Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Writing Space

This week I'm getting ready to go to the Women Writing The West conference in Colorado Springs next weekend. I've belonged to this great organization for a year and I can't wait to see the women I met at last year's conference and greet in person the women I've met through e-mail in the past year.

Recently, someone on the WWW listserv shared a site of Writers' Rooms. I was intrigued with seeing where other people write. So I decided to show you my little corner of the living room where I write. You can see my notebooks and books. But the photo doesn't show the stacks on the piano bench beside the desk or the piles of maps and papers on the dining room table! Nor does it show the trail worn in the carpet to the kitchen, which beckons me every time I get stuck:-)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cameron Mountain

This is Cameron Mountain, northeast of Salida. Cameron Mountain stood at the center of the cattle range of Thomas Cameron. Ernest Christison's range was nearby the Cameron range.

I recently came into contact with J.B. Cameron's great-great-granddaughter, Laura. J.B. decided to get out of town around the time Ernest was arrested and moved to Washington Territory . It is so interesting to hear stories from other families.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ute Creek Trail

Last Friday, John and I drove to Salida, then drove up northeast on County Road 175 or Ute Creek Trail. Ute Creek Trail was the road the settlers in the 1860's used to get to Canon City. It was also the cattle range of Thomas Cameron, one of the early settlers and a friend of Ernest Christison. Thomas, Ernest and Thomas' son, J.B. jointly registered a brand in 1880.

Imagine herding cattle through this terrain--without the nice gravel road!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Researching Ernest Christison's Story

Dr. Wendell Hutchinson, Connie, John and Gayle (Salida 1981)
Have you ever had a story that stayed with you? For years? 

I took a Colorado history class when I was a sophomore in high school in 1981. When it came time to write my term paper, I decided to write about Ernest Christison. I knew two things about my great-great -uncle -- he was a cattle rustler and he spent time in the state penitentiary. I searched for info about Ernest in Chaffee County history books my parents had collected. I learned that Ernest's partner, Ed Watkins, was lynched in Canon City in 1883.

Realizing there was more to the story, I decided to go to Salida to talk to Dr. Wendell Hutchinson who had co-written Under The Angel of Shavano. My parents and my boyfriend at the time (now my husband, John) drove to Salida in early November and we had a delightful day visiting with Dr. Hutchinson. He showed us where Ernest Christison's cabin had once stood near Salida. He told me about Ernest and the Watkins situation. I learned that Ernest had escaped from jail, too. Dr. Hutchinson also introduced us to John Ophus, a man who had developed an interest in the Christison family and done some research. 

I wrote my paper, got an A+, and gained a new found love for historical research. Because of this experience, I started researching my family history early in my married life. Throughout the years, Ernest's story kept rising to the top. Discovering Betty Regnier, Ernest's granddaughter who remembers him, and with the new surprise of my intersecting ancestry with Erin, Ernest's great-great-granddaughter, writing Ernest's story has become even more pressing. 

Originally I planned to write one book -- a family saga with Wilburn's life and Ernest's story
-- but as I dug into Ernest's story, I discovered I have enough information for his very own book. I started with an inch and a half notebook holding a few pages about Ernest; in the past few months it has grown to a fat notebook full of court records and newspaper articles. And I'm still running into surprises. What a story. I can't wait to share it with you.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Ernest Christison - Cattle Rustler

I've mentioned Ernest Christison several times, but I've not really told his story. Ernest was Wilburn and Elizabeth's second son. In 1884 he pled guilty to stealing cattle and was sentenced to two years in prison. All of the local history books say he went to the Colorado State Penitentiary for ten years, but his prison records show he was sentenced to two years.

Ernest's story has been quite a puzzle to piece together and more intriguing than I ever dreamed! It is a wild west movie in real life. I'm working on Ernest's story now and I'm starting to feel like Louis L'Amour!

One of the best things about writing Ernest's story is talking with his granddaughter, Betty. She is the lady who gave me the picture of Wilburn and Elizabeth. Betty remembers Ernest quite well. He lived with her family in Colorado Springs when she was a child. She remembers him playing his fiddle and mouth harp. And she remembers him as the sweetest, kindest Grandpa a child could have.

