The Ghost Town Club of Colorado was founded in 1958 by two Denver teachers, Jack Morison and Bob Brown. Together with several other people who shared an interest in Colorado history and historic preservation, they created a group focused specifically on ghost towns – their history and preservation.
What do we do?
Ghost Town Club of Colorado (GTC) holds monthly meetings featuring guest speakers on a variety of topics related to western history, ghost towns, Colorado history and relevant historic subjects. Past presentation topics include: the adventure, danger and romance of Colorado’s railroads, Denver’s great mansions and the people who inhabited them, and the unusual opportunities and challenges of living in a fire observation tower. There is something for everyone in this group of enthusiastic lovers of Colorado history!
Members also plan, organize, and lead many field trips to ghost towns and/or historic sites. These include day-trips to local sites such as old Fort Lupton to learn about and observe reconstruction of the fort, as well as to the ghost town of Dearfield to explore a hundred-year-old African American agricultural community on the arid high plains. Our excursions may include leisure driving, four-wheel driving, and/or hiking to our destinations.
Our field trips also include weekend excursions such as a motorcoach tour to Nebraska and the Lincoln County Historical Museum depicting a WWII canteen serving more than six million soldiers traveling by train through North Platte.
We also organize longer tours traveling to several states and parts of Canada, visiting significant historical sites and monuments, national parks, and local historians along the way.
And lets not forget about historic preservation. The club collects money throughout the year in a preservation fund to distribute at the end of the year to nonprofit historic sites in need of finacial support. Also, we will often help by doing actual preservation work with hands-on labor.
Who are we?
We are a diverse and active group of people with a shared sense of and reverence for history. We honor the significant contributions of many people through our strong desire to study, learn from, and preserve ghost towns and the memory of the people who built and lived in them. Perhaps most importantly, we are a group of friendly people who enjoy getting out, socializing, learning, and having a lot of fun.
How do we operate?
We are a volunteer-run organization. Our board of directors consists of six members who are elected to two-year terms. The president and other officers are elected for a yearly term. Subcommittees plan and execute special projects such as the yearly banquet, preservation fund awards, volunteer coordination, or outreach activities, to name a few.
Snapshot of GTC History
During the first three meetings of the Club back in 1958 when organizers were trying to decide on a name for the club, one lone stranger kept insisting that “toll roads” be added to the name. Finally Ghost Town Club of Colorado was “railroaded” through. In December 1963, the Club was legally incorporated with the Secretary of State.
First dues for the Club were $1 a year. In 1979, dues were $5 a year. Slowly postage, printing, insurance and rent have caused minimal increases. It’s been many a year since we had to raise the dues, and as Dick Ramsey says, “It’s still the best bargain in town.”
We invite you to attend a monthly meeting to learn more about us. Our membership dues are $25 per year. Join GTC today! Costs for field trips vary based on distance and length.
Letter from the President Ethan Knightchilde, July 2018
“It’s A Great Story But…”
Independence Day, secession, foreigners & hyperbole in the Old West
Last month I speculated that perhaps more people might be engaged with history if events were presented in a story format. Even when summarily told, an historical tale is able to spark interest and inspire one to delve deeper in a search for details.
However, details can prove elusive for many reasons. Consider that those living beyond the frontier often experienced a deep feeling of isolation; entertainment options for distraction were severely limited; and, particularly when news was local, many papers of the day considered their duty as town booster to be of greater importance than inconvenient facts. As a consequence events were often embellished; tales grew in the telling; and, details that sprang from the imaginations of storytellers eventually became factoids. Thus the history of the Old West is replete with exaggerated accounts of wild discoveries, lost mines, epic confrontations, and inflated population figures that would have made even the town boosters and editors of the day blush.
If tall tales stemmed from frontier folks’ sense of isolation, so too were the Independence Day celebrations that went on far longer and more intensely than many generations since can imagine, and which helped even fiercely independent souls feel connected to their countrymen back in the States. Parades and firecrackers were common, as well as orations that included readings from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, toasts to almost everything, setting off of gunpowder, foot races, horse races, drilling competitions, climbing greased poles, and contests to capture oiled pigs.
I mention obfuscation and July 4th celebrations to better frame this month’s anecdote.
