A Special Thanksgiving

A Special Baptism: our family on the left; Howard's brother, Prince's family on the right

A Special Baptism: our family on the left–L-R: Barbara (Me), Howard holding Brian. Howard’s brother, Prince’s family on the right: Prince holding Kari Jo and Cleone on the end. Edward L. Beall, Sr. in the middle. Photo taken the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Farmington Presbyterian Church, Farmington, Missouri

Thanksgiving 1968 was a special one for us. Our son Brian was born August 6, 1968 in Louisville, Kentucky, and his cousin, Kari Jo, was born August 29, 1968 in Wichita, Kansas. We were all scheduled to make a migration to Farmington, Missouri for Thanksgiving that year. One reason? The babies were to be baptized by their grandfather, Rev. Edward L. Beall, Sr. in the Farmington Presbyterian Church. This would be Baby Brian’s first big trip!

Howard was teaching school. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and he was scheduled to be home by mid-afternoon. I spent the morning packing and making certain our dachshund Heidi was taken care of. Howard backed into the driveway–we loaded the car–and then we were on our way to Farmington by way of St. Louis. We were driving a 1967 VW Bug at the time, so we were certainly loaded down. Brian went to sleep, something for which I was grateful!

As I recall, it was cloudy–typical of a November day. We drove across southern Indiana and Illinois, and the rain began in one of those states. It rained lightly at first. I remember stopping at a restaurant somewhere in Illinois where I ordered my favorite breaded pork tenderloin sandwich and onion rings–something I generally don’t get outside of Missouri or Iowa. I laid Brian down in the booth beside me. He smiled at first. Then he decided that (a) he was in a strange place; (b) he was tired; (c) he was hungry–and he YELLED at the top of his lungs. Shoving the rest of the sandwich and onion rings down my throat, I bundled him up and went out to the car so the patrons could eat in peace! Wouldn’t you know it? He was sound asleep the minute I fed him. I sat inside the car, listening to the falling rain, wondering whether this was a foretaste of events that would happen.

And that’s when the drama began!

It was pouring down rain by the time we reached the Missouri River. And halfway across the bridge, our windshield wiper motor died right in the center of the bridge!

Talk about a frightening experience!

By some miracle, we made it across the bridge without incident. But we still had 60 miles to go. The rain was still pelting our car. There was no way we could drive 60 miles in the dark without windshield wipers! Howard called his father, who drove to St. Louis to pick us up. We left our car near a station and headed south to Farmington.

But the drama didn’t end there!

Just as we arrived at the house, Howard’s mother was leaving.

“I have to drive to Potosi!” she told us. “Prince and Cleone broke down there!”

Just then, the phone rang. Prince’s car finally started, so Mildred didn’t have to rescue them. We waited for them to arrive, talked for a while. And we all finally settled down to sleep.

But the drama didn’t end there!

When morning broke, the rain stopped–but it transformed into snow overnight leaving a sheet of ice on everything!

Howard’s brother, Ley, his wife Brenda, and their daughter Carmen were scheduled to fly into St. Louis from Kansas City, Missouri the next morning (Thanksgiving Day). Howard’s mother drove to St. Louis to pick them up, and Howard went with her. He wanted to retrieve his car in St. Louis since we didn’t want to walk back home to Kentucky! They checked on his car first, which was fine. Then they travelled to the airport where they waited–

–and waited–

–and waited.

Finally, they heard the announcement:

All flights from Kansas City have been cancelled!

The reason?

It seems that earlier that morning, a plane from Kansas City slid on ice on the runway in St. Louis. So they weren’t going to send any more of their planes to St. Louis unless and until the ice has been cleared. Now, I don’t know whether you are acquainted with the relationship between these two cities. There has always been a rivalry between them outside of opposing football teams. We lived in Kansas City in the 1960s before moving to Kentucky, and I remember how that rivalry was so pronounced. It may have moderated since then, but it was really strong at that time. I think it dated back to the Civil War. St. Louis regarded Kansas City as a haven for incorrigible outlaws and Kansas City regarded St. Louis as a haven for eastern Yankee snobs.

[Kansas City didn’t like Kansans (Jayhawkers) either in the 1960s. But that is another story].

“My kids were scheduled to fly in here!” my mother-in-law complained. “How are they supposed to get here?”

“Well, you’ll have to sit down and wait,” she was informed. “They are on their way–by bus!”

“BY BUS! ALL THE WAY ACROSS MISSOURI?”

“I believe that’s the direct route.”

She called to update us on the situation.

“This isn’t fair!” she complained. “I want to be there in Farmington holding my babies, and I have to sit here in this stupid airport all day. Well–we’ll have Thanksgiving when we all get there!”

Six hours later, they all arrived. Howard followed them down in his car, relieved that it was finally safe in Farmington. And once they all stopped talking and settled down at the table–the Thanksgiving feast was tremendous. Everyone enjoyed both the food and the conversation!

Then, when the dishes were out of the way–

“Well, we have to celebrate Christmas!” my Mother-in-Law announced. “You’re all here now, and you won’t be here next month!”

So, out came the tree, the other decorations, and the music. Once the halls were appropriately decked, we had our gift exchange. It was probably after midnight again when we finally ran out of gas! I remember the touch football game in the yard the next day. Then Brenda, Ley and Carmen had to return to Kansas City since Ley had to be at work at TWA that evening.

Sunday was the day of the baptism, the event so conveniently worked into our Thanksgiving-Christmas celebration!

The baptism was a signature event. Howard’s Uncle MacPherson Beall (people called him Mac) and his family drove to Farmington from St. Louis for the occasion. And Clan Beall all descended upon the Farmington Presbyterian Church, sitting in the designated section for honored guests. My father-in-law had been minister at that church for several years, so the gathering was a quite an occasion. Then came the moment of the baptism. Brian’s parents (us) and Kari Jo’s parents (them) journeyed to the front with the babies in tow. What I remember most about the baptism is that Baby Brian recognized his Grandpa Beall and began his little chant: “Da-da-da-da-da-”

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost! Amen!”

