Tag Archives: Buffalo Bills

Cousin Helen, Kate Horine, Buffalo Bill and the Weird Stuff-O-Meter

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Kate Horine trunk

This is a story whose end should really be the beginning, and the beginning ends with Kate Horine.

Kate L. Horine’s name was neatly painted on an old traveling trunk that my boyfriend happened across at the dump, near our home in Colorado. An elderly man had the trunk. It was full of leaves and dead branches, and from all appearances the man was set on throwing the trunk out along with the foliage. My companion intervened. Since you aren’t allowed to bargain at the dump for other people’s garbage, they secretly agreed—out of hearing range of the garbage police—to meet up down the road. There, my companion paid the old man a few bucks for the antique trunk and the two went their separate ways.

As all old trunks are, this one is really cool. It was manufactured by Meek Trunk & Bag Co. in Denver. Throughout its life, it has suffered various dings and scratches along random journeys. Gone are one of its leather handles, the storage tray and most of its paper lining. Indeed, the trunk was certainly well used, but still quite sturdy and full of character. On the inside of the lid, someone scrawled a cryptic note in pencil long ago: “3/4 sheets buffalo bill June 11 Boone Co.” There were no other clues, so the trunk nobody wanted was subsequently brought to my home, put in storage, and semi-forgotten about.

Over the next few years or so, I wondered from time to time about that trunk and the woman’s name painted on it so long ago. I meant on several occasions to do some research on her, but never managed to do so. Time gradually filled up my storage space with boxes, old furniture, gardening tools and other items, and the trunk got shoved to the back of the room.

After six years or so, I was finally cleaning out the storage area and unearthed Kate’s trunk (as well as five newborn kittens who just celebrated their 11th birthdays—but that’s another story). This time I made good on my mental note to try and find out who Kate L. Horine was. I found out some interesting things: she was born Kate Loomis in Indiana in about 1868. By 1910 she had married to a man named Horine, been widowed, and had moved to Boone, Missouri, where she lived through at least 1920. Also in 1920, she had a 17-year old daughter, Mary K., living with her.

By 1930, Mary K. had moved to Clovis, New Mexico. As for Kate, there was surprising twist: it turns out she had a brother and a sister, with whom she was living in Fairplay, Colorado—just a little over an hour away from where her trunk had surfaced. I yearned to know more about this woman.

Quite by coincidence, my research coincided with news about my boss’ cousin, Helen Johnson. Cousin Helen, as she is affectionately known, had just recently received the coveted “Hospitality Team Member of the Month” award from the casino she where worked in up in Black Hawk. Helen also lived in Fairplay, in a house built in 1872 by her great-great grandfather. In nearby Alma were Helen’s cousin and my boss at the time, Erik Swanson. Erik and Helen’s family came to the Fairplay Mining District in the 1870’s. It was Erik who pointed out that Helen received the award. It was also Erik whom I thought might know of Kate L. Horine, so I asked him if he knew anything about her.

He certainly did. It turns out that Kate Horine was Cousin Helen’s grandmother.

When we figured this out, the Weird Stuff-O-Meter (which measures all things strange and wonderful that have no plausible explanation) went into the red. According to both Helen and Erik, they used to play with Kate’s many trunks in the attic of Helen’s house as children. The trunks contained clothing from the Victorian era that Helen surmises belonged to her great grandmother. It even survived a fire in the 1930’s. Helen and Erik held very fond memories of their playtime in the attic.

Even more amazing was the revelation that the Cripple Creek District Museum, where Erik and I worked at the time, had a copy of a painting rendered by Kate. It is a portrait of a donkey and was a favorite artifact among visitors. “You know, she did some beautiful paintings of columbines,” Helen recalled. “She did some wonderful stuff, not only of flowers but some great scenery. She did some characters, too. She was really a very talented artist.”

So, how did Kate’s trunk get away? “My mother did a major renovation in 1952,” remembered Helen, “and there were things in the attic she had that disappeared. So it might have been taken then. But my sister Emily might have taken it, and she lived in the city where the trunk was found for years, so that may be how it ended up there.”

How the trunk bounced from Emily to an elderly stranger at the dump, however, remains a mystery, as does the odd message about Buffalo Bill scrawled on the lid. The best guess is that Kate scribbled his name and a date she might have seen his Wild West Show while living in Missouri.

Once its history was revealed, there was no question the old trunk needed to be returned to its happy family. My companion was glad to trade it to Erik for another trunk he had, one with no family attachment. I think he said he was going to sneak Kate’s trunk into Cousin Helen’s livingroom with a big bow on it. However he did it, Helen now has her grandma’s trunk safe in her care once again. And at the very least, Kate Horine’s trunk is living proof that inanimate objects can indeed talk.

Parts of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine in 2004.