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Clue: The old Main Street shopping district has seen better days. Photo by: Ron Ruhoff
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Did you know?
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.” (They were increased in 2020 to $30 per person.)
Visit to Bridger’s Fort by Jane Elliott
The summer of 2003 Norm & I took a 2 1/2 week tour in our 24 foot RV to visit forts and historic places in Wyoming & Montana culminating at Bridger’s Fort on the Black River, a fork of the Green River in Southwest Wyoming. In 1843 Jim Bridger & Louis Vasquez established the Fort as a supply and outfitting station on the California, Oregon & Mormon Trails.
We pulled into a small RV park adjacent to the Fort. It was getting to be evening and the next day was reserved to explore the Fort’s history in depth. We turned in for the night and darkness settled all around us. We traveled everywhere with our 2 cats, Jack and Sam. They were very easy-going companions. I mention them as they are part of the story.
About 10:00 p.m. we were awakened by loud noises in the camper as Jack and Sam were frantically trying to find someplace to hide. Jack was trying to force himself under the bathroom door with only a 2 inch space and Sam jumped onto my chest and catapulted himself to the shelf above the bed. We had no idea what was happening, but it was clear these cats were scared out of their minds.
Without turning on any lights, I went to a side window of the camper and looked to see if someone was out there. It was all dark except for one thing. A dog was walking the perimeter of the campground. Not just any dog, because this one was clearly visible in the dark. There was a pink glow around him and he was definitely patrolling the grounds. There was no explanation unless you think in Indian terms of a spirit animal.
The next day we walked about 30 feet to the entrance of the Fort Bridger Park and started our exploration at the Museum to get some history as well as the layout of the Fort. The Museum Interpreter explained how the Fort came to be and its purpose on these trails. She talked about how Bridger and Vasquez were out hunting and when they returned the Mormons had taken over the Fort.
The Mormons tried unsuccessfully to arrest Jim Bridger as an outlaw. He fled with his wife and children into the woods for safety. A few years later Bridger sold the Fort to the military and the Mormons burned it down. The military moved in and that was that. This is a short version of a very detailed historical account. At that point, I mentioned to the Curator what happened during the night. The answer was simple. She said it was Thornburgh, a dog found as a puppy in an Indian skirmish who became a highly regarded member of Bridger’s Fort. He has a dignified grave surrounded by a white picket fence near the stables.
The Thornburgh Massacre occurred in 1879 when Major Thornburgh was sent to the White River Indian Agency in Colorado to sort things out between Nathan Meeker (Ute Indian Agent) and hostile Indians. A skirmish occurred and Major Thornburgh was killed as well as most of the troops. Captain Payne was assessing a wagon train that had been burnt and heard a continuous yelping coming from a small puppy. He kept the little puppy and named him Thornburgh, who then became a military camp follower until ending up at Fort Bridger permanently, where he was loved and respected by all. He became the devoted companion of a freighter named “Buck” Buchanan who made sure he was well cared for.
Thornburgh earned his keep and respect through various acts of heroism by protecting the Fort and those who lived there. Some of his accomplishments were catching a commissary thief in the middle of a stormy night, warning a guard of marauding Indians (he hated Indians), saving the life of a soldier in a knife fight, and rescuing a small boy from drowning in the river. Thornburgh died September 27, 1888, the result of being kicked by one of Buck’s mules.
Thornburgh’s gravestone reads:
Died Sept 27, 1888
Man never had a better, truer, braver friend
Sleep on old fellow, we’ll meet again
across the range.
For a fun and interesting read go to http://www.sitesrootweb.com/-rkinfolks/stories/thornburgh.html, “A True Dog Story” by Albert Cooper Allen in 1894 about the life of Thornburgh as told to him by Buck, who was then an old man. I sense the RV park was built on property that was part of the Fort back in the day, and that Thornburgh is still patrolling and guarding Fort grounds. For whatever reason, I feel privileged to have seen him and tell part of his story. He truly was Man’s Best Friend.