We had to have another celebration after all of that!

The MacPherson Bealls went to the house in Farmington as did the rest of the Clan. We had another feast (Thanksgiving leftovers) and plenty of dinner table conversation. Beall table conversations generally turned to politics and other world events. In those days, the conversation focused on Richard Nixon (the newly elected President) and what he planned to do about ending that awful war (Vietnam)–and whether or not Howard’s cousin, Scott, would be called up for duty. He said he expected it; his wife said “No!” (He did serve as a medic. He retired several years ago after many years as a surgeon!)

Our return trip to Kentucky was without mishap or misadventure. Brian slept most of the way. The sun shone brightly and the roads were clear.

And our little dog Heidi was certainly glad to see us!

 

For the Love of a Tree: Nathrop, Colorado

Old Schoolhouse and Cottonwood Tree, Nathrop, Colorado. Taken from Highway 285 August 2001

Old Schoolhouse and Cottonwood Tree, Nathrop, Colorado. Taken from Highway 285 August 2002

Introduction

My first trip north on Highway 285 through Chaffee Co., Colorado happened during our south Colorado trip in August 2002. Howard wanted to go into that area to look at some properties, and I went along for the ride. School would not start for a couple of weeks and after teaching a heavy load in summer school, I was ready for a break as well as for a change of scenery. We selected Highway 285 for our return trip home versus the interstate since Howard wanted to stop at the Rock Doc near Nathrop. He had been there before and planned to stop there again. My interest in rocks was only in the beginning stages at that time, so I mused myself with the Beanie Babies and similar items in the store while Howard inspected the rocks. We were there probably a half hour before heading back to the car and driving up the road. And we had traveled only a short distance when something captured our interest, causing us to stop once again.

“Look at that old schoolhouse over there!” Howard exclaimed. “It is old!”

“Let’s take some pictures of it!” I suggested. “I wonder how old it is!”

The traffic on 285 was light at the moment, so we pulled off the edge of the pavement and took frontal views of the school. It was then we noticed a narrow road running beside the school. Within moments, we were inside the car and driving to a safer location to park.

Old Schoolhouse at Nathrop, Colorado. Photo taken March 2007

Old Schoolhouse at Nathrop, Colorado. Photo taken March 2007

“1880s–maybe 1890s–” I remember suggesting as we stood there.

There was an old sign above the front windows, but the weather had rendered it unreadable. I enlarged this 2007 picture in an attempt to read the date and have not been able to decide whether it reads ‘1881‘ or ‘1891’ School. We have visited this site several times since 2002 and have noticed little change.

The school is undoubtedly on private property, and it is probably used for storage. A swing set is located at the side of the property and some farm equipment items were present on the grounds for several years. We speculated whether someone lived there, but in the end decided the building was mainly used for storage. The doors on the front of the building bear a reminder to the time when girls and boys entered and exited the building through separate doors. There is also an outhouse behind the school, which shows up in the frontal picture taken from the highway.

Since no one was around to answer any questions, we decided to return to the car and head up the road. That’s when something else caught my attention.

Old cottonwood tree near schoolhouse, Nathrop, Colorado. Photo taken Summer 2001

Old cottonwood tree near schoolhouse, Nathrop, Colorado. Photo taken August 2002

 

The Twigs Tree

In 2002, I hosted a website called Twigs of Inman & Spence. The site remained in existence from the late 1990s until 2004 or 2005 and because of the word “Twigs” in the name, I had been looking for the perfect tree to place on the site home page. The minute I saw the old cottonwood standing on the small creek near the road, I knew I had found my tree.

“Now, that is old!” I told Howard as we stood there looking at it. “How old do you think it is?”

“A hundred–maybe a hundred fifty,” he responded.

“Do cottonwoods live to be that old?” I asked.

“That one certainly has!”

“Well, what’s going on in the middle?” I asked, noticing the efforts of some unknown creature who had been working on the trunk of the tree.

We didn’t debate the issue for very long because we wanted to reach home before dark, and Howard planned to stop at Fairplay. I did use this photo on the home page of my “Twigs” site and kept it there until the site ended.

Four years passed before visiting this location again. We were on another trip to south Colorado in March 2007 (spring break) and elected to return home by way of Highway 285. The tree had not leafed out as yet, so I was able to see more of its structure. I was doing a travel episode for the doll site I maintained at that period, and I wanted to photograph my dolls in front of that tree.

Dolls posing in front of the tree. Photo taken March 2007

Dolls posing in front of the tree. Photo taken March 2007

The appearance of the tree hadn’t changed in four years. It was still intact, and I could see where some of the branches had been removed, probably because they were hanging over the road. Some areas of the tree suggested the location of a large treehouse at one time. I could see evidence of that on the sagging side. No doubt, that structure weakened the tree, causing one side to sag. We stopped at the site again in May 2007. Very little change had taken place.

Old cottonwood tree, Nathrop, Colorado, May 2007

Old cottonwood tree, Nathrop, Colorado, May 2007

Two additional years passed before visiting that location again. I thought about the old tree, however, and remembered the question I asked in 2002: “Is it possible for a cottonwood to live one hundred fifty years?” This was something I decided to find out!

