In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with historian and rancher Suzy Kelly.
Suzy is a local historian and nearly lifelong resident of the Arkansas Valley here in Colorado. She holds a wealth of knowledge on the history of the area, and has built a legacy of preservation as a founding board member of the local Heritage Museum for the past nearly 50 years.
Adams asks about some of the local stories Suzy knows, just as she learned many of them by asking those who could tell the stories before her. They talk about Buena Vista, Colo., landmarks like the historic courthouse and McGinnis Gym, and Cockeyed Liz’s brothel, which still stands today, on Main Street. They talk about change during Suzy’s decades living here.
Suzy shares some of her personal story, too, like how her father’s World War II experience fighting in the Alps led him to move his family from Iowa to the mountains of Colorado when he returned home. Among other things.
SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.
Buena Vista (Colo.) Heritage Museum
We Are Chaffee
Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service. Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.
[Intro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams (00:17): Welcome to We are Chaffee Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community and wellbeing based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams.
Today I'm talking with Suzy Kelly, a local historian and nearly lifelong resident of the Arkansas Valley here in Colorado. She holds a wealth of knowledge on the history that is here, and no doubt has cultivated a legacy of preservation in the area as a founding board member of the Local Heritage Museum for the past nearly 50 years.
When I are my family or any of the thousands and thousands and thousands of annual visitors to our town and mountain trails encounter history kiosks, that's the signs and storyboards that tell us of the past here, it's in large part due to Suzy Kelly installing those opportunities for us. It's so that those of us who now use this land for hiking and biking and so on, so that we know whose footsteps we're walking in and what stories we are adding to.
(01:15):I ask about some of the local stories that Suzy knows just as she learned many of them by asking those who could tell the stories before her. We talk about landmarks like the historic courthouse and McGinnis Gym, and Cockeyed Liz's Brothel, which still stands today on Main Street.
I get to learn some of Suzy's personal history too, like how her dad, who returned home from fighting in the Alps during World War II, returned to Iowa with dreams of living in the mountains. So he packed up his family and left everyone else they knew behind to move to Colorado.
Suzy would end up marrying Bryce Kelly, and she's lived most of her life at the Kelly Ranch, land where it's thought that there might well be significant stories connecting that land with the indigenous Ute tribe and Chief Ure from long before. Naturally, we talk about change too, in general, change over the years that Suzy has lived here. But change of course can be difficult and it can even be a hot button issue in a place like this where so much change is happening and has a history of happening.
(02:17): Admittedly, I'm part of the newest wave of change in this place in recent years. The Arkansas Valley and Colorado at large, it's simply a dynamic place with a lot of history, a lot of change, and there's only so much that can be covered in this one hour of talking with Suzy, of course. So I ask her if she has thought of having her own history focused podcast, a way of capturing it.
In turn, she gives me a tip about successful podcasting. I think it could be said that this show, the conversations that I get to have with so many people like Suzy is a time capsule of the history here. I'd like to think that we are capturing stories and topics of interest in this time and place from the people who build and share lives here for the time being and that we're all part of it.
(03:06): Okay, now really quickly before we dive into this conversation, I want to remind any of you who are listening to Looking Upstream on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, that five star ratings and enthusiastic positive reviews are incredibly helpful for this community building podcast, and so is telling your friends and your coworkers and family members about it. Thank you in advance for helping us to keep building on the momentum that we have going and helping us to keep growing the good in our community through these conversations.
Now it's time. Here we go, talking with Suzy Kelly.
[Transition music, guitar instrumental]
(03:51): Welcome to Looking Upstream, Suzy,
Suzy Kelly (03:53): Thank you.
Adam Williams (03:54): My understanding is that you are the go-to person in this area for history.
Suzy Kelly (03:58): Yes, I am.
Adam Williams (03:59): Okay, so you're comfortable with that. I was afraid that I might ... I didn't know if I'd embarrass you or if that's something that you embrace and you feel proud of.
Suzy Kelly (04:06): I am proud of it because I've done it for 50 years and I have a lot of history in my head.
Adam Williams (04:12): Well, I'm glad that we have a chance here to learn about you, but also learn about that history. And let's start with your own early history. You grew up in Iowa in your early years, right?
Suzy Kelly (04:22): Right. I was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1941. My father fought in the Second World War, and while he was gone to the war, he served in the Alps at Hitler's Eagles Nest, and he was at the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. He came back to Iowa and said, "Oh, I'd like to live in the mountains," and my mother wasn't interested in moving to the Alps, so they came to Colorado to look around and ended up settling in BV.
Adam Williams (04:47): Okay. So what was he doing in Iowa before the war, and then what did he do when he came out to Colorado?
Suzy Kelly (04:53): He was a meat cutter at Tobin Meat packing company in Fort Dodge, and they had moved to a little town pioneer and they had a grocery store, gas station, filling station thing. And after about, well, it was 1949 when they moved out here, so he'd got home from the war in 45. So in four or five years he didn't like what he was doing, and because he had wanted the mountains, that's why they ended up coming out here.
Adam Williams (05:20):Was that a rare thing you think in that time and place to change life based on something like that? As opposed to such a practical idea as, "I need to follow where the work is," or something like that, or, "That's where our family is." Instead it's like-
Suzy Kelly (05:36): No, he left all the family, his parents and my mother's parents and all the brothers sisters, and they moved to Colorado because he wanted to live in the mountains.
Adam Williams (05:46): It's a lifestyle change.
Suzy Kelly (05:47): It certainly was.
Adam Williams (05:49): Which seemed, I guess my question is coming from a place of thinking that lifestyle was not necessarily even a term back then, let alone a concept to say, "You know what? I'm uprooting my family. I'm taking my kids, and we're going because that's the life I want."
