Monday, November 4, 2013

Freedom in January

Barry Ward recently released his new CD, Lonesome County Road. John and I are especially honored that Barry recorded the song we wrote, "Freedom in January." The song is a little bluegrass number telling the story of Ernest Christison's (my great-great-uncle) jail break in Buena Vista, Colorado in 1883.

Former Flying W Wrangler Joe Stephenson added the perfect fiddle part to the song for my fiddle-playing outlaw. And Ernie Martinez, nominated for the 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year by the Western Music Association, played the dobro, intoning a lonesome train whistle on the break.

"Freedom in January" tells the story of Ernest Christison who, along with ten other prisoners, knocked out a hole in the brick wall and "broke jail." The jail is now the school administration offices. At the back of the building, you can still see where the bricks were replaced.

The Buena Vista Democrat (

Ernest Christison and Albert Sweeny ran half a mile to the Arkansas River. This photo was taken 126 years later on the anniversary of the jail break. Fortunately for the men, there wasn't snow on the ground so they couldn't be tracked. They crossed the river and hid on the hill a while, and then started walking south to Salida. They crossed the river again near Nathrop. Thinking of the men walking through the freezing cold water prompted the line, "Freedom in January is worth the frost."

Ernest and Albert made it to Thomas Cameron's home just north of Salida, where they found food, a Winchester, and a place to sleep. But Cameron's was being watched and the men were rudely awakened by "a shotgun barreled side by side" shoved in their faces. After they were captured, the men returned to Buena Vista on the train with an armed guard.

Lonesome County Road is available for order at  Be sure to check out Barry's schedule and see him in concert when he is in your area

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rush To The Rockies! The 1859 Pikes Peak or Bust Gold Rush

Rush To The Rockies! is the latest in the Regional History Book Series by the Pikes Peak Library District.  In 2009, I presented my paper, "The Cash Creek Miners and the Lake County War," at the Regional History Symposium sponsored by PPLD and the paper is included in the book. Last week, I was honored to be a part of the booksigning at the book release event at the Penrose Library.

Elizabeth and Wilburn Christison
It is exciting to see my great-great-grandfather's story and that of the Cash Creek miners in print. These men were Colorado pioneers whose lives tell the story of Colorado's earliest days.

The connections I find in research fascinate me. I knew Wilburn was involved in the Lake County War, which ended with the murder of Judge Elias Dyer (the son of itinerant Methodist preacher, Father Dyer) in his own courtroom. However, I didn't know he had more than a passing acquaintance with Father Dyer until I found the incorporation papers for the Pioneer Lode Prospecting Company. That is when I learned Wilburn and Father Dyer had been partners in a mining company at Cash Creek. And, as I looked at the names, I realized several of the other partners were also involved in the Lake County War.

Booksigning at the Penrose Library October 24, 2013

Rush to the Rockies! is filled with stories of the gold rush and early Colorado history making it a great addition to any Colorado history buff's bookshelf.

Thank you to Tim Blevins, Special Collections Manager of PPLD and to his incredible staff for publishing a top-notch book.

 I'd also like to thank my friends, Terry and Terry Courtright, who created the map at the beginning of my chapter.


Rush To The Rockies: The 1859 Pikes Peak or Bust Gold Rush is for sale for $24.95 at the Penrose Library and through Clausen Books (it isn't on the website yet, but may be ordered by phone). It is also available as an e-book for $5.99 at Smashwords.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

South Park Perils

Today I'd like to welcome author Christie Wright to Colorado Reflections! Christie has a new book out, South Park Perils, published by Filter Press. I've known Christie for several years after meeting through Women Writing the West and we've enjoyed sharing our Park County interests. In fact, she mentions Ernest Christison on page 55, it seems he attempted to break out of the Fairplay jail several months before breaking out of the Buena Vista Jail. A murderer later found his small saw and finished sawing through the bars of the Fairplay jail.

Leave a comment on this blog post and Christie will give away one book to a lucky reader!

Tell us a little about the type of stories a reader will find in South Park Perils?

Readers will find all true murder stories set in the 1800's and early 1900's in Park County, CO. Although I found many other crimes that were committed during my research for the book, I was surprised at the number of murders and decided to make that the focus of “South Park Perils.” The west was definitely wild there!

Many of the stories involve shootings and many in saloons, which was typical of the time. There are three ranchers who committed almost identical crimes but at different times; they all shot their neighbors over livestock boundary disputes and all three times, their victims had picked up rocks to throw when they were shot and killed.

Park County actually had four sets of serial killers: the Espinosa brothers in the early 1860's; Benjamin Ratcliff in 1895 who shot and killed three school board members, and a con artist in the Guffey area in 1897. Sadly, another serial murder happened in 2003 near Guffey when three teenage boys shot and killed an acquaintance and his grandparents. This latter case is not mentioned in my book but the other three are.

