Residents of Douglas County, Colorado, are familiar with hazardous winter weather. This year’s abundance of snowfall has reminded even our newest neighbors how intense local snowstorms can be! Yet even here, where snow is a part of life, some storms stand out as historic or otherwise unusual. Grab a warm blanket and cozy up, because in this post we’ll look at local snowstorm legends, daily life in the snow, and other snow-related fun facts from Douglas County’s historical record.
The Blizzard of 1913
One of the most infamous snowstorms in Douglas County’s written record was the blizzard of 1913. Intense snowfall in the first week of December trapped six children at the Cherry School for two days when horse-drawn wagons could not reach them. Thankfully, the one-room schoolhouse was stocked with plenty of firewood for the stove (a precaution taken for just such an emergency). John Jones, brother of several of the trapped children, made it to the school on the second day of the storm, but since the weather remained precarious they all hunkered down at the school for a second night, bringing Jones’s horse indoors, too. In the morning, they all trekked home over crusty ice and snow.
Those children were lucky. The same blizzard was not so forgiving to 77-year-old George Busbee, mail carrier for South Platte and West Creek. Visibility during the storm was so poor that his horse-drawn stagecoach tipped into the river, soaking him in ice-cold water. He released the horses from the overturned coach and rode one to a nearby cattle shed at Campbell’s Flat. Unfortunately, he could not go any farther and his frozen body was found days later.
Across the county, the 1913 blizzard halted transportation. Franktown citizens were snowed in for so long that mobility was limited for nearly seven weeks, during which time “many quilts were started and finished.” Photographs taken after the blizzard show men walking outside Castle Rock’s Keystone Hotel (now Castle Café) alongside snowbanks reaching up to their hats.
Good Reasons to Let It Snow
Colorado snowstorms are not all death and destruction, though. A lighthearted snippet in the July 7, 1905, volume of the Castle Rock Journal reported that snowfall on July 2 disrupted Independence Day baseball games and racing celebrations in Leadville. “The regular Fourth of July snowstorm is ahead of time,” it quipped, tongue-in-cheek.
Just like today, a favorite snow sport of Douglas County’s historical residents was sledding. It wasn’t just a pastime for children, either. Some early 19th-century adults in our photo collections slid down the Arapaho Glacier near Boulder (pictured at right). And sometimes, when Perry Park’s ponds freeze over, you can still catch families ice skating and playing hockey, like they did in this photograph on Lake Waucondah, taken in 1972.
Aside from snow sports and play, Colorado’s snow is also incredibly important year-round. Snowpack provides drinking water and irrigation and keeps our plants and animals healthy.
Of course, we can’t forget that one of the best things about a good snowstorm is the excuse to snuggle up, as these Douglas County couples did in late January of 1883:
If this post makes you feel the need to get cozy yourself, here’s a fun wassail recipe from Archives & Local History’s local cookbooks collection. After all, we “don’t know if it will snow, but have a cup of cheer!” This item is part of Archives & Local History’s Library Staff Recipe Booklets, accession number 2019.036. View it and many more unique recipes in our local cookbooks collection at DCL in Castle Rock, Philip S. Miller. If you’re interested in learning more, ask Archives & Local History staff about how you can access original recipes, historical photographs, and more.
Fall and winter are seasons of festivity in North America. Whatever holiday traditions you celebrate, chances are they involve feasting and family. In the words of late chef Anthony Bourdain, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” Archives & Local History houses a substantial collection of local cookbooks, both historical and modern. They capture food culture in the Rocky Mountain region, from rough-and-tumble buckskin and gravy cooked on a campfire to the refined art of creating a perfect meringue at high altitude. The history of food and cooking can say a lot about the cultural identity of a community, and that concept certainly plays out in Douglas County.
Living off the Land
Before settlers came along, Utes in Douglas County ate dried fish. They seasoned and preserved the fish with salt, which originated from their neighboring bands in Utah. The use of horses increased Ute consumption of bison, making hunting the vast and powerful creatures easier. Pine sap was a nutritious dietary supplement in spring, and the peeling of inner pine bark remains a sacred medicinal tradition today. (For more, see the Pikes Peak Historical Society’s article “Ute Culturally Scarred Trees.” Please note that as of 2019, the Southern and Mountain Ute tribes have released an official statement asserting that the Ute “prayer tree” or “bent tree” is a farce and not associated with Ute cultural traditions. Read more here.) From considering just these few food traditions, we learn about Ute trade networks, the impact of horses on their transportation and hunting, seasonal changes in diet, and the treatment of certain trees as sources of both food and spiritual and medicinal healing.
