Thomas Jacob "Dr. Colorado" Noel, a Professor of History and Director of Public History, Preservation & Colorado Studies at the University of Colorado Denver, is the author of more than fifty books. He was a longtime Sunday columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post and appears regularly on Channel 9 (NBC) Colorado & Company as Dr. Colorado.
Tom serves on History Colorado's State Historian's Council and was State Historian in 2019. Tom is a graduate of the University of Denver, CU Denver and the University of Colorado at Boulder, where his mother (a psychiatrist) and grandmother (a teacher) also completed graduate work. Tom teaches Denver, Colorado, Heritage Tourism, Historic Preservation, Mining & Railroads, National Parks History, U.S. West, and Western Art & Architecture courses at CU Denver. He conducts tours of the highest state and the Mile High City for History Colorado.
Anne Ellis: An Extraordinary Woman
Rocky Mountain News: January 12, 2002
Colorado's bonanza mining days are unearthed in Anne Ellis' lively autobiography, Life of an Ordinary Woman. This extraordinary look into everyday life of lower middle class Coloradans a century ago sparkles with wit, insight and courage.
"Yes," Anne comments on page 41, "I know I am having a baby in every chapter, but that is the way we had them!" This perky young woman with blue eyes and frizzy blonde hair also finds a new man often, but young and strong men quickly turn weak and old with the dangerous, health-wrecking labor in Colorado mines.
"I have gone down a mine," she writes. "There is this feeling of being buried...the dampness, the sound of dripping water, the smell of burned powder and bad air, the feel of darkness, the dirt sifting and slithering around rotten timbers, rats slipping around corners, the fear of a companion's carelessness, or of an open trap door not noticed in the darkness."
Like Molly Brown, Anne was born in Missouri. Unlike Molly, she never became rich and famous. Anne crossed the plains as a small child in an oxcart to settle with her family in Bonanza, Colorado, a mining camp on the western edge of the San Luis Valley up in the San Juan Mountains. Her n'er-do-well father deserted the family and her mother died when Anne was 19, leaving Anne to care for six brothers and sisters. Desperate, she married a miner and--after he died--another miner, who also left her a widow. After losing two husbands in ten years, she supported her family by working as a seamstress, a baker, a camp cook, and running boarding houses. Friends in Bonanza twice elected her treasurer of Saguache County although she did not know the multiplication tables or even how to write a check. Admirers also persuaded her to write down what she called her "picture memories." She published The Life of an Ordinary Woman in 1929 with the illustrious Boston firm of Houghton Mifflin, which also published her other two books, Plain Anne Ellis: More About the Life of an Ordinary Woman (1931) and Sunshine Preferred: The Philosophy of an Ordinary Woman (1934). Finally earning a comfortable living from her writing, Anne retired to Denver in 1938 only to die later that year. She was buried in what is now an aspen overgrown cemetery near the ghost town of Bonanza under a modest headstone: Anne Heister Flemming Ellis county treasurer, author, wife, mother 5-4-1875 -- 8-27-38.
Bonanza, the closest thing to a home for rambling Anne, originated in 1880 after prospectors struck pay dirt in the Bonanza Mine. Bonanza once boasted more than 150 buildings and an estimated 1,000 people but slowly declined during the early 1900s and lost its post office in 1938. During the 1990s, the National Forest Service cleaned up Bonanza, removing 32,000 tons of mine waste, stabilizing the few surviving structures and installing interpretive signs.
But Bonanza comes to life best in the words of Anne Ellis. Bright and sassy, she concluded early that "there has been much more money put into the ground than has ever been taken from it." Bonanza towns soon turned into busted ones. Of a dozen Colorado mining towns where she once lived, she wrote "only Bonanza to-day is left, and some of the old time buildings are standing and being used; but they are so stooped and gray with age that they lean on each other for support; the windows are all broken, like blind eyes."
Her wide-awake books tell of strikes and saloons, of living in a frame shack in Victor "so cold everything would freeze solid." She lived there in the Cripple Creek District until the day her first husband's co-workers at the Vindicator Mine come to tell her, "Well, mam, you see he drilled into a missed hole.... He is dead, shot all to pieces."
With that shock, Anne's milk dried up permanently although she had two baby girls to nourish. Anne, however, was a survivor, thriving on hope, on dreams of a new dress, of having a room of her own, and even of owning an automobile. She survived dying mines, dying towns and dying men to tell the story of the ordinary folk of the mining era that gave birth to modern day Colorado. In our own new era of lowered economic expectations, the words of this "ordinary woman" are a comforting reminder that the human spirit can rise above even the most dismal conditions.
Antonito and Angie's El Ortiz Tavern are an Escape from Ordinary Colorado
The Denver Post: November 4, 2000
Antonito is a small, Spanish-accented town in the San Luis Valley, five miles from the New Mexico border. Like so many other valley villages, it has been by-passed by the 20th-century. Even the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TSR) -- which supposedly starts in Antonito--actually starts a mile south of town. The C&TSR snubbed Antonito's handsome old lava rock D&RG depot to build a fake new frame one. Subsequentlly the old depot has been restored for new uses.
