Thursday, April 14, 2016

Employment Opportunities for Women in the Old West

Judy Garland from a scene in the movie The Harvey Girls, 1946. Public domain.

The first time I saw Judy Garland in a film was in The Harvey Girls. It may not have been her most famous movie, but it was a great film that helped show the world that women in the American West had far more employment opportunities than what was portrayed in most Westerns--employment as prostitutes, or if they were lucky, madams.

My last post was about divorce. Women in the Old West were not necessarily tied to a bad marriage due to financial constraints (although they could be trapped in an awful situation if they lived miles from anyone else!) In fact, there were many employment opportunities available to women, and in a few days I'll discuss some of the more  popular jobs that could be found in the medical field. 

Judy Garland and John Hodiak in The Harvey Girls.

I first wrote about the Harvey Girls in a post about Fred Harvey and his attempts to raise the standards of dining in the Old West. Fred Harvey believed all customers should receive good food and good service, and he was particular about the women he hired to work in his restaurants. The women had to be single, between the ages of 18 and 30, educated, attractive, and well-mannered. Harvey originally hired young men to serve the cowboys and travelers who came in to dine, but found that most of these travelers were men, and hiring attractive women added to the pleasant dining experience. 

These hard-working women were paid well for the times, worked hard, and were expected to represent Mr. Harvey in a respectable manner. They lived in houses with house mothers to watch over them, had strict curfews, and were discouraged from fraternizing with the customers, though it is estimated that over 5000 Harvey Girls eventually found their true loves through their employment! 

Women and Photography

Daguerreotypes were invented in France by Louis Jacques Mande Daquerre around 1839 and the process was slowly perfected so that by the 1860s, around the time of the American Civil War. Daguerreotypes were also high in demand during the time of the Civil War as families wanted pictures of their sons, husbands and fathers before they left for war, but they were also a popular form of creative expression for men and women and a way for women to make money to support themselves or supplement the family income.

Elizabeth Alice Austen in 1888, public domain.

There was a surprising number of female photographers, including Alice Austen (1866-1952) whose family was abandoned before she was born.

Trude & I Masked by Alice Austen, public domain.

Austen arrived at Staten Island with her large extended family and something inside her told her she had to document everything that was around her. Her uncle was a chemist, which may have influenced Austen's interest in photography.

The Staten Island Historical Society has negatives of over 8000 photographs taken by Austen at Staten Island. 

"Elderly Chinese American Man with Queue" 
by Laura Adams Armer, public domain.

Laura Adams Armer (1874-1963) studied at the California School of Design in San Francisco and was famous for her work depicting the Navajo and Chinese. Her photographs of Chinatown are included in the collection of the California Historical Society.

Early Morning Above Vancouver by Sarah H. Ladd. Published in Pacific Monthly, public domain. 

Sarah Ladd (1860-1927) was an early landscape photographer. It is unknown how she became interested in photography or if she ever had any formal training. Many of her photographs were published in Pacific Monthly Magazine

Making it Happen in the Old West! 

My admiration for Augusta Tabor should be obvious by now. From the day she married Horace Tabor Augusta took it upon herself to support her family in any way she could, from washing shirts for miners to baking bread and renting tents. Many women used their household skills to make money, particularly in the laundry field.

In 1854, a woman in Ravine, California was making 15 to 20 dollars a week washing clothes for the miners (Reiter). The woman was Clara Brown, a freed slave from Kentucky who eventually saved $10,000 to find work for other former slaves in Colorado. 

However, according to Joan Swallow Reiter's The Women: The Old West, "Laundering was only one of the ways an enterprising woman could strike it rich in the gold fields." According to Reiter there was a woman in Los Angeles who owned and operated a restaurant and made money on the side by offering lessons in swordplay to her customers. 

If at First you Don't Succeed...

Luzena Wilson traveled to Nevada City with her husband in 1849 with the intention of supplementing the family income with a boarding house. She discovered she had competition, but not enough to stop her. 

