Monday, May 25, 2015

Exploring Hohokam Ruins on Indian Mountain, New River

Indian Mountain, New River
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
On the north side of New River Road as it snakes west toward I-17 a distinctive, small mesa overlooks historic Wrangler's Roost and Larkin Arena. The small peak, like so many of the area's formations, has been snubbed by maps. Known locally as Indian Mesa, it was well used by the Hohokam.

A quick climb from the senior center parking lot, the trail to the summit is short but slippery as you near the top, with plenty of loose rock to challenge your ankles. Don't try it on horseback, although excellent riding trails approach the base from all directions. The summit is surprisingly flat and level; it's no wonder indigenous people established dwellings here.

Ruins of Hohokam Dwellings
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
Ruins are abundant here. The Hohokam were temporary residents who farmed the lower valley but came to the New River area to hunt the more abundant wildlife. At the time, bighorn sheep ranged throughout the foothills and mountains; like the Hohokam, they are long gone. Many area petroglyphs depict the bighorn, doubtless popular game for the native people.

Remnants of Past Inhabitants
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
Visit enough ancient ruins and seemingly random scattered rocks quickly take shape into the ruins of dry-stone walls. Indian Mountain had numerous rooms atop the peak, with identifiable rooms on the southern base as well. If the summit once had the typical pot sherds in abundance, they've long since been picked clean; however, samples remain behind on one of the areas near the bottom.  The sherds are sample of the Wingfield Plain variety from unadorned reddish or tan clay pots and ollas.

Sample of Unique Rock Variety atop Indian Mountain
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
If petroglyphs mark parts of Indian Mountain, I couldn't find them. I suspect the unusual rock comprising the mountain made etching too challenging; unlike the typical volcanic stone in the area, Indian Mountain has a harder, slicker prevalent rock. No geologist, I couldn't identify the stone; if you recognize it, let me know and I'll confirm and update this entry.

Pepsi Cap Mountain
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
Surrounding views from Indian Mountain are stunning. Pepsi Cap Mountain, also offering ruins, was once called Table Top Mesa until homesteader Rowena Essary named it Pepsi Cap for its cap-like top. Table Top Mesa is near Table Mesa, shown below. Since mesa means "table" in Spanish, it is of course redundant to have "table table" or "table top table" as a name - but descriptive, nonetheless.

Table Mesa as Seen from Indian Mountain
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
Looking south, the views of Apache Peak, Pyramid Peak and Daisy Mountain are nearly as gorgeous as the peaks to the north. Pyramid Peak is often erroneously called "Circle Mountain" because Circle Mountain Road arcs around it.

Gavilan Peak
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
One of New River's most prominent landmarks is Gavilan Peak, formerly known as "Twin Buttes" or "Twin Peaks" to residents. From the south, Gavilan's profile is surprisingly similar to the profile of a prone Apache face. From Indian Mountain, the twin buttes are clear, with nothing to suggest facial features.

(c) 2015 MJ Miller
Just over a stone's throw from Indian Mountain to the east is a rocky ridge that looks to offer more ruins. Much more difficult to ascend thanks to the lack of a trail and even more slippery loose rock, I was nearly disappointed when I reached the top only to find no apparent trace of dwellings. Disappointed, that is, until seeing the gorgeous dendrite above - a large sandstone rock covered with a delicate fern-like pattern, surrounded by the more typical lichen-covered volcanic rock.

(c) 2015 MJ MILLER
Seeing lichens themselves is common enough in New River; they cover rocks throughout the desert, surprisingly enough for such an arid climate. I never tire of their tenacious presence.

Interesting Rocks on Indian Mountain
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
The peaks throughout New River, like those in Cave Creek, have abundant cracks and tiny grottos that were likely used to store foodstuffs or personal effects. Today, pack rats and the ever-present bees    make use of them. As usual, we passed an active beehive on the climb.

(c) 2015 MJ Miller

The Hohokam vanished completely from the Salt River Valley in the 1400's. It is likely they are the ancestors of the Papago and Pima. They burned, rather than buried, their dead in most cases; there are no burial grounds that we might clumsily stumble across. New River is filled with amazing traces of these ancient people, though - from the manos and metates they used to grind mesquite beans into flour to the rock art and stone dwellings. Each time I have the privilege of sitting among the ruins, I wonder if they found the desert mountains as soul-tinglingly beautiful as I do.

New River Mesa
(c) 2015 MJ Miller
Copyright (c) 2015 by MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be used without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, may be freely shared and are greatly appreciated * Thank you for liking, linking, +1'ing, sharing, emailing and otherwise helping grow my readership - and most of all, thank you for stopping by!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Trail Leads Me to a Visit with Jerry and Lois Essary Jacka

The Arizona of my youth was a grand old lady:  gracious, aging but capable, much like the ranch wives who still peopled it. The people surrounding me then were mostly from elsewhere:  refugees from the snow of Illinois, the noise of New York, the traffic and anonymity of cities. They found something precious and charming in this beautiful state and although they planted the trees of home in their front yards, and missed their grassy lawns, they also cherished the unique nature of the desert.

Arizona then had its own distinctive sense of style. Many rebelled against it; I recall my Arizona-loving father's disdain for the then-popular song, "Arizona," as it mocked our clinging to our lovely past. But the true Zonie loved the innocence of the brushy Ted DeGrazia paintings of children that adorned everything from refrigerator magnets to Christmas ornaments.  We loved the kitschy scorpions-in-resin paperweights; the beautiful, Indian-made bola ties; the steakhouses decorated with old ranching implements and sawdust floors.  It wasn't an act for the bounty of tourists -- snowbirds, we called them, as they flocked to the streets during the winter and fled at the sight of that harsh glare of summer. It was our place, our culture, and we loved it.

