Heartsong

Heartsong, Colorado

            The name of a said, it would make a good song title.  Yet it is the name of a little village in Eastern Colorado that is no more.  Heartsong shows up on weather maps, so it had to of been a place at one time.  Doing some map searching, it showed up on satellite view as a collection of buildings.  Doing more searching an interesting story for the town came to light.

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            Heartsong had its beginning in 1909 as Happyville.  1908 a settler homesteaded in the area and decided there should be a Post Office for the surrounding settlers.  Awarded the contract for mail service, Happyville was on its way to becoming a growing prairie town.  Stores and shops were built and when the auto showed up a gas station was added to the town. 

            Conflict arose between the founder and other settlers over the stores and various other arguments.  So the founding father got upset and threaded to move his stores to another location.  Sure enough, later that year, the stores and his house were loaded up and teams of 8 horses hauled the building down the road a few miles. 

            Leaving Happyville to a new location, called for a new name and Heartsong was chosen. The new town thrived, business was good.   Happyville became a ghost of itself and faded into not much.  The “Dirty Thirties” arrived, farmers were blown out and lost their farms.  With people moving out, Heartsong was in decline.  Then in 1940, fire struck the little village, burning up most of the town.  Heartsong disappeared into the ashes to be no more. 

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            Today, there is a ranch where Heartsong once stood and at Happyville is an abandoned farm and nearby sits an empty church. The memories of the Prairie towns linger on with the people that survived the hardship of the land.  Farms dot the land, fields wave in the breeze and cattle watch the passing truck.

 

Town in the bend of the river

 

River Bend

            Situated on a bend in the river, the RR stop had a logical name of River Bend.  Today River Bend is a vacant spot in a pasture next to the railroad tracks.  The Interstate has an exit sign for the village that sat on the bend in the river.  Old River Bend, Colorado is back west from the Interstate exit a few miles behind the ridge.  Old highway 40 outline can still be seen following along the Interstate.  South of the exit are a few ranch houses, which is considered River Bend.  To the north on the hill is the town cemetery, a Boot Hill. 

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            Outside of the exit sigh and cemetery, River Bend is a paragraph in most history books and sometimes only a sentence.  Yet in the 1870’s it was an important RR town on the plains of eastern Colorado.  Here the buffalo hunters arrived by railcar to safari into the nearby hills to hunt.  Colonel Reno used River Bend for his headquarters when General Custer’s 7th Calvary was assigned to protect the new railroad building across the plains. 

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            As a result, River Bend was a pretty tumultuous town of saloons, brothels, and assorted characters.  With the various early day conflicts, boot hill had a good assortment of customers.  One of the locals at the museum talking about the cemeterary grimaced when describing some the evil folks buried up there on the hill. 

            In the area are remains of the stage stop, a military fort, ruts of the Smoky Hill Trail and assorted artifacts.  Metal Calvary buttons, Indian arrowheads, spent shell casings, wagon parts and rusted tin cans.  During the mid 1860’s, it was a crossroads for various trails/wagon roads going to the gold fields.  It also was great buffalo hunting grounds for the local Indians. 

            Flying down Interstate 70, River Bend exit doesn’t get much more than a glance.  The lone tree on Boot Hill, goes unnoticed.  Cattle dot the land, drifting along munching grass as cars and trucks whiz by.  It is a pretty quiet scene.  No more buffalo to hunt, no more Indians to do battle with and the gun fighters RIP.

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School in the Country

Country School

Edison

 

            Driving across the plains of eastern Colorado, theDSC01798 (640x480)e is lots of empty land and one can see forever.  Building and trees on the horizon, generally mark farm houses or ranches.   This time the long empty road went past a schoolhouse.  For miles any direction, there were no tows, yet here there was a school complex.  Elementary, middle/jr high and high school and nice auditorium/gym, neatly groomed next to the gravel road in the middle of somewhere. 

            Farms and ranches have consolidated as more and more people leave the land and move to the city.  The few towns left behind, dry up and become memories of earlier days.  So the local families get together and consolidate their school districts into one.  There are still long bus rides, as much as 30-40-50 miles to school.  For some, it is better than a 100mile trip to the big town. 

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            Edison school district is way out at the eastern end of El Paso county crossing into Lincoln County.  It is listed as being in Yoder, which is up the road about 15 miles.  Nearby is the town of Truckton and all around is lots of land to farm and ranch. 

            When towns disappear the folks get things worked out to educate their children.  Consolidated districts usually a variety of ghost towns/communities and the school house becomes a reminder of what once used to be.  What’s amazing, is the education in these little schools is just as good as it is in the big city. 

            The students in the country school don’t have the gangs to deal with or the noise of city life.  In the country classes are smaller, giving the students more personal attention.  There are sports programs, music, plays etc.  The school becomes a social center for all types of activities.

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            Some homes are hauled in to provide housing for some of the teachers and small town kind of builds up.  Some of the locals will rent out to new teachers.  Sometimes the local are teachers and doing their farm and ranch work in the morning and evenings, through the summer.  The one room schoolhouse has been replaced by a sleek modern schoolhouse.  It has become a ghost town in reverse. 

Dwindling

Campo Colorado

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            Out along the prairie line approaching Oklahoma, is the little town of Campo.  The business district is mostly vacant and sitting collecting the dust of times gone past.  The corner café keeps Main Street from being completely empty.  It is a little town that probably will never perish because of its location.  It is a gateway to the Comanche Grasslands and on the busy Ports to Plains highway. 

