Thursday, December 3, 2009

Las Vegas again...

We drove through Las Vegas, New Mexico on the way home from Colorado where we spent the Thanksgiving holiday. I love Las Vegas! It is such a romantic, historic little town. Everywhere you look there is something to entertain, even if it's just admiring the architecture of the buildings.

There seems to be quite a bit of renovation going on in this town, which is a good thing. These historic buildings are priceless and should not be torn down. They should be restored and protected as treasures.

The Las Vegas Museum was closed when we drove by and I was disappointed that we drove into town so late in the day. The museum is spectacular. It has so much to see, including artifacts from Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. A very interesting place, indeed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fort Croghan Day

Fort Croghan Day is coming soon! Fort Croghan Day is a celebration of the original Texas settlers who were brave enough to make the sometimes dangerous yet stunningly beautiful rolling hills of central Texas their home. Fort Croghan Day is held at the Fort Croghan Museum in Burnet, one of the first four military forts built by the U.S. Army in 1849 during their efforts to protect settlers from attacks by the Comanche.

Fort Croghan is remarkably well-preserved. The sturdy, oak buildings of Fort Croghan once served officers and soldiers alike with a hospital and officer’s quarters. The buildings also offered the promise of protection for local residents during possible attacks. It was this promise of protection that helped establish confidence in the settlers that their families would be safe, and Burnet and the surrounding area quickly grew to such an extent that military protection was no longer necessary.

Fort Croghan was closed in 1853. It is now a museum with Old West artifacts including a 100-year-old square grand piano, an 1852 ballot box, saddles and old jail doors from the county jail. Most of the items on display date back to around 1875. There are many cabins still intact, such as the blacksmith shop, stagecoach house, powder house, and schoolhouse.

On October 10th, the Fort Croghan Museum will hold its annual Fort Croghan Day, a demonstration of how life was lived on the Texas frontier and specifically within the walls of Fort Croghan. There will be demonstrations by craftspeople such as blacksmiths and bakers, and lessons held in the classroom of the school house. There will also be live music and, as always, plenty of people willing to talk about the history of the area. Fort Croghan Day will be held from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission and parking is free, though they do accept donations, which I am certain are greatly appreciated.

Fort Croghan is in Burnet, Texas at 703 Buchanan Drive, or Highway 29 West. It is open for visitors from April to October, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. You can call them at: (512) 756-8281. Their web page is at:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Old West Museum

When I was just a kid growing up in Colorado the most talked about event of the year was Cheyenne Frontier Days across the border in Wyoming. Rodeo, parades, concerts, food, and fun, Cheyenne Frontier Days had it all, and it still does, year after year. And year after year there has been dedicated people working behind the scenes to make Frontier Days special. On September 11, 2009, the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum will hold its Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony starting at 5 p.m. Tickets are $40 per person and the seating is limited, so call them as soon as you can to make your reservation at (307) 778-7290.

I also recommend checking out the Old West Museum web page because there is just so much going on at the museum that you don’t want to miss. They currently have a retrospective exhibit of the art of sculptor Chris Navarro. I had the privilege of seeing his work displayed at Colorado State University once and it is outstanding. The exhibit will be on display through October 14th. The museums website is at

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cowboy Poetry

I can’t think of anything more Western-romantic than cowboy poetry, which becomes more popular each year. In fact, the 24th Annual Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering will be held in Lewistown, Montana, August 14-16, 2009.

The goal of the gathering is to preserve the heritage of the open range with displays of the visual and oral cultural history of the West. According to the gathering’s organizers, 90% of the performers are ranchers, stockmen, and descendents of original homesteaders and settlers.

This is the oldest cowboy poetry gathering in the United States. The second oldest is held each February in Alpine,Texas. The Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering is listed as one of 1000 Places to See in the US and Canada before You Die in the travel directory by Patricia Schultz.

The Gathering offers poetry and music sessions as well as displays of western artwork, rope art, leather craft, and other vendor items. All of the day activities are at The Yogo Inn on Main Street in Lewistown. The Saturday night show, starring Baxter Black, Mike Logan and two kid radio contest winners, is at the Fergus Center for the Performing Arts, which is attached to Fergus High School.

