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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Following the old Roads

 

The railroad went across the Arkansas Valley in the 1870’s,building towards the pacific Ocean.  As rails were laid, stops were made to service the engines and replenish.  Many of these stops became towns along the way.  Providing business for the railroad.

The roads followed the tracks and became highways.  Then the highway department in all their wisdom, realigned the highways.  In so doing, many of these little towns were left high and dry and eventually did dry up. 

Some of these old roadways are still in use today, as a country dirt road. 

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I love to find them and follow along.  There usually remains or other bits and pieces left from what have now become ghost towns.  The old telegraph poles float across the land, the new utility lines follow on the other side, occasionally.  It is time throwback.  Here is what granpa and granma had when they first traveled out west.  It kind of becomes a melancholy ride, yet the sense of adventure is there.  What lies ahead, what is around the bend?  onwards I travel.

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There are diversions and treats ahead.  The car bounces over the roadbed, dust boiling up, windows flash up for passing vehicle and the cloud of dust.  The dust still sifts into the car becoming a dust collector. 

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What had been a store still stands, someone had taken care of it.  The water tower back behind, a few homes near by.  Over by the shed someone works on equipment.  Foundations line the tracks, dust bunnies swirl over the ground.  The land is quiet, times hav3e passed this little burg and the people have departed.   Emptiness is the air. 

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Further down the road are the homes of a few that have clung to their dreams.  An abandoned barn marks the time when things were different.  It is a journey back in to another era.  When life was different yet the same. 

The road winds next to the rails, crossing over to the other side.  Ahead are more ghosts waiting for my discovery. 

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High over head the railroad spans a side creek.  The road now winds back under the tracks.  Yet over there is another village that got left behind when the highway was moved.  Up the ridge, over a couple of ruts past a ranch house and ahead is the corner of main and main street.  Now vacant the stores whistle a tune from another day when they were a lively enterprise. 

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The empty storefronts look over and empty lot, where horses and wagons once parked.  The few remaining residents travel a good distance to the nearest town for shopping.  The corner store now collects dust on its counters, critters of dust float on the shelves and the cash register sits vacant. 

What are their stories?  In the back can be seen the living quarters.  Life was lived out in the little store until the highway went away. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Indian Burial/Pyres …..

 

It is interesting how things get twisted and distorted for personal selfishness.  Living in the middle of the Wild West Indian country I see a lots of it.Back in the early 1800’s the land around here was declared a reservation.  With the onslaught of gold seekers, settlers and other types, the reservation was forgotten.  The railroad got lots of the Indian land, the ranchers, then the homesteaders.   All settled on Indian land, it became their property, not the Indians. 

Over the years, various Indian groups have used this to leverage things from the government.  One of their  favorite tools was to declare certain spots of land, Sacred Ground or burial ground.  In most cases it has worked.  The apologists have given into the Indian demands.  Yet on close investigation, it was found there were no Indians buried there and there were no artifacts in the area.  They did find the bones of children the Indians had killed from an attack on the European settlers….. oops.

Yet when one thinks about things, very few Indians buried their dead.  Most of the dead were cremated, a funeral pyre.

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This barren empty prairie at one time was covered with buffalo and the sand creek had warder in it.  Here the Indians would camp out hunting buffalo.  The buffalo was a mainstay for the Indians survival.  Not only did it provide meat, the buffalo was also shelter and warmth in the winter. 

Besides the Indians following the buffalo, the wolves did also.  The wolves would cull out the weak and sick buffalo and if they could a buffalo calf.  If the Indian hunt was successful, the wolves would circle around wanting a part of an easy meal.

It was a dangerous life on the plains.  There were dangers and the Indian would meet his demise at the hands of many things, raging animals, bad food, snake bites or.  Rather then bury their dead and hope the wolves don’t dig them up.  They would cremate them  The funeral pyre was a ritual for the Indian family.  It also protected their dead family members from being gnawed up by wolves.

So when burial sites are mentioned, I question the veracity of the statement.  Oh, yes there are burial sites that have been found.  Yet what the archeologists have unearthed looks more like a dumping pile, mass gravesite.  A few have been elaborate burials, IE, a chief, brave warrior or medicine man. 

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The lone tree over there, is a at a small spring.  In the area, thousands of artifacts have been found, spear points, scrapers, grinders and the quintessential arrowhead.  Up on the hill can be seen the fence line of the rancher.  On the banks of the river on can imagine the Indian sitting on the hill side watching the buffalo graze.  Chipping away hat his arrowheads, fletching the arrows, attaching the arrow tips to the shaft, getting ready for the big hunt. 