Antonito (yawn-toe-kneé-toe) is by-passed by tourists whizzing through on the way to Taos and Santa Fe. Few stop to visit at the El Ortiz Tavern, where I first met Angie in the summer of 1966. I was a "roustabout" on a dude ranch outside Antonito. The Rainbow Trout Lodge, a giant, two-story peeled log cabin dating from the 1920s, overlooks the celebrated trout stream called Conejos ("rabbit"). The river is named presumably, because it runs fast as a jackrabbit from the silvery San Juans into the Rio Grande.
After days rousting about the lodge, I joined Julio Archuleta, little Ernie Marquez, and other employees for visits to the El Ortiz on Antonito's faded Main Street. Even back then the El Ortiz usually looked deserted and was "For Sale." That sign shared the front window with tubs of geraniums whose riotous red blossoms meant that Angie was still in business.
Angie has red-auburn hair matching the geraniums and a sunny smile. She struck me as the brightest and fastest talker in town. And she ended her tavern dances with a cartwheel. "I married Ricardo Casias," Angie explained once, "because he was the best dancer in Antonito."
Angie and Ricardo made the tavern a swell dance club, lounge and, on occasions, a dinner club with Angie cooking on the huge old cast iron range. The ancient building had been Ira Green's dry goods store until Angie's father, Gaspar Ortiz, bought it. He helped Angie and Ricardo switch from dry to wet goods.
Angie brought in two shiny white frigidares, the most eye-catching bit of decor. But her new neon tube lights with string switches also shone on the adding machine that Angie worked faster than any digital cash register. She decorated the 18-inch thick adobe walls with her butterfly collection, properly mounted with insect pins on balsam wood and neatly printed labels in Latin. Other walls displayed Angie and Ricardo's wedding photo, choice "Playboy" centerfolds, framed prints of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, and a large colorful painting of Neustra Señora de La Guadaulpe (Our Lady of Guadalupe).
Angie put a sign over the doorway, "Peace to all Who Enter Here." She called everyone honey, but could throw out a troublemaker in seconds, usually outshouting them in the process. She kicked them out in either English or Spanish, allowing the customer to pick the language of eviction.
Rarely did Angie turn gloomy. But late one night I vaguely recall hearing the angel behind the bar sigh: “Tomas, the El Ortiz, will always be in limbo. I will never be able to escape it. No one's ever offered me even one peso for this place. Antonito is doomed.”
It all started, she explained, back in the 1850s when the first New Mexican settlers came up the Rio Grande into Colorado. They hoped for a more promising place than the high, dry desert of the San Luis Valley. But the burro stopped and would not budge. They pulled and the pushed. They kicked and swore and prayed. But it just stood there, stubborn as a jackass. Finally someone noticed that the statue of Nuestra Señora de La Guadalupe had fallen off the creature's back and landed there on the banks of the Rio Conejos.
So they built the little town of Guadalupe with a chapel where the statue had landed. But the statue made a mistake. She had the people build the town on the north bank of the Conejos where a flood washed most of it away. The people rebuilt the town on the higher, south bank and renamed it Conejos, but named the new chapel for Guadalupe. It is now famous as the oldest operating church in Colorado.
When the railroad came in 1880, D&RG officials tried to get the people of Conejos to give them land and bribes. If you don't help us bring in the railway, General William J. Palmer and his team threatened, Conejos will become a railroad-less backwater. The people only laughed. So the D&RG bypassed Conejos to build the railroad town of Antonito a mile away. Antonito quickly became the biggest town in Conejos County, a major sheep and cattle center with a big perlite mill. Of course the Guadalupe Church and the courthouse stayed in Conejos. But, Angie feared, Antonito was doomed from the beginning. No one told the D&RG about the Guadalupe statue.
The ultimate fate of a town founded by rail and real estate developers instead of by heavenly guidance also troubled Gaspar Ortiz, founding father of the El Ortiz Tavern. A wiry man with a wispy moustache, he leaned against the high backed booth he favored in the family tavern. His eyes grew dim as he looked into the past:
"My great grandfather came from Spain. My father, Gaspar Florentino Ortiz, was here when the railroad came down from Alamosa. The Spanish people didn't want the railroad. They thought it would bring in bad people. They were right. Once the railroad came, we Spanish folk lost much of this land."
Last time I saw Antonito, I found Angie in the back rooms of the bar. She was living there alone. Gaspar and Ricardo were dead. She looked old and tired and was covered with debris from the firewood she was stockpiling for the winter.
"Ricardo and I had California retirement dreams...." she began softly. She could not finish. Slowly, the cloud passed from her face and the old sunny smile rose again: "Hey, honey. Here's a quarter for the juke box."
Beatlemania Returns to the Rocks
Rocky Mountain News: June 12, 2004
Denver City Council passed a ban on alcohol, cans and bottles at Red Rocks just before the August 26, 1964 concert with the hottest act in the world – the Beatles. City fathers suspected that the four British rockers were trouble waiting to happen. The Fab Four had generated mob scenes across the U.S. leading Denver to assign 250 officers to their show.
During the preliminary hubbub, the Sunday Denver Post informed readers: “The Beatles, as a talent, are practically nil. But their gimmick – the bowl shaped haircuts and tight pants and high heels – is great.” The Post marveled that promoter Verne Byers set a ticket price of $6.60, which was $3 more than the Igor Stravinsky concert earlier in the summer.