A pin-pass for everything at The Yogo Inn is $8 per person. The night show is $17.50. Tickets may be charged with VISA or MC by calling 406-535-8278. The Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering is produced by the Lewistown Art Center, a non-profit organization and you will find more information on their website at:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July! Today is the day we celebrate our independence on the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed, but to me, the Fourth of July also represents a time to reflect on all those men and women who put their lives on the line each day to protect that independence. Thank you to our soldiers and your families. Thank your for your sacrifice, your service, your dedication. As our county employees and volunteers struggle in the 104 degree Central Texas heat to prepare for tonight’s spectacular show, I am grateful that they are the ones sweating their fannies off and not me! But I am also very much aware of the fact that without our soldiers, we would not have the freedom to celebrate—or not celebrate--as we choose.

The Fourth of July fireworks have always been one of my favorite ways to celebrate. I remember a time when I was a child and my parents dragged my bratty little brother and two fighting sisters up the side of the mountain to an isolated camping spot on the fourth of July. We walked at least half an hour at dusk to find “the special rock” a friend of the family had told us about, a place to perch and watch the fireworks display. I grumbled as much as my sisters, wondering how on earth we would possibly be able to see anything shooting off into the night sky when we were surrounded by towering pine trees and disgusting little biting bugs. When we finally reached the rock and situated ourselves, and I took the time to look out over the valley, I realized why my parents had struggled so hard to drag their four children up a mountain in the heat of summer. I could literally see for hundreds of miles. I swear I could see as far as the Wyoming border. I could see Kansas, New Mexico, even Texas—and I was just a tiny little girl on a rock in Colorado! There’s nothing like the American West to warm the heart and soul and remind you of the beauty of our world.

The fireworks in Denver were truly amazing that year. Moments I will never forget. According to the July 6, 1876 issue of the Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado held its first public celebration that same year. There were speeches and music provided by the Council Bluffs Band at a picnic held in a grove near the mouth of the Cherry Creek River, which is where the City of Denver also got its start so many years ago. Lawrence, Kansas held its first Fourth of July celebration in 1855 with a crowd of 1500. Helena, Montana held its first public Fourth of July celebration in 1865 at Owyece Park with a speech given by George M. Pinney.

When I was a child, I remember a few Fourths spent listening to speeches and music, but most of our celebrations involved lots of hot dogs, fresh fruit and lemonade, baseball games with the neighbors and swimming in kiddy pools. The Fourth of July to me is a time to celebrate with family, celebrate the beauty of our country, and celebrate our right to celebrate for any reason we choose. May you all have a happy Fourth of July!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lithuanian Settlers in Texas

I love stopping at roadside markers and have always enjoyed reading about the early settlers of the Old West. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Old West is the diversity in its settlement. From the Germans—including my ancestors--who brought their families and fantastic cooking to Texas, to the Welsh, Irish, and Mexican miners who brought their skills and legends to the Colorado coal mines, and the Chinese laborers who built the American railroads at the cost of many lives, the story of the Old West is truly the story of a changing World.

There is one group of world travelers who settled in Texas in the mid 19th century with their families and friends whose contribution to the local culture was overlooked for many years. They eventually joined the many German families in the area to create a thriving community in the Yorktown vicinity of De Witt County, Texas. These settlers were from Lithuania, and they traveled to Texas to start a new life in the Old West, but it was very much a new world to them, and they settled in a new state, as well!

Texas was its own country from 1836 until it was admitted into the Union of the United States of American in 1845, but the borders of Texas were not formally established until 1850. According to the Texas Settlement Region website, the first Lithuanian family to arrive in Texas was most likely that of David and Dora (Scholze) Stanchos, who made their home near Yorktown in 1852. Undoubtedly, there were many other Lithuanian immigrants who followed their path. These early immigrants would have been drawn into the American Civil War in the 1860s and perhaps had family members fighting for both armies, as happened with many families during the Civil War, especially in Texas!

Twenty two years later an additional 70 immigrants arrived from Lithuania from the province of Gumbinnen, which was part of East Prussia at that time. These immigrants were likely trying to escape cultural and religious oppression in their homeland, which was torn apart during the Napoleonic Wars. These settlers reached the American shores at the ports of Galveston and Indianola. Most of the Lithuanian settlers made their living through farming. They and their families were buried at Jonischkies Cemetery.