I miss it. I miss the architecture that prevailed; the joy we took in discovering new and gorgeous rural roads; the cowboy hats that could be found on many the head in the single old terminal at Sky Harbor airport. The pride we had then in our state was evident in that airport:  the mural honoring Arizona's roots and culture on the terminal wall; the replica of the U.S.S. Arizona in the hallway; the gift shop selling small potted cactus, Kachina dolls and Indian-made pots, baskets, and jewelry.  Invariably, first-time visitors coming to stay with us -- because who wouldn't want to come to Arizona? -- brought us one of those pots of cactus, and we'd thank them profusely as we gazed out over our yard filled with native spiny things of vast variety.

Symbolic of our state pride was the glossy magazine, Arizona Highways. Produced by the Arizona  Department of Transportation, it was our favorite gift for out-of-state friends and business associates. Filled with utterly magnificent photos of our beautiful canyons, our native people, remnants of our history, modern day cowboys and ranchers -- it was exquisite.

It was in the pages of Arizona Highways I first saw the name Jerry Jacka. I grew up feasting on his photographs and seeing the state through his talented eyes. My mother, an artist, was no doubt inspired by his photographs in some of her still-life arrangements of Navajo and Hopi pottery and basketry.  Now, some 40 years later, I was surprised to learn Jerry and Lois Essary Jacka were among the original homesteader families here in New River -- and here I am, writing a book of New River history.

I can't do justice to describing the feeling of finally meeting someone I so admired for decades. My husband, Russ, and I drove up to the Jacka ranch near Heber, Arizona, last Sunday. The immediate warmth with which Jerry and Lois welcomed us transported me to that Arizona of my child-memory: the kinship and hospitality which was often shared with us when my father took us on jaunts around the state. Ranch houses with warm fires. Old, priceless saddles from the 1800's perched on loft railings. Mining  and ranching implements, long rusty and scarred with use, festooning the walls. Precious pottery and artifacts. I'm as enchanted by it all now as much as I was as that wide-eyed kid who wanted to grow up to be a distaff Louis L'Amour or Wyatt Earp.

And so I found myself spending several hours of sheer joy in conversation with Jerry Jacka and Lois Essary Jacka. We discussed the native tribes that left their mark on local mountaintops; names of local pioneers; the naming of landmarks; the importance of getting history right. Jerry, once a Maricopa County Sheriff's Deputy who'd moved into doing forensic photography, told me of getting his start in photography thanks to the encouragement of his high-school mentor and the big break in working for Arizona Highways.  As a retired police officer now pursuing my own other, more creative dreams, I appreciated that law enforcement kinship.  Lois, a long-time author who wrote five of the 15 Jacka books, showed me her writer's nest overlooking the ranch grounds.

We talked until Russ caught my eye and tapped his watch. I had no idea we'd talked for so long and I inwardly chided myself with "Bad guest!" for overstaying -- but so thankful to have done so. We pried ourselves away from that beautiful place with two so accomplished, fascinating and warm people.  In a few weeks, we'll meet again at their historic Sun-Up Ranch in New River, homesteaded by Jerry's father and mother.  Jerry recently published an outstanding history of the Sun-Up Ranch.  If you share my love of Arizona or western history, you can obtain a copy here:  Sun-Up Ranch  I also have a couple of extra copies of Jerry's book on hand.  Visit Jerry's website at: Jerry Jacka Photography.  Jerry's other books -- including his gorgeous editions of table-top books highlighting Arizona's landscapes and native crafts -- are available on his site.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Historic T-Ranch Homesite: New River, Arizona

Storm Clouds at the Site of the T-Ranch Homesite
Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller
The T-Ranch -- at various times and through various owners known as the Triangle-Bar Ranch, the T-Ranch, the T-Cattle Company, the T-Evans Ranch and the T-T Ranch -- sprawls a gorgeous expanse of desert on the northern edge of New River, Arizona.  I had crossed it before on a rugged four-wheel-drive trip on Table Mesa Road from I-17 to Seven Springs. In researching my book-in-progress on New River history, I visited it anew.

The Remaining Foundation of the Old Adobe House
Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller
When I write, be it non-fiction or fiction, it's important to me to visit the location in depth -- best on foot or horseback. Perhaps it's because I'm a visual learner; perhaps it's because my childhood hero, Louis L'Amour, stressed how he'd ridden every place he wrote about in his novels of the American west.  A site visit can often confirm -- or invalidate -- jealously-guarded myths or legends; it corrects misinformation that is perpetuated by writers who have never traveled to a place. It offers a perspective of distance and -- perhaps best of all -- it allows me to breathe in the same air and marvel at the same scenery early visitors and occupants experienced.  Too, if I don't visit these locations, how can I share these photos with you?

