Day 196 – Colorado Springs Loop, June 11, 2011
We started our morning in Canon City. One of its first mayors, a poet, wanted to
name the town Oreodelphia. The miners
insisted they could neither spell nor pronounce it, and exclaimed, “The place
is a canyon…it’s going to be called Canon City.
The Walk for Hope was taking place at a nearby park when we arrived. The event raises money for the Orchard of Hope
which supports area cancer patients.
Petey and I took a brief stroll through the park on the way to a few
geocaches. I probably only found about
half of the caches I set out for today, but it was mostly due to muggles.
I found one cache on the far end of the park where there
wasn’t much activity, but another cache was placed alongside the track where
the Walk for Hope was taking place.
Given it had a three out of five ranking for difficulty and I was in the
vicinity of 100 people, I had to skip it.
I continued on to Robison Mansion, a reason why I like caching, to find
neat places and learn the history.
In 1879, Scottish immigrant Lyman Robison, his wife Mary,
and his son David came to Canon City from Toledo, Ohio to “live the good
life”. After enjoying much success in
Leadville and Cripple Creek as the co-owner of Colonel Sanders Mine and the
Doctor as well as being a vice president at First National Bank of Canon and
being president of the Royal Gorge Hot Springs Company, Lyman had the mansion
built in 1884. The mansion, designed by
George W. Rowe, is situated on four acres; includes seven bedrooms, two
parlors, two bathrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a laundry, room, a powder
room, and a study; and cost $20,000 to complete. Upon his parents’ death in
1912, David and his wife took possession of the home which they abandoned in
1929 due to the Great Depression though it remained in the family until
1958. At such time, it was sold to Daily
Record publisher Don Hardy who wanted to sell it to Canon City as a fine arts
center for $17,000, but the city declined to purchase it. In 1963, Roy and Edith Wilson purchased the
mansion for the lot where they planned to build a nursing home. Instead, they refurbished the building and
sold tours for $1. Edith auctioned the
home off in 1976 after Roy’s death.
Kenneth and Naomi Ireland purchased the mansion and were the first
people to live there in almost fifty years.
Three years later, the city offered to purchase the home, though the
Irelands didn’t sell. Five years after
the home was placed on the National Register of Historic places, the Ireland’s sold
the home to Ed Tezak Jr. in 1989 for $200,000.
Tezak spent $1.5 million refurbishing the home that he planned on
renting out as a hall for weddings and other occasions; however, the city
denied his liquor license. As the
mansion began to fall into disrepair again, in 1998, he sold it for $650,000 to
Joe and Kathleen Wells. After a failed
attempt to auction the home in 2000, the mansion was eventually purchased by
Darryl Biggerstaff for $1.3 million. Biggerstaff died shortly after acquiring
it, whereby Heather Biggerstaff-Cost inherited it. The home is once again for sale, though the
Fremont County Assessor’s Office currently values the property between $500,000
While I was at the home looking for the cache, a guy in his
pick up truck pulls up and shouts out the window, “Did you find it?” I wasn’t sure if he was the owner of the
cache or another cacher looking for it.
That was my first time to run into either on my caching
expeditions. It turns out he was the
owner of this cache and several others in Canon City and his name was Glen. He suggested I search for his hide at the
Taking Glen up on his advice, I walked past a flea market on
the way to the library where a farmers’ market blocked the street in front of
the entrance. This town was busy on
Saturday…which made caching tricky. I’m
not sure how quickly I would have found this magnetic container, except Glen
told me it was out in the open. Accurate
coordinates and the fact I found one disguised similarly months ago in
Mississippi, it resulted in a relatively quick grab. The hides can be very creative. I’ve found containers that look like bolts
and bird nests. This one kind of looked
like a switch plate.
After visiting the library I stopped by a historic
jail. It is next to the current
correction facilities with guard towers looming overhead. A cache was hidden nearby, which I opted not
to scour for while guards were posted above me, but the cache entry on
geocaching.com provided a wonderful story.
All that I knew about the jail is that the government offered to build a
penitentiary or a university and let the residents decide. They chose a jail, figuring it would be better
attended! The story on geocaching.com is
about George Witherell, once a prisoner of Canon City’s newly-built Colorado
Territorial Penitentiary. In 1871, at
the age of 22, Witherell was convicted of murdering a man from Douglas
County. He allegedly shot him, hacked
him to pieces with an axe, and stole his possession. Due to traces of doubt at his trial, he
received life in prison versus death by hanging. He was inmate number 23. A few years into his sentence, he escaped and
hid for twenty days in nearby mountains before he was recaptured and placed in
solitary confinement. He attempted
escape repeatedly; thus found himself shackled regularly. Witherell sought sympathy from Warden W.B.
