Monday, June 29, 2020

Learning the Craft of Writing Fiction

My first view of Virgil Ernest Christison's Rick Mountain Ranch in 2008.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about writing the cattle rustling book. I started writing the book in 2007. Over the years, I’ve shared the changes on this blog – nonfiction to creative nonfiction to historical fiction.

I began writing the book as historical fiction on July 7, 2011. Yes, nine years ago. Friends and family have a hard time understanding why the book isn’t written by now. The reason? Writing historical fiction is hard. And it is a process. The facts and events had to become STORY. The people had to become characters, characters with emotion and motives.
The book I am writing now is very different from the book I was writing nine years ago. I am glad I didn’t rush it. And happy I didn’t give up.

Last November, I joined five other writers in a workshop series with Page Lambert at Mount Vernon Club in the mountains west of Denver. We met monthly for five months. COVID-19 hit in the middle of this. We had one meeting by Zoom and had our final workshop yesterday.

When I started the workshop, I thought I’d start at point A and be well on my way with a finished book by the end. Yes, my perfectionist tendencies kicked in. Instead, I shared chapter one at the first workshop, but Page suggested starting with an earlier event mentioned in the chapter. So, by the next workshop I had another chapter one. And this repeated two more workshops. I now have four new chapter ones, but really they are the first four chapters of my book.

Working backwards was not my intention when I started the workshop. But by working backwards, I gained a better understanding of the story. Events I thought I could summarize became their own scenes. And by settling into the story, new motives came to light. I now have a good, solid beginning for the book with an inciting incident that puts into motion all of the events of the story.

Page Lambert taught me how to write fiction. I’ve always been able write action scenes that gallop along. What I am not so good at is writing description and inner dialogue. Page’s workshops helped me learn how to do that with input from the other writers. I have also learned I can take a messy draft and reorganize and rewrite it. One of my biggest fears. Mostly, I have learned to trust myself as a writer. I have good instincts. I have good intuition. And, I am a good writer. Today I am reveling in this knowledge. It feels good.

My advice to those writing a book – don’t give up. Learn your craft and never, ever read your writing when you are emotionally tired.

Below are blog posts I've written about my journey of writing this book:

Research is Done! It's Time to Write!  (And yes, I have to laugh about this 2009 post. Still finding new information 11 years later!)

Switching from Nonfiction to Fiction

Circling and Story Round-Up

Part 2 Circling and Story Round-Up 

Step Into The River

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Pioneer Lode Prospecting Company

My great-great-grandfather, Wilburn Christison, formed a mining company with Father Dyer and eight other men in 1864. 

In 2006, I sat in Leadville in the Lake County Courthouse looking through mining records and I ran across the articles of incorporation for the Pioneer Lode Prospecting Company. I still remember the shock of seeing the name "John L. Dyer" in the same list as my great-great-grandfather's name.

For those of you not familiar with Father Dyer, he came to Colorado in 1861, the same year as Wilburn Christison and his family. Father Dyer was an itinerant Methodist preacher. He also carried mail from Buckskin Joe over Mosquito Pass to the mining camp of Cash Creek, where several of the men in this mining company lived, including Wilburn Christison. Father Dyer is considered one of 16 Founding Fathers of Colorado. His portrait in stained glass is in the Colorado State Capitol building. For more information about Father Dyer, see this Wikipedia.

The ten men in the Pioneer Lode Prospecting Company each put up $100 in shares giving the company $1,000 in operating capital to sink shafts in two discovery claims - the Elisabeth Jessie Johnston and the Star Gold Quartz lode - in the Hope, Granite and Clear Creek mining districts. 

Here is a list of the ten men:

Wilburn Christison, Galatia Sprague, R. Mat Johnston, William Snyder, Henry C. Justice, Sullivan D. Breece, Patrick Smith, John Burnett, Charles Hilton, and John L. Dyer. 

Of these men, Sullivan D. Breece had the most successful mining operation. He later owned the Breece Iron Mine at Leadville and Breece Hill is named after him. I also found some mining claims that Breece and Christison discovered together.

For more information about the men in the Pioneer Lode Mining Company, see the book Rush To The Rockies! published by the Pikes Peak Library District. I wrote a paper about "The Cash Creek Miners and the Lake County War" which is included in this book. You might notice that the names in this Pioneer Lode list also show up ten years later in accounts of the Lake County War. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Christison Connections to the Hutchinson Family and Ranch

Hutchinson House in 1982 (Photo by Ken Christison)
 I've had several people ask exactly how my Christison family is related to the Hutchinson family since the Colorado Experience episode on the ranch aired. (Click on this link to view the show The Hutchinson Homestead and Ranch.)The answer is there is no family relation. But there are a few connections that explain my interest in the Hutchinson Ranch.

Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison (from the Betty Regnier Collection)

My great-great-grandparents, Wilburn and Elizabeth Christison, arrived in the mining camp of Cash Creek in 1861 after crossing Kansas with team of oxen and a covered wagon along with their six children. 

Joseph Hutchinson took a job in Cash Creek in 1866 as the superintendent of the Bailey and Gaff mining company. Joseph was twelve years younger than Wilburn Christison. In 1868, Hutchinson joined Bailey and Gaff in a cattle company with the headquarters at the Hutchinson ranch near Poncha Springs. 

Wilburn Christison also moved his family down the Arkansas Valley. There is a mention of him living in Adobe Park in 1867. And Arthur Hutchinson wrote that "Christison was on the present Hutchinson ranch for a short time."

The McPherson cabin moved from Cash Creek
When the Hutchinsons settled on the ranch, they disassembled the cabin Annabelle's parents had at Cash Creek and moved it to the ranch. I was fascinated to see this cabin and have a better idea of what my great-great-grandparents' cabin may have been like at Cash Creek.

According to Joseph Hutchinson's ledgers in the book, Under The Angel of Shavano, he paid Leslie Christison (Wilburn's oldest son) $67 for work done in mining.

And, in September of 1875, Hutchinson bought two steers from Walker Sprague and Ernest Christison (Wilburn's second son).

Wilburn Christison and Joseph Hutchinson were both active in the Democratic party. Wilburn was elected the Lake County Judge and later the Park County Judge. Joseph Hutchinson served in the Colorado Territorial Legislature.

And they both died in 1882. Wilburn passed away at the age of 54 on February 7, 1882 in Fairplay after a bout of pneumonia. And Joseph Hutchinson passed away on May 16, 1882 from a brain tumor at the age of 42. 

Dec. 23, 1882 Mountain Mail (Colorado Historic Newspapers)
Wilburn's widow, Elizabeth Christison, moved back to Poncha Springs with her two youngest sons following his death. I discovered that when I found this newspaper article on the Poncha Springs school honor roll that includes my great-grandfather, Lewis Christision, and his brother Charlie. Also listed are Arthur, Bailey and Harold Hutchinson.
Did Elizabeth live in the Christison cabin? The cabin Arthur mentioned was on land near the Hutchinson ranch that Annabelle bought in 1916, included in today's Hutchinson ranch. I don't know. It is also possible Ernest Christison lived in the cabin at one time with his family.
Site of the Christison Cabin. Dr. Wendell Hutchinson with Connie Christison, John Gresham and Gayle Christison
In 1982, I wrote a research paper for my high school Colorado history class on my outlaw relative, Ernest Christison. My parents and my boyfriend, John Gresham, went to visit Dr. Wendell Hutchinson, who wrote Under The Angel of Shavano with George Everett. He took us to several places talking about the history. And he showed us the location of "the Christison cabin." What a wonderful memory it is to recall visiting with Dr. Hutchinson! His stories and taking us to places related to the Christison history made my interest in my family history and Colorado history come alive.

I spoke with Dr. Hutchinson one more time when I decided to write a book about Ernest Christison and Ed Watkins. I was told he could hear better over the phone at that time, so we had a telephone conversation. I wish I could talk to him again now that I know so much more from my research.

In 2018, I met his son, Art Hutchinson, and we visited about our family histories and more. 

Gayle Gresham and Art Hutchinson

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Visit To The Old Park County Courthouse

This is the staircase in the old Park County Courthouse in Fairplay where my great-great-grandfather, Wilburn Christison, was the Park County Judge from 1873-1882. I love running my hand over the banister, imagining Wilburn's hand gliding over it as he walked up the stairs to court. I can almost hear his footsteps. 

Judge Wilburn Christison
Gayle Gresham
At 54 years old, I am the same age as the Judge was when he succumbed to pneumonia on February 7, 1882. 


The courthouse is undergoing historic preservation and it is wonderful to see the improvements made. The wood floor was refinished and the windows are being restored. Visit this link to see more about the preservation.

This vault is in the county judge's office on the first floor. It was possibly installed in 1881 when three offices were created on the first floor, including the county judge's office. The vault is impressive!

I would like to thank Jennie Andrusin, Park County Projects and Grants Manager, for giving me and my friends a tour of the courthouse and the jail.

And here is the link to a post from when I visited the courthouse in 2007 before they started the restoration. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Fairplay Jail

If you know about the song I wrote, "Freedom in January," then you know the story of Ernest Christison breaking out of the Buena Vista jail with eleven other prisoners. But the Fairplay jail also plays a prominent part in the cattle rustling story.

