Tag Archives: Colorado history

Early Town of Cache Creek, Colorado Still a Prospector’s Pick

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central Magazine.

Hike along Cache Creek outside of Granite today, and you are certain to run into folks all along the water. These aren’t your average outdoor enthusiasts; rather, the folks scrambling along the riverbanks are on a mission. They are looking for gold, which can still be found over 150 years after being discovered.

Cache Creek’s name is derived from the French word, “cacher”, meaning “to hide”. One story goes that around 1854, French trappers hid their pelts there, while another claims that explorers Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell hid their supplies in the vicinity as they fled some Native Americans. Because of its odd spelling, Cache Creek was sometimes referred to as “Cash Creek”.

Around 1860, placer gold was discovered along Cache Creek in what was then Lake County. They said that nuggets “big as eggs” were being found west of the creek around Lost Canyon. By late 1860, miners could be found panning for gold all through the area. Within seven years, some 49,000 troy ounces, or $200,000 of gold, would be found.

A series of small mining camps sprang up, but it was the community of Cache Creek which served as a supply town and the place to glean information about mining opportunities. In spite of being labeled “poor man’s diggings” by the Salida Mail, Cache Creek blossomed. Notably, it was the first real town in today’s Chaffee County, with a population of about 300. Prospectors could make up to $20.00 per day.

Even future silver millionaire H.A.W. Tabor tried his luck at Cache Creek. With him were his first wife, Augusta, as well as family friend Nathaniel Maxcy, miner Sam Kellogg and the Tabor’s son, also named Nathaniel Maxcy. The men made their own sluice boxes, but had trouble extracting the gold from the black sand deposits. Augusta was assigned the tedious job of using a magnet to procure the gold from the sand. Contrary to some accounts, Augusta did not run a boarding house or store at Cache Creek; within a month the party moved on to California Gulch some twenty miles away before making their fortune.

Meanwhile, Cache Creek’s supply stores served such smaller camps as Bertschey’s Gulch, Gibson, Gold Run, Ritchie’s Patch, and others. Supplies were hauled to town by horseback and mule from a trail skirting the Arkansas River over two miles away. The homes of Cache Creek consisted mostly of log cabins. A cemetery was established in 1860 after the death of a young man from pneumonia. A year later, when the town of Granite sprang up two and a half miles away on the Arkansas, its residents also began using the cemetery. In spite of the convenience of Granite, however, many miners and their families preferred living near the diggings around Cache Creek.

On August 2, 1862, the post office was established as “Cash Creek”. Cache Creek also incorporated, on January 10, 1866. Alas, the place was simply too far away from the Arkansas River trail. In October of 1866 the nearby town of Dayton established its own post office. A new mill was built near Cache Creek, but the Dayton post office was  moved to the new county seat of Granite in November of 1868. Cache Creek’s population began to falter, and the post office closed on February 27, 1871.

By 1872, much of the area around Cache Creek was owned by the Cache Creek Mining Company. In Cache Creek proper, only ten cabins remained occupied. Most of the residents probably worked for the company, which employed sixteen men on both day and night shifts, who could mine upwards of a pound of gold per day, per man.

When Chaffee County was formed in 1879, the new boundary ran between Lake Creek and Cache Creek and directly through Cache Creek Park. In 1881 the Gaff Mining Company, in business since 1865, built a new two mile long bedrock flume. The outlook was good, there being gold “disseminated through all the ground which is free from bowlders [sic] or large rocks, and is easily washed.” Thus far, upwards of $800,000 in gold had been mined.

Next, in 1884, the Twin Lakes Hydraulic Gold Mining Syndicate, which had purchased the Cache Creek Mining Company, installed a tunnel between Cache Creek and Clear Creek. The tunnel cost over $40,000, but gold production nearly tripled. Over fifty men were now employed by the Syndicate, and gold production from May to November that year totaled almost $100,000.

By 1902, Cache Creek was quickly fading as new methods of mining downplayed the value of placer mining. Still, the Salida Record noted Cache Creek as “a neglected resource” of placer deposits. More people might have panned the creek but for a complaint, issued in 1903 by Canon City some 100 miles away along the Arkansas River. Canon City charged that the water was “polluted with quicksilver from the Cache Creek placers.”

