Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dinosaur Bones

 In 1989, I flew to California with my 1 year-old daughter to introduce her to her great-grandparents and family in California and Oregon. While visiting my Grandpa, Ken Christison Sr., at his home in Oregon, he gave me a photograph of dinosaur bones and a wonderful story to go along with it. When Grandpa was sophomore in high school in 1931, a couple of boys on a hike with their teacher, Prof Kessler, and found a section of a dinosaur vertebrae at Garden Park. Garden Park is an area where many dinosaur excavations have taken place since 1877. On October 17, 1931 Prof Kessler returned to the site with his World History class to instruct and demonstrate the proper methods of excavation. My Grandpa was in this class and, therefore, in the photographs taken that day by L.B. Stewart, the art teacher. The story of the discovery and the pictures were published in the Denver Post on November 8, 1931.

Dinosaur Vertebrae Discovered in 1931 by Canon City Students

Canon City World History Class 1931 with Dinosaur Bones
Top Row: (Left to Right) Earl Ford, Kenneth Christison, Rusty Goodman
Next Row: Frances Easton, Willard Morris
Next Row: Opal Darndary, Margaret Akeley
Next Row: Billie Friend, Billie Lee, Lenora Countryman, Marie Knauf
Front Row: Prof Kessler

World History Class in the School Bus
Prof Kessler in front seat with Kenneth Christison
This photograph was featured in Monday's Canon City Daily Record on Monday October 3, 2011 with an article titled "The Great Dinosaur Race." Today, Saturday, is National Fossil Day and the Dinosaur Depot celebrated with various activities. June Hines, director of the museum, called me and invited me to come. So, this morning my friends, the Courtrights, and I left Elbert in the snow to drive to Canon City. We were especially looking forward to a walking tour through the Marsh Felch Quarry where the 1931 class found the vertebrae, but the tour was rained out. Instead, tour guide Dan Grenard met us and gave us a fascinating lecture about the history of the Marsh Felch Quarry. Then, he and his wife invited us to her office to show us pictures and maps. 

Prof. Kessler had thought the vertebrae belonged to a Diplodocus, however, Dan Grenard told us today it is believed to be a Camarasaurus (Terry Courtirght told me it's pronounced almost like the car - Camaro). After the bones were found, Prof Kessler contacted the Denver Museum of Natural History. In January of 1933, he wrote again saying was concerned about the decomposition of the bones. J.D. Figgins, Director of the museum, responded and told Prof Kessler to "shovel over the entire specimen 1 1/2 to 2 feet of dirt. Leave the canvas in place and carefully shovel over the entire thing." 

Today I learned the experts believe the segment of vertebrae was never recovered and is still buried with its canvas and dirt covering.If you are interested in learning more about Garden Park, please visit the Hands On The Land website.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Search for Inez by Guest Blogger Ann Parker

Today I welcome author Ann Parker to Colorado Reflections! Ann is the author of The Silver Rush mystery series set in Leadville, Colorado. I met Ann in Women Writing The West and soon discovered a kindred spirit with central Colorado family ties and a love for researching the history.

Please leave a comment on this post for a chance
to win a book of your choice from Ann's Silver Rush mystery series!

My Search For Inez

I may be a Californian, born and bred, but my family history reaches into Colorado. It was that history--and a bit of a family mystery as well--that led me to write a historical series set in 1880's Colorado, specifically Leadville.

                                                            Now I shall explain...

My mother and father were both raised in Colorado, and we regularly traveled back as a family for summer vacations, holidays, and so on. I recall Granny (my paternal grandmother, Inez Stannert Parker) telling stories of her life as a young woman in Denver--meeting Grandpa at Elitch Gardens (which were really gardens back then), raising her children: my father, Uncle Walt, and Aunt Dorothy, and so on. But it wasn't until long after she died that my Uncle    Walt told me she had been raised in Leadville.

My first reaction: She what?

Granny had never mentioned Leadville. No stories, nothing. So this was news to me.

My second reaction: What the heck is Leadville?
My Uncle Walt, being an engineer in addition to being the family genealogist, immediately began to was enthusiastic about Leadville: "Why it is just the biggest, most amazing mining town in the world! Silver, gold, tin, molybdenum! Oh, Leadville was quite a place, quite a rough town in those days." I was intrigued. Tell me more, I said. Instead, Uncle Walt instructed me to go research Leadville. "I'll bet," he said, "that you could write a story based in Leadville.