Nearby is his family doing the same.  Soon down below there will be a stealth hunt of the buffalo.  Arrows at close range, driving into the hide of the buffalo(s), Soon the beast collapses to the ground.  Spear in hand, the Indian runs up, driving the spear point deep into the buffalos chest.  He goes off to help his family with their kill.  Soon there are mounds laying on the ground.  The women scurry over to begin helping with the processing of the buffalo. 

The hide is removed and stretched to dry and tan.  The meat is stripped off to dry or for pemmican.  Near by the wolves are circling and sniffing.  Soon it will be a battle with the wolves.  Some distance away is an isolated buffalo, skinned.  It is left for the wolves to gnaw on and also make easy targets for the Indian's arrow.  On far ridge can be seen smoke rising from a pyre. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Elbert…. A reviving ghost

 

 

Out on the prairie is the little town of Elbert.  Nestled on the valley of an interment creek, surrounded by towering pines. It has a nice setting on the wooded plains but it faded into almost oblivion. 

Its beginnings were as a lumber camp in the 1840’s.  A man by the name of Gomer had numerous sawmills in the area and a Post Office was established for the woodsmen. 

In the late 1880’s a railroad was pushed through the area.  The goal was the lumber mills and further south was some coal mines.  The town of Elbert was established and a stop for the Denver and New Orleans Railroad.  During this time the town grew and prospered.

The trains brought in goods and supplies and lumber was shipped out.  There was good commerce and Elbert became a weekend tourist town.  On weekends there were special excursion trains from Denver to the cool hills around the area.  A pavilion was built for the city people escaping the heat of the city.  There were concerts, games and picnics.

Life was good in the little country town.  Then the railroad went into receivership and some of the commerce was dropped but the town kept going.

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An early chain store, was located in numerous towns in Eastern Colorado.  It is still used today as a community center and monthly Pancake breakfast.

It took Mother Nature to bring the little town down.  The summer of 1935 the clouds opened up and washed the parries clean.  Small streams were raging torrents and Elbert was washed away.  The railroad tracks were gone.  On the higher banks some of the building survived.  Yet many had water damage. 

The railroad did not rebuild the ruined tracks.  Instead they shifted their trains to the west on other rails they owned.  The ghosts were knocking at the town gates.  No longer was the whistle of the trains echoing down the valley.  The saw mills were silent and the tumbleweeds rolled down main street.

There was some ranching in the area that helped to keep Elbert going but most of the businesses were gone.  For a few it was still a weekend destination.  The roar of motorcycles' livened up the city on Weekends.  There was a watering hole for them. 

As time marched on the fingers of urban life stretched out and people moved to the area and commuted to the big city.  Couple more businesses opened and a new school was built. 

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The ghosts of the town now had company.  No longer was the tumbleweed the only traveler on main street.  Some of the old homes were fixed up.  New homes were built and a new town is emerging.

The General Store gas station now has customers.  The nearby scout camp has more neighbors.  A new life ambles along the streets.  There are no longer the clacking of railroad wheels bringing city folks in for the weekend.  It is now the noisy silence of the burbs.  In between the screech of tires, the flying wheels to the whispering pines. 

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On Boot Hill, the early settlers and pioneers look down on the silent creek that washed their town away. 

 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Annual Fair

 

Once a year the County Fair rolls around.  A time for people to show off their work for the year.  Work of the hands, the canning, sewing and decorations.  The gardening and its fruits, a fashion show of hand made clothing and there are kinds of projects the youngsters made for their 4H project of FFA. Out in the barnyard are the animals.  The rabbits, goats, bleating sheep and the cattle, the pigs lounge around oblivious to the racket.  There are concession stands of buffalo burgers, shaved ice, homemade pie a la mode and the the western gear, saddles, spurs, bits etc.  It is a busy place a people scramble around wanting to be here or over there.

For some this is a culmination of a years work.  here is everything in the basket.  Do good here and they go on to the State Fair.  There the rewards are even greater.  Mom and Dad hovering over their little ones, grandpa helping, grandma encouraging.  There are sometimes four generations involved in their family at the fair.  It is a life style that is fading into the back pages and even ignored.  Yet in the small towns it comes to life once a year and the heritage of the pioneers is celebrated again. 

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The animals get special attention, whether for the rodeo or the show.  Many of the little people showing their best work, sometimes show up in the arena riding in the rodeo.  It is a rough and tumble life, dirt gets stirred up, manure is made to step in and things go spatter.  Pack the home up, go spend a week at the fair.

