Monday, May 28, 2012

Post Office or House of the Rising Sun?


There is a house on Seventh Street, I call my boyhood home. It’s been the ruin of many a poor soul, and God, I know I’m one.
With apologies to the Animals, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Glenn Yarbrough, Pete Seeger, Roy Acuff and a slew of others, the following is my story – and I am sticking to it.
“House of the Rising Sun Blues,” surfaced in the 1930s in Appalachia. Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster recorded it as early as 1934, according to Smithsonian Folkways. And Alan Lomax, a curator of the Archive of American Folk Song for the Library of Congress, recorded a version of it in Middesborough, Kentucky, my mom’s hometown, in 1937. Lomax reportedly set up recording equipment in mining activist and folk singer Tilman Cadle’s home and ‘miked’ a performance by Georgia Turner, the then, 16-year-old daughter of a local miner.
As the story goes, the “House of the Rising Sun,” is perhaps a euphemism for a brothel, or a jail house, or a dance hall.  Not everyone can agree on its meaning, or if it existed at all.
I personally wonder if it was the Post Office?
When I was about 11-years-old, my friend and neighbor on one of the other corners of Seventh Street and Hillside, Lynn Leavell, and I, acquired a paper route, delivering the “The Durango Herald.” He had the upriver homes. I had down river, determined of course, by the location of the Post Office on Sixth Street.
Every afternoon as we waited until 4:10 - 4:20 p.m. (it was not always on time) to pick up  papers at the PO, we would pass the time reading the wanted posters on clip boards at the tall grey counter against the wall on one side of the office.
Folks from all over town would saunter in, spin the dials on their combination, ornate, brass mail boxes and pick up their bills, and maybe receive a check here and there -- along with the subscription to Readers Digest and National Geographic.
Bill Bowden, the Postmaster at the time, took care of us, dropping the newsprint-covered, string tied bundles out with a plop near the side door first, before putting up the rest of the mail.
The postal system was different in those days, at least in our little town. Bill’s daughter, Betty Bowden Kitlica, of course remembers it fondly.
“There will never be another Postmaster like my Dad. He took pride in his job, loved the people he served. I will always see him, shirt sleeves rolled up just below his elbows, leaning on the counter. There wasn't a kid that came in that he didn't take the time to talk to --you experienced that first hand. He would do almost anything for anybody. We were in Fort Collins for Virgil's graduation when he got the call that Charlie Rash had passed away. He left right after the ceremony to come back to Dolores to handle things at the post office. That was the end of family vacations because my Mother was the third employee, so if one was gone the other one had to be there.”
The town itself was a bit different then too, I guess.
“The Post Office was sort of the central meeting place; everyone had to come in to get the mail. Dad always took the time to talk. There wasn't anyone who didn't know him and I always assumed that everyone liked him. The office, even though still in a small town, didn't have the same feeling after Dad retired. There was no more sending mail addressed to Grandma and Grandpa 80231. How many people can send a letter addressed to the old one legged blacksmith, Dolores, CO and knows that it will be delivered to the correct person? My Dad was a people person, so of course this was a perfect job for him. Small offices were always more personal than the big city, but I think Dolores was unique because of the man in charge, he made it that way. I know he went beyond what was expected of him, he served his community. Today’s post offices are just a place of business, the managers, as they are called, set in their offices and do whatever it is that they do now. The modern technology has changed a lot of things, it has depersonalized everything. You write something like "pictures, do not bend," or "please hand cancel" and nobody notices it, because it all goes through some big machine.”
Personally, I have no attachment to any other Post Office in Dolores, as I only remember the one on Sixth Street.
“I think Dad only worked in the old post office on 4th street and the new one on 6th, those are the only two that I remember. He was so proud of the new building, it was his baby. He helped design it and took great pride in it. The foreman of the building crew was from Texas, just like my Dad was so they got along great. They had a little boy that I got to babysit. His wife was from Tennessee, and her prom date was a boy by the name of Elvis, loved hearing that story. After I moved away from Dolores, I would run into someone who lived there and I would tell them who my Dad was and they always knew him. I had reason to talk to one of the post masters in Denver and remembered dad from one of the post master conventions. I loved that, it was like having a celebrity for a father. It is sad to go back there and not be able to find someone who knew him.”
Bill was born and raised in a small town, Dublin, Texas, according to his daughter.
“His Dad ran a general store, so he learned how to deal with the public at an early age. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade to go to work to help support the family. That took him to the CCC and eventually to McPhee. Ninety percent of what he made went back home to his family. He met my Mom and got married, started a family then went into the Army during WWII. When he got out he worked as a cook, I think, at the Idle Hour. Maybe more than one. He took the civil service test, passed it and started working at the post office in the early ‘50s, I think- may have been late ‘40s.”
But time marches on, relentlessly.
“When he became a Grandfather, we would always stop by on our way out of town to have the babies weighted on the scale and he would always stamp the bottom of their feet or there hand with a return to sender stamp. That is the one memory that will make me cry every time,” says Kitlica.
“And no, I don't use the post office much now days. I gave up writing letters, don't send cards, get my bills and pay them on line.”
For years, the Bowden family lived in the same house I grew up in, on Seventh Street.
Oh mother, tell your children, not to do what I have done. Spend your lives inside the office, looking at posters in the house of the rising sun.
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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Blue Sky People were here first