Pioneers Set the Table
The food culture of non-native Douglas County residents is, of course, quite different from that of the Utes, centering on sedentary endeavors such as agriculture and cattle-raising. Early Douglas County homesteaders primarily raised cattle because hilly geography is not highly tenable to farming. A few chose to farm wheat, like the Lowell family along East Plum Creek, and potato crops were profitable for a time in Larkspur and Greenland. The Cherry Creek Valley focused on dairying ventures, and German immigrants there ran the successful Cherry Creamery for decades. The Carlson-Frink Creamery in Larkspur also ran well into the 20th century. Some ranches, like the Diamond K near Highlands Ranch, raised poultry and small sheep herds.
Outside of Douglas County, other agricultural crops and products thrived. In 1880s South Platte Valley, sugar beets proved to be a major crop, and Colorado’s famous Palisade peaches from the Grand Valley first appeared around the same time. However, beef has always been king in Douglas County, especially along West Plum Creek. Douglas County ranchers remain avid participants in Denver’s Western Stock Show, and popular 4-H Clubs thrived in the mid-20th century. This passion for (and proximity to) cattle is clear in the recipes of pioneers and ranchers, which often include variations on beef and dairy.
Food Culture in Your Life
Douglas County today is growing more than ever, once again changing the landscape of local cooking and food culture. New residents bring different food traditions, longtime residents continue theirs, and other traditions will form from combinations of both. No matter what we’re eating this holiday season, take the time to consider how your meals bring community and identity into your life.
The Archives & Local History (ALH) department at Douglas County Libraries collects and preserves historical materials relating to Douglas County. As you might expect, ALH maintains documentation on subjects such as homesteading, ranching, historic buildings, family histories, and railroads, to name just a few. When processing a new collection, archivists analyze and select materials based on factors like historical or enduring value. This selection process has powerful consequences:
“There are three types of powers that are possessed by the archive: control over collective memory, control of preservation, and specifically to the archivist, the interpretation and meditation between records and users…These powers shape what and how we learn.” (MooreAbstract, 2014)
Basically, the materials within ALH help build the language used to tell the story of Douglas County. What ALH collects and what we miss are of equal importance.
Wait. What isn’t documented matters? But don’t archivists select and preserve all the important stuff?
Ideally, archivists collect mindfully. But certain factors impact material selection. Sometimes, documentation of a certain subject simply doesn’t exist—it is destroyed, lost, or never created at all. In other cases, archivists make questionable choices shaped by current events or biases, subconsciously (or explicitly) valuing some materials over others. What results is a lack of documentation in areas, termed archival silence. That silence shapes understandings of history.
Archival silence becomes an especially malevolent phenomenon in the study of marginalized, oppressed, misunderstood, or otherwise devalued peoples. Specifically, centuries of racism and the devaluation of nonwhite voices have resulted, in some cases, in a dearth of representative, multilayered documentation of nonwhite peoples.
Documenting Douglas County
One instance of archival silence within ALH is the lack of primary sources from indigenous peoples of Douglas County, especially early in the county’s history. Since local indigenous peoples did not make records through writing in the 19th century, most related documentation in ALH’s collections exists in the form of memoirs and news reports created by white settlers and their descendants. Few of these really capture a broad sense of indigenous experience. The remembrances of settlers rarely describe the political context of settler-indigenous relations, or they are based on stereotypes and personal experiences rather than on measured considerations of the circumstances surrounding indigenous discontent. This means that primary sources about Douglas County’s indigenous peoples are somewhat limited in their scope and often derogatory toward the peoples they describe. As a result, the history of indigenous peoples in Douglas County is primarily told, and understood, from the perspective of white settlers.
Settlers in early Douglas County adhered to sentiments consistent with those across the United States. National conversations in the years before and during Colorado’s admission to the Union painted a skewed picture of indigenous peoples, partly in order to justify the claiming of the continent. Journalist John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny” in an 1845 article advocating for the annexation of the Oregon Territory:
“And that claim is by the right of our Manifest Destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”
Progress & Property
White Americans in the 19th century took this to heart, believing that Westward expansion; the development of agriculture, industry, and resource extraction; and the assimilation of nonwhite peoples were sacred rights and godly duties. Sensationalized, one-sided, and sometimes downright untruthful news articles highlighting indigenous-settler hostilities further perpetuated the archetype of the “savage Indian” across the nation.
