Posts Tagged ‘1889’

It’s our last evening in Estes Park, and the cloudless sunshine has given way to clouds and scattered sprinkles.  But who cares?!?  The weather’s been gorgeous, with lovely temperatures, light breezes, and skies as blue as blue can be.  And this morning, the warm temps and lack of snow meant that we were able to drive up the Fall River Road for the first time, where the bright sunshine permitted some breathtaking views.  Coming up Trail Ridge Road is impressive in its own right, but Fall River Road is even better.

I suppose it’s fitting that we finish our stay in Colorado with an historical event that’s indigenous to the state.  And even if it isn’t fitting, I’m doing it anyways.

The population of Creede, Colorado is (as of a 2007 count) 422.  Exactly half the population is male, with the better half making up the other half.  It’s not very big, but then again, all of Mineral County (of which Creede is the county seat) is home to just 830 people.  Located in southwestern Colorado, this small town of just six-tenths of a square mile is near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

But it wasn’t always small.  Creede wasn’t always home to just 400 people.  In fact, at one time, it was a bustling late 19th-century city of more than 10,000.  And all of those people had Nicholas Creede to thank.

Nicholas Creede was born in Indiana as William Harvey in 1843.  His family was dirt-poor and, desirous of fewer mouths to feed, pushed William from the nest at just 18 years old.  Harvey headed west, making his way as a lumberjack and scout.  Eventually he found himself in Colorado’s mining camps.

Harvey changed his name to Creede after a “Billy Harvey” committed a murder in Denver.  I’m not sure it was ever determined whether “Billy” and our “William” were one and the same, or if he just wanted to avoid confusion, but regardless, fame came to the new name.  He enjoyed success as a prospector in places such as Del Norte and Leadville.  But his greatest success occurred on this day.

On October 2, 1889, Creede discovered a large vein of silver that came to be known as the Amethyst Vein.  It’s told that when Creede made his discovery, he exclaimed, “Holy Moses!”  And that would become the name of the mine.  The mining camp that sprouted up around Holy Moses would bear Nicholas’ name, and Creede was born.  Actually, it exploded onto the map as the last major “silver rush” of the west brought thousands of treasure seekers to Creede.  The first baby born was named Creede Amethyst.

Nicholas Creede would make a fortune, but like many before and since, his wealth would ultimately be his undoing, leading to all kinds of problems and eventual suicide.  But on this day, Creede had struck it rich.

Recommended Reading:  Nicholas Creede and the Amethyst Vein

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Last summer, we looked at the devastating effects of flooding when we discussed the failure of the Lawn Lake Dam in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Three people were killed, millions of dollars in property was destroyed, and the Park was left indelibly marked.  But that failure, occurring at 11,000′ above sea level, was actually pretty small in both size and effect when compared with the subject of Today’s History Lesson.

On May 30, 1889, torrential rains fell over western Pennsylvania.  In a 24-hour period, the area received as much as 10″ inches of rain.  Most of us know that those kinds of rains cause instant flooding, as rivers and streams simply cannot handle that kind of run-off and the rain falls too quickly to be absorbed into the ground.  This storm was no exception.  Towns like South Fork and Johnstown, Pennsylvania were simply swamped with water that, in places, ran 10 feet deep.  But worse was to come…much worse.

Fourteen miles upstream sat the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club, an exclusive resort area.  Purchased 10 years prior, it had been developed into a refuge for Pittsburgh’s wealthiest residents.  The centerpiece of the resort was Lake Conemaugh, a man-made lake held in place by the South Fork Dam…until May 31, 1889.

Nearly a foot of rain from all over western Pennsylvania overwhelmed the lake’s supporting dam and, despite efforts to relieve the pressure, the South Fork Dam failed just after 3:00pm.  When we discussed Lawn Lake, we said that 218 million gallons poured down the mountain toward Estes Park.  The South Fork Dam released an estimated 4.8 billion gallons of water.  That’s 22 gallons of water for every gallon that left Lawn Lake.  And what’s more, 4.8 billion gallons of water poured into an area that was already heavily flooded.

The first town of South Fork, because it sat on higher ground, was spared the worst.  The next town, Mineral Point, was razed to bare rock.  An hour after the dam collapsed, this new flood, carrying with it part of bridges, huge rocks, trees, an homes from upstream, slammed into Johnstown with waves up to 60 feet high and speeds of 40 miles per hour.

The town became a seething death trap of water, mud, and debris.  Of course, none of us was alive to witness the event or see the aftermath, but the photos that remain show utter destruction.  There has never been an exact count of the lives lost, but more than 2,200 is sure.  The cleanup efforts lasted for years.

Johnstown, PA, has certainly seen its share of terrible flooding in the years since 1889.  But mentioning “the Johnstown Flood” in knowledgeable company brings just one event into focus.

Recommended Reading:  The Johnstown Flood – Another of McCullough’s fabulous works.  The guy simply cannot produce bad literature.

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All you fans of college sports, have you ever thought about where the University of Oklahoma got their team name?  Me neither.  But when putting together a little article for today, I learned where “Sooners” originated…and then I kind of wondered why I hadn’t thought about it before.

At precisely 12:00pm on April 22, 1889, the Oklahoma Land Rush began.  More than 2 million acres of land in the middle of modern-day Oklahoma were essentially free for the taking, and settlers by the thousands gathered on the borders of the land in the days leading up to the 22nd.  And then the day finally arrived.  The sun came up, the flags were unfurled, the guns went off at noon, and the madness began.

A human stampede estimated at nearly 50,000 was unleashed, all of them vying for their little piece of the American Dream, which at the time, was something around 150-160 acres.  Needless to say, places like Oklahoma City were established at some point in the afternoon.  And I will guess that, while running water and indoor plumbing were still a ways off, some watering holes were serving sodas and milk (or something like that) in pretty short order.

And the Sooners?  Well, they were the thorns in everyone’s side.  Sooners were those folks that sneaked into the territory before the guns sounded, found their primo piece of land, and staked their claim.  They greatly upset the people that had followed the rules, who promptly sued the cheaters.  It greatly upset the court system, which had to deal with land-rights issues for years.  And who knows, it probably upset a steer or two, as disputing land owners probably branded them more than once.

And, 120 years later, Sooners are still making people miserable.  Those people just happen to be fans of the other 11 Big-12 teams.  Go figure…

Anyways, this would certainly not be the final “land lottery” in Oklahoma.  Just 4 years later, the Land Rush of 1893 would see 100,000 people competing for less than 50,000 parcels of land.  And somewhere out there, before the guns sounded, ancestors of Barry Switzer and Jeff Capel were probably sneaking around…once a Sooner, always a Sooner.

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