Kuhn’s Crossing

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            One of those places where I was a few days late and a whole bunch short.  Situated off Hwy 94 and down a dead end road a short distance, was Kuhn’s Post Office.  This where one could cross Bijou Creek and continue their journey westward.  Off and on for years I drove past this location, not knowing what was located just over the rise. 

            Back in the trees lining the creek I could a barn with its silo and the other ranch buildings.  It was a very pastoral scene as I whizzed by on the highway.  Back down the road had been Kuhn’s Crossing Schoolhouse and there were some log cabins. 

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            Over the years these structures had weathered and collapsed into piles of lumber scrap heaps.  The markers of the little pioneer community were gone.  Down the road a ways were some ranch houses and outbuildings after crossing the creek.  A rubble heap sat on the ridge where the school had once been.  I took too long to go looking and found not much. 

            It is a fascinating area to drive through.  To the south a ways was a stage stop and a branch of the Smoky Hill Trail.  To the north on another road is another branch of the Smoky Hill Trail.  There are some other communities nearby and some wide open range land.  Cottonwoods line the creek bottoms and stately pines dot the ridges.  It is a varied land of rolling grasslands, towering ridges, 7000-8000 feet in elevation.  The Indians would roam here in the summer

            Today, many of the pine trees have grown back, ranches dot the land and cattle graze the grasses.

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Hiding in the Breaks

The Last Indian Village

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            Tucked back in the Limon Breaks was a small band of Indians that refused to go to the reservation.  They managed to stay out of the governments’ sights until the 1940’s, the beginning of WWII.  The breaks is a rugged wilderness of steep ravines, gullies and canyons, dotted with thick stands of cedars, pines and scrub brush.  At an elevation that ranges from 6000 feet to almost 8000 feet, not many people settled in the breaks. 

            It was too rugged for large scale farming and the weather makes for some nasty winters and springs.  This type of landscape made for a great place to Indians to live and thrive. 

            Scattered among the hills are numerous springs, feeding small streams.  It is a haven for wildlife, there was water, ample feed and protection down in the ravine bottoms.  This was great buffalo country and the Indians had been coming to the area for centuries.  There are caves among the cliffs, providing shelter for the Nomads that roamed the area.  Deer roamed the land, as did rabbits, antelope, coyotes and numerous other critters.  These provided food and clothing for the Indians.  There was wild fruit in the breaks, such as choke cherry, a variety of herbs and tubers grow along the bottom meadows.  For a subsistence life, it was everything a person needed to live. 

            At the end of the 1800’s most of the Indian wars had ceased.  The Indians had been carted off to reservations to become domesticated.  Not all stayed on the reservation.  They would wander off and return to the lands they knew and set up living like they used to.  The buffalo had almost been exterminated but the Indians managed to live on the prairie.  There are stories of ranchers running across small bands living on their ranch. 

            For the most part, the cowboys let things be and left the Indians to their devices.  A few would help, bring food, blankets or clothing.  Eventually the government would hear of these little groups, round em up and take them to the reservation.  The band in the Limon Breaks avoided detection for a number of years.  The ranchers in the area would help them and even offered them livestock if they were hungry.  Quietly the Indians went about their life in the woods and ravines.  The caves they used are marked with smoke from their fires.  Rings of rocks can be seen where they had their tepees.  Fire pits can be seen nearby.

            Driving on Interstate 70 across eastern Colorado, one would not even consider there would be a thick forest to the north of Cedar Point.  On the ridges to the north can be seen groves of cedar stretching to the north for miles.  Over the ridge, the land drops down into steep ravines climbing back up cliffs to mountains of about 7500 feet.  There are no homes back in there and it pretty much open rugged wilderness.  Wildlife still roam the area, it is cattle now that graze the land.  Here for about 40 years, a group of Indians avoided the long arm of the government, living off the grid. 

Comanche

Picture Canyon

            Situated in the SE corner of the state of Colorado is the Comanche Grasslands, owned by the Federal government.  The government bought up scores of acres and turned them is to grass in the attempts to slow down the dust bowl of the 30’s.  It also created recreational areas on the prairie, opening up wide variety public lands.  The nearby states also have huge sections of grasslands in the corners of their states. 

            The grasslands of New Mexico and Kansas encompass parts of the old Santa Fe Trail, following the Cimarron River, mostly dry.  There is the flat rolling land that is prone to blow and there is the surprise of the canyons and mesas in the area.  Just north of the Oklahoma border, in Colorado is a large area of land broken with canyons and rocky cliffs. 

