NARRATIVE BY ELDRED BENNETT TREZISE:
The Trezise family originally came from Cornwall England and settled in Ishpeming, Michigan. My father, Edward John came over to the United States with a brother. He left his wife, Grace and four children in England while he searched for work and established himself in this country. The children left in England were: Elizabeth Mary (Polly) who was born 6/8/1881; Edward John who was born 12/13/1882; Pricilla Jane who was born 1/23/1885; and Charlotte Anne who was born 6/11/1886. A baby sister, Pricilla Anne was born on 9/2/1882 and died 12/13/1882.Edward worked for the Michigan Central Railroad. My father sent for my mother and brother and sisters and they came to Ishpeming. I was born in Ishpeming 11/23/1893. My brother, Lewis Henery was also born in Ishpeming on May 8, 1895.
Shortly after my brother Lewis was born, my father followed the Gold Rush to the Klondike in British Columbia. While there, he met a man named Johnny Brown and they became good friends. My father returned to Michigan and moved the family by covered wagon to Leadville, Colorado where it was rumored they had discovered vast veins of gold. Johnny Brown went to Leadville ahead of my father. The prospectors arrived in Leadville by the hundreds, until it became a metropolis of 14,000 people. Many were living in tents, shacks, dugouts, and lean-tos built of wood and canvas. All of the stories about the vast wealth to be found there was only half the truth. Many of the people there starved to death and died of malnutrition.
My sister, Dora Ellen was born while we were living in Adlaide Park near Alma, Colorado on March 8, 1897. Heating was done with wood and lighting with candles and oil lamps. A huge fire took place and wiped out the whole mountain side. The mountains were covered with thick timber at the time and the tents, shacks, lean-tos, sheds and houses all were consumed. The only part left was the downtown section. We lived in a house near the Matchless Mine when my brother Thomas Wesley was born on December 21, 1898.
One has only to walk through any of the six cemeteries located there and note the dates on the markers to realize how very young the people were when they passed away in those days. There were a few stories going around about someone striking it rich, including the Tabor family. If the Tabors had diamonds, jewels, mansions, and fantastic wealth, I did not see it. Horace Tabor died when I was only six years old and I do not remember a lot about him.
My father, Edward, and Johnny dug a hole they called the "little Johnny" but no gold was found. They sunk another one nearby and called it the "Big Johnny Mine." They found silver but no gold. The same can be said of other miners in the area. No gold was found. The only gold that was found was in H. A. W. Taybor's mine, the Matchless Mine. He would invite famous people to Leadville because he was a senator. He would feed them a big banquet then take them into the mine and show them gold nuggets laying around. He was trying to get them to invest in his mine. One day, he had a group of investors in the mind and they were about to sign papers to buy the mine when a man came running up and said, "Looky, looky," his eyes were bulging out and he was excited. He had a gold nugget in his hand the size of a walnut. The men asked him where he found it and he replied,"right over there, and it wasn't there yesterday!" Tabor looked startled as the men turned and walked away and did not sign the papers. Tabor gave the man a hard kick in the backside and fired him on the spot.
Tabor's first wife did not like all of his crooked ways and divorced him. My stepmother, Helen, knew Baby Doe McCourt back in Glen Burnie, Maryland. They were girl friends at that time. They moved west together and lived in Davenport, Iowa. Helen married Macon while she lived there. They later followed the gold seekers to Colorado. First, they moved to Central City, then Breckenridge, and finally to Leadville where Macon went into the grocery business. My oldest sister, Polly, married a widower, Fred Wahl. He had a small son, Johnny. Polly and Fred opened a bakery business a few blocks away from Macon and his grocery store. When gold became the money standard in place of silver and the big bust came, they all went broke, along with everyone else. Horace Tabor married the good looking blonde McCourt woman.
My father, Edward, took the job of mine superintendent on April 10, 1898, at the Matchless Mine. Baby Doe Tabor was in charge of giving the gold pieces to my father so he could pay the miners. The miners were paid in $20.00 gold pieces once a month. My father would let me play with the gold pieces on the kitchen table while he figured the monthly payroll with all the windows and doors shut up tight.
A baby sister named Grace, after my mother, was born on January 24, 1901. My mother died of complications just three weeks after my baby sister was born. My mother is buried in the old cemetery in Leadville. My baby sister, Grace, died just a year later on February 15, 1902.
