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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Deer Trail Old Timers

Joe and I spent the weekend in Byers to celebrate grandson Evan's 5th birthday and attend the 65th Annual Deer Trail Old Timers' Banquet. The Old Timers are those who have lived within a 50 mile radius of Deer Trail for at least 45 years. We get together to visit with old friends, reminisce about Deer Trail's history, sing and listen to old songs, and memorialize those we have lost in the past year; this year Joe's brother, Richard, was one of those who passed away and we were given a red rose in his honor.

Deer Trail is a very small town about 52 miles east of Denver on I-70 where Joe and I spent the first 3 years of our marriage operating the Deer Trail Auto Parts & Hardware Store. We lived upstairs in the back of the building. After commuting for 5 years from Boulder to my job with the City of Englewood, it was nice only having to go down the stairs to work. It was also a cataclysmic culture shock moving from cosmopolitan Boulder to boondocks Deer Trail.

At the time we were there the town was dying on the vine because everyone could work and shop in the Denver metro area, commuting easily on the Interstate highway. Our store, the Jolly Grocery next door, an artist studio on the other side, a bar just a couple of lots east and 2 antique stores were the only occupied commercial building along Main Street, which pre Interstate was US Highway 40, the major route from coast to coast through Colorado.

Frequent I-70 travelers know this area of Colorado as where you are apt to be stranded by a blizzard in the winter. This is also Colorado's thunderstorm and tornado alley. I always told Joe that nature did not like people out there on the plains.

Before the 1965 flood of the East Bijou Creek, at the same time as the major Platte River flood in Denver, Deer Trail was a thriving town serving the surrounding ranches and wheat farms (think in the terms of sections instead of acres when considering the size of these farms) with several grocery stores and banks as well as any other shopping you could need to do. Denver was a lot further away in those days and the locals didn't just run over there casually.

Deer Trail began life as a stage stop and trading post for those heading to Denver in the 1859 "Pikes Peak or Bust" Gold Rush operated by an old mountain man and scout who was a friend of Kit Carson's. It didn't take long for some of the Gold Rushers to decide that the same grass that fed so many buffalo could also nourish cattle which were so desparately needed to feed the prospectors and miners. Soon after the Civil War cattlemen began driving cattle up from Texas and founded some large ranches in the area.
Deer Trail's claim to fame is as the home of the first official rodeo in the United States, held on July 4th, 1869, and documented at the Colorado Springs Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. There is still an active rodeo ground in Deer Trail and next weekend it will be the site of a Little Britches Rodeo. This first rodeo is even listed as one of the 3 interesting things about Colorado on the Woman Challenge website this year.

When we lived in Deer Trail some of the old ranchers were still hosting a Fourth of July Chuck Wagon Dinner each year, using an authentic wagon that had been used during roundups at one of the local ranches. As well as the local residents many rodeo cowboys and clowns and Baxter Black, a nationally known cowboy poet, would attend. I have posted some of my old photos of one of these dinners on July 4, 1987 to show what it looked like. I don't know if the dinners are still being done since so many of the old ranchers have passed on; there just aren't very many cowboys who took part in the old roundups still around to supervise and teach how it was done.

We were sorry to see on our visit that none of the stores are still operating and even the bar has closed. Main Street is just a long line of empty commercial buildings. One of the old store buildings, that Joe used to store stuff in, has collapsed; probably because of the heavy snows this past winter. The only operating businesses are a couple of service stations and a small ice cream shop close to the I-70 interchange. We were surprised to find a new single street subdivision with several new houses on the west side of town. Deer Trail is now mostly a bedroom community for the Denver metro area.

I've never regretted moving here from Deer Trail, (I was a fish out of water there) but I do love the history and cowboy culture, and found, while living there, that the plains do have their own kind of beauty; and some of the people, such as Dutch Venter, the Editor and Publisher of the local newspaper, are fascinating to talk to.

Ralph Stuchlik, husband of one of Joe's paternal cousins, at 91, was the oldest man in attendance who was born within 50 miles of Deer Trail. This photo was taken by his daughter a few years ago before he was required to use a wheelchair.


Deborah said...

Looks like a lot of fun.

Susan Ramey Cleveland said...

Sounds like you had a fun weekend. Love the pics.

Allison Ann Aller said...

Sweet and vanishing brings to mind what is happening south of you on I25, in Wagon Mound, New Mexico. There are still ranchers hanging on, but the way of life is harder and harder to maintain.
Thanks for yet another great post, Fran!

Rian said...

Another great story, Fran. Life and the landscape continually evolves and changes, doesn't it. For better or for worse.

Marsaili said...

That was a great story, Fran. It's sad to see communities just die out. I hope you had a nice time, it certainly looked fun!

Kay said...

Thanks for that post--it's so interesting for me, someone who has only whizzed by on I-70, to hear about real life in that area, even if things are different now.