Loretto Heights College Music Professor Max DiJulio, one of Colorado’s top music educators, called the Beatles phenomenon “a relapse, a retreat, to former things – the return to the primitive. It is the beat and thump of the music that arouses the youngsters’ feelings. This appeals to the jungle in us, and we should remember that we all have some jungle in us. People have learned to accept Ravel’s Bolero, but they haven’t, or won’t, accept rock & roll.”
At the Brown Palace Hotel, the Beatles paid $70 for a two-bedroom eighth floor suite. Forty years later, the same Room 840, rents out as the Beatles Suite for $1,075 a night. Among the celebrities to stay in the Beatles Suite, according to Brown Palace Hotel Public Relations Director Deborah Dix, was Ringo Starr when he performed in Denver in the spring of 2003.
Back in 1964, Linda Perkin, 14, and Jan Gardner, 15, saved their baby sitting money to become among the first to buy Beatles tickets. The Denver girls also confessed to forming a Beatles Club which played records on Saturday afternoons. When the teeny boppers gathered at her house, Jan told the press: “My father just shakes his head, lights his pipe, and goes downstairs to his den. My brother just grabs his head and goes to his room.”
For the 1 p.m. chartered plane arrival at Stapleton, fans started lining up at 7 a.m. at the gate (another 3,500 would watch them depart the next day). A noisy but polite crowd started arriving at Red Rocks at 10 a.m. The kids did shower the stage with jellybeans after an in-depth press interview with the Beatles revealed that jelly “babies” were their favorite candy.
Al Nakkula, a veteran Rocky Mountain News reporter, summed it up: “England’s four Beatles, disheveled, needing shaves and haircuts, played a one-night stand in Denver on Wednesday that left pandemonium in its wake.”
Some 7,500 people attended what may have been Red Rock’s first “stand-up” concert, with people on their feet from the moment the music began. Bill Carle, a third generation Red Rocks concessionaire, recalled three decades later:
The Beatles’ 1964 Red Rocks Concert, oddly enough, did not sell out. So I got to go even though I was only nine years old. I went with my 13-year-old sister and her girlfriends. The minute the Beatles came to the stage, my sister and all the girls stood up and screamed, blocking my view. They kept that up for the entire show. So I never saw or heard the Beatles at all. But I was there.
Red Rocks, however, was breathtakingly memorable for the Beatles. “I remember it was very high and the air was thin,” drummer Ringo Starr later recalled. “They were giving us hits from oxygen canisters.”
The Denver Post: November 24, 2013
With Payton Manning and the Broncos setting scoring records this fall, can you remember when “the donkeys” were consistent losers? The team started playing in 1960 wearing vertically stripped sox in mustard yellow and barnyard brown. Their play looked as ugly as the sox. Despite enthusiastic fan support during the 1960s they regularly lost four games for every win.
After ceremonially cremating the smelly, ugly sox in 1962, fans hoped for prettier performances but in 1963 the Broncos won only two games. Not until 1973 did the Broncos post their first winning season. They also played their first ever Monday night football game that year, tying their arch rivals, the Oakland Raiders 23-23 in a thriller. Coloradans swelled with pride as television announcer Howard Cosell told a nationwide audience that Denver had long “been thirsting for national recognition and they got it tonight.” Cosell also noted that every Bronco fan seemed to be wearing some orange colored article of clothing, orange and blue having replaced the brown and yellow. Glorying in their fresh colors and winning record, fans took to a bumper sticker proclaiming: “If God isn’t a Bronco fan, why are sunsets blue and orange?”
Perhaps divine intervention and prayers of devout fans brought a miracle to the Mile High City in 1977. That year NFL veteran quarterback Craig Morton joined the team along with a new coach, Red Miller. Morton and Miller took the team to their first Super Bowl. This first of many Super Bowl appearances exacerbated Colorado’s Broncomania epidemic. Priests rescheduled masses around the Sunday ritual held in the high holy place of Mile High Stadium. Denver’s BMH Synagogue ordered orange yarmulkes. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth transformed one of their convent rooms at Saint Joseph Hospital into a Bronco shrine. If the Broncos were in the January NFL playoffs, attendance suffered at the National Western Stock Show. Denver’s City and County Building switched from Christmas red and green outdoor lighting to orange and blue.
Mile High Stadium, Colorado’s largest house of worship, filled to capacity every Sunday. Why this primal connection to the Broncos? The late, great Colorado Poet Laureate, Thomas Hornsby Ferril, explained that football is a "religious rite symbolizing the struggle to preserve the egg of life through the rigors of impending winter.” The egg of life is symbolized by "an inflated bladder covered with hog skin.” The oval shape is repeated in the oval-shape of the vast outdoor churches "in which the services are held every Sabbath in every town, also every Sunday in the greater centers of population where an advanced priesthood performs."
“Literally millions of worshippers attend the services in these enormous open-air churches” where “a highly trained priesthood of young men performs rites on a rectangle of green grass symbolizing summer” but striped “with ominous white lines representing the knifing snows of winter. The white stripes are repeated in the ceremonial costumes of the whistling monitors who control the services through a time period divided into four quarters, symbolizing the four seasons. "
"The actual rites, performed by 22 young priests of perfect physique, might appear to the uninitiated as a chaotic conflict concerned only with hurting the oval by kicking it then endeavoring to rescue and protect the egg." After recovering the egg, the priests "arrange themselves in an egg-shaped `huddle' for a moment of prayerful meditation." Then the priests line up beside the egg in their colorful and protective costumes. "The central priest crouches over the egg, protecting it with his hands while over his back quarters hovers the `quarterback.' At a given signal, the egg is passed by slight-of-hand to one of the priests who endeavors to move it by bodily force across the white lines of winter."