Macon the grocer died about the same time as my mother did. Helena married my father a short time later in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and brought into the family a little girl named Hazel. My father adopted Hazel and she took the name Trezise.
We used to play with the Tabor girls, Rosemary Echo, "Silver Dollar" was the dark haired girl and Elizabeth Bonduel "Lilly" was the blond. They lived with their mother at the Matchless mine. They used to ride a white horse down to our house to play with us. They went to school with us in Leadville.
I can remember my little brother Tom was playing with the cat one day. My mother told him to quit pulling the cat's tail and Tom replied, "I'm just holding his tail, the cat is doing all the pulling!"
There were always lots of kids to play with around our house in those early days. Every family had burros, donkeys or horses. I can remember playing "circus" and all the kids would bring their donkeys and pets and we had a lot of fun. The kids knew how to entertain themselves in those days.
We also worked and helped earn money for our families. I got to go down in the mine with my father several times. I worked hauling railroad ties and did odd jobs around town.
I remember some of the people who were our friends and neighbors. To name a few, there was Dora Baker, Hazel Olds, Big Mary, Little Mary, Pollywog, Whiskey Smith, Bug House Pete, Whirley Gig, Maddy Harmon, Molly Tobin, Oxelburg, and Clara Bond.
There was a kid who lived on the corner just a block from us. He was an ornery little
brat and his name was Jack Diamond. He finally ended up getting sent to reform school but
got in trouble again when he got out. He got in a lot of trouble in Chicago and was
later sent to prison. We always considered ourselves to be the good kids on the hill on East 9th Street. Hazel Olds mother chopped off her finger while splitting kindling wood. She lived across the street from us and always called me "Eddle". One of her boys was named Ted. Hazel later moved to Sterling, Colorado where my sister Precie lived and she became a school teacher. Dora Baker was a chunky little girl who was a wonderful piano player.
Raymond Bond and Dora Bond lived next door to the east of us. We had daily play school where Dora was the teacher. We learned to read and write from her. Some of the other kids did not go to school so our play school taught them a lot. Johnny Spargo and his brother were good friends of ours. John became a preacher and lived in Denver. Molly Tobin was a waitress in a restaurant and a clerk in the store. She married Johnny Brown and moved to Denver.
There were six railroads in town when we lived there. They were the Colorado Midland, Union Pacific, Colorado Southern, Rio Grande Western and were all narrow gauge railroads. The cars had to be unloaded there and reloaded into the wider gauge rails. Later, three rails were laid and most of the railroads had three rail tracks and all the cars had 2 knuckle couplers on each end, one for the narrow gauge and one for the standard wide gauge. Sometimes, a train would haul both narrow gauge and standard gauge cars at the same time. Railroads seemed to run all over the place. One kid we knew had a father who was an engineer on a switch engine. One day the locomotive he was operating derailed and overturned on a sharp curve. The steam pipes burst open and he was scalded to death. All of us kids ran down there to see the wreck but it left us with bad memories.
All of the kids ran together in gangs like the 7th street gang, the 8th street gang, the 9th street gang and the 10th street gang. Some were good and some were not so good. We belonged to the 9th street gang and we considered ourselves to be the good guys. One of the kids was a section foreman. We could get the extra hand car from a shed and pump it up and down and ride up and down the railroad track. We thought that was the best time ever! Occasionally, we would come across another hand car parked along side the track. It would have a bunch of lunch pails on it. The men would be working around the bend out of sight. We would eat all of the pie, donuts and cookies out of the dinner buckets then pump the hand car back down the tracks.
They did not have a lot of safety rules in those days. If they did, us kids did not know about them. They did not lock the tool sheds along side the tracks. One day we found a lot of torpedoes in a shed. They were about the size of a hamburger with tin straps on the sides. these straps were used to hold the torpedo on the rail. They were full of black powder and when they exploded, it sounded like a clap of thunder. We strung out a whole string of them along the rails and hid behind a pile of railroad ties. They were not creosote ties, just plain yellow wood. When the train came along, the torpedoes went off like cannon fire. "Bang, bang, bang!" The engineer and fireman hung their heads out the cab windows to see what was going on. it is a wonder they didn't get their heads blown off. The train slowed down real slow but did not stop. We stayed hidden behind the ties until the train was out of sight. Johnny Wahl, my sister Polly's stepson, got both his arms blown off at the elbows because of playing with those torpedoes.