Like in other parts of the west, homesteaders had their own reasons to subscribe to racist notions. The Homestead Act of 1862 entitled any American to 160 acres of land on the condition they settle and “improve” it for a period of five years. This meant that indigenous peoples living in the west became obstacles to settlers’ homesteading aspirations. Naturally, indigenous peoples resisted what they viewed as invasion. Settlers viewed their resistance as barbaric aversion to civilization, holding fast to convictions that private property trumps thousands of years of indigenous semi-nomadic lifestyle. These concepts played out in Douglas County as the traditional hunter-gathering lifestyle of local indigenous bands conflicted with white models of property ownership and development.
Some settlers did not recognize the broader political context surrounding relations between indigenous peoples and the U.S. government. Intertribal conflict, confused treaty negotiations, failure to adhere to tenets of completed treaties, murders of tribal elders, deliberate destruction of bison herds, and other strains on hunter-gathering practices all contributed to flaring tensions between settlers and indigenous peoples. Although each band responded differently to these tensions, settlers tended to hold all indigenous peoples accountable for the actions of one group or individual. Both peace-seeking and hostile groups faced the same consequences.
One scenario near Perry Park highlights the diversity of indigenous response to homesteaders. In 1867, a group of settlers near the present-day Larkspur area petitioned Indian agent and pioneer Daniel C. Oakes for the removal of Utes from Colorado, stating that they had “become so annoying and troublesome, that it is impossible to endure their impudence and audacity any longer.” (Daily Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 2, 1867, page 1, “A Petition for the Removal of Plum Creek”) Less than a year later, when a small band described as Cheyenne or Arapaho attacked local whites, five Ute men joined settler Pete Brannan (who had signed the petition for their removal) in tracking the raiders. Another unidentified indigenous man, who lived with the Langley family, guarded their wagon during their escape to a nearby fort.
Friendly Utes did not see their goodwill rewarded. In early March 1868, the Treaty of 1868 established the first Ute reservation in Colorado, slashing their previous treaty-held lands from 56 million acres to 18 million acres, which would be
“set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named…no persons, except those herein authorized to do so…shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the Territory described in this article, except as herein otherwise provided.”
From the beginning, the government failed to provide promised rations and did little to nothing to curb illegal encroachment by white settlers. As a result, the late 1870s saw a rise in conflict. Starving Utes, without rations and prevented from hunting or even from leaving the reservation by U.S. soldiers, rebelled. In 1881, the government responded by clearing all remaining Utes from both Indian Agencies established in the treaty, driving them onto reservations in Utah, just as Perry Park settlers campaigned for 14 years earlier. Today, the only remaining Ute bands in Colorado are the Mouache and Caputa, who reside on the Southern Ute Reservation in southern Colorado.
What Can Be Done?
How did 19th-century indigenous peoples of Douglas County feel about their situation? How did they respond? What did their day-to-day relationships with settlers look like? What stories would they choose to tell? These are the questions that ALH documents do not answer. The one-sided story of the indigenous peoples of Douglas County exemplifies how problems arise from archival silences. Indigenous-settler relations in the 19th century were complex, multidimensional, and often quite dramatic. But when existing documents tell versions of only one tale, we are left with a patchy understanding of the truth.
For these reasons, archival silences can be a challenge to address. But with careful selection and consideration, a sense of balance can be reached. ALH counteracts its archival silence on indigenous peoples by collecting beyond Douglas County and by providing reference books on indigenous history and culture in Colorado. For example, ALH’s Native Americans subject binder includes many documents relating to the Sand Creek Massacre. (Though the massacre did not occur in Douglas County, its national significance makes it a highly researched event.) Recently, ALH has made efforts to counteract the Ute-bent “prayer trees” myth, which has been officially renounced by the Southern and Mountain Ute Tribes. (Read the official statement here.)
Further efforts to represent a multidimensional history can help to re-forge Douglas County’s collective understanding. Its sense of indigenous history can evolve from one dictated by historical bigotry to a broader, more truthful picture.
Memoirs by Priscilla Swinney, Native Americans Clippings Binder, Archives & Local History Collections.
“Heroes History Forgot,” Native Americans Clippings Binder, Archives & Local History Collections.
“Treaty with the Ute 1868.” Firstpeople.US. Accessed October 4, 2019. https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Treaties/TreatyWithTheUte1868.html.
Tom Sliger, Frank Barton, and Warren “Buck” Jump were gathered on the banks of Plum Creek about six miles south of Littleton when one of them spotted something moving in the distance. They passed a pair of binoculars among them in order to get a better look at the strange scene unfolding 400 feet away.