So pass the turkey and give thanks for the Broncos.
Bubbly John Wright Hickenlooper, Jr.
The Denver Post: October 19, 2014
Millions of beer barrels ago, an unemployed John Wright Hickenlooper, Jr. shared his hard luck story with our Wasted Friday Afternoon Club, then meeting at the old Punch Bowl (and now at Hickenlooper’s Wazee Lounge & Supper Club and most recently at Hickenllooper’s Wynkoop Brewing Co.).
Like many pilgrims, John headed West running away from failures-—a soured love affair and a collapsed restoration project. Born February 7, 1952 at Bryn Mar, PA, the son of a mechanical engineer, John earned a B.A. in literature and M.A. in Geology at Wesleyan College in Connecticut. When Buckhorn Petroleum offered him a job as an exploration, geologist,, John jumped at the opportunity.
“I came to Denver to work for Buckhorn in 1981,” he mused over his pint. His eyes slitted into smile, his furry-tongued voice rose, and he began gesturing expansively, high on unlimited possibilities in the Mile High City.
“Get a haircut, son,” was the first thing the boss said to him in Denver. He directed the fledgling geologist to Francis “Curly” Turner, who since the 1950s has been cutting hair—and cutting it short--at the Brown Palace Hotel. There John sat in the chair used by President Dwight Eisenhower and for 35 years by Denver mayor William H. McNichols, Jr. “Maybe that’s were he got the crazy idea to run for mayor,” Curly confided after the 2003 mayoral election. “John’s hair is fine and straight. So is he. He shows up here regularly every month. This chair here is one of the few places he can take a nap undisturbed.”
Short hair notwithstanding, Buckhorn laid off Hickenlooper during the mid-1980s oil bust. On that Friday fifteen years ago when I first met him, John had returned to literature. He was writing a screenplay about Damon Runyon. Once nationally celebrated, the now forgotten Pueblo, Colorado boy became a renowned Pueblo and Denver journalist before pushing on to New York City. In New York he wrote in a slangy journalistic idiom (a style still called Runyonese), producing bestsellers such as “Blue Plate Special,” “Money from Home” and “Guys and Dolls.” Unlike Runyon, whose stories sold well and became plays and movies, Hickenlooper received only rejection slips.
During the 1980’s oil bust, the unemployed, rejected writer was looking for a new career. After coming West in search of black gold, Bubbly John kept poking into dry holes until he found a gusher on Wynkoop Street. A vacant five-story warehouse, the J. S. Brown Mercantile, caught the recovering geologist’s eye with its red sandstone base and thick pressed red brick walls rising into a fancy frieze and cornice. Constructed as a warehouse and show rooms in 1899, it was designed with two-foot thick walls and large round arch windows by Gove and Walsh, a prominent Denver firm who also designed Union Station across the street. With other unemployed geologists and a home brewer, John scrapped together enough money to transform the old timer into the first brewpub in the Rockies. “While visiting my brother in Berkeley, California,” he explained, “he treated me to a brewpub. I could not believe beer could taste that good. People would drive 100 miles for such fresh, custom suds.”
Hickenlooper, who then wore second hand clothing, furnished his Wynkoop Brewing Company with an old walk-in cooler from an expired Safeway. The china, utensils, chairs, tables, and cash registers came from failed restaurants and bars — of which there was no shortage during the 1980s when Denver lost population and had the nation’s highest office vacancy rate.
To qualify for tax credits and preservation funding, John worked with the Colorado Historical Society to place the Brown Mercantile/Wynkoop Brewing Company on the National Register of Historic Places. He also supported the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission’s designation of the surrounding area, Denver’s old skid row, as the Lower Downtown Historic District. Hickenlooper captured preservation honors for restoring not only the exterior of the Brown/Wynkoop Building, but also much of the interior with its rich woodwork and high pressed metal ceilings. John invested in his employees as well as the building. Tom Moxcey, manager of the Wynkoop Brewing Company, says, “John is world class with his employees. He pays half of our Kaiser health insurance and matches 75 % of whatever we employee put into a 401K retirement plan. And he runs clean, consistent functioning restaurants where employees get good, steady tips.”
Following the Wynkoop’s Oct. 17, 1988 opening, as many as 1,500 people a day flowed through, washing down tasty, inexpensive pub food with a full sample tray of custom lagers, ales, bitters and stouts.
The brewpub, along with lofts and a billiard hall added upstairs, prospered. So did LoDo. This 30-block area bounded by Cherry Creek and 20th St., between Larimer and Wynkoop streets became America’s great example of how historic district designation can turn an urban disaster into an urban renaissance. Million dollar lofts replaced dollar-a-nite flophouses.
In 2011 a very popular Mayor Hickenlooper was elected governor of Colorado. And, although there had been a big crowd at the Wynkoop that night, no one brought up the night Hickenlooper dropped his drawers. It happened after he was given the Downtown Denver Award and returned to the Wynkoop in tuxedo. Inebriated with the euphoria of fame, Hickenlooper jumped up on the bar and mooned his customers.