There is now a roadside marker near Yorktown commemorating these early Lithuanian settlers. It is located at FM 119 and Alvis Road about 4 miles south of Yorktown near Royal Oaks.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fort Croghan: A Fun and Fascinating Place to Visit

A visit to the Texas Hill Country brings many surprises. In addition to the amazing beauty of the rolling hills and fields bursting with spring flowers, there are also a large number of carefully preserved historic sites. Near the city of Burnet in central Texas lies the third of the first four military forts built by the U.S. Army in 1849 during their efforts to protect settlers from Comanche attacks.

Fort Croghan was named for Colonel George Croghan, who has a fascinating story of his own. Croghan was a military hero who fought in the War of 1812. As a 21 year old officer, Croghan successfully defended Fort Stephenson in Ohio in a battle with British forces led by General Proctor. Croghan was later promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in the Mexican War and later retired to New Orleans where he served as their postmaster.

The Texas fort served the local residents well. It had a large, four-room log building to serve as a hospital. It also had four log buildings serving as officer’s quarters and many other buildings. All buildings were made of oak, which is the logical choice in the Live Oak-covered hills of Texas. In 1852, the fort became the headquarters of the Second Dragoons. The presence of the soldiers in this area built confidence in settlers and soon, Burnet and the surrounding area was large enough to establish its own county. As the town and county grew, the need for protections provided by the fort diminished. In 1853, the U.S. government decided there was no longer a need for soldiers in the area and Fort Croghan was closed.

Fort Croghan now has a museum with a collection of Old West artifacts that includes a 100-year-old square grand piano, "pump" organs, and an 1852 ballot box. There are saddles and side-saddles, and old jail doors from the county jail. Most of the items on display date back to around 1875. In addition to the many cabins still intact, there is also a blacksmith shop, stagecoach house, powder house, and schoolhouse.

Fort Croghan is in Burnet, Texas at 703 Buchanan Drive, or Highway 29 West. It is open for visitors from April to October, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. You can call them at: (512) 756-8281. Their web page is at:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Foot-Stompin' Music

I love music, but I must confess that as a history writer I do not explore the music world as much as I do the world of the past. I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across the myspace page of Curbside Jimmy and Washboard Jean and listened to some of their songs. Their rendition of “Will the Circle be Unbroken” reminded me of a childhood Sunday morning. Their music has a down-home, country feel that left me tapping my feet, humming and smiling. I was equally surprised that I somehow managed to catch Curbside Jimmy for a quick interview, and at the end of the interview, he made some interesting comments about history, as well!

DSD: Jimmy, your website identifies you and Jean as the sole survivors of the Curbside Jug Band, a popular San Antonio band from the 1990s. Can you tell us a bit about this group?

Curbside Jimmy: It is true that we played out of San Antonio. However, we weren't popular. We always got a good response wherever we played but we were never well known. Live music is not popular. Most live music venues end up being musicians watching other musicians. The band started in 1999 when I was a cab driver. I kept a guitar or banjo in my car. Over time several of us began playing at cab stands when we were waiting for fares. Hence the name curbside. That’s where we started, on the curbside.

DSD: When did you first start playing music?

Curbside Jimmy: My grandmother gave me a harmonica when I was about 12. I have carried one ever since. I started playing guitar as a young teenager. In the 60's I played bass with a band rock and roll band called the Runaways. Also as a teenager, I played bass with a country band at an ice house on Sunday afternoon. I got paid $8.00 for 4 hours and that was good money for a kid on Sunday. The rock and roll band paid better. We each usually got $25.00. The rock and roll band actually was popular.

DSD: How would you describe your music, and what attracts you to this particular style?

Curbside Jimmy: What I play now is raw and unpolished blues and old country. I am a minimalist in everything I do. The music sounds the way it does mostly because I am slightly awkward, and not good at copying others. With a lot of practice I have become little less awkward, so it comes across as relaxed I guess. My mistakes have started sounding like they belong in the music.

DSD: How does one learn how to play a “jug?”

Curbside Jimmy: It helps if they have played bass and have bass lines rolling around in their head. The jug is played by vibrating the lips while blowing into the jug. The most important thing is knowing what a bass part sounds like. The technique takes practice.