Suzy Kelly (06:01): I had a sister who was, I was seven, a sister that was five, and a little brother that was one, and he just packed us all up, and the Iowa relatives who helped load our furniture and so forth in a farm truck said, "They're crazy. What are they doing?" So yes, the people in Iowa thought he was crazy.
Adam Williams (06:22): Do you have any memories of your early years there in Iowa before coming to the mountains?
Suzy Kelly (06:27): Yes. When they had the little grocery store, I remember riding bikes with another girl. I remember going to a school that had probably, it was only first through sixth grade. There were probably 10 kids in my class there. Of course, it didn't improve a lot when I got here. There were only 12 in my class, and I do remember the flatness and all the big corn fields and so forth, but I'm really glad we moved to Colorado. I love Iowa and all their corn, but I don't want to live there.
Adam Williams (07:00): Have you gotten back very much? Are there still family members that you'd like to go see?
Suzy Kelly (07:03): Yes, there's still family, cousins and family reunions about every three or four years.
Adam Williams (07:08): Are you from that strange family within the bigger family network that left? Are you viewed differently?
Suzy Kelly (07:16): Oh, absolutely. No, I don't know. Well, yes, I had on my mom's side, she had a brother who moved to Oregon, so I guess he was an outlier too.
Adam Williams (07:25): Okay. About your dad and his World War II service, what was it that was his role? His function in, was it army?
Suzy Kelly (07:33): He was in the rainbow division of the army, a foot soldier. He landed in Marseille, France and fought all the way up through France and into Germany, and then he was at the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, which really affected his mind and his outlook on the world.
And then he was up at Eagle's Nest where Hitler had his hideout, and I think it was a very traumatic thing, and in those days, as he said, they brought him home on a ship, landed in New York, gave him a bus ticket to wherever they were going home to, and $5. And of course, nobody heard of PTSD, but I'm sure all those World War II veterans had it.
Adam Williams (08:17): Did they use, I think the term shellshock at some point in our history, which might've related to the same thing? It's just it's a man who's affected by whatever happened in the war.
Suzy Kelly (08:26): Yep, I would say so.
Adam Williams (08:28): Do you feel like he ... Well, let me ask it this way. Was he open about those stories? Do you remember him sharing what it was that was traumatic and difficult about those experiences?
Suzy Kelly (08:40): Not a word. Because I'm a historian now, of course, when I was eight, nine, 10 years old, but he never talked about it. The only thing that happened is he had a little Brownie camera, those little square Brownie cameras, and he took a lot of pictures and especially at the Dachau concentration camp.
And when you looked at those, and of course being a 10-year-old who snuck in the closet and found them, they're traumatic when you're 10, to actually be there I can't imagine that it didn't warp his personality. And I think it made him become an alcoholic. You got to get that out of your head some way.
Adam Williams (09:24): The way of trying to numb and deal with what we now call PTSD, when I don't even know what they did with soldiers back then, other than expect them to just shake it off. I don't know.
Suzy Kelly (09:35): Well, I know they didn't offer anything that I know of that he was able to get.
Adam Williams (09:40): Do you still have those photographs?
Suzy Kelly (09:42): Oh gosh, I'm so upset. My mother, after my dad was killed riding a motorcycle, she cleaned out that closet and months, a year later, I said, "Mom, remember those pictures?" And she said, "You weren’t supposed to see those." And I said, "Well, I did and I'd like to have them," and this is when I'm 25, 27 years old, and she said, "I took them all to the dump because that's what made him become an alcoholic."
Adam Williams (10:06): Wow, okay. And especially like you're saying now as a historian to have been able to have-
Suzy Kelly (10:12): Oh, that history.
Adam Williams (10:13): ... looked at that, I feel like that's a lost opportunity for some of us. Like myself, I'm interested in history and I would've appreciated getting to know something of his story, but I also understand that, one that's difficult for anybody to share.
Suzy Kelly (10:26): Well, some people do and some people don't, and some of them eventually do. I had an uncle, my mom's brother-in-law I guess he was, he was in the war and years later when he was 80, he talked about it. So if my dad had lived beyond 54, maybe he would've mellowed and talked about it, but we'll never know.
Adam Williams (10:46): Yeah. Okay. Well, so then the family moves to Colorado, and how did life change for you then? What were some of the early memories that you remember as a child not too long after having come out here, other than you mentioned your school class size?
Suzy Kelly (11:02): They bought the motel, Pinon Court on the highway, which is still there, but all that's left is the home because part of it burned and then the rest was torn down, so it's still sitting there, and we moved into that motel, I think it was in October, and we started cleaning cabins and taking care of the motel, and guess what we never heard?
The railroad tracks were a block away, and that train went by four or five times a day all night long, either freight train or passenger trains. So took a little adjusting after living near Iowa cornfields to hear the train. I do remember, and then years later, you didn't even think about it. The train went by and all the people in town have no idea what it was like to have that many trains up and down this valley all the time.
Adam Williams (11:53): Is that a key piece of what the history here has been, if I understand that right? With Leadville to our north, we had mining history and in other areas out here, of course, but I feel like what I have read of history right around us here, that passageway for miners and supplies and things like that seemed to be a key component. Am I understanding that right?
Suzy Kelly (12:18): Well, BV was the home of three railroads. In 1880 we had the Denver South Park and Pacific come in, I think February, and then in May the Rio Grande whose tracks are still here. Then after that, eight years later, the Colorado Midland came, and that's the train, the tracks were up on the hill, on Midland Hill. If you go across the river on the Whipple Bridge and then up on the trail, you'll go up to that train.