Sadly, many did not even seem to notice.
Buffalo Bill: A Sustainable, Politically Correct 21st Century Hero
The Denver Post: April 7, 2007
"Ladies and gentlemen! I give you the Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World." Buffalo Bill's baritone voice, with no need of microphone, rang through his vast circus tent. Astride his white stallion, he swept his Stetson from shoulder length hair on September 6, 1898 and introduced Colorado's first great display of multi-cultural diversity.
With equal praise for each race, he introduced the "Congress of Rough Riders of the World"--an American cowboy, a Cossack from the Caucasus, a Mexican vaquero, a Peruvian gaucho, and an American Indian. Each pranced into the arena on a horse from his own country. To make sure women felt included, Bill introduced the most popular act of all--Annie Oakley, whom he affectionately announced as "Little Miss Sure Shot."
After such performances, how can anyone call Buffalo Bill politically incorrect? Yet he remains a fallen hero to many, who mistakenly stereotype him as a white male chauvanist, as a racist murderer of ethnic minorities and endangered animals. Cody had begun going out of style by 1933 when Gene Fowler depicted him in Timber Line as "a bellowing faker, a butcher of buffaloes, a glutton for rum and romance....indiscreet, prodigal, as temperamental as a diva."
Such critics rarely mention that Cody won the Congressional Metal of Honor in 1872 for courageous service as a pony express rider and Indian fighter. Widely described as the handsomest man alive, he stood six feet one inch in boots and fringed white buckskin.
It's time to put Buffalo Bill back in the saddle--America needs sustainable heroes and role models. It is true that Cody killed the Southern Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hair (aka Yellow Hand) on Hat Creek, near Montrose, Nebraska on July 17, 1876. "I scientifically scalped him in about five seconds," Cody wrote in his Autobiography, then "swung the Indian chieftain's topknot and bonnet in the air and shouted: `The first scalp for Custer.'"
Yellow Hair, according to new evidence from Paul Fees, Director of Cody Wyoming's Buffalo Bill Historical Center, had it coming. Cody made a shocking discovery when he closed in on Chief Yellow Hair for the kill. Attached to Yellow Hair's loin cloth as a crotch piece, Cody found the long, curly blonde scalp of a white woman. And the loin cloth was made out of an American flag. This insult to white women and to the American flag, Cody apparently found so sickening that he never mentioned it in his autobiography, although another soldier reported the gross details.
Although some may forgive killing Indians, animals are another matter. By the quirky politically correct standards of our own age, cruelty to animals is thought worse than cruelty to humans. Especially if the animals were an endangered species, as buffalo then were. True, Buffalo Bill earned his name by, killing 4,280 bison to feed Kansas Pacific Railroad construction crews, a feat commemorated by one of America's favorites songs around 1870:
Buffalo Bill! Buffalo Bill!
Never missed and never will,
Always aims and aims to kill
And the Company pays his Buffalo bill.
Buff fans should know that Buffalo Bill did as much as anyone to save the species from extinction. Of an estimated peak U.S. population of 34 million bison, only 1,091 survived in the U.S. and Canada by 1888. By raising one of the country's largest breeding herds and providing bison for zoos in America and abroad, Cody helped keep the species alive. Certainly no one did more than him to popularize and endear buffalo to the public.
Some of Cody's herd appeared in his 1898 Denver Show, which arrived with 600 roustabouts and crew members in 52 cars pulled by three locomotives. The entourage included almost 100 Sioux Indians, 180 horses, 18 buffalo, 10 elk, 16 mules, and two bears. They attracted the Denver's biggest audience to date--20,000 paid 50 cents regular admission, 25 cents for children, or a dollar for reserved seats.
That was Buffalo Bill's biggest and best show in Denver. Afterwards it grew a little less grand each year. At the last show--in 1913 in Overland Park--a pathetic hero had to be dressed in a wig and lifted on his horse. The end was near. Buffalo Bill tried the Glenwood Hot Springs. He even gave up smoking cigars and drinking whiskey punches. The great scout crossed the great divide in Denver on January 10, 1917.
Leading global acclaim, President Woodrow Wilson said: "He embodied those traits of courage, strength and self-reliant hardihood which are vital to the well-being of the nation...an American of Americans."
"If Buffalo Bill wasn't truly a great man," added Rocky Mountain News columnist Lee Casey "millions though he was and that amounts to the same thing."
Colorado History: Not Tested, Not Taught
The Denver Post: December 12, 2010
Name the first state where men voted to give women the vote?
What language is the word Colorado?
What does it mean?
Are we Coloradoans or Coloradans?
Did Molly Brown build the Brown Palace Hotel and donate the land for the Colorado State Capitol?
The Colorado State Constitution stipulates that “The history and civil government of the state Colorado shall be taught in all the public schools of the state.” Unfortunately, the state does not enforce this or include these fields in the accountability process used to assess schools. Teachers, under terrific pressure to improve student standardized test scores, understandably do not teach what is not tested.