The Water Trough at the T-Ranch
Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller
The T-Ranch is significant in our regional history. Home initially to the Hohokam, then to the Tonto Apache and -- in likelihood -- the Yavapai, it later hosted a cavalry road, a stagecoach stop, a cattle ranch, and a nature preserve. I had the good fortune recently to have Mr. John Deegan escort me on a tour of the lower T-Ranch, where the original stagecoach stop and homesite were located. The following week, I returned on foot for a lengthier visit and a five-mile hike along the stagecoach route.
Barbed Wire at the Stock Tank
Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller
Charles Morton Mullen founded the Triangle-Bar Ranch. His brands -- the Triangle-Bar and the Triangle -- were among the earliest brands recorded in Maricopa County. In the 1879 Maricopa County tax rolls, "Mullen's Station" is listed as a stagecoach stop.  It served the Desert Station Stage Line that traveled from Phoenix to Prescott along the Black Canyon Stagecoach Road. The concrete trough above remains from the old stage stop.

Some texts cite Charles Pleasant Mullen as being the original owner of the T-Ranch. However, Charles Pleasant Mullen is the nephew of Charles Morton Mullen. The latter man joined his two brothers in moving to Arizona. Charles M. Mullen went on to prominence in the valley, including a term as mayor of the city of Mesa.

In the 1880's, Franklin Tomlin Alkire bought the ranch. Frank, a prominent individual in Arizona history, was born in Missouri in 1860. After his move to Arizona, he suffered an accident. In the aftermath, he returned to his home state of Missouri briefly -- and when he returned to Arizona, he brought his new bride, Asenath, with him. 

An irrigation valve long hidden by the earth
Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller
Frank and Asenath lived on the ranch from 1889 to 1895, when they moved to downtown Phoenix. During their years on the ranch, they added onto the existing adobe house that had been built in the 1870's.  Despite the remote location, their life was full: they ranched cattle, contended with tramps along the Black Canyon Stage Road, hosted Indians being escorted through by the cavalry, served as a way station for travelers and cattlemen, met Mormon pioneers traveling through to Mesa, and became familiar with the regular stagecoach drivers and freighters along the route. By necessity as self-sufficient as possible, they raised chickens, gardened, and planted non-native trees near the house.  The palm trees that soar over the river today are descendants of the original two trees Frank planted near the front gate. As the waters carried seeds downstream, you can find a trail of trees along the shallow riverbed.

The river in 2015, showing the palm trees and eucalyptus along the banks
Copyright (c) 2015 MJ Miller

Frank used available water to irrigate a five-acre patch of alfalfa just northeast of the house. In 2014, the devastating floods that struck New River exposed the irrigation valve shown above. John Deegan said that the valve was buried under about four or five feet of soil until the flood hit. So the land changes here: what man doesn't alter, nature will. Floods have always been a daunting fact of life in the area; in the late 1880's or early 1890's, much of the state suffered a vast flood. Huge swaths of the Black Canyon Stage Road were completely washed out. The waters receded to leave new gullies and rifts in the land. In his memoirs, Frank Alkire described the challenges the flood brought. Today, residents along the banks of New River have yet to recover from the 2014 flood. Power poles remain snapped, the lines lying across the ground; flood debris -- man-made and natural -- remain piled several feet high where the waters left it.

Mr. John Deegan
Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller

Frank and Asenath Alkire sold the ranch to Hosea Cline, who also owned the Flying Y Ranch along the stage road not far south of the T-Ranch. In 1924, Hosea sold it to the Evans brothers -- Gus, Earl and Claud -- and their partner, C.B. Laird. The ranch became known as the T-Evans Ranch. It appears that Laird brought the T-Up T-Down brand with him -- an upright T positioned directly above an upside down T -- as that brand was registered to Laird and to rancher Billy Cook in 1916. Laird and the Evans brothers also bought the Flying Y and other ranch properties and leaseholds in the area.

In 1942, Earl, Claud and C. B. Laird bought out Gus's share of the T-Ranch and divided it among them. In early 1943, the ranch house burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt. The foundation, the second photo shown above, remains. 

A view from the ranch
Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller
In 1946, Claud Evans and C. B. Laird sold their part of the ranch to Levi Reid, Ray Cowden, and Frank Armer. A cowboy from Punkin Center, John Henry Cline, moved to New River and began cowboying on the T-Ranch. The current owners allowed John to use his wages to begin buying into the T-Ranch a little bit at a time. Persistence pays off:  eventually John owned 51% of the ranch, an impressive 125,000 acres (including government leaseholds). John remained in New River until his death in 1988.

Now, at the southern entrance to the original homesite (from New River, rather than from Table Mesa Road), a nature preserve offers a way-station for migratory birds. John Deegan tells of his surprise at seeing a toucan in the preserve. A more recent owner of the ranch, a Ms. Silva, is credited with having the foresight to put aside the acreage for the preserve. In the photograph below, you can see more of the recent flood debris tangled around the base of the sign.

Entrance to the nature preserve
Copyright (c) 2015 MJ Miller

Today, the T-Ranch remains an active and productive ranch. As I snapped photographs of the ranch house foundation, a band of good-looking ranch horses wandered through, one still bearing dried sweat marks from a saddle pad.

Wandering ranch horses
Copyright (c) 2015 MJ Miller
In future posts, I'll share more information on John Cline, the Alkires, and the New River area as I continue blogging my journey as I write a book of New River history for Arcadia Publishing.