Articles about the issue appeared in local newspapers for years. The Cache Creek Placer closed in 1909, but the pollution problems continued well into 1911. This ugly turn of events was Cache Creek’s final undoing, and by 1929 nobody was mining the creek anymore. In more recent times, however, gold panning has once become a popular hobby in the area, and with good results.

Cache Creek’s empty buildings are long gone, but the historic cemetery remains. The graves consist of many residents from Cache Creek, but also Granite and other places. They include pioneer families, but also victims from some of the more violent crimes in Granite. Judge Elias Dyer, who was murdered in 1975, was initially buried there before being moved elsewhere. Other victims, such as  David “Scotty” Hornell whose neck was broken in 1887 during a fight with saloonkeeper and mine owner Enos Shaul, and railroad employee Pat Casey, whose throat was slit in 1888 by Niccolo Feminello, remain. Feminello, in fact, made history as the first man hanged in Chaffee County.

Other burials include that of miner Joseph Scheller who was killed in a mine cave—in in 1895, leaving behind a widow with five children. Deaths in 1898 included eighty-year-old Elizabeth Ball of Balltown and Nancy Bruner, wife of a Lake County constable. The deaths of these early pioneers shows the variety of people making up the area’s population. Some of those interred at Cache Creek have ancestors who still visit their graves today.

The townsite lies below the cemetery, where scant ruins identify buildings which appear in older images of Cache Creek. Walk behind the gate with the sign explaining about Cache Creek, and follow an old road down to access the town. From the townsite, you can also see the remains of a major flume up on the hill across the creek. This is all that remains of Cache Creek.

John Nixon and the Terrible Thanksgiving Turkey

Turkey and boyc 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

For those who have occasionally suffered through a quite memorable yet hardly endearing Thanksgiving holiday, take heart. Even historic and quaint Cripple Creek, Colorado is not safe from the perils of a good dinner gone bad. Take for instance, John Nixon’s own Thanksgiving in 1912.

What a lovely memory, the Cripple Creek Thanksgivings of old. Gazing nostalgically down Bennett Avenue, especially in the weather of late, it is easy to paint a vintage picture. Imagine watching one horse sleighs pulling passengers bundled in warm furs and frilly coats. The delighted faces of loved ones as they greet long-absent family members. The loving preparation of a giant turkey feast, with recipes passed from generation to generation. Is it possible, revelling in retrospect, to imagine a more grand picture?

Such wonderful pictures were no doubt travelling through John Nixon’s mind as he made his way down Bennett Avenue the day before Thanksgiving. A cozy room, permeated with the smell of delicious food, was an attractive alternative to crowded and cold downtown Cripple Creek. As the wind bit through his wool coat, John gathered his scarf and lowered his hat. Quite possibly he wished he had collected his Thanksgiving turkey earlier, when the day was still sunny. Now here he was, tired and chilled, scampering to purchase that which was most important to tomorrow’s dinner.

This Thanksgiving promised to be the best in many years, for this time, Mrs. Nixon asked for a live turkey to obtain the freshest meat. Ever anxious to please his wife, John Nixon had agreed to butcher the bird at home. Now, as hurried down Bennett, John hoped his wife’s prediction was true. He hated to think the task before him was actually for naught. He wasn’t much for working harder than he had to, and his resourcefulness at easing the work day was something commented on by the Missus.

John smiled at these thoughts as he paid the butcher for his bird and produced a large flour sack from his pocket. In the interest of convenience, the sack would serve as ample transportation for the turkey’s trip home. John deposited the turkey, head first, into his flour sack and bid the butcher a happy Thanksgiving.

Sadly, it was not long before man and bird had a misunderstanding. The turkey, who did not necessarily find his position comfortable, began giving forth a terrible squawk. Within a matter of seconds, the bird was making such a racket that people on the sidewalk were staring. Being a respectful sort with regard to unnecessary noise and courtesy to those around him, John Nixon made a split-second decision. In one swift move, his fingers groped the outside of the bag until they located the turkey’s neck. Grasping said neck firmly, Nixon succeeded in squeezing it until the bird was quiet.

It seemed the logical and polite thing to do, and John complimented his decision silently as he proceeded down the road. But if John Nixon thought his actions were justified, a nearby Humane Officer did not. Almost immediately, the officer appeared at Nixon’s side and demanded, “What are you doing to that bird? Are you choking that turkey?”