The Utes may have first appeared as early as 2,000 years ago. They were definitely in this state and other mountain areas of the southern Rocky Mountains by 1500 A.D. Regardless of the time frame; either date makes them the longest continuous residents of Colorado.
The word Ute means “high land” or “land of the sun.” The Utes were also known as the “Big Sky People,” or tribe of “the shining mountains” among other Native Americans. According to tribal folklore, there were seven splinters of the tribe known as Ute. They ranged across much of the Colorado Plateau in the Mountains and the desert. Their hunting grounds extended up into Wyoming, south almost to Santa Fe, east into Kansas, and west almost as far as Nevada.
Four northern bands included the Uncompahgre (or Tabegauche), Parianucs (or Grand River), White River and Uintah. In the south, were the Mouche, Capote and the Weeminuche.
Today, Utes live on three reservations. The Northern Utes live on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation near Fort Duchesne in northeastern Utah. The Southern Utes occupy a reservation near Ignacio in southwestern Colorado. And the Ute Mountain Utes are located on a reservation near Towaoc which reaches over into New Mexico and Utah.
Tension and conflicts between the Utes and settlers trying to move into this area have occurred almost from the start of that settlement push. On Christmas Day in 1854, a band of Utes killed 15 inhabitants of Fort Pueblo. It was not recorded how many Utes were killed in that battle.
In another infamous incident, Nathan C. Meeker, and Indian agent on White River and several employees were killed in 1879. More than half the 160 troops under Major Thomas Thornburg were slain in a subsequent battle.
In September 1879, the Meeker incident and the Thornburg Battle, the governor of Colorado campaigned actively to limit the tribe’s freedom calling them “the Ute Menace,” and by 1881, the White River Utes were forced to leave for Uintah Valley Reservation in Utah. Other Northern Utes had been confined there since 1869 after the Walker War and other frays between Northern Utes and Mormon settlers. The Uncompahgre Utes joined them a year later on the adjoining Ouray Reservation.
By 1888, three years before Bob Womack’s discoveries in the Cripple Creek district, most of the fighting between Utes and aggressive settlers was done.
A band of Utes from Utah under Colorow made the last Indian raid into Colorado. The group was defeated and returned to the reservation in Utah.
Ute Pass was an ancient trail, first used by – and then named for the tribe that first traveled these hills as the “Blue Sky People.”

Photo: Native American (Ute) men and children ride on horseback as part of the marking ceremony for Ute Pass Trail, El Paso County, Colorado. Men wear feather headdresses. One wears a beaded vest. A child wears leggings and a fringed and beaded shirt. H.S. (Horace Swartley) Poley, photographer. August 29, 1912.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Teller more than just a name


When Teller County was carved out of the western portion of El Paso County and the northern limits of Fremont county in March of 1899, officials paid homage to Colorado’s colorful Henry Moore Teller.
As one of the state’s first United States Senators, Teller’s efforts in support free coinage of silver and other “silver question” policies, made him a hero in this mining community. In fact, with his bi-metallic focus, he emerged as silver’s leading proponent throughout Colorado, the Western United States, and among lawmakers in Washington.
In addition to battling “Gold Bugs,” Teller had widespread impact in other significant areas including Indian affairs, conservation, and “secured the adoption of the Teller Resolution to the declaration of war with Spain, which pledged the United States to an independent Cuba,” according to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.
In another interesting Teller footnote, when the race between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford Hayes was still undetermined in February of 1877, Teller and the new state of Colorado became a factor. Colorado’s electoral votes went to Hayes.
“The significance of Colorado’s popular and electoral college vote was obvious; without it, Democrat Tilden would have won outright,” contends Duane A. Smith. Smith, a Fort Lewis College history professor and author of the 2002 book, “Henry M. Teller: Colorado’s Grand Old Man.”
“The Democratic press later charged that the wealth of the leading Colorado Republicans, mostly mining men, overwhelmed the state’s Democrats. (Jerome) Chaffee and Teller headed the list of the prominent men who ‘played such an important part in the matter of presidential succession.’  And at no time since has Colorado played as significant a role in the presidential election,” says Smith’s book.
But the Silver issue later cleaved the Republicans and eventually Teller’s loyalties to the party. The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress describes Teller’s rather unique party affiliation record and political career.
“ … Upon the admission of Colorado as a State into the Union in 1876, (Teller) was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate; reelected, and served from November 15, 1876, until his resignation on April 17, 1882., to accept a Cabinet position,  … appointed Secretary of the Interior in the Cabinet of Chester Arthur 1882-1885; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1885 and 1891, a Silver Republican in 1897, and as a Democrat in 1903, and served from March 4, 1885 to March 3, 1909; declined to be a candidate for nomination…”
In addition to Teller County, his namesake graces Teller Mountain, near the headwaters of the Platte and Swan Rivers, Teller City ( a ghost town presently) in North Park,  Teller House in Central City, and Teller Harbor, the most northerly harbor on the American side of the Bering Sea in Alaska, as well as the village of Teller, about 60 miles northwest of Nome, Alaska.
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Starting in on Sunday morning philosophy



