Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - What A Year! 2010 - Bring It ON!

Looking back at 2009, I am amazed by the opportunities that came my way. If you had told me a year ago that I would pan for gold in the place my great-great-grandfather did, find a cousin named Gayle Christison (my maiden name), speak to 200 people at the Pikes Peak Regional History Symposium about my great-great-grandfather and Cash Creek (Cache Creek), and keep finding new developments in the cattle rustling story, I probably would have said, "Yeah, right."

These opportunities would not come without people. I am so grateful to each of you who read my blog and to you whose paths have crossed with mine on Twitter and Facebook. I appreciate librarians, archivists, and regular people who listen to my story and answer my questions, pointing me in the direction I need to go.

New Year's resolutions have never held much interest to me. Oh, I can set them and fail within two weeks, so I tend not to even come up with resolutions. But as I think about the opportunities that have surfaced in the past few years, I realize I do have some attributes I try to live out in genealogy and life. These are beneficial when opportunities arise and I hope to become better at each in the years to come.

In 2010, I resolve to:

Be curious and see where the next computer click, phone call, e-mail, turn in the road will take me.

Be courageous and follow up on what I find. Make the phone call, set the date, make the drive, meet new people.

Be faithful and stay on track. Write the book, do the research, enter the data.

Be true to myself. Write the way I write, research the way I research, and don't compare myself to others.

Be open to new opportunities, new people, new ideas.

Be courteous to others and respect their stories. Remember that the pioneers I research and write about have family today who may not know the whole story and who have their own family stories.

Some attributes are easier for me than others: curious is easy, courageous - not so much. But all of them are essential in what I love to do - research and writing. I would love to make a resolution that the book will be written in 2010, but I won't. The book will be done when the time is right.

Here is to the New Year - 2010 - Bring it ON!

(This post was written for the 87th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Christison Musicians

(poster by fM)

Prospecting is in my Christison blood, but there is another talent that runs through the Christison family – musical ability. It seems that those who weren’t bitten by the gold bug honed their musical talent. And, in two cases, without music (and the U.S. Air Force) two marriages may never have happened.

Ernest Christison never seemed to care much about prospecting; he got into cattle ranching at an early age. But he could fiddle a tune! He played for dances and gatherings in Fairplay, Salida and Howard. Ernest’s granddaughter, Betty Regnier, remembers him playing “Devil’s Dream” on the fiddle when she was a little girl.

Ernest wasn’t the only one of Wilburn’s children to play an instrument. His younger brother, John Christison, was a professional musician—a piano player. According to one source, he joined the circus as a musician and married a trapeze artist! John is listed as a musician in the 1885 Colorado Census and was the leader of the Aspen City Orchestra in 1889. By the time of his death in 1890 at the age of 31, John was the leader of the Wheeler Opera House Orchestra.

(United States Air Force photograph)
Unites States Air Force Academy Band - Ken Christison right corner

The music talents of the next generation are unknown to me; however, the Christison musical talent came through loud and clear when my Dad, Kenneth Christison, Jr., began playing the trombone in school in Los Molinos, California. Ken Christison joined the Air Force in 1961 and was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. He played in the Maxwell Air Force Band. He also met my mother, Connie Revelle, in Montgomery and, after they were married, it’s where I was born. Dad was stationed at the Air Force Academy in 1966, bringing him to the state of Colorado where 3 generations of his family had lived before him.

(United States Air Force photograph)
The Falconaires

As a bandsman of the United States Air Force Academy Band, Dad played trombone in the Marching Band, Symphony and, for a year or two, the Falconaires, a jazz ensemble. Dad played on the Falconaires album, “The Snake Creek Diversion Project,” a respected jazz and funk recording. Here’s a YouTube video I found with the recording of “Memphis Soul Stew.”

Every day the Air Force Academy Band played breakfast, noon, and supper formations, marching the Air Force Academy cadets to their meals. The band also performed concerts throughout the year at the Academy. My favorites were the Christmas concerts. Dad was stationed at the Air Force Academy for eighteen years. He was also the instrument repairman, which made him indispensable to the band.

Growing up with music, I learned to play the flute, piano, and guitar in elementary school. My brother, Brian, played the trumpet and guitar, too. I played flute in the band through Junior High and one year in High School. That was 1981, the year Douglas County High School Marching Band marched in the Rose Parade. After marching five miles through Pasadena, I really didn’t have any desire to march again!

(Douglas County News, Castle Rock, Colorado)
The Range Riders

My musical interests turned in another direction a couple of weeks after the Rose Parade when a friend asked me to play guitar in a country-western band he was starting with his cousin. Ron Gresham, his cousin John Gresham, and I became The Range Riders. We played for a few community gatherings and a dance or two, but we found we were better as a gospel group than a dance band. And John and I have been making music ever since!

Today we play in a bluegrass gospel group that leads the worship service at church once a month. I’ve added a banjo and hammered dulcimer to my musical instrument collection. I can play both a little. I’m a pretty good rhythm guitar player and a decent harmony singer. John plays mandolin and sings, too. We enjoy playing old country western songs with John’s father, who plays guitar. And the Christison and Gresham music talent hasn’t ended with us—I enjoy playing guitar in the contemporary praise group at church with my daughter, Kate, who plays the bass and my son, Kenny, who plays guitar.

This post was written for the 83rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Janet Iles at Janet the Researcher.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Prospecting and Wild Strawberries: A Childhood Memory

Ken Christison, Sr., Elizabeth Christison, Gayle Christison, Brian Christison

Randy Seaver, author of the Genea-Musings Blog, has a regular Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge for geneabloggers. Tonight's challenge is to write one of your most vivid childhood memories. And tonight I accept the challenge!