Approaching Nathrop, Colorado on Highway 285

Approaching Nathrop, Colorado on Highway 285

A Brief Sketch of Chaffee Co., Colorado History

As a child growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I lived next door to a cottonwood tree. It sat right beside the house and provided us with shade in the summer. Summers were horribly hot and humid, and the tree served an excellent purpose. It was a tall tree and was probably planted about the time the house was built in the 1890s. And that tree never missed a beat! Spring would bring the abundance of “wormlike seeds” that covered our yard and stuck to our feet. Fall provided tons of leaves that required raking and burning. And summer would bring the hoot owl who would sit in the branches and hoot while spying out a meal for the night. My mother said the only reason the tree remained was because of the shade. She would have preferred a maple, which would take too long to grow. I didn’t mind the cottonwood at all and acquired quite an imagination about it.

We bought our first television set in 1954 and it wasn’t long before my sister and I discovered the quantity of old western films available–something we could not get enough of! The stories always followed the same format: good guys wore white hats; bad guys wore black hats; good always won over evil; and bad guys were often lynched from cottonwood trees. I remember playing on the swing set in our backyard, speculating whether a bad guy ever swung from the branches of our old cottonwood. And later on, this type of speculation fuelded my interest in the old tree south of Nathrop. I wondered about the exact age of the tree, and I also wondered about the history of the area surrounding Nathrop. Curiosity sent me on a search for information.

According to the Colorado History–Nathrop website:

Nathrop is an unincorporated town located at the intersection of State Highway 285 and Chalk Creek in central Chaffee County. Points west of Nathrop on Chaffee County Road 162 include the Mt. Princeton Riding Stables, the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, Agnes Vaille Falls, the trail to Mt. Antero, Tincup Pass and the “ghost towns” of St. Elmo, Romley and Hancock.

Founded approximately in 1880, Nathrop served as a transportation terminal for two railroads: the Denver South Park & Pacific and the Denver & Rio Grande. The historic and well-preserved Nathrop schoolhouse was built in 1881. In its heyday, Nathrop had a stone depot, a large hotel and two saloons (1).

Reference to the schoolhouse fueled my interest until I saw the picture of the old school mentioned in the article. It was not my old building beside the road!  So I resumed my search once again, hoping to find something of value. And what I found, was quite interesting–this, from the Nathrop, Colorado History website:

Charles Nachtrieb I, was the founder of the town of Nathrop, Colorado. Early settlers could not pronounce the German name of Nachtrieb easily, so the name of the hamlet was Americanized to Nathrop. The original site of Nathrop was about one and one half miles north of the present townsite and served as a stagecoach station between Bale’s station near Cleora and Leadville.

Nathrop was moved about 1880 to surround the South Park Railroad’s stone depot. At that time, the village boasted of a population of about 200, Nachtrieb’s elegant hotel as well as others, several saloons, stores, and a weekly newspaper, “The Press”.

Nachtrieb was born in Germany in 1833. His parents and family members immigrated to Baltimore, MD when Charles was young. By the age of 29, in 1859, Nachtrieb was in Denver CO with a load of goods to sell. A year later found him in California Gulch near the present town of Leadville, CO engaged in merchandizing.

Charles Nachtrieb owned his Chalk Creek ranch by 1865, and in 1868, he built the first area grist mill to grind flour and grains for the locals. Later, he built a saw mill near the mill. He eventually built up his land holdings to over 1000 acres, a barn, outbuildings, blacksmith shop, storehouse, warehouse and a 8-room dwelling that still stands in 1996. In 1870, he built a toll road over Poncha Pass, which he later sold to Colorado Pathfinder Otto Mears. In 1871, he married Margaret Tull Anderson. She had five children by her first marriage: Horace G, age 13, Louis, age 11, Alice, age 7, Belle and Fred Anderson. Charles and Margaret had five children of their own: a infant son and daughter who died by 1879; Charles II, Chris, and “Doc” Josephine.

In 1874, the grist mill was used as a headquarters for the vigilante committee during the Lake County Wars. Nachtrieb and other settlers took sides against Elijah Gibbs, believing he was responsible for the murder of George Harrington June 17, 1874 and later, the deaths of the Boone brothers and Finley Kane of Poncha Springs when the mob tried to burn Gibbs and his family out of their small log cabin and hang Gibbs. Outrages and physical abuses were committed by the mob against locals who sided with Gibbs and his claim of innocence. When the son of Father Dyer, Judge Elias E. Dyer was assassinated in his Granite courtroom by members of the mob on July 3, 1875, witnesses became fearfully silent as to the identity of the killers.

Nachtrieb was mysteriously murdered in his Nathrop store on October 3, 1881. He was found by his wife, shot though the back of his head. It is said that the bullet had also shot off his thumb and went through a letter that he had been reading. His tombstone is the only one left in the county that has the word “Murdered” inscribed in the stone. Margaret Nachtrieb proved to be equal to efficiently run the ranch, businesses and raise and provide her children with excellent educational opportunities at the same time. She became a much admired and respected business woman in the community and Chaffee County.

Suggested Reading: Where the Bodies Are by June Shaputis 1995 (2)

The Lake County War is a blight on Chaffee County history. (Chaffee was originally part of Lake County until established as a separate county in February 1879 when Lake County was split in half.) According to Gayle Gresham in her article “The Lake County War” (posted on the Colorado Reflections Website):

Here’s the short version of the Lake County War:

George Harrington was shot in the back when he went out to extinguish a fire in an outbuilding on the night of June 17, 1874. Elijah Gibbs was the immediate suspect because he and Harrington had an argument a couple of days earlier. Gibbs was tried and acquitted for the murder in October in a Denver court. The venue was changed because of the inflammatory nature of the case. Gibbs returned to his farm in Lake County, but peace didn’t last.

15 men showed up at Gibbs’ cabin on January 22, 1875 to hang him. They threatened to burn him and his family out of the cabin if Gibbs didn‘t walk out the door. They piled up kindling by the door, then as one of the men lit a match, Gibbs shot him and then fired more shots at the other men. 3 men were killed. Gibbs turned himself into the Justice of Peace, who held a trial the next morning. Wilburn Christison acted as the defense for Gibbs. The court found that Gibbs acted in self-defense. Gibbs immediately left the area.

