Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cache Creek

Granite Cemetery with white crosses. Cache Creek in the background.

Cache Creek facing east towards Granite.

Gayle with Cache Creek in the background.

While in Granite on December 14, Deb and I stopped in at the Granite Peddler and asked how to get to Cache Creek. This is the mining camp where Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison first settled in Colorado in 1861. The man in the store told us to take Lost Canyon road behind the store. Now, I had seen the road and had no intention of driving up the one-lane road winding around the side of the mountain. When I was a child, my Dad liked to go 4-wheeling in his Scout. One of my memories includes me screaming in the back seat for my Dad to let me out. I never liked the feeling of the Scout tilting sideways with a drop-off down the mountain. But Deb said we should go and if I wouldn’t drive, she would. Reluctantly, I turned the truck up the road and held onto the steering wheel for dear life. Thankfully, the road never tilted and before long we were at the top looking at a sign that read “Granite Cemetery.” Cache Creek lay below us.

With the frigid wind howling from the north and patches of snow around us, we walked through the cemetery. I believe one of Wilburn and Elizabeth’s sons is buried there. 10-year-old Boone Christison died August 13, 1864 at “Cash Creek.” As many as 70 graves are unmarked in the cemetery and there are no written records. Deb and I walked down the trail towards the creek, watching for signs of where cabins stood. Reaching the creek, I stood speechless picturing Wilburn standing in the creek, leaning over a gold pan as he swirled the water and sand watching for small nuggets. I turned and pictured the cabin where Elizabeth cared for their six children. What was it like for Elizabeth to be the only woman in the mining camp? I smiled as I pictured the children running and playing with the Ute Indian children, as Ernest had related to his granddaughter.

After an hour of wandering around, Deb and I hiked back up the mountain to the truck. The euphoria I felt lasted as I drove down the valley. It was amazing to walk along the creek, see the frozen water, and feel the same icy cold wind Wilburn and his family felt when they lived there. Later, I got out of my truck at Salida and looked down to see the brown dirt that fell from my shoes. I caught a glimpse of sparkling specks in it and realized I was walking around with Cache Creek gold dust on my shoes. Perfect for the granddaughter of three generations of gold miners.

For more on the history of Cache Creek click here

Sunday, December 24, 2006


I started writing this blog yesterday at 4:00 p.m., but I decided to check a fact on the Internet. Six hours later I got off the ’net. That’s why I never seem to get any writing done. But I discovered the most wonderful tidbit of information about a theory I have on the Lake County War! It’s a wonderful Christmas present to myself! I can’t share it, but I can’t wait to follow up on the clue. Back to Granite…

Deb and I stopped in Nathrop and Buena Vista, then drove 17 miles north on Highway 24 to Granite. South of Granite, the highway climbs into rocky terrain. Granite is aptly named since it nestles on mountain slopes of rock and sagebrush on both sides of the Arkansas River.

The photograph is taken looking east of Highway 24. The Arkansas River is below the guard rail. The Granite Courthouse where Wilburn Christison practiced law and was a probate judge stood just to the left of the road going up the mountain, about where the red building and trailer are in the photo. It is also the courthouse where Judge Dyer was killed. The courthouse was a long two-story log building. Originally it was built in 1866 in Dayton, then disassembled and moved to Granite in 1868 or 1869 after Granite became the county seat.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gas Creek

Top Photo: Gas Creek looking northwest of hwy. 285
Bottom Photo: Gas Creek looking east towards Arkansas River

Just after passing Brown’s Creek driving north on 285, the valley opens into vast meadows dotted with ranch houses, barns and corrals. This is prime farmland in the Upper Arkansas Valley. Gas Creek runs in rivulets from the west into the Arkansas on the east side of the highway. This is where Elijah Gibbs and George Harrington argued over water rights. And where George Harrington was murdered that started the Lake County War.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Brown's Creek

On Thursday morning, Deb and I drove up Highway 285 from Poncha Springs. Our first stop was Brown’s Creek. Centerville was near Brown’s Creek. Justice of Peace, A.B. Cowan lived in Centerville. This is where Elijah Gibbs was tried for shooting the Boone brothers. Many of Gibbs’ supporters lived in the Brown’s Creek area during the Lake County War.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Wilburn Christison's Handwriting