Copyright 2015 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, may be freely shared and are appreciated! * Thank you for linking, liking, sharing, forwarding, pinning, +1'ing and otherwise helping grow my readership. * Most of all, thank you for stopping by!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Writing New River: On the Path to a Local History

Pepsi Cap Mountain, New River, Arizona
Copyright 2015 MJ Miller

In recent months I've neglected my western history blog. It hasn't been lack of interest on my part; rather, quite the opposite. In the fall, I had the good fortune of being approached by Arcadia Publishing about writing the New River (Arizona) edition of their ongoing Images of America book. As you can guess, I happily agreed -- and thus began my newest journey into the past. It has occupied my time, energy and imagination.

It's often said writing is a solitary occupation. That has indeed been my experience with novels and the majority of my work. Writing a local history, though, is far from lonely. This book has been an adventure in local spirit, a wonderful journey in forging new friendships and the involvement of many others. New River, though not a town, is most definitely a community peopled by proud residents who appreciate the terrain, the history, and each other. Meeting and spending time with my New River neighbors has been sheer pleasure. I've been stunned by their enthusiasm and kindness.

Promptly after I distributed fliers asking for people with information and photographs to contact me, I received a call from Ann Hutchinson. Ann is amazing. In short order, she'd provided me with valuable documents via email, contact information for key players, and an abundance of information. We met shortly thereafter at the Roadrunner, where she introduced me to Rene Faires.  Rene, thanks to his generous and gregarious nature and astonishing memory, has proven critical to this project.  You'll see these names again -- and many others who've been helping me tremendously -- in future installments.

The completed book will be comprised largely of historical photos (nothing contemporary) with supporting text. However, along the way I'll share the "now" photos I've been taking -- and the intriguing tales of our area in more depth.

This, then, is an introduction -- an introduction to the past, in a sense. From the Hohokam who once farmed this rugged terrain to the Mormon, Apache, sheep-herders and cowboys who passed through along the way -- and up to the more recent history of the area -- I'll cover New River for the next few months. I'll share the photographs I take along the way and introduce you to people, sites and events you might not otherwise meet. Check in or sign up for email updates to join me along the way.  And, should you have any historical photos of New River or its early residents, please contact me -- I'm still compiling pictures!

Copyright © 2015 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, pinning, emailing, +1'ing and otherwise helping grow my readership! Most of all, thank you for reading my blogs. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Grave Site of Big Nose Kate

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
The Grave Site of Big Nose Kate

On the 4th of July, we headed north a bit to Prescott for the big annual rodeo -- the world's oldest, and a great way to spend Independence Day -- only to be turned away, surprised and dismayed.  Although arriving at the grounds an hour before the Friday afternoon performance, I hadn't pre-purchased tickets for what was to be a sold-out show.  Prescott has always been one of my favorite areas; rich in history, it has fostered its western heritage and still pays proper homage to the western lifestyle I favor. There are plenty of destinations -- so we merely diverted from the rodeo to the nearby Pioneer Home Cemetery, within earshot of the rodeo loudspeakers.  As I wistfully listened to the applause, my other half, Russ, tried to console me with, "They're booing.  See, we aren't missing anything."  (They most certainly weren't booing.  This ain't my first rodeo, Russ …)

Of course, we could have gone to the tattoo fest we'd passed on our way into town -- but the dead appealed to me more than the heavily tattooed.  I enjoy visiting grave sites and cemeteries and locations where notorious characters expired.  It isn't some strange morbidity or a sense of spiritualism; it's a fascinating starting point. So often when doing historical research, we start at the end and work backwards; much more accurate information is usually known about people's final years than those of their birth.  Long had I heard of the Pioneer cemetery but hadn't yet toured it.  When I proposed it Russ immediately said, "Maybe we'll see Big Nose Kate's grave!"

If you're new to visiting cemeteries in hopes of finding historical figures buried within, here's a tip:  once you've found the older section, look for newer, larger groupings of flowers (fake and real) and trinkets.  If old graves have new mementoes, it's generally because the individuals interred within have current relevance to visitors.  Sure enough, I could see a large grouping of silk flowers on an otherwise fairly nondescript grave towards one edge of the cemetery.  There it was:  the grave of Mary Katherine Harony Cummings -- the famous working girl known to western enthusiasts by many names, perhaps most prominently, Big Nose Kate.

Big Nose Kate had a life much longer and arguably as intriguing as that of her beau and self-professed husband, Doc Holliday.  (No records actually confirm they were ever married, but Kate claimed they were.)  Much of Kate's story, like those of her male contemporaries, has been grossly mis-told.  One author even claims that, while Doc Holliday died with his boots off, Kate died as Doc would have preferred -- shot to death in a saloon.  Big Nose Kate most certainly did not die with her boots on.  Just five days shy of her 90th birthday, on November 2, 1940, she passed away at the Pioneer Home in Prescott.

Even the plaque at Kate's grave is inaccurate; it cites her name as "Mary Katherine Horony Cummings, AKA 'Big Nose Kate' or 'Rowdy Kate.'"  The plaque is beneath Kate's tombstone, pictured at the top of this page.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
The Plaque at Big Nose Kate's Grave

Kate was one of several soiled doves named Kate who frequented the western boom towns.  Although many writers refer to her as "Rowdy Kate," just as cited on her plaque, Rowdy Kate was a fellow sporting woman and often cited as Big Nose Kate's good friend.  However, our Kate did not lack for a surplus of names to her credit.  Born in 1850 as "Mary Katherine Harony" in Pest, Hungary (now Budapest), and often incorrectly called Mary Katherine Horony, she first adopted a pseudonym upon the death of her parents in 1865 in Davenport, Iowa.  Kate called herself Kate Fisher at that point as she traveled illicitly to the west, making her way as a prostitute.  She accrued names about as easily as she accrued addresses:  Kate Fisher in Wichita was soon Katie Elder in Dodge City. Picking up with Doc Holliday, she traveled to the Arizona territory with him; she was known as Kate Holliday to some, and referred to herself as Mrs. Mary Holliday even after Doc's death.   A couple of years after Doc's death (he and Kate had been on-again and off-again throughout his life, and she loved him to the end of her own life), Kate -- 40 at the time -- married George Cummings in Colorado.  She then reverted to her given name of Mary as would befit a woman of respectable married status.

