Column No. 65

A Sturdy Beginning in the Mountains of Colorado

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon


I was born in a tent on December 6, 1880, the first baby
in the new railroad town of Salida, Colorado.

This column starts the life story of Ines Fraser, widow of Jack Fraser, who along with his brother Al, was brutally murdered by Mexican bandits in the February 1920 robbery of the general store at the Ruby mining camp. We are telling the story in Ines’ own words, in a long letter written in 1968 to her grandson Bruce and her granddaughter-in-law Claudia:

Dear beloved Grandson Bruce and Granddaughter-in-Law Claudia,

I am so pleased and complimented by your interest in my “old times.” I’ll be very glad to tell you about my wonderful life with my lover – my husband. You have so many of your own interests that I have not attempted to interrupt with my own affairs; but I do wish you to know more about your ancestors. Anyway, dears, I’ll pour into your sympathetic ears a good deal, as it seems perfectly true that you will never be bored. I mention such things now, because my dear sister Mary keeps me more conscious of my age of 87 and frailty than I think necessary, but she may be right, and it may be good to tell you all I can.

Also, I am flattered that you two at the young age of 24 like the verses I send you. I have hesitated to show any of them to anyone but my sister, thinking someone might think me a show-off, and I truly am not very conceited about my small talent of rhyming, but to such kind critics as you, I am happy to dig into such as I have. So I will enclose copies of some verses, written when I really lived in desert quietude.

First let me tell you a little bit about my father and mother’s life before I came on the scene. They were of pioneer stock. Mama’s family (Dousett) came from France to Nova Scotia and then to Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. Papa’s family (Chinn) came from Virginia, then on to Ohio, Missouri and Kansas. Both families homesteaded in Kansas. Papa’s father made several trips with covered wagon “trains,” driving an ox-team for one of the big outfits shipping goods from St. Louis and Leavenworth to mines in Nevada, as far as the Comstock Lode. I never heard whether he made any money or not, but the farm prospered in his absences, anyway. When Papa was 17, he was “delegated” to take the trip “across the plains,” driving his own, or his father’s ox-team, also in a big wagon train. He had been in “poor health” from several attacks of “lung-fever,” which was, I believe, pneumonia. In the late 1870s, in his 20s Papa and his brother traveled from their hometown in Parsons, Kansas through the Colorado highlands as freighters in the late 1870s. Mama’s girlhood was mostly in Southern Kansas.

Bruce, your great grandparents, Richard Singleton Chinn and Margaret Dousett, were married in Parsons in February 1880, with an old fashioned “shivaree,” a mock serenade of raucous noises from tin-cans, chains, rattles, etc. As was the custom in rural Kansas and Missouri then, three days later Mama hosted an “In-Fair,” an open house where she served food to all the guests from the wedding. After a honeymoon trip to Missouri, Papa and Mama drove a mule team and “prairie schooner” to Canyon City, Colorado, where they camped and Papa worked, with his mules, on the construction of the railroad and the “hanging bridge” in the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River. When that work was finished, he and Mama went “up stream,” settling at the newly developing railroad town of Salida. From that time on, Papa was a “railroad man,” working for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad as an engineer.

“Salida” is a Spanish word and means outlet. With the railroad now extending to Salida from the east, the town became the “outlet” for numerous mining camps in the Colorado mountains and South Arkansas River Valley. The first construction was a roundhouse and the place to change and/or add engines for trains coming from the east through the Royal Gorge, needing more power to climb on, over Tennessee Pass, to the boom mining town, Leadville, some 60 miles on, at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. I was told that by November of 1880, the town had established some finer points of culture along its streets. Three dance halls and a dozen saloons adorned the city blocks. Lovers of baseball were forming a club and a dancing party was held, until the villainous hour of midnight. At first, there were no wooden or brick houses; people like Mama and Papa had to live in one of the numerous tents quickly assembled as temporary housing.

I was born in a tent on December 6, 1880, the first baby in the new railroad town of Salida, Colorado. When I was about two and half years old, we moved from the tent-town near the river and the railroad, to a site at the edge of town on a prairie between the Arkansas and “Little River,” where my parents had bought four lots and built a brick house. My first sure memory, is watching my mother on the roof, helping my father put on the shingles.

Among the other memories that please me to recall at times, in vacant or in pensive mood, are mental pictures of the section of our little town, particularly the prairie strip between the last houses at the southern “addition” and Little River. Children of our neighborhood liked to run and play there and gather the few flowers that grew in summer, scant and far apart, for this was a sort of arm of the Great American Desert, so mapped in the geographies when I was in school. Later of course, irrigation proved that it was not desert, in the sense of being not fertile, for fruit trees and bushes, vegetables and garden flowers became very abundant. For some distance, riverbank growths extended - willows, aspens and in summer, lush wild flowers and vines, and the tiny mountain strawberries, the best in the world, I still think.

The Chinn family in Salida started to grow. My brother John was born in July 1884. He was followed by another brother Forrest, born in March 1888, and finally by my sister Mary, born in January 1890. Of course, Bruce and Claudia, you know Mary as “Aunt Mary,” the wonderful person with whom I now live in El Paso, Texas.

This 1889 portrait of the Chinn family shows Ines (left) with her father, mother, and two brothers. (Courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely)

(Source: Fraser family records, courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely)

Next Time: My Childhood in Salida, Colorado

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