Bright and early Wednesday, my friend Debra and I took off for an overnight trip to Salida. We spent the afternoon at the District Courts in Salida. We searched through a box crammed full of old Lake County court records. I had looked through a similar box the last time I was in Salida, but didn’t find anything of interest. However, in this box, after looking at several papers, I pulled out a bond filed February 12, 1872 by "W. Christison, Probate Judge.” On closer examination, I realized that the handwriting was Wilburn’s. There are three distinct signatures in the document and the handwriting matches Wilburn’s signature--all of the letter “t”s are crossed at the top. It was fascinating to see my great-great-grandfather’s handwriting for the first time.

I found another case where Wilburn was the attorney. But that was all I found in the entire box. But I’m sure glad I found what I did!

I tried posting a picture of the signature, but it isn't coming out clear enough to read. Sorry! Over the next week I’ll share more about my trip to Salida and my discoveries.

Lake County and Chaffee County

One of the things I need to mention about the Lake County War (read November 29 post) is that it took place in what is now Chaffee County. In 1879, the southern part of Lake County from Granite south to Salida became Chaffee County. Today, some of the records for old Lake County are in Salida.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Denver Research Trip

I had a chance to try out my research logs on Thursday when I went to the Colorado State Archives and the Denver Library. I stopped by the State Archives first. I have a magazine article that lists the court case and docket number of Elijah Gibbs’ trial in Denver and noted that it could be found at the State Archives. I confidently walked in with my research log, quoting the pertinent information, and was very disappointed when the case couldn’t be found. But they are going to continue trying to locate it.

I had better luck at the Denver Public Library, once I found a parking place and figured out how to run a microfilm reader again. I started going down the list of newspaper articles on the Lake County War, popping dimes into the printer. I printed articles from the Central City and Canon City newspapers that aren’t yet on the Colorado Historical Newspaper site.

Later, I sat at Applebee’s reading through the articles and eating my Oriental Chicken Wrap. I was amazed to find even more stories about the fight between Elijah Gibbs and George Harrington and how Harrington was killed. It is quite interesting when each newspaper has their own version of the events. It also makes it hard to determine the truth in the matter.

I also found a reference to Wilburn Christison that I hadn’t seen before. It was written by a supporter of the Committee of Safety and it disparaged Wilburn for being the legal advisor to the “Gibbs’ gang.”

Friday, December 8, 2006

Research Notebook and Logs

My friend, Tanya, asked about my historical research notebook. I have a 3” notebook crammed full of everything I’ve found on the Christison family. All of the pages are in page protectors. It is divided by generations and numbered.

This fall I realized I need to keep research logs so I have a record of what books and records I’ve examined and what I still need to look at. I started a file of research logs on my computer. I’ve used the name “book” for files for the book. So the research logs are a file named “book.research logs.” Then I set up folders for each town or city where I would be doing research -- “book.research logs.Denver.” The research logs are titled by town and place of research -- Denver, State Archives. The logs have the information I’m looking for with a box to check them off when I’ve completed it.

As I write and research, I’m constantly going to the logs and adding something I need to check. Then I print off the logs I need for the place I’m going and hopefully, be able to do some productive research!

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Expect The Unexpected in Research Trips

I’m gearing up for some research trips. I’ve got my research logs filled out; ready to move in and mine out the smallest details and perhaps, the greatest nuggets!

Research trips don’t always go the way I plan. I hit the road knowing exactly what town, library, courthouse, or museum I will be perusing that day. But a couple of years ago, on a historical research trip to Fairplay, I learned to expect the unexpected.

I drove to Fairplay from my home, arriving at the library around 10:00. The Fairplay Library is in the old Park County Courthouse. This is the very courthouse that my great-great-grandfather Wilburn Christison presided over probate court cases and practiced law. It is always awe-inspiring for me to walk through the doors of this tiny two-story building. That day, I started looking at books.

I hadn’t been there more than 20-30 minutes when I squatted down to look at a book and heard and felt, “RRRIIIIPPPP!” I now had a nice long tear in the rear end of my pants. I was mortified! I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, but nobody else was in the room. My mind started whirling--where could I get a pair of pants in Fairplay? I was pretty sure there wasn’t a store that carried pants. So, I could either go back to Colorado Springs or Denver and give up on my research trip, or I could go to Buena Vista where I figured there was chance of finding a store that sold pants.