Now John Nixon, already weary of his burden, began to rethink his actions. That bird was making a fuss! Something had to be done! Deciding once more he was in the right, Nixon replied defiantly, “I am not choking the turkey, but I will if he doesn’t shut his chop!”

Apparently Nixon’s answer was less than satisfactory to the officer, who next wanted to see the turkey. The unhappy creature was obligingly brought from the flour sack. Upon examination, the officer assessed the turkey’s neck was “dislocated” and arrested John Nixon for none other than animal abuse.

The sight of the Humane Officer with John Nixon in one hand and a flour sack full of disgruntled turkey in the other must have been startling. A small crowd began to follow the trio, uttering hurried whispers and pointing fingers. The unusual spectacle was accompanied by even louder squawks as the turkey made his position clear.

So loud did the gobbles and squabbles become that even the Humane Officer began having trouble concentrating. In fact, so terrible was the noise that upon reaching a hardware store, the officer instructed Nixon to wait while he went inside. The officer returned with a borrowed axe as more people gathered to await his next move. They didn’t have to wait long. According to the Cripple Creek Times, “the crowd was treated to a real interesting execution right on Bennett Avenue.”

If the crowd was surprised, they must also have been relieved at the sudden quiet which followed the turkey’s demise. While they were exchanging glances and looking from the officer to Nixon and back, a lone yellow dog appeared at the front of the group. Without so much as a look of guilt, the mutt took up the turkey’s head and headed for a nice, quiet spot. It was an exclamation point at the end of a long, confused statement.

When he finally managed to avert his eyes from the departing dog, the officer gazed uncertainly at the crowd. The accusing and bemused looks he received in return made him weigh his next step carefully. Since the object of his concern was no longer among the living, there was no longer a legitimate crime in progress. And since it was, after all, Thanksgiving Eve, what harm would come from letting Nixon go home to his family? Before the amused crowd, the Humane Officer released Nixon from custody. The thankful man gathered his expired turkey into his flour sack and once again made for home.

If there is a moral to this story, the reader must come to his own conclusion. Perhaps it has something to do with a bird in hand and letting feasting dogs lie. Were John Nixon here today to relate the tale himself, he likely might say that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Ghosts and Goblins of Colorado

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Ghost

When we of the living world think of ghosts, our minds naturally conjure up visions of some ethereal figure in an old-fashioned costume. Colorado is rife with tales of such sightings, along with a handful of psychics who have met a misty apparition or two themselves. More often than not, the ghostly subjects of today seem to date to just a century or so ago. But what of those people from the Victorian era itself? Were they not safe from the perils of witnessing supernatural phenomena? Indeed they weren’t.

For over a hundred years and then some, Coloradans have had the same fascination with the afterlife as their descendants. In a time before medicine and safety, death was all too frequently a visitor in many a household. Funerals were an everyday part of Victorian life, and their ceremonies were carried out with vigor. Robert Latta, a visitor to Cripple Creek at the turn of the century, recalled seeing a funeral procession making the rounds of the local bars. The parade was led by a brass brand playing “There’ll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”. The transparent participants laughed and danced their way through every saloon along Bennett Avenue, stopping at each one for a drink and a toast. “They were ‘celebrating’ the funeral of one of their friends,” Latta remembered, “and were carrying his coffin with them. It was the noisiest funeral party I ever saw.”

Naturally not every death was taken so lightly, especially if the deceased decided not to remain so. In 1894, a miner was killed by an explosion at the Mamie R. Mine in the Cripple Creek District. A few nights later, several of the dead man’s co-workers watched in horror as their comrade suddenly rang the bell and disembarked from the hoist bucket alone. Slinging his bloody and shredded arm over his shoulder, the ghostly miner smiled at the men before ambling off into the night. The chilling tale would be repeated around the district for years, followed by new stories as they developed in Victorian imaginations.

Another time in Cripple Creek, a gentleman claimed to have seen a funeral procession on the edge of Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. Upon arriving at the graveyard, however, the man saw no sign of a funeral gathering. Further checking confirmed there were no funerals taking place that day. With the number of clairvoyants calling Cripple Creek home, it is no wonder such stories and their frightful counterparts began appearing out of nowhere.