How did you become interested in South Park?
In the 1980s, our family had a second home over on the Summit County side of Hoosier Pass and we would frequently explore the Park County side of Hoosier, including Buckskin and Mosquito Gulches. I became fascinated with the mines and the mining history there and my interest gradually expanded to the County’s history in general. Several years ago I began volunteering with the Park County Local History Archives, a non-profit organization, and was elected President in 2010. Park County’s history is very alive and real to me!

You worked for the State of Colorado as a probation officer. How did your experience help you in researching and writing this book?
My work experience helped me understand both the court proceedings that I learned about on each case as well as the court language itself. I found it fascinating that most of the legal language we use in the courtroom today was in use in the 1800s. To me, this showed the strength of our legal system in general and that there has been a thread of continuity throughout our justice system, albeit with its faults.

Regarding the ‘legalese,” terms such as preliminary examination, stay of execution (which can refer to a court action other than an actual execution!) return on a warrant and the process of posting bond are all familiar terms to those of us who work in the system. This was very helpful in deciphering the court practices in the 1800's.

Two interesting differences are that in the 19th century, circuit judges only held court twice a year in each judicial district and that the weeks for this were actually set by the Colorado legislature. If a suspect committed a crime right after court adjourned for that session, he could possibly have been confined for six months until the judge rode back into town. Nowadays, judges control their own courtrooms and dockets.

The other difference is the number of trials that were held in the 19th century. Almost every murder case went to trial (other than those who absconded) whereas today, plea bargains are frequently offered in order to avoid the time and expense of a trial.

Did you run into any surprises when you researched the stories?
Yes, there were a number of them. One was the ever-present threat of lynching, even shortly after the turn of the century. I have a number of cases where a defendant immediately rode into the nearest town to turn himself in to “the law” after killing his victim. At first I thought their moral conscience kicked in albeit late, and they wanted to “do the right thing” by ‘fessing up to their crime. I later realized they did this to avoid being lynched and often took the back roads so as to avoid detection.

Another surprise was that there were no women convicted of murder in Park County in the 1800's that I could find. Two were suspects and charged as Accessories to Murder in 1894 but both were acquitted at trial. A third woman, a rancher’s wife, faced the same charge in 1902 but she was also acquitted. The reasons for no female convictions is interesting but requires an in-depth sociological analysis that I have not delved into.

How does your book contribute to the history of the area?
I think “South Park Perils” contributes to the county’s history by adding a new dimension to its settlement – that of the criminal behavior that was integral to its founding. Although not pleasant, it was part and parcel of Colorado’s early years. Several other Park County authors have written locally about some of the more sensational murders, to my knowledge, this is the first time those and the many lesser known murders have been brought forth.

Christie Wright is a Colorado "semi-native," who moved to the state after graduating from college in Illinois. After many adventures exploring the high country, she became fascinated with Park County mining camps and later expanded her interest to the county's overall history. Christie worked as a state probation officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado for more than twenty-two years.She currently serves as president of the Park County Local History Archives and is a member of Women Writing the West and Wild West History Association. Click here to visit her South Park Perils website, where you may purchase her book.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection

One of my FAVORITE  Colorado on-line research sites is the digitized Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection (CHNC) There are over 500,000 digitized pages from 163 newspapers, primarily between the years 1859-1923. 

Some of the Central Colorado newspapers I've used are the Buena Vista Herald, Buena Vista Democrat, Colorado Democrat and the Colorado Republican (both Buena Vista), Fairplay Flume, Herald Democrat (Leadville), and Saguache Chronicle. The Rocky Mountain News, Denver Tribune, and the Colorado Weekly Chieftan (Pueblo) have also been beneficial. 

CHNC offers several ways to search the collection. 

BROWSE: You may browse a newspaper by selecting a newspaper and a date from the drop-down menus.

Click on the desired date to view the newspaper:

Click on the article you want to read to view it in a separate window. 

SEARCH: Using the search option, you can search for a name or a place in one newspaper or the entire collection.

Type a name in the "search for" box. To use a first name and last name, click on the AND button between the names. If you use the AND option, It will bring up all of the first and last names, not specific to the combination. Click on the name of the newspaper you wish to search or click on the box beneath the list to "Search in all Publications." Click on "Go" in the top right corner.

Click on the article and it will open up in a new window.

The articles in this post are related to Ernest Christison, my great-great-uncle. He was among the prisoners who broke out of jail in January 1884. And Roy Christison, the unfortunate lad who broke his leg, was his son. 

Newspapers are being added to the collection. I discovered the article about Roy today when I noticed new Buena Vista papers had been added since the last time I researched. 


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pikes Peak and Mt. Princeton

I have a mountain. In my opinion, everyone should have a mountain. My mountain happens to be Pikes Peak. It's the first thing I look at in the morning. Is it clear? Is it cloudy? In the winter, it is covered in its resplendent winter coat, kissed with the rosy hue of sunrise.