People sometimes think you know what you are talking about if you write it down. Not all have the same exposure to editors and writers jacked on Columbian coffee, or hopped up on India Pale Ale, that I do.
Focus is hard to maintain. And philosophy is easy to start, but hell to finish.
Elmer Fudd cap on, I load the dogs in the back and head out.
Ella Fitzgerald starts baying out a lonesome version of the blues, and works her way into a scat, in a vocal range spanning three octaves, about the cars we pass on the way to the trailhead. Ginny paces from side to side silently, reserving her bay only for confirmed animal sightings, per her code. As Elvis knows, the hound dog excitement is contagious.
The bright greens of early morning, the fog clinging to the Rampart shoulders, the low angle light, sun peaking now -- ready to boil off the dew.
Battle park in the lot. Not only is it easier to unload, it simplifies getting them back in.
The little trail snakes down into the edge of the trees, toward the creek, and they can smell the willows. They love it. Wet feet, sand and mud, tracks, smell of muskrat, beaver and fox. Signs of life. Now we are living.
The trail bounces high on the banks up into the pines and expansive views – then back to the through the willows and the green-lined edges of water and mushy gravel. Cactus to lily. Yucca to cattail. Mountain mahogany to saw grass. From one side come the larger flows from the reservoirs above.
The draw is choked with red willow, bending over itself and the stream. A deer path, and snags enough to provide a bridge to Terabithia, so we carry on toward the trestle.
The light is really interesting now. It ricochets off the water. It is absorbed in the deep green blues of the spruce boughs. It filters through to cottonwood leaves.
But the path is rounding now, back to the car. I think of the O. Henry short “Squaring the Circle.”
“Beauty is Nature in perfection; circularity is its chief attribute. Behold the full moon, the enchanting gold ball, the domes of splendid temples, the huckleberry pie, the wedding ring, the circus ring, the ring for the waiter, and the ‘round’ of drinks,” wrote O. Henry.
“On the other hand, straight lines show that Nature has been deflected.”
We are on a straight line back to the waiting car.
I guess I will try to write it down. Hope people know what I am talking about. Sunday morning philosophy. I’ll start, but don’t think I can finish.
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Monday, May 14, 2012

Pikes Peak gold rush a misnomer

In the rush to the Rockies in 1859, the call of “Pikes Peak or bust,” may have had more to do with finding the most obvious landmark than any concentration of gold in this area. It may also have had more to do with opportunistic newspaper accounts than any strong show of color in area streams.
Following on the reported success of the Russell party in what is now Denver, another group of gold seekers, known as the Lawrence Company, reached Pikes Peak in search of gold in the summer of 1858. They soon moved north to the banks of Cherry Creek near present-day Denver. Both groups may have in fact owed their origins to tough times in the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys, as a result of the panic of 1857.
When they found gold there in July, exaggerated reports traveled like the Weekly Kansas Herald, the Mississippi Republican and the St. Joseph Gazette.
“Eastern Kansas – especially Leavenworth – is largely represented here,” wrote a correspondent for the Lawrence Republican in June of 1860. “It is difficult in business hours to walk half a square in Denver without meeting some familiar face in your section.”
“The Pikes Peak gold rush was a misnomer, since the early gold seekers traveled to the mouth of Cherry Creek in present-day Denver, and even later moves into the mountains were in areas other than around Pikes Peak,” notes Kansas historian (though he is a native of Colorado) Calvin Gower.
“For Pike’s Peak Ho!, screamed the advertisements for the Pike’s Peak Express Company in the St. Joseph Gazette in 1860, and claimed through mail to Denver City in six and a half days.
According to the Leavenworth Weekly Herald, March 31, 1860, “Many of our prominent and best citizens are preparing homes in the land of gold … Leavenworth has already supplied much of the talent and enterprise, as well as the bone and sinew, of the embryo Mountain State.”
By the peak of the rush, all manners of conveyance were being used to transport would-be miners to gold fields in Colorado, including prairie schooners, hand-pushed wheelbarrows, hand carts, horseback, and men on foot carrying black carpet bags.
Approximately 20 guide books to Pikes Peak appeared from 1858 to 1860, according to Calvin Gower. Over half of them were written by men from Kansas.
“Most of the books were written by men who had no personal knowledge of the purported mines, but were newspapermen, surveyors, travelers, etc… who assumed to speak with authority on the nature of the country and the mines and trails of the far West and equipment and supplies needed for successful travel across the plains. Some of the guidebooks were issued further in interest of certain outfitting towns and to win adherence to particular routes to the gold region,” wrote LeRoy Hafen, an authority on Gold Rush guidebooks in the 1940s.
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