My recent gold panning experience brought back memories of my Grandpa Christison. I wish I could say many memories, but I wasn't around him enough to have many memories. Therefore, the ones I do have tend to be pretty vivid to me.

When I was a child, Grandpa Christison lived in Salida. He worked as a deputy sheriff for Chaffee County, but spent his spare time prospecting or working his mining claim up on Poncha Pass. I remember camping at our camping spot on Spring Creek one time when I was seven or eight. My Dad drove the International Scout up the mountain trail until we found Grandpa's old green International pickup. I don't really remember anything about the claim other than Grandpa doing some shoveling. There wasn't a big hole or anything. Another memory is of Grandpa making pancakes and cooking them on the griddle over the open fire. I remember being amazed because I didn't know you could make pancakes when you were camping!

My most vivid memory is of Grandpa taking us hiking up past his claim; following Spring Creek until we found the spring, the very beginnings of the creek. Surrounding the creek were wild strawberries--the tiniest little berries that packed a strawberry punch like I'd never tasted before! We ate strawberries and knelt down by the small creek, cupped our hands and drank water from the cold mountain spring. I can tell you I've never had strawberries that tasted so good.

This memory came back to me when Shirley and Larry Weilnau took John and I hiking at Cache Creek. As we hiked up the mountain a ways, my eyes were on the ground looking at the wild strawberry plants. Even though I knew I wouldn't find any strawberries in September, I still couldn't stop myself from hoping one bright strawberry might reveal itself to me. It dawned on me that prospecting and wild strawberries will forever be entwined in my mind.

Grandpa Christison and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Oregon when I was in the 4th grade in 1974. The above picture was taken in their yard in the trailer park in Salida when we said good-bye before they moved. It's the only picture I have of Grandpa Christison, Elizabeth, my younger brother, Brian, and I together. Actually, it's the only picture I have of Grandpa when I was young. I wish we had pictures of Grandpa at his claim or camping or cooking pancakes.

Grandpa Christison died in 1994. We had a family memorial for him at Spring Creek in 1995 and his four children drove from California, Oregon, and North Carolina to remember him at one of his favorite places.

So, here is to prospecting, wild strawberries, pancakes, Spring Creek, and Grandpa Christison! Thank you for the special memories.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Death of Judge Christison

Death of Judge Christison
He Succombs to Pneumonia on Monday Night
Sketch of a Notable Life
(Fairplay Flume February 9, 1882)

Judge Wilburn Christison passed from life into the unknown, about midnight on Monday, the 7th, and in his death the community mourns a pioneer in Colorado, a fearless advocate of justice and one who has, during a large portion of his life, been a faithful servant of the people. Whatever were his faults, his virtues so predominated that we have only good to write of him at this hour.

The Judge’s life was an eventful one, though he was but fifty-five at this time. It has been the pleasure of the writer to sit for hours at the time and listen to him discoursing on the many stirring events that marked the early history of the State, the transition period, when these western wilds were passing from a perfect wilderness to a state of semi-civilization. Those were the “times that tried men’s souls”, and brought out the mettle of the frontiersmen. The Judge was never boastful of the part he performed in working out these changes, but he always was interesting, and often eloquent in his description of scenes of danger and trial with which he had evidently been most intimate.

He was born in Jackson Co., Missouri, April 14, 1827 and Jackson Co. was then on the far frontier. Doubtless, his early education imbued him with a love of adventure, which could only be satisfied by following the Star of the Empire westward, or rather keeping the lead in the march, for we find that in 1856 he moved to Kansas. The history of that state, from that time till 1861, is too well known to need much mention. It was chaos struggling to find order and law warring against border ruffianism. By '60 the peace loving element had gained the ascendancy and Colorado was then causing a furore, on account of the gold discoveries. With a family of young children, the Judge and his faithful helpmate again joined the march, and 1861 found them located on Cash (also Cache) Creek, near the Arkansas, a then wild region, frequented more by Indians than any other people. The Judge practiced law, when there was opportunity, at Granite, the county seat of Lake County, mined, and opened a trading post with the Indians. His manner inspired confidence among the simple inhabitants of neighboring fastnesses, and he soon reckoned among his fast friends, old Colorow, Saguache, and other noted chiefs and braves. He served as County Judge of Lake County for one term and was re-elected, but resigned shortly after, having decided to remove to Fairplay in 1873. The same fall he was elected County Judge of Park County and served the people faithfully in that office for two terms. His mind was singularly bright and his judgment clear, during these years and he established a wide reputation for judicial acumen.

It was during these years that the Judge was connected with the exciting contest between two elements struggling for the supremacy in Lake County. He defended Elijah Gibbs, and secured his acquittal on a charge of murder, though Gibbs was know to have shot at least three men. Briefly summarized the facts were as follows: One night George Harrington, a storekeeper on Gas Creek, found that his house was on fire, and going out to quench it he was shot by some hid in the brush. There had been trouble between the two, and the neighbors were not slow to accuse Gibbs of the murder. A party started to lynch him, but he got wind of their coming and barricading his cabin, stood a siege in which he killed three of the vigilantes and wounded a fourth. The next day he gave himself up and was tried and, Judge Christison appearing for him, was acquitted. He left at once for Texas. Out of this affair grew a terribly bitter feud. The vigilantes were constantly warring upon all who had been Gibbs’ friends. Some terrible depredations were committed, and Judge Elias Dyer, who was then acting as District Judge, was shot dead in his chair in the court room at Granite, on account of an attempt of the court to punish this lawlessness. Incidently, it may be mentioned that all the leaders of this lawless element have since come to an evil end, as if an avenger were following them. William Nolan became crazy, Anderson Gerry drowned himself in a fit of desperation, James Moore was killed in a row at Trinidad, James Deeming went crazy and the frightful death of Charles Nichtrieb last fall is still fresh in the minds of our reader. All of these names will be familiar to those who know Judge Christison in pioneer days, and will serve to recall a thousand and one instance in which the deceased was an able and eloquent advocate of the right.