Denied their revenge, the men formed a vigilante group called “The Committee of Safety.” They rounded up friends and supporters of Gibbs and held a trial where a noose was hanging over the witness’ chair. This was placed around the witness’ neck and tightened when the committee found his testimony unsatisfactory. The line of questioning concerned whether the witness believed Gibbs had shot Harrington or not. Two of Wilburn’s sons, Leslie and Ernest, were questioned by the Committee of Safety.

The Lake County War culminated when Judge Elias Dyer, who had also been questioned by the Committee, swore out warrants for the arrest of 16 members of the Committee of Safety. Thirty armed men arrived in Granite on Friday, July 2, 1875. The next morning, Judge Dyer called court to order, but had to dismiss the case because the witnesses were too afraid to testify. After everyone left the courtroom, five men walked back in and assassinated Judge Dyer. No one was ever charged with the murder. The people of the county went on with their lives; the Lake County War died out, but the terror of the vigilante justice and secrecy of the conflict affected the people the rest of their lives(3).

As is noted on the Colorado History, Rich History of the Colorado Fourteener Country site:

Hugh Boon, one of the first postmasters and a school superintendent in Lake County, said:

“With a rapid influx of settlers, prospectors, and miners, and the rough element that came with the building of the railroads, things were considerably unsettled; and as in all newly organized territories, the machinery for law enforcement had considerable difficulty in functioning. More than one hundred homicides occurred during this period without a single conviction; it being almost impossible to get witnesses to swear to the killings” (4).

In addition to the Lake County War, problems with cattle thieves also existed in the area, as is noted by Gayle Gresham on the Colorado Reflections site:

The photograph in the header of Colorado Reflections is the view from the Rick Mountain Ranch in the Arkansas Hills east of Salida which was owned by my great-great-uncle, Ernest Christison in the early 1880’s. His story captured my attention in my childhood and I wrote a paper about him in high school. Today I am writing a book about him and the events that took place in 1883-1884. Here’s a short summary:

Ernest Christison and Ed Watkins had a partnership and owned cattle together. Christison took his share to sell over at Gunnison and Watkins kept his. While moving his cattle to Gunnison, Christison was arrested for having stolen cattle near St. Elmo. After Christison was arrested, the cattlemen went to Watkins’ ranch and drove away 21 head of cattle they claimed as their own and had Watkins arrested. While Watkins was in the custody of the sheriff, a mob captured him and hanged him from the 1st Street Bridge in Canon City.

Christison was released from jail on bond, but made the wrong move when he visited a dancehall with Frank Reed in October. Baxter Stingley, the Salida Marshall, showed up with a warrant for their arrest and Reed shot and killed Stingley. Christison was arrested again and jailed in Buena Vista.

Life was quiet for a while, then Christison was one of 11 prisoners who escaped from the jail on January 27, 1884. His freedom didn’t last long as he was captured the next morning. He changed his “not guilty” plea to “guilty” on the charge of grand larceny and on June 7, 1884 he boarded the train to Canon City to spend the next two years in the Colorado State Penitentiary (5).

The old schoolhouse south of Nathrop was probably built in the 1880s, during the time of tension. So it may have been a witness to some of the violence. I imagine the old tree was planted when the school was built. If so, then it is approximately 120 years old. My next search took me to cottonwood trees and their lifespan.

The Plains Cottonwood

In 1998, Stuart Wier wrote an article titled “The Plains Cottonwood of the Southern Rocky Mountains”, which appears on The Native Trees of the Southern Rocky Mountains website. According to Wier:

The Plains cottonwood is also the largest broadleaf tree of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. This tree grows from the eastern plains to 6500 feet in elevation, and possibly higher in canyons of the eastern slope of Colorado. Fairly young trees have a straight columnar trunk with a rounded crown; old trees are massive with heavy, wide-spreading branches. It can occasionally reach 6 feet in trunk diameter. The largest recorded Plains cottonwood grows a few miles north of Boulder, Colorado.

The cottonwood is short-lived; few exceed one hundred years by much. After a century or so limbs begin to die naturally. The thick bark sheds off over a period of a few years, leaving bare white limbs, the massive skeleton of the tree. The wood is fairly soft and weak. Sometimes the core of the tree completely rots away before the living tissue under the bark is destroyed, especially if the tree is damaged by fire or loss of a limb. Wind or decay will eventually bring the limbs, and sometimes the entire tree, to the ground. High winds blowing out of the mountains sometimes blow over live trees as well as dead ones, the weak shallow roots snapping off. When an entire tree is blown over the wreck is mighty indeed since the limbs shatter, scattering wood fragments of every size in all directions. Old-time westerners know not to hold a picnic under a cottonwood with dead limbs, wind or no wind (6).

Wier goes on to note that some cottonwoods do live for a long period of time:

Occasionally cottonwood trees can reach an age well over one hundred years. Paul Cutright, when preparing his book Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists , found two large and very old cottonwoods in an otherwise treeless location in Montana where Captain Clark had camped by two cottonwood trees. If they were the same trees, they were over 170 years old.(7).

And he provides this interesting commentary:

Though the wood of this tree is moderately weak, it was the only wood available to early settlers on the plains and was sometimes pressed into use as timber. The vegas — horizontal roof beams — of the adobe dwellings characteristic of the southwest are sometimes made of cottonwood. Fine examples are the vegas of the reconstructed Bent’s Fort near La Junta on the Arkansas River. Cottonwood is easy to carve and cottonwood root is the traditional material for the Kachina dolls of the Hopi of northern New Mexico, while drums are made of hollow logs. Cottonwood provides food for beavers (both bark and leaves) and stems for beaver dams and lodges. Deer and elk browse the twigs.(8).