Founded in 1849 Rough and Ready, California, had been named after recently-elected President of the U.S., General Zachary Taylor, who bore the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” during the Mexican-American War. Tales say that most of the townspeople were Southern-sympathizers who objected to California’s entry into the Union as a free and undivided State, but especially to a government-imposed mining tax on their claims. And so on April 7, 1850, residents voted to secede from the United States and found The Great Republic of Rough and Ready. Then something funny happened on the way to the forum: miners from the new republic were denied the purchase of alcohol at a nearby town on the grounds that they were foreigners.
Rough and Ready voted to rejoin the Union just in time to celebrate Independence Day.
To be sure it’s an interesting tale that invites one to delve further, but one will find that the facts here are very muddied. At first glance the objectionable tax seems to be the Foreign Miners Tax. However that little legislative slice of heaven was aimed at Chinese and Mexicans. Additionally, the bill was only signed into law six days AFTER Rough and Ready’s secession on April 13, 1850, and only became effective on June 1. As to California Territory entering the Union as a free and undivided State—well, that didn’t happen until September 9, 1850, five months and two days after secession.
Some sources state that Rough and Ready remained independent for more than a year as opposed to a few months, and did not rejoin the Union until July 1851 rather than 1850. Others state that hostilities did not officially end until 1948, when the town wanted a post office. But that usually ignores the fact that a post office had been established there in 1851 and has served the town with few breaks since.
As the saying goes, “Fiction is history that did not happen, and history is fiction that did.” Now it’s your turn to share a unique story about one of your ghost town visits, but please… don’t let entertainment get in the way of the facts.
~ Ethan Knightchilde, July 2018
P.S. To clarify: Your tale can be about ANY ghost town visit and does not necessarily need to be GTC related! Don’t feel pressured to write a novel–just set down a few paragraphs on one sheet of paper! (See my letter in the February Gazette for an example of just how short it can be.)
Letter from the President, Ethan Knightchilde, June 2018
A Storied Past
As a child and early teen, I had far less enthusiasm than I do now for the subject of history, primarily due to most teachers’ emphasis on committing to memory the who, where, and when.
Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown in October 1781…
As such I was bored when I should have been enthralled. With the transition to prep classes and university, two additional points came into play that revealed history as a fascinating arc of interconnected events. They are the why and how, and they allow the imaginative to ponder the what if.
The Visigoths sacked the city Rome in 410 CE…
…But why and how did the Roman Empire–the greatest the world had ever seen–fall? And what if it hadn’t? What if General Ewell had carried out his orders at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, and secured the high ground for the Confederacy? What if reparations had not been imposed on Germany after the Great War?
Adding the why and how ensures complete engagement for they fill out the list of elements required for a captivating story. And history is full of events that can be told as stories for “edutainment.” Farce, tragedy, adventure, mystery, and suspense all hold a place in the great arc.
Late in the afternoon on Sunday, June 14, 1903, unusually violent thunderstorms unleashed torrential rain and hail in north central Oregon. The saturated earth could not absorb the deluge, and the overgrazed hillsides had little vegetation to impede runoff and erosion. Floodwaters raced down Willow Creek and its tributary Balm Fork, gathering mud and debris along the way. Downstream, just beyond where the two join, lay the small town of Heppner. The storm surge halted only briefly when a steam laundry built across the river served as a temporary dam. But within moments the structure failed, and a wall of water two to four stories high slammed into and roared through the unsuspecting town. Sources list the death toll at 247—approximately 1/5th of the population.
Though all the elements previously mentioned are present, that one story is summarily told and only hints at the dozens or perhaps hundreds of individual tragedies and triumphs one might discover with further research.
By now I’m sure you may be asking yourself where I might be going with this, other than to explain some childhood issues with history class and mark the 115th anniversary of what was both the deadliest natural disaster in Oregon history and the second deadliest flash flood in the US.
In 1958 a gentleman stood before the audience of a history program and asked all those interested in ghost towns to remain after the presentation. They formed a club that became so wildly successful that new would-be members remained on a years-long wait list. The group still meets every month as they have for the last 60 years.
Again just one story (barely) summarily told and suggesting the hundreds of tales club members could tell about their time visiting ghost towns over the better part of a century. But when stories and history aren’t written, they are eventually lost. And who is left to say what actually happened?
In the February Gazette I shared with you a story about one of my most memorable ghost town visits. Now I await yours. Whether it occurred during a GTC field trip or on one of your own adventures as mine did, I again implore you to do your part in making the rich history of our club and the experiences of its members something more permanent than a fading oral tradition.
~ Ethan Knightchilde, June 2018