Judge Christison leaves a wife and eight children to mourn his untimely death. He leaves also a large circle of friends who will sympathize sincerely and deeply with them. The funeral service was performed at the house yesterday afternoon by Rev. H.J. Huston, in the presence of a large number of citizens. The members of Doric Lodge, A.F. & A.M. were present in a body to do the last service for a departed brother.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Cache Creek Gold Panning Experience

Gayle Gresham and Shirley Weilnau

After my first visit to Cache Creek in 2006, I began to dream about panning for gold in the same creek as my great-great-grandfather did in 1861. My dream came true this week after I discovered Shirley Weilnau's website, Hooked On Gold, while searching for Cache Creek info online. Shirley had her Twitter updates on her blog and, of course, I had to follow her. We began chatting and I told her of my desire to pan for gold at Cache Creek. Her reply, "Well, we'll be there tomorrow. Come on up!" Tomorrow didn't work for me, but Friday, September 11 did!

Shirley and her husband, Larry, welcomed John and I to the Cache Creek recreational mining area. They took us on a hike to show us some interesting sites, then it was time to get down to the nitty gritty. See my post "Gayle's Panning For Gold Video" to see how I learned to wash out the gravel. My wonderful husband took the pictures and video.
Once I'd washed the sand, gravel and rocks out of my pan, Shirley taught me how to separate the gold from the black sand. I tapped the top of the pan to "walk" the gold up to the top. I swirled the water in the pan a little to fan out the black sand. Then I began to swish water up and down to draw the black sand away from the gold. In the following picture (click it to enlarge it) you can see the black sand near the top of the pan. Just above it are three tiny particles of gold. Do you see them? My very first gold!

My first gold!

I washed about 6 pans of gold. There was gold in every pan but one. Shirley and Larry were so patient with teaching me how to pan. I learned to always keep the dirt covered with water as I pan, even when fanning the black dirt. And, Shirley told me that for a beginner I have a pretty good swish technique for washing away the black sand from the gold. Must be in my genes.

One pleasant surprise was a group of homeschoolers who were visiting that day to pan for gold. I asked if they'd like to hear Wilburn Christison's story and they graciously agreed. I love telling the story of the Cash Creek Miners to children. They especially like the part about Wilburn's children being the only white children in the camp and that they played with the Ute Indian children when they passed through.

Gayle, Shirley, and Larry

Now I am hooked on panning for gold. Ready to go buy a gold pan and a shovel! I knew any prospecting would be dangerous for me; after all, my great-great-grandfather, my great-grandfather, and my grandfather were all miners! And even though I didn't learn to pan for gold from my grandfather, I did learn from two former Colorado state champion gold panners. Thank you, Shirley and Larry, for making a dream come true.

Gayle's Gold Panning Video

This video was taken near the end of the day when I was getting better at working my pan. You experts out there will know I'm still not getting enough water in my pan, but hey, it's better than how I started out!

After Larry Weilnau shoveled out dirt from a spot away from the creek into a five-gallon bucket, he carried it to the creek. He also dug out two holes in the creek so we would have enough water for panning. The creek is low this time of the year, but Cache Creek has always had a problem with enough water flow. I put some dirt in the pan and began washing it.

In the video, you can see two different motions. With the first motion I vigorously agitate the pan side to side and slightly swirl it. This lets the heavier particles of gold settle to the bottom. Gold panning works because gold is 19 times heavier than water and will fall to the bottom of the pan. Next I swish the pan forward, washing out the lighter sand and rocks while the creases or "riffles" in the pan hold the heavier gold. I repeat this over and over until the pan of dirt decreases to a small amount of black sand.

More about the rest of the process in the next post...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday

The old Buena Vista Jail, built in 1882. Now school administration offices.

Today is Black Sheep Sunday with GeneaBloggers. Since many of my posts have to do with my great-great-uncle outlaw, Ernest Christison, I haven't participated. However, today I thought I'd reveal one of Ernest's "black sheep" moments. And it's my last post about last week's trip to Buena Vista and Salida.

On January 27, 1884 Ernest escaped from the Buena Vista jail with 10 other prisoners. A fire in the town the previous night seemed to have distracted the guards and the prisoners removed bricks at the back of the jail and made their break. Ernest and another man headed to Salida and were captured the next day in Thomas Cameron's barn. Another escapee, Thomas Neinmyer (or Ninemyer), was the man who shot Salida Marshal Baxter Stingley and killed three other men on Memorial Day (read
Baxter Stingley, Salida Marshal). Neinmeyer was never captured.

I visited the old jail and the old Buena Vista courthouse which now houses the
Buena Vista Heritage Museum for the first time last week. As Bev and I walked around the building, I pointed out where the sheriff's office and jailer's office were in the front of the building from a diagram I have of the jail. Then the cells were in the back of the building. We turned around the back as I explained how the men removed the bricks and escaped. Then I stopped in wonder when I saw the place where the bricks and been removed and replaced! I never dreamed you would be able to see the exact spot the prisoners escaped through.

