The Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library has been hosting a series of speakers that focus on western history with a special emphasis on Colorado.
The “History of the West Series” features lectures, films and discussions taking place once a month. The talks cover stories about Colorado’s coalfield wars, plains archeology, ghost towns, fly fishing in the West and many more topics unique to Colorado and the West.
May’s featured speaker, my friend and fellow local author Jolie Gallagher showed slides and told stories from her two books, “A Wild West History of Frontier Colorado: Pioneers, Gunslingers & Cattle Kings on the Eastern Plains,” and the newly-released “Colorado Forts: Historic Outposts on the Wild Frontier,” both published by The History Press.
Gallagher’s talk focused on the earliest years of settlement, when the tribes who inhabited the region were suddenly overwhelmed by tens of thousands of gold seekers. We heard about the famed D.C. Oakes, one of the original promoters of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1858 – a man who was soon burned in effigy by “gobackers.”
She also talked about some of the lesser known tales that put the “color” in “Colorful Colorado.” We’ve all heard about the appetite of the infamous Alfred Packer, but few are familiar with other “meals” that desperate pioneers indulged in during those early days. “It was a terrible thing to do,” said pioneer Daniel Blue, trying to explain what happened to his brother, “but we were not in a condition of mind or heart to do as we or other men would have done amid ordinary circumstances.” (From “A Wild West History of Colorado.”)
Gallagher has the background of a writer who loves history rather than an academic historian, which gives her an edge as a story teller. “I grew up on a ranch in California and always loved tales of western adventure,” she says. “Everything from the classic TV western to dime-store novels. As a descendant of pioneers, I often wondered what my forefathers (and mothers) sacrificed and suffered to establish homesteads in the wilderness. After I graduated college and moved to Colorado, I began researching frontier history and soon discovered that the old west was nothing like the times depicted in 1960s television shows or dime-store novels. The real frontier was far more fascinating. Unfortunately, most history books made for dull reading. With my background in Journalism and Creative Writing, I wanted to write histories of my own and give justice to the stories of Colorado’s early pioneers, how they survived in a dangerous, lawless territory.”
Tiffany Clendenin, coordinator of the speaker series, is enthusiastic about the series and Colorado’s past. “From ancient Pueblo peoples, Plains Indians and the Mexican-American War to the discovery of gold and the natural resource industry,” she says, “Colorado has a storied and fascinating history to be explored.”