DSD: You play the Guitarron, as well. What exactly is a Guitarron and how does the sound add to your music? Is it difficult to play?

Curbside Jimmy: A guitarron is a bass instrument that is made in Mexico and played in different types of Mexican music. It serves the same function as a string bass. I find that it has a stronger presence acoustically than a string bass.

DSD: You apparently have strong feelings about electronic sound tracks and virtual instruments. Could you explain that for us?

Curbside Jimmy: I don't have any feelings about it. If someone makes music by programming a machine that is real skill. Most people love electronic drums. They are used in most commercial recordings. Virtual instruments offer a degree of precision that persons such as I can't match. But there is a warmth and a sense of sincerity that is lost in virtual music. I can offer warmth and sincerity in my music. A musician has to trade one for another. Both goals are worth while.

DSD: How do you feel about musicians who record their own music?

I must like them because I am one of them. Any other song I record is public domain.

Jimmy: I need to say something about music and history since you are a history person. Music gives a very accurate account of history as experienced and perceived by the poor and middle class. A person could read a book and find out how dangerous train travel was 100 years ago and back. The same person could listen to the "Wreck of The Old 97" and get a clear picture also.

The myspace page for Curbside Jimmy and Washboard Jean can be found at:

The Fastest Gun in the West!

After learning about Rodd Redwing from Western writer Erv Bobo, I now believe there really was a “fastest gun in the West”--in Hollywood, California! Rodd Redwing (1904-1971), a full-blooded Chickasaw, was a Hollywood actor who appeared in over eighty movies and television shows including Key Largo, Elephant Walk, and Gunsmoke. He made his film debut in 1931 in The Squaw Man. He also coached Henry Fonda, Dean Martin, Anthony Quinn, Jerry Lewis, Glenn Ford, Alan Ladd, and other Hollywood greats in the use of guns, knives, tomahawks and whips. Redwing was able to hit a target at twenty feet in two-tenths of a second. One of his most famous stunts was tossing a knife at a target while at the same time reaching for his gun, drawing, and firing to make a bullet hole for the knife to stick into when it reached its mark.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Natural Fort

When my children and I first moved to Fort Collins, Colorado we spent many days in nearby Cheyenne, Wyoming enjoying the Old West atmosphere. One day, as we returned to Fort Collins, we noticed what appeared to be a natural fort. It is actually a rock formation carved by centuries of wind and rain. It is covered with graffiti--some dating back to 1866--and often littered with beer bottles and garbage from insensitive troublemakers. This natural fort rock formation was the place where many brave Crow, or Apsaalooke, and Blackfoot hunters died when fate brought them together as they searched for food during a drought.

In 1831 a lack of rain forced the buffalo to follow the streambeds and the Crow and Blackfoot, staunch enemies whose tribes were generally on opposite sides of Yellowstone, both risked the wrath of their foes to follow the source of food. The odds were against the Blackfoot hunters when 160 men encountered 600 Crow near what is now the Wyoming and Colorado border not far from the popular Terry Bison Ranch. A fierce battle ensued and the Blackfoot hunters took cover in the natural fort, but they were quickly overcome by the Crow. All 160 of the Blackfoot hunters were killed along with forty of the Crow.

The natural fort is a mysterious place where the wind blows through stone gateways with a howling, haunting sound. Every few feet there are rain-carved holes in the rocks, deep enough for individuals to take cover. There are some areas shaped like rooms with high walls. Walking through these isolated sections one can imagine the fierce, determined warriors of days past crouched in the sand, scratching into the ground with sticks and stones, planning their defense.

Through the years the natural fort was stripped of all remains of the battle, including arrowheads and other artifacts. At one time there was a marker explaining the battle but this, too, has disappeared with time. The January 2007 issue of The Senior Voice reprinted an article by Greeley, Colorado historian Hazel E. Johnson who explained the battle for those who weren’t around when the marker was still in place. Johnson’s father once homesteaded on the property where the natural fort still stands.

