Saturday, December 19, 2009

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Leadville 1909

Ooooh, I just found the "live webcam" for Leadville on the home page of the Herald Democrat newspaper (look in the upper left corner of the site). It's dark and snowy out there right now, nearly midnight on December 18. But hey, I'm warm and cozy here at home with a little heater at my feet. Still, wish I was in Leadville instead (with the heater, of course).
But lucky me, I'm not suffering the fate of two fellows on December 10, 1909 (100 years ago), as recounted in the December 10, 2009, edition of Leadville's Herald Democrat. I won't quote it in its entirety, but will give you the headlines and the set-up of the story:

Soft Snow His Shroud
Finnish Miner Crossing Mosquito Range with Partner Sinks From Exhaustion

Jack Frost wrapped his subtle drapery around another human on the mountain side Wednesday night and the man lay quietly down and entered his eternal sleep, the unsunned snow furnishing his winding sheet.

Matti Sarasto, a Finlander, aged 32, was the victim. Jan Syrien, his companion, struggled through and escaped with his life though one arm was badly frozen.

It's a weird thing and a strange experience, this struggle with the silent frost king. Strong and sturdy men wooed to sleep, lulled to a sense of security when the danger is the greatest...

From this poetic beginning, the story unwinds of two men who decided to return to Leadville from Alma by crossing the range, rather than taking the train (the train, they decided, was too expensive). That decision took the life of one and the other was lucky to get back to town with a frostbitten arm.

A sobering reminder from a century ago of how easy it is for Nature to sneak up on us, even as we think we've got everything "under control." Unfortunately, that sense of control is mostly an illusion.

For all of you traveling hither and yon this holiday, travel with care.


Bob Sanchez said...

"Jack Frost wrapped his subtle drapery" -- Journalistic styles have changed over the years, haven't they?

Merry Christmas!

Bob Sanchez

Ann Parker said...

Hi Bob!
No foolin'! Nowadays the editor would be sharpening the red pencil (or "track changes" function on Word), preparing for the kill...

Merry Christmas to you, too!

Camille Minichino said...

I just saw this. It looks like one of your book covers!

Ann Parker said...

Hi Camille!
The cam photo does rather look like the cover of Silver Lies, I think. Well, snow, winter, Leadville, black&white... :-)

Cynthia Becker said...

I love reading unique stories and they way in which they were told in past eras. Thanks for sharing. It is cold here in Iowa and snowing upon the mounds of ice and snow that have accumulated over the last couple of weeks. It has been Leadville cold here. I'm looking forward to getting home to Colorado for Christmas.

Gwyn Ramsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gwyn Ramsey said...

Hello Ann.

I'll try again.

Back in the early 1900, the use of purple prose was very prevalent. Ah, for a long and lengthy description. Now the word count is short and to the point. Times do change, for better or worse.

Great sad story. Thanks for sharing.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Cynthia and Gwen!
I must admit a guilty love of purple prose... ah, those adjective and adverbs! There's a wonderful "energy" in how writers back then created a "texture" of text.
Here's hoping you all stay warm and cozy this season, surrounded by those you love!
-- ann

Christie Wright said...

Hi Ann - this is a fascinating story re: crossing the range! I have been researching some of the 1882 stage robberies up there and am transfixed on Jake Quakenbush and Curly Mack at the moment - no kidding, I didn't make those names up!

Another sad crossing was in December of 1880 when the two McCouville brothers made a big strike on the Park Cty. side and one walked over Mosquito to Leadville to have the ore assayed. When he didn't return, the other brother went looking for him and as you can imagine, they missed each other and one perished in a huge slide on the Fairplay side.

I honestly don't know how they did it back then and I'm still reluctant to 4-wheel over Mosquito today!

from Christie Wright, Highlands Ranch, CO

Ann Parker said...

Hi Christie,
Your research sounds like fun! And oh, what an ironic, sad story ... a big strike, but at what cost.
When I go to Leadville for research, I look up at the Mosquito range ... and I agree ... I can't imagine folks crossing over and back in summer, much less in winter. Tougher folks than I, for certain!