Mary-Kate and George moved to Bisbee, Arizona, in 1895, where she still served the miners -- food and not carnal pleasures, this time, while George worked as a blacksmith.  She divorced him in 1899, perhaps due to his alcoholism, and ended up as a housekeeper for a fellow in Dos Cabezas.  That man, John J. Howard, made Kate the executor of his will, but left her not enough money to pay for the winter's firewood.  Mary Katherine wrote to Governor George W. Hunt asking if she could move to the Arizona Pioneer's Home.  After an issue relating to her citizenship was resolved (since the bylaws required United States citizenship, and Kate was a Hungarian emigrant), she was granted permission.  She spent the rest of her life -- about eight years -- at the Pioneer Home.

Now, Kate's life is certainly book-worthy, but earlier chapters must wait:  it is her grave we were concerned with.  From Europe to Iowa and across the country to Wichita, Dodge City, Tombstone, Trinidad, Bisbee, Globe and Prescott, Kate resided in some of the wildest of western towns.  Ultimately, she found a final address on a still peaceful hillside in Prescott with Mingus Mountain looking on as a sentinel of sorts.  Kate's grave is towards the corner of the "old" section of the cemetery.  It is, as graves of famous or infamous people often are, festooned with mementos left by admirers -- or not.  Visitors have left trinkets and faux flowers on her grave.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Remembrances on Kate's Grave
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
An Appropriately Victorian-Style Memento
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
One thoughtful visitor left a large mason jar, its lid long rusted, with a guest book inside.  Its pages are filled with lots of "RIP's" and some conflicted sentiments.  Tucked neatly in back is a photograph of Kate's true love, Doc, looking every bit as dapper now as he did then -- Kate herself described him as a handsome man with a gentleman's manners.
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Other visitors stopped by not so much to pay their respects, though, as to express their unfavorable opinion of Kate.  As you can see in the photo below, one woman wrote, "You were a bitch then + you still are -- but a little nicer … P.S. Buckskin Frank still hates you."

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

"Buckskin Frank" refers to Buckskin Frank Leslie, a name immediately recognizable to even casual enthusiasts of the gunfighters of the time.  Leslie, whose real name was Nashville Franklin Leslie, served as a scout in the Indian territories before his much-storied career as peace officer, customs inspector,  jailer, ranch foreman, hotelier and murderer.  Frank's grave is not to be found; having survived many shoot-outs, the multi-faceted frontiersman served several years in the famed territorial prison in Yuma before making his way up to Alaska and back down to Oakland, California, where he worked in a pool hall.  Frank vanished, taking the owner's pistol with him, and was never heard from again.  Some suspect he killed himself.  Whatever hatred he may have had for Big Nose Kate, it died with him long ago.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Above is a photo taken from the top of the cemetery hill, looking downward toward Kate's grave -- you can see the flowers marking it just to the left of the tall juniper in the center.  Sitting before her grave you can still have a sense of the loneliness of the place.  Here, on a holiday weekend that attracts people from hundreds of miles away to visit Prescott -- the center of town abuzz with a craft fair, while the rodeo grounds were filled to the gills -- the cemetery is still a quiet place, with only one or two other cars making their way up the narrow drive.  One carload of women on a mission stopped parallel to Kate's grave and made their way promptly to it, clearly there just for her.

To put the cemetery in perspective, though, here's the view from the other side of Kate's grave.  Just a stone's throw from it is the Walmart parking lot.  There's no escaping death or Walmart, Kate, no matter how big the life you lead.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Russ Pays His Respects to Big Nose Kate.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, are encouraged and may be freely shared * Thank you for liking, linking, pinning, +1'ing, tweeting, sharing and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting and sharing my love of the American west and the people who made it great.  Keep America free!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 3: Casper to Buffalo, Wyoming

A Day of Champions, Massacres, and Massacred Music 

Not only are the Wyomingites friendly and courteous, but there aren't too damned many of them, either.  The population is just the way I like it:  close to 1.5 million cattle, and under 600,000 people.  That means miles of ranch land, places where you can still hear your own footsteps, air that's worth breathing.

Twenty-six miles south of Kaycee, we pass through serene, gently sloping hillsides populated by antelope and livestock.  I don't bother taking too many photos of antelope; they're like our own cottontail rabbits, always a joy to see but so prevalent that you just don't think of grabbing the camera every time you pass a congregation.  This land is so quiet and tranquil it's hard to imagine the violence that swept it during the range wars of the late 1800's.  This is Johnson County:  site of one of the most ruthless, brutal and downright dirty range wars.  Powerful cattlemen, in a horrendous turn of events, hired assassins such as Tom Horn and Frank Canton to come in and exterminate the homesteaders, whom they designated with great recklessness as "rustlers."  That topic, of course, is be food for a future article; even today, the details are heartbreaking and frightening.  This west wasn't just cowboys-and-Indians friction:  it was cowboys versus cattlemen, Mormons versus Gentiles, foreign interests versus local homesteaders, the powerful against the oppressed.