Over the past decade, Social Studies teaching time has been cut by more than half as teachers focus on math, science, and reading. On December 6, the State Board of Education faced this problem and took positive action. They voted unanimously to include, for the first time in 10 years, Social Studies in the state assessment system. This promotes the teaching of social studies (history, geography, civics, economics/personal financial literacy).
Chris Elnicki, Cherry Creek Schools Social Studies Coordinator, National Social Studies Supervisors Association Board Member, and Past President of the Colorado Council for Social Studies reports that “The social studies community finds itself in a tough place. As a result of not being part of the No Child Left Behind law and the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), social studies instruction and learning in elementary and middle schools has decreased across the nation and in Colorado. Consequently, students learn far less about the world they are being prepared to compete in. Adding social studies to the assessment system would contribute to preserving the greater goal of public education – creating an enlightened citizenry with the capacity to make a democratic constitutional society work.”
Some of us think Colorado is a special place. The Denver Post has long proclaimed it “A Privilege to Live in Colorado.” We need to educate our youngsters on why Colorado is special and how to keep it that way. Without a knowledge of Colorado history, students would not know that many of today’s issues have historical context.
History shows, for example, that the current conservation debate began more than one hundred years ago. Around 1900, Colorado hosted a passionate conservation vs. extraction debate with many locals fighting President Theodore Roosevelt and the budding conservation movement. Conservationists, then as now, argued that many federal lands should be spared exploitation and used recreationally, that some resources should be reserved for future generations. Nowadays should we, in the longtime Colorado tradition, extract resources as quickly as possible to create jobs and maximize profits? On another fiercely fought front, we have also seen anti-immigrant sentiment before: in the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan briefly ruled Kolorado. Social Studies provides perspective on today’s most challenging issues.
Yes, Colorado is a Spanish word meaning red or reddish. One of my Hispanic students tells me it also can mean embarrassed which Coloradans should be for the way our Native American history is sidelined. We Coloradans should not be embarrassed but proud that in 1893 men voting solely on giving to give women the right to vote approved, making Colorado the first state to do so. (Wyoming had earlier approved Women’s Suffrage but as one small part of large constitutional package in which the ladies’ voting right were buried. All Coloradans should be required to pass a test such as this:
TEST FOR NEW COLORADANS. Welcome to Colorado! To help you become a true blue resident, please identify in 25 words or less the following celebrated Colorado characters:
- Chief Ouray
- Dominguez & Escalante
- Zeb Pike
- Alfred (sometimes misspelled as Alferd) Packer
- Baby Doe Tabor
- Aunt Clara Brown
- “Unsinkable” Molly Brown
- Emily Griffith
- Dr. Florence Sabin
- Ralph L. Carr
- Jack Swigert
Congratulations if you passed (8 of 11 correct). If you flunked, you may choose from any of these remedial measures:
- Visit “Zoom In: the Centennial State in 100 Objects” at the History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway, Denver
- Watch “The Colorado Experience” on Chanel Six, Rocky Mountain PBS on Thursday nights
- Read, one of the following: Elementary: Debra Faulkner & Thomas J. Noel, The Colorado Story. Secondary: Duane Smith & Thomas J. Noel, Colorado: The Highest State.
High School, College General audience. Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard & Thomas J. Noel, Colorado: A History of the Centennial State.
"Death to Denver's Dandelions!" Cried the Post's Dandelion Dept.
The Denver Post: May 29, 1993
"I hate those miserable dandelions," says our block's voluntary groundskeeper, Irishman Charles "Mac" McBride. "I blame the English for bringing in those weeds."
Mac is right. Dr. Frederick G. Bancroft, a pioneer physician, is to blame. Like other English romantics fond of natural gardens, he celebrated the dandelion as "a tramp with a golden crown." His granddaughter, the late Caroline Bancroft, delighted in telling the story: "When grandfather arrived, he was aghast. Colorado was so dusty, barren, and ugly. He declared that Denver needed a dandelion."
Dandelions are not the only thing Dr. Bancroft gave Denver. He helped found the Colorado Historical Society and the Denver Medical Society. He first researched Market Street's "Nymphs du Pave" and called public attention to local outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases.
A wonderful, old-fashioned kind of doctor, Bancroft was legendary for eating and drinking double portions of red meat and red wine. This was followed, presumably, by brandy and cigars. He weighed over 250 pounds, and told his patients they were under weight.
Back to Mac. He is a wonderful human landmark of Montclair, an older Denver neighborhood where I live. Montclair in next to Lowry and filled with vigilant veterans. With public-spirited generosity, Mac patrols our block, helping to recycle cans and newspapers. Most of all he relishes the war on dandelions, which are becoming an endangered species on our 1200 block of Newport Street.
Soon after the first golden blossoms appear in March, Mac is out with his black plastic trash bag and his long-handled dandelion digger. He arrives unannounced, usually early in the morning. You will find him intently surveying your yard. He is dressed for battle in old blue jeans partially held up by suspenders, a blue work shirt, and a baseball cap. If you interrupt him, he smiles and praises you for having fewer dandelions than your neighbor.
Mac spears dandelions like he zeroed in on the Japanese as a World War II gunner and aerial photographer. As an Air Force sergeant, his accuracy and heroism won him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Trained at Lowry Air Base, he was one of thousands of military personnel to fall in love with the clean, green, roomy Mile High City. He and his wife Tillie moved to Montclair after World War II and raised eight children, keeping St. James School across the street in business. "Mac figures," Tillie told me, "that the only way to keep dandelions out of our yard is to keep them out of all the neighbors' yards."