            There is still a village government and the local constables keep the coffers from going empty.  Some people just don’t want to slow down passing through until they see the flashing lights.  Campo was also in the center of the dust bowl and a few reminders of those days are present.  There are a variety of pictures of the town and its neighbors from those dirty days.  Today the traffic flies by and the dust does not stop, it keeps on going someplace. 

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            The empty store fronts on the road way harkens back to a day, when small towns were the heart of America.  Now the few ghosts sit under the canopy watching traffic pass.  The corner coffee shop has the local town news.  Pause for breakfast, listen to the locals cuss and discuss the weather or prices of crops.  The waitress hustles the coffee pot around, the cook yells, order up, and conversation goes on.

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            Outside the trucks rumble by, shaking the ground as the press onward to their destination.  Nearby the rails sit silently, awaiting the next coal train to go south or returning empties.  The grain elevator sits in slow status of natural destruction.  A lone sentential next to the rails, a reminder of when business was on the railroad. 

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            Over 100 hardy souls call the little prairie village home.  Working on farms or maybe one of the government jobs.  The grasslands are nearby and are operated under the Nation Forest Service.  Picnic grounds and trails dot the lands.  It is a land of mystery and surprises.  Petroglyphs have been found in some caves that some suspect may have been Viking.  There are the Indian artifacts spread around the areas, fossils, millions of years old and a herd of Big Horn Sheep call the grasslands home. 

            Campo will be a little wide spot on the road from here to there for years to come. 

 

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Buchannan

Buchannan, Colorado

 

           

Situated along a wagon road, is the dot marking Buchanan.  The map did not indicate that there had been a Post Office there.  Other information about this little dot on the map is slim and none.  It was in the area where I was driving, looking for ghost towns on the prairie.  So I bounced over a few ruts and went to see if there was anything at Buchannan. 

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Up and over the hill I saw an old farm house and some out buildings, long abandoned.  The homestead sat on the banks of a small creek and it appeared there may have been some springs there also.  The house was small but functional.  Behind it was poles for a clothesline, a chicken coop.  Further down the bank was the barn and some posts for a corral and on the other side was the windmill and stock tank. 

It looked like any other homestead on the prairie that got blown out during the dirty thirties.  But here it was a dot on the wagon road.  So now I am speculating.  Was this a transfer point, way station for travelers, had there been a store here, what importance was the Buchannan place to the early day settlers.  I’ll probably never know, but I found the place.

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Driving across the creek and looking back, I could see a faint trace of the old wagon road.  It was a change in the vegetation across the way on the banks of the small creek.  Straight as an arrow it headed for the Buchannan place. 

Nearby on the map, there were other places marked as having Post Offices.  Abbott was few miles south on the road and further south was the Abbott church.  Yet, here the road showed up, having its beginnings at Deertrail, CO. 

When I go searching for these prairie ghosts I usually have 4-8 targets marked out on the map.  Places like Buchannan are usually and after thought but being on the wagon road, intrigued me. 

 

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Prairie Ghosts

 

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Abbott, Colorado

            Abbott, CO, is a small ranching and farming community is southern Washington County. The history map shows the first Post Office being established 1887 near where the church is located.   There is also a ranch house nearby, where the PO was located.  It is along the Deertrail wagon road and there are 3 other locations show for Abbott.  Another location for Abbott is a few miles north and showing the mail contract in 1924, 

            Today the land is pretty empty, a few homes dot the area but there are more abandoned homes lying in ruin.  Sometimes it is but a few trees marking where the homestead had been.  Small creeks run across the land and the occasional spring forms small ponds for wildlife and being attractive to the settler of the 1800’s. 

            Homesteading on the Colorado prairie during the late 1800’s was not very successful.  A quarter section of land would not provide much of a living for the farmer back then and most homesteaders failed.  The few that made it were cattlemen and the area around Abbott is mostly ranch land.  It is rolling hills of pasture and some hay fields.  So it is understandable why the 1887 post office would have survived. 

            Being along a wagon road helped the community also.  Supplies would of moved along this route, for the stores that served the community.  The land has not changed much in the past 100 plus years.  One can sit on a ridge overlooking the small valley and hear the creak of wagon wheels as they made their way along the route.  Cattle would have dotted the land, very few fences back then, the antelope would have stood on the horizon watching the traveler make its way over the short grass prairie. 

 

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            The Abbott Church sits on a knoll overlooking a small creek.  A few trees have survived along the banks and the greener grass shows where the water runs along.  The view the other way is to rolling land falling away to the horizon.  The church is on one of those half section roads and one has to zig then zag a bit to get down the country road to get to it. 

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            Riding along the dusty road, one climbs up a small hill and in the distance can be seen the church.  Very diminutive building that dominates the land with its distinctive steeple.  Here the local people gathered for celebrations, Weddings, funerals, baptisms, Sunday church and the potluck. 

            Today the little country church sits silent, a reminder of other days.  The pews are dusty, the pulpit awaits the preacher, the bell in the steeple sits at the ready. 

            Nearby is the cemetery and it is still used by a few.  It is unusual in that it is on a sloping hill going away from the church.  Down among the grasses are a variety of markers, some unmarked, with wild flowers and overgrown grasses. 

            The occasional breezes caress the land, ruffling the grasses, rearranging the dust, it is a land that has not changed much.  Yet it has, no longer are there the shuffling of feet in to the church, the laughter rolling out across the land, nor the conversations the day’s news.

 

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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.