Felton who believed Witherell’s story that he was wrongly imprisoned. The warden convinced Governor Alva Adams to
pardon Witherell at age 37. Soon after
his release, he met Charles McCain, a rancher and freighter, who aimed to open
a moving business with his wife in Canon City.
Witherell partnered with McCain and the two traveled to Denver, Colorado
Springs, and Pueblo completing moves for families and businesses. But when Mrs. McCain received a letter in
unusual penmanship, supposedly from her husband claiming he was selling his wagons
and horses and never returning to her, she contacted the law. A posse caught up to Witherell who was in
possession of McCain’s horses. The next
day, they found McCain, shot in the head and hacked with an axe. Witherell was taken to jail in Denver, but
upon hearing talk among citizens that Witherell “would not survive the ride
back” to Canon City to stand trial, the Fremont County Sheriff, Morgan Griffith
decided to wait for tempers to cool before transporting him. Months later, the sheriff quietly snuck into
town with Witherell just before midnight.
While he thought he had returned undetected, within an hour, a small
group of men demanded the prisoner. When
he refused and the men angered, Griffith drew two pistols and promised to shoot
the first man that entered the jail.
None obliged and the crowd dispersed.
A few hours later, a group of masked men overtook the sheriff at the
jail and drug Witherell to a telegraph pole where he was lynched. Neither the coroner nor the sheriff was able
to identify those involved. After
examining the size of Witherell’s brain, the local pharmacist pickled it and
charged admission to those who desired to see it. Another man cut off Witherell’s upper lip in
order to display his handlebar mustache, his suspenders used in the hanging,
his mustache comb, four revolver cartridges and a photo of the lynching in the
lobby of his hotel. No one was ever
tried for the murder of Witherell.
After a morning of caching in Canon City, we turned north to
Cripple Creek. I tried finding “Shelf
Road”, which according to Reader’s Digest, the white-knuckle drive leads
motorist past numerous geological marvels and at one point along the road which
is simply a ledge sliced into the wall.
I’m thankful I didn’t find it, as the road I took was harrowing
enough. Generally the dirt road was
smooth though occasionally washboard, and while it gradually climbed a few
thousand feet over 30 miles, it never appeared to be a ledge. However, the road did lead through one lane
tunnels, over wood planked bridges, and narrowed to one lane in countless
places as it weaved through the mountains.
When space allowed it, aspen trees and wildflowers lined the road,
otherwise, red rock outcroppings protruded into the bends. The surrounding mountainside was peppered in
evergreens and grey boulders.
Eventually we reached Victor where mining still takes place
and Cripple Creek where one of the richest gold claims in American history was
filed in 1890. In the height of the
boom, Cripple Creek bustled with a population of 16,000 and was home to three stock
exchanges. Now the town caters to
tourists who can ride the Cripple Creek & Victor Railroad which curls past
dozens of abandoned mines. Cripple Creek
and Victor used to be rival towns.
Victor, not to be outdone by Cripple Creek, has streets that were
literally paved with gold ore that was deemed too low-grade to ship out. During our quick tour around town, the
streets now appear to be asphalt or dirt.
Petey and I attempted to find a cache in Cripple Creek as we sauntered
by a casino, a variety of shops, and a courthouse, but an ederly couple was
parked at the picnic table in the shade with their unleashed dog about 20 feet
from the cache…no dice.
We left Cripple Creek and headed northwest to Florissant
Fossil Beds National Monument. Here, I
took a short mile hike through a field past a handful of fossilized tree
stumps, or petrified wood. I found the
most fascinating thing about the tree stumps to be that they were
redwoods. Yes, redwoods in
Colorado. Thirty-four million years ago,
the Rocky Mountain region was much warmer with wet summers and mild
winters. The Florissant region was
forested with redwoods, pines, hardwoods, and ferns. The valley was buried by volcanic
eruptions. Mudflows covered the base of
the trees, killing the tree, but turning the base into stone!
After our visit to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument,
I turned west to Eleven Mile State Park in which I am very disappointed. While I knew the lake was a main attraction,
which I tend to avoid, my book described numerous trails through the
wilderness. The park only offers a few
through a field. I probably wouldn’t
have been that bummed, except I drove out of my way to get here and have to
backtrack tomorrow. I’ve learned my
lesson, and I’m back to trusting my instinct…skip the lakes until I own a
boat! I was able to catch a glimpse of
the sunset, it was pretty. ETB