Wilson bought supplies at a local store, set up a tent restaurant and started serving food to the miners. She saved enough money to build a small boarding house, with room enough to accommodate between 75 and 200 homeless, sleepy miners. She continued to cook and clean for the miners, saved $500, then loaned out the money to grubstake the miners. She soon had her own store and her husband was working for her. One night the store caught on fire and Luzena thought all was lost, then her husband discovered he still had the days profits in his pocket, $500, and the couple started again. 

  • The Harvey Girls. Dir. George Sidney. MGM, 1946. 
  • Morris, Juddi. The Harvey Girls: The Women Who Civilized the West. Walker Publishing, 1994.
  • Reiter, Joan Swallow. The Women: The Old West. Time Life Books. New York, Canada: 1978.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Divorce in the American Old West

Engagement Rings. Photo by Piotr Frydecki.
Although the days of the American Old West ran concurrently with the Victorian Era, and in spite of the fact that one of the most powerful countries in the world, England, was controlled by one of the most respected women of the world, nevertheless, women were rarely allowed to choose their own future, particularly when it came to issues such as marriage and divorce. 

Queen Victoria wearing her white mourning headdress, painting byCarl Rudolph Sohn, 1883. Queen Victoria set the standards for moral behavior throughout her entire reign.

However, in the American West, where women were scarce and morals were, well, questionable at times, divorce was far more commonplace. Oddly, this changed the way divorced women were treated. Just as a widow would be forced to fend for herself, so would a divorced woman, and her situation was viewed with sympathy and compassion. 

A Painful and Shocking End

Divorces are never easy, but in the Old West where news traveled slowly (unless the news was about a recent discovery of gold) divorces could be particularly painful. In her book The Women: The Old West, Joan Swallow Reiter tells of one man who was visiting family back East and inquired about the welfare of his wife as he hadn't heard from her in some time. Unfortunately, the news was not good. His wife had divorced him six months earlier and never bothered to tell him. This was not a rare occurrence in the Old West where divorce was easily obtained, often against the wishes of one of the parties involved. 

The Tabor Scandal
Augusta Tabor, 1880.

One of the most famous divorces in the Old West occurred between Augusta Tabor, an adoring and loyal wife, and her philandering husband, Horace, who fell in love with a much younger woman, moved out of the home and left Augusta to fend for herself and care for their child alone.

Augusta refused to divorce her husband, to no avail. The divorce was finalized and the young "Baby Doe" became the new Mrs. Tabor. Horace Tabor died a broken man. He lost his fortune and his reputation. At the time of his death he was working as the Postmaster in Denver, but for a short time was forced to live in a mid-class hotel with his new wife and their children. 

Augusta Tabor, who had supported her husband's ventures every step of the way by cooking for miners, setting up tents, renting rooms in their home, and doing everything she could to provide for her family, was told she would receive nothing from her husband when he left her. However, she continued to work hard and became a shining example of the women of the American Old West--determined and proud. When she died she left their son an inheritance of over a million dollars. Baby Doe Tabor died in a shack outside a mine once owned by her husband. 

Divorce could be nasty business in many ways, and always painful, but most women found ways to make lemonade out of lemons. Augusta Tabor sold a lot of lemonade! 

"Baby Doe" Tabor, also known as "the homewrecker." 
The Odds...

According to Keith Wheeler's The Townsmen, single women often gathered in large groups to travel to the West in search of husbands, and for good reason. For instance, after the American Civil War, few men returned home and the wives and daughters of these deceased soldiers were forced to fend for themselves. This changed society in many ways, particularly marriage. 

An 1880 census showed that in Colorado the white population consisted of 1577 women and 32,654 men. (The Federal census only counted the white population at that time). The odds that these single women would find husbands were in their favor, but women were not always treated with the respect they desired or deserved, as we learned with the story of the Tabors. Thankfully, these situations were easily remedied. If a woman chose to seek a better life, in many states she was granted her request for divorce in as little as ten days and was then able to move forward however she should choose.