Adam Williams (12:48): I've been up there. I've run and biked that so many hours and miles, and I got to tell you, one of my favorite things is to go to what now it would be the end of County Road 304, the Midland Trail, where the train tracks would've been, what, a hundred or so years ago. But there's no longer that bridge there, and there's a kiosk presenting some of the history where you can read it, and I've read that many times, just to revisit that.
Suzy Kelly (13:15): Yes.
Adam Williams (13:15): You were involved in those, right?
Suzy Kelly (13:16): I helped them get that history. Yeah.
Adam Williams (13:17): Right. Okay.
Suzy Kelly (13:18): Yeah, that was a wonderful trestle. That's called a trestle that goes across, because it's high wooden trestle. It's like a bridge, but it's supported all around and they of course tore that down. They tore most of the tracks up for the steel in them at the start of the second World War because they wanted the steel, so they took the tracks up from the Midland and the Denver South Park went up towards St. Elmo and then up through the alpine tunnel of the Gunnison, so that rail was all hauled out for the war effort.
Adam Williams (13:53): Tell me about Lenhardy Cutoff. I don't know much about that other than, again, my engagement with it is one, there's a lot of ATVs out there enjoying the space, out in four mile area. I go out there and I run, and I again ride bike and whatever. What was the history of that? Because again, it was a passageway, I believe, through this area. What was that history?
Suzy Kelly (14:16): Well, somebody named Len Hardy made that trail that came out of South Park and came down. This was before anything down Trout Creek, this is before all the railroads. The Len Hardy cutoff came down, and there is a place, I don't know if it's still there, but you can see the abutments where the bridge for the Len Hardy cutoff came across the Arkansas River, and that was one of the very first trails down into the valley.
Adam Williams (14:43): What was it people used that for? Where were they trying to connect getting to?
Suzy Kelly (14:46): If you're moving to this valley, because they thought it was a great place to grow crops, the first people who settled here were more ranchers, farmer kind of people. The mining didn't start until later. There were people coming in here in 1864, 1869, and they were farmers, ranchers. Look at all the ranches that are still here, and some of them are actual descendants of some of the first people who came.
Adam Williams (15:11): Wow, that's a long time. We're talking 160 or so years there. Your family has, I would've considered it to be a pretty lengthy history here as well. You mentioned coming out here in 1949 to this area. You live on a ranch that, how long have you been there now?
Suzy Kelly (15:27): I've been there 65 years. I married into the Kelly family. It's their ranch. Only I'm the only one left now and my son.
Adam Williams (15:36): Okay.
Suzy Kelly (15:37): Who are ranching, and my two daughters.
Adam Williams (15:39): So you were fairly young then when you got married, it sounds like.
Suzy Kelly (15:39): 18.
Adam Williams (15:45): Okay. And moved to that ranch?
Suzy Kelly (15:48): No, went to college. Went to school at Western State and then taught school. He taught school in Monument, Colorado, and then we moved to Salida where he was a State Farm agent for four years. Then we moved back to help on the ranch, and he started teaching because ranching doesn't make a lot of money.
Adam Williams (16:12): And this was your husband, Bryce?
Suzy Kelly (16:13): Bryce Kelly, yeah.
Adam Williams (16:13): Okay.
Suzy Kelly (16:13): From the Kelly family.
Adam Williams (16:16): Okay. If we go back to some more of this history, let's go back to when you referred to having started school here, graduating class of 12. I think that you were familiar with the McGinnis gym that is now under renovation with Rick Beaterman and Katie Welter from Watershed Ranch leading that, which I had them on this podcast before, so we got to touch on that some then. I wonder what your experience or memories or just plain knowledge of the history of that gym and its place in this community might be?
Suzy Kelly (16:46): When the building was built for the Chaffee County Courthouse it was deeded by the Buena Vista Land Trust as a county courthouse, or it had to be used for a nonprofit. So a courthouse, a school, a museum. It couldn't be a business. The courthouse, the election in 1928, Chaffee County was split because there were more people in Salida and they voted to move the county seat to Salida.
Salida didn't have a courthouse, so the county seat stayed here until 1934 until they got their courthouse built. When they got the courthouse in 1928 was the election, when they got the courthouse, the building was available, so they sold it to the school district, BV school district for a dollar and for the dollar the BV school district took it over, but there was no gym.
All the school was in that courthouse the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grades, downstairs upstairs was the high school. So they started basketball teams and they had to practice upstairs in the Orpheum Theater on Main Street, that big building.
Adam Williams (17:59): Okay, yeah.
Suzy Kelly (18:00): That's where they practiced, and then in 1934, they got probably a grant and help from the government and the WPA Boys, Work Progress Administration, they came in and they built that gym. We've got pictures at the museum of these big girders that they were using on the gym, getting off the Rio Grande train to take them down to behind the school where they built the gym. So they built the gym, and that was a big thing in this valley, in this whole town, there was nothing big enough to have a big crowd of people for any event.
Adam Williams (18:43): A community event, pot luck dinner, anything.
Suzy Kelly (18:44): Yeah, lots of big events were held there besides just basketball games, and the school used it for everything. They put a stage on the end, not right away, but they did add a stage, so we had theater productions in the gym. But in 1951, I think I found the record where they got the ceiling put in the gym, an acoustic ceiling, so it dropped the roof. The roof was that curved roof. Well, that's very bad for acoustics if you're doing a production.
Adam Williams (19:19): Okay.
Suzy Kelly (19:19): Well, they put the ceiling in, then you could do stage productions and performances.
Adam Williams (19:26): How long was it in use until the state that it's in now that is now being renovated?
Suzy Kelly (19:31): It was used until about maybe 15 years ago. The school was still using it, but it was in pretty bad shape. The bathrooms are in bad shape. Well, Katie and Rick probably told you some of that, that they've had to do a lot of renovation, but the school used it. The elementary school used it until they built the gym that they have now.
