Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whispers of the Valley

Driving to Salida and Buena Vista reminded me again of my connection to the Upper Arkansas Valley; a land where I’ve never lived, never even stopped over for more than a four or five day camping trip, but as soon as I drop into the canyon of the Arkansas River and start melding into its curves, I know I am going home. It is the same sense I have when I return to Colorado from a road trip to North Carolina and turn onto Highway 86 just west of Limon driving into the high plains seeing the gentle rolling hills with the prairie grasses blowing in the wind. I watch in anticipation for my first glimpse of Pikes Peak—the blue mountain that stands guard duty over the high plains, the mountain with gentle shoulders that has watched over me like God since I was one-year old. The high plains are the home I’ve known all my life, but the Upper Arkansas River Valley is the home I’ve known in my soul, the home knit into my very being almost 150 years ago when my great-great-grandparents settled into its bosom.

What is it about the Upper Arkansas Valley that whispers to me? Is it the awe of walking over the same rocks and trails where the feet of my ancestors tread so many years ago? Is it their stories that have merged into my being and made me one with the land? Or is it simply my memories of riding in the backseat of an International Scout in my early childhood while my parents explored ghost towns and ancient trails as my Dad listened to the whispers of the valley in his soul?

No one place in the valley holds my heart captive. I feel the energy of the Arkansas River, the lifeline of the valley with its rushing waters that burst over rocks and flow unfettered to the plains of Colorado. Did its energy captivate my ancestors? In the center of this valley lie the meadows of Gas Creek, an oasis of cool, green grasses that refresh my soul. In places, the high desert is the front yard of the majestic mountains, a front yard where rocks and small boulders are scattered like marbles tossed by a child interspersed with clumps of native grasses. The rawness of this land stirs my individualism, my desire to be a person who can survive and thrive in this rugged land. The mountains are familiar. Mount Princeton towers like my Pikes Peak. Its shoulders are not quite as broad, but it still gives me the sense the mountain can envelope me in its arms and has the strength to carry my burdens. Looking at the mountain, I know the promise of cool mountain air scented with pine and I can almost hear the flutter of aspen leaves and the rushing waters of Cottonwood Creek.

While visiting last week, I had an overwhelming urge to put our house on the market and buy a house near Buena Vista. I wanted to view the vistas and draw strength from the land every morning. Feel the connection to my roots every day. Return to the sacred spaces of my ancestors. But then I drove home to Elbert and felt the familiar tugging in my heart when the tires of my truck hit the dirt roads and I saw the green pastures, Ponderosa Pine trees and Pikes Peak to the southwest. My home is as beautiful as the Upper Arkansas Valley. It’s the land of my heart, the home of my immediate family and the home of seven generations of my husband’s family. Someday, my great-great-grandchildren will visit Elbert, Colorado and know in their souls this is home. And then they may drive to the Upper Arkansas Valley, listen to the whispers of the valley, and know this home was knit into their being as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Locating Ernest's Land

On Thursday morning I went to the Chaffee County Clerk's office and started looking through the Grantee/Grantor indexes. About thirty minutes later I found an entry for Ernest Christison. I pulled out the book of deeds and discovered the land where Ernest had his ranch. It was located about seven or eight miles northeast of Salida as the crow flies. This photo is taken looking northeast of Salida in the general direction of the ranch.

I knew Ernest had a pasture in that area based on testimony I found in court records, but I wasn't certain that he owned it. It was exciting to find the proof. But the transaction made me a little sad. Ernest sold his ranch on the same day he got out of the Fairplay jail. He must have needed the money for his court and lawyer fees.

It was very tempting to drive up to see the land. I'd rather wait, though, for my husband to go exploring with me. Then he can drive while I soak in the atmosphere and scribble descriptions down in my notebook.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trip To Salida and Buena Vista

Arkansas River between Canon City and Salida

Last week I drove to Salida and Buena Vista for three days of research. And, it was a productive three days! This week I will put up several postings with pictures and tell you about my newfound treasures. So, check in frequently! The Arkansas River is running high from the incredible snow run-off. It is amazing to talk to the people in Buena Vista to hear how much snow they had this winter. They spoke of plowing their driveways with the snow already piled up 14 feet high on each side. And Fairplay had it much worse.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gayle's Update

Oh, my! Have I really not posted a message since January?

I am still researching and writing. Kicking it into high gear this summer. I hope to make a research trip at least once a week. I've been organizing my research more--I now have over 600 entries in my database for the book. I've also decided to go back and read through each court case again. Today I went to the Colorado State Archives and spent 4 1/2 hours looking at each document in 2 cases and writing an inventory of what documents are in each case and which copies I have.

Around 1:00 (when my head was swimming) a woman walked in and asked the staff for some records in Park county. When she mentioned Buckskin Joe, I wondered if it was Christie, a member of Women Writing The West with whom I'd corresponded by e-mail and met briefly at the WWW conference last fall. When she sat down, I asked about her Park county research and she looked at me like I was familiar to her. So I asked, "Are you Christie?" And it was her!

Christie, who has a background as a law clerk, looked at some of the documents and explained some that totally flummoxed me. She has also offered to go over some of the cases with me. It could only be Divine intervention!