Posts Tagged ‘Colorado’

WAGONS WEST!

August 18, 2013

They look so wonderful in old movies and Western television shows!  Those sleek, frequently white, horses pulling pioneer wagons and stages across the lush green Western prairie.  BUT, here is the reality.  Commonly, horses were not used in pulling wagons or stagecoaches across the plains.  Even the heartiest Percheron or Clydesdales weren’t used for the drudgery of wagon pulling in most cases.  Why?  Those handsome steeds were too expensive.

So, now you ask, what did they use?  Most wagons and stagecoaches were pulled by mules. Not nearly as romantic as those white horses, but more dependable and less likely to step in a hole or a wagon rut and break a leg.  The other animal of choice was the ox.  The lumbering oxen made slow progress, only about seven miles per day.  Small wonder it took months to reach the gold fields of California or Colorado.  Many folks who headed for the gold fields chose to walk.  They could make better daily mileage by walking than the ox team.

With animals another problem faced migrating pioneers.  Water and animal food were a constant concern.  Once they left the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, pioneers learned that many of the water sources in the West were rushing torrents in spring and dried sand in summer.  Water barrels helped with the problem, but the miles between places to fill barrels were long. 

So wipe those romantic ideas out of your brain.  Traveling West was a grueling, dry, miserable undertaking, and horses need not apply.

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MY GRANDFATHER WAS A HUCKSTER

June 6, 2013

Huckster—the word evokes all kinds of sinister images in the modern mind, but in reality the dictionary defines huckster as a peddler. Hucksters in the 1800’s traveled from distant outposts and farmsteads selling notions—pins, needles, and perhaps a yard or two of brightly colored cloth.

The huckster was CNBC or CNN in a wagon. He brought news from the neighbors and the outside world. Far from a flimflam man, he often traded his goods for a good meal or a bit of hay for his livestock.

Traveling in a zigzag pattern over the Nebraska and Kansas plains, it is no wonder that it took my grandfather and his father more than a year to travel from their former home in Erie, Ohio to Denver, Colorado. When they arrived in Denver, they made the easy transition from hucksters to freighters into the Rocky Mountains.

The huckster wagon was a marvelous maze of compartments and cubbies each containing a treasure for a price. Items the pioneers were forced to leave along the westward trail were conjured from the depths of the huckster’s wagon to the delight of homestead husbands and wives. The replacement for broken scissors or a much-needed bottle of horse liniment emerged from the hidden recesses of the huckster’s wagon.

Yes, there were a few questionable traders out there, not my grandfather that I could discover, but for the homesteaders and ranch families of the plains the huckster’s wagon

100th Anniversary Celebration

May 21, 2013

100 years old. Quite a feat. I’m not 100, but the pioneer built Ruth Chapel in Parker, Colorado turned 100 on May 13, 2013. A community celebration sponsored by the town of Parker and the Parker Area Historical Society on May 18th featured hay rides, tours of the chapel, and refreshments of the era accompanied by music from a “brass band.”

I was fortunate to be included in the festivities and spent the morning handing out celebratory red carnations to the ladies. Also briefly neglecting my carnation duties, I had my photo taken in front of the “motor car” which added color and interest to the morning.

The story of Ruth Chapel is similar to other historic buildings throughout the West. Female residents of the area decided it was time for some childhood religious training so began a Sunday School that met in the local school in the 1880’s. Later circuit riding ministers held monthly services in the school. In the early 1900’s, the community was in need of a church. George Parker one of the co-founders of the town, which bears his name, sold the church property for $1 and later school superintendent, Dr. Heath, donated the land. The building had one paid worker, construction supervisor William Holmes; the remaining workers were local ranchers and farmers who donated their time and skills to build the small church.

It didn’t matter the religious affiliation of the worker; the community banded together to get the job done. The basement was excavated with a horse drawn scraper and local families contributed the building’s light plant and furnace.

By the 1913 completion date, Dr. Heath had passed away but the building was dedicated in memory of his daughter who had passed away before the Heaths came to Colorado. It was called the Ruth Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.

Like all community endeavors, membership in the church waxed and waned with the area population sometimes counting less than ten attendees until the Parker community began to grow in the early 1980’s. The Methodist church out grew the building and purchased the vacant school building next door. The Ruth Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and after being purchased by the Town of Parker has become the site of small weddings and similar events.