Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cash Creek (Cache Creek) Then and Now

Cash Creek :: Western History  Link to photo taken by W. G. Chamberlain

The only known photo of the Cash Creek mining camp is the photo by W.G. Chamberlain between 1865 and 1875. Click on the link above to the digital photo in Denver Library's collection. Wilburn Christison, my great-great-grandfather, lived with his wife and six children at Cash Creek between 1861 and 1865 or so. He had a trading post with the Ute Indians and prospected and engaged in mining enterprises.

Today my husband figured out where W.G. Chamberlain took his photo by looking at the mountains. And I hiked to approximately the same spot and took a photo. The photos look at Cash Creek (Cache Creek) from the southwest hill. At the center of each photo is a road that curves. This is at the Granite Cemetery. The three trees in today's photo are near the cemetery.

The ditch, is what I believe is the Cash Creek Ditch, engineered by Henry Justice, who also supervised the digging in 1861 to bring the water from the Twin Lakes. Wilburn Christison was a shareholder in the project.

The terrain has changed quite a bit by natural erosion (I believe that is why the road isn't as prominent in today's photo) and by hydraulic mining where the gravel was washed away by hydraulic nozzles. As you can see, there is quite a change in the level where the trees are and the same level in Chamberlain's photo.

But, I was fascinated to see that the trail to walk down to the creek is about the same.

Here's a photo of Cache Creek from the west on an overlook on Lost Canyon Road. You can see the craters created by the hydraulic mining.

To learn more about early Cash Creek, look for Rush to the Rockies, a book of papers presented at the Pikes Peak Library District's Regional History Symposium and published by the Pikes Peak Library District.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Writing Retreat 132 Years After Ed Watkins' Lynching

Looking east towards Salida.
The Christison and Watkins ranches were on the mountain in the center pink in the sunset.

I spent the last week at the Heart of the Rockies Campground writing a chapter of the book. Coincidentally, this was the week major events took place in the story.

Ed Watkins was lynched by a mob of masked men at the Canon City courthouse in the early morning hours of August 11, 1883. That chapter was already written. The chapter I worked on this week is when the South Park cattlemen arrived on the train in Salida two days after Ed Watkins' lynching. They had to appear in court because Ed Watkins had named several men in a lawsuit for driving away his cattle before he was killed.

Ed Watkins' friends were quick to accuse the cattlemen of the lynching and met the cattlemen at the train. A tense situation, to say the least.

My writer friend, Nancy Oswald, sent me a quote this week by A.M. Homes, "I think that in fiction you can say things and in a way be truer than you can be in real life and truer than you can be in non-fiction. There's an accuracy to fiction that people don't really talk about - an emotional accuracy."

I believe emotional accuracy is why this book evolved from nonfiction to creative nonfiction to historical fiction. It is also part of the reason this book is taking forever to write. Writing emotional accuracy is hard work in this story. Much of it is gut-wrenching. Emotions I don't want to gloss over.

So, I piece together events - the train arrived at noon and the hearing started at 2:00 p.m. What did they do for two hours? Then I write the scene thinking about the emotions based on what had already occurred in the story. How did this make them feel? How did they show it?

And now that I've read what I just wrote, I understand why my writing process takes a little longer. This week I spent two days piecing together what happened in the chapter. During those two days, I processed the events in my mind and wrote paragraphs that didn't go anywhere. But on day 3, I could write, sometimes using sentences from those paragraphs that didn't seem to go anywhere. The scene fell into place and I could write with emotional accuracy.

Knowing that the two days that seemed hopeless are really an important part of my writing process will help me. Stay in there, don't give up, the moment it all falls in place is just around the corner.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Part 2: Circling and Story Round-up in Writing

Gayle Gresham at the Mulock Ranch corral in Park County, May 2014

In my last post, Part 1: Circling and Story Round-up, I wrote about my discovery of "circling" and how it worked in researching my book (without me knowing it at the time).

When I started writing the book, my thinking went linear. That's the way you write a book, right? Start at the beginning and write to the end. Using my cattle round-up metaphor, I had to get my cows in a straight line, in the correct order and move them forward. And that worked just the way it would if I went to the pasture and started trying to make our cows line up in a straight line and stay in order!

Everything came to a grinding halt. 3 years later, I am still stuck and overwhelmed. I have bits and pieces of a book, but nothing that reads in order.

Now, in my defense, I do have a chapter order and what events need to go into each chapter. But I get stymied when I try to write. What if I forget something? What if it didn’t happen the way I think? What were the motives? Why did it happen this way?

And then I discovered circling and round-up. What if I round up my book the way I rounded up the research? I start in a broad circle and gather the story. That’s my chapter order. I’ll keep circling in, bringing pieces of the story together.

For the first draft, I’m finding the pieces, seeing how they fit together. I’m bringing them to the corral. I’ll keep circling, looking for strays, but concentrating on what I have and what I know. I’ll keep bringing the story in, tighter and tighter, until I have the center, the focus, the essence of the book.

While circling, I don’t have to have perfection. I’m just gathering the story together. What may seem important (so important it keeps me from writing it) may not be that important in the end. If I get stuck, I’ll circle to the next cow, the next scene, or perhaps another scene that will inform the first scene. I’ll keep circling until I have a story.