We pass through the area where John Tisdale, one of the early casualties of the Johnson Country troubles, was ambushed.  Tisdale was assassinated in Haywood's Gulch on his way home to his family after buying winter supplies in Buffalo.  The suspected killer was Frank Canton.  Roadside monuments mark the site of the TA Ranch and the Tisdale Ranch.

Before reaching Kaycee, we cross the leisurely trickle of water called the Powder River.  This land -- the Powder River Country -- was the hunting grounds of the Plains Indians -- Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho.  Although the once-abundant buffalo are gone, we see an impressive amount of small, fat deer, untroubled by our presence.  The Powder River country is also the chosen land of one of my favorite country singers, the late, great bareback rider Chris LeDoux.  I'm eager to see Kaycee, where he bought his ranch and raised his family.  He loved the land enough to stay there rather than live the Hollywood or Nashville lifestyle that most certainly beckoned him, and some of his lesser-known songs are ballads of the Johnson County War, and tributes to his "Powder River Home."

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Chris LeDoux's Memorial Park
Chris was the real thing.  A bareback champion by the time he was 16, Chris rodeoed successfully for years before turning his focus to singing his ever-upbeat, joyful songs of rodeo and western life.  In the center of Kaycee is a fittingly beautiful tribute to such a man:  a quiet small-town park shaded by flowering trees, a small rock waterfall, flower-lined paths, and a greater-than-lifesize bronze sculpture.  Titled "Against These Western Skies," it depicts Chris riding the bucking horse, Stormy Weather, to the championship -- set on a guitar-shaped base.  Naturally, there's a huge, life-loving grin on LeDoux's face in the sculpture.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Cattle Grazing Near Hole in the Wall

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Red Bluffs Near Hole in the Wall, Wyoming
It's a stunning drive through miles of stunning ranch land to the Hole in the Wall area of Bighorn Basin.  Although the road covering the last five or six miles to the outlaw cave that sheltered Butch Cassidy and his confederates is inaccessible to the public, it was evident that they had loped past the same red bluffs we admired.  Buttes such as those shown here provided an advantage for the gang to ambush any pursuers. This is outlaw country, frequented by robbers and hired guns -- and the bodies of those they slaughtered.

Nate Champion, one of the early victims of the Johnson County War, was murdered in a barn between Kaycee and Buffalo, where he bravely holed up against the "Invaders" -- Texans brought in by the all-powerful Wyoming Stock Growers' Association to kill off anyone even remotely allied with the rustlers.  Nate, during his hours fending off his attackers in the KC ranch cabin, kept a journal of his final moments.  Nate's notebook, unlike himself, survived as the Invaders set fire to the cabin, gunning Nate down as he fled the flames.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
As we drive, we happen across the quiet Willow Grove Cemetery in Buffalo.  We stop to walk around. No one else is within sight; we have the acres of marble monuments to ourselves.  There are no tourist-oriented signs announcing the famous (or infamous) grave sites here.  I flip through an alphabetical list of those interred, and to my surprise I find Nate Champion.  The courageous man lies beside the grave of his brother, Dudley.  Nate died a horrid death -- but his place of repose is serene.  Nearby, the Tisdale family plot is shaded by massive trees.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Fort Phil Kearny
We soon venture to Fort Phil Kearny, from which the soldiers who fought in the Fetterman Massacre and the Wagon Box Battle were deployed.  At the interpretive center, the gregarious woman who greets us asks where we're staying.  When we tell her we'll be at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, she warns us not to talk to the pig-tailed woman there.  "If you talk to her, before the night is through she'll be asking you for money!" she cautions us.  She gives us a nutshell narration of the events of the battles, and we tour the place where the fort had stood.  No traces remain; after it had been rendered inactive, it was burned to the ground by the Indians.  Not it is but a vast grassy expanse, dotted with brass placards and site markers where corner-posts had been.  Here, Carrington's troops lived, trained, and fought hard, and too many met an early grave.  The countryside is vibrant green, the fort nestling in a valley surrounded by hills and peaks, watered by a stream.

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A Very Chilled Me on The Bozeman Trail at the Site of the Fetterman Massacre

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
An Old Wyoming Sign Used as a Foot-Bridge Over a Gully

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Sweeping View from the Site of the Fetterman Massacre
Capt. William J. Fetterman led 80 men to their death while attempting to aide an embattled wagon train on the Bozeman Trail; three were later killed in the battle at Wagon Box.  We walk all the sites, just miles apart.  Wagon Box overlooks a stunning vista, while the Fetterman Massacre site is on a ridge with sublime hills, valleys, and views of the Bighorn Mountains.  It is almost surreally beautiful.  We walk the path the troops had taken in both pursuit and retreat during the battle.  Rain drops on us and the wind kicks up; I am shivering wind-whipped, and my teeth are chattering.  Daunted, we sit in the Jeep for a few minutes deciding whether or not to venture out -- but having come so far, who would pass the chance to walk on actual remnants of the bloody Bozeman Trail?  It is a walk of maybe two miles, with markers indicating where the key points of the massacre had occurred.  The rain makes the scene more poignant.
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A Pair of Herons at the Site of the Fetterman Massacre