Then we went into the museum. Wendy Oliver, the museum manager, was very helpful and let me look at some of their manuscript and book collections. I had some great finds! The museum is wonderful and it was fun to see items from families whose names I recognize from my research. I look forward to having more contact with the Heritage Museum and their staff.

Ann Parker's Booksigning

Ann Parker, Susan Tweit, Gayle Gresham
(Giving our WWW sign)
Ann, Susan and Bev McGuire

Ann Parker, author of the Silver Rush Mysteries, had a booksigning at the Book Haven bookstore in Salida last Wednesday. Ann is a member of Women Writing The West and I had the privilege of meeting her last fall at the San Antonio conference. When I learned about her book tour, I knew I had to go to Salida (even though she had a signing in Manitou Springs). I invited Bev to go with me and arranged a motel room to stay the night.

Ann's booksigning began at 5:00, but we met at 3:00 at a coffee shop to visit with Ann and Salida WWW'er Susan Tweit. We talked nonstop for an hour! It was good to hear about Ann and Susan latest projects. Ann is a woman after my own heart-- rather than enjoying the Salida attractions that day, she'd spent her time in the basement of the Salida Regional Library looking at old newspapers on microfiche!

Ann and Susan were anxious to hear how my book is coming along and more about the cattle rustling story. Ann gave me some great insights into the "Found Dead" article from a mystery writer's perspective. They were both so encouraging to me.

Bev and I had a few minutes and stopped in at the Lallier Pharmacy. I squealed with delight when I found a Cross A Ranch handcream display. Marge Brown, the creator, lived in the community I grew up in before moving to Wyoming and making her handcream. She's a good family friend and now lives in Salida. If you want a good heavy-duty handcream and other products, be sure to check out her website.

The Book Haven is a charming bookstore on F Street in downtown Salida. Be sure to stop in a visit if you are ever in town. It was packed with people for the signing and Ann gave a great talk about Leadville and how she began writing the Silver Rush Mysteries. It was so fun to see two more ladies from Women Writing The West - Elaine Long and Nancy Oswald. I hadn't met Elaine before, but had e-mailed with her. Can't wait to read her contemporary fiction book. I've known Nancy a couple of years and was excited to see her. She's had two juvenile fiction books published by Filter Press.

After the booksigning, Ann, Bev and I walked along the River Walk for a few minutes, then Ann headed up to her next stop - Leadville. It was such a wonderful evening!

Friday, August 7, 2009

126 Years Ago Today

Rick Mountain
Pond in meadow at the head of Cottonwood Gulch

126 years ago today, on August 7, 1883, Ernest Christison sold his Rick Mountain Ranch. It is also the day he was released from the Fairplay Jail on bond. He sold the ranch to pay his lawyer and his bond.

Several more events took place around the same time. The South Park cattlemen rounded up Watkins' cattle on his ranch and Christison's on August 4, then proceeded to cut out 21 head of cattle that they claimed bore their brands. They drove the cattle away on August 5. This event precipitated the lynching of Ed Watkins on the night of August 10.

It was important to me to be on the ranch this week. I wanted to see the land, the sagebrush (did you know sagebrush blooms? I didn't.), the mountains, the pond which was near the corral where the cattlemen rounded up the cattle. I wanted to be near the pain and frustration of Christison and Watkins; men watching their dreams slipping away. But the land they both loved hasn't changed in 126 years. It is still rugged, condemning, and enthralling. And it draws me, just as it drew them.

A Bear Story on Rick Mountain Ranch

I went to Buena Vista and Salida on Wednesday and Thursday for a research trip and Ann Parker's book signing. My friend, Bev McGuire, joined me in this research adventure and on Thursday morning, we found a little more adventure than we had anticipated!

It was important to me to go to Ernest Christison's ranch this week because several key events happened this week, 126 years ago. I just needed to see the land and feel it. I'll talk more about this and other adventures and discoveries in later posts.

I drove up Ute Trail Thursday morning in my "new" 1998 F-150 pickup and turned south toward the Rick Mountain Ranch. We took the road that goes to the east side of the ranch where the aspen grove is. This is definite "off-roading" and I even had to try out the 4-wheel-drive (it works good!). Bev and I got out of the pickup and walked around some, enjoying the cool breeze in the mountains on a hot day. We started driving west toward the pond, chatting away, when a bear plopped down into the road from a bank up ahead of us!

I slammed on the brakes. Bev and I stared at the bear in amazement and the bear looked back at us with the same startled expression. Then Bev and I fumbled around trying to find our cameras and snap pictures as fast as we could. The bear got over its shock and ran back up the bank. I drove up to where we last saw the bear and we saw it again in the trees (picture 2). It disappeared again and I drove further. This time we had a closer view of the bear as it turned over a log looking for bugs (picture 3). We thought this bear looked a little bigger and had a lighter muzzle and Bev wondered if we were actually seeing two bears! It moved up the mountain, so I drove down the road to the next curve where we could look back. We sat there watching for it a few minutes and all of a sudden, the bear burst out of the trees running across the road and down the gulch (picture 4).

Bev and I didn't see the bear again. And we never saw 2 bears at the same time, but looking at the pictures it appears the first 2 pics may be a smaller, darker bear (maybe a cub) and the other is a cinnamon color with a light muzzle and somewhat bigger. Did we see a mama bear and her cub?

