Sunday, August 28, 2016

Norton

Norton Colorado
            Norton is like many of the little Post Offices that served the early settlers on the Colorado High Plains.  It was located in a ranch house and probably took its mane from the rancher.  Small communities would grow up in the area and sometimes retain the name. 
            Today the land is pretty empty, a few trees and sheds mark where homes had once been.  Here at Norton, there was a small cemetery, which is still used.  When I pulled off the road to take some pictures, a car pulled up and stopped.  A youngster walked up and said hi, I returned his greetings.  He said I could walk out there it was okay, I replied no thanks for I did not have my boots on for tromping in the weeds.  So I took my pictures and listened to him chatter away. 

            Pointing towards the back of the grave yard, he said that is my brother’s best friend buried back there, the cross made of horseshoes.  Looking quizzical, I asked him, what happened, expecting him to relate an accident of some type.  Instead he said it was something wrong with his heart, my brother’s friend was 13 when he died.  That was a loop I wasn’t expecting.  We talked a bit longer about the country side and then he went on down the road and I went about taking more pictures of the area. 
            Norton is located along the Palmer Divide area in Eastern Colorado, elevation 6500-7000 feet.  The winters can be pretty cold and harsh and the spring storms pretty nasty, hail falling like snow.  At this elevation there is not a long growing season for farming, so it is ranching in the area.  There are thick woods that line vast rolling meadows, making for great grazing for the bovines. 


            Tucked back in one of the meadows is a ranch house that probably housed the Norton Post Office.  I found the cemetery first sand it was not until I did some research that found out there had been a Post Office nearby.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Republican River Road

Hale Colorado


            Like so many little burgs off the main highway, the community of Hale has disappeared into the dim reaches of memory.  Situated on the Republican River in Eastern Colorado, almost to the Kansas border, Hale had been a busy little place back in the late 1800’s.  The Republican River was a busy route to the Colorado gold fields in late 1800’s.  Freighters used this route for a number of years hauling to the mountains, Wagon trains of 100 wagons or so were quiet common.  For brief time a stage line operated through the area in 1859-60.  This is the stage route Horace Greeley rode to Colorado, of “Go West young man, Go West.” 
            The French had been in this area since the 1600’s trapping and exploring, they had established outposts along the river.  The Spanish traveled through the area also, looking to see what the French were up to.  It was an area of intrigue between the European rivals until the French sold it to the United States in 1802, The Louisiana Purchase.  This brought more explorers and curious people to the New West.  Zebulon Pike traveled the area in 1812, exploring and charting the newly purchased land of the United States.  At the time the early Europeans had gotten along with the native Indian tribes, using some Indians as their guides and trading with them.  The history of the French and Spanish in the area is pretty slim and a lots has to do with the interest lying in US history, not other countries. 
            So when gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains, lots of the trails West had been laid out and mapped.  With large wagon trains rolling through, small trading posts were built by the road and a few settlers settled in.  The bottom land was rich for crops and grazing cattle.  Dotted along the Republican River from the Kansas border to its headwaters were numerous communities, mostly no more then a dozen souls living there.  With the homesteaders, the area became a bit more civilized and Post Offices came into being along the river. 
            The Hale Post Office was established in 1887 until 1945 when it was moved to another location a few miles away.  On the map from the early 1900’s, there are several other communities listed as being in the area.  One of these communities was Bonny, which lent its name to the new dam/reservoir being built in the 1950’s.  Bonny Dam gave some new life to the general store at Hale.  The store became a bait and tackle shop also selling items to the visitors of the lake and there were gas pumps. 

            Things change and Hale lost lots of its clientele as people changed the way they lived and then Bonny Lake was forced to be drained by the state of Kansas and that sealed the fate of the little country store. 
            What had been a nice flowing river had trickled into a tiny stream, the drought dried up lots of springs and tilling changed the run off.  There is still plenty of water but it is way down in the ground.  When Bonny was drained, lots of the close to surface water disappeared also.  The woods are thick offering forage and protection for the abundant wildlife in the area. 