Keeping Busy in these Trying Times by Ken Barney
I was very interested in the article in the last Gazette about the Antelope Springs Methodist Episcopal Church in Morgan County. Antelope Springs is a ghost town “about a quarter-mile west of Colorado 71 on County Road EE north of Snyder” (which is northeast of Brush) in Morgan County. According to Kenneth Jessen’s book Ghost Towns of Eastern Colorado, the buildings are gone in Antelope Springs and the location is marked by a grove of trees in “a sheltered depression”. He doesn’t mention a church of any kind. However, other information I researched indicated that in 1998, the church still had 3 members left. The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. It suffered a fire in 2019, but was saved. It is located on private property and the owners are seeking 501(c)3 status in order to preserve and restore it. I hope to visit the site sometime this summer.
I’m also reading a book I bought at the old Caboose Hobbies on South Broadway in Denver about the history of the railroads and Sterling, Colorado. I was born in Sterling when my parents were living in Fleming, east of Sterling. The book is called Sterling Colorado-Crossroads on the Prairie by James R. Jones and Russ Collman. Lots of pictures and narrative ranging from the beginning of the town and region up to the beginning of the 21st century.
Need Something To Do? Write Your Own History by Joanie Fields
Ghost Towners love history—right? So how about writing your own personal story! In fear of being laughed at or that no one cares, we tend to remain silent. Put your fears aside and just have fun with this.
1. Tap Into Your Emotions. Your story won’t resonate with others if it is void of emotion. Write some key feelings you associate with your life. Then write something of what was behind the emotion.
2. List Turning Points. People often make the mistake of starting with their early childhood and proceeding chronologically. It’s more helpful to list your life’s key turning points~~when you were at a crossroads and the direction you chose that changed your life.
3. Write Everything Down. It might not seem like much at the time but it’s amazing how one memory leads to another and allows you to go deeper into your story. Jot down the random thoughts that come to you even when you are not at your desk writing. You may or may not use them, but they may still have a purpose.
4. Use The Senses. One thing that will help you explore forgotten memories (is that an oxymoron?) is to recall smells, tastes and sounds. It may help recall details, and will enrich your writing.
5. Find The Theme. Once you have compiled a number of significant scenes, you may see a theme emerging. The ability to continue the theme through the sequence of events you’ve compiled is what will make your individual scenes into one story. You might discover more than one theme and that’s okay. You might think of your themes as chapters in a book or scenes in a play.
6. Tell A Story. You have your theme and a multitude of scenes. You may have gone through a box of tissues laughing or crying as you explore your emotions and memories, but have you told a story? As you pull it together, focus on the reader. How will the story connect with the reader? The best stories are those that connect most with the reader.
7. Explain some things. Remember younger or future audiences may not understand some things you write about such as “dial phones”, clocks with hands, standard transmissions in cars, cursive writing, games such as marbles, jacks, jumping rope, etc.
8. Photos. Don’t forget to put in a few photos of people or places you write about. Visuals help your reader.
9. Rewarding. Telling your story is one of the most rewarding and clarifying things you can do for yourself and for others.
This Article was written by Rich Dais (esteemed club member and sorely missed) in 1998 for our “40th Anniversary Memories” Booklet
One of the drawbacks to ghost towning is the sad fact that due to weather, vandalism and general decay, ghost towns throughout the West are slowly disappearing. In the 1960’s and 70’s the Forest Service tore down or burned many historic structures under the guise of returning the land to its wilderness state. In addition, in recent years more people are moving into even the most remote corners of the high country, building homes or “fixing up” structures in long abandoned towns. In Capitol City, someone has built a rather substantial home on the site of the Lee Mansion. Baldwin, although still holding on, is now lost in a subdivision of 35 acre luxury “ranchettes”. Rosita is hardly recognizable; Nevadaville and Irwin are rapidly filling up with homes, and the entire townsite of Carson is for sale for a mere two million bucks.
As early as 1971, the Ghost Town Club began formulating ideas for preserving our vanishing resource. In July of that year, a preservation seminar was held and a workshop was held in March, 1974. In 1975 John Dillavou became our first Preservation Chairperson and he continues to champion the cause today. A Preservation Fund was started in the late 1970’s and a monthly book drawing was established as a fund raiser. In 1982 the first of several auctions was held to benefit Preservation. Each year contributions are made from the Fund to various nonprofit organizations, usually for specific projects such as stabilization of historic structures, painting or roofing.