Taking Charge of Their Lives 

The difference between divorce in the Old West and other areas of the world is that women were able to make their own decisions about their future and take charge of their own lives while still retaining the respect of their peers. They were also able to support themselves with respectable employment without feeling censured by the local society. As Augusta Tabor proved, there were plenty of jobs to be had other than working in saloons.

Reiter quoted a young woman in her book who, around 1880, wrote to her family to explain the difference in social views. Young Nannie Alderson explained that in her home town in West Virginia, " have to have your pedigree with you to be accepted anywhere." 

Alderson was pleased with the society she found in the West. "What impressed me the most," she said, "was the fact that a girl could work in an office or a store, yet that wouldn't keep her from being invited to the nicest homes or marrying the nicest boys. This freedom to work Seemed to me a wonderful thing."  

  • Reiter, Joan Swallow. The Women: The Old West. Time Life Books. New York, Canada: 1978.
  • Wallace, Robert. "The Halls of the Mining Kings." The Miners: The Old West. Time Life Books. New York, Canada:1976.
  • Wheeler, Keith. The Townsmen: The Old West. Time Life Books. New York, Canada: 1976.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Colorado's Pike's Peak in the Days of Exploration

Albert Bierstadt's painting of Pike's Peak in Southern Colorado, public domain.

Pikes Peak is the highest summit in North America's Rocky Mountain's Front Range, towering above Southern Colorado at an elevation of 14, 114'. This lovely mountain has inspired one of America's most famous songs--America the Beautiful--and played an important role in the story of the American West. It has also had many names, but my favorite is the first known name--Sun Mountain Sitting Big! 
    Stereoscopic view of Ute Indians by C.W. Carter from the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, public domain. Photo taken approximately 1865.

    The First Known Explorers

    Although researchers are fairly certain that the Clovis Native Americans lived in the Pike's Peak area approximately 12,000 years ago, it is also believed that the Ute were the first to document Pike's Peak. The Ute were also known as the Blue Sky People according to Pike's Peak--America's Mountain, and the mountain was known to the Ute as Sun Mountain Sitting Big. It is not known for certain if any Ute ever reached the peak, but there can be no doubt that they tried, or at the very least carefully explored the region. After all, they did believe that their entire world was created at the location of the Sun Mountain Sitting Big!

Lt. Zebulon M. Pike, public domain.

Zebulon Pike and the Pike's Peak Expedition

In his forward to the printed edition of Zebulon Pike's journals and letters Donald Jackson aptly stated that "Nothing...Zebulon Montgomery Pike ever tried to do was easy, and most of his luck was bad,” This may be true to some extent, but he never stopped trying, and for this reason the Sun Mountain Sitting Big was named Pike's Peak.

Pike was originally from New Jersey and followed in his father's footsteps, joining the U.S. Army when he was twenty, serving under James Wilkinson Commander of the U.S. Army and a secret double-agent for Spain.

Wilkinson provided Pike with an important assignment. In 1805 Pike led an expedition to explore the upper Mississippi while Lewis and Clark were exploring west of the Missouri. Unfortunately, Pike incorrectly identified the river's source and made few friends with the local tribes, but he did return with important geographical information according to Bob Moore's "Zebulon Pike: Hard-Luck Explorer."

The following year Wilkinson sent Pike and his men on a dubious assignment that eventually led them to what is now Southern Colorado. This is when Pike's story truly captures my attention.

For years I made a two day drive from Texas to Colorado then back again to visit my grandchildren. I lived in Colorado most of my life, but spent a few years in the Texas Hill country, which I loved, but every time, without exception, that I drove close enough to view the mountains on these many drives--sometimes six times a year--to visit my family and saw the Colorado Rocky Mountains once again I cried like a child who hasn't seen her mother since childhood. If I made the drive through Eastern Texas, into Northern New Mexico, across Raton Pass and into Southern Colorado. Then I stopped by the side of the road to stare up at Pikes Peak, mesmerized by her magnificent beauty.

