Did Mothers On Wagon Trains Rebel At Denver?

Published 9:20 am Thursday, July 23, 2015

DENVER — They had bumped along in their Conestoga wagons for a thousand miles over the prairie, surviving Indian attacks, thieves, cholera and dysentery. They had slept under the stars, eaten camp food, washed their clothes in streams, forded dangerous rivers and endured terrible weather and unimaginable hardships.

When the wagon trains got here a 10,000-foot wall of snow-covered mountains loomed in front of them.

That’s when, I imagine, some women in those wagons rebelled and said, “Enough. We stop here. We’re going no further.”

There’s no other suitable explanation for why 1.8 million people live here.

Denver is the Mile High City, and I had always wrongly assumed it was a mountainous town. It is flatter than Winston-Salem even though 4,000 feet higher in elevation. It is at the western edge of the prairie just before a monster wall of mountains forms.

Elizabeth and I spent five days here last month trying to take in as much of Colorado as possible. We watched the Rockies baseball team lose. We sampled the beers. We saw the new class of cadets marching at the United States Air Force Academy. We walked the streets of Golden, home of Coors beer. We drove through ski country and ate lunch at the mountaintop hippie town of Nederland that seemed lost in the 1960s — one of the first towns in Colorado to adopt medicinal marijuana sales.

Marijuana is sold at seedy-looking stores bearing a Green Cross — painted identical to the Red Cross.

We’re grandparents. We didn’t sample, but there were plenty of homeless sorts in Denver who looked like they had. Marijuana is good for tourism, but the pot-smoking tourists seem to be establishing themselves as permanent residents of the streets and bumming about downtown.

We visited the grave of Buffalo Bill Cody atop Lookout Mountain with a beautiful view of Golden and Denver. He was one of my boyhood heroes. We toured a museum near his grave and learned that North Carolina was his last tour for his Wild West Show before he died in 1917. He performed in Winston-Salem in and Salisbury in 1916 and a number of other spots along the railroads through the state. A tour of North Carolina in 1901 ended in tragedy near Lexington. A freight train crashed into one of the tour’s trains of animals, killing 110 horses and seriously injuring celebrated sharp-shooter Annie Oakley.

The old buffalo hunter, scout and Pony Express rider found his ultimate calling as a showman, playing before the Queen of England and a host of European royalty.

Buffalo Bill’s grave is made of stone, protected by a wrought iron fence.

We saw the gold-gilded Colorado capitol dome.

In the Rocky Mountains National Park above 10,000 feet I stood by a bank of melting snow higher than my head. Temperatures were in the 50s — a kind relief from our own sweltering heat.

• • • • •

I’ve found two green tomatoes in the back yard this week — both half eaten and apparently dropped from the branches of a maple tree. I didn’t plant tomatoes this spring, but my neighbor did. Now squirrels are grabbing them and picnicking in the trees.

Smarter squirrels would wait until the tomatoes ripen.