In August 1983 the Club began its own grass-roots preservation effort with the first of many workdays at historic sites throughout Colorado. Our first project, in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society, was the restoration of a cabin at Independence for the use of a “ghost” or summer caretaker. The historic log cabin was shored up and a new roof and floor were installed by Club volunteers. By the end of the day, the “ghost” could be found resting inside his new digs after a hard day of watching the rest of us work!
The following October a group of volunteers got an “up close and personal” look at Black Hawk’s famed Lace House while painting its ornate gingerbread exterior. And in August of 1987, Club members spent a three day weekend putting a new roof on the Duncan House at Animas Forks. The next year, on a Labor Day weekend field trip to Marble, the Club took a day off from sightseeing to paint the old schoolhouse, now a museum, as well to clear the brush and debris from the site of the Marble finishing plant. In May 1990, we gathered at the Moore House in Central City, a former brothel, to scrape off layers of wallpaper inside, paint portions of the exterior and plant flowers.
The Club’s most ambitious effort so far has been the restoration of the firehouse at Eureka, northeast of Silverton. Volunteers spent a full week in the area in 1993 and again in 1995, putting on a new roof and replacing the siding which had been removed years before by vandals. This past summer a group assembled at the Denver Public Schools Outdoor Education Center near Jamestown to work on the assay office at one of the historic mines on the property.
Gilmore, Idaho – July 1990 by Sally Alt
In July 1990, John and Dawn Nicholson led Ghost Towners and guests on a week long tour of Idaho ghost towns. One of these towns was Gilmore, which had numerous buildings remaining, and which they believed to be deserted. But as we explored the town, a man with a long white beard and rifle approached us. He looked like the epitome of a mountain man hermit.
This was Dick Moll, the sole resident of Gilmore. A few years later, he and his brother Bob produced a history of Gilmore, entitled A History of Gilmore Past and Present. Here is Dick’s description of that day:
A short time later that summer, on Monday, July 16, 1990 to be exact, Dick returned to Gilmore from his water master duties as usual. However, on that day when he turned onto the road into Gilmore he was confronted by an unbelievable sight. His town of Gilmore was overrun with campers, trailers, and motor homes. They appeared to be parked about three deep from one end of the town to the other.
As he drove up to the Gilmore Mercantile, the scene was even more unbelievable. Gilmore was crawling with people – there were people everywhere! Well, Dick drove on to his home as quickly as he could and took care of his groceries. Then he started walking back towards town to see what was going on. As he was angling over to Porphyry Avenue (Gilmore’s Main Street), he spotted a lady walking up past the powerhouse ruins and heading his way. So he waited for her to catch up with him, and then he asked her who they all were and where were they from. She explained that they were members of the “Colorado Ghost Town Club” and were touring Idaho Ghost Towns.
They had been walking along as she told him all this, so they were in front of the Pierce House when Dick told her that he lived in Gilmore. Well that lady seemed to come unglued! She startled Dick by yelling as loud as she could for a guy named “John.” Dick was grateful for the relative silence that returned when John appeared on the scene followed by a crowd of club members.
Upon learning that Dick was a current resident of Gilmore, this fellow introduced himself as John Nicholson, the coordinator of the tour. He explained that each summer they spend two weeks visiting ghost towns in the different states throughout the West. John and his club members were surprised and fascinated to meet someone who was actually living in Gilmore. All of the information they had indicated that Gilmore had been completely abandoned for a long time.
Of course, Dick answered many questions. As they walked along, he pointed out some of the buildings and explained a little of the history of Gilmore. John called all of the cub members together for an informal conference in front of the Gilmore Mercantile. It seems that Gilmore was to have been nothing more than a lunch stop before continuing on to Salmon. Salmon was to be their final destination for the day. After their arrival in Salmon the members were to be on their own for the rest of the day.
When John finally managed to get all the club members together (there were about 70 of them), he asked Dick if he would be willing to show them around and tell the group some of the history of Gilmore. Of course Dick said he would be happy to and suggested that it might be most interesting to tour Upper Gilmore. That suggestion really aroused their curiosity because they had never heard of Upper Gilmore.