I drove to Buena Vista, found an Alco and left feeling much more confident in my new pair of jeans. I decided to drive north to Granite and Leadville, an area I’d never been to. I found the courthouse in Leadville and started looking at old Lake County records, discovering mining claims Wilburn Christison had filed on and mining partnerships. It opened a whole new area of research. So, even when you rip out your pants and have to change your plans and drive much farther than you expected, you never know what new doors will open!

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Responding to Terror in Lake County War

PennyS left an interesting comment on yesterday’s post, but it shows up on the first post. Penny wrote,
"I found it very interesting to consider what you wrote on 12/1 "...Upper Arkansas Valley during the years of 1874-1875. It was a time of terror" ...because we live in a time of terror now. If it isn't the neighbor's Goth teenager collecting guns or an al Qaeda operative collecting nuclear armaments from South Korea; these are our times! I think about how people handled terror in the past. That inspiration gives us a connection to the real people of history. The pioneers were not so different; it's all in how they handled the threats, the challenges, the fears and opportunities. I enjoy your blog and will continue to read it. Your family history is fascinating, and you write in a way to make it very real for readers."

How thought provoking! When I wrote my post, I was stuck in the past, not even thinking of the implications for today. Yes, we do live in a time of terror, never knowing when someone else’s actions will affect our family, community and world. The level of fear in lower Lake County was high right after the Committee of Safety held their trials. People didn’t know whether their friend, neighbor, or mining partner might threaten them. At least three men were lynched. The County Coroner claimed there were as many as one hundred deaths during the Lake County War, however, only three plus Judge Dyer’s murder can be substantiated. Armed guards roamed the region, questioning citizens as they passed through. The threat had leveled off some before Judge Dyer issued the warrants for arrest. The Committee of Safety blamed Dyer for precipitating his own murder.

The people of Lake County responded to terror in the same ways we do today: many moved away from the threat; some defended themselves and gave their opinions in the newspapers; Judge Dyer and others tried to solve it through the judicial system; Father Dyer set about making changes in the government; and Territorial Governor Routt considered sending the Federal troops into the area after Judge Dyer’s assassination to quell the lawlessness. Judge Dyer was killed the year before Colorado became a state in 1876, so many were concerned about the reputation of the territory. Who would move to Colorado if there was a war in the heart of the state?

Friday, December 1, 2006

Lake County War Interest

I’ve enjoyed your interest in the Lake County War! It is an almost unbelievable event in Colorado history. But it is true. Judge Dyer is buried in Castle Rock. His dad, itinerant Methodist minister Father Dyer, couldn’t bear to leave his son buried in Granite “among such a set of murderers” and had his body moved three years later. You can read more about Father Dyer and the Lake County War in Father Dyer’s autobiography, The Snow-Shoe Itinerant by J. L. Dyer.

I can’t imagine living in the Upper Arkansas Valley during the years of 1874-1875. It was a time of terror for many of the people. Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison had moved to Fairplay in 1873 where he was elected Park County probate judge. This gave them some distance from the most violent events. They had lived in Lake County for 12 years and Wilburn was the Lake County probate judge before he moved to Fairplay. Elias Dyer replaced him.

If you are related to anyone involved in the Lake County War or if you have information about it, please contact me at GayleGresham@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Lake County War

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.

If you are related to any of the people involved in the Lake County War or have information about it, please contact me at GayleGresham@gmail.com

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection

Several months ago I learned about the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection: http://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org

This project is a collaborative effort by the Colorado State Library, the Colorado State Historical Society and the Collaborative Digitization Program. At this time, 86 Colorado newspapers published between 1859-1928 are available for viewing on-line. This collection is searchable by dates and keywords. It is a goldmine for any researcher of family history in Colorado or of Colorado history.