I have an idea that beavers had been working on the center of my old tree, as is shown in the 2002 photo. It is located beside a small creek or stream. And as to location, Wier adds:

The Plains cottonwood is found only on the eastern side of the continental divide. The very similar cottonwood, in New Mexico, along the Rio Grande, and in western Colorado is the Rio Grande cottonwood. (9)

My old tree is on the eastern side of the divide!

The old Nathrop schoolhouse, taken the last time I saw it--June 15 2009

The old Nathrop schoolhouse, taken the last time I saw it–June 15 2009

Conclusion

In May 2009, I finally retired from teaching after over twenty years of college composition instruction. Howard and I wanted to do something special, so we took a train ride from LaVeta, Colorado to the Sand Dunes and back to LaVeta again. A friend went with us on the trip. He had never been to the Rock Doc or to Chaffee County, so he wanted to visit some of the places we had mentioned. And that led us up Highway 285 in search of adventure. After the Rock Doc, we stopped at the old school again.

The sign is still above the windows and is still unreadable, although it now looks more like “1881” instead of “1891”. The farm equipment is gone as is the picnic table that sat in front of one of the doors. The swings are still present, and the outhouse is still in back. Other than that, there is little change about the building.

Old Nathrop cottonwood. Taken June 15, 2009

Old Nathrop cottonwood. Taken June 15, 2009

The tree, however, was a different story. One side of the tree had completely splintered from the trunk and had fallen to the ground. A combination of factors may have caused this to happen. If children played in a tree house, they would have weakened the tree in the beginning. Later, beavers may have accessed the trunk, causing the tree to splinter. Weather was no doubt an additional factor, although between 2001-2005 or 2006, Colorado underwent a five-year drought with little precipitation during that period. Heavy blizzards between 2007 and 2009 would have weakened the structure further, causing part of the tree to fall. Since the fallen branches are still blooming in this picture, I believe that portion of the tree fell in the early spring.

The rest of the tree is intact. Passing visitors cannot see the fallen portion from Highway 285. This condition still existed in July 2010 when we took Highway 285 south on another trip to south Colorado. We didn’t stop this time, but I did snap a photo through the window of the car as we passed.

I still don’t know the story of the school–its age or the community that it served. I don’t know whether it existed during the Lake County War or subsequent wars with cattle thieves. Nor do I know the full story of the tree. Perhaps I will never know all the answers, but there is one thing of which I am certain. Both images exhude a great deal of mystery and character, two factors binding me to them. And until I learn their full stories, I will continue to wonder!

* * *

 

“Grow not too high, grow not too far from home, Green tree, whose roots are in the granite’s face! Taller than silver spire or golden dome A tree may grow above its earthy place, And taller than a cloud, but not so tall The root may not be mother to the stem, Lifting rich plenty, though the rivers fall, To the cold sunny leaves to nourish them. Have done with blossoms for a time, be bare; Split rock; plunge downward; take heroic soil, — Deeper than bones, no pasture for you there: Deeper than water, deeper than gold and oil: Earth’s fiery core alone can feed the bough That blooms between Orion and the Plough.”

–Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

References

(1) Colorado History Website–Nathrop. Available at http://nathrop-colorado.com/

(2) Shaputis, June. Where the Bodies Are. 1995. Summary available at http://www.stevegarufi.com/nathrop-colorado.htm

(3) Gresham, Gayle. The Lake County War. Available at http://coloradoreflections.blogspot.com/2006/11/lake-county-war.html

(4) The Lake County War. The Rich History of Colorado’s Fourteener Country. Colorado History: Buena Vista, Leadville, Salida. Available at http://www.fourteenernet.com/history/lakewars.htm

(5) Gresham, Gayle. Cattle Thieves. Available at http://coloradoreflections.blogspot.com/p/cattle-thieves.html

(6) Wier, Stuart. Plains Cottonwood. 1998. Available at http://www.westernexplorers.us/RkyMtnTrees.html

(7) Wier, Stuart. Plains Cottonwood. 1998. Available at http://www.westernexplorers.us/RkyMtnTrees.html

(8) Wier, Stuart. Plains Cottonwood. 1998. Available at http://www.westernexplorers.us/RkyMtnTrees.html

(9) Wier, Stuart. Plains Cottonwood. 1998. Available at http://www.westernexplorers.us/RkyMtnTrees.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Plan an Anniversary Trip–Part Six: Homeward Bound–The Conclusion

Lobby of the San Luis Inn

Lobby of the San Luis Inn

“Oh dear!”

It was early Sunday morning, and we had another full day in San Luis. Tomorrow we would head up the interstate for home. I had just left my room and wandered into the guest area where the coffee was brewing. A glance outside indicated a cold, wet start to the day. And I encountered a woman fretting about it.

“We should have left earlier so we could get over LaVeta Pass. I wanted to go to church this morning!.”

“You have to drive over LaVeta Pass to go to church?” I asked.

“No–we live in Trinidad. LaVeta Pass can often be dicey!”

Oh yes, I remembered how dicey it could be! We crossed it in December 2007 with a blizzard right behind us all the way back to Denver. Well, we shouldn’t have too many problems, I decided. After all, we were leaving in the morning, so the weather could straighten out by then.

The sun was shining when we left San Luis early the next morning–something that increased my optimism. However, the forecast was not favorable. Snow started falling when we arrived in Fort Garland.

A rain and snow mix in Fort Garland

A rain and snow mix in Fort Garland

We could barely see the Fort when we stopped at a store.

Fort Garland

Fort Garland

The weather calmed considerably when we reached LaVeta Pass, causing us to believe the storm was over.

Mount Blanca from the town of Blanca

Mount Blanca from the town of Blanca

Our perception quickly proved not to be the case.