Pike's Peak mountain with Manitou Springs in the foreground. The image was taken from Stop at Pike's Peak on your Way to or from the Expositions (for 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition). Public domain.

So, how are my memories connected to those of Zebulon Pike? When Pike first set his gaze upon Sun Mountain Sitting Big he mistakenly thought he was staring up at a small blue cloud, then his heart was filled with amazement and wonder as he realized it was not a cloud at all, but a towering blue mountain. 

Of course, his first thought was that he would have to climb the mountain. My first thought was the same when I saw the mountain as a child, but we traveled to the top in a car packed tight with my large family that recently moved from Ohio and was eager to view the gigantic trees, thick forests, and abundant wildlife.

Pike settled most of his men in the City of Pueblo 35 miles south as it was nearing winter and he didn't want to risk the entire expedition, but he knew he had to return to the mountain, which he did. He called it Grand Peak. Unfortunately, he was unable to return until November. Pike and his men had reached one of the smaller peaks and were still in their summer uniforms. The men failed to reach the peak of the blue mountain, but they did climb Mt. Rosa and became the first documented Europeans to complete a high-altitude ascent of a North American mountain, so his luck wasn't all bad!  

The Name Game 

In 1820 Major Steven Long left with 22 men on the Long Expedition. His intention was to explore the mountain. They reached the base, but it took longer than expected and Long wanted to return home, but naturalist Dr. Edwin James who was also on the expedition convinced Long to give James a chance to climb the peak. Long agreed to wait for three days, and as it was a summer expedition with little to impede his progress, James easily succeeded in reaching the summit with two other men in just two days. 

They spent one hour at the top before returning to base camp with copious notes including documentation of what would become Colorado's state flower, the blue Columbine. Major Long was so impressed he decided to call the mountain James' Peak. 

Another famous explorer, John Charles Fremont, made the final decision to name the mountain Pike's Peak because Zebulon Pike was the first explorer to officially document the mountain's existence, but another mountain was later named after Dr. James and Long's Peak, the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park is named for Major Long, but Pike's Peak, thanks to John Fremont, is still named Pike's Peak.

"America the Beautiful"

I am not the first woman to be overwhelmed by the great beauty of this mountain. In 1893, 33 year old Katherine Lee Bates, a professor at Wellesley College (she also taught university level English, so I feel a connection with her, as well), traveled by train to Colorado Springs. She was scheduled to teach summer school at Colorado College, but fell in love with Sun Mountain Sitting Big.

Sitting on the mountain top, words, descriptions, and rhymes began to flow in the mind of Katherine Bates, and when she returned to her room at the famous Antlers Hotel she sat at her desk and wrote her most famous work. The mountain inspired Bates to write a poem that includes references to the wheat fields of Kansas, references I think of every time I pass these fields on my travels, as well. Pikes Peak brought "For purple mountain's majesties" to the page. The poem was combined with the music of Samuel A. Ward in 1910 and became "America the Beautiful."

This song, and "The Star Spangled Banner," will always be my favorites songs. I taught them to my children and grandchildren, explaining each reference in great detail, and believe they are two of the most important songs Americans should know by heart and hopefully feel deep within their souls when they hear the words.

  • Higgins, William J. The Trailblazers. The Old West. Time Life Publications. Canada: 1971. 
  • "History." Pike's Peak--America's Mountain.Accessed April 2, 2016. 
  • Moore, Bob. "Zebulon Pike; HardLuck Explorer." Zebulon Pike--The Real Pathfinder. Accessed April 1, 2016. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Baca: How the Young, Tough, Elfego Baca Fought and won the Frisco War

Deputy Sheriff Elfego Baca was 19 years old when he made his name as a fearless lawman and became a popular New Mexico folk hero. Photo courtesy of Legends of America

So, stop me if you've heard this one...