Adam Williams (19:55): The town population I assume was smaller.
Suzy Kelly (19:58): We moved here in 1949, the story was that there were 700 people from Nathrop to Granite, including BV, and there were probably 500 people in town and 50 people in Granite and 60 in ... There just wasn't, there were no population things like the Young Life ranches, like Adventure Unlimited. None of that was here. There were ranches and the towns, and that was all. It's changed so much in my 75 years. It's hard to believe.
Adam Williams (20:37): I'm trying to imagine what it would've been like then when the gym would've been such a community gathering place and the reasons that it would've been needed for a town of that population and where it was at that time. Obviously, a lot has changed, and I do want to talk about that with you. Was tourism a big part of things then? I'm thinking not so much so.
Suzy Kelly (21:00):
Well, the first coast to Coast Highway was the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway, which started in New York and went to Los Angeles. It came through Colorado Springs, across South Park, down Trout Creek, and then through BV. And when it came, the highway into town was the back road from Johnson's Village that goes behind the prison, comes into BV on Court Street, turns and come down Main Street two blocks, and then turns and goes north at the Simple Eatery, that Colorado State garage building.
Adam Williams (21:36): Yeah.
Suzy Kelly (21:37): So that was the highway. In 1934, the highway department had expanded. It was beyond the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean, and 24 came and they put the highway where it is now in town, and it was two lane. The Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway was a dirt road.
Adam Williams (21:57): So obviously they've added in some highways, some lanes, some all kinds of things. We have traffic lights now. When did the first traffic light go in here?
Suzy Kelly (22:05): The first traffic light was probably, it was a funny traffic light. All it did is stop the main street traffic. The highway was always free, but there was a stop sign and it was one pillared stop light set in the middle of the street that went off and on, and we've got pictures of a couple people leaning up against this in 1940 or whenever it was.
Adam Williams (22:31): This is at the Heritage Museum, is that where you are referring to?
Suzy Kelly (22:35): Right. I'm a founding member of the Heritage Museum.
Adam Williams (22:39): I do think we want to mention that people can go there and learn a lot of these things too. What is there, by the way? I guess we'll digress for a minute. What should people go there and what are they able to see, and what all have you collected in our history here?
Suzy Kelly (22:50): In 1974 when the school district said, "We can't use this building for a school," because they had looked, the fire department, the state I believe said, "This building is not safe for a school anymore." And they had built their new schools, they built elementary school, the first one in '54 and then a larger one, and they built the high school.
So in '74, they no longer were going to use it. So the school district talked about tearing it down, and that's what I heard. And so my husband and I immediately started a group to try and save the courthouse. Can you imagine if they'd torn that building down? What a heartbreaker.
Adam Williams (23:33): Well, and it's attached. It's the McGinnis gym again. In all of this history that we're talking about-
Suzy Kelly (23:39): It all ties together.
Adam Williams (23:41): And the community. Yeah, there's so much richness there.
Suzy Kelly (23:44): So anyhow, the courthouse became the school, and when it wasn't the school it had to go to a governmental or a nonprofit. It couldn't go to somebody to make it a hotel, for instance. So the school district sold it to the town of BV for $1. This dollar is great back and forth because then in 2003, the Heritage Museum was voted by the town of BV citizens to sell that building to the Heritage Museum for a dollar. So we have the dollar framed at the museum that we paid for the building.
Adam Williams (24:24): What is it about $1?
Suzy Kelly (24:26): Well, because it couldn't be sold to make a profit, because it was the land. If the land is not used for these nonprofit government things or a museum or whatever, they will revert the land back to the original owners who are long dead since it was 160 years ago. But you could probably find a descendant. So if it doesn't stay in this venue, then it could go back to the family.
Adam Williams (24:53): So it's about making it a simple transaction that clearly you can't profit from.
Suzy Kelly (24:58): Probably, and then of course, not only do you buy it for a dollar, but you have all the responsibility for it too.
Adam Williams (25:04): Oh, of course. Sure. And especially this case with the renovation and things, there's a lot that has to be invested there, but I'm sure there has been all along the way.
Suzy Kelly (25:12): When we got the building in 1974, the school had quit using it for that winter before, '73, and so it was abandoned and the pipes in the hot water heat had froze because they didn't think about, "Oh, got to keep the furnace going.: So the floors were warped and wet because radiators cracked and leaked. They were these great big radiators you could sit on. You've seen them in old buildings. There's still a couple of them at the museum you can see, we don't use them.
(25:42): So the floors had to be sanded and fixed, and one of the ceilings had collapsed because of the water on it. So when we got it, there was a lot of work just to make it usable. We got it in November and by spring we had a couple of rooms available and other people had collected things over the years, and so when they heard we were going to have a museum, they called me or somebody in the organization and said, "We'd like to give this." And that's how we still get things is from anybody who has collected them or, "Found these pictures in grandpa's trunk when I cleaned it out."
Adam Williams (26:21): Right.
Suzy Kelly (26:21): I love getting all those old pictures.
Adam Williams (26:23): I would think that would be exciting and fun.
Suzy Kelly (26:25): It is.
Adam Williams (26:26): So here's something really interesting and unexpected. I have my grandmother's, she's no longer with us, but I have her old photographs that slide film and things from a certain era and travel logs, and what I was surprised to discover is that she actually passed through BV in 1967, in 1971. Now, her travel logs, they were not narrative journal entries.