I consulted my beloved Aunt Margaret's "Wise Garden Encyclopedia." The dandelion has a much less memorable Latin name: Taraxacum officinale. It is a stemless herb of the Compositae Family, with leaves in spear-shaped rosettes, and flat solitary bright yellow disc flowers.
As Mac asserted, it is of old world origin. In some eyes, the dandelion is just another of the scourges with which Euro-Americans cursed Native Americans in their Garden of Eden. Decadent Europeans cultivated dandelions for salad "greens," and developed special strains with very large, curly leaves. The root has medicinal uses and the flower can be used to make wine. "Dandelions should be planted one foot apart," according to the encyclopedia. "Plants are usually allowed to stand until the following spring when the leaves are harvested like spinach." Blanch the leaves to remove the bitterness and serve them with slices of hard boiled egg, bacon bits, and honey mustard.
The dandelion has one of the world's most exotic, delicate and perfectly shaped seed heads--a perfect globe of silvery, lacy ecstacy. If they were not so common, dandelions would be prized for gardens. The dandelion seeds rapidly, is perfectly hardy, and will grow--like the proverbial weed--in almost any kind of soil.
Despite the dandelion's merits, The Denver Post, ever vigilant in weeding out public enemies, has long taken an unflinching stand against them. During the 1920s, "The Post" opened its Dandelion Department.
"It is conceded through the world that Denver lawns are the most beautiful and perfect existing anywhere on earth," explained a front page story, April 29, 1926. "But the dandelion pest is sweeping over the city and unless immediate steps are taken our lawns will be seriously marred, so let everybody get busy now--don't wait. There is only one way to exterminate the dandelion--human labor--just bend your backs and dig them out."
The Post offered "to furnish men and women who know how to clear lawns of this nuisance." All unemployed persons were urged "to come to our office and let us register you as willing to work on lawns, destroying the dandelions, at $3 for eight hours work. There are a number of very deserving people who are not employed at the present time who will be glad to get jobs of this kind....let no guilty dandelion escape! They mar your own property and harm your neighbor's property. Join in this dandelion crusade for the mutual benefit of all citizens. THE DANDELION MUST GO. Just call The Denver Post Dandelion Dept: Main 6000."
Bob Ewegen, I hear, has put the Post's most zealous reformers--Joanne Dittmer, Tom Gavin, and Ken Hamblin--in charge of the Dandelion Dept. for this spring's campaign.
With characteristic courage, editorial page editor Chuck Green is sticking to the Post agenda, announced on page 1, May 7, 1926: "to have a state or city law passed which will make it a misdemeanor for property owners or occupants to allow weeds like dandelions." When will this law go into effect?
Denver’s Crookedest Election
The Denver Post: October 31, 2010
The election this Tuesday promises to be bizarre. It features everything from a Republican-Tea Party candidate imploding to Denverites voting on establishing a welcome committee for extra-terrestrials seeking a place to land their space ships. Can you believe that the Mile High City actually beat Boulder to the ballot on this spacey proposal?
Ballot day shenanigans will probably not be as astounding as in the murky past. In the 1904 election, the Democratic machine managed to resurrect some 10,000 dead or absent Democrats to elect Robert W. Speer to the first of his three terms as mayor. And don’t forget the 1905 chaos where Coloradans wound up with three governors in one day.
When it comes to blatant fraud, however, the 1889 Denver City Election probably grabs first prize. The Republicans enlisted a popular business man, grocer Wolfe Londoner, who had not previously held any office. The GOP wanted a fresh, honest face for the grand old, crooked party. Democrats and Prohibitionists consolidated in a rare and short lived marriage as the Citizens’ Ticket, a reform party. They rode a wave of stinging Rocky Mountain News exposes and rising popular concern about the rotten Republican machine. Although strange bedfellows, Democrats and Prohibitionists expected a big win for their mayoral candidate, Elias Barton.
Election Day, April 2, 1889, however, turned into a carnival of abuses. The Republican Party raised enough money to pay two dollars per vote, as well as free drinks. Tramps, hoodlums, hookers and others were recruited to vote early and often. Many legitimate voters arrived at the polls only to be told they had already voted. Downtown precincts reported huge majorities for Wolfe Londoner. Although reform minded voters in outlying neighborhoods went for the Citizens’ Ticket candidate, the swollen core city vote gave Londoner a 377 vote win.
Con man Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith and gun man Bat Masterson starred among the Republic Party stalwarts. They prepared and distributed hundreds of slips containing phony but pre-registered names that could be voted. To expedite matters and befuddle poll watchers, Soapy Smith boarded up his polling place. He claimed the glass had been broken. Voters then had to hand their ballots through planks to an unseen poll judge who could easily discard unwanted votes.
The Rocky Mountain News pronounced the 1989 mayoral elections “the most disgraceful in the history of Denver politics.” A judicial investigation came to a similar conclusion.
Londoner and the Republicans appealed their shaky case to the Colorado Supreme Court, but it too ruled that this election stank.