            Hale still has its road sign, the old store still stands and there are a couple houses in the area.  For now it is the occasional rancher going through the area checking on the cattle.  The stagecoach that stopped nearby is no more.  The boaters and fisherman now go other places.  High overhead floats the Eagle, a reminder that some things do not change. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Fort Wallace

Fort Wallace Kansas

         Situated on the plains of western Kansas, The Army post is but a memory.  Built to protect travelers on the smoky Hill Trail from Indian attacks during the 1860’s.  Ft Wallace was one of many garrisons the Army constructed on the prairie.  The post cemetery is the only reminder that an Army garrison had been in the area.  Wallace Township cemetery is south of the military graveyard, and is probably the main reason the site did not become a collection of ruins. 

        When Ft Wallace was abandoned in the 1880’s, many of the soldiers that had been buried there were exhumed and reburied at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas, except for the soldiers that had died of cholera.  There were numerous civilians buried there also, they were given a wooden grave marker with a short eulogy about their death and there are some graves of scouts the Army used.  There is also a memorial for the soldiers that were killed by Indians during the Indian wars. 
        It is a rather somber yard to pause in and ponder.  One tends to forget the turmoil and hardship people had to endure back then.  Nearby is the Pond Creek state station and then the town of Wallace, an end of tracks railroad town.  The site of numerous bloody conflicts, among the Indians, the travelers, railroaders, gamblers and assorted wild times on the plains. 
        The state operates a museum at Wallace, Kansas and here at the Ft Wallace Museum, one can see many of the travails people faced when traveling the prairie during the 1860’s and 70’s.  The museum is on the site of the Pond Creek stage stop, just south of the railroad tracks and a couple of miles from Fort Wallace.  Here at the museum one can see the relationship between the people of the plains, their moments of tragedy, the joys of success and the celebrations of life. 
        The scouts the Army hired were not military, they were civilians, contracted to the military.  The scouts were the eyes and ears of the Army.  They knew the terrain, where the water was and had dealt with the Indians in the past.  Many had been Mountain Men, trappers and had made numerous trips across the plains. 
        One of the more famous scouts was Kit Carson, who had been chief scout for Colonel John Fremont, when he made his trips across the west.  The Pathfinder had taken various routs across Kansas to the Rocky Mountains, with trapper Kit Carson as his scout and guide. 
        Two of the scouts still buried at the Ft Wallace cemetery did not have a long life.  They were involved in the Battle of Beecher Island, where they lost their lives.  Beecher Island was one of the unusual fights with the Indians.  A party of Indians surprised a group of soldiers and killed some of the troopers before being driven off.  But the soldiers were trapped in the Aricakree River bottom by the Indians. 
        After an extended siege, the Indians withdrew from Beecher Island, when Troops from Ft Wallace could be seen on the horizon riding to the rescue.  The soldiers had been able to hold off the Indians with their repeating rifles.  It was also during this battle that the Indians lost one of their most feared warriors, Roman Nose.  Roman Nose was a revered warrior among the Cheyenne Indians standing over 6’5”, a giant of a man. 

        The site of the Beecher Island Battle has some conflict as to the actual site.  There are some that say the government is wrong that the fight took place further to the west in a steeper ravine.  Then things like that make for interesting conversation.  One thing for certain, the troops were from Fort Wallace.  There were numerous other battles the troopers of Ft Wallace were involved in.

        In the 1880’s when the fort was abandoned, it sat empty for some time with a caretaker.  With settlers moving in and homesteading in the 1890’s, the building material at the old fort became prized.  The settlers would sneak into the fort at night and haul out loads of lumber and stone for their home.  When the caretaker did nothing and was in different, the settlers stared driving their wagons in during daylight and scavenging what they wanted.  Today parts and pieces of Fort Wallace spread into the surrounding land.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Kansas Ghost

Wheeler, Kansas
            Located in the far Northwestern corner of Kansas, Wheeler is one of those little places that reaches out and grabs the curious like me to go have a look.  Turning off the highway I drove a short distance to where the town of Wheeler used to be and I was pleasantly rewarded.  Here is a collection of old building and relics in various states of neglected decay.  There appears to be about 5 homes still lived in and one of them is the old schoolhouse. 
            The grain elevator is still in operation, which probably keeps the town from completely disappearing.  There are some classic old elevators standing and a feed store.  Probably built around 1900 to 1910. Just enough aura to transfer the imaginative back to another era on the plains of hope and settlement. 



            One of the old store fronts is in pretty good shape, the other in a state of slow crumbling.  Yet in their day they served the townspeople and others in the area that traded there.  There are vacant lots where other stores stood and homes.  There is the main road into town and two little streets, each a block long.  The schoolhouse sits at the intersection of these last two streets. The school had a long veranda/porch added to the front and facing east probably makes nice cool shade during the heat of summer. 