They were not storytelling in any sense. It's little notations about gas prices and maybe where they went and viewed something or ate lunch or just very simple stuff. So I'm wondering if you can help fill in a little bit of color to that story of what she might've seen on their way through. They did not stay the night or anything I don't believe, they just passed through, unfortunately, on their way to Aspen or something. But what might she have seen had she hung out for a day at that time, around 1970, give or take?
Suzy Kelly (27:21): Well, the town was pretty much as it is now, not near as much building of course. All this building has happened in the last 10 years, but the highway at the time, I think it was up to four lanes by then. It was two lanes for a long time, two lane traffic, but when they expanded it, they had to move some of the buildings to make it four lane. In fact, they moved what was our library and our community building, which was on the corner at the stoplight. A log building, had the library in one side and a community room on the other, and they sold it to, not Deer Valley, Adventure Unlimited, the Christian Science camp up north of town.
Adam Williams (27:21): Okay.
Suzy Kelly (28:06): I think that our old library is now their lunchroom. Somebody told me, I haven't gone to visit it. So when they came through, it would've looked much like it does now. There were the motels, most of the motels on the highway were there.
Adam Williams (28:21): Okay. She did mention having passed the boys reformatory, which now would be the prison.
Suzy Kelly (28:26): Yeah. It's the Colorado State Prison.
Adam Williams (28:28): Right.
Suzy Kelly (28:29): Colorado Correctional Facility.
Adam Williams (28:31): Sure. It's interesting that she noted that. Like I just said, she didn't tell a lot, but she noted that that was here, and I wonder if they just didn't even turn into town to see what else was here.
Suzy Kelly (28:45): Might not have, they probably came right on down the highway. They were going north towards Leadville or even North and then turning off to go to Aspen. Yeah.
Adam Williams (28:53): Considering my family roots are from Missouri, from the Midwest, from some different areas there over different times, it is pretty cool to me to live out here and realize that at least my grandmother had come through.
Suzy Kelly (28:53): Came through.
Adam Williams (29:05): And she'd made note of it. And so it's always had me curious, well, what did she see? So I'm glad we have that connection.
Suzy Kelly (29:12): Well, opinion court was there, so she could have stopped and rented a cabin from my mother.
Adam Williams (29:17): That would've been amazing. Okay, so we're talking a lot about change already. Let's maybe go more directly into that. You have been here and seen so much. What are some things in particular that stand out? I'm sure it was change, sometimes there are things you might like and appreciate and some things you might not. Do you have any thoughts either way or all around that change? What has that been for you?
Suzy Kelly (29:42): When we moved here, Main Street wasn't even paved.
Adam Williams (29:45): Okay.
Suzy Kelly (29:46): It was a dirt road down Main Street, so when they paved Main Street, it was a great celebration. The post office has moved about one, two, three, four times since I've been here. As the town has grown, they've needed more postal service. There's always been a little controversy that you get the mail at the post office. And many years ago, recently we had all this controversy about the post office and 10, 15 years ago, they did a survey which said most people wanted to get their mail at the post office because then you see your friends and visit.
Adam Williams (30:24): Oh, okay.
Suzy Kelly (30:25): But I'm not sure if that was a very accurate poll because there are elderly people who would be much better off if they could get their mail delivered, but we do not have mail delivery. I think there is a special thing you can do if you are elderly or can't get out, because I know a few people who get their mail delivered.
Adam Williams: Directly to their house you mean?
Suzy Kelly: Right, right.
Adam Williams (30:49): As opposed to where I have it is a neighborhood collection.
Suzy Kelly: Right.
Adam Williams: It's a cluster of boxes.
Suzy Kelly: But are you in the city limits or outside?
Adam Williams: Inside.
Suzy Kelly: Inside. So they've done that.
Adam Williams: So you're really talking about people who maybe are out on ranches or live out-
Suzy Kelly (31:02): No, ranchers have always gotten their mail. Ranches can get their mail delivered if they have a rural route, and most of them did not because we still drove to town. When this controversy started, I was told to keep my post office box. I had to pay $212 a year, because I have a rural address, they will deliver free. Now there's a contradiction. They send their vehicle with their gas to bring my mail to me, but for me to come into town and get it and use my own gas, I can't do it without paying, so I get my mail delivered.
Adam Williams (31:42): Interesting. I had assumed that the PO boxes were for people who lived outside of the town limits.
Suzy Kelly (31:48): No, most of the post office boxes were rural city residents, rural routes, but most people got their mail at the post office. I don't even know if they had rural delivery when we first moved here.
Adam Williams (32:00): Yeah, okay.
Suzy Kelly: I'd have to ask some of the ranchers that, because I just started getting it, what, two years ago when they had all the controversy about the post office.
Adam Williams: Well, I don't know how much mail you would've gotten decades ago anyway, compared to so much of it is junk mail now.
Suzy Kelly: Well, you've got Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs to look for all your Christmas presents.
Adam Williams: Was that a big thing?
Suzy Kelly: Well, of course.
Adam Williams: Did you get excited as a kid to be able to look through such things?
Suzy Kelly (32:26): Oh, absolutely. Even as an adult looking for presents for your kids through those catalogs, because we did not have a Walmart. We had a grocery store, and the grocery store was where Crave is.
Adam Williams: Okay.
Suzy Kelly: With Crave Restaurant. That was–
Adam Williams: The corner of Railroad and Maine.
Suzy Kelly: Right. That was a grocery store.
Adam Williams: Okay. How many years has it been since the rail line, which still runs through town, has been here?
Suzy Kelly (32:52): The last passenger train came through in 1997, and it was a steam passenger train that they ran a special that you had to pay money. I don't know what it was, three or $400 probably to ride it. And we have pictures of it. It was a big event because everybody came down to watch the last train and then they had some freight trains that ran another four or five years and then nothing. For a long time they kept ... Do you really want all this history?