Eventually, Interstate 25 came through the area and the natural fort was forgotten by many, but my children and I will never forget the enigmatic feeling of this place. It is sacred, a hallowed ground where dedicated family men surrounded their enemies and equally dedicated family men crouched in holes and took shelter in cold, dark, stone rooms, waiting for the inevitable.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Interview with a Western Writer

I have always been a fan of Western movies and literature particularly when they’re comedies, and I recently had the opportunity to interview my favorite funny man and Western author Erv Bobo. I own, and have read, most of his books. Bobo is a talented, intellectual writer known for both humorous and serious Western novels, short stories, political essays and satires. Throughout his extensive writing career, Bobo has continuously produced well-written, entertaining tales, including at least twelve action stories to various men's magazines and twelve western stories to Far West Magazine. His books include The Velvet Brand, The Cheyenne Brand, Seven Against Texas, The Velvet Scar, and All the Glory Gone. He was nominated for the Western Writers of America SPUR Award twice. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers Guild. He currently has a series of four fiction books and a collection of short stories in print and another fiction book coming out this month. You will find books by Erv Bobo at:

DSD: Mr. Bobo, your characters and plots are both interesting and unique. How do you come up with ideas for your books? Are they based on real people?

Bobo: Several of the short stories in All the Glory Gone--those dealing with a callow youth contending with an old-timer - are inspired by (but not based on) my father, whom I came to know only near the end of his life.

I think every writer puts some of his own character into his creations and, as I explain in one of the "story behind the story" notes in that volume, I surprised myself when re-reading those stories and finding how much of my own circumstances found their way into tales of the old west.

As for the Hellbenders series, I flatter myself in thinking that many of the off-center characters might have been created by Lewis Carroll if he had imagined a Wonderland of sagebrush and cactus.

DSD: With your intellect and talents I have no doubt you could choose any number of topics to explore in your writing. Why did you choose the Wild West?

Bobo: I've always been a fan of western movies and of some of the better western writers, but my entry into the field had a lot to do with formulas. Although I'd had some success in writing for men's magazines, they were stories that required heavy infusions of sex and violence. When I wrote my first western story, I was a new father and wanted to write something I would someday be proud to show my children.

Aside from that personal note, I see the West as a stage on which any kind of story can be played out: comedy, tragedy, love stories - anything.

Although it was not a reason for writing, I soon found that the writer of westerns is heir to a kind of shorthand: If your character enters a saloon, there is no need to describe the interior; everyone has seen enough western movies that he'll supply his own mental image, leaving the writer free to write about the action.

DSD: Is there a reason why you choose to approach the Wild West from a humorous perspective?

Bobo: Yes. My first humorous story was “The Night They Shot the Piano Player.” The title came first and as I tried to frame a story that fit it, I came up with a simple theme: that Texans don't care who wins as long as they get in on the fighting. In shaping the story toward that end, I had to invent believable characters that would live up to that theme.

Wayne Denton and Roy Lee McAllister performed just as I wanted them too, with a certain kind of batty logic, and I liked them so well I used them for two more short stories (all three were later incorporated into The Velvet Brand.)

Then I thought about doing a novel about them but I had only the title and a mental picture of the climax. Novel lengths are daunting for short story writers (which is why I included the short stories as chapters) but once I had those and the climax, everything else fell into place.

DSD: Lifestyles in American have changed tremendously since the days of the Wild West. If you could bring back one aspect of life in the Wild West, what would it be?

Bobo: This may shock you: I'd like to see every man with a six-gun on his hip and every woman with a Derringer in her reticule.

Now, it's not that I want to see people shooting one another at high noon. But what I like most about that period is that, in the absence of duly constituted law, people were responsible for their own lives and their own actions. The carrying of guns symbolizes that.

Too often today, we expect the government to take the responsibility we won't take for ourselves. In effect, we place our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor into the impersonal hands of politicians and bureaucrats and then we listen to the evening news and wonder where everything went wrong.

DSD: You obviously know a great deal about the Old West. If you could meet one person from this time period, who would it be?

Bobo: Wild Bill Hickok. Once you strip away the myth and the fluff of the dime novels, you're still left with an authentic man of the west. Hickok was a wagoneer, a hostler, a spy for the Union, a lawman and so much more. Probably one of the best gunfighters and most accurate shots of that era. Even today, he is the model for every fictional town-tamer you've read about or seen on a movie screen.

Next choice would be Buffalo Bill Cody. Aside from his many adventures - as authentic as Hickok's - his Wild West Show not only kept the West alive beyond it's allotted time, he introduced the West to most of the civilized world.