We took one of the torpedoes home and put it on a big rock in back of the wood shed in our back yard. We set the torpedo on the rock and put a big rock on the sloping roof of the house and rolled the rock off the house. The first time we rolled the rock off, nothing happened. The second time, it exploded and shook the whole house. It scared all the neighbors. My mother had washed clothes all morning with a wash board in a big wooden tub. The whole back yard was full of clean clothes hanging on the line to dry. White bed sheets, pillow cases, shirts, dresses, overalls, all sorts of things. All of the clean clothes were blown full of holes. We kids ran and hid under a barn for the rest of the afternoon. We did not escape mother's wrath when we finally came home, however.
The second big fire that destroyed Leadville burned not only the hillsides and all the old houses and buildings, it also destroyed the Methodist Church that we attended. The church had a big tall steeple and the men later dynamited it to the ground. Even to this day, there are very few trees to be seen in the area because of the big fires that occurred in Leadville.
The fires were not the final blow, however. With the gold standard change over, the silver miners became tired, sick, and disappointed. They were hungry, ragged and destitute and began leaving the barren snow covered hillsides in droves by any means available. Most went by wagon since the train was too expensive. Four of the six railroads which came into Leadville were abandoned, leaving only two in operation to serve a town of less than 400 people. The Trezise family with nine kids were some of the last families to stay in the area. Our house at 514 East 9th Street in Leadville burned to the ground in 1903. We lost all of our belongings including pictures, picture albums, valuable papers, and money. We were left with only the clothes on our backs. Our close knit family split apart, not to get together again for over 40 years. John moved to California, Charlotte raised a large family in Oregon, Precie (Pricilla) moved to Sterling, Colorado and Polly and Fred moved to Missouri.
We packed up our few belongings in a covered wagon and were going to go to Florida. My father heard it was a land of sunshine and oranges. We got as far as Buena Vista, Colorado. We got there in the dead of winter. We stayed in Buena Vista and raised strawberries and potatoes. We sold the strawberries for 10 cents a quart and the potatoes for 25 cents a hundred pound sack. The five of us younger kids got to go to school there for four years. In the fall of 1908, we left in a covered wagon, determined to get to Florida. An early snow set in and covered the hills. The winter of 1909 - 1909 was one of the coldest ever recorded. We were not prepared for it. Our clothes were mostly rags and we did not have warm clothes to wear. We passed an orchard that had some frozen apples on the ground. I asked a boy at the farm house if we could have the apples and he said yes. We ate apples cooked over a camp fire in the cold. My father had a shot gun to bag a few rabbits along the way. I remember one evening we saw a tree with a bunch of black crows in it. My father shot and got six of them before they all few away. They were cleaned and roasted for dinner. My little brother Tom was real skinny, like Lewis and never seemed to get enough to eat. He did not get enough to eat until he joined the Army in World War I.
We reached Salida, Colorado and a man at a livery stable let us stay there for a week or two in one of the stalls. There was a spring wagon in back of the barn with a lot of frozen yellow squash in it. He gave us all the squash. We lived on squash for weeks; boiled squash for breakfast, fried squash for dinner, baked squash for supper, cooked on an oil stove or over a camp fire. I hate squash to this day!
We moved on to Pueblo, Colorado where the winter set in again and a blizzard came up. We lived in a barn at the state fairgrounds until the storm was over. My folks were very proud and were strictly against begging. But I was the oldest and I knew the situation was desperate so I went to a house several blocks away and told them of the condition we were in. They gave me a dozen potatoes and some bread. My folks did not like it one bit that I did that but we had some food to eat anyway.