Imagine how thrilled I was to learn that the Fairplay Flume was one of the newspapers on-line! So now, instead of sitting in the Fairplay library looking through microfilm, I can sit in the comfort of my own home and spend hours staring at my computer screen. Now, if I only had high-speed Internet…
I’ve found many other snippets of information in other newspapers on the site, too, like the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Daily Times, the Pueblo Chieftain. It reminds me to leave no stone unturned in the search for family history.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Photograph of Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison

When I was young, my parents researched my Dad’s family history in dusty newspaper offices. I remember sitting for endless hours in the Fairplay Flume office as they searched newspapers for articles about my great-great-grandfather, Judge Wilburn Christison. Who would guess that years later I’d be looking at old newspapers for hours at a time?

As Mom and Dad found new information about Wilburn Christison, I often heard my Dad say, “I sure wish we had a picture of the Judge.” Dad always called him “the Judge.” That phrase stuck with me through the years as I dug up more details about Wilburn. But now the phrase became, “I wish I could find a picture of the Judge for Dad.”

One day, on a whim, I posted a message on the Rootsweb and MyGenWeb message boards asking if anyone had a picture of Wilburn Christison, son of Adam. The e-mails started trickling in. After e-mails saying, “I have a picture of my Uncle Wilburn,” I added dates and places to my posting. I never dreamed there would be more than one Adam with a son named Wilburn.

2 ½ months after the initial posting, I received an e-mail from Betty Regnier saying she had a picture of Wilburn. To say I was skeptical is an understatement. I wrote back with the dates and places. She replied, “Yes, that’s him. He’s my great-grandfather.”

I will never forget the day I opened my mailbox and found the large manila envelope. Pulling the photographs from the envelope, I stared at the dignified faces of Wilburn and Elizabeth; faces that matched the resilient pioneers I’d come to know through a few newspaper articles and snippets in local history books.

And the first thing I did was scan the photograph and e-mailed it to my Dad. He finally has his picture of “The Judge.”

Friday, November 24, 2006

Arkansas River and Family Roots

In the summer of 2004, I drove our pickup truck west, pulling my family’s 4-wheelers and motorcycles. Winding alongside the Arkansas River on US Highway 50 on the way to Salida, I reveled in the gravitational pull as I swung into the curves and marveled at the ascetic beauty of the harsh canyons and the white-water of the river. The deep canyons and river-winding curves brought to mind childhood memories of riding in the back seat of an International Scout that overflowed with sleeping bags, tents, water jugs, my Mom and Dad, my brother Brian, and Smokey, our black Labrador. Just as it did in my childhood, anticipation filled me to the point of bubbling over because the Arkansas River signaled the beginning of a family camping trip at Spring Creek.

The Arkansas also represents the connection to my family roots. The memories of camping with my family were just the beginning. I recalled Grandpa’s stories of growing up in tiny mining towns in the region and in Canon City. His father, Lewis, worked in the mines when the glory days of the mining era were a faded memory. I thought about Lewis’ older brother, Ernest, the cattle rustler who had a ranch north of Howard, and wondered how he ever herded cattle through this harsh territory. And I thought about my great-great-grandparents, Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison, who traveled from Kansas in a covered wagon pulled by oxen in 1861, settling first near the headwaters of the Arkansas River at Cache Creek. They raised nine children in the upper Arkansas Valley and South Park while Wilburn endeavored to bring truth and justice to a lawless land.

Although I’ve never lived in the area, I always feel an uncanny sense of coming home. Maybe it is the camping trips and memories of Grandpa cooking pancakes on the griddle over the campfire. Maybe it is walking down a road leading to a mine knowing my great-grandfather tread those same rocks or climbing the stairs of the Fairplay courthouse where Wilburn practiced law and served as a county judge.

While camping at Spring Creek with my husband John and our children Kate and Kenny, I thought about Wilburn and Elizabeth. What were their hopes and dreams? What heartaches made their journey in life more difficult? What drove them to move to the wilds of Colorado just as it became a territory? I wanted to know more about my people. And I wanted to share my people with my family so they could have a glimpse into the past; a glimpse into the lives of ancestors that intertwined with the history of Colorado.

And so, I renewed my journey in researching and writing the family history. Over the past two years I have driven to Canon City, Howard, Salida, Buena Vista, Cache Creek, Granite, Leadville, Fairplay and La Veta and I’ve spent countless hours in libraries, museums and courthouses. What an adventure! I’ve discovered amazing things about my family, their neighbors and the region they lived in. Join me as I share more about my adventures and discoveries in Colorado history!