Ernest Christison was arrested by a group of South Park cattlemen at St. Elmo on the 6th of July in 1883. The cattlemen also arrested four others: Charlie Christison (Ernest's 14-year-old brother), Billy Taylor (Ernest's 21-year-old brother-in-law), John Taylor (Ernest's father-in-law) and John Meyer (who rode along with John Taylor when he delivered supplies). The cattlemen took their prisoners on a 3-day ride across South Park to Rocky, where a justice of peace bound the men over for trial. Then they were incarcerated in the Fairplay Jail. 

To make things even more interesting, Ernest and Charlie's father, Wilburn Christison, was the Park County Judge from 1872 until he died in 1882, the year before Ernest and the others were arrested. Ernest and Charlie spent time in their father's jail.

Gayle Gresham, Laura Van Dusen, and Christie Wright

I visited the Fairplay Jail behind the old Fairplay Courthouse today with two Park County authors, Christie Wright (South Park Perils) and Laura Van Dusen (Parked in the Past). Christie arranged for us to go into the jail, which isn't open to the public, with Jennie Andrusin, the Park County Project and Grants Manager. 

There are two tiny cells in the jail, with places for 4 bunks in each. There would hardly be room to walk between the bunks if there were two on the other side.

Apparently, Buena Vista wasn't Christison's first attempt at a jail break. On March 18, 1884, a Fairplay prisoner broke out of jail using a small saw that Ernest Christison had used to saw away at one of the bars. While Christison was unsuccessful, Byard cut away a 10" x 16" hole to crawl through and escape. Byard also sawed under the cover of a fiddler who played every night after supper. (This story is told on page 55 of Christie Wright's book, South Park Perils.)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Elizabeth Jane Christison's Obituary

Canon City Record May 19, 1898
Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection
I found it! Elizabeth Jane Christison's obituary. Proof that my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Jane Christison, died in Howard, Colorado (known as Pleasant Valley before it was name Howard) and she was buried in the Valley Cemetery, which is the Howard Cemetery. And it confirms her date of death, May 10, 1898, which is recorded in the family record of births and deaths.

I love the fact that she was known as "Grandma Christison"  and was "well known and beloved by all who knew her." Some details are a little vague - she was a pioneer woman at Cash Creek, eighteen miles south of Leadville and her husband was a judge, not a clerk in Lake County and Park County.

Now I am even more convinced that the marker for "Dan Christinsen" should really read "Jane Christison."

For more information about Elizabeth Jane Christison see:

Searching For Elizabeth Jane Christison's Grave
Elizabeth Jane Christison - A Colorado Pioneer
The Death of Judge Christison


Thursday, December 6, 2018

National Miners Day

Lewis Christison standing in the background

Today is National Miners Day. When I think about my Colorado roots, those roots run deep in mountain mining shafts with three generations of Colorado miners and prospectors in my family. The above photo shows my great-grandfather, Lewis Christison, standing in the background at a mine near Buena Vista. Lewis spent his life as a hard-rock miner, moving his family from mine to mine, prospect to prospect. Villa Grove, Canon City, Buena Vista, Rosita, Alder, and Turret are a few of the places I know he mined and prospected.

Ken Christison, Sr. with his father, Lewis Christison
Ken Christison, Sr. at Gold Crown Mine 

Lewis' son, Ken Christison, Sr., my Grandpa, was also a miner and prospector. In 1936, he moved to California and worked at the Gold Crown Mine in Twenty-Nine Palms. He met The Girl From 29 Palms (an Andrews Sisters song my grandmother said was written about her) and married her. He returned to Colorado later and I loved to go camping near his mining claim up on Poncha Pass when I was a little girl.

My Christison family miners started with Lewis' father, Wilburn Christison, who brought his wife and six children to the mining camp of Cash Creek, Colorado in a covered wagon in 1861. Wilburn was active in placer mining and in locating mines. He was involved in several mining companies, including the Pioneer Lode Mining Company.

Ernest and Nancy Jane Christison
Several of Wilburn's sons were active in mining, too. His oldest son, Leslie, worked in mines and was a mining inspector. Ernest Christison, whom I tend to think of as a cowboy, was also a miner. He and Leslie had a mining company near Twin Lakes. He also worked in mines at Cripple Creek and Victor, along with his sons, Leslie and John. 

Enos Frankenbery with his family
Lewis Christison's father-in-law, Enos Frankenbery (my other great-great-grandfather) was also a miner. He owned a coal mine near LaVeta. In 1893, he was badly burned in an explosion and lost his sight in one eye. But he continued to mine and later had a silver quarry near Canon City. He died in 1918 of a heart attack and had spent the day going over  Colorado Fuel and Iron holdings, which he operated, with company officials.