Cripple Creek was not the only place to suffer such eerie events. Many of Colorado’s first ghost stories date back to the early 1800’s and before. As early as 1832, for instance, a ghost known as John Fagan was terrorizing travelers between Denver and Bent’s Fort. One day in 1879, the Central City Daily Register reported on a miner who arrived at the bottom of a local mine shaft and found the dead body of another miner. The man put the body in the hoist bucket, only to have it arrive up top empty.

That same year, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News printed the story of a recently built house in which no one could live. The newspaper hired a reporter to spend the night in the house. During the course of his stay, the reporter was visited by the ghost of a young woman who claimed her murdered body was interred with the walls. An investigation revealed the girl’s body, just where she said it would be.

In 1881, Dr. Hartmann of Georgetown wrote of a seance at which he and his spiritualist friends summoned dead loved ones and attempted to grab a ghost. Six years later, a visitor to Breckenridge suffered repercussions from drinking from a spring haunted by an Indian maiden who died in captivity. And in 1889, engineers along the Rio Grande Railroad were chased by a phantom train over Marshall Pass. This time, the apparition at the helm of the ghost train left a chilling message written in the frost of the other train’s window: “Years ago a frate train was recked as yu saw—now that yu saw it, we will never make another run. The enjine was not ounder cantrol and four sexshun men wore killed. If yu ever ran on this road again yu will be recked.”

By 1890, folks all over the state were having more supernatural experiences than ever before. A 70 year old man claimed to have received a letter from his dead daughter. In March of 1892, prospectors were spotting an ethereal dragon near Gray’s Peak. Later that year, three prisoners escaped from the Gunnison jail after a phantom set them free. A seven foot ghost was spotted at a station house in Lafayette in 1893. And in 1894, a lengthy conversation between a spirit and mediums cleansed a Denver house for occupancy.

It is true that many of these early tales were probably explainable, such as blaming an inept jailer or real estate shark. Other stories make one wonder as well, such as the 1887 report of a prostitute who went straight after seeing the ghost of her mother. Prostitutes seemed, as always, to be of particular interest to ghost seekers. There is the story of two men who resolved to capture the ghost of harlot Lizzie Greer for loitering near a Dissecting Room in Denver (physicians could sell the indigent deceased to a dissecting room for experiments, thereby covering their own costs). In 1886, Annie “Dutch Annie” Busch’s spirit was hanging around the city jail long after she did herself in at the end of a rope.

It is interesting to note that of all the ghost stories from the past, none seem to survive today except in the annals of the newspapers from whence they came. Have the lost souls found peace and moved on with time? Or did they ever really exist to begin with? In the end it doesn’t really matter; ghost stories are among the best of all stories, true or not. Even so, the prospect of ghosts haunting the earth for centuries leaves one final question: If a live person who once saw a ghost is deceased, does that ghost still see ghosts?

Frozen Together in Time on Pikes Peak

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Frozen Skinners

It was the height of tourist season that August day in 1911, when Mr. and Mrs. William A. Skinner learned a hard lesson about the perils of hiking unprepared on Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

The couple were first spotted at the printing office of the Pike’s Peak Daily News, a tourist paper with advertisements and lists of people hiking the peak that day. Eighteen year old Alex Gress, a guide who led burro parties to the summit, was walking over to the printing office when he noticed Skinner and his wife. The editor of the newspaper, a Mr. Wilson, was trying to talk them out of continuing on their quest to reach the summit. It was already late in the afternoon, and the couple were without a proper guide.

Later, Gress remembered the woman’s argument against postponing the hike. “I came all the way from Texas to climb Pike’s Peak,” she said, “and that’s just what I’m going to do. Nothing’s going to stop me.”

When the Skinners first set out to conquer Pike’s Peak earlier that day, the weather was pleasant and sunny. By the time they reached the News office, however, snow clouds were looming on the horizon and Mr. Skinner looked rather peaked from the already strenuous hike. Both husband and wife were 50 years old, and neither had dressed adequately for the sudden storms which overtake Pike’s Peak year round.

Mrs. Skinner was certainly determined. She not only refused offers of a rental coat, but also Mr. Wilson’s invitation to spend the night at his cabin. Resisting her husband’s pleas to give up the hike, Mrs. Skinner pushed doggedly on with her devoted husband trailing behind her. The last anyone saw of them was at Windy Point, about two miles below the summit, around 4 p.m. Mrs. Skinner was hiking several yards in front of her husband, who appeared on the point of collapse even then.

