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.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Country School

Smoky Hill School

            When one mentions country school, first thing to come to mine is the little one room schoolhouse on the prairie.  Not the Smoky Hill school.  It had been a large two story structure with numerous classrooms for over 100 students.  It is located on the North Fork of the Smoky Hill River, close to the Kansas border. 


            It was prime land for farming and ranching and people flocked to the area during the early 1900’s, late 1800’s.  Collapse of farm prices after WWI chased a lots of people off the land.  Then the dust Bowl rolled over the land, chasing more people off the land.  Yet the country school survived until the 1950’s.  A spring storm boiled up, producing a tornado that tore up school and some of the out buildings. 

            Rather then rebuilding, the students were bused to a nearby town to continue their education.  The school skeleton still stands on the prairie, a reminder of other days.  The building in back is still intact and looks like the tornado did not touch it.  It appears it may have been apartments for some of the teachers.  

Spring on the plains can be a touchy time and terror does strike.  It is one of those things a person learns to live with for there are other moments on the prairie that are beyond compare.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Arapahoe Colorado

Arapahoe Colorado

            Arapahoe, CO, situated in far eastern part of the state, next to the Kansas border, is one of those little prairie villages that clings to life.  The surrounding farm and ranch land, provide some support to keep a couple of businesses going.  The Post Office is still open, there is a garage, grain elevator and on the highway is a gas station. 



            Otherwise, the other business buildings that had been along Main Street are no more.  There is a whole variety of vacant lots scattered around town.  Usually the little towns have a variety of old storefronts but not in Arapahoe.  A rock wall still stands where there had been a shop or maybe nice home.  Even the schoolhouse has been torn down.  For a declining town with maybe 25 residents, Arapahoe is unique.  No empty building hanging around.  Just a large collection of empty lots that are groomed of weeds. 
            Arapahoe had its beginnings in 1870 as a stop on the new railroad pushing west.  The Kansas Pacific Railway, named the whistle stop after the Indians that lived in the area.  There had also been a stop on the smoky Hill Trail nearby referred to as Arapahoe.  So the railroad was probably influenced by a little bit of both. 


Unlike its neighbor to the east, Chimung, Arapahoe survived when the rails were pushed further west.  During the late 1890’s, when the Homestead Act was changed, more settlers began to show up and Arapahoe grew some.  Yet like so many towns on the plains, the dust bowl chased many settlers off the land.  It is still farming and ranching in the area, there are some oil and gas wells also.  Yet where there had been a hundred people living on the land, there are now maybe 8-10 people.  The Post Office zip code census of 2010 shows a population of 238 people served. 


The sign for a Bay Gas Station over the garage has went to someplace unknown.  

To the north of town flows the Smoky Hill River.  A well was built for the early day gold seekers headed for the Rocky Mtns.  In this area, numerous relics have been found from the early day travelers.   The well has collapsed and the markers of it being there are almost gone.  The rancher that owns the land knows about it and goes poking around on occasion, hunting for remains. 

Sitting back off the highway, the traveler of today whizzes past, blinking twice and missing the little settlement, unless their vehicle is thirsty then they stop for a drink out on the highway.  


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Helltown

Kit Carson, Colorado

         Situated on the eastern plains of Colorado, Kit Carson is one of those semi ghost towns.  Named after mountain man, trapper, guide and General Kit Carson, the village today boasts a population of over 300 people.  Yet during the 1870’s, Kit Carson was one of the biggest cities in Colorado, boasting of a population over 5000 souls.  The newly formed railroad town on the eastern plains had become a transportation hub. 
         The Santa Fe Trail turned north in the vicinity of Ft Lyon to make connections with the railroad and ship freight east.  Wagons were being loaded off the railcars to go west to the gold rush.  The Smoky Hill Trail was passing through with freighters and more fortune seekers.  The new railroad had moved its headquarters to Kit Carson and with that, came the camp followers and rail workers.  Kit Carson was a booming hell town on the prairie.  General Palmer had over 500 wagons hauling RR ties to help build the railroad. 
         The bustling, bawdy town rolled out over the prairie, tents and shacks dotting the land.  Saloons and red light district kept the western frontiersmen entertained. 
         There had been a small Army garrison assigned to Kit Carson.  Then when the Indians launched a series of raids on the railroad, General Custer and his troops showed up to protect the railroad workers. 
         The mixture of all these different people led to some wild times on the plains. 
         When the railroad was completed to Denver, the Kansas Pacific RR began preparations to continue the route to the Pacific Ocean by following the Arkansas River into the mountains and over the passes.  Track was being laid south from Kit Carson towards the Arkansas River and Ft Lyon.  This gave impetus for 
speculators to begin forming new towns in the area of now days Las Animas. 