Abruptly the wind stops, the clouds part, and we're treated to the most seductively lovely sunny afternoon, there on that bloody ridge overlooking indescribably beautiful hillsides.  A pair of herons makes an odd chuckling noise nearby, too shy to be properly photographed.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Site of the Fetterman Massacre
Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
The Occidental Hotel, Buffalo, Wyoming
We are warm by the time we return to Buffalo.  As we unload the Jeep on the roadside, the woman from the fort happened buy in her blue pick-up and yelled out the window, "Remember, don't talk to the woman in the pigtails!"  As we approach the hotel, lugging our clothes, an odd woman resembling Liz Taylor is seated at a sidewalk table; she gives me a cold, venomous stare as we walk by.  The woman in pigtails greets us at the front desk and gives me a quick synopsis of the effort that went into renovating the hotel.  She is the owner.  She tells us we're in luck tonight:  there's a bluegrass jam in the hotel's saloon, and the state's PBS is there filming it.  It fills up fast, she warns -- so get there early; she'll reserve seats for us.

Attentively renovated to resemble its original western appearance, the Occidental boasts not only that Butch Cassidy slept there, but that Owen Wister's Virginian ultimately got his man there.  The restaurant attached to the hotel is called the Virginian, appropriately.  We pass it up over Russ' shock at the prices on the menu, and instead stop at Up in Smoke, a barbecue joint up the street.  There, a sweet and perky waitress serves us the most expensive (and least worthy)  BBQ we've ever eaten. We each have a beer and a sandwich and a small dish of ice cream, and I can't help but laugh at the $50 tab.  It's just plain funny that it nearly costs as much as the upper-crust fare at the Virginian may have.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Lobby of the Historic Occidental Hotel, Buffalo, WY
The pigtailed woman is right: the saloon is filled with eager locals, including the Liz Taylor clone, for the bluegrass jam.  The voices aren't great, but the crowd spirit is enviable.  During a particularly painful yodeling session, Russ smiles and says, "There IS something worse than bagpipes!"   We retire early, making our way up the creaky stairs to our "Rose Room." Russ glances around and comments, "It's like being at my grandmother's."  He's right:  there are cabbage rose patterns, brocades, quilts, gilt frames, and porcelain ... everywhere.  The room, as the proprietress had informed me, was once two brothel rooms, which did not have bathrooms; she had done significant remodeling to provide each room with a bathroom.  The main room is spacious, but the bathroom cramped and bath-tub free.  There's not quite enough room in the shower stall to shave a leg.  We don't mind; we're happy enough to be in a hotel that has the same feel it likely did when dusty travelers passed through over a hundred years ago, in the company of the ghosts of frontier whores and horse thieves.

It has been an easy day for driving; 240 miles, and every inch boasting gorgeous scenery.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 2: From Rifle, Colorado to Casper, Wyoming

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller

Fields of lush green grass filled with herds of Angus cattle, horses, and sheep mark our morning drive out of Rifle.  It's calving and lambing season still, and dozens of youngsters recline in the mild morning sun.  We are headed to Glenwood Springs, where Doc Holliday issued his last consumptive breath.  The Colorado River parallels the freeway through gorgeous gorges, accompanied by train tracks.  We are treated to a fly-by -- the first of many -- of Canadian geese.  Suddenly, a view of the snow-covered Rockies erupts through these gentler, greener slopes.  For a moment this stunning beauty makes me wonder why not everyone lives here; then, we find ourselves on Grand Avenue during Glenwood's morning rush, and I think, everyone does.

It is not a bad rush hour, to be fair; it's your typical small old-west town with narrow streets confined by historical buildings, and city planners who rightfully decide not to remove the old beauties to make more room for the sight-seers visiting in order to enjoy them.  Thank heavens many of the historical sights have been preserved and cherished.  We enjoy a quick stroll through town before breakfast, briefly stopping to read the historical plaque marking Doc Holliday's death site.  Once called the Glenwood Springs Hotel, Doc died alone and destitute in his room within.  Local gamblers and whores took up a collection to defray some of the costs of his burial; the county incurred the rest.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
A Glenwood Springs Street Scene

The Glenwood Springs Hotel later burned to the ground, like so many of the gems of our old west history; that's why I did not photograph the site.  When making a destination of historical sites -- particularly such frontier buildings -- it's a good idea to do a little research first to ensure you'll be seeing the actual building, if that matters to you.  It is too often a recurring theme as you visit:  "The original structure burned to the ground, but was later rebuilt."  I favor the originals; re-creations and estimations don't do much for me on a visceral level.

The cemetery where Doc is buried is at top of a nearby hill.  The outgoing woman in the visitor's center says, "even we old folks can make the climb."  It is my 50th birthday vacation:  what is she trying to tell me?  Is she in cahoots with those AARP folks, who sent me my first membership card two days before we embarked?

We meander through the cemetery, Linwood Springs, which I am able to get to -- during the climb, I blame my shortness of breathon the altitude.  In addition to Doc's monument, we also visit Kid Curry's -- perhaps.  I will leave the details on the resting place of Doc and Kid Curry to an upcoming post; it's an interesting subject in its own right, and deserves special mention.

In the mountains that surround the town, paragliders ride the thermals above the greenery.  Just north, tourists ride the tramway to the mountaintop.  There is much to do in this pretty town.