            I went surfing for some info on the town.  Not much was found except that it was founded in the Township of Orlando.  The Post Office was there from 1888 to 1961 and other then that?????  Nothing was found on Orlando except that it was 35.9 square miles and the town of Wheeler was located in the township. 
            Townships were usually used for school boundaries, years ago, for taxation and also for census purposes.  Being unincorporated, Wheeler had zero population but the in 2010, Orlando had 63 souls to be counted for the census. 
            Like many little towns on the prairie, Wheeler had its peak population in 1930, before the ‘Dirty 30’s” began.  The dust storms chased many early settlers out of the country, off to, hopefully, greener pastures.  Few people hung on and the ones that remain today have consolidated much land into their farms and ranches. 
            One of the other interesting things I noticed is the style of different states how they refer to their districts.  Many use county, rather then town and now a township.  Wheeler quite often was referred to as Cheyenne county place in Orlando township. 

            The railroad tracks are still there but it looks like the rails have not seen a train is a few years.  The highway was realigned and the discontinuance of rail service has a major impact on the small prairie towns. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cemetery

Country Cemeteries
            One of the sidelights of chasing down the back roads looking for old stuff is the little cemeteries.  They come in sizes and shapes, many were part of a church that is now gone, a few were boot hills.  All are interesting little repositories’ on history.  Some are untended and are overgrown, others have a caretaker and are well groomed. 

            The overgrown ones, I think twice before I go walking among the weeds.  If I have a view of the ground I venture forth watching where I step.  There are the slithery critters, among others and there are the stickery ones, cacti.  So I carefully amble forth walking among the graves.  Looking for the unusual, unique, veterans and certain dates.  Over the years I collected a pretty nice collection of small grave yards. 


            Couple of the dates I focus on are 1918 and 1922.  These two dates were the years of the nastiest flu pandemics to strike across the country.  During 1918, was WWI and from what I’ve read, more soldiers died from the flu then combat that year.  Something like 50 million people perished that year worldwide.  The pandemic began in 1917 and hit its zenith 1918.  Then in 1921 the flu raised its ugliness’s again peaking out in 1922 and subsiding in 1923.



            As I walk visiting the graves, I watch the dates and 1918 starts to jump out for the number of deaths for that year.  Then I see a bunch dated 1922.  For people back then it would not be pleasant.  Medicine back then was still pretty primitive to care for people.  I quietly pause at these markers and move on.  Not all were from the flu, I’m sure there were some that were natural causes or accidents…. Hummmm maybe a gunfight….
            Some of the headstones were large elaborate stones, occasionally a family stone.  Many were just a plaque or no gravestone of any type.  If they were travelers and got sick in another town, they usually went out in the pasture to be buried.  A wooden cross may mark it for a time otherwise the land reclaimed. 


            There was one cemetery I walked that had only one marker with 1918 on the headstone.  There was a section of unmarked graves.  Yet with only one 1918 stone it was very unusual.  Many of the pioneer families would bury their loved ones out on hillside out behind the house.  Seldom were these recorded and most today are unknown to the public unless one overhears a conversation about such. 



            The other dread disease way back when was smallpox and cholera.  Many of these victims were cremated for fear of spreading the disease.   There was a local doctor who perished from treating a patient with smallpox.  He was buried in a separate grave on a hillside overlooking the valley.  Even boot hill was not a place for the valiant doctor.  Yet the doctor now has a trail and park named for him and no longer is he alone on the hillside. 


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Along US Rt 36

Anton, Colorado

            Across the plains of Colorado, small little towns dot the prairie.  Many have faded into yesteryear, a few hang on and some have prospered.  US highway 36 begins or ends on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Out across the eastern plains it is marked by numerous small towns.  Most have a population of some kind and some are just markers on the roadway. 
            Anton is one of those little towns that would make a nice little ghost town, except it is loaded with more businesses then residents.  Homes are pretty scarce, yet here one can stop at the local restaurant, get some gas, buy some groceries, mail a letter or get the car fixed and while waiting there is a motel or camper park.  The grain elevator sees lots of trucks and the highway department has shops on the corner.  On the edge of town is a small church.  There is no downtown of any sorts, it is strung out along the highway and the junction with the state highway. 