I will continue Ernest's story another day...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fairplay Trip

I drove up to Fairplay Wednesday. The wildflowers on Wilkerson pass were gorgeous! First stop, the Park County Library, which is in the old courthouse. The Park County Local History Archives is in a tiny room in the basement. I met Jane, the archivist, who pulled out folders and books for me to look at. From Jane, I learned that many of the Park County court records are in the State Archives. I also met Linda, the historic preservation coordinator. Jane and Linda suggested I call Jerry, a Fairplay history buff.

Yesterday I called Jerry, who was a wealth of information. Jerry even knew about Wilburn Christison! We had a great conversation. And now I have an expert I can call and verify facts about Fairplay.

After I visited the archives, I went to the County Clerk's office. Although I've done quite a bit of research into mining records and land records, Wilburn's paper trail in Fairplay is rather confusing to me. Partly because I'm not sure what are Wilburn's personal transactions and what are transactions where he is representing someone as their attorney. After spending an hour looking at deeds and not really understanding what they meant, I gave up and went home completely drained and wiped out.

That night I called Joy, a friend who works in the Elbert County courthouse, and asked a few questions. Joy patiently answered my questions and I finally blurted out, "Joy, I need you to go to Fairplay with me so I know what I'm looking at." And she agreed! What a trooper! She spends her working days looking at deeds and is willling to spend her day off in another courthouse investigating deeds. This will be a tremendous help.

This trip to Fairplay is a reminder that I'm not in this alone. So many times I ferret out information on my own, the independent westerner. But I'm not alone. Each piece of information I find is the result of someone else's work. And I discern the best understanding of the information when I'm able to talk to someone who has expert knowlege on the subject. I so appreciate the people who have told me I can call them or write them with questions. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fairplay Courthouse

Wilburn and Elizabeth Jane Christison moved to Fairplay in 1873. He was elected Park County probate judge in the October elections. He also practiced law. This courthouse was built in 1874, with the courtroom in the second story.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fairplay Research

This past week I read Silver Lies by Ann Parker. This fictional book is set in Leadville during the winter of 1879-1880; the height of the Leadville silver boom. Great murder-mystery! While reading this book, I was also reading through the 1879 and 1880 Fairplay Flume newspapers on Colorado Historic Newspapers. I realized the search function wasn't picking up all of the references to Wilburn Christison, so I started reading each paper. I am so glad I did!

I have a much more complete picture of Wilburn now. He had an impressive law practice and involved in many civic matters-- president of the school board, town clerk, Park County's attorney, chairman of the Park County democratic party, etc. It was interesting to think about Wilburn living in Fairplay while reading Silver Lies. While Fairplay never boomed like Leadville did, the silver mining made Fairplay a bustling town in 1880-1881.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

You Never Know...

My motto in genealogical research is “You never know.” You never know what is around the next corner, the next web page, the next record you look at. You never know who you will meet or what great find is next. Which is what I told the people at the genealogy workshop I presented today at the Simla Library. I am a librarian for the Elbert County Library District and work in the Elbert branch. During genealogy month I’ve given workshops at the 3 other branches.

After the workshop Erin, the Simla Branch manager, said she was excited to start researching her family history and that I had given her many ways to get started. Then she told me that her grandfather’s mother had left the family in the middle of the night when her grandfather was around 5-years-old. She wanted to find out where she went and what happened to her. Erin had called her mother the night before the workshop and asked her what her great-grandmother’s name was. Erin told me the name--Ora Christison or Christenson.

I stared at Erin and asked, “Could it be Orrie?” as I grabbed the notebook I had with me. I had brought my notebook on Ernest Christison to show as an example on how to organize research materials. Thumbing through it, I found the family chart on Ernest that Betty Regnier had sent me. Betty is Ernest’s granddaughter. I glanced at the chart and found Orrie, then turned it over and read the notes on the back. Orrie had been married to Thomas Lyons and they had twin boys--Thomas and James. The twin, Thomas, was Erin’s grandfather.

