The View from Ground Zero: Sunday Oct 11, 2020 winds bring memories of Dirty Thirties

The term ground zero is usually associated with an explosion and describes the location closest to a detonation. In the case of an explosion above the ground, ground zero refers to the point on the ground directly below the detonation.   In recent American culture it often refers to the location nearest 911 terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Centers in 2001.   The term is also often used in describing the worst hit areas near earthquakes, tornados and other disasters or to describe other disasters with a geographic reference or conceptual epicenter.

Rarely is Colorado mentioned when conversations arise about the Dust Bowl.  However those of  who grew up in southeast Colorado’s Baca County are fully aware that ground zero of the 1930’s dust bowl included Southeast Colorado along with Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the upper Texas Panhandle and Northeast New Mexico. For Baca Countians, the Dust Bowl ground zero was their backyard.

Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe

This past week the present reminded us of the past. Although we usually think of the 1930s the dirt blowing past of Southeastern Colorado may have first been documented in the Lamar, Colorado newspaper in 1887.

Bent County Register (Lamar, Colorado) April 9, 1887.

Hard-hitting winds, with reported 60mph gusts, whipped across the Great Plains this past Sunday October 11th, reducing visibility, extreme temperature drops brought back memories of the Dust Bowl. Many people are familiar with the dust bowl because authors such as Tim Eagan and producers such as Ken Burns have spent significant time trying to capture the essence of that era.

Many reports from the 1930s talk about the blue sky suddenly turning dark when a storm blew through. However, when you look at the old grainy black and white photos it looks like dust is everywhere. Maybe the black and white photos our parents and grandparents took don’t provide the contrast or maybe shock that we see in the photos from the storm blowing through Baca County Sunday October 11, 2020. There is an amazing and distinct line between the blue sky and the ‘roller’ coming through Baca County this past week.

Springfield, Colorado 1935
The white building in the lower right hand portion of the photo

was my grandparents store in the early 1930s.
Courtesy of a shoe box in my mom’s basement
Springfield, Colorado 1937
Courtesy of a shoe box in my mom’s basement
Eastern Baca County, Sunday October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Leslie Hume

 Baca County Colorado,  is the most southeast county in the state of Colorado and is where I grew up, was included in the epicenter or ground zero, as shown in the maps below. This area, in the 1930’s became known as the Dustbowl.  In other words, Ground Zero for the 1930’s dustbowl. Memories of that time have passed down to the present generation. Those memories came to life this past Sunday, October 11, 2020.

Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe
Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe

The winds were scary in their intensity, and, for a time Sunday, the people of Baca County could sense what our parents & grandparents went through — for weeks on end — during the Dirty ‘30s.

Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Cheryl Porter
Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Cheryl Porter

So this happened today in Springfield, Colorado
Social media used many terms of description such as amazing, frightening, scary, and eerie as well. When dirt was whirling at its worst, the skies were dusky and dreary, making it hard to see trees and buildings only a short distance away. In western Baca County it was reported, “It was creepy when it hit the canyon, daylight just disappeared.” 

As is the case in Baca County the dust storm is a reminder that drought and the wind driven dirt is always on the mind of of area residents.  

Courtesy of Janelle Leonard
Courtesy of Janelle Leonard
Courtesy of Dean George
Courtesy of Dean George
Courtesy of Dean George
North of Springfield Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Bonna Arbuthnot

North of Springfield Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Bonna Arbuthnot

Courtesy of Kirk Guder

East of Walsh, Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Judy Trahern

Boston, Lamar, & Sam Konkel’s “An Outlaw in Lamar”

There are many connections between Lamar, Colorado and the 1886-1887 Boom towns of Southeast Colorado. If you have not familiarized yourself with those boom towns click here to see a map.  The news about migration to Southeast Colorado and those new towns was often reported in newspapers such as the following from the March 24, 1887 issue of the Buena Vista Democrat.

Also from the same March 24, 1887 issue:

Boston probably more than any of the other 17 towns sprouting up on the Southeast Colorado prairie in 1886-1887 made an effort to connect to various communities, including lamar.  The following reports provide examples of said efforts.

Bent County Register (Lamar Colorado)
May 28, 1887 Page 2 Library of Congress

In 1887 many of those little towns which were started had a band.  The Boston, Colorado Cornet band was apparently a very talented group with the leader of the band, Freeman Newton, leaving Old Boston for a job with the Topeka, Kansas Orchestra just a couple of years after the establishment of the town.  They were talented enough for an invite to play on a float which was entry number thirteen (see below) in the May 24, 1887 parade celebrating the first anniversary of Lamar, Colorado.  