Entering LaVeta Pass

Entering LaVeta Pass

And the road became dicey really fast!

Snow collecting on the ground below the summit

Snow collecting on the ground below the summit

Snow on the ground on LaVeta Pass

Snow on the ground on LaVeta Pass

Icy road on LaVeta Pass

Icy road on LaVeta Pass

Crossing the summit at LaVeta Pass

Crossing the summit at LaVeta Pass

We certainly found out why the county maintains tall snow fencing beside the road!

Snow fencing along the road

Snow fencing along the road

Walsenburg was a welcome sight! We stopped at a cafeteria on the edge of town. I took a picture of this eagle just outside the cafeteria door.

Eagle statue near Walsenburg

Eagle statue near Walsenburg

And I was really glad I had taken my pictures in Walsenburg two days previously. While it wasn’t snowing in Walsenburg on our return trip, it certainly was raining!

Park on the edge of Walsenburg

Park on the edge of Walsenburg

Just beyond the park

Just beyond the park

Walsenburg in the rain

Walsenburg in the rain

By the time we reached downtown Walsenburg, the rain had stopped–

Walsenburg business district

Walsenburg business district

The edge of the business district

The edge of the business district

–only to start up again while heading north on I-25.

Wind generators along I-25

Wind generators along I-25

Presently, the Denver skyline came into view marking the end of a memorable trip and an interesting anniversary celebration.

Downtown Denver

Downtown Denver

We were home!

How to Plan an Anniversary Trip–Part Five: Stations of the Cross Shrine

Chapel at the Stations of the Cross Shrine

Chapel at the Stations of the Cross Shrine

Before I describe our visit here, I will post a link that will provide the complete story:

http://www.rvtravelog.com/stations_cross.dir/stations_cross1.htm

We had seen the shrine from a distance each time we visited San Luis.

“So how do you get up there?” I once asked.

“Most people walk. A trail leads up to it. There is a road you can take, too–so you can drive it if you don’t want to walk.”

Five years ago, I considered walking the trail. It was a Sunday. I was alone in the motel since Howard went on his own jaunt to San Acacio. I didn’t know when he would return, so I opted to walk about the town and save the shrine for later. I fell into the same pattern this year only now, I decided I wanted to see it. And the weather cleared up the Sunday afternoon we were there.

Sign at the beginning of the trail

Sign at the beginning of the trail

Entrance to the trail leading up to the Shrine

Entrance to the trail leading up to the Shrine

We were not in any condition to walk the trail, so I made a suggestion:

“Let’s drive it!”

It took a while for us to find the road.

Road leading to the shrine

Road leading to the shrine

Once we found it, we wound our way up to the shrine.

Approaching the chapel

Approaching the chapel

The chapel is a magnificent structure. On our previous visits to San Luis, we would either stand in the parking lot of our motel or on the streets of San Luis and look up at it. We could plainly see it from those vantage points.

Chapel at the Shrine

Chapel at the Shrine

The interior is quiet–a peaceful place where visitors can either meditate or pray.

Interior of the Chapel

Interior of the Chapel

Because we drove, we missed some of the earlier stations. The following is a picture of the first stage we encountered.

Jesus being roughed up by a centurion

Jesus being roughed up by a centurion

Just beyond that, we encountered Jesus being nailed to a cross.

Jesus being nailed to the cross.

Jesus being nailed to the cross.

The Crucifixion followed.

The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion

The next station depicted Jesus’ body in the care of his mother Mary.

Jesus and Mary

Jesus and Mary

Traditionally, there are fourteen stations of the Cross. The artist added a fifteenth station: the Resurrection

The Resurrection

The Resurrection

An empty cross stands along the walkway. People have hung rosaries on it over the years.

Empty cross with rosaries.

Empty cross with rosaries.

The edge of the shrine drew my interest. It was then I noticed the wind had changed and clouds were beginning to form. There was no way we were walking up a trail that led to a grotto. So I walked to the edge of the shrine and looked down over the town of San Luis. However, the view across the plains gave me a fright.

Trail leading to a grotto

Trail leading to a grotto

View of San Luis from the Shrine. The red roofed building is our motel.

View of San Luis from the Shrine. The red roofed building is our motel.

View across the plains

View across the plains

When I looked across the plains, I noticed the wind had become really strong. And when I stood on the edge to take the picture, the wind grabbed me, almost pulling me over. I dropped down on the ground and sat there for a few moments. Then I stood up again and snapped the photo.

Another view of the trail

Another view of the trail

We paused in the parking lot and glanced up the trail. The clouds were becoming dark, and I knew a storm was approaching. We did not see the whole display, but what we saw of it provided a moving experience. The town of San Luis is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the shrine in June. When Howard and I first visited San Luis together in 2002, we met the artist–Huberto Maestas–in an art gallery. He now lives outside San Luis but at that time, I believe he lived in town.

“We’d better get out of here!” Howard told me. “Let’s go!”

We jumped inside the car and headed down the road toward town. Threatening clouds followed us all the way back to our motel.

Approaching storm

Approaching storm

Hail storm in San Luis

Hail storm in San Luis

The hail storm erupted as soon as we arrived at the motel. We didn’t waste time in getting inside, glad to have had the experience and wishing we could have seen more of the exhibit.

I regard it as a highlight of our trip!

How to Plan an Anniversary Trip–Part Four: San Luis

San Luis Visitor's Center

San Luis Visitor’s Center

Over the last thirteen years, Howard and I have been to San Luis, Colorado several times. Howard drove down there once in 2001. I saw it for the first time in 2002. We were there again in 2007 and in 2010. This particular trip makes it number five.

Sign near the Cultural Center

Sign near the Cultural Center

And yes, it is the oldest town in Colorado.

Howard at the motel entrance

Howard at the motel entrance

Early Sunday morning, Howard decided to walk around the town. When I noticed the wind was picking up, I decided to go on my own excursion.