Thus instructed, I started to dig into Leadville's past and the rest, as they is history. I did indeed write a "story based in Leadville"--in fact, three of them so far: Silver Lies, Iron Ties, and Leaden Skies. (The fourth, Mercury's Rise, is coming out in November, and although
it has key scenes in Leadville, most of the action takes place in
another Colorado town with a fascinating history: Manitou Springs.)

But, even as I penned my tales, I didn't forget Granny. In fact, I      
named my protagonist after her (with the blessings of the family). I
also continued to wonder about her mysterious life in Leadville.
Where did she live? What was her life like back then? What were
her circumstances? What was the town like in the late 1800's/
early 1900's, when she was growing from a child to a young
So, even as I researched for fiction, I also mined Leadville's considerable historical and genealogical resources for information 
about the real Inez. (Thank you, Lake County Public Library!)

Over the years, I have uncovered some small bits about her Leadville life. From my Uncle Walt's efforts, I knew she was born in
1886, the eldest daughter of Mary E. Stannert and Lawrence
Stannert, who himself was born in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and
was the eldest of six children (as far as I could tell). Inez had "half-
brother, Harry (the "half" is part of the family legend, but I've been
unable to verify this), and a sister Mary (who, again according to
family legend, was quite a, shall we say, "heck"-raiser in her days).
Thanks to Leadville's collection of city directories and various
 census records, I verified that they lived at 610 West 3rd Street.

Thanks to a cousin, I have a copy of Inez's "Certificate of Attainment," certifying that she satisfactorily completed the Course of Study prescribed for the Grammar Department of the Leadville Public Schools and that she was thus admitted to high school. The certificate is dated January 31, 1902, and is signed by the principal of Central School. Yet, I know well that one of the things she lamented late in life was never graduating from high school. What happened to stop her education? We don't know. We do know sh valued education highly, and made sure that her children "stayed the course." My Uncle Walt became an engineer, my aunt became a legal secretary (this would hav been in the 1930's...well before women were common such fields), and my father became a physician.

Another fascinating tidbit I uncovered was a listing in the 1905 directory that indicated that Inez Stannert was working at the Herald Democrat bindery. Did she leave school for employment? Seems likely. To help support the family? She was living at the same address as her father (and we assume the rest of the clan was there as well). At the same time, Lawrence Stannert is listed as a blacksmith working at the Arkansas Valley Smelter, so it's not as if he was unemployed.

The Stannerts disappear from the Leadville directories after 1906, and Granny met her future husband in 1907 in Denver, and got married in Denver in 1908.

And that's about it. Photos from her time in Leadville are few and far between. I looked through my collection of old family photos and didn't spot any, although I found some dandy ones of other female ancestors. (Or female friends of ancestors. Without names, who knows?) Much of Inez's early life remains a mystery, despite my attempts to glean more about her. So, I did what I could to honor her by giving my character her name. As time goes on, though, I hope I can find out more about the real Inez, even as I continue to create stories for the fictional Inez, spun from my research and my imagination.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Switching From Nonfiction to Fiction

Jane Kirkpatrick sent these salt and pepper shakers to me. They arrived yesterday. Aren't they a hoot? Jane has been a special encourager to me in writing my book. And the first person I turned to when I seriously considered changing the genre of my book. I know I can trust Jane's advice. I have struggled for three years attempting to write a creative nonfiction book with Ernest Christison as the main character. When I finished the rough draft, I felt like I had two books - one nonfiction and one fiction. It was disjointed; it had too many holes that didn't fit into literary nonfiction and I had too many questions to make a judgement for nonfiction.

Ernest's story wouldn't let me go, but another story began to overpower his story. Mary Watkins, a Quaker schoolteacher from Ohio takes on the cattlemen who hanged her husband. What a powerful story! I wrote a part of Mary's story as a short story a couple of years ago and started a novel about Mary last November during NaNoWriMo (write a novel in a month). As I struggled with how to fix the nonfiction book, I opened up the file of the novel I had started. Guess what? It was good. And I seriously considered what the book would look like as fiction. After talking with Jane, I had no qualms about putting the creative nonfiction behind me and writing a historical fiction novel with Mary Watkins as the protagonist. Ernest will also be a main character, so his story will be told, too. The story is true, the events are true and the dialogue and additional scenes will all point to the truth while adding depth to the characters.

Fiction is a new world to me. Now I am reading Writing Fiction For Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and using his Snowflake method for writing a book. I am also reading books on characters and making them come alive. The only thing I don't have to learn about is the plot, that's already set!