A young deputy, new to his job, arrests a bad cowboy and makes everyone angry. Dozens of men chase the deputy into a building and shoot it full of holes--estimates claim 4000 bullets in 30 hours. The building looks like a block of cheese. They believe the man is dead, then they smell something cooking. The deputy not only survived, he was frying bacon and eggs for breakfast.

Sound like a scene from The Lone Ranger or a black and white Western? This one's a true story.

Prickly pear cactus flowers in New Mexico. 
Photo by D.S. Dollman.

New Mexico is a place of great beauty, abundant wildlife, and exciting stories and legends, but it also has a violent past, from the Navajo death marches to Billy the Kid, there are true stories to be told in every town. This story, the story of young Deputy Sheriff Elfego Baca is fascinating because it is a mixture of truth and legend, but ultimately, the young man's survival is nothing short of a miracle. The story may have changed a bit in the retelling, but you really couldn't ask for more witnesses to the event!

The Early Life of a Legendary Hero

It's always best to start a story in the middle, but I already gave you a few juicy details, so lets jump back to the beginning. Baca was born in 1865 in Socorro, New Mexico.

A mountain view from Socorro, New Mexico. Photo by Puro spana, public domain.

Like all great heroes, he has a legendary birth. According to EPCC Libraries and Borderlands, Baca's pregnant mother was playing a game called Las Iglesias, (softball) and when she jumped up for a fly ball Elfego popped out. So it's not as exciting as the Virgin Mary's tale. He may not have landed in a manger full of hay, but he fell onto the grass!

Another story tells of how Baca was kidnapped by Navajo while still a baby, boiled in oil, then returned to his family unharmed. When he was 15 he claimed he was friends with Billy the Kid. (Billy the Kid spent a lot of time in New Mexico, but he was not in the state when Baca was 15). 

Pronghorn Antelope with the Magdelena Mountains in the background. Photo by CibolaLover.

As in most of the Southwest, New Mexico had its share of prosperous mining operations in the 1800s. In 1867 silver was found in the Magdalena Mountains and the area was suddenly flooded with nearly 3000 miners seeking their fortunes, as well as prostitutes, entertainers, gamblers and gunfighters. Socorro's reputation changed overnight to that of a party town.

Baca Makes an Adult Decision

Elfego Baca was no longer a child and wanted to prove himself. He had a mail order deputy badge and a stolen gun. This is where the story becomes a bit confusing for me because apparently Baca was in Reserve, New Mexico, trying to help with the troublemakers that had transformed Socorro into a rough town, but according to my memories of the years I spent in New Mexico the two towns would have been far apart. Regardless, Baca somehow ended up in reserve because there was trouble from all the miners who arrived in the mountains and in Socorro. Stay with me--it gets better. 

Fighting in Frisco

There were three plazas in Reserve where the cowboys liked to cause trouble. Baca overheard a story from Frisco's Deputy that drunk cowboys at Milligan's Saloon tied another cowboy to a post and used him for target practice. It was a horrid sight for the people of the town, but the deputy of Frisco refused to arrest the cowboys, fearing for his own life. 

It is not known if the deputy officially deputized Baca or, as another story claims, Baca deputized himself with his mail order badge. Regardless, Baca made an authoritative decision and went in search of the cowboys. He found them. He challenged a man named Charlie McCarthy who promptly shot Baca's hat right off his head. Baca responded by arresting the man and McCarthy and his friends started shooting at Baca. One man was killed by his own horse. 

"Oops. Sorry, Dude. Didn't mean to squish you!" (Photo by D.S. Dollman)

Baca was a brave man, especially for 19 years old, but he was also in over his head and grossly outnumbered. After a brief and likely phony trial the cowboy McCarthy was fined for drunk and disorderly. Baca realized he was in trouble and crept from the courtroom with his hat pulled low over his eyes. A mob formed and chased him into an adobe shack with dirt walls that were below ground level--this is what likely saved him, or course. 