Adam Williams (33:23): I think history is great. I think a lot of people probably don't have insights to this, and if they're like me and they are on the newer side who's only been here for a few years, it's things like internet that make it possible for my family to come out and work remotely and to be able to afford to live here, honestly.
So there are a lot of us who are not in touch with a lot of that history. And if I haven't read it on the kiosks that you are partly responsible for installing around the trail system we have near town, then I can't say that I know a whole lot of our history, so absolutely. I think anything and everything you have to share about it, somebody will think, "Wow, I had no idea."
Suzy Kelly (33:58): That's probably true.
Adam Williams: So I appreciate your sharing.
Suzy Kelly (34:01): There's a lot of people who don't, but the trains quit running, but the government has ... This was the story 15, 20 years ago. They aren't tearing up the tracks. They aren't closing the line, except it hasn't been used. The first probably eight or 10 years, they ran a special train with a small engine or one of those hand car trains to check the tracks and the rails and see how things were. And they haven't done that I bet, in 10 years. So to reopen it, there would be a real job because probably half the ties are bad.
(34:40): So anyhow, the story from railroad people was they couldn't discontinue this rail because the government said, "If we ever need another route across the country," there's only three. There were three when ours closed down. That's only two. One in Arizona, one in Wyoming that goes from one shore to the other. One of the stories was, "But if we ever need to move troops across the country in a war, we need that train open."
Well, for crying out loud, that's a crazy reason. But they still have that. And they've talked, you've seen in the ... Well, you haven't been here that long. For a while, they were talking about running a train with shipping crude oil or something off and on, but the tracks, as I said, haven't been used. I can't imagine they could use them without spending a couple million dollars to make them usable.
Adam Williams (35:35): Right. I want to ask about some other history points. Again, I only know so many things, and one of them is I've heard that there's a brothel, an old brothel that was on Main Street. How true is that? What's the history or story of that, if you know?
Suzy Kelly: I don't know if I can tell you that without getting pretty angry.
Adam Williams (35:56): Okay. You're allowed to get angry if you do.
Suzy Kelly (36:00): The brothel on Main Street is now surrounded by two tall buildings. It's right on Main Street across from what used to be the Kayak and across in there. And it was a woman named Elizabeth Spurgeon who came to BV on the Rio Grande Terrain in, I don't know, 1890 or so. And she got off the train and had two trunks full of her clothing and her things, and she was dressed in a hat and very nice, dressed up.
And according to a woman that I knew whose mother was here when she got off the train, she said her mother and all the other women in town said, "She's got to be a madam because nobody has that many trunks of clothing." Anyhow, she came to town and she established the Palace Manor is what she called it. And she ran it from then until probably 1910, '12, something like that. She got married and she married a man named Alfonse Enderline.
Adam Williams (37:09): Okay.
Suzy Kelly (37:10): You sure you want all this history?
Adam Williams (37:10): I do.
Suzy Kelly (37:13): His name was Foozie Enderline. That was the name ... The fire department. He was on the fire department. It was the volunteer fire department. He was one of the volunteers, and they would have hose cart races to see if you could hook up the hose real fast and turn the fire hydrants. We did have fire hydrants and we had these hose carts that were on reels and the guys had to drag them and hook them up and turn the water on. And we had a lot of fires where the town burned.
And they were at a race, I believe it was Leadville. It could have been Fairplay because they would race their fire departments. And when he hooked the hose up, he didn't get it tight enough and when they turned the water on, it sprayed out and they lost that contest and they gave him the name Foozie because he foozled hooking up the hydrant. That's the story. Anyhow, after they married, she closed the brothel, but she had some rooms that she rented there.
Adam Williams (38:11): So how long was that open? I didn't catch the math along the way.
Suzy Kelly (38:15): Probably 30 years or so, 25 or 30 years.
Adam Williams (38:20): Who was it servicing? Just people passing through?
Suzy Kelly (38:23): No.
Adam Williams (38:24): Ranchers?
Suzy Kelly (38:25): Probably more miners. You said Leadville was a big mining, but we had a lot of mining in our area. We had 200 mines in this area. We had mines up on Trout Creek. We had mines in Cottonwood and Clear Creek. And big mines, some of them produced quite well.
Adam Williams (38:42): Okay.
Suzy Kelly (38:42): And so I don't know, I wasn't here. I don't know who she took care of, but she had two or three girls who worked for, so they must've been busy.
Adam Williams (38:53): I ask about it because I think of these, again, I came from the Midwest, and so it's stories, especially when you're thinking history, of course, I only have connection with stories, because I'm not old enough, but stories of Old West or Wild West and they conjure certain images. And it's in every movie I've ever seen or every story I've ever encountered, where there is a brothel along with a saloon and well, often those are connected in that case of how they're presented, at least in movies and things. So I'm just curious what history was going on here. And it's interesting to me that in fact was part of it.
Suzy Kelly (39:27): And the other ... Well, there were lots of men in town. You've got three railroads, building the railroads, you've got the crews building, laying the track, building the railroads, and then running the railroads. You have conductors and engineers and all those people on the train. So it was a busy area.
Adam Williams (39:46): I think. Switching gears here, I think we'd be remiss not to mention awareness that Ute Indians used to live here, indigenous people prior to this being settled, prior to all the things we are talking about. There are no descendants of those people now here in this area. Is that correct? As far as you know?
Suzy Kelly (40:06): Not that I know of. I have met a couple of Indians who've come through. Kelly Ranch, we're told, when they bought the ranch from the Nachtriebs, which is an old family and have, the town of Nathrop is named for the Nachtrieb, but nobody could say Nachtrieb but it's a good German name and it ended up Nathrop instead of Nachtrieb. So they are the ones who did Kelly's ranch and they told my husband's family, his parents that Chief Ure had a camp on that ranch because there's a natural spring where we all got our drinking water, our water that piped into the houses.
