Monday, January 12, 2009

CCC in Colorado

One of December's work-related projects involved meeting with a reporter and a photographer from the Rocky Mountain News about our local Civilian Conservation Corps camp and projects. If you missed their stories, published Saturday, here are links to the online versions:

The Forgotten Generation

Fruits of the Depression

Historic CCC Camp to Become Museum

Monday, November 10, 2008

Walker's Cosmopolitan Interests

Here in the foothills of Jefferson County, historians have been captivated by John Brisben Walker for decades. He was handsome, chronically but not consistently wealthy, and possessed by a genius for innovation and promotion at which others could stand and marvel. His schemes sometimes sounded crazy, other times more practical, but none could deny his appeal.

In 1905-06 Walker took renewed interest in the Morrison area. He remembered the small, scenic foothills town from the 1880s, when his two oldest sons attended Sacred Heart College here. A story of his connection to Morrison and the nearby Park of the Red Rocks is told on the Historic Red Rocks website.

Dabbling in new research related to the man has revealed more about his years as Editor of Cosmopolitan magazine between 1889 and 1905. Not satisfied, apparently, with mere editing, he also tried his hand at writing the articles he wanted to publish. The Cosmopolitan: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine was, of course, a very different publication than the one we know today. Walker delighted in publishing articles on current events (such as the Silver Crisis of 1893), travel, and modern inventions, especially those displayed at the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. We hope to bring you some of his articles this year.

In 1905, Walker sold the magazine to William Randolph Hearst for a fortune said to be $400,000 or more. That was the source of funds he later used to acquire Red Rocks and other properties in the Morrison area and promote his vision of a mecca for the tourist and a "second Colorado Springs" close to Denver.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Time Travelling with Maggie Crow

That's what historians do, isn't it? I'm sure everyone has noticed how much these recent weeks are like other times in our nation's past. A couple of weeks ago, some of us attended History Night at nearby Indian Hills, and found ourselves victims of that cliché about history repeating itself. We also got some insight into how national events play out in the lives of so-called ordinary people.

First it was "John Parmalee," who came to Colorado from Iowa in 1860, after news of the gold strikes reached him as it did so many others. Portraying Parmalee, John Steinle, from Hiwan Homestead Museum, reminded us that the impetus to leave homes in the east was not just the lure of gold, but also a result of the financial crisis precipitated by bank failures in 1857.

Then it was my turn, as Maggie Maple Crow... in the early 1890s, Maggie and husband Will moved to Creede. In 1891, Creede had 10,000 people, most trying to make a living mining silver. Maggie and Will, accompanied by tiny daughter Dora, sewed tents for miners to live in, a profitable enterprise after fire in June 1892 destroyed many of Creede's more durable buildings. Creede was a wild town, with about a killing a day, Maggie later said. "One day as I left the tent with my little girl, Dora, a miscarried shot whizzed straight through the tent. We barely missed the bullet."

It was in Creede that Will Crow became acquainted with Bob Ford and did some carpentry work for him. In appreciation, Ford gave Will Crow the gun, a frontier model Colt 45, with which Ford had killed Jesse James in 1882. Ten years had passed, and Ford confided to Will that he was a little tired of killing; two weeks later Ford himself was killed by a member of the James gang. That's how Maggie tells the story. (She kept the gun, displaying it in a 1948 newspaper interview.)

In 1893, of course, history caught up with Creede and many other mining towns in Colorado when the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed, and the bottom dropped out of the silver market. Almost overnight, Creede went from boom to bust as its people, including the Crow family, left in search of other lodes and means of survival. Maggie and Will ended up back home in Junction. Always looking for ways to sustain themselves and their growing family, they later worked in a lumber camp together.

The Roaring Twenties found Maggie, a widow, panning gold in Hall Valley with her sons while raising her grandchildren. (Dora had died in the influenza epidemic of 1918-19.) She panned out about $2-3 a day (not bad income in those days), with grandson Ray playing as a gold panner next to her. Prospecting also got her through next big Depression, in the 1930s, and supplemented her Old Age Pension ($24/month), which began arriving in 1935.

Read about Maggie's next 1890s adventure, in her own words, at

Photo of history night courtesy Cheryl Touryan. Creede's population these days is about 377 people (per 2000 census).

More on: the Panic of 1857,
the Panic of 1893, and its causes;
Creede, the silver camp that wouldn't die,
and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Family of Websites

A small flurry of requests for historic information lately has inspired me to revive Local History Explorer and get it linked to the outside world. It'll be a great place to keep track of and respond to these inquiries.

Here’s a quick review of my little family of websites, all of which have new material or will have over the next few weeks.

Historic Jeffco: One-stop links page for access to historical information about Jefferson County, Colorado. New links are solicited. Easy access to articles, county webpages, Jeffco cemetery info, and more! Contribute to our Monuments page by letting me know which ones I’m missing. Also visit the Placenames Directory, maintained by the Jefferson County Historical Commission (JCHC).

Another resource, the Jefferson County Cultural Resource Survey, has recently become available online, also courtesy JCHC.

Historic Red Rocks: A portal to the most significant sites about Red Rocks Park, as well as a repository for other info that comes my way.