John told the group that those who wished to continue on to Salmon as scheduled should feel free to do so, but those interested in touring Gilmore with Dick were urged to stay. They would depart for Salmon later in the day – after the tour.
Almost half of them chose to stay, and together with Dick they had a wonderful afternoon. They impressed Dick as a great bunch of people and they were very much interested in learning about Gilmore. They were very pleased with Dick’s tour and the information he provided. As a result of their visit Dick received a Christmas card with a nice note from Sally Alt, who was President of their club at the time of their visit in 1990.
Dick and I exchanged Christmas cards for several years. I’ve had many wonderful days with the Ghost Town Club of Colorado, but July 16, 1990 will always stand out. Dick died at his cabin in Gilmore on July 7, 2002.
A Ghost Town Club is Born by Ron Ruhoff
My interests in Colorado mining and ghost towns probably began with my wanderings around Central City in the 1950’s. My father was a musician in the Denver Symphony and also had joined the Central City Opera orchestra at that time. During my junior high years at Byers School in Denver, I used to go up there with him before I was old enough to drive. I was fascinated as I walked around Central City and Black Hawk and saw so many abandoned buildings, mine structures, and the “glory hole” atop Quartz Hill.
In 1957, the year I graduated from South High, I got my first car: A 1942 military jeep. My friends and I had a grand time that year exploring the back roads around Central City and Idaho Springs. The ghost town of Lamartine was one of my first discoveries. Back then, there were several cabins and a stamp mill still standing. I was also having fun shooting all these things with slide film and a 35mm camera. Those good old Kodachromes have never faded.
Later in 1957, a friend joined me for a Jeep trip to the San Juan Mountains near Ouray, Lake City, and Silverton. We traveled over Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, and visited such places as Yankee Boy Basin, Capitol City, Carson, and Mineral Point. I was off and running on a quest for Colorado ghost towns.
At this same time, I often attended lectures given by the Colorado State Historical Society in the basement of Denver’s First Baptist Church on 14th and Grant in Denver. At one such lecture in January 1958, a man named John Farr got up to make an announcement before the main speaker began: “All of you who might be interested in forming a ghost town club, please stay after the meeting.” There were some one hundred people there for the program that night and, when the lecture concluded, every single one stayed.
All thought a ghost town club was a great idea, and much discussion proceeded regarding what such a club would do. Some thought railroads, toll roads, or old passes should be included, but it finally was agreed that those other subjects would naturally follow the ghost town theme. Some also thought the club would run out of places to visit in a short time; certainly no one dreamed it would last 60 years and still be going strong.
Agnes Wright Spring, the Colorado State Historian at the time, had suggested to John that he bring up the idea of a ghost town club that evening. Upon seeing the interest it generated she wrote an article for the Rocky Mountain News and gave a date for the first meeting: March 3, 1958. The location would be the same church basement room used by the Historical Society.
The program for the first meeting of the Ghost Town Club of Colorado was presented by Robert L. Brown and featured two of his 8mm movies with music and narration: “San Juan Holiday” and “Jeep Trail to Timberline.” The remainder of the time was spent electing officers and planning future meetings. Dr. Gerald Coon was the first president; Jack Morison, a Denver schoolteacher, would be vice president and program chairman; and Gary Balliet was the first treasurer. We all paid our dues of $1.00 that night and the GTC was off and running.
John Farr never joined the club he had proposed, nor was he present at any of the meetings. Soon after he got the ball rolling with his announcement at the Historical Society meeting, the insurance company for which he worked moved him off to jobs in Montana and the Dakotas, and he never had the chance to participate in the club. He later relocated to Encampment, Wyoming, where he resides today and remains very involved with their historical old-town museum.
Over the many years of Ghost Town Club fellowship, lectures, and field trips, I have found that this organization has probably had the greatest influence on my life of anything I have done. Many other members have expressed similar feelings. The Ghost Town Club has proven to be a grand adventure over these many years and a heartfelt thanks goes out to John Farr for getting it all started.