But for the Ute Indians, that was their spring and that Chief Ure had a summer camp. This is a good place to come from May through September maybe, but in the winter in those days, we got a lot of snow. So he used it for a summer camp and Nachtriebs who had the ranch digging a septic or a cesspool or something found an Indian woman that had been buried on the ranch.
Adam Williams (41:13): So your family's time here even very directly reaches to that history.
Suzy Kelly (41:19): And we did have a relative of Ure's, four or five generations down, spoke at the Turner Farm and he came out, I got him to come out to the ranch and showed him where they told us, and he said, "Well, it's a perfect spot. It's got all these green meadows, it's got a spring." But of course he wouldn't know. There's nobody left who would know.
Adam Williams (41:41): Right, okay.
Suzy Kelly (41:42): But the Indians were around here and Charles Nachtrieb, who was the founding member of the Nachtrieb Family, was the Indian agent at Nathrop at his ranch. And so in the early days in the 1870s, the Ute Indians came to him every year to get their commodities. They gave him blankets and flour and they stayed there and supposedly had a lot of pony races because Indians had great ponies and they stayed around that area where they got all their handouts.
Adam Williams (42:19): I think I had already told you that I had talked with Art Hutchinson as well on this podcast, and his family has a long history in this county as well.
Suzy Kelly (42:28): Oh yeah.
Adam Williams (42:29): And there was a relationship of some kind and knowledge of that history with Ute people who had been here, who would come through seasonally or whatever those interactions were. I wish so much that we could still talk with people who are descendants and get to learn that directly here on this podcast. So if you do encounter anyway for that to happen.
Suzy Kelly (42:51): Well, what's really sad is when I started doing all this history, this is 52 years ago or something, there were people in their eighties, like the lady who told me her mother saw Cockeyed Liz get off the train with her trunks, there was a lady, Louise Steele, whose family are old ranchers here, and the family name was Dey, D-E-Y, but she married a Steele.
Anyhow, she remembers her mother telling that Chief Collorow, who was one of the Ute chiefs that under Ouray and so on, that he would stop by and they loved her mother's biscuits and honey. They loved sweet things because the only sweet they would have would be the honey, but they loved the maple syrup or molasses or something that they could get on bread and they'd stop. And they never bothered any, any of the history I heard that there was anybody ever attacked or bothered except for them coming and asking for things, but no meanness or anything.
Adam Williams (44:04): Right. So those are the only stories I've heard so far. Again, referring to Art or to their family line's history is I guess positive interactions between everyone and sharing and business, commerce, whatever the case might've been. It sounds like there are plenty of stories, but we've lost a lot of those stories along the way.
Suzy Kelly (44:26): Yeah. Because most of those people are my age and they're dead. So what we didn't get, we aren't going to get.
Adam Williams (44:34): So it brings to mind for me, the question of, as someone who values history clearly, what is the value of history and our keeping these stories going and documenting them in whatever ways, like on a podcast, video, writing them down. How do we keep what we have and not lose more?
Suzy Kelly (44:53): Well, maybe the podcasts are a good idea. I haven't listened to very many of them. My brother did some recently, but some of the ones that I have tuned into, I'm thinking, "Who cares?" So you better be careful of who you do a podcast with so that it is interesting enough that people actually will listen to it.
Adam Williams (45:13): Have you considered doing one yourself to record history, to talk with people or share stories that you know?
Suzy Kelly (45:18): No, but I have had an offer for a man who does videography and he wants to take me around and let me tell him, because I could take you to all over this valley, even up to St. Elmo and tell you who lived there and where the train went and where the train wreck was. Because I have done this so long and I've read everything I can get my hands on, plus talking to all the old timers, but I don't know whether ... I think it would be important, I worry that this history's gone. I worry that there's not enough of us left for somebody to say, "Well, do you remember where Cottonwood Hot Springs was?"
Adam Williams (45:59): Right.
Suzy Kelly (45:59): And all that that I know. So I haven't decided if I'm going to do that or not.
Adam Williams (46:04): Are a lot of the stories that you can think back to, are they just passed down through oral history?
Suzy Kelly (46:11): Mostly. Although the BV Heritage organization, we did a history of Chaffee County book in 1982, so it only goes through '82, but it ties in three-fourths of the families that were in this valley, Salida, BV, Saint Elmo area. They wrote their family stories, which is like a podcast written out, their family stories and they are in this book.
And after we finished the book, all the ones who didn't said, "Ah, well, we didn't know you'd really get it done," or, "We didn't know it before." Now they're all wishing, because this is a lot of history. You can read about the Indians stopping at this ranch because the family wrote their stories in 1982. Think how, that's what, 40 years ago.
Adam Williams (47:00): What do you think is important for us to keep in mind and knowing our history again, if we're at risk of losing this and we have kids coming along, my kids are 11 and about 13, what are they going to know of any of this? What is important about us keeping all of this alive by whatever means that we can, even though so much is already lost?
Suzy Kelly (47:22): I have done, not recently, but over the years, some BV history for high school classes, maybe even junior high, just go. And what we need, and we have over 3000 photos from this area and many of them are from the 1800s, 1870s, eighties, old sepia tone photos. And if you could do them on a video and explain and tell the stories, then kids will pay attention. Just listening to history is, "Oh, boring."
Adam Williams (47:59): I'm curious, since you brought up doing that with kids, what their interest level was. Were they curious and asking questions? Did you find that there was an energy and a hunger to say, "We want to understand these things?"
Suzy Kelly (48:09): In some of them, yes.
