Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Big Bert," Santa, Stampede, pocket full of cash

When Woodland Park's legendary figure "Big Bert" Bergstrom died on March 12, 1986, more than 500 people filed past his casket a few days later at Woodland Park Saddle Club Arena in the center of town.
A fitting tribute for the founder and main benefactor of the Woodland Park Santa Claus Club, the man who donated the ground for the Saddle Club itself, and the owner of several area gambling dens and houses of ill repute.
Even today, stories swirl around in the thin mountain air about the "big Swede" with heart of gold and a community conscience, along with the far-reaching illegal operations to help finance them.
In July of 1950, the local newspaper, Woodland Park View, reported a “Large Parade” and “Exciting Rodeo” for the three-year-old saddle club.
An earlier article outlined how the club came into existence.
“Organized under a large pine tree in the south corner of the ball park, in August, 1947, twelve charter members were present: Mr. and Mrs. Ira Hollingsworth, Mr. and Mrs. Bob White, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Bean, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Atwell, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Maximoff, George Klumph, and sister Catherine, Carl Silbaugh, and Jack Willis. Ed Bean was elected the first president, with Herb Lyons succeeding him,” according to the View, which itself was only in it second volume and year. It was undergoing some changes as well.
“In true editorial fashion the Woodland Park View is going from the old to the new this weekend. Moving from Mrs. Whitmore’s Antique Shoppe where it has been comfortably located for more than two months, the View will make its new home in the very modern United Gas Co. building. We welcome you, your news and your patronage,” noted a front page box in the same issue as the story on the successful Ute Trail Stampede.
“Through the generosity of Bert Bergstrom, new rodeo grounds were made available in the fall of ’49. The new grounds are located in the center of town, south of the business section. With the co-operation of the people of the county and active members of the Saddle Club, the new grounds are being completed with a race track and a grand stand to be built later,” reported the View.
A few years ago, in a conversation with Oscar Lindholm, who was 93 at the time, Bert Bergstrom was remembered as a “big, rough, tough Swede, saloonkeeper at the Ute Inn, 231 pounds, that could drink quite lot of beer.”
Oscar acknowledged, at the time, he could go through a fair amount of beer himself. But Big Bert and Oscar were not alone, especially when the Stampede was in town.
“… With the casino blaring away, all the local night spots lit up (and others?) and the square dance at the school ‘fillin’ up the floor’, Everybody had a GOOD TIME,” according the 1950’ article in the paper.
Cowboys and spectator alike agreed, “It is the best arena in the state and so beautifully situated with Pikes Peak and the breath-taking mountain scenery in the background,” reported the View.
The paper itself, published by Kenneth and Margaret Geddes, with Maurine Johnson as the city editor, only operated under that name for about five years, said Ken Geddes, Jr. the son of the former publishers and an attorney in Colorado Springs. He said when his parents sold the Cripple Creek Times to Blevins Davis, (who renamed it the Gold Rush) the View was discontinued.
“But that is the reason my mother call it ‘The View,’ I think, Woodland Park has that great view of the Peak,” said Ken Geddes, Jr. in a conversation years ago.
It was said that Bergstrom did all of his banking out of his shirt pocket.
"He lived for his elk hunts," reported Liza Marron, at the time of his death in the Ute Pass Courier. "Terry Morse, (then) current saldleclub president, can vouch for his generosity."
Morse went elk hunting with Bergstrom on the Dolores River, near Durango. "When  we got ready to get in the motorhome, Clara (Bergstrom's wife) tapped he shirt pocket and Bert nodded," Morse said.
Gabe Brock, longtime owner of the Crystola Inn, remembered the elk hunting trips on the Dolores River as well. According to Brock, as reported by Marron, he had been going to the same spot for 38 years and his reputation preceded him. People from Maine to Texas would show up at his camp just because they knew he was there.
"He would bring all the food, beer and four or five cases of whiskey. He had a big tent and he was the host. Anyone who came would get fed. A lot people sponged off him but Bert was one who didn't mind. As long as he was having a good time. He called them all friends," Brock was quoted in 1986.
Brock verified gambling in Woodland Park in the late 1940s and the early 1950s.
"He had 75 slot machines and I had 75 slot machines. We pooled them and put them out all over the county. We had sanction from Teller County Sheriff. We went along there for about four years without any trouble. We would rake a little off each week and with that we build the Woodland Park Community Church. The VFW was in trouble,  and Bert bought them a building behind the Ute Inn," remembered Brock, as quoted by Marron of the Courier.
The Eldorado Club, which later became Preschool in the Pines, was also one of Bert's gambling clubs, Brock told the paper.
"The proceeds from gambling built a lot of Woodland Park," he said, but it all ended in 1952 when a new mayor closed things down, according to Brock.
Bergstrom is buried in Woodland Park Cemetery.