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There are the trophies from years past that shine on.  The result of training in the early days of going to the fair.  Learning how to work with the animals.  Understanding the nutrition for different animals.  How to train for their specific purpose.  It is a lifestyle that linger on over the years. 

 

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With patience, they await their turn in the spotlight. 

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Next year, many will return.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Battle for Survival

 

Sounds kind of odd, but Christians are under attack around the world.  It appears that the Crusades are ushering forth.  Genocide is not good, but the Muslims, practice it big time. 

Look at Croatia-Serbia… etc.  Look at North Africa and in particular Egypt.  I can not believe the hate some Muslims have.  Even among them selves, one sect of Muslims tries to eliminate another sect of Muslims. 

Will this be the next big world conflict?  Even in the United States, there are people attacking others for their beliefs.  US citizens have joined terrorist groups.  Lawsuits galore have been filed against all types of religious symbols.  Tolerance is disappearing. 

Some people with serious control issues are pouring gas on the flames of religious hatred. 

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Wonder when the Ireland epiphany will strike.  People will come to the realization that their hatred accomplishes nothing.  Somewhere, somehow people can become a little more tolerant of people with different views. 

Then there are prayers of awakening.  Look at the story of Ishmael and Isaac and try to understand the differences.  Next thing is to try and figure out why some people want to be slaves?  Slavery, that is the tough question.   So many feel that by being the master, they are above slavery yet they are the enslavers.  Major issues of self and others. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kutch… A place where the ghosts live

 

On the high plains of eastern Colorado is a variety of small ghost towns.  Most have disappeared back to nature.  A few have a building or two, maybe foundations otherwise a vacant spot.  Yet these places at one time were vibrant little communities.  There were schools, stores, shops, churches and homes.

With the changes in transportation, many of these places became a second thought.  Instead of a days trip to the big towns, it took and hour or so by pick up. 

Kutch was one of those places.  It had its beginnings as a post office on a sheep ranch to the south.  Late 1800’s a gentleman by the name of Ira Kutch got the mail contract.  the last name is pronounced cootch, like a pigeon coo not like a clutch.   It gets mispronounced so often.   Mr. Kutch built a dug out in the banks of Horse Creek for his Post Office.  It was along the Goodnight cattle trail heading to Denver. 

A few years later the Post Office was moved a few miles north into a small building.  This was the beginning of small town that almost made it. 

Next to the post office another building was attached for a general store.  Soon there was a gas station, repair shop and a blacksmith shop.  On the other end, living quarters were added.

Here was an early day pioneer convenience store.  One stop shopping.  Pick up some beer on Friday night, go down the road a piece for the dance at the barn.  Across the road was the baseball field. Here at the junction of country roads was a burgeoning country community.  After the dust bowl of the dirty thirties, many farmers left the land and headed to the city looking for work.  The drought returned in the 50’s, forcing more people off the land.  Yet Kutch did not die.  The Post Office and store lasted until 1971.  It was closed and shuttered for a number of years. 

It was purchased by a young woman who grew up in the area.  Here she made her home and cleaned up the old Kutch store and Post Office.  Lots of things were still on the shelves as when it was closed.  The dirt and dust was removed and things were left as they were.  Oh a few old things have been placed in the store, otherwise it is the same as it was 50 years ago or earlier.

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On the shelves were canned goods, can of spinach, 17cents…. etc.  The old hand crank phone had the local phone numbers written on wall next to the names of the locals.  The post still had the sorting table and mail hutches, the original safe was still there. 

Stories of yesteryear resound off the walls.  One can hear the wedding bells ring as the people celebrate.  The cheers from across the road at the ball park.  The rowdy drunks at the barn dance down the road.  The somber funeral when one of the neighbors passes on.  The sputter of the horseless carriage pulling up for gas at the station.  Hop in the sore for a couple of quick items.  Bring a harness in to be repaired,  Now occupied by a shell reloading machine. 

Life grew up at this now empty intersection.  The little roadside building still stands, housing the memories from generations gone by.  Donna is so happy to share her life growing up here and the stories she heard from her parents.  The store and Post Office her pride and joy.  A window into the past that has been preserved, not recreated.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Golden Belt Route ………………… A Tale of Ghosts

 

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Floating across the Prairie is the remains of a once important thoroughfare.  The Golden Belt Route was the shortest distance between St Louis and Denver.  US Highway 40 had it beginnings following the railroad across the land.  A person needs to back up further to understand why this once thriving route now sits empty and destitute. 