            Tucked back in these areas are springs, trees and rocky overhangs, where the Indians could have shelter and carve in the rocks.  One such place is Picture Canyon, about 12 miles due west of Campo and a few miles south.  Here one drives out of the flat lands into scrub forest and rocky gulches. 

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            The rock walls made great easels for early many.  The Indians left their mark with Pictographs and petroglyphs.  They were not alone the early European explorers left their mark also.  There are some petroglyphs that archeologists speculate may have been Viking/Celtic in origin.  Which raises the questions, were the Northern Europeans, exploring in Western North America. 

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            No matter what, it is still a fun place to drive back into and watch the land change.  Looking at the cliffs, there are the occasional overhangs/caves that show signs of soot on the rocks.  Here in late summer the Indian could sit here and work his buffalo meat into pemmican.  For here in the canyons are a variety of fruits, Choke Cherry, Hackberry and others. 

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            There are also the remains of cabins that were built, late 1800’s.  It was a good area to graze cattle for summer pasture and a cabin for the trail rider. 

            It is an area to delve back more than a few thousand years.  The Folsom Point man roamed the area, before the present day plains Indians showed up.  The Comanche Indians are the contemporary residents of the area, living, hunting, working and playing in the canyons. 

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Two Lane Blacktop

Anton, Colorado

 

            Across the plains of Colorado, small little towns dot the prairie.  Many have faded into yesteryear, a few hang on and some have prospered.  US highway 36 begins or ends on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Out across the eastern plains it is marked by numerous small towns.  Most have a population of some kind and some are just markers on the roadway. 

            Anton is one of those little towns that would make a nice little ghost town, except it is loaded with more businesses then residents.  Homes are pretty scarce, yet here one can stop at the local restaurant, get some gas, buy some groceries, mail a letter or get the car fixed and while waiting there is a motel or camper park.  The grain elevator sees lots of trucks and the highway department has shops on the corner.  On the edge of town is a small church.  There is no downtown of any sorts, it is strung out along the highway and the junction with the state highway. 

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            Could not find any census data on the village, so I doubt it is incorporated.  Mostly Anton is a wide spot on the road junction.  Years ago, before the Interstate era, Anton was on a busy highway.  Its famous counterpart down the road is Last Chance but unlike Last Chance Anton was able to keep some of the businesses going.  What’s interesting is the population of Last Chance is probably the same as Anton.  

            There is one remaining ghostly feature of years gone by.  Next to the Post Office was a small group of cabins.  Well neglected and not much TLC.  Here is where the traveling harvest crews would stay.  Before the big luxury RV’s of today, these little cabins were a luxury for the harvest crews.  Lots of the crews, years ago, would sleep under the stars, trucks, machinery and shave and clean up under a water barrel. 

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            The harvest crews would start in Texas, traveling north with the harvest season, sometimes as forth north as Canada.  Back then it was long hard days in the hot sun, sunrise to sunset.  There was no air conditioning and water was out of a canvas bag or burlap wrapped jug.  Meals were in the field, the bathroom was over there by the post.  So to have a shack with a roof over it, with a bed, place to shower and clean up with toilets…… the height of luxury. 

            Like lots of things today, Anton is a reminder of things gone by the way side.  The few people in the little village keep on going much like their ancestors did years ago, just lots more comfortable. 

The Tornado

Thurman, Colorado

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            The former town of Thurman, probably has one of the saddest stories of any ghost town ever.  Situated on the High Plains of East Central Colorado, Thurman was a growing city.  During the early 1900’s, the population was approaching 600 people,  There were banks, stores, shops, blacksmiths, small factory, movie house and all the conveniences of a thriving settlers prairie town.  Thurman was surrounded by great farmland and the homesteaders had staked out their future. 

            Spring had brought high hopes, the rain was plentiful and crops were in the ground and growing.  That afternoon, the thunderheads boiled up and with it came the funnels.  A tornado ripped across the land, in its patch was a farmhouse that would soon be scraps of wood and piles of rubble.  Seeing the damage, neighbors gathered up their families and took their wives and children to another neighbor’s house.  The men struck out to help the neighbor that had been hit by the funnel.  Hustling across the prairie to the tornado damage, the men paused, a loud roar was behind them.  Looking back over their shoulder, they saw a huge funnel dropping out of the clouds.  Right in its path was the house where they had left their wives and children. 

            In disbelief the men watched as the twister reached the home, picking it up, shredding it to pieces.  No more was there a building standing there.  Flat land now covered with debris and their families.

