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.