Government policy created the route but it was also the policy changes of the government that created the ghost towns and the ghostly remains of stage stops, a highway, trails and other long forgotten incidents.

In this area, there are three ghost towns, four stage stations abandoned, stage robberies, buried treasure, numerous Indian attacks, a band of outlaws, Indian sweat lodge and other lost tales.  When the government rerouted the highway, this small portion was left intact and over the years it has been weathered out to trails of ghosts and their towns.

In the mid 1500’s the Spanish roamed through the area in their search for gold.  Later it was the French in the search for fur.  The land was Indian, Spanish, Mexican, French, Texas and finally US.  The government sent military detachments across the land to explore and report back to the politicos in Washington DC. 

With the discovery of gold in California, the politicians wanted to expand the US to the Pacific Ocean.  A military expedition was sent from Ft Leavenworth to map out a trail to the Rocky Mountains, in hopes they could find a path over their barrier. 

In 1859 gold was discovered in the Colorado and another gold rush was on.  The trail the government had laid out became a freeway for the gold seekers.  The Smoky Hill Trail followed the Smoky Hill River across Kansas to its headwaters in eastern Colorado.  Soon stage lines were roaring over this road as gold fever struck hundreds.

To expand the country west the politicians in Washington DC passed the Pacific Railroad Act.  This brought out all types of get rich schemers.  Government money was being dangled.  All types of railroad companies were formed and a few chartered.  One was successful in that they revitalized a defunct railroad.  They began operations at Wyandotte, Kansas.  Their goal was the Pacific Ocean.  They adopted the name Kansas Pacific to avoid conflict with the other railroad to the north. 

West across Kansas they headed, wanting to beat that railway to the north and get on the Overland Trail to the Pacific.  There was a conflict among the key members and one got the boot from the boardroom.  Some loyal employees took umbrage with this and in a confrontation with the owner he let him know.  They employee was pretty upset, he shot the president of the railroad and killed him.  This ended the advantage the Kansas Pacific had so the Overland route was scrapped.  They chose the Smoky Hill route to Denver.

The Kansas pacific followed the Smoky Hill River westward, building towns as they laid rail westward.  Abilene, Kansas became one of their more famous towns because of all the shootings with the cowboys off the cattle trail.  There were other towns along the way that had cattle loading and the gunfights but Abilene got the notoriety. 

The Civil War slowed things down but westward they went on government sponsored money.  They arrived in Denver the summer of 1870. 

Small towns dotted the railroad right of way, small oasis for the settlers that began showing up.  Wagons were following along the tracks and more homes were built.  Then the Homestead act was changed and more settlers began to show upsetting down stakes for their new homes.  Communities were built and the railroad brought mail out to these homesteaders.  Government polity was building more towns in the once empty prairie, where the buffalo roamed. 

Soon the horseless carriage was bouncing over the prairie.  Again the government got involved.  A highway department was formed by congress and highways were built to accommodate the new machines.  These new highways followed the rails.  Like snake paths the roadway wound over the grasslands. 

The towns all the rails were thriving with all of this new business.  The outlying communities were growing.  Supplies were easy to come by, there was mail and materials to build with sat in the towns. 

1920 was the roaring 20’s, spirits were high and people were prosperous. 

To make travel easier, the government looked at the highway maps.  They decided to straighten out lots of the curves that the roads had from following the railroad.  Cross country the new highway went.  Leaving the towns high and dry.  No longer were motorists traveling through their towns.  Filling stations closed up, stores shuttered.  Ghosts were hovering overhead, waiting to move in. 

In the 1950’s the Interstate Highway system began, isolating more towns and changing peoples driving habits.

Along the backloads of the high plains one can find numerous ghost towns that have disappeared because of the changes in government policies.  Towns that were once thriving, boasting populations over 500 people, banks, movie theaters, car dealers, multiple grocery stores and gas stations.  Now they have a few barren foundations to mark where some buildings had been. 

This short stretch of the Golden Belt route is like traveling back in time.  There are a few building standing, the streets are visible and few souls still live in them.  The Indians roamed here, arrowheads have been found.  Their sweat lodge is near a stage station.  The buried treasure from the payroll robbery is supposedly still buried in the ravine near by.  General Custer and Col. Reno patrolled through here after all of the Indian attacks.

Here one can see the dreams of many, the follies of a few, the impact of poorly planned government polies and the trail of outlaws.  Like many things, Mother Nature wants to reclaim.  Some of the old building have collapsed, the roads are covered with weeds and the schoolhouse is now shade for the bulls of the rancher. 

For one willing to bounce over a dirt road it is an adventure awaiting.