One cowboy--William Hearne--actually tried to open the door and Baca responded with gunfire, killing Hearne instantly and sparking what became known as The Battle of Frisco, or The Mexican War, or the Baca County War.

A Short, but Miraculous Battle 

It didn't take long for 80 more cowboys to surround the building. They all took cover and started shooting at the building for approximately 36 hours while Baca lay still and quiet on the dirt floor. It grew dark and the cowboys, believing they had killed Baca, slept, but no one was willing to check the door. When they awoke the next morning, to their amazement they saw smoke coming from the adobe structure that was shot full of holes, and their stomachs started growling as they smelled the bacon cooking in a pan inside the "holey" building.

Baca surrendered to Socorro Deputy Frank Rose for the killing of Hearne. He was charged with murder and in August of 1885, Baca was found not guilty. 

Elfego Baca, public domain.

The Hero Becomes a Legend
Of course, with a story like that it didn't take long for the hero to become a legend. Baca held many political offices in his lifetime and even ran for congress. Eventually, Disney made a film about his life, and there was also a television series about Baca, but in my opinion his later life deserves a second post because it distracts from the beauty of the story of Baca's miraculous survival when the 19 year old man survived a shootout with 80 cowboys by lying on a dirt floor of an adobe shack.

  • "Elfego Baca Battles Anglo Cowboys." This day in History. The History Channel Website. Accessed April 1, 2016. 
  • Santana, David et al. "Elfego Baca Lived More than Nine Lives." Borderlands. EPCC Libraries. Originally posted 2003. Accessed April 1, 2016. 
  • "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca." IMDb. 


Friday, April 1, 2016

Audubon: North America's Birds and the Bird Mystery

John James Audubon by John Syme, December 31, 1825. Public domain.

He wasn't the first person to try and document all the birds of America, but he was certainly the most famous, and the legacy of John James Audubon lives on through The National Audubon Society and their diligent work to protect America's precious birds. 

Trumpeter Swan by John James Audubon, The Birds of America, 1836. Public Domain. 

As many of you know, I also write the blog Blessed Little Creatures and have a special place in my heart for the lovely birds that seem to congregate around my home wherever I live, from the tiny House Sparrows that fill the evergreens beside the house to the magnificent Turkey Vulture that perches in the tree at the end of the road, waiting for a speeding truck driver to provide his meal.

I have participated in activities through The National Audubon Society on many occasions and contributed to assist them in their work, but always wondered how the organization started, so I decided to begin the A to Z Bloggers Challenge with a post on John James Audubon, who did not start The National Audubon Society, but he did influence those who did start the society. Read on, it does make sense, I promise.

Portrait of John James Audubon from 19th century book. Public domain. 

Although John James Audubon was not the first person to try and document all of the birds of America (this was first attempted by the Scottish-American poet and illustrator Alexander Wilson) Audubon did create the stunning collection of 435 life-size prints collected in his book Birds of America. The collection consists of hand-colored. life-size prints of each bird made into 39 by 26 inch engraved plates first published as a series between 1827 and 1838 in Edinburgh and London, 

Passenger Pigeon by John James Audubon. Public Domain. 

It was the careful details, brilliant colors and lovely poses that made the book popular. In contemporary society we have cell phones and high-tech cameras, but in Audubon's day, people relied on the artist to introduce them to the wonders of nature in America, particularly the Old West where turkey vultures and hawks of many kinds rule the skies. 

Turkey Vulture by John James Audubon. Public domain. 

However, when it came to documenting all of the species he wanted to display, Audubon had a problem. He lived in the North. 

A Short Biography of John James Audubon 

John James Audubon was born in Haiti. His father was French, a ship's captain, and his mother was his French mistress. He spent much of his childhood in France with his stepmother where he learned about birds, nature, music and art. When he turned 18 he escaped to America to avoid Napoleon's army and lived at another family-owned estate--Mill Grove near Philadelphia, where he also met his wife, Lucy Blackwell. 

