Saturday, July 26, 2014

National Day of the Cowboy

Ernest Christison (Drawing by Katy Kinder from a photograph)
Today, July 26, is National Day of the Cowboy. I thought it an appropriate time to share this drawing of Ernest Christison with his horse and his dog. He doesn't look like much of an outlaw, does he? Artist Katy Kinder drew this from a photograph in which the horse was blurry and faded. The photo was likely taken in the late 1870's or early 1880's.

Born in Missouri in 1852, Ernest traveled west with his family to the Colorado mining camp of Cash Creek when he was 9 years old. His older brother, Leslie, followed his father into mining, but Ernest preferred horses and cows to picks and rocks.

His first brand was recorded in 1876, the same year he signed on to round up 175 head of cattle for the ranchers Leonhardy and Turkey and trail them from Buena Vista to Denver to sell. The cowboys arrived on April 23 and they held the cattle at a ranch near Denver until the sale could be made. Everything seemed to be going well until a spring blizzard blew in at noon on April 25 and stampeded the cattle. Two days and four feet of snow later, the cowboys proceeded to locate and round up the scattered cattle. Ernest became snow blind which made it impossible for him to continue with the round-up, but Henry Weber managed to locate the rest of 155 head of cattle, sold them, and returned to the Buena Vista with Ernest.

Ernest had a couple of cattle partnerships including one with Thomas Cameron and his son, J.B., before his partnership with Ed Watkins.

If you want to read more about the outlaw part of this story, click on The Cattle Rustling Story.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Sackful of Westerns

Visiting my Grandpa Ken Christison and his wife, Elizabeth, with Katie in Oregon

In 1989, I flew with my one-year-old daughter, Katie, to California and Oregon to introduce her to my Dad's family. While Grandpa Christison and I talked, we learned that we both loved to read westerns. On the flight home, I carried a paper sack filled with paperback westerns that Grandpa gave me - Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, and Steve Frazee.

The Steve Frazee books were special. Grandpa and Steve were friends. Grandpa told me the story of how they met in 1934. Grandpa was walking from Westcliffe, where he worked at a dairy after high school, to Turret, the tiny mining camp east of Salida where his parents lived. He'd walked all day and half the night before falling asleep along the trail. He was awakened by Steve Frazee. Steve walked the rest of the way to Turret with him, where Steve lived with his dad.

It wasn't until I started writing my book that I became aware Steve Frazee had been the President of Western Writers of America in 1955-1956. He was the third president of the organization.

I find it interesting that today, I happen to know the current President of Western Writers of America, Sherry Monahan. Sherry recently began her term as President at the annual WWA Convention in Sacramento. Sherry and I met through Women Writing the West and worked together on marketing for the group when she was the VP of Marketing. I am very excited for Sherry as she steps into this new role. This is one of her latest books, one I happened to buy when I was in Tombstone this year, making it even more special to me. Here's the link to Sherry's website

Westerns, storytelling and a love for central Colorado, the ties that bind a grandfather and granddaughter. I still have Grandpa's paperbacks and every once in a while I pull one out to read.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Past and Present Alder, Colorado

The town of Alder, Colorado along Hwy. 285 viewed from the west
In 1926, my great-grandfather, Lewis Christison, moved his family to Alder, Colorado on the south side of Poncha Pass where he worked as a miner and prospector. My Grandpa, Ken Christison, Sr., was nine years old and attended school at Alder. Grandpa told a few stories to my Dad in the early 1970's about his memories of living at Alder while Dad recorded the stories on cassette tape.

Grandpa told stories about events like an explosion waking him in the middle of the night during the winter. When he got up, he found his dad had shot a rat in the cellar with the only gun he had – a
.30-.30 rifle.

In May, the family moved up the creek to “Old Man” Carothers cabin. On Grandpa’s tenth birthday, May 19, 1927, his dad gave him his first .22 rifle along with a box of 50 short shells, the only shells he could have until he shot his first rabbit. He traded three short shells for two long rifle shells for an emergency. One day, Grandpa was taking a lunch up the hill to his dad and saw two bears. Grandpa ran, then stopped and put in a long rifle shell. The bears didn’t chase him, though. His brother, Ted, measured the tracks of the bears and they were 27 feet apart running up hill.

Last week, John and I camped in a small meadow surrounded by aspen and spruce trees at Alder Creek. I called my Dad, who now lives in North Carolina, and asked if he had any idea where Grandpa had lived. Yes, Grandpa had shown him where several cabins had once stood and he had lived in one of them. I am guessing this was the Carothers cabin. Dad described crossing the creek at one place and driving a bit up the creek with boulders in it. The cabins had been on the right side of the road below the beaver dam.

We jumped on the 4-wheeler and hit the trail. We had ridden up the trail the day before, so we were a little familiar with what Dad described, but also realized things had changed since the last time Dad had been here forty years ago.

To get our bearings, we drove to the west side of the beaver pond. Instead of one small pond, there appeared to be a series of ponds or even one large pond. We could see glimpses of water through the trees for ½ a mile. But we couldn’t find a trail along the ponds.

Dad spoke of the road running alongside the creek. The main trail ran parallel to the creek, but was much higher up the side of the mountain. We found several trails down to campsites on the creek, but not a single road along the creek. At one of the campsites, the trail crossed the creek in the manner Dad described. We drove through the creek and up the bank. 

And the trail disappeared. Fallen trees and washed out banks made it seem impossible for a road to ever have run there. We set out on foot but found we couldn’t go any further. We wouldn’t be able to find the cabin. 

Disappointed, I looked down at the ground and noticed wild strawberry plants all around me. The plants were in bloom, no sweet red berries yet. Memories came to mind of visiting Grandpa’s mining claim on Spring Creek, the next creek over and of Grandpa helping me hunt for the tiny sweet berries. Sweet memories.

UPDATE: Read September 6th post "Cabin At Alder Creek"