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Photo Info: Out buildings were once part of the vast Thunderhead Ranch, one of the largest in Teller County. Though the farmhouse burnt in 1927, the barn, built in 1886, and the ice house survived and became part of the folklore surrounding nearby Thunderhead Inn. The Inn was reportedly a gambling and prostitution den built in 1935.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Victim of unsolved murder last seen at Red Cloud Inn

"A blue-white gibbous moon hung above Ute Pass on Jan. 18, 1949, and Walter (Joe) Parsons, an 18-year-old waif who did painting and other chores for his board and room at the picturesque Cascade inn, had plenty of light to see by 9:30 p.m. when he left his employers house to walk 50 paces to his cabin," wrote Bernard Kelly, in the Denver Post's Rocky Mountain Empire Magazine, Sunday, May 1, 1949.
"Ivan Waugh, proprietor of the inn, and his wife, Florence, heard the crunch of his feet on gravel, gradually fading. Although they didn't know it then, that sound in the crisp winter air was the last they'd hear from the youth they had befriended.
The Waughs had been good to the boy. He usually ate his meals with them. that night they had whole corn for supper. It was good, and Parsons had eaten well.
Next morning Waugh went to wake the boy when he didn't appear for work. He found the cabin door open and the heater going. But Parsons wasn't there. and his bed looked as if it hadn't been slept in.
Not alarmed, because Parsons often left the resort for a day or so without leaving word, they wondered where he had gone.
"He had gone into eternity. Two days later, on Jan. 20, a Colorado Springs couple, driving toward the city from Garden of the Gods, saw a chalk white on a hill slope before them.. They stopped the car. The woman screamed...," by Kelly's account.
This is how Carl F. Mathews described it in a paper he wrote for the Denver Westerners in March, 1962, about unsolved murders in the Pikes Peak region. Mathews was superintendent of the Bureau of Identification in the Colorado Springs Police Department for more than 32 years.
"Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Boyer were driving on Garden of Gods Road when Mrs. Boyer looked up the embankment toward the top of the mesa. and saw what appeared to be a body of a person or animal; they then reported the find to the Police Department, but before officers could reach the spot, members of the road crew working nearby, and curious motorists had ruined whatever clues might have been picked up," wrote Mathews.
Chief Bruce stated in the Gazette, Feb. 4, 1949, "In the first place, after Parsons body was found, a great host of people descended on the spot, obliterating tire marks with the tires of their own vehicles and mussed up whatever marks were adjacent to the body."
Coroner Henry Maly and police and sheriff's officers came to the scene. There was a body, nude except for a pair of white socks. It was Parsons and he had been strangled to death.
His clothes were neatly tied in a bundle and thrown out beside him. They showed no violent usage. the strangulation weapon was not found. It was believed to be a rope.
"His clothing, part of which had been just laundered and never worn since, had been stuffed into the trousers he had been wearing and thrown next to the body, according to Mathews in his paper. "He had been wearing blue Levis, a white undershirt, tan, army-type shirt and red plaid jacket. (Strangely, his shorts were missing,)" by Mathews account.
From Henry Maly's Coroner preliminary examination of the body, he said there were two possible causes of death: a blow on the head and strangulation.
"Around the youth's neck was a narrow crease and the impression of a rope. he had been struck on the left side of the head with a heavy instrument. An autopsy could not be performed until late in the afternoon, the body being frozen," reported Mathews. The temperature Tuesday ranged from 13 to 19 degrees above zero; on Wednesday night, 6 to 8 degrees above. "Dr. Maly said he had been dead somewhere between 24 and 48 hours., and thought he had been dead  when tossed or carried to the spot. Deep scratches were found on his back, evidently caused by his 15-foot slide down the embankment.  Maly also said the scratches had not bled, indicating that he had been dead when dumped.
The strange discovery touched off one of the greatest manhunts in El Paso County in recent years.  Police Chief I.B. (Dad) Bruce and Sheriff Norman Short both joined the search and were assisted by Special Agent  Michael J Grant of the Santa Fe Railway, a noted and successful sleuth. Dozens of persons were questioned, according to Kelly's story in Empire.
Mathews says a Green Mountain Falls man, Ralph Elder,  was questioned as a suspect by police officers and sheriff's deputies; police said a bloodstained lariat was found in his car. He was released after two days, having satisfied officers as to his whereabouts previous to the tragedy. The Waughs actually ran the Red Cloud Inn, in Cascade, according to Mathews account.
After a more extensive autopsy performed at Blunt's mortuary on Friday, Jan. 22,  provided the following findings: 1. Parsons died from strangulation. 2. He was strangled by a rope, marks of which were found on his neck. 3. He was unconscious when strangled 4. The blow on the left of his head was  caused by a heavy instrument but not sufficient to cause death. 5. The blow on the head did not cause a fracture.  6. The brain was not damaged and there was no hemorrhage. It was also shown that his last meal was composed mostly of corn. From that rate of digestion of the corn, it was determined that Parsons must have died before midnight.