Even though we headed down the same direction the bear went, we didn't see the bears again. And believe me, we were looking!

Sorry Ann Parker, your booksigning was the highlight of our trip, but you were trumped by a bear or two!

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Dead Body? So Much For Research Being Done...

Over the years, I’ve found facts and documents in researching the cattle rustling story that have shocked and surprised me—a confession, an arrest warrant, a state Supreme Court case—to name a few. But stumbling across an article about a body found near Ernest Christison’s ranch in 1884, well, that sent more than a few tingles through my spine!

Here is the beginning of the article in the Buena Vista Democrat on April 17, 1884:
“Saturday afternoon John Dover, while prospecting found, nearly on the top of the divide between Christison’s and Cottonwood gulches, under a large cedar tree, the remains of a man in such a state of decay that it is impossible to identify him. He came to town early yesterday morning and notified Coroner Overholt, who this morning, accompanied by dozen or more citizens went out to view the remains with the result below given.

“He was lying on his left side, on his coat, with his head on a July, 1883 number of Frank Leslie’s Magazine, with his arms and legs drawn up. He wore a dark business suit, good pair of shoes and checked cotton shirt. Near him was a hat of black and white straw, a stump of a cigar, an Anhouser [sic] beer bottle and a .45 caliber nickle [sic] plated Colt’s revolver and a belt full of cartridges. In his pockets were a red morocco memorandum book containing a few figures but not a line of writing, a silver dollar, a peanut, an almond, a cartridge wrapped with a fishing line and fly and covered with a piece of newspaper supposed to be one of the Gunnison papers as it has advertisements from that place.”

The article went on to describe the appearance of the corpse. I won’t thrill you with that piece of information. The remains were taken to the hose house in Salida where “they were being viewed by the citizens of the town.” It gave a physical description of the man and then offered several theories as to his demise: he lay down to rest and died suddenly, or perhaps it was a suicide, and of course, others thought that upon further examination a bullet-hole would be found on the body.

As I consider this article, my gut instinct is it was a businessman who was passing through, decided to take a nap and died. However, I can’t dismiss the thought that it might tie into the cattle rustling story. Cottonwood Gulch and Christison’s ranch are several miles south of Ute Trail, the trail a traveler would use to pass through the area. There is a story of a private investigator who wasn’t seen again after visiting Watkins’ ranch, but this occurred a couple of years earlier. Yet, the investigator story has stayed in my mind and I’ve been on the look-out for stories about bodies and skeletons found in the Cameron hills.

Side note for researchers and genealogists: I found this article in Colorado Historic Newspapers, a database I check fairly frequently and was pleasantly surprised to find the Buena Vista paper had been added. Newspapers are being added all of the time to this digitization project as they are to projects all over the country. Be sure to check frequently for new additions in any digitization or database project.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Research Is Done - It's Time To Write!

Today I visited the Colorado State Archives and the Colorado Historical Society Library. As usual, the rush of adrenaline kicked in as I drove to Denver anticipating the discovery of some great treasure that would give me a better understanding of the cattle rustling story. I parked near the archives and was pleased to see Terry Kettelsen, the State Archivist, walking by. He recognized me and we had a nice visit walking into the archives. Then it was time to get to work. I looked at some records, but didn't find what I was looking for, so I decided to move on to the Historical Society Library.

At the library, I requested some manuscripts that looked promising. However, as I looked through them, I really didn't find anything new.
I jokingly said to the librarian, "Since I'm not finding anything new, I guess that means it's time to write the book!"

Driving out of Denver, I was disappointed. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what I'd said to the librarian was true. I have most likely uncovered everything I'm going to find. Oh, I won't count out the research serendipity that seems to find me every so often, but I have to accept that there are just some pieces of information that were never written down, or if they were written, have disappeared from the record.

This means I have everything I need to write the book on Ernest Christison and Ed Watkins. Now it is up to me to piece the facts together and tell their story. It isn't easy for me to admit the research is done. It has been an integral part of my life the past two years. And I am as addicted to digging for treasure as my Christison ancestors were to digging for gold. But it's time to move on and and write the story. Not that I haven't been writing the story -- I have parts of 3 chapters written. Now I'll be able to write with more certainty.

I'm excited to be able to lose myself in the story and let the story tell itself. And now I have a different type of research to do. I'll be visiting Salida and Buena Vista more often to listen to the whispers of the valley, to soak up the landscape, and to transport myself back to the 1880's as I write the rest of this summer and fall.

Some of the disappointment is falling away as I look forward to the next step in this book process!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Elbert Tornado - June 15, 2009

Looking Northeast from our deck.
Tornado touching ground. Looking west from Warren's farm.

My son, Kenny Gresham, cutting the 4-H steer out of the Brown's barn that was flattened. The steer wasn't injured.

The barn at the Brown's farm. This barn was built by my husband's great-great-uncle, Earl Squires. It was the Squires' farm.

The tornado did not do any damage to any properties owned now by my family or family members.

The tornado hit the Brown's barn around 1:40 on Monday June 15.
The Brown's barn was destroyed. This farm is about 3 miles northwest of my home. The tornado moved south-southwest across the road and took out the roof and loft of the Murray barn along with pine trees on the hill and cottonwoods along the creek. My son, Kenny Gresham, took the pictures of the tornado. He left home and went to his grandparents' house to help them to the basement. After the tornado passed, he went to the Brown's farm and used the chainsaw to cut out the steer that was trapped. The pictures are turned around - Kenny is standing on top of the steer when he is using the chainsaw. The second picture is when the steer was able to get up.