An alarming creature peered back at them through the shrubs, its face a “sickening-looking green with a mouth about 4 inches across.” The eyewitnesses later described it as looking “like one of those Halloween faces.” Another saw “a wild man with [a] grayish-green face, large slobbering lips, and an ape-like crouch.” Jump claimed that the monster was not green, but a hair-covered man, probably “deranged,” who had likely escaped from his caregiver.
As the creature moved out of the bushes, it broke large branches with its monstrous strength. What happened next was even more disturbing—the creature gripped a dead chicken by the neck, swung it overhead, and tossed it up to 20 feet in the air.
After the frightened witnesses described the incident on local KGMC radio, excitement swept through the Plum Creek area. Over the following weeks, residents claimed other sightings and put forth their theories. Local jailor Al Dash insisted that the monster was really an ex-prisoner he had released the same morning it was first spotted, a man Dash described as a “combination Yogi and Voodoo cult addict” who spent the majority of his time in jail standing on his head.
Over 2,000 monster-hunting enthusiasts (and one airplane) crowded Plum Creek, searching for evidence and hoping to catch a glimpse of the green-faced monster. A second sighting in which a woman spotted the creature in her headlights near the City Ditch Bridge on Plum Creek Road only fueled more interest.
Sheriff John Hammond, skeptical and irritated by the hazards posed by the crowds, insisted the whole thing was a hoax. The real danger, in his practical opinion, was that a trespasser looking for the monster would be shot. His disbelief in the monster would be vindicated a week after the sighting, when Jump admitted that it had all been meant as a prank. A friend of Jump’s, who Hammond maturely refused to identify, had dressed in a costume, though it “was not green at all. The touch of color was added through the process of imagination so often figuring into such deals.”
Unfortunately for no-nonsense Hammond, this would not be his last experience with cryptids, which are defined by the Oxford Dictionary as animals whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated, such as a yeti. Jump’s confession only ignited rumors that it was fabricated to cover up the inability of Hammond’s office to locate the monster. In 1966, Hammond soundly rejected claims of a UFO sighting in Daniels Park in Douglas County. Yet as skeptical as he felt, Hammond admitted in a news interview that the 1954 appearance of the Plum Creek Monster, hoax or not, had not been the first. In the interview, he alluded to another sighting of a green monster in 1924.
Indeed, Jump claimed that the monster had been sighted “half a dozen times in the last 20 years.” Of course, Jump’s credibility at that point was questionable. Nonetheless, the Plum Creek Monster entered into Douglas County lore, even earning its own episode on Douglas County TV’s Legends & Oddities program, which ran from 2001 to 2005.
The Plum Creek Monster sighting coincided with emerging interest in cryptozoology, a pseudo-science centered on the pursuit of cryptids. In 1955, just a year after the monster sighting, Bernard Heuvelmans published his book On the Track of Unknown Animals, considered a momentous work in the world of cryptozoology. The 1950s saw an increase in civilian-reported UFO sightings and investigations into cryptids.
These frightening encounters, or perceived encounters, were in part products of both a highly suspicious Cold War culture and a response to increased top-secret governmental activities, such as the “Space Race,” the search for alien life, and the development of mind-blowing war technologies such as nuclear weaponry. While reliable evidence documenting cryptids remains sparse or nonexistent, debate over their existence ensues between enthusiasts and skeptics from both amateur and academic backgrounds.
Fascination with cryptids, science fiction, and paranormal mystery has embedded itself into American pop culture. Fictionalized paranormal television shows have remained wildly popular for decades, from The Twilight Zone, which ran from the late 1950s until 1964, to Netflix’s 2016 megahit Stranger Things. Today, television series like Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot and the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens continue to entertain. Whether these shows are popular due to genuine interest in cryptozoology or their outlandish nature depends on whom you ask.
Perhaps Douglas County resident Marianne Braden said it best in her poem about the Plum Creek Monster:
“Some people still carry a dread obsession,
In spite of a young man’s alleged confession;
In the still of the night, when the world is at rest,
And I have all around me, the ones I love best,
I can vision this creature and say with a sigh,
There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Watch Douglas County TV’s Legends & Oddities “Monster of Plum Creek” episode below.
Summer is the perfect time to hop in the car and set out on a great road trip. It could be an epic cross-country trek, Douglas County Libraries’ Great Summer Reading Road Trip, or a road trip in your own backyard.
If you’re looking for an adventure that’s close to home, you found it! Archives & Local History put together this 10-stop guide to a historic Douglas County road trip. We also pulled together these resources for a self-guided tour of historic Douglas County.