Before joining the reformers who roundly condemned voting traditions in the good old days, think for a minute. Many more millions are spent this fall to buy elections with often fallacious television ads that smear even the most saintly candidate. By the end of the race, winners as well as losers have been discredited. Instead of spending vast fortunes on such media excesses and dirty political tricksters, why not just pay voters directly as we did a century ago? If we voters were reimbursed and plied with free drinks to boot, we could greatly improve turnout and create better feelings about candidates. Disgusted by the current process many citizens stay home on Election Day. It is a struggle to get 50 % of the eligible voters to the polls. In the good old days voting was a lot more fun and more personally rewarding. Voter participation turnout, as in 1889, ran well over 100 per cent.
Of Asses, Burros and Mules
Rocky Mountain News: June 23, 2001
One of my long postponed projects has been to investigate Colorado connotations of the A-word. I would welcome your corrections, suggestions and additions, dear reader, in this assay. Once burros (to use a polite alternative to the A-word applied to donkeys, mules and people) where ubiquitous in Colorado.
Nowadays these creatures are rare. You may find burros (aka donkeys) carved on public buildings along with the miners who were the backbone of Colorado Territory. These granite asses strike some people--not me--as an ideal symbol for our public officials.
Burros and their hybrid offspring, mules, deserve to be celebrated. While horses have been portrayed as heros throughout history, burros and mules had done much of the work. For Colorado pioneers, the early morning braying of burros was an alarm clock. While humans slept, these creatures cleaned the streets. Voracious and indiscriminate eaters, they chewed on anything they found--especially human garbage.
The burro, as you may know, is a small member of the horse family. They are also known as an ass, donkey, jackass and, in Colorado, as "the Rocky Mountain Canary" because of their noisy braying. Burros have a large head, long ears, and small hoofs. The dun-colored beast has a black stripe down its back and an erect mane of short, stiff hairs. Averaging about 4 1/2 feet in height, they are hardy, clever and sure-footed.
Domesticated by the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, ridden by Mary while she was with child and by her son Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, burros have long been a beast of burden. They thrive in desert and mountain conditions where they feed on almost anything they can sink their teeth into. In Colorado mining towns, they did much of the work both above and below ground.
A male is called a jack or jackass; a female is a jenny. Their proverbial patience and hard work have endeared them to Coloradans. Prunes the burro is enshrined in the Park County town of Fairplay as "A burro, 1867-1930, who worked All Mines in this District." The tale of Prunes and other Colorado burros center on prospectors and their trusty burros loaded with mining equipment, household furniture, boxes of food, and kegs of firewater.
Male burros breed with female horses to produce mules (Equs asinus). This usually sterile hybrid resembles its sire in appearance and its dam in size. Surefooted, strong pack animals, mules are cheaper to maintain and better adapted to hot weather than horses. Supposedly introduced to the U.S. by George Washington, mules became a major beast of burden noted for endurance and being able to carry several times their own weight. In Cripple Creek, the Virgin Mule Casino celebrates the virtue of these creatures who have little pride of ancestry or hope of posterity. Although called asinine, burros and mules often smartly saved human lives. They refused to take riders where they should not go, sensing unstable ground, bears, rattlesnakes and other dangers. Harriet Fish Bacchus, in her book Tomboy Bride, described Colorado mining town mules as "Large, genteel, patient pictures of dejection, trudging along, heads sagging, ears flopping to shake out the needle sharp particles of ice driven in by howling winds. Packs cut deep into their backs and irritated large running sores, forelegs and ankles swollen with rheumatism to twice normal size." Cripple Creek honors burros this weekend with its 70th Annual Donkey Derby Days, including a Pack Burro Race at 1:30 today and the professional pack Burro Race tomorrow at 1:30. Each pack race burro is outfitted with a pick, a pan and a load of ore for the run between Cripple Creek and Victor. Among the spectators will be Cripple Creek's town owned herd of 11 burros, pets allowed free range of the town, where they stray into casinos, saloons or the crowd watching this weekend's free races. Pancake breakfast both days 7-11 a.m. in the beer garden and noon to 6 pm. ph. 877-858-4653
Fay McNabb, Race Director and Teller County Parks Supervisor, reports that the local burros have been rejuvenated with the help of a sire from Oklahoma. "Our town herd was getting inbred. Now we've got young blood and a healthy herd of 11 jacks and jennys, including some babies. Some newcomers to Cripple Creek complain about these burros eating their plants and rummaging through their garbage, even though the city provides residents with free burro repellent. These anti-burro newcomers actually asked the BLM to move our burros to Nevada. That's when the town rose up to defend these critters, which are descendants of the 1890s donkeys who made Cripple Creek the world's great gold camp. Most locals learn to leave our snow shovels out all year long to deal with donkey droppings. Actually the burros spend most of their time up at the Court House, scratching their butts on its brick walls and fertilizing that place."
How to Pick a Burro: George Cowell, an old timer in the Boulder County mining town of Gold Hill, recalled: "People would put their egg shells and coffee grounds and potato peelings out in the street. About 6 o'clock at night the burros would come down out of the timber and eat up all this garbage, even the paper off the cans. Then they'd go down to the saloon and drink from the watering trough. If you wanted a burro you never bought one. You picked one out and put your brand on him."
Advice to Parties Chaperoning Pack Burros: Never maltreat them but govern them as you would a woman, with kindness, affection and caresses and you well be repaid by their docility and easy management.