My mountain is there, standing steadfast and strong whether I am having a good day or a bad day. It grounds me, centers me. Reminds me of God and his infinite wisdom and strength.

I like to believe my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Christison also had a mountain. For many of her central Colorado years, Mt. Princeton would have been the mountain in her view. Did she look at it first thing in the morning to see what the weather would be for the day?

Mt. Princeton is Steve Garufi's mountain and he has a website for pictures of it. He featured my photograph of Mt. Princeton in the header of Colorado Reflections - the mountain framed by low, hanging clouds and trees with new spring leaves - this week on his website,  Be sure to visit the website and enjoy the beautiful pictures of Mt. Princeton.

Do you have a mountain? I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Creating Space and Energy to Write

Today is the first day of my new journey. I worked my final hours at the Elbert Public Library last night. I have been a librarian for six years and I loved it! I loved helping patrons find just the right book to read, answering questions, and giving advice and teaching how to do genealogical and historical research. 

Why did I leave a job I loved? Simple answer - it is time. Time to focus on writing the historical fiction book based on my great-great-uncle's cattle rustling story. It is the time to be available to do more genealogical and historical presentations. It is the time to write new songs and perform. And it is the right time to leap into wholehearted living. 

"Creating space and energy to write" is a comment Women Writing the West member Dawn Wink left for me on Facebook after reading my plans. How fitting! Yes, I am creating space and energy to write the book of my heart and share the story. 

Today I sit in my writing space and write. I am surrounded by photos from my son and daughter-in-law's wedding, a photo of my daughter and son with their shotguns, pictures of John Wayne,  vase bought on our 25th wedding anniversary trip to Arizona, a walnut bowl turned by my father, "boot hill" salt and pepper shakers from Jane Kirkpatrick, an oil painting of Bob Womack that connects my husband's family to my Women Writing the West friend, Linda Womack.  

The guitar and mandolin wait to be picked up and played. Words and melodies waiting to be woven together.  

This is my space and this is my time. 

It also seemed to be the right time to give Colorado Reflections a makeover. Please explore the pages at the top to learn more about my new adventures. I am thankful for my supportive husband, John,  who is joining me on this journey, particularly in our new music ventures.

Thank you, my friends, for your support and encouragement. I wouldn't be who I am without you! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Organizing Historical and Genealogical Research

This is all of the research for the book I am writing, with the exception of maps. Notebooks are the backbone of my organizational system. I started out by keeping everything in one notebook, but when the newspaper articles filled the notebook I divided it into two notebooks.

The Newspaper Notebook on the right contains copies of newspaper articles gleaned from hours of staring at the microfilm reader at the Salida Regional Library and at home from the Digitized Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection. Each article is placed in a page protector and arranged in chronological order.

I also have a computer database sorted by date, name, place, event and source. Each article and court event is documented in the database.

The Biographical Notebook contains photographs and genealogical information on all of the people involved in the story. This includes my great-great-uncle, his partner who was lynched, the widow, the cattlemen behind the lynching, the judges, and the lawyers. Census records, land records, cattle brands, obituaries, anything that could be used to glean more information is included in this notebook and organized alphabetically by name.

Because the story involves more than twelve court cases, trying to make sense of the records and organize them was key. I discovered legal-size expanding wallet files in various colors and began using them. I gave each county a color. In the upper-left corner, I wrote the county and the court (county or district) and the case numbers included in the file. The name of the case is in the center - The People vs. Ernest Christison et. al. In the upper-right corner, a short description of the documents in the file helps me locate important documents.

Inside the court case files, I typed up a brief for each case that includes the date, the type of document or court action, and where the copy of the document can be found. Some of the documents are in the research notebook and not in the file.

Notes and other information that didn't necessarily belong in the categories of one of the notebooks are now contained in a clear plastic box. Also early drafts of some chapters are here.

Finally, I have a purple Research Notebook that has the photo of my great-great-uncle Ernest Christison on the front. This is the notebook I take with me when I do research. It is divided into sections.
  • Section 1 is a bibliography of every book, manuscript and court case I've researched.
  • Section 2 contains addresses of archives, museums, and libraries along with operating hours, phone numbers, and a map of how to get there.
  • Section 3 is a print-out of the events from my historical research database.
  • Section 4 contains a page for each research repository and what information I am looking for there. Sometimes I can find information on-line through card catalogs or databases that give me an idea of what to search for there. This also keeps me from looking again for information I've already attempted to find.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Genealogy and Writing Be-Attitudes for 2013

Fireworks on Pikes Peak January 1, 2013
On January 1, 2010, I wrote these "non-resolutions" for the type of genealogist I wanted to be. When I looked at them today, I realized they are exactly who I want to be in 2013 as a genealogist and writer.   
  • 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.