Located at 9950 E. Gateway Drive in Highlands Ranch, the mansion is a great start to your historic road trip. In 1884, Samuel Allen Long filed for a 40-acre homestead in northern Douglas County, which expanded over the following 10 years to 2,000 acres, including a farm. Long named his property Rotherwood. In 1897, John W. Springer bought it and renovated it into a castle, renaming it Cross County Ranch. Colonel William Hughes purchased the ranch in 1913 and renamed it Sunland Ranch. Hughes died in 1918 and bequeathed the ranch to his granddaughter, Annie Clifton Springer, who sold it two years later to Waite Phillips. Phillips added the west wing and dubbed the property Phillips Highland Ranch. But only six years later, Frank E. Kistler purchased the home and renamed it yet againto Diamond K Ranch. In 1937, Lawrence C. Phipps, Jr., the last private owner of the property, purchased the ranch and called it Highlands Ranch. Phipps lived there until his death in 1976. Eventually the ranch was sold to the Mission Viejo Company, which divided up the property for the development of the Highlands Ranch community. In 2010, Shea Homes transferred the property to the Highlands Ranch Metro District, which renovated the buildings before reopening the mansion in 2012 for public use.
Head south to our second stop, the Louviers Village Club. Louviers is locally renowned for being a quaint, historic town, offering a step back in Douglas County history. The Louviers Clubhouse, located at 7885 Louviers Blvd., is of particular historic value. Built in 1917 by the DuPont Company, the Clubhouse in Louviers has served its community in many forms over the years: as a post office, candy store, library, and community center. In 1995 the building was approved for the National Register of Historic Places; in 1999 Louviers Village was designated as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places; and in 2008 the Louviers Village Club was designated as a County Landmark. Today, the restored clubhouse is maintained by Douglas County and is home to Douglas County Libraries in Louviers, which operates out of the building’s second floor.
Roxborough State Park is a crossroads of prehistoric and modern history as its geology and archaeology converge with the stories of native peoples and pioneers of the area. Roxborough became part of the Colorado State Park system in 1975, but its history goes back much further. The rocks that make Roxborough famous are a result of the gradual erosion of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains, which occurred over 300 million years ago. Today, they clearly display the geological cross sections of the Fountain Formation, the Lyons Formation, and the Dakota Hogback. Moving forward several million years, in Lamb Spring, between Chatfield and Roxborough State Parks, the lives of pre-Clovis and Clovis peoples are told through the archaeological findings of mammoths, camels, and human artifacts dating from 9,500 B.C. to 12,000 B.C. Additionally, 44 archaeological sites have been found within Roxborough’s park limits, with evidence from Archaic and Ceramic periods, in addition to many of much later origin. In more modern history, the Arapaho and Ute peoples called the Roxborough area home until they were forced onto reservations in southwestern Colorado in 1872 and 1880, respectively. After that, settlers moved in to claim the uninhabited land. Around 1900, Henry Persse acquired most of the land of present-day Roxborough Park. Throughout the early 20th century, the Roxborough area saw different owners and operations, ranging from clay mining for silica bricks to illegal whiskey stills during prohibition. But it has always remained a popular tourist location.
The Indian Park School house is located off Highway 67, just west of Sedalia. This one-room schoolhouse was in operation from 1884-1959, serving the residents of western Douglas County in District Number 7. Throughout its history, the school had several different names, such as Mountain School and Brown’s School. The Indian Park School House Association purchased the building in 1974 to save it and the surrounding land from being developed. In February 1978, the Indian Park School was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, and today the schoolhouse is still operated and preserved by the Indian Park School House Association.
Devil’s Head Lookout sits atop Devil’s Head, a mountain in the Rampart Range, towering 9,748 feet above the Pike National Forest. Built in 1912, Devil’s Head Lookout Tower is one of the last 11 original Front Range lookout towers, offering a 360-degree view of Pike National Forest. On clear days, you can spot a fire up to 75 miles away! The original 1912 structure consisted of a table with a fire-finder (a rotating steel disc with attached sighting mechanisms) bolted to a rock. In 1919, a glass-enclosed structure was built, and Helen Dowe became the first woman fire lookout ranger for the U.S. Forest Service at Devil’s Head, serving from 1919 to 1921. After WWI, Devil’s Head became a popular tourist destination. In 1921 a picnic area was established to accommodate visitors, and in 1936 the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a trail winding from the campground up to the lookout tower atop the peak. In 1951, a new lookout station was built by the 973rd Construction Battalion stationed at Fort Carson. Today, the lookout tower is still staffed and can be visited during the summer season. The lookout tower itself was designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
Greenland Ranch runs along an 8-mile stretch of Interstate 25 south of Larkspur and north of Monument, and it’s a focal point of the I-25 Conservation Corridor Project. At one time Greenland was a small community, with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad extending a stop there in 1871, and the 20-acre town platted in 1875. At its peak, the town was home to a couple of general stores, a post office, a school, a saloon, and two railroad stations. The ranching industry at Greenland continued on even after the town declined in the 1930s, but it eventually dissipated. Today, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the area by hiking numerous trails and taking advantage of a large 17-acre off-leash dog park.
