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.


Penny Sidoli said...

I loved reading what you discovered about Ernest Christison. The photos added a lot to this developing story. I wonder, how hungry was Ernest when he rustled those cattle? It cd have been a hard, hard year. (Paulette Jiles' book Enemy Women depicts a heroine driven to stealing by desperation, who later reflects on the changes in her outlook in life.) The discoveries you are finding about your ancestor are fascinating. He lives.

Jon said...

My great grandmother was Nancy Cameron/Chaffey/Casteel. Her son, my grandfather was Lawren E. Cameron who moved to Utah and lived here until he died in the 1960's. I've read excerpts from Under the Angel of Shavano and am trying to find info on Nancy, Ed Watkins and others connected to cattle wars
J. Cameron