Bent County Register (Lamar Colorado) May 28, 1887 Page 2 Library of Congress

More on the Boston band and another parade is provided in the second clipping below on Lamar’s 36th anniversary in 1923.

The Garden City Herald (Garden City, Kansas) · 08 Jun 1922.

Many other clippings note residents of the towns passing through Lamar on their way to other destinations.

Bent County Register (Lamar, Colorado)
12 Nov, 1887 Library of Congress.

The Taloga Star (Taloga, Kansas) · 16 Dec 1887.

In 1918 and 1919 the Springfield Herald had a regular series called “Persons, Stories, and Incidents of Old Boston and the Old Days,” written by Springfield Democrat-Herald editor Sam Konkel.   Each issue looked basically like the one below with the only changes being the subtitle.

Konkel was the editor of the Boston, Colorado Paper 1887-1889 and then the Springfield paper from 1913 -1930.   Many times these editors would visit other newspaper offices and the note below shows Konkel darkening the doors of the Bent County Register in April 1887.   

Bent County Register (Lamar, Colorado) April 2, 1887

Many of these articles provide the  foundation for the historical account of Boston, Colorado which I wrote, “Old Boston: As Wild As They Come.”   

There were a few other tales Konkel provided in this series. This puzzle piece in the history of Southeast Colorado is provided in the January 17, 1918 issue of the Springfield Herald. Several times in his writing Konkel mentions Judge Doughty. Doughty ran an ad for his law practice in many issues of the early Springfield Herald such as the one below.

Springfield Herald, Dec 31, 1897.

An Outlaw at Lamar

One day last week a man prominent in Lamar gambling circle cut off the Marshal and his deputies with a nickel six-shooter, after having tried the heads of some of those citizens with it — World, June 21st 1888

It was the afternoon of the day that the incident occurred.

We don’t know whether it was a breach of confidence or a breach of promise or of etiquette or some other breach the culprit was guilty of, but there was sure a breach in the ranks of the agressors when the said disgressor turned his shining six shooter on the official mob that was wanting to put him in limbo.

Lamar at that time was in the primer of its history. There were only frame houses then and they were unpainted and somewhat unpretentious.

The sidewalks were something like old Boston had in those days — boards. And the street looks something like the road down this way before they were shipped.

And out in the middle of the street stood this gambling knight, like some wild animal at Bay his eyes flashing defiance, and his shining nickle-plated peacemaker in his hand — and the minions of the law, with their bravery at stake wondering what to do next.

Once and Twice and Thrice the chief defender of the faith—the same being the the city marshal essayed to engage the wary knight errant in private converse, and each time the defender of personal liberty turned the speaking end of that nickel shiner down on them and the said defender of Lamar’s holy ordinances faced about and return to the sidewalk.

As we remember it now, the man who wanted not to be interned was finally given his way about it and walked back to the saloon and the show was over for that day.

The Judge Doughty tells it after the marshal had been bluffed into good behavior, the august mayor of the pompous city—to be, shoved his hands down  into his jeans pockets, and said a short prayer and crossed himself, and then ambled unconcernedly towards the  bad man talking about the weather, and started in on the future greatness of the imperial city, when the gun was turned the ugly weapon down on him with exclamation —

“Throw up your hands you blankety-blank”

But the mayor having said his prayers and crossed himself knew that whichever way he went whether up or down — provided the daring man got him he would be in a better place than Lamar anyway, jerked his hands out of his pockets with a plug tobacco in one of them and remark that —

“By___ I’m going to take a chaw of terbacker — if it’s the last act of my mayoral administration.”

And the outlaw left actually laughed at the mayor with his hand still Skyward kept right on walking and talking, saying to the personal liberty man to have a chaw with him — regular old fashioned  Sweet Navy that our fathers and mothers used to chaw on”  etc. etc.

And then he begin to admonish the bad man to put up his gun became peaceable and  law-abiding and to join them in the great missionary work of saving and reformation and to the end that he might live happily ever after, etc —

And the outlaw to avoid being further punished by the mayor’s religious exhortation told the mayor he was a damn good feller and turned around and walked off.