I was working at the library at the school and we had ten kids there for the library district's summer reading program. We received an alert about the tornado warning by telephone. I went out to look at the clouds and saw a funnel on the hill just above the school. This was a different funnel than the one in the pictures. We took the children to the hallway. As we heard more reports about the tornado, we went down into the basement. We spent about an hour in the hallway and the basement reading stories, playing Simon Says and singing songs. There was lots of tornadic activity in the area. An airplane hangar south of Elbert was hit while we were in the basement.

The National Weather Service determined the tornado was an EF2. The airplane hangar was hit by a different tornado.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wilburn Christison - Handwriting Analysis

Last summer, Lynn Monroy and I met at the Colorado State Archives so Lynn could look at the handwriting of some of the people I'm researching. Lynn took copies of the documents with her to analyze the handwriting. Yesterday I received an e-mail from Lynn with the analysis of Wilburn’s handwriting in a court document. My husband, John, read it and asked, “Haven’t we read this before?” I answered, “No, we haven’t.” Then I realized that Lynn had captured the characteristics we had come to know in my great-great-grandfather! Amazing!

I have two documents that reveal Wilburn’s personality—a letter he wrote to the Rocky Mountain News in which he defended his honor during the Lake County War and his obituary. The traits that Lynn discovered in his handwriting are the very traits that show up in both of these documents.

Lynn wrote that Wilburn was protective of his image; willing to talk about himself when comfortable or with the right audience; the authority figure – “If someone tried to tell this man what to do, they would be wasting their time.” He was a lover and re-enforcer of the rules; set high goals for himself; helpful and kind; and could be argumentative, but was careful when and why to argue.

As a writer, this is the trait that intrigued me the most: “He had literary writing ability OR at the least, a huge lover of stories woven by words. If he didn't write, he loved the way words worked together. Would love to read or recite or orally pass on stories.”

We knew of this trait, too. The writer of Wilburn’s obituary wrote of spending hours at a time listening to the Judge discourse on the events of the early history of the state. “The Judge was never boastful of the part he performed in working out these changes, but he always was interesting, and often eloquent in his description of scenes of danger and trial with which he had evidently been most intimate.”

As I write and tell the Judge’s story, my goal has been to write it in a way as interesting as the story itself. It seems the Judge told stories in the same manner. Hopefully, some of his interesting and eloquent storytelling will filter down to his great-great-granddaughter.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Christison Line

This is my line of Christisons:

Adam Christison (1794-after 1880)
Married Margaret Silvers
Hester Christison Dupree
John Christison (1819-1901)
Toland McReary Christison (1824-1901)
Wilburn Christison (1827-1882)
Francis Marion Christison (1832-1909)

Wilburn Christison married Elizabeth Jane Lewis
William Leslie Christison (1850-1916)
Virgil Ernest Christison (1852-1939)
Arthur Boone Christison (1853-1864)
Clara Columbia Christison Hathaway (1857-1913)
John Celdon Christison (1859-1890)
Mary Alwilda Christison St. Cyr (1861-1896)
Nellie Jane Christison Martin (1863-unknown)
Lewis Daniel Christison (1865-1953)
Charlie Christison (1867-1892)

Lewis Christison married Rosine Belle Frankenbery
Wilburn Enos Christison (1899-1965)
Neil Theodore Christison (1901-1975)
Clement Daniel Christison (1907-1997)
Laurabelle Christison VanBuskirk (1909-1981)
Douglas Boone Christison (1911-1995)
Kenneth Keith Christison (1917-1995)

Kenneth Keith Christison is my Grandfather.
His oldest child, Kenneth Keith Christison, Jr. is my Dad.

If you are related to any of these Christisons, I’d love to hear
from you! E-mail me at

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Another Gayle Christison - And We're Related!

April is Genealogy Month and I am presenting genealogy workshops in the Elbert County Library District. I decided I'd better brush up on some of the newer genealogy websites and blogs and refresh my memory about some of the other websites. This brought me to the Rootsweb Message Boards - where I've been rewarded in the past with special treasures and contacts. I found a message written in 2001 requesting information about Neil Theodore Christison. It surprised me that I hadn't seen the message before, since Neil Theodore "Ted" was my grandfather's brother. A reply from someone else in 2008 had no response from the requester, so I looked at the profile and found Mike Christison's name. When I Googled his name I found Mike's obituary - he had died in 2008.

Reading through Mike's obituary, I stopped in shock when I saw the name of his sister - Gayle Christison. I couldn't believe there was another Gayle Christison, spelled the same as my name, and we are 2nd cousins. Unbelievable.

So, I looked up her phone number and called. I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't have called any of the other family members. But I couldn't pass up talking to Gayle Christison. The phone rang and rang. I left a message explaining who I was and hung up wondering if she would have any interest in calling back. Well, she called back while I was at the library and she talked to John. Gayle and I finally talked yesterday after a couple of days of playing phone tag.

Gayle was as excited as I was to talk! I learned that her father, my Dad's 1st cousin, is still alive. Gayle's dad remembers seeing his father (Ted) only twice - once when he was 5 and again at 7. So he really didn't have any information about his family. I really don't have much information about Ted, either, but I could tell her lots about the Christison family in Colorado!

Gayle and her dad live in South Carolina. My family is planning a trip in May to visit my parents in North Carolina. We are hoping to arrange a visit. And we are planning many more phone conversations!