         With this new work at Kit Carson, the town became wilder.  A gang of outlaws, thieves and rogues had become well organized.  They had become efficient enough to make the freight from a train disappear in a few hours.  The local gendarmes had little success in dealing with the outlaws.  The Colorado State Police were sent to Kit Carson to Investigate.  After a few years if investigating and gathering evidence, the State Police began making arrests. 
         There was an assortment of people rounded up and charged.  Among them were; railroad police, sheriff deputies and marshals’ and key railroad figures. 
         The arrest of key members of the outlaw gang also signaled the beginning of the end to Kit Carson’s heyday.  The Kansas Pacific RR was going broke and was in receivership.  The branch line to Las Animas was pulled up, making it the first rail line in Colorado to be abandoned.  No longer was there booty to be had.  The freight was gone, the jobs were gone, the Army was gone and dreams had faded, saloons closed, taking the red light district with them. 

         A fire swept through the old town area, burning up the shacks and most of the old helltown.  Today out in an overgrown pasture can be seen the remains of a few of the buildings.  Parts of the railroad grade can be seen places and from the air one can see the racetrack.  Nothing has been done with area, it sits there, nature slowly reclaiming. 
         The Kit Carson that exists today is a slow paced county town.  Main Street is a couple of blocks long.  Out on the highway are a few businesses that come and go.  Truckers fly through town and if one of the restaurants has good food, the parking lot is full of semis.  There are some neat classic old buildings still standing, gas stations, motels, lumber yard… etc. 


         Where the cemetery for the old town is…. Is a question?  One of the locals says they have a couple of graves in their front yard but where are the others.    

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pioneer Cemetery and Park


            There are times when the tricks are humorous and sometimes not.  Saw a post on facebook while back about and old cemetery in Colorado Springs.  It looked interesting, so I did some looking.  Found it on satellite view and it looked similar to the picture I had seen.  So I said to self, Got to go have a look at this old Cemetery.  So self put it on the list of things to do when visiting Colorado Springs. 

            I took the time one day on a trip to the Springs to go looking for this place.  It was not easy, down dead end streets and around backwards corners but finally arrived.  I drive up an alley like it showed on the earth view and it was a loop.  There was no cemetery to be seen.  Hum, so I drove around, turned down another street and on the other side, still saw no grave markers. 
            I was a pretty little neighborhood park, nice homes and a tremendous view of the mountains over there.  Still nothing that looked like a cemetery.  Over there was a monument and on it was a variety of name and dates.  Well groomed and cleaned inside a small circled stone wall.   Couple of benches and Pikes Peak was the background.  Besides me the park was empty, even the passing car was not passing.  A young couple showed up and spread a blanket out on the unimproved portion of the park for a mid day moment. 
            Well, humbug, said to self.  Wandered around and took a couple of pictures.  Went back to the car and went down the road. 
            Getting home, I did some more looking about the graveyard.  Found an interesting story about the graveyard and I as I read I began to chuckle at myself.  The graves were there all along, in the unimproved section, all the markers had been removed. 
            During the Great Depression, the WPA was doing a project there and removed all of the headstones.  When work was completed, the markers were not replaced.  I would guess that in secret location there is a storage lot full of head stones. 

            The original cemetery was called Mesa Cemetery and was for the people of Old Colorado City. Nearby is a large Masons complex of buildings and apparently some Masons were buried there also.     After the debacle with the WPA workers, the Masons went and exhumed their members and re-interred them in another resting place.    The cemetery was forgotten for a few years until some people started asking some questions.  They went to the park and did some looking and underground survey work and located at least 100 coffins still resting there underground. 
Outside of the park monument, there is no indication that there is a cemetery in Pioneer Park. 

If the head stones are located, how would the markers be matched to the grave sites.  Now that would be a puzzle to solve.