Whether the bad man then turned from the error of his ways, afterwards joining the Saints or the Holiness people or becoming a great salvation captain,  Judge Dougherty has not advised us; but we are presuming he finally died with his boots on and went down to plead with the old Nick for the other Lamarites when they came down that way.

In conclusion, by the way of an explanation as both the  writer of these old-time historical sketches and Judge Doughty are  conscience is on veracity, and sticklers for moral uprightness, and as there is a slight variation in the observations taken at the time. —

Therefore is our idea to the set personal liberty defender, to the special delectation of Judge Daddy and others, pulled off the second matinee and that moral and upright town and hence the entertainment seen by us were on different occasions.

Next time again

Konkel often closed the series articles with little phrases such as the one above.  Here are a couple of other ways he would close.

“Ditto Next Week”
“Next Week Again”
“Something Else Next Time”

On occasion the closing was something like the following:

“Right at this point we find we have “overdrawn” on our space account, so we will squirt some embalming fluid into the rest of the yarn to keep it from spoiling, and will give it to you the next time.”

FINAL NOTE: This issue of the Springfield Herald, which contained “the article “An Outlaw in Lamar” has both the date and the year  scratched out and penciled in with a different date. This is shown in the image below and I am not sure what was intended.   It doesn’t appear to me the sequencing of that issue was wrong.

Sam Konkel’s Map of Southeast Colorado Stagecoach Routes 1887-1889

A couple years ago I found a copy of Sam Konkel’s Southeast Colorado Stagecoach map in terrible condition.  The quality was so poor it was basically useless and it led me to the development of the 1886-1889 Boom Town map located here in a previous blog post. However,  in my last visit to Baca County, I stumbled upon the best copy of the map I have seen.   I will post here a few pieces of the stage line puzzle I have pulled together and the map (below).

March 5 1887 Bent County Register

There were at least two stage lines between Lamar and Springfield in the 1887-1889 time frame, the W. H. Harris Stage and the Cal Ferguson Stage.  Cal Ferguson was part of the Windsor Town Company that started Springfield and represented Springfield in the Colorado legislature during the fight for the county seat of Baca County.

There was also a stage coming from Syracuse, KS headed southwest into Baca County ( click here to read the story of how they built a plank road to get the stage out of the sand in the Arkansas River basin to the flat solid prairie).  There was also a Stage Line from Richfield, KS. to Boston, CO.  We have the following artifacts:

“Stage Line. W. H. Harris stage leaves Lamar Tuesdays and Fridays, at eight o’clock in the morning, for Farmington, Springfield and Boston.  He will run a daily line in a short time.  32tf.”
Bent County Register (Lamar Colorado) Jan 29 1887 Library of Congress

“Daily stages are how running from Lamar and Granada (to Boston)”
The Leader-Democrat (Richfield, Kansas) · 26 Feb 1887, Sat · Page 3

“C.S. Reed has purchased the Boston and Richfield stage line and is now running hacks regulary, tri-weekly.”
The Leader-Democrat (Richfield, Kansas) · 05 Mar 1887, Sat · Page 3

“Arrangements have been completed for a stage line from West Plains, Meade county via., Richfield to Boston Colorado.”
Ashland Clipper (Ashland, Kansas) · 12 Apr 1888, Thu · Page 1

“News reached here this evening by the driver of the Ferguson Stage Line that Boston, a new town of 500 inhabitants, 100 miles south of here and 85 miles of the railroad and telegraph line, had been taken possession of by a gang of outlaws.” (YES, IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE YOU HAVE TO BUY MY BOOK)
Medicine Lodge Cresset (Medicine Lodge, Kansas) · 18 Apr 1889, Thu · Page 2

“Ed. Allen came in from the East Monday and loading his sample cases on eastbound stage flew out on Wednesday. On this trip, he will go to the end of the road and then follow the furrom for 50 or 100 miles until he arrives at the new town of Corriso in Colorado.  Ed has an interest in the new town and will help boom it.”
Medicine Lodge Cresset (Medicine Lodge, Kansas) · Thu, Mar 17, 1887 · Page 3

So with all of that as the lead…here is Sam Konkel’s Stagecoach map of early Southeast Colorado (1887-1889) from the January 8, 1915, Springfield Democrat-Herald.  Enjoy!

I have added lines to emphasize the stage routes.

The Leader-Democrat (Richfield, Kansas) · 05 Nov 1887, Sat · Page 1

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