Audubon also enjoyed hunting, and it was during this time that he invented what we now know as banding as a method of tracking bird and animal migration--he tied strings around the legs of Eastern Phoebes to see if they returned to the same nest each year. They did. 

Audubon continued to draw as a hobby while working as a businessman and helping his wife raise two sons--Victor Gifford and John Woodhouse--but in 1819 he was jailed for bankruptcy. When he was released, Lucy and the children moved in with wealthier families in town to work as a tutor and John left with a young assistant, his art supplies and his guns to document the plants and wildlife of America.
The Barn Owl by John James Audubon. Public domain. 

In 1862, Audubon returned to England with his collection of paintings, found a printer for Birds of America in Edinburgh, then in London, and became an overnight success. He later worked with Scottish Ornithologist William MacGillvray to document the life history of each bird.

The Mystery of the Missing Birds

For many years now scientists have puzzled over five of Audubon's bird paintings. To put it simply, they could not locate the birds! These birds include The Townsends Bunting; Cuvier's Kinglet; Carbonated Swamp Warbler; Small-Headed Flycatcher; and Blue Mountain Warbler. It has been speculated that the birds became extinct before the formation of The National Audubon Society increased awareness of the importance of saving the species. Audubon preferred to paint his birds live, so it's also possible that he made mistakes when identifying birds. However, it is also rumored that Audubon sent for bird carcasses from a friend in order to complete the book because he could not travel across the country and needed examples to work with while painting. It's possible we will never know the answer to the question of the mystery birds. 

Marsh Hares by John James Audubon. Public domain. 

A Different Approach

Audubon traveled America on many more occasions to complete his work, then in 1843 he traveled to the American West for a different project, documenting animals for his book Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, which was completed by his sons. 

Lutheran Pastor John Bachman, Audubon's close friend and author of the text of Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. 

The text for Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America  was composed by Audubon's friend, Lutheran Pastor John Bachman. Both of Bachman's daughters were married to Audubon's sons. John James Audubon was 65 years old when he died and was buried at the Trinity Cemetery in New York.  

The National Audubon Society

The formation of The National Audubon Society is interesting considering John James Audubon generally used dead birds as models for his portraits. George Bird Grinnell, Editor of Forest and Stream magazine believed the wanton slaughter of birds in North America was reckless and appalling. In his time, Christmas bird hunts took place where young boys would take their guns into the forests and shoot as many birds as they could find to win the Christmas contest. Now we have a bird count. 

When Grinnell came across Ornithological Biography by John James Audubon he became determined to stop the slaughter of birds. The fact that he found this book was not a coincidence. Grinnell was a student at a school for boys run by Lucy Audubon. Grinnell founded The National Audubon Society and within a year of its founding had recruited 39,000 members. 

(I apologize for the late post. I generally write at night, but I woke up this morning to find an entire blog had disappeared! It's been a rough start. Thank you for reading.) 


  • "Audubon." The White House Historical Association website. Accessed April 1, 2016. 
  • "John James Audubon." History. Audubon website. Accessed March 30, 2016. 
  • Pollack, Michael. "Five Mystery Birds Among Audubon's Paintings." The New York Times. Published August 21, 2015. Accessed March 30, 2016. 
  • Tanner, Ogden. The Canadians. The Old West. Time Life Books. 1977: Canada.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Denver Colorado's Flood of 1864

Flooding in Kingsland, Texas. Photo copyright owned by Darla Sue Dollman.

Sad to say, I am intimately familiar with floods. When my husband and I first traveled to Texas in June of 2007 we spent three days looking for a home. We signed a contract on a beautiful, circular hillside house and started on the drive back. When we reached Oklahoma, my daughter called. "The town you are moving to is flooded!" she said. We turned to the news on the radio. Sure enough, Marble Falls, Texas was flooding. Marble Falls received 18 inches of rain in a few hours causing massive flooding and 11 deaths. My oldest son was almost swept away in the June, 1997 Spring Creek flood in Fort Collins, Colorado. Details regarding emergency responses to that flood are now used in flash flood training films for emergency responders.

