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 "Hutch" 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 Hutch 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. Hutch 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.