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  The one room schoolhouse has been replaced by a sleek modern schoolhouse.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. 

Golden Belt Route …. Part III

Boyero

            Continuing along the Golden Belt Route, one travels over one of the old concrete bridges from the early 1900’s, crossing Coon Creek.  Bouncing over the country road, is bouncing along with the wagons that traveled next to the railroad tracks more than 100 years ago.  Very few vehicles roll along the road and fewer trains sing on the iron rails.  On the road to Boyero, the land is mostly unchanged, it is open range, cattle stand on the road looking at the interlopers, deer lounge in the shade of the few trees and birds serenade the traveler. 

            It is traveling back to another era, listen to the land as it sings.  Here one can gaze across the emptiness and hear the creak of the wagons, see the puffs of dust from the wheels.  It is now cattle that graze on the grasses, sharing with the wildlife.  The eagles feast on the prairie dogs, the prairie falcon has a dove for a meal, the song birds sit on the fence line and the antelope watches from far ridge.  A land as it was centuries ago. 

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            Rolling SE from Clifford, the Golden Belt Route passes through Boyero.  Situated on a bend of the creek and the tracks, the livery stable dominates.  Built by the railroad in 1870, Boyero’s purpose was to serve the railroad and keep it running.  The water in the area is ample but very alkali, not suitable for steam engines.  So a cistern was built and the RR brought in tank cars of water to fill the cistern.  Since most of the people that lived there worked for the railroad, they were allowed to get water from the cistern. 

            Over time the RR village grew into a prosperous ranching community and rail town.  Schools were built, there were churches, stores, shops and the saloons.  It was at the junction of a state highway and US road making it a good place for early day travelers to stop.  Then the government realigned the US highway and later the state highway was rerouted.  The decline of Boyero began.  Today there is one family that still lives in the remains.  Years ago they had an antique store there and a sign directing customers down the road to their shop. 

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            Many of the town lots are still owned by former residents or their families.  Most of the streets have faded and are overgrown with grass.  North of the livery stable there is a stack of RR ties, it is this pasture where the schoolhouse used to be and there were some homes there also.  Along the old highway is the remains of a gas station/post office, the general store collapsed a few years ago and was cleared to a vacant lot.    A couple of streets can be seen going east and there are a few more buildings down them.  Mixed in with them are a few cattle, always watching the people that pass by. 

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            Across the tracks sit a few more buildings, there is a street along the frontage with small side streets into the other places.  The large building had many lives, store, boarding house and home.  The drummer boys used the trains a lot for pedaling their wares and rooming houses were as popular as hotels were back then.  Let the mind wander, warm summer eve, on the porch.  The dim glow of a cigarette as the travelers wait for the cool of the evening to settle in.  Conversation floats off the veranda, it is a scene for the imagination to conjure up. 

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            Before the auto, ranchers would ride their horses into town.  Put their horse up at the livery and walk down to the train.  They would ride the train to the county seat, take care of business.  Catch the train back to Boyero, walk over to the livery and pick up their horse for the return trip home.  Life had a different pace back then.

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            There are ranches in the area that can trace their beginnings back to the late 1800’s.  Walking the cemetery, there are a few pioneers there born in the mid 1800’s.  Alongside are the railroad workers that built the little town.  Here the Spirit of the West lingers.

Golden Belt Route … Part II

Clifford, Colorado

            On the western end of the remains of the Golden Belt Route is the little town of Clifford.  Of the three towns along the roadway, Clifford is the smallest.  There are still a couple of buildings still there, the schoolhouse and the Wards house.  What makes Clifford so interesting are the myths associated with it.  The buried gold treasure, the Indian battles, stage stops and the family that perished riding the train and they were buried at Clifford. 

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            Clifford is just south of US 40 and can be seen from the highway if one looks closely.  Rolling down the country road towards the creek, one passes the one room country schoolhouse.  It sits in a pasture, dealing with the elements of time.  It is pretty much like it was over 100years ago.  Out back is the coal house with attached out houses.  Over the years some people have vandalized it, tearing screens off to get in or…. But it hangs in there.

            Going on south one can see the depressions in the pasture where the rest of the town had been.  At the railroad tracks, there are the foundations and footers for the railroad buildings and water tank.  On south of the tracks, behind locked gate in the ranchers pasture, is the mail order house.  Huge rambling building that may have been a rooming house.  The porches have caved in, the windows are gone and with some imagination one can see the ghosts floating around the weather beaten house. 

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            The east edge of town is Coon Creek, the Mirage stage station had been here.  The Indians had also used the creek for a sweat lodge.  Through here Coon Creek is a pretty good sized steam, 10-15 feet deep and 20-30 feet across.  Looking to the north, about 6 miles are the grove of trees that mark Coon Springs, a stage stop on the Smoky Hill Trail.  Next to the railroad tracks is the small graveyard.  These three elements make for farfetched stories that probably have basis in fact. 

            The spring of 1864 an Army payroll wagon was robbed by 3 men near Coon Springs.  They were not very successful in their getaway.  The troopers were after them and catching up with them the robbers ducked into a gully.  Here they put the gold coins into dutch ovens and buried the gold, using stones to mark the spot.  They figured they would spend their time in jail, then return and dig up their loot.  One was killed in a gun fight after getting out of jail, another went back to jail after another robbery and the third disappeared.  So the legend of the buried gold grew and people would go out on the gullies looking for the buried treasure.

            Even a gentleman from England traveled to Clifford to search.  He spent over 6 months roaming the area looking for the buried gold.  One day he went to the train depot and very quietly left Clifford with his baggage.  Now if you found the gold, would you shout it from the rooftops or quietly go into the night? 

            When gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains, the Smoky Hill Trail became a busy place and water on the prairie was important to the gold seekers and other travelers.  Coon Springs became an important stop and this did not set well with the Indians.  Then when the stage stop was established there, the Indians became more enraged and over the decade there were a variety of Indian raids on the station and on the travelers. 

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            The spring of 1870 the railroad began building across East Central Colorado.  The Mirage stage station was built along the banks of Coon Creek, upsetting the Indians more.  The spring of 1870, the RR construction crews were building across the plains.  A camp was built near Mirage for the workers and it was a pretty lively place.  That summer the Indians launched a series of raids on the workers and stage stations, from Lake Station to Kit Carson.  Numerous workers were killed and many more wounded and the crews fled back to Kit Carson.  The Indians had stopped RR construction for a short time.  The attacks also brought more army troopers.  General Custer was reinstated and assigned to protect the railroad from Kit Carson to Denver.  The Indians, they turned north and headed to Wyoming to meet up with Custer on another day.

            With Coon Creek and good water, the railroad built a small station near Mirage and called it Clifford.  Clifford never was a big town, maybe a 100 folks dwelled there.  There was a depot, water facilities and section houses for the RR workers.  Some stores were opened, a saloon and a few homes were built.  Ranchers in the area used for shipping cattle and travel to the neighboring towns. 

            The summer of 1896 a young family was traveling by rail from back east to join her husband in Denver.  Along the way the family had become sick, a mother and two daughters.  By the time they arrived in Clifford, the family had died.  The bodies were taken off the train and left at the train station.  Somebody took the effort to bury them.  A short distance from the depot graves were dug next to the rails and the family was placed in their final resting place.  There were other graves and today it is surrounded by a fence. 

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            There were the buffalo hunters that would visit.  There were the cowboys and their six shooters and the bar fly’s that traveled through the little town.  And… oh yes…. There are locals who still believe that the gold is still buried somewhere in the area.