Bubble in the flood. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Colorado has had more than its share of catastrophic flash floods. In fact, one of Colorado's first documented flash floods occurred on May 20, 1864 in Denver City and Auraria. Denver City and Auraria, struggling and competing mining towns, were perched on opposite banks of the Cherry Creek, but they had one thing other mining town's lacked, one thing that bonded the two towns together in a way that eventually caused them to merge--a stubborn and determined newspaper editor named William Newton Byers.

William N. Byers, Publisher of the Rocky Mountain News. Public domain.

William Newton Byers produced his first copy of the Rocky Mountain News on April 23, 1859. He has worked through the night beneath a sagging tarp used to keep the snow falling through holes in the roof off his press. Byers was trying to beat another editor, Jack Merrick, who was set to publish the maiden issue of his newspaper, Cherry Creek Pioneer, on that same day. Byers beat Merrick with the first Denver newspaper copy by 20 minutes and Merrick sold Byers his equipment to join the hoards of prospectors heading west in search of gold in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

In addition to his determination, Byers also had faith, faith in himself and the city. When the gold dried up and disappointed prospectors loaded their equipment to return home, Byers insisted the city would survive and used his newspaper to taunt those who moved on, calling them "Gobacks!" Byers was right. The city prospered, and Byer's Rocky Mountain News survived, as well.

The Denver City/Auraria flood followed the typical Southwest pattern of drought followed by flood, and there is a logical reason why this pattern leads to flash floods. When a drought occurs the plants die and there are no trees, grass, weeds--roots--to absorb and hold the rain when the drought eases.

In 1862 and 1863, Colorado experienced a severe drought and strong spring winds raged down the mountains in early 1863, increasing the fire danger. According to Keith Wheeler's The Townsmen, at 3 a.m. on April 19, 1863 a heavily intoxicated man stumbled into the Cherokee Hotel and kicked over the wood-burning stove. The wind fed the flames that jumped from building to building for three hours transforming the main business section of the city into a pile of ash and rubble with damages totalling $350,000--a lot of money in 1863! The fire was not, however, enough to stop the proud, determined people of Denver who quickly rebuilt their town while young boys in the neighborhood picked through the rubble, searching for nails they could straighten, making as much as $10 a day selling the nails to those performing the reconstruction.

In 1864, the rains returned to Colorado with a vengeance. Day after day, massive thunderheads rolled across Colorado's Front Range filling the lakes, streams, ditches, and thirsty soil with rain until the entire area was so saturated it could no longer absorb one more drop. Denver received average rainfall and the people of the city were unprepared for what was to come.

On May 20, 1864, a wall of water barreled down Cherry Creek and smashed into Denver City and Auraria. The wall of water was filled with trees, brush, broken furniture, and human bodies. It crashed into the Rocky Mountain News building, which Byers had built in the middle of the creek on stilts in an attempt to show his loyalty to both competing towns. The flood waters shredded the structure like scissors on paper, destroying the 3000 pound steam-powered press William Byers brought with him from the East.

At the time of the flood, William Byers was at home with his wife and family. They were rescued by boat from the roof of their home by Byer's friend, Major John Chivington who later led the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, killing 163 Cheyenne women and children.

The estimated damages from the flood of 1864 was over a million dollars and 20 people lost their lives. Nevertheless, the City of Denver survived, just as Byers predicted, and once again, William Newton Byers and the Rocky Mountain News survived. Byers had steadily invested in other ventures over the years and used his financial gains to purchase a competitor's operation. The Rocky Mountain News continued to provide news to the people of Denver until February 27, 2009, when the last edition went to press and the newspaper closed its doors forever.

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