I’m not circling to circle. I am circling to bring the story to the center. Moving from the outside in. Circling to make the story complete. Circling to the end.

As a lifetime circler, (I've heard it described as circling the airport and never landing), I realize that this story must land. I have to circle to the center to completion.

 I have numbered the circles in my spiral to be certain I keep moving to the center. Now I know exactly where I am in the spiral and what I need to do to get to the next circle. I have 5 circles in my spiral - the outer circle is a 5 and and inner circle is 1. 1 is the finish line, when the inner circle is filled in, the 1st draft will be complete. Right now I'm at the 4th circle. I figure I'll have half the book rounded up at the 3rd circle.

I'll keep you informed about my circling. It may seem bizarre to you (unless you are a circler, too), but it has opened up my mind to be able to write again. Which makes me very happy!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Part 1: Circling and Story Round-up

With the New Year, my thoughts circled around writing my book. Why can’t I write it? What is keeping me from writing it?

I thought of a Diana Gabaldon
interview I’d read recently where she talked about keeping 17 tabs open on her computer at a time, writing one scene until she got stuck and then moving to another. She said that’s how her brain works. The word “circling” came to mind when I read it. Then I read a blog post Dawn Wink wrote on how she organizes her writing with a clustering, a journal, and lists. Once again, I thought of “circling.”

I remembered drawing spirals in school when I doodled in my notebook during class. I’d start at the center and spiral outwards. Thinking about circling and writing, I wondered about starting at the outside and spiraling inward to the center.

I sat down at my desk and drew a spiral. It felt right when I started at the outside and spiraled in. I felt the completion when I reached the center.

The word “Circling” stayed on my mind. Last night I realized that circling is like a cattle round-up. Cowboys start in a broad circle and move the cattle together, picking up strays and gathering the cattle in a corral.

When I began researching the story for my book, I didn’t start at point A and move to point B. Instead, I gathered information like gathering cows in a roundup. I started on a broad loop, learning the story. Then, I started gathering facts and putting them in the corral – Excel spreadsheet, notebooks and folders. I went after strays and sometimes ran across unexpected information. I kept circling, bringing in information until I had all of my facts. I know there may be some mavericks out there I haven’t found, but I know I did my best.
Next, I examined my facts like a cattleman examines his cows. Are they healthy? Or are they sick or have an injury? Which facts are strong and true? Which ones are untrue? What proof do I have? Who made this statement and what was their bias?

I got to know my facts like a cattleman knows his cows. I knew which ones had a certain bias and which were most likely made up. How? I found other documentation or proof. I culled the information that was inaccurate or false, just as I would an old cow or one that won’t produce any longer. I kept the info with a bias, but I know to keep an eye on it and not let it get loose.

Circling worked for my research. I feel confident in my research and know that I have done a good job.  My next question – Could circling work in writing my book?

Part 2: Circling and Round-up

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cabin on Alder Creek

John and I returned to Alder after Labor Day and, once again, searched for the Carothers cabin where my Grandpa lived when he was a boy. First, we walked along the beaver ponds and counted at least ten ponds. Riding back down the trail, we stopped on the east side of the ponds and noticed a trail across from the diggings. We hiked down the trail and discovered...

the remains of a cabin!

We are not certain if this was the cabin my Dad remembers his father showing him. But it's the only cabin we found.

To read more about Grandpa's childhood in Alder and our search for the cabin, read the post "Past and Present Alder, Colorado."

Monday, August 11, 2014

WMA - Colorado Chapter Showcase/Jam at Florrisant Grange

Come listen to the story of Ed Watkins and Ernest Christison in song and storytelling! John, Kate and I will be performing at the Florissant Grange this Saturday, August 16, in this fun showcase/Jam session. We have written five songs that tell the cattle rustling story. Honored to perform with the  great cowboy poets and performers of Colorado.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

National Day of the Cowboy

Ernest Christison (Drawing by Katy Kinder from a photograph)
Today, July 26, is National Day of the Cowboy. I thought it an appropriate time to share this drawing of Ernest Christison with his horse and his dog. He doesn't look like much of an outlaw, does he? Artist Katy Kinder drew this from a photograph in which the horse was blurry and faded. The photo was likely taken in the late 1870's or early 1880's.

Born in Missouri in 1852, Ernest traveled west with his family to the Colorado mining camp of Cash Creek when he was 9 years old. His older brother, Leslie, followed his father into mining, but Ernest preferred horses and cows to picks and rocks.

His first brand was recorded in 1876, the same year he signed on to round up 175 head of cattle for the ranchers Leonhardy and Turkey and trail them from Buena Vista to Denver to sell. The cowboys arrived on April 23 and they held the cattle at a ranch near Denver until the sale could be made. Everything seemed to be going well until a spring blizzard blew in at noon on April 25 and stampeded the cattle. Two days and four feet of snow later, the cowboys proceeded to locate and round up the scattered cattle. Ernest became snow blind which made it impossible for him to continue with the round-up, but Henry Weber managed to locate the rest of 155 head of cattle, sold them, and returned to the Buena Vista with Ernest.

Ernest had a couple of cattle partnerships including one with Thomas Cameron and his son, J.B., before his partnership with Ed Watkins.

If you want to read more about the outlaw part of this story, click on The Cattle Rustling Story.