Spring Valley School sits at the northwest corner of Spring Valley and Lorraine Roads in southeastern Douglas County. Constructed around 1874, the schoolhouse served the Spring Valley area until 1946, when it closed due to the area’s declining population. In 1978 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the school building is owned by Douglas County, and while it is not open very often, it’s worth checking out. The site offers a special glimpse into Douglas County’s history.
Castlewood Canyon State Park is more than just a great place to enjoy the natural beauty of Douglas County, it’s also home to the remains of the historic Castlewood Canyon Dam. The dam was built in 1890 to control the flow of Cherry Creek, though it only served that purpose for less than 50 years. In the very early hours of August 3, 1933, a severe rainstorm caused the dam to burst, sending approximately 1.5 billion gallons of water rushing toward Denver over a period of six hours. Luckily, Denver had received warning about the impending flood and was able to notify residents in the path of the flood waters. Only two people died in the Cherry Creek Flood of 1933; however, the flood caused extensive damage to Denver homes, businesses and livelihoods. Visitors to the state park can hike among the ruins of the infamous Castlewood Canyon Dam, and they can learn about and explore the park’s extensive geological and archaeological history as well.
Our next stop brings us to our county seat of Castle Rock. Here, at 420 Elbert Street, the Castle Rock Museum displays the rich history of Castle Rock through engaging exhibits. However, the building itself is an exhibit of its own. The structure, constructed from local rhyolite, was built in 1875 and was originally located on the west side of the railroad tracks north of 3rd Street. The Denver & Rio Grande train station was in operation for 90 years before closing in 1965. In 1970, the building was moved to its current location on Elbert Street, and in 1974 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1997, the building was converted to the Castle Rock Museum of today and is now operated by the Castle Rock Historical Society.
The last stop on our historic Douglas County road trip is in Parker, at a site that once served as a true rest stop for road trippers. Located on Mainstreet, just west of Parker Road, is the 20 Mile House—a small building is all that remains of what was once the larger, original structure. The 20 Mile House served as the Pine Grove Post Office and a rest stop for those traveling to and from Denver. It is so named because it is located 20 miles from Denver, or more specifically, 20 miles from the corner of Broadway and Colfax in Denver. While it is uncertain exactly when the building was erected, it has been standing since at least 1864.
Archives Technician Joan Gandy will talk about her research and findings on early African-American settlers of Douglas County. You’ll hear about the experiences of African-Americans moving west in the post-Civil War era, the stories of African-American pioneers who settled in Douglas County, and the research methods used to uncover these histories.
During the event, you’ll hear about the Reeds’ cattle farm in Parker.
You will also learn about William Foster, who lived in Douglas County while working for the railroad.
Joan will also present information about Oscar Quarles, who worked as a roundup cook for the H.X. Cattle Company.
To help celebrate and honor our veterans, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History (ALH) rounded up five interesting veteran oral histories from our collection. This was not an easy task, given that we currently have 283 oral histories available online in our digital collections; 119 of those are specifically part of the Veterans History Project (more on that below).
We felt that these five veterans’ stories are a good representation of the many other stories and histories in our collections.
Edmund Bennett, a Chicago native, attended Morgan Park Military Academy, a high school military academy in Chicago, from 1942 to 1948. At 18, Bennett joined the Illinois National Guard, and in 1949, at the age of 19, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Shortly after he attended boot camp in South Carolina, the Korean War broke out in 1950 and Bennett was sent to Korea to fight in the war.
After learning of his father’s severe illness in 1951, Bennett was reassigned to San Diego, California, for the remainder of his three-year enlistment. However, as Bennett neared the end of his service, he learned about Embassy Duty, and in 1952 he signed up for a transfer to Rome, Italy, where he enveloped himself in the local culture and made friends with locals, including actor Sebastian Cabot, Italian director Vittorio De Sica, and American actor Don Adams. After choosing not to reenlist in 1955, Bennett attended the Don Martin School of Radio and Television, which led to his lifelong career in the television industry and working with Metropolitan Life. Listen.