On the prowl for faded neighbors


The big cat prowled the ridges of Rampart Range for years. A calf here, a lamb there – the huge animal took pretty much what he wanted.
Tipping the scales at 160 pounds, and having paws five inches across, the mountain lion grew old, tough, and battle-scarred with broken teeth. It also had become a menace in the late summer and fall of 1922. In October of that year, local ranchers had figured he had killed 30 calves and had been seen within a mile of town many times.  It was time for a change.
But times, they do change, as evident in the passing of time and fate of the towns themselves.
We know that by the way this little settlement might appear at the edge of a trail or along the railroad track or by the riverbed. Slowly it might grow, becoming a small village, or even a larger town. Who knows? Maybe someday, it could grow into a city. But, suppose whatever made it grow in the first place, stops. We know of the success stories, but what of the failures?
There are towns and villages that few remember, and even fewer can say they know what happened.
Towns like Gwillimville, Pring, Husted, Spring Valley, Greenland, Eastonville, Bijou Basin, or Jimmy’s Camp in “The Divide” country. Lucille Lavelett’s 1979 book “Monument’s Faded Neighbor Communities and Its Folklore” tells the story of some of them and has become the definitive source.
Gwillimville: five miles east of present day Monument on Highway 105.
“In its heyday, there were a cheese factory, creamery, store, saloons, a blacksmith shop, post office, school and a church. Across the road was housing for some of those who worked in the cheese factory,” wrote Lavelett.
Pring: Three miles south of Monument with a depot and a one-room school. Founder John William Pring invented the first hand corn planter and sold the patent to the John Deere Company.
Husted: Six miles south of Monument.
“Calvin Husted began his saw mills in 1867 and 1868. Many of Colorado Springs buildings were constructed from the lumber hauled from his mills; hauled by oxen and horses,” Lavelett said.
Spring Valley: Twelve miles northeast of Monument. A post office was established there as early as 1865 according to the national archive, on the old stage route from Denver. “A severe epidemic of scarlet fever took the lives of almost all of the children in the Spring Valley community,” according to Lavelett.
Greenland: Five miles north of Monument. Laid out as a 20 acre town site 1876, it became a busy stop on the Denver and Rio Grande railroad. The Higby store was built there in 1907.The small town also boasted two other stores, a post office (discontinued in 1959), a saloon, and other various businesses.
Eastonville: Near Peyton and north Falcon. The cemetery at the northeast corner of meridian and Latigo Roads in the Black Forest area was founded in 1865.
Table Rock: If you wish to visit this cemetery, travel east on County Line Road from I-25, the three quarters of a mile south on Campbell Road. Named Table Rock because of the high, flat rock mountain that is north and east of where there was once a store, church , school creamery, blacksmith shop and a post office, they were busy places,” wrote Lavelett.
I guess nothing lasts forever, and lions, and towns, and villages, all have their own time.
“With the aid of his dog Rover, Fred Simpson tracked the lion for three hours over the snow to a point on Hay Creek, five miles west of Monument, where the lion was treed and brought down by a .22 caliber bullet through his brain,” says Lavelett’s 1979 account.
Simpson had “Old Disappearance” mounted by a taxidermist and it was displayed for years at the A.E. Fox Cash Grocery on Front Street in Monument. Several years ago it was restored and placed in the Vaile museum in Palmer Lake.
Those involved in the restoration say it was quite a sight to witness the big cat hanging out of the partially-open doors of a van as it traveled to Colorado Springs to get its coat cleaned and freshened after years inside coal-heated buildings.



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