Adam Williams (48:09): Sure.
Suzy Kelly (48:09): But not the majority of them.
Adam Williams (48:12): I suppose it's always like that in school.
Suzy Kelly (48:14): Well, it probably is. Yeah.
Adam Williams (48:15): With any subject maybe, but I've always been really interested in history and it's one of those things that I would've studied in college, would've made a major. I took classes as electives when I could, but it's one of those things that as a major, I was led to believe, what are you going to do with that for a career?
Suzy Kelly (48:32): Yeah, how are you going to make a living?
Adam Williams (48:32): Right. So then I turn off to some other direction and I think, "Wow, how amazing it would be to be a historian, to be a history professor," whatever, and to really dive into some of this stuff. And now that we live in an area where, there's history everywhere, but I'm especially interested in this and I think I need to spend more time with you at the Heritage Museum.
Suzy Kelly (48:52): Well, we have a lot of really nice things at the museum that have been donated, and we have a couple people that have been running it now for about four or five years that are really good at updating our displays and getting out new things. And this year we actually did a section on some Ute Indian history for this area. What we have gathered, it's just one corner of the rooms because we wish we had more.
Adam Williams (49:22): I had meant to ask you, whatever led you into your interest in history and led you to be part of leading the way in this area to know it and to sustain knowledge of the history?
Suzy Kelly (49:36): Well, I liked history even when I was young and I love geography and how roads interconnect and all that. And because I grew up here I guess, and knew some of these people and I don't know that I had a real inspiring history teacher. I'm trying to think back. But I think what really kicked it off is when they said they were going to tear the courthouse down in 1974, and I thought, "Oh my gosh, there's so much we are going to lose."
Adam Williams (50:07): Yeah, it sounds like a natural curiosity also.
Suzy Kelly (50:11): It must be. Somewhere in my brain it says history, history, history.
Adam Williams (50:16): Because I don't know I could have answered that question if somebody asked me, "Well, why are you interested in history?" It's like, "Well, I want to be knowledgeable. I'm curious. I want to be able to connect the dots." I think if we lose our sense of our awareness of history, then where does it lead us?
Suzy Kelly (50:31): What is it they say? If you don't learn the history, you'll repeat it. Let's not repeat the second World War in Ukraine or China or anywhere else. Let's figure some other way to communicate with the world instead of killing each other.
Adam Williams (50:48): Yeah, it's important to learn those lessons. Do you have any favorite stories, whether your own personally or with your family and your history here or of local history?
Suzy Kelly (50:59): Oh, I have about 25 or 30. How long do we have?
Adam Williams (51:02): We have a few minutes. How many can you fit into that?
Suzy Kelly (51:07): I'll tell you a cute story. When we first moved here, I don't know that I've given this story out much, my dad went to work wherever he could find work. He went to work for a gold mining dredge company up above Granite, back up Cash Creek. And they had a daughter about my age. So here I am eight, maybe nine years old, and they worked in the summer because in the winter there was too much snow.
So I met the girl, so I got to spend the night with her and stay at their camp and they did have I think it was a frame house with a screened-in porch where she slept. And so we went up there and my dad worked all day and then I got to spend the night and I got to spend another day. So that night I'm sleeping on this screened porch with this little girl whose name, I'm so sorry, I don't remember.
(51:53): And the coyotes started howling. This is an Iowa girl who'd never heard a coyote. Didn't hear him in town. I heard trains. I can remember being absolutely terrified. Now I live on a ranch and the coyotes are howling in different places every night and it doesn't bother me. But as nine years old, I just remember that girl and I climbed into her bed with her and said, "Are we going to get eaten?"
Have you heard the coyotes when they really kick up and start yapping at each other? One group behind the barn and another one out in the pasture, they're really loud. So we heard them just the other night out at our ranch and my granddaughter's here visiting from California, and she said, "They sound close." I said, "Well, they're probably three or 400 yards away, but that's fairly close."
Adam Williams (52:40): Have you shared this story with her, of your experience as a young girl?
Suzy Kelly (52:44): I don't think I did. I should have told her about it, but she ran to my house the other night. She'd be petrified if I told her that story because on her way running from my daughter's house to my house, it's about three-fourths of a mile, if she thought about those coyotes howling. So people around here are used to it, and for a long time they let you shoot a coyote and you got, I don't remember, $10 dollars for each coyote tail you brought in or something.
Adam Williams (53:13): To where who would pay that?
Suzy Kelly (53:14): The government.
Adam Williams (53:14): Because?
Suzy Kelly (53:16): Because they thought they were going to kill all the cows. And there are still many ranchers who shoot coyotes. On our ranch, the only time I remember any problem with coyotes is when there is a wounded animal or a deer gets hit on the road by the next day, you go up there and there's not much left but bones because coyotes run in packs. So now we've had a lesson way off of history.
Adam Williams (53:42): Oh, I think it's all wonderful, and thank you for sharing that story from when you were a girl, sharing something you maybe haven't talked about a lot. Because I know you feel like a lot of people have heard you speak on history around here, and maybe that's true and I don't know it, but I think there's also a lot of people who, like me, are getting an introduction to you and to plenty of pieces of history here.
So thank you so much for sitting with me and sharing these things, Suzy. It really has been an honor.
Suzy Kelly (54:09): Thank you. It's been fun.
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Adam Williams (54:21): All right, that was local historian, Suzy Kelly. If our conversation here today sparks curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode show notes at wearechaffee.org.
If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at email@example.com.
We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or whatever platform you use that has that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about the Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation.
(54:56): Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. John Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado, to Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.
The We Are Chaffee Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities.
(55:31): You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook @WeAreChaffee. Lastly, thank you for listening. And remember, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, share stories, make change.
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