DSD: Thank you, Erv! I can't wait to see your next book!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Billy the Kid--Up Close and Personal!

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

He was a competent dancer and neat dresser who wore a plain, Mexican sombrero and had a reputation for charming the ladies. With his big blue eyes and boisterous personality it’s no wonder Billy the Kid became a popular symbol of the American Old West!

Billy the Kid was also known as Henry McCarty, William H. Bonney, and numerous other names. He was born in the Irish tenements of New York City, but his mother and stepfather later moved the family to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was often in trouble as a teen, but many believe this was a matter of necessity as he tried to help his mother support the family. He was a key player in what was known as the Lincoln County War, a battle between wealthy ranchers and merchants in Lincoln County, New Mexico. He is said to have died when he was 21 years old on July 14, 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, while staying at the home of his friend, Pete Maxwell. Sheriff Pat Garrett tracked the Kid to Maxwell’s house and shot him in the dark, then later wrote a book about the young man. Billy the Kid’s grave is also located in Fort Sumner.

And although many people believe the above to be true, unfortunately, just about every detail of Billy the Kid’s life is disputed!

In spite of the controversies surrounding the life and death of Billy the Kid, there is a place in New Mexico where one can find an interesting collection of some of his former possessions. The Billy the Kid Museum is located in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and the owners of the museum believe they have the most accurate details and evidence of this famous outlaw’s life and death listed and exhibited in their displays. The museum is a large building packed wall to wall with artifacts of the American West, including many items that once belonged to Billy the Kid, such as his rifle, chaps, spurs, and an original “Wanted” poster. They even have a lock of Billy the Kid’s hair!

Other items on display at the museum include over 150 firearms and numerous vehicles, including stagecoaches, fire trucks, and classic cars. The museum’s collection was compiled by Ed Sweet, who grew up in Melrose, East of Fort Sumner. Sweet was a well-liked community member who collected antiques and historical artifacts from the area for many years before opening the museum with his wife, Jewel, in 1953. The museum is now run by his son, Donald Sweet, Donald’s wife, Lula, and their son, Tim.

There are many, many rooms in this building and it takes a good hour, perhaps more, to see everything it offers. It is a truly enjoyable experience and well worth the time, particularly if you are a fan of Billy the Kid and the American Old West. The museum is located thirty minutes west of Clovis at 1435 E Sumner Avenue on the main road in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. You can check out the Billy the Kid Museum website or call them at (575) 355-2380.

I also wrote a short history article on Fort Sumner, which mentions Billy the Kids connections to that area.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Incomparable Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel sits high on a hill overlooking Estes Park, Colorado, about an hour’s drive from Denver. It is a 138 room Georgian style building and the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s novel The Shining. It is one of the more popular tourist sites in Colorado and a great deal of its popularity rests on rumors that it is haunted by former owners Freelan Oscar and Flora Stanley. In spite of its haunting reputation, it is a lovely old building with breathtaking views and well worth the drive up the Big Thompson Canyon. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has seen many famous guests, such as Theodore Roosevelt and John Philip Sousa. It is open year round and even offers ghost tours.

The Stanley Hotel is named after F.O. Stanley, a successful American businessman who owned and operated the Stanley Motor Carriage Company with his brother, Francis Edgar Stanley. They invented the Stanley Steamer Automobile and other popular vehicles. In the early 1900s Tuberculosis was still a serious threat to the health of Americans and in 1903, it ravaged the body and soul of F.O. Stanley. He knew that if he didn’t do something drastic and fast he would soon be dead, and his beloved wife, Flora, would be alone. He convinced Flora to join him on a trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where he was told the mountain air would clear his lungs. Flora was a dedicated and devoted woman who was passionately in love and would gladly follow her husband anywhere.

They made the trip in a Stanley Steamer. They stayed in a friend’s cabin for the summer and fell in love with Estes Park, which is completely understandable to anyone who has been there. The Stanleys decided to stay. They built the luxurious Stanley Hotel between 1906 and 1909 and worked side by side supervising the staff and entertaining the guests. Flora often performed piano solos for visitors in the music room. Flora, who was equally in love with their former home in Maine, eventually convinced her husband to build a replica of that home about a mile down the road. The cool, mountain air and pleasing company must have been just what F.O. needed because he lived another thirty-seven years, until 1940.