P.S. If you haven't read any of Jane Kirkpatrick's books, run to the nearest bookstore or library! Jane writes historical fiction based on real women's lives. Her latest book is A Daughter's Walk based on the true story of a mother and daughter walking across the country in 1896. For more information, visit her website

Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Spot on GeneaBloggers Blog Talk Radio

Tonight I will be a guest on GeneaBloggers Radio. The show is "Genealogy, Television and Black Sheep" hosted by Thomas MacEntee. I will be on the last segment, around 9:30 Mountain Time, talking about researching Wild West outlaws and Black Sheep in genealogy. Renowned genealogist, Megan Smolenyak, will be the lead speaker.

To read the Show Notes, visit
GeneaBloggers Radio Scroll down to see the guest information.

To listen to the show, use the
radio player in the right sidebar. Click the arrow to play. A commercial will play first.

I hope you enjoy it!


Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Colorado!

Aspen Near Poncha Pass

The Arkansas River from the F Street Bridge in Salida

San Luis Valley near Villa Grove

150 years ago this week, one month after Kansas became a state, the western part of Kansas became Colorado Territory
on February 28, 1861. I thought I would celebrate by sharing a few of my favorite pictures I took last spring when my daughter and I took a trip to Salida.

My great-great-grandparents, Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison came to Colorado Territory with their six children in a wagon pulled by oxen in 1861. Wilburn voted in the first Territorial election held that fall, voting in the Lost Canyon precinct at Cash Creek. My husband's great-great-grandparents, the Eplers, also came to Colorado Territory, arriving by train in 1874 and settling in the newly-formed Elbert County. While the Christisons couldn't stay put in one place, my children are the 7th generation of John's family to live in Elbert County.

As you can see, I have many reasons to celebrate Colorado Territory's birthday.
Happy Birthday, Colorado!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Researching Criminal Court Records

I spent a couple of days in Salida this week researching criminal court records. The ice on the river fascinates me. This picture was taken near Cotapaxi where the sun must not hit the snow long enough to melt it.

In researching the criminal court records for Ernest Christison's cattle rustling book, I am studying court cases involving thirteen different men. It isn't as easy as going to one place to find all of the records. The actual documents from the court cases are housed at the Colorado State Archives in Denver, however, the Record of Court Proceedings is at the Chaffee County Combined Courts in Salida.

When I started researching the story, I started with the Record of Court Proceedings in Salida. I went through the book and found Ernest's court cases, wrote down the numbers and the proceedings, then I visited the State Archives to look at the actual cases. The staff at the archives became well-acquainted with me and the Chaffee County box of court records. I can almost hear their inaudible groan when I ask for that box. It is on the top shelf, needing a ladder to reach it, and it is overflowing with documents. After looking at Ernest's court cases, I started looking for court cases involving other names I'd found in my research. Eventually, I went through every court case in the box, looking for names I recognized and this led me to the thirteen-plus cases I am researching.

Last week I reached the point of writing about the court cases in the January term of 1884. I thought I had everything I needed, however, as I started writing I realized that I had the information from the cases, but not the dates when court proceedings took place. Because this involved the eleven prisoners who escaped from jail, I thought I needed to go back and go through the Record of Court Proceedings again.

Tuesday I spent three hours going through the Court Proceedings, writing down every proceeding that took place--continuances, jury selection, jury verdicts, sentencing, plea bargains, etc. This will really help in writing the trial portion of my book.

Before I went to Salida, several people mentioned they hoped I found something new. I didn't expect to find anything new, but I did! I found a final report from the Grand Jury concerning the deplorable conditions of the county jail at the time of the prison break. The jail was filthy, the sewage pipe blocked for five days, and the prisoners were only receiving two meals a day at 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. More details to help me write!


1) Be sure to be looking in the District Court records. Criminal cases will be The People vs. whomever you are looking for.
2) Locate both the Record of Court Proceedings and the trial case documents. Find out if they are located in the same depository or different ones.

Look at cases around the same time as your case. Your criminal may show up in another case where he may be included as "et. al." Or the case may be related to the case you are researching that may clue you in to the bigger story.

Write down everything! Even if it doesn't mean anything to you.

If you know a lawyer, ask him or her about some of the terms or proceedings you don't understand. If not, do an on-line search for terms you aren't familiar with.

Did your criminal go to the state penitentiary? Find out where the prisoner records are kept. In Colorado, the State Archives has the Prisoner Index you can check on-line at this
link. If you find your criminal, then you can visit or request the record which includes the mug shot, description of prisoner, and details of when imprisoned and when released.

Do you have more questions about criminal court records? Leave a comment with your question and I will be happy to answer it if I can!