Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Step Into The River

Last fall, Julia Cameron was a keynote speaker at the Women Writing The West Conference in Santa Fe. I found her talk on her book, The Artist's Way, refreshing and bought the book to work through it. I made my way through the 12-week workbook, not perfectly, but open and trusting it to move me forward with writing my cattle rustling book. I appreciated finding my creativity opening like the petals of a flower, slowly and delicately.

As I found my creativity, three C's kept rising to the top - Creativity, Curiosity and Connection. These three C's drive me. When I approach life from the basis of creativity, curiosity and connection, I am open, curious and move forward in whatever I am doing. When life becomes a list of tasks watched over by a stern taskmaster, I am closed, fearful and anxious.

Applying the three C's to writing my book has helped me to write again after a couple of years of depression and writer's block. Allowing myself to be curious helps me step into the scenes. Sometimes it is being curious with the research and other times it's the simple curiosity of "What happens next?" Creativity means I can try writing it different ways, moving in and out of various points of view, seeing the manuscript as a lump of clay instead of an immobile object. Connection is the reason I am writing the book. It all started with a family connection, my great-great-uncle, but it is really a story of connections: who knows who, who did they work with, who were they friends with, who is related, who has past connections? It is also my connection to the story. What speaks to me, what draws me in, what is it that won't let me go?

Western performer, Mary Kaye, shared a video on creativity and in it she quoted her cousin, western yodeler, Kerry Christensen. When she started in the music business, he told her, "Any time you start a career in a creative profession, whether writing, music, or art, it's like stepping into a stream of moving water. You have to take the first step into the water and it's cold, it's scary, but you have to trust that the flow of that creativity is going to take you to exactly where you need to be."

When I picture stepping into the stream of moving water, of course I picture the Arkansas River in Salida. And I know that creativity, curiosity, and connection are what move me into the stream. The river is the unknown, but I trust my Creator to move me through it and trust that the flow will take me right to where I need to be and where the book needs to be.

I created the poster in the photo above, framed it in a blue frame, and set it on the shelf above my computer. It reminds me to to choose creativity, curiosity or connection in the book and to step into the river, trusting the book will end up exactly where it needs to be.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Searching For Elizabeth Jane Christison's Grave

April 15, 1898 Salida Mail  Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection

Ah, the Christison family and the sites of the eternal rest of their earthly bodies.
If ever a family wanted to throw their descendants into a fruitless search for gravesites, it is the Christisons. Apparently, stone monuments were not a necessity to the Christisons. Even Judge Wilburn Christison, whom we know died in Fairplay, does not have a marker in the Fairplay Cemetery.

Elizabeth Jane Lewis Christison's grave is also a mystery. To make matters worse, if you search for Elizabeth Jane on Ancestry, you will find that about half of the family trees say she died in Howard, Colorado and another half say she died in Blue Springs, Missouri. What? So far, I have not seen documentation for the Blue Springs death and burial. I have no idea where this idea originated.

I have 2 theories on where Elizabeth Jane Lewis Christison is buried. The first logical place would be for her to be buried beside her husband, Wilburn Christison, in the Fairplay Cemetery. But this is impossible to prove because there are no markers, nor are there any cemetery records.

The second theory, the one I believe to be the most likely, is that she is buried in the Howard Cemetery in Howard, Colorado.

First, let's look at her death. The newspaper clipping at the top is from the April 15, 1898 Salida Mail in the "Pleasant Valley Notes, Howard, Colorado" saying: "Mrs. Christison is very ill and serious doubts are entertained of her recovery."

I know Elizabeth Jane lived in Howard at the time of her son, Charlie's, death in 1892. I also have a family record stating "Mother" (Elizabeth Jane) died May 10, 1898 in Howard. I received this handwritten copy from Betty Regnier, Ernest Christison's granddaughter. At the top is a note, "The original of this was handed down through the family." I am guessing the printing was done by Betty's mother, Helen, and the cursive writing are Betty's notes.

Christison Family Record, Betty Regnier
Click Photo To Enlarge
So, I believe these two documents, the newspaper clipping, and the family record prove that Elizabeth Jane Lewis Christison died in Howard, Colorado on May 10, 1898.

Where is she buried? I believe in Howard Cemetery. 

There are two lots marked on the 1923 map of the Howard Cemetery that I think are Christisons. 
Howard Cemetery Map located at the Royal  Gorge Regional Museum
And History Center, Canon City, Colorado

 The first is faint and there is a tear in the map that runs through the name. To some it reads "Dan Christisen." Someone else suggested "Dau." possibly for an infant that died. 