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            Soon the wheat market would crash after WWI, then the market crash bringing the great depression followed by the Dust Bowl.  Soon the prosperous town of Thurman was in decline.  Many people had lost their families and then their hope.  Over there were greener looking pastures to move to.  In a short time, what had been one of Eastern Colorado’s largest towns had dwindled into a Skelton.  The store, gas station and Post Office lasted into the 50’s.  The drought was the death knell for Thurman as it was for many of the other plains towns.  Dreams were gone, hopes were dashed and a new page had to be started some other place.  There are a few descendents in the area that survived all the catastrophe. 

            Hearing about Thurman and the stories of the tornado, I decided to go looking.  I got general directions on where it was and north down the gravel highway I went.  Bouncing down the road passing farms and ranches I went.  One of the ranches had a huge red barn.  Stopping I took a couple of pics of it.  On down the road I went and past the Thurman cemetery I went.  Oops…. Too far I had driven.  Making a U turn I retraced my tracks and just past the red barn I saw some of the buildings and open lots.  I had driven past Thurman thinking it was a large ranch complex. 

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            Most of the town was gone, the store was still there and there were some other buildings nearby.  I was now looking at vacant land where once almost 600 people had called home.  Standing there, the sorrow of the land eased past on the breezes.  The lament of other days was a still moan on the land. 

            At the cemetery were numerous headstones with the same date and how many were unmarked I have no idea.  It is a kept graveyard for somebody had recently mowed.

            Couple years later I dove that way again, hoping to get some pictures in different light.  Again I almost drove past, if it hadn’t been for the big red barn, I would have driven right on through.  The few remaining buildings had been razed.  Small depressions marking where cellars had been. Otherwise, the buildings of Thurman were gone. 

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            All that’s left to mark Thurman today is the country cemetery north of town and the red barn. 

House of Concrete

House in The Field

 

            In my back road travels, I find all types of things, many piqué my curiosity.  Out in the farm flatlands I came across a huge old concrete structure in a state of slow decay.  It was not the usual farm/ranch home because of the way it was built.  There also doors all around, two on the front, one on the side and a backdoor plus a cellar door. 

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            The two front doors, next to each other remind me of a hotel, boarding house with a café.  Nice large upstairs windows for the guests to stay in.  A large spacious basement with appliances for the family to live in.  All this in the middle of somewhere, close to not much.

            I got my old maps out, there were no old wagon roads, nor was there any kind of town at this location.  I’ve asked a few people in the area if they knew anything about the building…… got blank stares and quizzical empty eyes.  Oh well, someday I will find the right person. 

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            On the eastern Colorado prairie it would’ve been a large luxurious building for the early 1900’s.  The interior was nicely finished, plastered walls, nice wood work.  In the basement a huge cast iron cook stove still resided.  The house had multiple chimneys and a variety of stoves pipe outlets in the walls.  It took a large chunk of money to build this house more then a 100 years ago. 

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            On the side of the house was a large well house with storage tank.  The pipes still went from the pump house to the building, now exposed and naked plumbing.  It was a good sized complex.  The other thing that struck that maybe more then one family lived here.  Oh me, I speculate so much about a curious building way over yonder. 

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Kirkuk, Colo

 

 

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      Kirkuk, CO sits just west of the Kansas border in central eastern Colorado.  Not much left of it.  It appears it had been a farm house that held the postal contract for a time.  There are few trees n shrubs there and steel grain bin.

Nearby is the Smoky Hill schoolhouse which still stands.  T was hit by a tornado number of years ago.  The concrete shell is still there and the boarding/ rooming house.  With the changes in transportation, the kids were bused to a nearby town for school after the tornado mutilated their school

A side bar on the area.  The North Fork of the Smoky Hill River runs through the area.  Well its not much of a river any more with all the farming.  In the mid 1600’s lots of travelers on the Smoky Hill trail would divert at the fork and go north.  In the 1850’s the nort fork was carrying more water, so people thought it was an advantage to follow.

Not so, when they got up on the flats in Colorado, the river dried up.  There were no landmarks and most of the travelers had no idea how to find water on the flat prairie.  Many would go wandering looking and end going in circles, back where they started.  A few would back track and rejoin the Trail.  A few would wander finding the wagon trail to the north and the springs on the Republican river and by then many were rather thirsty.

Then there were those in such a hury to get to the goldfields they would travel during the prairie snowstorms.  In circles they would go, sometimes ending up further east then when they started.  Supplies were low and frozen travelers they would be.

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Today the Kirkuk area is home to some of the most prosperous farms in the country.  And when the land dries out, the dust will still flaot in the air but no longer like the dust bowl days.