Over two feet of snow fell during the night. Even after Alex Gress safely guided his group to the summit, the party had to wait several hours after sunrise before the visibility allowed them to trek back down. Little did the group know as they descended the trail that they were walking right by the Skinners. By then the couple was nearly buried under a foot of snow and well beyond help anyone could provide.

When the bodies were spotted the next day, it was 6 p.m. before they could be retrieved. Mrs. Skinner, lying face down, had crossed her hands over her face. Close by was Mr. Skinner, his face upturned to the skies. The couple were taken back down to Manitou, where their bodies were shipped back to Texas for burial.

Of the personal belongings found with the Skinners, two items in particular were worthy of note. One was a set of accident insurance policies, each with a clause prohibiting payment if death came due to overexertion in Colorado. The other was a letter from a friend back in Texas, whose jovial warning rang true in the most chilling fashion: “I hope you are having the time of your life in Colorado, and that you will not freeze to death on Pike’s Peak.”

McCourt, Colorado: Founded by Baby Doe Tabor’s Brother

c 2015 By Jan MacKell Collins

Peter McCourt's luxurious home in Denver.

Peter McCourt’s luxurious home in Denver.

Biographers of Colorado silver king H.A.W. Tabor and his second wife, Elizabeth “Baby Doe”, have been exploring the scandalous Tabor family for decades. What most of them have missed, however, is the tiny part Baby Doe’s brothers, Peter and Philip McCourt, played in the history of the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad and the Cripple Creek District.

Eizabeth, Peter and Philip were born into a family of seven children in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The McCourts were not a wealthy family; Elizabeth’s marriage to a local boy named Harvey Doe was probably welcomed as a way to ease the financial burdens on the family. Harvey and Elizabeth moved to Colorado in 1877, where Harvey tried his luck as a miner. The McCourts saw the marriage as a good sign: one less mouth to feed, with opportunity for success in the family.

The rest is well known Colorado history. The Does initially settled in Central City, but Baby Doe wasn’t the type of gal to settle down as a miner’s wife. Ultimately she took a trip by herself to Leadville, where she met and eventually married the millionaire Horace Tabor in 1882. The relationship was scandalous even by today’s standards as Horace left his wife Augusta and their son, Maxey, in favor of the delightful and gorgeous Baby Doe.

Some of the McCourt family, including Baby Doe’s parents, a sister and her brothers Peter and Philip, accompanied the new couple to Washington D.C. for the marriage. Later, Baby Doe used her husband’s riches to move the family to Denver. The McCourts were given lavish homes and other extravagant gifts. Peter, Baby Doe’s favorite brother, was bestowed with the job of managing the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver. Philip was hired as treasurer.

For the next several years, things were grand for the Tabors and McCourts. Tabor and his bride were the epitome of eccentricity, shocking high society with their outrageous lifestyle and unbridled spending habits. Baby Doe’s family took full advantage of her wealth. Peter was especially a familiar sight at the Tabor Mansion, holding court over weekly poker games with comrades from other elite Denver families.

One night, in the midst of the party, Baby came storming into the room. She was rightfully upset, largely because the wives, sisters and daughters of Peter’s poker buddies were in the habit of snubbing the Tabors and their over the top behavior. Peter’s embarrassed guests quickly left, and the two siblings had it out. They made up later, but it is said their relationship was forever changed.

When talk of the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act—wherein the federal government had standardized silver coinage—started, the Tabors were so lost in their own wealth they hardly blinked. In fact, the couple was well known for their lavish spending habits—including buying diamond-studded diaper pins for their babies, and once even purchasing 100 peacocks for their daughter’s birthday party. So much money had indeed made the couple downright giddy with power, and out of touch with reality. For Tabor and his bride, there seemed to be no end in sight.

In 1893 Peter and Philip McCourt, aware of the ramifications the Sherman repeal was about to bring, began scouting for safe investments. True to everyone’s predictions, the government stopped buying silver and the value of the once precious metal plummeted. Horace Tabor lost everything nearly overnight. Among his assets to go were the Tabor Grand. Peter was out of a job, but had wisely managed to save his money. Baby Doe appealed to Peter to help the falling Tabor empire, but Peter was unsympathetic. “I haven’t any money to spare,” he told her, “and even if I could, you’d only throw it away on some silly extravagance.”