Old adobe house in San Luis

Old adobe house in San Luis

I had only gone a block when I saw a very old house.

Front of the old adobe house

Front of the old adobe house

Remembering the places in San Acacio and the ages of some of those, I speculated that this house was built during the Civil War.

Once an old hotel in San Luis

Once an old hotel in San Luis

On my first trip to San Luis in 2002, we stopped at this very old hotel for lunch. When we were there in 2010, we noticed the hotel had closed. There was talk five years ago that someone was interested in reopening the hotel, but that hasn’t come to pass.

One side of the art gallery

One side of the art gallery

I walked past the art gallery.

Opposite side of the art gallery

Opposite side of the art gallery

The other side of the art gallery is also unique.

Sign at the San Luis Cultural Center

Sign at the San Luis Cultural Center

We’re not familiar with the San Luis Cultural Center.

San Luis Cultural Center Complex

San Luis Cultural Center Complex

We’ve never been through it, but is definitely on our list of things to do the next time we are in San Luis.

Sangre de Cristo Parish, built in 1885

Sangre de Cristo Parish, built in 1885

The Sangre de Cristo Parish was built in 1885. I have taken pictures of this church before. It was about noon when I took this photo. Services had ended at 11:30, and the gift shop had already closed. By now, the wind had really picked up, and it started to rain. Howard met up with me and we hurried back to the motel. We wanted to visit the Stations of the Cross before returning home–another place we had never visited. Since the weather cleared up, we decided to go that afternoon. It would be our only chance.

To Be Continued in Part Five

How to Plan an Anniversary Trip–Part Three: The Ghosts of San Acacio

On the road to San Acacio.

On the road to San Acacio.

I consider San Acacio a ghost town. It has far more structures than people, not counting the number of ghosts! Approximately 40 people live out there. Actually, there are two San Acacios–Old San Acacio (Viejo San Acacio) dating back to 1853–and New San Acacio (Nuevo San Acacio). Nuevo came later, of course.

According to the Wikipedia article titled San Acacio:

Viejo San Acacio, the original San Acacio, was founded in 1853. The first settlers fought the Indians in the name of San Acacio (Saint Acacius). Viejo San Acacio is located 4 miles (6 km) east of present-day San Acacio, which was laid out 56 years later by the Costilla Estate Development Company in 1909. It was the most promising of the company’s towns. Offices of the development company and a ditch and reservoir company were there, as well as a post office, a hotel, and a vegetable warehouse. The San Luis Southern Railroad arrived in 1910 and built a two-story depot there.

The present-day San Acacio CDP encompasses the community laid out in 1909 but not Viejo San Acacio.

A link to information about the old mission church in San Acacio follows: http://www.slvheritage.com/heritage-attractions/san-acacio-mission-church/index.html@show_more=1

We first visited the village in December 2007 when we were on our expedition to San Luis. Our last visit there was in 2010 when we were again enroute to San Luis. Of course, we wanted to go out there this trip to see what had taken place since our last visit. And while we originally planned to do that the following day, a weather forecast caused us to change plans. After checking into the motel in San Luis, we drove on out of town in the direction of the village. And since it is such a small village, it would be difficult getting lost there, right? Easy to do when some of the street signs are missing or are only partially present–a good excuse, I suppose.

Old hotel or train depot in San Acacio

Old hotel or train depot in San Acacio

We knew we had arrived when we passed the old hotel/depot. The train once ran through the area. After the train stopped running, the village died.

House for sale, San Acacio, Colorado

House for sale, San Acacio, Colorado

We discovered a home for sale in the village and stopped to take a picture of it. I don’t know whether or not anyone still lives in the house. But it is a fine adobe structure.

Then came the ghosts!

Shell of an old ghost in San Acacio. It started to rain.

Shell of an old structure in San Acacio. It started to rain.

Rain started falling as we drove around the village. The wind velocity there is terrific! Ever watch a western film where the gunfight is about to take place and the wind is really strong? Those depictions are fairly accurate! I don’t know what this old building was in its day. Howard was once told that many of the structures were bars or taverns.

The remains of two old ghosts.

The remains of two old ghosts.

And some of these old ghosts must date back to the Civil War!

Ruins of an old adobe ghost.

Ruins of an old adobe ghost.

This ghost probably dates back to that period of time. I braced against the wind while standing in the road, taking this picture. As I took it, I wondered about the people who once lived there.

Old 1890s bar, San Acacio, Colorado.

Old 1890s bar, San Acacio, Colorado.

My favorite ghost in San Acacio is this old wooden tavern that operated in full swing in the 1890s. It is probably the only structure I can identify. We were in the courthouse in 2007 during our first visit to the area, and I saw a picture of this place hanging on the wall. As I recall, it was built about 1891. Given the wind velocity and the severity of the winters, I am surprised the old place still stands.

The road back to San Luis

The road back to San Luis

Our visit completed, we headed back to San Luis for the evening, anticipating more adventures the following day.

To Be Continued in Part Four

How to Plan an Anniversary Trip–Part Two: Walsenburg to San Luis

Huerfano County, Colorado Courthouse, Walsenburg, Colorado

Huerfano County, Colorado Courthouse, Walsenburg, Colorado

“So, what road are we going to take?” I asked.

When we first decided to spend our anniversary in San Luis, Colorado, Howard suggested traveling Highway 285–a scenic route that would take us through the mountains. We would visit Fairplay and South Park, drive through Nathrop and stop at our favorite rock shop. After listening to the weather the day before our departure, we nixed the 285 plan in favor of I-25. Typical of springtime in the Rockies, snow was in the forecast. So bright and early the morning of April 25th–our anniversary morning–we headed down I-25 in beautiful sunshine. A few clouds were in the sky; the sky was a royal blue.

