Column No. 66

My Childhood in Salida, Colorado

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

We were brought up with the Santa Claus myth, and I was not curious or nosey, so everything that appeared on Christmas morning was pure magic and did not “clash” with the Santa story, though we had no fireplace or chimney for the saint to come down in.

This column continues 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:

Now my Claudia, I’ll answer a question or two about grade schools: I entered first grade already reading and spelling quite well, but woefully short on writing and numbers. An older girl, Ava, was put with me to help me about my writing. We used slates, and on one side, lines had been indented for us to write in the proper proportion of stems, for instance. Space was left below where we were to extend “g,” “f,” etc. It was in that very first grade that I was taught the use of diacritical marks - and the names of them, and could soon use a dictionary! Do you wonder that I still think the old ways were good ways? And that I am a lover of words?

We learned about vowels, consonants, and even diphthongs! Maybe this instruction did not stick with every child in my first grade, but it did with me. Our readers were A.C. Barnes (quite like McGuffys,) and new words at the beginning of each story were marked diacritically

School hours were 9 am to noon, 1:30 pm to 4 pm (our long nooning was to go home for dinner.) we had recess, 10 am to 10:30 am and 2 pm to 2:30 pm. We played tag of different kinds, crack-the-whip, pom-pom pull away, hopscotch, kicking the pebble we threw into each section of the design, and how our shoes did scuff and wear out at the toes! We also had jump rope from the time we could remember, and “London Bridge,” Drop the Handkerchief and Blind-man’s Buff. By the time we were in the 3rd grade, the boys would seldom play with girls, and that seems still to be the attitude, don’t you think?

Anyway, we girls had jacks while the boys had marbles, tops, and mumbly peg as well as some ball play. The girls had a lot of singing games, like “Here come three Dukes a roving,” “King William was King James’ son,” “Skip to my Lou” and the old “Here we come?”and “Where’re you from?” an acting game with two teams. Our school ground and vacant lots near by were of gravel, small stones and sand very hard on shoes. No one I ever saw had new shoes until after the old one had been re-soled re-healed and had had other mending.

Fairly early in school life, we played “Prisoners Base,” and “Duck on the Rack,” and often, on windy, sunny days, a group, or more than one group, would find a sheltered nook and would listen to an older girl read a fairy tale. Few of us had access to many books, but we knew most of the favorite stories by heart and would tell them to each other.

It was not an “under-privileged” childhood, though it was far from exciting. We always had lots of singing, in school and out. We even sang the multiplication tables to a catchy tune.

We were brought up with the Santa Claus myth, and I was not curious or nosey, so everything that appeared on Christmas morning was pure magic and did not “clash” with the Santa story, though we had no fireplace or chimney for the saint to come down in.

My memories of Christmas dart from one time to another, so I’ll not attempt to give you any chronicled impressions so as to make incidents “historical.” I do know that, until I was nine, it seems to have been habitual that we had stockings hung from a shelf, most times, and chairs placed beneath. The stockings were filled with an orange, an apple, some nuts, hard candies and a few small toys. We had no tree till the year I was eight. That winter we spent in Kansas and had many experiences.

From the time I was quite small, the chief Christmas preparations were at the churches. The children were drilled in songs and recitations, the mothers and older girls would meet in back rooms, make socks of red “mosquito bar,” fill them with fruit nuts and candies, pop corn and make long strings of it for hanging and also made strings of raw cranberries. The men and boys set up a big tree and brought in loads of juniper branches and helped cut out card board letters to be covered with the evergreens, strung and tacked on the wall; “PEACE ON EARTH,” etc. After school we girls who could use needles well, helped string popcorn and cranberries and sew the greenery to the cardboard letters. (This all used a great many afternoons, not very long sessions, however, for mothers had to get home to start supper. Anyway, dark came early and we had only “coal oil” lamps and candles.)

Religion was very important to me growing up. I regularly attended the First Baptist Church in Salida. In fact, the church and I grew up together; construction on the church started in 1883 and the core building was finished in 1885. I attended Sunday school as a youngster and later taught some of the classes. As a teenager I was active in the Baptist for Young People’s Union and served as president several times. Massive remodeling of the church building occurred between 1897 and 1912, a period corresponding to some personal “remodeling of my religious views, as a young adult. My dears, you will have to decide whether my early religious experiences provided the strong foundation that helped me through the very troubled times that were coming.

I graduated from Salida High School at the age of 16 on May 23, 1897 with five other young ladies. Our ceremony was held at the Salida Opera House and I was selected to give the salutatory address. I had written a “History of the Class of ’97” and got to present that also. Speaking of writing, the only other “significant” piece of writing that I can remember from my high school years is a short paper on the history of the exploration of a local mountain range, “The Story of the Sangre de Cristo.” Bruce, I think your Mother probably has a copy of these two “important” writings if you are ever interested. Anyway, thinking back on it, I don’t remember writing any poetry; I guess my verses were still to come.

After completing high school, I started at the University of Colorado in Liberal Arts. My life in Salida and my experience teaching Sunday School there had convinced me to become a teacher of young children. So after a lot of hard work, I finally achieved my teaching credentials and in 1903 found myself teaching grade school in Liberty, Colorado, a small mining camp located a few miles south of Salida. My dear grandchildren, the best part of my life was about to begin.


Ines graduated from the new Salida High School at the age of 16 on May 23, 1897. (Courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely, 1892)

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

Next Time: Meeting My Lover – Little Jack Fraser

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