Possibly to escape the woes and shame of his sister, Peter decided to check out the Cripple Creek District, which was in the infant stages of a gold boom. Amongst the developments in the district was the Florence Free Road, established in 1892 by Thomas Robinson. The road, which ran through today’s Phantom Canyon, was to eventually reach the Wyoming state border. Soon after the Salaman Stage Line debuted on the Florence Free Road, plans next began for the Florence and Cripple Creek State Line Railroad. Peter McCourt arrived in about 1893, where he was immediately inaugurated into the Elk’s Lodge. The move is not mentioned in most Tabor biographies, and information about Peter’s correspondence with the family is scant. It is known, however, that Peter soon developed an interest in the railroad coming up Phantom Canyon, then known as Ute Canyon.

Work on the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad began in late 1893. Within the year Peter was establishing a small railroad station, supplemented by a nearby quartz mine staked by himself. His partners were brother Philip, C.A. Bass of Denver, and Dr. John Whiting of Cripple Creek. Plans were in the making to erect a small stamp mill. There were also two placer claims covering the water in Ute Creek, now known as Eight Mile Creek.

McCourt Camp was located at an altitude of 6,483′, situated 13 ½ miles from Florence and 20 miles from Cripple Creek. The F & CC tracks had passed McCourt by March of 1894. Within a few months they had extended as far as Wilbur a few miles up Phantom Canyon, and regular passenger service began. Upon arriving at Wilbur, passengers were transferred to a stage for the remainder of their trip to the Cripple Creek District as the railroad continued extending towards the District town of Victor.

Just a few months later, the railroad was nearing completion with several stops and two tunnels along Phantom Canyon. Upon leaving Florence, the train would pass a reduction works later called Cyanide, Russell (originally called Alabaster), McCourt, Adelaide (originally known as Robinson), Glen Brook, Wilbur and Alta Vista. The next stops were Victor, Eclipse, Arequa, Anaconda and finally, Cripple Creek.

No sooner had the F & CC been completed when a flood in August of 1894 washed out a good bit of the railroad. The southbound train had just passed through Glenbrook when a flash flood came crashing around the corner behind the train. The train raced the flood for the remaining 13 miles to Russell. Behind the train, stations, bridges and tracks were washed out. At Adelaide, two men and a woman drowned in the flood waters.

McCourt Camp was not affected by the flood, and the railroad repaired the damage at a cost of a million dollars. More stations, namely Vesta Junction and Wilders, were established along the route, but Peter McCourt had enough. By all indications, he closed up the Western Union telegraph office at McCourt, forgot about his claims and returned to Denver. There he leased the Broadway Theater, which he ran very successfully for many years. Philip apparently tired of riding his brother’s coat tails and eventually pursued a career as a professional gambler.

Little else is known about McCourt. Some years after the camp was abandoned, a nearby prospector was delighted to find good ore in Ute Creek. It was only after he staked his claim that he discovered the ore was the result of a derailment of the railroad, during which the ore spilled into the stream.

There is nothing to suggest Peter ever returned to the Cripple Creek District, but he did continue to make the occasional headline. After Horace Tabor died in poverty in 1899, Peter was known to send money to Baby Doe’s daughters, Elizabeth and Silver. When Elizabeth tired of life at the Tabor’s depleted Matchless Mine in Leadville, Peter willingly paid her way to Oshkosh.

From then on, Baby appealed to her other daughter, the flamboyant Silver Dollar, to write her uncle when they were in need. Peter accordingly financed some trips to Denver, where Silver Dollar and her mother could spend the winter in warmer quarters than at their shack at Leadville. Eventually Peter bought Silver Dollar’s way out of Colorado forever, mostly in an effort to keep her safe from her own crazy mother.