There must be something about these genealogy workshops. In 2007 I discovered that a co-worker in the library district was my third cousin, once removed. You can read about that experience in this post - You Never Know...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Serendipity of Research and Writing

Last weekend my family went to Canon City to see our friend, western singer Barry Ward, perform in concert. Barry is a wonderful musician and singer and we had a great time. A local group, Saddle Strings, opened for Barry. During their performance, the lead singer, Dave, mentioned he lives in Howard and runs Bandera's Bunkhouse, where they have cabins and a motel along the Arkansas River. After the concert, I asked Dave if he had heard the story of the cattle rustlers in the Howard area in the 1880's. Not only had he heard the story, Dave told me he could take me to the gulch where the cattle rustlers (Watkins and Christison) butchered the stolen cattle!

Serendipity: "The faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for." (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary)

When I told Barry what had happened, he said, "You were meant to be here tonight!" I e-mailed my writer friend,
Dianne Butts, about it when I got home and wrote, "Can you believe it?" She replied, "Yes, I can believe you found more people to take you further on your book-writing journey. You know why? Because stuff like that ALWAYS happens to you!!! THAT'S what I can't believe!"

For those of you who follow Colorado Reflections, you know this to be true. More often than not, the great finds and contacts I've made have not been diligently searched for, but have been surprises I found when least expecting them.

A few examples:

Photograph of Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison

You Never Know - Discovering a cousin who worked in the same library district as I do

Lynn Monroy, Graphologist - Coming into contact with a woman who does handwriting analysis

Black Mountain - Contacted by a Mulock Descendant

Writing a book is a journey and one that I am enjoying moment by moment. I am reminded of what author
Jane Kirkpatrick told me: "The story wants to be told and will find ways to reveal itself to you." Sometimes I want to rush to finish the book, but I know it will be done at the proper time as the story makes itself known to me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The 1861 Colorado Territorial Election

Elizabeth Jane and Wilburn Christison

The Territory of Colorado was created on February 28, 1861 when President Buchanan signed the Colorado Organic Act -- almost three weeks after the Confederate States of America were formed with Jefferson Davis as president. President Lincoln appointed William Gilpin as the governor of the new Colorado Territory on March 21. Governor Gilpin was told by officials in Washington to do all he could to save Colorado for the Union, so he set out to organize a strong, territorial government. The first Territorial election was held Monday, August 19, 1861.

This week I discovered a
list of voters in the 1861 Territorial Election on the Denver Public Library website and a Wm. Christison is listed among the Lost Canon [sic] Precinct voters. Lost Canyon is in the same vicinity as Cash Creek.

Wilburn's obituary says he located in Cash Creek in 1861, but this is the first documentation I've found that proves it. The list of voters is on microfilm at the
Colorado State Archives and I'm anxious to look at it. There is a note that there are numerous misspellings in the original list.

Wilburn was a zealous Southern Democrat, so I'm certain he didn't vote for the the man who won the congressional seat - Republican Hiram P. Bennett.

Other Chaffee County pioneers I recognize on the list are John Burnett, F.W. Sprague (probably Galatia), and George Bertchy. 136 men voted in the Lost Canon precinct.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Baxter Stingley's Murder

shouted the headlines of the November 3, 1883 Salida Mail.

Five months after being shot by Thomas Neinmyer, Salida Marshal Baxter Stingley had recovered and was back on the job. He heard that Frank Reed and Ernest Christison were at the Arbour's Variety and Dance Hall. Stingley had an arrest warrant for both men for stealing cattle. Reed had told everyone he wasn't going to be arrested and lynched like Ed Watkins had been. So, when Baxter Stingley held his gun on Reed and said, "I have a warrant for your arrest," Reed pulled his gun out and shot Stingley. (Another report says Reed shot Stingley with Stingley's gun.) Reed ran for the back door with Stingley following him and both men were shooting. After Reed exited the back door, Stingley stopped and Mr. Arbour asked him if he was shot. Stingley said, "Yes, he has shot me three times." They laid him on a table, removed his boots which were filled with blood, and he died shortly after.

Frank Reed escaped and was never captured. Ernest Christison was arrested early the next morning and taken by train to the jail in Buena Vista.

Baxter Stingley's funeral was held at the Opera House. The funeral procession included the Knights of Pythias lodge and the fire company. Baxter Stingley's murder was also reported in the New York Times.

If you are related to any of the people mentioned in this post, please contact me at

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Passing Along the Kreativ Blogger Award

Over the weekend I received the Kreativ Blogger Award from several GeneaBloggers! Those who honored me were:

The rules for the award are simple:

1. Copy the award to your site.
2. Link to the person from whom you received the award.
3. Nominate 7 other bloggers.
4. Link to those sites on your blog.
5. Leave a message on the blogs you nominate.

I'd like to nominate Heidi Thomas
Heidi wrote "Cowgirl Dreams," a wonderful novel based on her grandmother, who rode steers in the rodeo in the 1920's.
I'd also like to nominate Donlyn Arbuthnot of
Donlyn's blog was the only blog listed under Colorado History when I joined Facebook. She introduced me to the GeneaBloggers on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Pikes Peak Regional History Symposium

I will be presenting a paper at the Pikes Peak Regional History Symposium in Colorado Springs on Saturday June 6. It is sponsored by the Pikes Peak Library District. The theme of the symposium is "Rush To The Rockies: The 1859 Pikes Peak or Bust Gold Rush."

My paper is "The Cash Creek Miners" and it is about the early days of the mining camp where my great-great-grandparents, Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison, first settled. I will share some fun newspaper articles and advertisements, talk about the mining camp, and give details about the ten partners of one mining company who were later involved in or directly affected by the Lake County War, including Wilburn Christison and Father Dyer.