Shirley Curtis, a fourth-generation Colorado native, enlisted in the United States Army when she was 18. She traveled to Virginia for basic training at Fort Lee, and in her oral history interview she discusses her first encounters with southern segregation.
After attending leadership school in Virginia, Curtis transferred to Fort Mason outside of San Francisco, where she spent time doing ship maintenance. In December 1952, Curtis was discharged from her duties, only to reenlist in the Army one month later. In March 1953, Curtis was transferred to Camp Darby in Livorno, Italy, where she was stationed for four years. After returning to the U.S. for some time, Curtis was stationed again in Europe, this time in Frankfurt, Germany, before returning again to the U.S. to lead personnel teams at various bases until her retirement in 1972. Curtis then had a 22-year career as a federal police officer. Listen.
Joseph Pearlman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Brooklyn College for four years in the Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) program from 1957-1961. In October 1961, Pearlman was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, to a security police unit for three years before leaving active duty in 1964.
In 1968, Pearlman joined the active reserves as a human intelligence officer through the 1970s. At the time, Pearlman also pursued his Ph.D. in higher education administration and history at the University of Colorado-Denver. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1981, Pearlman began working with the Pentagon; in 1982 he accepted a position there in intelligence and moved to Washington, D.C., until 1986. After retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force in 1986, Pearlman took a brief three-year civil service tour in Japan before retiring to Denver, Colorado, in 2005. Listen.
Kathryn Haines joined the United States Navy after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Washington in 1943, after which she worked for some time in design for Boeing Aircraft. In late 1944, Haines joined the U.S. Navy via the last Officers Training Class (OTC) for women offered during WWII at Northampton, Massachusetts. After completing training, Haines was assigned to the Naval Communications Annex in Washington D.C., where she did electrical design work. After the war ended in 1945, Haines left the military and moved to Michigan, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree. She later moved to Denver with her husband and family where she received her master’s degree and embarked on a career in special education. Listen.
LeRoy Dies attended the University of Nebraska until the spring of 1969. In fall of that year, he received his draft notice to join the United States Army. After reporting for duty in Omaha, Dies was sent to Fort Polk in Louisiana for eight weeks of basic training. Dies was then accepted to the Non-Commissioned Officer School at Fort Benning in Georgia. There he continued his infantry training alongside leadership classes for 12 weeks. Upon completion of the program, Dies was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam in March 1970.
In his interview, Dies discusses the conflict of being drafted into the U.S. military during wartime and his experience with reconciling his perception of war when at home in the U.S. with the experience of being on the front lines. In Vietnam, Dies’ main objective was to identify enemy threats around base at Quan Loi. Dies also discusses his experience with locating booby traps, learning the combat style of the Vietnamese, and his personal experience during the invasion of Cambodia. After nine months in Vietnam, Dies was injured in combat and reassigned to finance at the Long Binh base, where he spent the remaining four months of his active duty. After his experience in the military, Dies focused on helping Vietnam veterans as a substance abuse therapist. Listen.
About the Veterans History Project
The Veterans History Project is coordinated by the American Folklife Center, which is part of the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress coordinates with libraries, archives and similar organizations throughout the entire U.S., including DCL Archives & Local History, in order to collect, preserve and make available veteran oral histories that cover many different military experiences.
The project seeks to enable others, now and in the future, to hear the stories of U.S. veterans and to learn from their firsthand accounts of war and military life. ALH works with the Library of Congress on the Veterans History Project to ensure that the veteran histories of Douglas County, Colorado, are told, preserved and accessible by the public.
To access all of our oral histories, including those that are part of the Veterans History Project, browse the Oral Histories collection on the ALH website, or search by topic. If you are interested in being interviewed for an oral history or as part of the Veterans History Project, please contact the ALH department either via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (303) 688-7730.
If you’d like to volunteer with ALH to conduct oral history interviews or be part of the oral history process (transcription or copy editing), please visit volunteerconnectdc.org to check availability of volunteer opportunities.
Douglas County was established in 1861, and throughout its 157-year history many tales and legends have been shared among citizens. Spooky stories have enchanted Douglas County residents since its early years, and as years go by, more and more stories are both made and forgotten.
You can discover many interesting tales from both the county’s early years and recent past by browsing through historical newspapers. Here are just a couple spooky discoveries I found lurking in Douglas County’s history.
The Phantom Telegraph
In early March 1891, the Rocky Mountain News published a story that no doubt sent shivers down the spines of its readers. The story, titled “Trailing a Specter,” told the “true story” of a phantom telegraph sent by a spirit from the beyond. During the last week of February and the beginning of March that year, employees at a telegraph office in Denver received a message from an office signed “AZ,” however, there was no such office. You see, each telegraph office was given a signature abbreviation so the receiver would know which office sent each message. Denver was D, Boulder G, Colorado Springs CG, and so on. But AZ was unregistered.