“Maybe they were wrong about the snow,” I suggested–a suggestion I had often made before and regretted. However this time, I went prepared: snow boots on my feet and my winter jacket on board. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll scare away the snow!”

Since it was a Saturday morning, the traffic on I-25 was not heavy.

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado

We sailed past the Bronco stadium and left Denver quickly. The rock at Castle Rock, Colorado soon appeared on the horizon.

Castle Rock, Colorado

Castle Rock, Colorado

And by late morning, we turned off the interstate onto Highway 160, and headed west to Walsenburg–a town of interest to me. This wasn’t our first visit to Walsenburg, but it was our first since I discovered a family connection there. Established in 1875, Walsenburg became a bustling coal mining town. According to the 1880 Federal Census, my great grand uncle, John Stillians, settled there and went to work in a carpenter’s shop.

John E. Stillians (1857-1929)--taken in 1886 in Pueblo, Colorado at the time of his marriage to Marianna Augusta Pritchett

John E. Stillians (1857-1929)–taken in 1886 in Pueblo, Colorado at the time of his marriage to Marianna Augusta Pritchett

John didn’t stay there long. He was back in Iowa by 1881 or 1882, but he returned Colorado in 1886 where he married his first wife Marianna Augusta “Mamie” Pritchett–an actress, singer and dancer–in Pueblo.

Marianna Augusta Pritchett--first wife of John E. Stillians: her wedding photo.

Marianna Augusta Pritchett (1868-1958)–first wife of John E. Stillians: her wedding photo.

The couple relocated to Gainsborough, Florida after their marriage, thereby severing their ties with Colorado. Howard and I had probably been in Walsenburg five or six times before I discovered this connection.

Huerfano County, Colorado Courthouse, Walsenburg, Colorado

Huerfano County, Colorado Courthouse, Walsenburg, Colorado

One thing we quickly learned about Huerfano and Costilla Counties on our anniversary trip: most communities there practice a four-day work week. If you have any business to conduct on Friday–forget it. We were in Walsenburg on Saturday. The courthouse was closed. I wasn’t too certain about the mining museum behind the courthouse, however.

Mining Museum, Walsenburg, Colorado.

Mining Museum, Walsenburg, Colorado.

Originally the jail, the old building had been converted into a museum. Someone told Howard the museum had closed since “few people are interested in coal mining any more.” I did see a woman unlock the door and disappear inside, but she closed the door behind her. I didn’t inquire and headed up town to find Howard.

Walsenburg, Colorado on a Saturday morning.

Walsenburg, Colorado on a Saturday morning.

Many of the buildings were for sale. A sad fact about Huerfano and Costilla Counties is that they are the poorest counties in Colorado. We discovered a flea market open, where I acquired a large brown bear I named Walsenburg for the occasion!

Meet Walsenburg!

Meet Walsenburg!

Then we headed up LaVeta Pass on the way to our next adventure.

LaVeta Pass in Colorado

LaVeta Pass in Colorado

On April 25, 2015, LaVeta Pass basked in radiant sunshine, unlike an earlier adventure there. In December 2007, we had traveled to San Luis to attend a tax sale. While the weather was perfect driving over the mountain that time, it was terrible coming home. We encountered a heavy snow storm, and our car learned how to slide and skate over the pass. Saturday, April 25, 2015 was a different story. Hopefully, the entire trip will be like this, I thought. Once over the pass, we stopped at the base of Mount Blanca where we slowed down so I could take a picture.

Mount Blanca--one of Colorado's 14ers--14,345 feet! It is Colorado's fourth highest mountain.

Mount Blanca–one of Colorado’s 14ers–14,345 feet! It is Colorado’s fourth highest mountain.

I did notice the clouds forming over the mountain!

Fort Garland was our first stop on the other side of the mountain. Howard planned to drive over to Blanca, so we would travel through Fort Garland to get there. That’s where we encountered a unique and interesting family. They were building a store and museum in the shape of an old fort.

A work in process: a store in the shape and format of a fort! Fort Garland, Colorado

A work in process: a store in the shape and format of a fort! Fort Garland, Colorado

A welcoming committee stepped from the doorway to greet us!

Welcoming Committee at the store, Fort Garland, Colorado.

Welcoming Committee at the store, Fort Garland, Colorado.

The interior of the store was like stepping back 150 years in time. My collage depicts only a small portion of that experience:

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We even saw a parrot at the back of the store–a pet who was 20 years old! (The owner told us they live to be between 80 and 100 years!) The parrot was in a large cage and watched cartoons on television! The owner told us parrots have the mind of a human three-year old!

Pet parrot on a perch watching cartoons on a television set!

Pet parrot on a perch watching cartoons on a television set!

We left Fort Garland and headed toward Blanca–but not without stopping one more time to take a picture of the mountain.

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After the picture, we headed into Blanca for our anniversary feast: dinner at a small café–not as fancy as the place where we ate in Iowa City fifty-one years before, but it suited us just fine!

Café in Blanca, Colorado.

Café in Blanca, Colorado.

 

The Bride

The Bride

The groom!

The groom!

Of course we had to check out the little fudge shop in Blanca afterward!

Fudge Shop in Blanca, Colorado

Fudge Shop in Blanca, Colorado

By then, we were ready to bid Blanca farewell and head over to San Luis–a route that would take us through Fort Garland once again. And when we were back in Fort Garland, we decided to stop at the real Fort Garland that was established there in 1858 where Kit Carson was once a commander. (He was commander there from 1866 until 1867). The following is another collage:

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We probably spent about an hour at the Fort, and then we drove on to San Luis, where our Inn and more adventures awaited us.

San Luis Inn Motel, San Luis, Colorado.

San Luis Inn Motel, San Luis, Colorado.

To be continued in Part Three