For more information on the Stanley Hotel, check out their website at:

Monday, February 9, 2009

St. Elmo, Colorado--A Lovely Little Ghost Town!

When my family first moved to Colorado we were fascinated with its history, and we still are! One of the more exciting aspects of Colorado is its extensive mining history and when I was a child we spent many weekends and holidays driving through the Rocky Mountains visiting former mining towns turned ghost towns.

Saint Elmo livery circa 1880-1890 - Saint Elmo, Chaffee County, Colorado, Katie E. Clark, Dora Launder, and Herman D. Clark pose with horses in front of a framebarn. They wear dark bustled dresses, wide brimmed hats, and a sack suit with gold chain. Sign reads: "Levi Block Mens and Boys Clothing Snag Proof Boots and Shoes." The Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Department. 

One ghost town well worth the drive is St. Elmo located west of Buena Vista off Hwy 24. St. Elmo is a remarkably well-preserved ghost town with 24 of its original buildings still intact, including the church, general store, saloon, and jailhouse, and most of these buildings still have their original outhouses! At one point, St. Elmo had over 150 mine claims and was on its way to becoming a bustling city. Of course, Cripple Creek, also located in the southern part of the state, once had over 4500 acres of mining claims. Nevertheless, by all accounts, St. Elmo was a happy, busy place, even if it was smaller than other nearby towns.

St. Elmo was started in the late 1870s at the height of the gold rush. It was first called Forrest City and was later renamed, possibly after a popular fictional character from the 1859 book St. Elmo by August Jane Evans. In this book the main character, St. Elmo Murray, experiences a spiritual awakening through the influences of a woman named Edna Earl, which is rather romantic, and as you drive through the area with its breathtaking scenic views and sunsets that explode with color, the thought of a romantic title for this town seems perfectly logical.

Annabelle Stark and her brother, Tony, were the last residents of St. Elmo. Annabelle’s personal history fits well with a romantic ghost town. By all accounts, Annabelle was an attractive and charming young woman who certainly had a bounty of handsome suitors available, but some sources claim she remained single and attended few social functions. Annabelle had two older brothers and this could explain why she rarely attended social functions if they were over-protective of their lovely sister! It was rumored that Annabelle was engaged to a man in Salida, but the engagement was broken with no explanation. However, at least one Colorado magazine lists Annabelle’s name as Annabelle Stark Ward, which may indicate that she once married and perhaps divorced, or was widowed at a young age.

The Starks owned and operated the Home Comfort Hotel and a retail store that once supplied the miners, as well as the telegraph and post office. As often happens in mining towns, the more than 2000 residents moved on in the early 1920s when the mines stopped producing, but the Starks decided to stay. They purchased homes and properties as the rest of the miners and their families left, but without a town, the properties lost their value. In 1922, the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad (DSP&P), which brought many of the miners and families to the area in the first place, changed its route and no longer traveled to St. Elmo. After their brother, Joe, and their mother passed away, Annabelle and Tony, who was once a telegraph operator for the DSP&P, remained. In later years, Annabelle was often seen patrolling her properties with a shotgun, and considering the remoteness of the location, I can’t say I blame her!

The drive to St. Elmo is worth the time, especially in the fall when the trees change their colors. St. Elmo now has eight full-time residents and all buildings are privately owned, so please be respectful when you visit. The general store is open from May to October. There are numerous websites that discuss St. Elmo, and I would recommend checking them out and taking notes before visiting this lovely, little town. I have a feeling Annabelle Stark would be more than happy to know her town still attracts visitors!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my Wild West History blog! I love reading and writing about history and am particularly fond of stories from Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. I will occasionally take a trip up to Wyoming, but I am far more familiar with the states where I have lived for the past forty some years. Each of these states has an amazingly rich history filled with people and events that thrill me, chill me, make me smile, and sometimes make me cry. My ancestors are, for the most part, scattered between Ohio and Texas and with the help of my little sister and my cousin, I now have a carefully researched genealogy filled with fascinating stories that I also hope to share on this blog. Please, leave me a comment, share your own story, and make suggestions for topics because I also love talking about history! Enjoy!

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...