We moved on. It was so cold and the breath from the horses heads swirled like a cloud of steam and our breath made puffs of white as we struggled along in the icy wind with our heads bent down low. We could not ride in the wagon. Tom had holes in his shoes and cried a lot. I gave him my coat because I was afraid he would freeze to death. I remember the sky being fiery red at night. My father said it was going to be a cold day tomorrow and it turned out that way. Later that evening, near Swink, Colorado, we came across a little abandoned two room shack that had no windows or doors and holes in the roof. A herd of cattle was around the building but they were all dead. They were frozen and us kids could jump from one frozen carcass to another without touching the ground. One cow was frozen stiff in the doorway of the shack but we climbed in over it and stayed in the shack for the night. We could not move the cow out of the doorway so we led the team of horses over the dead cow and put them in the one room and the seven of us slept on the floor in the other room. We hung blankets over the windows and put the oil stove in the middle of the room on top of the wagon seat. We had only one joint of stove pipe for the stove so we set it on the wagon seat so it would be higher. That made the pipe closer to the hole in the roof. The black smoke from the stove pipe rose straight up in a perfect circle and went out through the hole above it.
We brought in snow to melt to have water for cooking and for the horses. We intended to make it to Florida and needed the horses to take us there. I remember being so cold and miserable that I could not sleep. Everyone squirmed and moved around all night long. We moved on the next day, walking along in the snow. The wagon wheels sounded like violins squeaking. We found some hay in a field and fed the horses. It was Christmas Eve, 1909 and we were looking across a frozen landscape, there were no roads, no fences, and no trees. We were not lost because we knew we were headed east. As it got dark, we could see the lights of a town and headed in that direction. As we went over hill after hill, the lights did not get any closer. We finally saw a farmhouse about 11:00 at night. My father knocked on the door and asked how far the town was. The farmer was surprised to see us and asked what we were doing out on a cold night like this? He said the town was Las Animas and it was 8 miles away. These people were a young married couple named Maynard. They invited us in and we were warm at last! The wife was only 16 and Mr. Maynard laughed as he told us he "robbed the cradle". That was the first time I had ever heard that term. He had bought a box of chocolates for her for Christmas. He gave each one of us a chocolate. We had a wonderful Christmas.
Mr. Maynard got us a job excavating an irrigation ditch from the Purgatory River. He directed us to an old two story stone house on the river and we lived there until spring. Father used the team to work on the ditch. The farm was called the Carmen Ranch. She died not long after that. They were the nicest people I ever met.
We finally worked our way across Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas and ended up in Hutchinson, Kansas. My father found work there and so did the rest of us. My step mother, Helena, made several trips by train to Leadville to visit her old girlfriend, Baby Doe McCourt.
My stepmother finally moved to San Antonio, Texas. My father married Mary Bloom. She died shortly after my father and is buried in East Side Cemetery in Hutchinson, Kansas near the Reformatory Wall. My father died the day after New Year's Day in 1930 in San Antonio, Texas. I had his body brought back to Hutchinson and he is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery. His headstone is just a hundred feet west of the Mausoleum. I bought a headstone for my mother and my baby sister who died in Leadville. Their graves had remained unmarked for almost eighty years.
I joined the Navy in World War I and returned to marry my sweetheart,
Grace May Hiestand. We had one daughter, Carol June and twin sons, Harris and
Farris. I worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. I have had a good life and
have many more stories to tell.
Excerpts from a letter dated 5/13/1906 written from Leadville by my father Eldred to his sister Charlotte:
"Lewis had a birthday party the 12th of May. His birthday was
on the 8th but there was school. He had been told that he could have a party
on no Saturday. Saturday morning, we had a picnic and not a party. We took our
baskets and went up to pa's mine, and no sooner had we got there till it began to
snow. We went in the shaft house and sat down on some wooden benches all the
morning till the bell rang for the miners to come up out of the mine and when the door
opened for the men to come in we looked out and saw that the ground was all covered with
snow. In the afternoon the sun came out and some of the snow melted and so it was
very wed and muddy but we did not care, we wanted to have some fun anyway, but we
could not. Pa let us down the mine so that we would not get wet. So we went
over to the cage and got on. A cage is a thing that looks like an elevator.
the mine is only 300 feet deep. When we got to the bottom, we all had a candle and
marched off in the tunnels, but when we came home, we were all tired out. Was not that a
nice picnic? We call it a picnic in the storm. You hoped that we are all well
but we are not. All of us are kind of sick. We have 9 birds but they are not all
ours. Two birds got 3 little birds. Well, I think you are well. it's time for
me to close now. From your loving brother, Eldred Trezise, 514 E. 9th St. Leadville,