Unfortunately, Silver Dollar Tabor led a life more scandalous than Baby Doe’s. In between bouts with alcohol and failed relationships, Silver Dollar met President Theodore Roosevelt, published a novel, tried her hand at songwriting and worked briefly as an actress for Alexander Film in Colorado Springs. In 1925, she died from an accidental scalding in Chicago. Her sister Elizabeth refused to claim the body, but Peter sent $300 from Denver for a proper burial. Newspapers in Chicago and Denver jumped on the benevolent act. “Saves Girl From Pauper’s Grave,” blazed one of them, “Silver Dollar Tabor’s Body to Be Cared For. Uncle Pays Funeral Bill.”

When Peter died in 1929, his passing was hardly recognized by society. Baby Doe Tabor died six years later, and this time it was Philip who paid for his sister’s body to be brought from Leadville for burial in Denver. If Peter had been alive, would he have helped? Maybe. When he passed away, Peter included Baby Doe in his will, but she refused the bequest. Her comment at the time was probably more prophetic than she knew. “Living, he forgot me when misfortune came;” she once wrote, “dead, he can give me nothing.”

The Time Capsule of Crystola

IMG_1956

She was a classy lady, I thought to myself.

Standing there in the middle of this small, little old cabin, I saw some semblance of a comfortable home. It was there alright, nestled quietly under the dust and mess that comes when a place is abandoned. In the dim light, I strained to identify the lumps and objects laying about. Gradually, by leaning towards the light coming through the once sunny windows, the shapeless objects on either side of them became curtains. Square shapes in the shadows formed into tables and chairs. The odd piles on the floor became rugs, now covered with dirt and curled up at the edges. An assortment of papers, books, bric-a-brac and other interesting items lay scattered about.

There in the living room was a desk. The drawers still held stationary and an assortment of greeting cards for every occasion. Papers and file folders lay on top, looking as though someone had recently looked through them. But the amount of dust on them indicated otherwise. There were books too, and many were first editions. There was a lamp, also a comfortable reading chair.  A vase stood in one window, waiting for a bouquet of fresh spring flowers that never came.

Except for the dust and dirt, the tiny kitchen had been left neat as a pin. Some silverware was scattered about, but enough pots and pans remained in the cupboards for me to know that at one time, everything here had its place. A woman’s presence had kept everything orderly, from the hot pads hanging from a wall hook to the flowered little dishes above the sink.

The bedroom was, of course, most telling of all. In the closet were dresses, as well as a garment bag containing a fur coat. Clothes lay on the bed, apparently placed there as she packed to leave. I knew she was going, because a packet of old letters said so. They were lovingly tied in a bundle with a faded pink ribbon, and most of them were from a man. His return address bore an “APO, New York” address, telling me his mail came through a central Army post office because he was overseas. The letters were interesting, telling of this man’s adventures but also saying how much he missed her. He couldn’t wait for the day they would be together, he said. As that day grew closer, the letters became even more emphatic.

The last letter lay loose, placed purposely on the bedside table. Either it had not been tied into the bundle with the others, or it fell out. I turned it over, and saw the envelope had never been opened.

I held onto the letter as I wandered back to the living room. My imagination fairly ran wild thinking about what it might say. Why didn’t she open it? Should I open it? Who was this lady, anyway? My fingers ran over the papers on the desk. Some bore the classic archaic letters of an old typewriter. There were forms in the folders, also hand-outs and a resume which told me her name. The resume also revealed that at one time, she was Dean of the Women’s College at Colorado College.

“Aha,” I said aloud, and nodded. This explained a lot. The funky little cabin had originally been built by pioneers long ago. Later, this place and several others were offered as a retreat for college professors. Had she come to the retreat and left for an emergency? Was she on sabbatical, or perhaps retired? All of her things were here; why had she left them behind? And what became of the mystery man who promised to love her forever?

I looked again at the unopened letter in my hand. The answers to my questions may be inside. With a sigh, I carefully tore the envelope open. A single sheet was enclosed, folded with the ink on the other side. As I turned it over and began reading, my heart fairly sang for this woman, now long dead and who never knew me. “My dear,” read the letter. “If you don’t get this letter, it is because you are on your way to meet me in New York. I cannot wait for the day I can hold you in my arms, my sweet, and we will begin our lives together at last.”

After some minutes, I put the letter back in the envelope and laid it carefully on her papers. Looking around one last time, I smiled at her fortune and the fact that yes, dreams really can come true. Closing the door behind me was like closing a good book, one that you want to go back to again and again. But I knew the story would never be told the way it was that day.

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.