The Pikes Peak History Symposium will be held at the East Library in Colorado Springs at 5550 N. Union Blvd. If you plan to attend the symposium, you need to register at the PPLD website.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Verify Research Sources

Last year, I found an 1859 Post Office Directory at the Making of America website sponsored by the University of Michigan. Making of America has an incredible collection of scanned and searchable books. In the 1859 directory, I found the Cash Creek post office listed. This fascinated me because the histories I've read about Cash Creek indicate the mining camp started in 1860.

Well, I used the 1859 date in my proposal for the Pikes Peak Regional History Symposium. I thought I'd better check it again and kept looking in Google Books for the directory and it didn't show up. This morning I remembered it might have been in Making of America and, sure enough, there was the directory with Cash Creek listed. Looking closer at the entry I saw "Cash Creek, Lake, Colo." This time, the Lake County and Colorado caught my eye. Colorado was a part of Kansas Territory in 1859. I went to the title page and found that the Post Office Directory was published in 1870. Ugh.

I'm planning a trip to the
Rocky Mountain Regional Office of the National Archives. They have the microfilm of the reports of site locations for post offices. There is no guarantee that the papers for the Cash Creek post office are included (some early post offices aren't), but it is the next step for my research.

Research Tip of the Day: When searching on-line books, always look at the title page for source information and PRINT it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Map of Locations in Colorado Reflections Blog

I've added a new feature to Colorado Reflections - a Google map of the locations. The map is in the sidebar on the right. Click on "View Larger Map" under the bottom left corner of the map to see the full map. For the best view, click on "Terrain" in the upper right corner.

You can click on a placemark in the map and a box will open. The box will give the name of the location and the links to the Colorado Reflections posts that mention this location.

I am excited to share this map with you. For those of you who aren't familiar with the area, it will give a sense of place. Understanding the terrain and distance is vital to understanding the living conditions of the Christisons and their neighbors in the 1800's. If you are familiar with the area, then the map will help locate some of the places you may not know about.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Guest Blogger at Chipeta: Ute Peacemaker

Today I am a guest blogger at Cynthia Becker's blog, Chipeta: Ute Peacemaker. Cynthia's theme this week is how an interest in genealogy can lead to historical research and writing.

Join me at

Baxter Stingley, Salida Marshal

Watch That Saved Baxter Stingley's Life

On Memorial Day of 1883, Marshal Stingley and his deputy, James Brathurst, went to Bender's Saloon where a fight had broken out. As they tried to arrest Tom Evans, he lunged at Marshal Stingley with a knife. Both Stingley and Brathurst shot at Evans and he was killed. Then Thomas Neinmyer (or Ninemyer), one of the brawl participants, began to shoot as he left the building. He shot and killed Deputy Brathurst and Gannon (a bystander). He also shot Baxter Stingley, who survived with a punctured lung.

Neinmyer left on horseback and a group of men pursued him. Neinmyer shot and killed one of the men following him, W.H. Brown. Eventually the group, led by William Goring, overtook Neinmyer and captured him. Neinmyer was arrested and taken to the Buena Vista jail.

It took several months for Baxter Stingley to recover from his wound. J.S. Boon was appointed temporary Marshal with Eli Chenoweth as his deputy.

While Stingley recovered, he asked Henry Weber to visit him. During the visit, Stingley showed Weber the double-case silver watch that Weber had loaned him and that Stingley had been carrying when he was shot. According to Weber, "A bullet had struck it, and had crashed thru to the last case, which it dented badly. Stingley was carrying the watch in his vest pocket so it was very evident that it had saved his life." (Chaffee County CWA Writers Project p. 10)

Today the shattered watch is on display at the Salida Museum.

Notes: This story is found in Salida: The Early Years by Eleanor Fry; Under The Angel of Shavano by George G. Everett and Dr. Wendell F. Hutchinson.

If you are related to any of the people in this post, please contact me at

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Salida - Colorado State Capital?

Five years after Colorado became a state, the voters chose a state capital on November 7, 1881. The cities listed on the ballot were Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Canon City and Salida. Salida Mail editor, J.M. Moore, touted Salida as the geographic center of Colorado and the Railroad center.

Denver won the vote for state capital. In the Salida voting precinct, Salida received 227 votes, Denver, 5, and Colorado Springs, 1. (Salida Mail, November 12, 1881). The votes of Chaffee County, however, showed a different leaning: Denver-388, Colorado Springs-43, Pueblo-73, Canon City-53, and Salida-112. (Leadville Daily Herald, November 9, 1881) I'm not sure what is up with the discrepancy in votes for Salida - were the Salida votes not counted in the Chaffee County count? However, another short clip in the Herald (Nov. 9) said that although there were 300 registered voters in Salida, only 150 votes were cast. Hmmm.

Following the election, O.H. Rothaker of the Denver Tribune wrote: "Pueblo will become a city of manufacturers, and Colorado Springs will continue a city of homes, in spite of the vote on the capital; and Canon City will ever be recognized as the place which above all others, has the mildest winter climate for invalids in Colorado."

The Colorado Springs Republic noticed the absence of Salida in the list and wrote, "No, there is poor Salida, she is sligh[t]ed. Cannot Bro. Rothacker pour a little oil into her wounds?"

To which J.M. Moore fired back on November 19, "Salida responds by saying she don't require the oil. She don't need the State capital in her business. If she had needed it she would have got there."