We hit the road instead.  State highway 13, Meeker-bound, to be exact -- edged by expanses of livestock-dotted pasture.  We pass miles of picturesque ranches sporting log cabins and tumbledown barns and gathering pens with rustic cattle chutes.  The cattle are fat and happy, the scenes idyllic.  The Meeker area is famed for its hunting opportunities and deer and elk are in abundance.  We see many of the slower ones on the sides of the road, the victims of the inevitable collision with humankind.

Meeker is charming.  Dandelion-carpeted fields grazed by an assortment of cattle -- white-faced, black Angus, even Scottish Highland cattle with their distinctive shaggy fur.  Cattle trucks are all stopped in a line for inspection; we are in cattle country beyond a doubt.

As we enter Moffatt County, we enjoy beautiful rainfalls.  Narrow streams thread their way through neon-green fields, edged by cattails.  By the time we reach Hamilton, the streams are wider, more assertive, and have carved deep, steeply-banked serpentine channels.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Craig, Colorado

The town of Craig was a surprise:  a welcoming, pleasant cow town, and one I had heard little about - not enough to have an image in my head or any set expectations.  Among the humble older homes downtown are some astonishing examples of immaculately-preserved Victorian homes.  The gem of our visit, though, was the Northwestern Colorado Cowboy and Gunfighter Museum.  That, too, will merit separate mention in a future post.  It was a gem of a place with a worthy collection, and well-displayed to boot.

I tend to avoid tourist-type shopping when I travel.  I prefer to pick up functional things along the way rather than traditional souvenirs; perhaps a ball-cap I can wear for the remainder of the trip, or a sweatshirt.  It was in Craig that I realized Russ was planning to take my thin-blooded Arizona desert-rat self through Bear Tooth Pass on the way down from Montana.  It was in Craig that he told me that there would be snow and it would be in the 20's when we got there.  It was in the hundred-degree weather of Arizona two days before that my beloved had assured me I would not need a jacket, and that he was not taking one.  It was in Craig that he admitted that he had, in fact, packed one.  Thus, it was in Craig that I found a wonderful ranch-supply store -- the best kind, the ones that carry Carhartt products -- and guilted Russ into buying me a wonderful Carhartt jacket.

Authentic ranch supply stores are things of beauty.  You can buy livestock feed, shooting supplies, tractor parts, and socks.  There are clothes -- useful clothes -- and tack and dog toys.  Thankfully, we were in the Jeep.  I could have loaded up.  Murdoch's Ranch and Homes Supply, count me as a fan.  

From Craig to Baggs, we've just passed bunny hills dotted with countless white boulders ... boulders that, as we approach, sprout legs and newly-shorn wool.  Sheep, sheep everywhere -- blending in as sheep do.  In great contrast is the  herd of draft horses not far past them -- an impressive gang of flaxen-maned beauties and their solid-black counterparts, their legs feathers so full we see them from the highway.  They stand on a mound in all their grandeur, self-segregated from the light horse in a cluster nearby.

Then, the rain.  Big plashy drops smacking the windshield, temperature dropping from 74 to 60 in a moment's span.  With more dark clouds ahead, and me in my new Carhartt, we enter Wyoming.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
You can see from the muted tones of the "welcome" sign that it is a gloomy, blustery day in May.

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You can tell from the snow on the peaks ahead of us that I am thankful to have a new jacket.

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Southern Wyoming is antelope and brown hills.  It is pouring by the time we reach Rawlins.  Here we admire the forbidding sandstone facade of the old Wyoming State penitentiary.  Here, Butch Cassidy served time when arrested for buying a stolen horse.  On its grounds is a small, austere cemetery.  Across the street is a more appealing plot of well-marked graves, a deer placidly graving on one of them.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
Wyoming State Penitentiary

The rain continues with a determined constancy.  It's puzzling to see so much rainfall on such a brown land.  It's 51 degrees.  I am surprised, coming from Arizona, that it is 51 degrees anywhere in May.  We pass a sign marking the Sand Creek Massacre Trail.  The trail follows the path the Arapaho and Cheyenne took after the horrific travesty known now as the Sand Creek Massacre.  It was a dark moment in American history when U.S. troops, led by the brutal, Indian-hating Colonel Chivington, slaughtered the men, women, and children in a Cheyenne village headed by Black Kettle and -- poignantly -- flying the American flag.  The actual massacre site is in Colorado; the lengthy trail is run today by Arapaho youths who view the experience as catharsis.

Somewhere, amid the endless miles of drab scenery long before Casper, with rain blown against us on a quiet stretch of road, Russ manages to attract the attention of a state trooper.  Russ, ever the conservative driver (meaning that he drives far more slowly than I do), comments on how strong the tailwind is because the Jeep -- which is anything but a speed demon -- was finding it easier to pick up speed.  Not minutes later, the overheads and wigwags of a patrol vehicle light up ahead.  Having realized just the night before when we tried to check in at the motel that Russ had left his license at a recent doctor's appointment, he tells the trooper, "I don't have my license."  The officer drily replies, "Perfect."  It is so windy the deputy can't keep his Smokey hat on; he returns with the citation, saying, "It's cold, I'm freezing, here's your ticket."  

We make it to Casper without further felony, and struggle to find an appropriate motel.  As luck would have it, sleepy Casper is hosting the play-offs for a high-school athletic event.  We eventually land at the La Quinta.  We walk across the North Platte River, where Hispanic fishermen have their fishing poles dropped into the water from the banks, to a local steak-house for dinner.  It is chilly ... I'm glad to have that jacket.

Day's stats:  398 miles, and one ticket for 78 in a 65 zone.