            Could not find any census data on the village, so I doubt it is incorporated.  Mostly Anton is a wide spot on the road junction.  Years ago, before the Interstate era, Anton was on a busy highway.  Its famous counterpart down the road is Last Chance but unlike Last Chance Anton was able to keep some of the businesses going.  What’s interesting is the population of Last Chance is probably the same as Anton.  
            There is one remaining ghostly feature of years gone by.  Next to the Post Office was a small group of cabins.  Well neglected and not much TLC.  Here is where the traveling harvest crews would stay.  Before the big luxury RV’s of today, these little cabins were a luxury for the harvest crews.  Lots of the crews, years ago, would sleep under the stars, trucks, machinery and shave and clean up under a water barrel. 

            The harvest crews would start in Texas, traveling north with the harvest season, sometimes as forth north as Canada.  Back then it was long hard days in the hot sun, sunrise to sunset.  There was no air conditioning and water was out of a canvas bag or burlap wrapped jug.  Meals were in the field, the bathroom was over there by the post.  So to have a shack with a roof over it, with a bed, place to shower and clean up with toilets…… the height of luxury. 

            Like lots of things today, Anton is a reminder of things gone by the way side.  The few people in the little village keep on going much like their ancestors did years ago, just lots more comfortable.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Tornado

Thurman, Colorado

            The former town of Thurman, probably has one of the saddest stories of any ghost town ever.  Situated on the High Plains of East Central Colorado, Thurman was a growing city.  During the early 1900’s, the population was approaching 600 people,  There were banks, stores, shops, blacksmiths, small factory, movie house and all the conveniences of a thriving settlers prairie town.  Thurman was surrounded by great farmland and the homesteaders had staked out their future. 
            Spring had brought high hopes, the rain was plentiful and crops were in the ground and growing.  That afternoon, the thunderheads boiled up and with it came the funnels.  A tornado ripped across the land, in its patch was a farmhouse that would soon be scraps of wood and piles of rubble.  Seeing the damage, neighbors gathered up their families and took their wives and children to another neighbor’s house.  The men struck out to help the neighbor that had been hit by the funnel.  Hustling across the prairie to the tornado damage, the men paused, a loud roar was behind them.  Looking back over their shoulder, they saw a huge funnel dropping out of the clouds.  Right in its path was the house where they had left their wives and children. 

            In disbelief the men watched as the twister reached the home, picking it up, shredding it to pieces.  No more was there a building standing there.  Flat land now covered with debris and their families. 
            Soon the wheat market would crash after WWI, then the market crash bringing the great depression followed by the Dust Bowl.  Soon the prosperous town of Thurman was in decline.  Many people had lost their families and then their hope.  Over there were greener looking pastures to move to.  In a short time, what had been one of Eastern Colorado’s largest towns had dwindled into a Skelton.  The store, gas station and Post Office lasted into the 50’s.  The drought was the death knell for Thurman as it was for many of the other plains towns.  Dreams were gone, hopes were dashed and a new page had to be started some other place.  There are a few descendants in the area that survived all the catastrophe. 
            Hearing about Thurman and the stories of the tornado, I decided to go looking.  I got general directions on where it was and north down the gravel highway I went.  Bouncing down the road passing farms and ranches I went.  One of the ranches had a huge red barn.  Stopping I took a couple of pics of it.  On down the road I went and past the Thurman cemetery I went.  Oops…. Too far I had driven.  Making a U turn I retraced my tracks and just past the red barn I saw some of the buildings and open lots.  I had driven past Thurman thinking it was a large ranch complex. 

            Most of the town was gone, the store was still there and there were some other buildings nearby.  I was now looking at vacant land where once almost 600 people had called home.  Standing there, the sorrow of the land eased past on the breezes.  The lament of other days was a still moan on the land. 
            At the cemetery were numerous headstones with the same date and how many were unmarked I have no idea.  It is a kept graveyard for somebody had recently mowed.


            Couple years later I dove that way again, hoping to get some pictures in different light.  Again I almost drove past, if it hadn’t been for the big red barn, I would have driven right on through.  The few remaining buildings had been razed.  Small depressions marking where cellars had been. Otherwise, the buildings of Thurman were gone. 

            All that’s left to mark Thurman today is the country cemetery north of town and the red barn.