Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kathy Weiser-Alexander, Legends of America, and Why I Write About History

I think I inherited my love of history from my father. My mother was always reading something, but my father typically stayed with one subject, American history, and most often the history of the Old West.

I also came from a large family and we spent our vacations, and just about every warm-weather weekend, hiking and camping in the Colorado mountains and exploring old mining camps and ghost towns. Even as a child I realized that, in addition to its stunning beauty, Colorado has a fascinating history that is both interesting and exciting.

As my children grew older, I started traveling through New Mexico and Texas six or eight times a year to visit my family and I realized that I had also become obsessed with the alluring beauty of the American Southwest. It was about this time, in 2005, that I first stumbled across what is now my favorite website--Legends of America. Legends of America is packed with stories of the history of America, ghost stories, legends, and vintage photographs. One could easily spend hours browsing through this site!

As I have now read so many of her stories, I recently decided to contact Kathy Weiser-Alexander, who created Legends of America with her husband, David Alexander, to interview her about her website and why she dedicates so much of her time to writing about history. I was surprised to learn that the website has been around since before 2003!

"Legends of America started on 2003, but, there was a forerunner called High Country Legends that lasted for about a year or so," Kathy Weiser-Alexander explained. "It was one of those free sites and basically was a training ground while I learned how to build a website, and began formulating where I wanted to go with it."

"When I started the website, I was actually working as a consultant, and traveled heavily throughout the United States," she continued. "I worked for months with a client in Denver, and another, in Vail and often stayed over weekends to pursue my own interests, driving to various destinations in Colorado and New Mexico. After a couple of years juggling the consulting and the website, I left my corporate job to pursue my dream full-time. Dave also had a job that required quite a bit of travel. I would then "hitch" a ride with him to places like Nevada, California, and Arizona. In 2009, he also left his corporate job to join Legends full-time."

Kathy explained that she travels with her husband throughout the year to collect stories. "We usually take 4 to 6 significant trips every year to various destinations. We have family in Kansas and Texas, so those destinations get covered frequently. We also try to take one big trip in the summer and one in the winter that can last from 2 to 4 weeks to extensively cover various areas. This winter, we spent a month in south Texas."

I can certainly understand--and relate to--Kathy's love of travel, as well as her love of stories. In my family, we have stories that were passed down through generations and my sister collected many of these stories during her genealogy research. I've been blessed with the opportunity to meet many people who are interested in history since I first started writing this blog and I've learned that people collect stories for many different reasons, so I asked Kathy why she started collecting stories about America's history. I was not surprised to learn that we write about history for the same reason--a love of American history passed down through generations.

"I don't officially have a history background, rather, a business degree and business background; but, have always loved history since I was a child," she explained. "Spending summers in an old miners cabin in the mountains of northeast New Mexico--Eagle Nest, Red River, Taos--my grandmother used to take us to ghost towns and Indian pueblos and that's when the love began. She knew lots of old-timers in the area and we would often visit them to hear old stories about places like Elizabethtown, Indian lore, wagon trains, and more. She was friends with the family who built Angel Fire and we watched it begin. By the time I was a teenager, I already had a large collection of antiques and had visited lots of ghost towns and historic places. Actually, High Country Legends was about the history and tales of this area; but, then it started to grow, adding tales of Colorado, Kansas, where I lived at the time; and, Texas, where I was born. Obviously, it has grown exponentially and will continue to. We will never be "done."

This makes perfect sense to me. Story collections, like genealogies, are never complete. I work on my stories every day, seven days a week.

As my love of American history seems limitless, I was surprised to learn that I do have favorite stories. My particular favorites have to do with the Irish and German immigrants, as these would include my ancestors. I also tend to favor stories about Colorado mining camps. I feel a connection, for some reason, with these people who came from all areas of the world to work the mines. I asked Kathy Weiser-Alexander if she favored certain stories and I was surprised to learn that she does!

"I most enjoy the tales about obscure people and little known places," she said. "As this all began in northeast New Mexico, those are probably my favorites. People like the gunfighter, Clay Allison, and the Colfax County War But, I am also fascinated with Baby Doe Tabor and a little known murderous family in Kansas called the Bloody Benders My favorite places to visit are still ghost towns and we've been to hundreds of them. Recently, I have also become obsessed with forts in the Old West. Of all these, I love Tombstone, Arizona the best; but Bodie, California; Bannack, Montana; and Rhyolite, Nevada are right up there."

Finally, Kathy Weiser-Alexander offered advice for those who want to learn more about the history of the town they live in. "Like you, no doubt, I always start on the Internet," she told me. "Outside of the obvious searches, I utilize genealogy sites and forums frequently for information. These initial searches often send me in several directions, and a tale about a particular place or person will often result in numerous articles, like Billy the Kid and Lincoln County, New Mexico."

"Then, of course, there is the oft forgotten local library, which will frequently have out of publication books, pamphlets, and articles relating to the area that can't be found anywhere else," she continued. "Then, of course, there are local museums and historical societies. If I'm really digging in, I will sometimes ask librarians and museum curators about local historians that I might talk to. I also find that visiting with folks at the local coffee shop, tavern, and owners of antique stores can provide a wealth of information, especially if I'm digging for "local legends."

I understand the desire to learn about our ancestors, as well as the desire to learn about the area where one lives, but I had a feeling there was more to Kathy Weiser-Alexander's dedication to American history, so I asked her what inspires her to continue with her project, year after year.

"Mostly I write about the history because I love it," she said. "I finally have a "job" where I love getting up and "going" to work. It's fun, creative, I get to travel, and meet all kinds of interesting folks. I'm also a trivia nut and love to spout what most of my friends call "useless information."

"On a more serious side, though, it is important to know how this great nation came about--the good, the bad, and everything in between," she continued. "There's no other nation like ours and to understand why that is, you've got to understand where we came from. I'm not one of those people that would love to have lived in another time, but, boy-o-boy, I sure would like to visit."

You can read Kathy Weiser-Alexander's stories at the website and blogs created by Kathy Weiser-Alexander and her husband, David Alexander:


Kathy Weiser-Alexander said...

Thank you so much Darla - love it!!! -- Kathy

Al Gates said...

Don't stop writing about the old west. Love it.


Mick said...

I have been following Kathy's work since the beginning and have learned much from her research, including the "useless information" she mentioned. Thank you, Kathy, for inlightning this ol' man. Thanks to you too, Darla, for allowing LOA fans to get to know more about Kathy and Dave.


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