Historic Morrison: New material will be up soon, but meanwhile find lots of great reference information on this historic town.

Mountain Parks History: Exploring the history of the Denver Mountain Parks, especially through historic documents and images. Visit the Then/Now pages. Sponsored and maintained by the Denver Mountain Parks Foundation and City & County of Denver.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Inspiration on aging gracefully comes today from spending yesterday in and with history. We held an Open House at the local CCC Camp to relive an era in which our parents' generation was young, 1933-1942.

Here in Denver, we once had an active CCC alumni group. When I first met them in the mid-1990s, 150 or so of them (CCC men and their spouses) would show up at camp for a monthly meeting during the summer. Yesterday, eight, just eight, of them came to our event; they didn't want to miss it. We were delighted to see them! The photo below shows six. The youngest on the left (Lee is 86 this year), Thelma, Elvy, Henry, Al, and Jack (97).

Behind them, in our display on the wall, is their hero: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Twenty-seven days after his inauguration as President, he signed a bill creating the Civilian Conservation Corps. Within 90 days, 275,000 young men (ages 18-25) were at work in 1,300 camps around the nation. It took four federal departments (Labor, Army, Interior, and Agriculture) to pull this off, and they did it because the need was critical. The boys and men who enrolled in the CCC in 1933 had been wandering the streets of America's cities and towns, hungry and looking for work that didn't exist. Yes, it was a relief program. The catch was that the men had to work for it. In those days, many people were too proud to take a handout.

Try to imagine 25% unemployment. Here's the story Lee told: "I was seven years old when the stock market crashed [1929], and joined the Cs in 1940 as soon as I was old enough. From the day I enrolled to the time I left was the only time in my life I never had to worry." The government provided housing, food, medical care—and work, lots and lots of good hard work. For some of them, it was the first time they'd had a square meal as well. As Lee added about times before the Cs, "We never missed a meal: we just postponed 'em a while."

The men of the CCC learned a great deal in the Cs. They learned to get along with others, regardless of differences in culture; they learned to respect those in authority and to do their share; and they somehow absorbed a huge sense of commitment, patriotism, and honor that seems to be little understood in our later days of instant gratification and self-absorption. They looked after themselves and each other and handled discipline. Bullies and slackers (called "goldbricks") soon learned to mend their ways.

And they changed the face of this country: improving or planting forests and revegetating grasslands; building dams, bridges, roads, and park facilities. A force for land, soil, and water conservation—three million strong—whose works remain today. We use them and travel them without even thinking about the men who built them three-quarters of a century ago. There's a CCC project somewhere near you; check it out this summer and help celebrate the 75th anniversary and the legacy they gave us.

Pearl Harbor signaled the end of the great CCC experiment. Almost to a man, they enlisted and brought their skills to military service. The work ethic and discipline instilled during their service ultimately helped us win World War II.

But the personal growth each enrollee experienced lasted beyond the war and shaped the rest of his life. They married (most for life), and raised families. They believe that the experience of service in the CCC changed their lives, and they believe our country's youth deserve the same opportunity today. If you can find one of these "forgotten men," stop and say thanks.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Back in the Day

Retrieving and researching historic aerial photos recently, I ran across this great 1955 view of what my neighborhood looked like before it was a neighborhood. (Post updated September 2008.)

There are a couple of drainages on the left, and one house upper right and a few others lower right. That's about it, unless you start thinking history. The lines that meet at the top center tell a fascinating story, one which I've barely started to explore. The "four track" that veers left and downward is an old wagon road, also reported as a cattle drive, most likely both. The single line that curves to the right around the hill is the visible remnant of an old flume that was intended to carry water from Bear Creek to the north to farms off far to the southeast. Perhaps it did for a time. In about 1910, there was also a 9-hole golf course in this area!

Here's a look at the approximate area over which our neighborhood was built. I'll put up the "after" shot soon. (Well, eventually.)

Explorations of the new (to me) field of ecological history are capturing my interest and attention lately. Repeated aerials are going to be a great way to find out more about this area, especially as "on-the-ground" traces of historic use can fade over time.

Much later, a 2008 update, here's the "after" view, taken in about 2002. New features dominate the old landscape. The small reservoir to the north was built in 1981. A new water pipeline, not yet revegetated, occupies part of the old wagon road. The land north of the dozen or so new houses (two more have been added since) is now part of Mt. Falcon Park, accessed by a new parking lot and visible trails. The old flume, subject of a new post, is more subtle now, fading into the background of this photo, but still easily traced on the ground. The land south of the road, at the lower edge of the picture, is a horse pasture subject to heavy grazing.

Overall, though, we've been lucky. As parkland, much of the area remains as it was more than 50 years ago.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New History Links

It's been quiet here on LHE, I know, but that doesn't mean there isn't new historical material for you to browse. Here are some of my latest projects and updates to existing projects.

Mountain Parks History: a new website exploring the history of the Denver Mountain Parks, especially through historic documents and images. Visit the Then/Now pages.

Historic Jeffco: latest update here is the addition of a Monuments page.

Historic Red Rocks: new winter photos coming soon.

Historic Morrison: not much new here, but lots of great information on the historic town