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


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.