Assuming there was an error in the transmittal, the Denver office allowed the message to be sent through and received something rather cryptic:
For those of you unable to read Morse code, the message states:
“I grave was my a in man easy who rest in not my will time I on deciphered earth, is drank message considerable this and until one divide night or was ridgeway killed continental on the what as is known known is as what the on continental killed ridgeway was or night divide. One Until and this considerable, message drank is earthly deciphered on I time will my not in rest who easy man in a my was grave. I Llaksah d r”
The telegraph message was still quite indecipherable and meaningless, even after being translated from code. After the employees began responding to the AZ sender in order to clarify the message, they received the additional response of “1, 3.” The night chief understood that this probably meant the message was coded and for them to read the first and third words in sequence, which then revealed the following transcription:
“I was a man who in my time on earth drank considerable, and one night was killed on what is known as the continental ridgeway or divide. Until this message is deciphered I will not rest easy in my grave. R.D. Haskall”
Now, some of the employees were quite spooked at the idea of a ghost sending messages along the wire; however, most others believed they were the subjects of a hoax. To try and better understand the cryptic message, the operator responded with “I don’t understand” and they immediately received the following encoded message:
“I was a telegrapher who at one time worked in New York state, and in 1848-9 caught the gold fever and came west. As I said, I drank considerable, and one night in a drunken brawl I was killed on the old Pueblo trail, a few miles from what is now Palmer Lake, on the Continental Divide. My spirit has roamed about and until I make known the cause of my death, I cannot rest in my grave. The telegraph pole from which I am sending this is planted directly over my grave, the butt of the pole resting on my breast. I will call you up regularly for three nights, and if I raise you, answer. My message reads backward the same as forward. H.”
Upon receiving this message, most of the operators were certain that someone was playing a big joke on the station. Two operators decided to catch the prankster in the act and made a trip south to Douglas County to find the telegraph pole outside of Palmer Lake.
Two days later, the two operators found themselves counting telegraph poles outside Palmer Lake. They eventually found what they believed to be the haunted pole and sat down to see if something would happen. Before long, “they felt a strange feeling creep over them, and then transfixed, they saw something that they are not likely to forget. From the bottom of the hole they were watching, they noticed a dim, blue light. A white vapor arose, which gradually took form and in a few moments had assumed the shape of a man in white, holding in his right hand a telegraph key.” At the same instant, the Denver station received the following telegraph message:
“Your two investigators here. They have seen me. Farewell to earth. I have been heard and seen. I am satisfied. Good bye. H.”
Whether this instance was a very elaborate hoax or indeed a communication from the beyond can only be surmised by the reader’s interpretation of the experiences of the Denver telegraph employees’ experience.
Tales of the Old Stone Church
The Old Stone Church on Third Street in downtown Castle Rock has had several different tenants in the recent past; however, according to local legend, the old church has had many long-term tenants as well.
Built in 1888, the Old Stone Church was originally the home of the Catholic St. Francis of Assisi congregation. At the time of its construction, St. Francis of Assisi was the only Catholic Church in Douglas County. The congregation remained on Third Street until September 1966, when the church moved to its new location on Fifth Street.
After the move, the church building transferred to private ownership and was converted into a restaurant. Currently, the Old Stone Church is known as Scileppi’s restaurant; however, since 1966, there have been a few different owners of the property. What is currently the second floor was once the church’s choir loft, and some parts of the original building have been covered up while other parts have been altered to accommodate the building’s 21st-century role.
Since the remodel of the church into a restaurant, workers and patrons alike have allegedly glimpsed ghosts and specters that supposedly haunt its premises. According to legend, the choir loft is where the ghost is seen most often. The specter of a little girl is said to have been seen in the old church by previous employees and customers of the Old Stone Church restaurant back in the 1990s, according to an article in the Douglas County News-Press. Additionally, the article states that staff experienced chairs moving of their own accord, dishes flying through the air, and “weird electrical disturbances,” such as lights going on and off. The kitchen is also supposed to harbor a lot of paranormal activity. Apparently, a lot more than the church’s rhyolite structure has survived over these last 130 years in Castle Rock.
To learn more about Douglas County’s history — spooky or not! — visit the Archives & Local History website or follow us on social media. You may also visit the ALH department at Douglas County Libraries in Castle Rock, Philip S. Miller. To browse old issues of Douglas County newspapers, visit coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.