"The blood on Ralph Elder's lariat was proved by laboratory tests to be that of an animal and he was clear from complicity. Elder admitted he had served eight years in San Quentin on two morals charges," reported Mathews.
Feb. 6, a waitress from the West Side of Colorado Springs, claimed she had talked to the killer and "Almost drove her employers crazy by her running around and talking it over with everyone. So they called the police and she was brought in; when questioned she stated that a man calling himself 'Bill Osgood' had asked her to drink with him, and that, over their beers, he had said he was the murderer. After talking with her, Chief Bruce stated he was confident she was lying but until something definite came up, she would remain in jail. Two day later, she admitted to Chief Bruce and special Agent Mike Gran, that her story was a lie, claiming she was tired of working and she wanted publicity," wrote Mathews.
Rewards for information about the case from various businesses and groups totaled more than $600, but failed to turn up much.
According to Mathew's paper, "Rumors that Parsons had been involved in sex affairs caused the arrest of a number of perverts of one kind or another and charges of sex offenses were lodged against some of them. No real clues to the killer of Parsons have ever been found."


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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Big rock at the river, mermaid in the sun


The pickup bed of the Ford Courier overflowed with humanity as it ginned up the hill after clattering over  rickety steel Fourth Street bridge. The cab also -- all but bursting at the seems -- allowed only just enough room for its over-sized driver to dodge potholes in the once-graveled road. Fortunately, not far down the path, they came to a stop.
Steep, wooded embankment below, more Ponderosa pine and oak brush above ... and the dull roar of the river as background.
"I was trying to tell my mermaid story," I told the driver. He seemed vaguely interested, as he opened  the cab door, and the core compliment of baseball team piled out of back and front, and over the sides of the wee vehicle.
"But you nearly killed me a few times, the way you pitched up and down through those road pocks," I said.
"I thought the springs were going to give," he worried.
The seven or eight of us scrambled down the narrow trail through gamble oak, leaves and loose dry dust, toward the roar.
River was up from yesterday, and muddy. The trail led out to the bank and then to two large rocks, partially buried in embankment,  partially jutting out into the stream, but with well-worn paths carrying you out on to the top of them.
A couple of jokers rushed right down through the brush, over the path to the largest rock and out to its point in the current. They barely took the time to drop their towels there, dived right off the point into the roiling course, shoes and all.
They dived straight upriver, but as soon as they surfaced, the current carried them back past the point, and into the eddy between the two large rocks.
"Cold ... man." The first chattered, and climbed back up onto the big rock and into the warm sun. The rest of us unloaded gear, and prepared ourselves, lizard-like, by warming before dropping into the cold drink. You can take it a lot easier, its seems, after baking your bones in the sun awhile.
Besides, I needed to finish my story.
"Yea, I walked down Seventh last night about 6 p.m.," I continued. "Came through between those two Cottonwoods over there, (pointing directly across the river) and there she was. Laying right there in the sun on the warm river rocks," I said.
"Her long hair shining in the evening sun, the bare brown skin of her legs, and arms, and back."
Now, of course, I had their interest.
"She didn't notice me at first, but I didn't want her to think I was creeping on her, so I made quite a bit of noise."
"What was she wearing?" asked one of the more fashion-concious of my friends.
"I don't know," Not to sound too eager, but  in order to maintain my reputation as a careful observer, filled in the details. "Cutoff jeans, I think, and a too small a flannel shirt, tied in the center, high above her waist. Both were wet... looked like she had been in the water."
"Did you talk to her?" asked another.
"Of course," I said, though it was common knowledge that I was not always a silver-tounged devil in the presence of the fairer sex.
"Surprised me," I told her. "Wasn't expecting anyone here this time of day."
"Here almost every night," she said. "The rocks are warm if the sun has been out all day, and I like the way in shines on the surface downriver. And I can see fish in the deep water this time of day."
"What do want to see fish for?" I asked.
She leaned to pick up something in the rounded rock, and I couldn't help but notice bronzed cleavage in the process. "I spear them," she said, and produced this three-pronged widget-looking thing.
"Is that legal?" I asked, once again, falling into the familiar trap of not knowing exactly what to say when face-to-face with a beautiful woman.
"I don't know, but if it isn't?" her eyes teased. "Are you going to turn me in?"
Needless to say, by this time, I am completely off guard.
Just thinking of it again, my awkwardness and lack of comfort pushed me to the edge of the rock before my story was finished.
Embarrassed, I threw a perfect pocket-knife dive into the rushing current.
"What happened?" I heard them ask as I hit the water.
"What about the mermaid?"
I realized right then, that more than one of them would show up at the river this evening, over there between the two Cottonwoods, where the rounded rocks warm all day in the sun.
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