A single litter of young is produced each year, born in the spring after about a four-month gestation period.
Source:
David M. Armstrong
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History
University of Colorado, Boulder.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Through a skylight filter






I smell the sun on the edge of morning.
Lines, then arcs, then almost a circle.
Where does it begin, and when does it end?
Every day, another one, almost m’racle.

Horizon line, then an arc, a bright ball.
Edge is sharp, days are hard, nights are murder.
Debate with you, argue then, I’m right, you know?
Think I give a flock, I am no sheepherder.

Infinity sign, twisted loop, never ends.
Light and dark, shades of grey, pixal tight.
Focus sharp, dogs don’t bark, set the stop.
Roads are lines, house with arcs, in water angles right.

Fog and sun, steam and ice, greens gone brown.
A beaver here, raccoon there, buck, bull, doe, and angel.
Saw her there, in the mist, floating above the water.
Friend who left, tells me stuff, sky is full of danger.

Need some art, design the front, illustrate a story
Designer tones and picks, sometimes with different vision
Cops call in, fire breaks out, rush to file an image
Grip and grin, check pass, mug, shoot them without derision

Day moves on, through high sun, moves in arc
Noon to dusk, search for clouds, red in bounce
Where does it begin, and when does it end?
Afraid of the dark, if that kind of fear counts?

Every day, another one, string together, one by one
Move along, nothing to see here, give us some room
Smell the sun, edge of night, angel’s lens paints the ball.
Almost a circle, arcs then lines, crop tight, then zoom.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A guy with a sense of humor



He was probably trying to help, but it only added to our legend.
“The first glass is for myself, the second for my friends, the third for good humor, and the fourth, for my enemies.” The coach christened us something like ‘the beer-bottle brothers,’ and started calling us “Adolph (Coors)” and “Bud,” respectively. I always liked a guy with a sense of humor.
Drawn together because we were smaller than the rest.
And perhaps because of it, we thought we had to be funnier. Most of the time, we were.
At least I was laughing.
Early ‘Saturday Night Live’ funny. John Bulushi in ‘Animal House’ funny, Jack Black, and ‘Vote for Pedro’ strange, and funny. “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” funny.
There was another element. Our lives were not perfect. There were different darknesses that needed laughed at. That edge, when dipped in humor, was easier to take.
I have never seen such a skinny dude, before or since.
Among the nicknames embraced, “The White Bone.”
You also have a way of surprising us, unpleasantly. Shock value.
I still can’t bring myself to describe what you did to that windshield on the way to Grand Junction on one road trip. Don’t think the driver has ever recovered.
We even gave ourselves names and numbers. Vorachos (misspelled Spanish drunks).
We gave ourselves a lot of lee way. So did others.
In college, beer tops spidered the ceiling. Ice slipped by. Women and girls, came and went. Cars were wrecked. Priorities re-accessed.
Maybe it was time to get serious.
Have to laugh about  it.
Come see us out in California. Visit, when you are back in town.  Springs in Steamboat and Pagosa.
Then, we made a trip out north and east. Our friend, he is not here for long.
I can see it in his eyes.
At the funeral, then, I saw the look in your eyes -- when his kids turned loose the balloons.
But you laughed when you saw the pith helmet.
Add it all up to legend.
Appreciate it. I always liked a guy with a sense of humor.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Like sandpaper softly wearing edges off hardware



He was traditionally a creature of the backroom. 
Behind the double doors, and the stairwell to the basement, at the check-in stand (or perhaps, on the tall red-seated metal barstool in front of the Microfiche), one could find him every day. That was true for… I don’t know, sixty… seventy years.
Merton Taylor surfaced at the coffee pot in the back corner of the front room, precisely at 10 a.m. daily, and then, again at 11:30 a.m., gathering the dogs in the Scout, for the trip home to lunch. He returned in an hour and spent the rest of the day in the backroom until someone asked him for a key at 5:30 that evening.
“They would not find me changed from him they knew – Only more sure of all I thought was true,” wrote Robert Frost in 1913. Merton Taylor and Frost, it seemed, were contemporaries.
I reveled in stories he would tell of Dolores area characters past, like Doc LeFeurgy, and Reverend Flanders, and the “Wild Woman of Horse Gulch.” His odd take on life -- a constant draw for others, as well. His advice sought for particular hardware concerns, or archeology, or mining, or forestry and farming. He held court in that back room, as surely and regularly as the federal district.
I knew him just barely before the “Walmarting” of America, but I think he would have understood and liked Sam Walton, the change agent who opened his first store in Rogers, Arkansas, more than 50 years ago, and altered retailing forever.
Probably, he would not agree with him however. It wasn’t his nature to necessarily agree with anyone.
It is not that the Walmart Top 10 would bother him: everyday low prices, selection, altering the retail landscape, the decline of the labor movement, supplier partnerships, the ‘cult’ of Walmart, data-driven management, a culture of over-consumption, with the odd partner of sustainability, and the power of access. He might just be slightly miffed that he didn’t become famous and rich for embracing them.
But on second look, he wasn’t really interested in becoming either that rich or famous. He was interested in success, as evidenced by his involvement in the establishment of Dolores State Bank in 1959, and later the Bank of Telluride, but he measured things differently, I think.
He certainly looked at Dolores with different eyes than most. The long view, through birth, and school, railroad and dam building, lumber mills, plywood plants and dryland farming, depression to ‘80s recession, fires, floods, Roosevelt, and Reagan, WW II and the Iranian hostage crisis, Jack Dempsey and Elvis.
But times, they were a changing.

As Frost noted (again in 1913), in Reluctance.

“Ah, when to the heart of man,
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?”

Quite traditionally a creature of the backroom, in a time before great change, in the late fall, or early winter of a season of a different truth. One that I can barely remember.
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nailed it, over and over again.






Cook your eggs the same way every time, don’t you? Some things, you just can’t help but come back to, to the same place, over and over again. For me, it is in a little store, in a little town, when I was just a little man.
Saturday morning, 9 a.m., 1979 ­­-- A curvy woman, dark shoulder-length, curly hair, maybe 30, attractive, with a big, winning smile on her face, bounces in from the side door, right up to the nail counter.
“Do you have a block of wood and a hammer?”
Nick and I looked at her, and perhaps at each other. We didn’t say it, but this is a hardware store, lady, of course there is a hammer around here, and I’m sure, a block of wood.
“What are you using them for?” One of us asked.
“I bet I can balance 16 nails on the head of one,” her answer confidently snapped back in our general direction.
Per her instructions, we fished seventeen 16-penny, smooth-box, cement coats, out of the dusty nail bin and plopped them down on the semi-rough surface of the composite counter.
“Now drive one into the center of the block,” she said. “But not all the way down.”
One of us grabbed the hammer that hung in a loop at the edge, near the scale.
And,  we did as we were told.
She grabbed up the rest of the nails. She places one flat in the center on the dark countertop, then, alternating on each side, places all but one of  the additional nails, with their heads down the spine of that first nail, until all of them lined up, looking like an eight-winged dragon fly. Then, with the last nail dropped on top, facing the opposite direction, and also weaving between the segments of the metal dragon fly, she picks up the whole configuration, between thumb and forefinger.
Steadily, but very quickly, she balances it on the nail that we drove into the block of wood.
All sixteen nails balanced, by themselves, on the center piece.
“I told you I could balance 16 nails on the head of one,” she said, flashed the smile again, and left through side door. Never to be seen again.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve successfully, and sometimes profitably, used that trick since.

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