Erin and I just stood there in shock. We were distant cousins. The woman who had abandoned her grandfather as a child had a background and a family history. My family.

I got on the phone and called Betty Regnier. Betty’s mother and Orrie were sisters. Erin and Betty talked. Unfortunately, Betty didn’t know much more about Orrie than Erin knew. Betty said Orrie had left her family, and the only person she kept in contact with at all was her older sister, Grace.

Erin and I looked through the notebook and found a picture of Orrie and two of her brothers when they were children. Erin saw a family resemblance in the picture. She couldn’t wait to show the pictures to her mother, grandmother, aunts and sisters.

Ernest Christison is Erin’s great-great-grandfather. Ernest’s brother, Lewis, is my great-grandfather. My grandfather and Erin’s great-grandmother were first cousins. Incredible. Our common ancestors are Wilburn and Elizabeth.

I’ll say it again, you never know…

Friday, April 20, 2007

Never Give Up!

Yesterday I returned to the Colorado State Archives. Once again I asked for the file on the Elijah Gibbs trial in Denver. Once again the clerk checked an index and said, "I'm sorry, I don't see it here."

But then he glanced down the page, "Wait a minute! Here it is. They started renumbering the files."

The clerk brought out a small packet of folded papers with a rubber band around it. It was the original papers from the trial. I opened the packet and found a witness list. No Christisons were on it, but several of the names were interesting. The next paper I looked at was the verdict by the jury, filed November 6th, 1874 at 9:30 a.m., "We the jury in the above entitled case find the defendents not guilty." Signed by H.A. Tarpening, Foreman.

Along with the subpoenas for the witnesses, the packet contained the Judge's detailed instructions to the jury. This reveals some of the nuances of the trial, but I had hoped for more information.

It was interesting to hold the papers in my hand and know that the outcome of this trial changed not only Elijah Gibbs life, but the lives of his family and friends. Just one piece of paper that read "not guilty."

Friday, March 16, 2007

1862 Cache Creek

I found a couple of letters in the Rocky Mountain News that describe the mining at Cache Creek or "Cash Creek" in 1862. The writer claims it is one of the best mining regions in the country. He says he saw a nugget taken from the area that weighs "27 dollars." And "the gold is very coarse, the mines easily worked and pay certain. You can depend on the truth of these statements; they are not exaggerated."

What is so great about finding these letters (besides the great descriptions) is that the writer became a partner in a mining company with Wilburn Christison and others a couple of years later.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Internet Connections

I am fascinated by the relationships and social implications of the people in the Upper Arkansas Valley. Men who mined together in the early 1860’s also farmed nearby each other later. Then they wound up on opposite sides of the Lake County War. Two men who ran against each other for the Territorial legislator ended up on the same side. The County Clerk who was run out of office and forced to leave the country became the County Clerk again four years later.

Through the Internet, I’ve come into contact with other descendents and relatives of people who were involved in the Lake County War. I’ve learned more about Elijah Gibbs and the Gilliland family through Brian and Ann Marie. Last week I ran across Vickie, a relative of the Boons who were shot and killed by Elijah Gibbs. Through these people I’ve learned rich details about their relatives which add so much to the history. Details not found in local history books.

Communicating with the relatives have also cleared up some longstanding misconceptions and also keep me from writing new ones!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Gazebo Country Inn

After Deb and I got back to Salida from Cache Creek, I dropped Deb off downtown to go through some antique shops while I visited the Salida Regional Library. Vic Mabus was very helpful in showing me the collection of local history. Before I left, I asked about the Hathaway House, which was owned by Wilburn and Elizabeth’s daughter, Clara Christison Hathaway. The next thing I knew, I was on the phone with Sandy Stewart who owns the house and runs the Gazebo Country Inn bed and breakfast. Sandy invited Deb and I for a tour.

I walked through the door of the Victorian two-story home, stopped and stared in awe at the magnificent hand-carved oak stairway. It is glorious. The rooms are beautifully decorated. Visit the website to see pictures of the home and a picture of Clara and Al Hathaway. Click on “photo tour” for beautiful pictures staircase and the home. Also click on “rooms and rates” to view the bedrooms.