Southward from the Colorado town of Sedalia (a place once known as Plum Station, and before that Round Corral, and before that something else I'm sure) the two-lane blacktop of Highway 105 stretches lazily up the valley of West Plum Creek toward the haunting rock formations of Perry Park and the tiny town of Palmer Lake. If you're ever in the area, take an opportunity to go for a ride. This route, also called Perry Park Road, shows up on p. 39 of Road Biking Colorado's Front Range, as part of a Denver-to-Colorado Springs route, but it really is a ride that stands by itself as a simple out-and-back.

The land between Sedalia and Palmer Lake, although not totally unaffected by the march of time, remains substantially as it was one hundred, even one-hundred-fifty years ago. Especially if you can imagine that the hiss of tires on 105, which follows (exactly in some places) the route of the old wagon road, is actually the clomping of hooves. Then as now the land was irrigated with ditches cut from high up on Bear Creek, Spring Creek, Jackson Creek, and many little springlets, and used to grow hay; herds of cattle feed under the buttes and scattered stands of ponderosa pine. And if you were to accidentally wander into somebody's field, they might shoot you today just as they would back then, figuring you for some sort of horse thief or hippy lunatic.

The first white people to settle this area, claiming 160 acres free of charge from Uncle Sam, lived in little log cabins. First fences around here went up 1860-ish. In a few years it became the thing to replace the cabins with frame houses. In the 1880s some of the settlers started building stone houses, and a few of these old stone houses can still be seen off the side of highway 105. The fieldstone house south of Tomah Road, on the west side of 105, guarded by ragged old cottonwoods, was built in 1895 by my great great grandfather John Kinner and his sons. (The original log cabin he built in the 1860s is still there too, contained entirely within the frame house that they built around it.) You can see how some of the recent occupants have added dormer windows to the peaked roof, which I believe is a no-no for structures on the National Register of Historic Places. I'm pretty sure you don't want to get haunted by John Kinner or one of his many insane daughters just for the sake of letting a little more light into the upstairs. Not worth it. Get a lamp.

A tiny bit further south from there is the old Ben Quick house, built in 1888. An intense structure of cut limestone. On Quick's homestead in 1868 the settlers from this immediate area built a log stockade called Fort Washington. In the fall of '68 families were huddled fearfully inside forts scattered all along the Front Range, panicked over Indian attacks real and imagined. That year Ben Quick's son was dragged to death behind a horse after it was spooked by a gunshot, supposedly fired by a Cheyenne Indian. On top of the hill west of the house you might be able make out the iron fence of an old cemetery. Many of the area's original settlers are buried up there, including the Quicks and almost all of their children, only one of six having lived to adulthood.

 

 

There was one settler who conspicuously refused to join the others inside Fort Washington in 1868. George Nickson, pictured above with his wife Sarah. This picture seems to have been staged some time in the 1890s. They are standing in front of his original log cabin, but in the background their newer frame house can be seen. After a bobcat wandered into this very cabin c. 1870, Sarah attacked and killed the animal with kitchen implements. So it is said.

Nickson fought for the South in the Civil War, and immediately emigrated to this homestead on West Plum Creek in Colorado. His Confederate ties certainly could have caused much animosity in these parts, where several veterans of the Union Army were also trying to start lives as farmers and ranchers. For whatever reason, Nickson stayed in his cabin with his dog and his rifle during the panic of '68.

It's possible that he was trying to avoid John Kinner. George Nickson's ranch was directly west of my great great grandfather's, and the two men did not get along. Their animosity was such that they couldn't even agree to share a common fence where their ranches came together. Instead each of them built his own fence, leaving a little strip of land in between which became known as the "Devil's Lane." It's quite possible that each of the men was something of an ass. Okay, likely.

A gorgeous ten-minute bike ride east of the old Kinner ranch will bring you to the banks of East Plum Creek, and I-25 in all its glory. If you've ever driven between Colorado Springs and Denver on I-25, you've passed right by the site of Coberly's Halfway House, a stagecoach stop and hotel which sat halfway between Colorado City and Denver. (Colorado Springs didn't exist until around 1870.) The Coberlys' place (and another Indian fort) was located on the spot now occupied by a campground, right next to the highway south of the Tomah Road exit. Many of you will know exactly where this is. For about five years in the 1860s Coberly's Halfway House saw a great deal of action. It was a focal point of Colorado history, a turnstile through which passed the most repugnant, important and heroic characters in the epic of the old west.

This is the house where one of my great great grandmothers, Lizzie Field, grew up, having arrived there by strange twist of fate. In 1864 she was a young girl crossing the plains in a wagon with the rest of her distressed family. As the Indian scare revved up that fall her father Noah Field joined the infamous 3rd Colorado Volunteer Cavalry for 100 days' service. It's doubtful that he had much choice in the matter. Just unlucky timing. All able-bodied men who weren't already in the military were pressed into the regiment, regardless of family obligations, whether they liked the idea or not. Not too long after his enlistment, Noah Field died of acute diarrhea while in camp with his company. This was probably one of the smartest things he ever did. The 3rd marched on to Sand Creek without him and attacked a village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians who were deep into the process of friendship and peace with the whites. The militia killed primarily pappooses, women and old men, then spent much of the afternoon inventing new ways to violate the corpses. The gold-rushers and Indians had begun their interactions in peace, and it had somehow come to this.

To begin to understand the incredible tragedy and drama of this episode, start by reading Major Wynkoop's unfinished autobiography The Tall Chief, if you can find it. It's published by the Colorado Historical Society. Read Silas Soule's letters and the transcripts of the investigations into the matter, with testimony from many officers and enlisted men who were there. There isn't much documented from the side of the Cheyenne-Arapahoe, except for the excellent Life of George Bent, Written From His Letters. A very good overview of the subject is Stan Hoig's The Sand Creek Massacre.

We're not sure of the exact sequence of events after her father's death, but 11-year-old Lizzie Field ended up living at Coberly's as an indentured servant. Mrs. Coberly (now remarried as Mrs. Crull) raised her as a daughter, and also had two near-grown daughters of her own, Hersa and Mattie. In the spring of 1865 Hersa Coberly married Captain Silas Soule. Soule had "walked through the fire" with Major Wynkoop to reach a truce with the Indians in September of '64. He kept his company from firing a shot at Sand Creek and then became the first of several veteran1st Regiment officers to testify in gory detail about the atrocities committed there. On April 23, 1865 Soule was assassinated in Denver. Mattie would marry Soule's friend, George Price, and Lizzie would hook up with John Kinner after turning 18, and receiving $20 and a cow as stipulated by her letter of indenture, if i'm remembering the details correctly. Kinner did not participate in the massacre at Sand Creek, but was a teamster driving a mule team for the government and experienced the aftermath. His gruesome description of the killing field covered with bloated bodies has been passed down from generation to generation in our family.

But that's not exactly what I came here to talk about today, strangely enough. I wanted to talk to you about headwinds and tailwinds, and the interesting effect that each has on a bicyclist's relationship with passing traffic. Yeah, I know. You can't just transition from massacres to bike talk. But I suppose I have used up all my allotted time for now anyway. We'll pick up here in a day or two ...

 

TO BE CONTINUED ...

VISIT MY NEW  'DIGITAL NOTEBOOK' OF COLORADO HISTORY.

 

The painting at top is Frederick Remington's "Last Call for Beans."