At some point (perhaps a WPA project?), someone put a marker up, reading "Dan Christinsen." Notice the "n" added on the marker is not in the name on the map.

One day, I got to thinking about the graves in Howard and recalled an experience I had as a librarian at the Elbert Library. A name was transcribed wrongly from a map to a cemetery record and I helped figure it out. Here's that Unknown Grave story.

What if "Dan Christisen" was really "Jane Christison?" I could see where the lower part of a cursive "J" could be faint and the letter look like a "D." And the "e" at the end could simply look like a line ending the name.

The Royal Gorge Museum and History Center has the original linen 1823 map. But this map must have been transcribed from other records; perhaps another map, perhaps a list of names and burials; or perhaps it was a survey of markers. What if there was a wooden marker that said "Jane" but was so weathered that the best guess was "Dan?"

The "Dan Christisen" grave is next to Julia Ann Taylor and her husband, John Wesley Taylor, who happen to be the in-laws of Elizabeth Jane's son, Virgil Ernest Christison, who died in 1905 and 1906. Perhaps Ernest  bought the lot, buried his mother there and 7 years later, buried his mother-in-law beside her?

My family has always called her "Elizabeth." But this is a family where many of the children went by their middle name. It seems logical that she went by "Jane."

I have searched for a "Dan Christinsen" or "Christensen" or "Christisen" and I haven't located any in the area.

The other grave is in the next row over, marked "Christinson" on the map. I believe this is Charlie Christison who died on April 29, 1892 at the age of 25 from an illness. His obituary states he was buried in the Howard Cemetery.

I know there is no way to prove with certainty that Elizabeth Jane Lewis Christison is buried in the grave marked "Dan Christinsen," but to me, it seems the most believable. 

Additional Blog Posts Relating To Elizabeth Jane Christison:

Elizabeth Jane Christison - A Colorado Pioneer
The Death of Judge Christison

Friday, February 24, 2017

Elizabeth Jane Christison - A Colorado Pioneer

Elizabeth Jane Lewis Christison is my great-great-grandmother. She is also the great-grandaughter of Hannah Boone (Daniel Boone's sister) and John Stewart (who was killed by Indians in 1770 during an expedition with Daniel Boone).

Elizabeth was born to Daniel Pennington Lewis and Polly Paine Lewis on November 10, 1828 in Platte City, Missouri. She married Wilburn Christison September 24, 1848 in Platte City. The family moved to Leavenworth County, Kansas in 1855. In 1861, Wilburn, Elizabeth and their six children crossed the plains with a covered wagon pulled by oxen to the mining camp of Cash Creek in the Colorado mountains near Twin Lakes. The youngest child, Mary Alwilda, may have been born during the journey.

While Wilburn ran an Indian trading post and practiced law, Elizabeth raise their children and bore three more babies. The family suffered a tragedy on August 17, 1864 when Arthur Boone "Boone" was struck by lightning and died at the age of 11.

The family moved south to where Buena Vista is today and then moved to Adobe Park (before Salida was there). In 1872, Wilburn was elected Park County Judge and the family moved to Fairplay. Wilburn died of pneumonia on February 7, 1882 in Fairplay. Wilburn Christison Obituary

Elizabeth moved to Brown's Park near Salida with her two youngest sons. And, by 1890, lived in Howard, Colorado, where her son, Virgil Ernest Christison, and family lived.

Her life wasn't easy after Wilburn died. Virgil Ernest spent 2 years in the State Penitentiary for Grand Larceny (cattle theft) from 1884-1886. Her middle son, John, committed suicide in 1890 in Aspen, Colorado. And her youngest son, Charlie, fell ill while working in Creede and died at her home in Howard in 1892.

Elizabeth Jane Christison died on May 10, 1898 in Howard, Colorado.

Additional Blog Posts Relating to Elizabeth Jane Christison:

Searching for Elizabeth Jane Christison's Grave

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cash Creek (Cache Creek) Then and Now

Cash Creek Photo by W.G. Chamberlain Denver Public Library Digital Collections 
Photo by Gayle Gresham

The only known photo of the Cash Creek mining camp is the photo by W.G. Chamberlain between 1865 and 1875 in the Denver Library Digital Collections.  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 my chapter, "The Cash Creek Miners and the Lake County War," in 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.

Additional Blog Posts Relating to Cash Creek and the Christison Family:
Cache Creek or Cash Creek
The Death of Judge Christison
Elizabeth Jane Christison - Colorado Pioneer
My Cache Creek Gold Panning Experience

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