Where shall I begin? It sounds like the theme of “Love Story” and in a way, it is a love story as I look back on our childhood in the magnificent mountain setting of the mining camp called Alice.
By today’s standards we were deprived and surely also by the standards of the “summer people” who remembered us with the gifts at Christmas and gave Mother extensive wardrobes of cost-off clothes intended to be made over for the children. Mother was more adept at “making do” than making over, and there was seldom on occasion when our coveralls were not only adequate, but most practical so we had a fabulous wardrobe for playing “dress-up.”
Our father John Kaminky, was born on a farm near Casey, Iowa in 1872. Tiring of farm work— I presume in his late teens— he went to Des Moines where an older sister, Bessie, lived. He took a business course and found a job with the National Cash Register Co. He attributed pneumonia, developing into tuberculoses, to the steam heated rooms and the frigid Iowa winter. Bessie said it was too much night life in which handsome, dashing, dancing John participated that caused his illness.
Given six months to live by his doctor, he decided to see California before he died and headed west. Bessie’s daughter now in her mid-eighties, thinks the year was probably 1894. He arrived in California forty-four years later where he visited that same sister who had moved there during the intervening years.
Perhaps he helped with the harvest— at any rate he worked for a short time in Deertrail, Colorado, where a new friend suggested they go to Idaho Springs. A booming mining camp on up the Fall River twelve miles above Idaho Springs was called Alice. A mile beyond, on Yankee Hill, was a settlement called the ’94. It was on past the ’94 on Yankee Hill, above Silver Lake that John eventually owned mining property.
The boarding house-dining room at the ’94 became the dance hall on Sat. nights. John was adept as a “caller”, particularly the Circle Waltz and Virginia Reel. Dad told of a full blooded Comanchee, known as Indian Dick, who frequented the dances and loved his whiskey of which he said, “Enough is no good, too much just right.” One of the belles led him to the point that he bought her a lovely watch then scorned his advances. He persuaded her that something about it needed fixing—took it to have it repaired and she never saw it again.
Why bachelor John was Secretary of the School Board I don’t know. Perhaps his business training in Iowa was a factor. In 1910 Ethel Wright, from Ottawa, Illinois was hired as a teacher and in 1912 thirty-two-year-old Ethel and forty-year-old John were married.
For the first issue of that union in May of 1913, a week or so before my birth, Mother went to Idaho Springs to stay at the home of a midwife, a Mrs. Nimme. My two sisters were born in the three room log cabin on Yankee Hill above Dad’s mine and John Jr. was born at Alice.
A March blizzard was in progress the night in 1915 when Mother sent Dad to the nearest telephone at the Stewart residence approximately two miles away. He struggled through waist deep snow down the mountain, across frozen Silver Lake and up the mountain on the other side. Dr. Frazier, hesitating to go out on such a blustery night wanted to know if she was sure? By the time Dad was back to the cabin and back to the phone, Elizabeth had arrived. Fortunately, a midwife who had come from Idaho Springs a few days before was with Ethel. When Ethel had been born in a sod house on the Nebraska prairie her father had gone for a neighboring farm wife who had promised to help. Dinner was ready and upon being invited to share the meal, Grandfather assured the good lady that they had plenty of time. Grandmother had her first baby kneeling beside the bed and Ethel entered the world, plopping out on the dirt floor.
In June 1917 for Alice’s arrival, a Mrs. Jewels was in residence. “Auntie” Jewels was a fine lady but two things irked Mother greatly. When she chose apples for us children from the “root cellar dug three feet deep under the kitchen floor, she threw any rotten apples back in the box. She carefully selected chipped or cracked dishes on which to serve Ethel’s meals. In those days a new mother was expected to spend a week or so in bed although I doubt few were so pampered.
When Brother John was born in the log house near the school in Jan., 1921, Dr. Frazier who officiated said to Mother, “Well Mrs. Kaminky, you have your boy at last!” “Dr., are you sure?” she exclaimed. “Look again!”
Within a stones throw from the cabin above the mine—if one had a strong arm– was the Dow cabin. I think Mrs. Dow died before I was born and “Uncle” Charles made only brief summer visits. The next cluster of dwellings down the road toward Alice, were at the ’94 which had been abandoned by the time I was old enough to remember anything. The whole area of Yankee Hill and Alice Camp was largely a ghost town by then. Perhaps World War I, calling all the young men from the mines was a contributing factor.
Several miles past our cabin in the opposite direction—close to timberline—lived an elderly German recluse named Nick Klaes. On his rare trips to the settlement for supplies, he carried his carbide miner’s lamp and for some unknown reason, when the wind extinguished the flame, he blamed Mother. “Mrs. Kaminky blew it out. She’s a witch.”
Life is full of choices and I remember making the wrong one when I was about five. I chose to go fishing with Uncle Charles on Silver Lake instead of going with Elizabeth to the ’94 to play with the Stout children—summer people vacationing there. I had to be still as a mouse on the raft with Uncle Charles and was terribly bored while Elizabeth was having a glorious time roasting potatoes and corn in an outdoor playhouse.
In the fall of 1919 Rosalie and George Albert were of school age so we moved from the mine to the Slater cabin, which we later bought. That year the population of the entire camp was about twenty-two during the winter months. Mother’s pupils were, beside George and Rosalie, three kindergartners, Elizabeffi, Claude Albert and his cousin Myrtle Babb. Because there was no place to leave two-year-old Alice, she came to school also—learning with the rest of us. Dr. Frazier at John’s delivery was amazed at a not quite four-ye or-old who could recite the alphabet not only forward but backward!
Perched atop the wagon load of household goods with sister Elizabeth, as we made the move from the mine, I looked at the three roads and less than a dozen buildings, wondering if I would ever be able to find my way around.
Two cabins close together as we came off the hill from the ’94 were occupied. One by Mr. and Mrs. Walder and their son Harry—probably nineteen or twenty. I remember Mother baking a cake for his twenty-first birthday. Next door Harry’s sister Emma Babb, a widow, lived with her small daughter, Myrtle. A short distance on down the road which led to Idaho Springs was a home of another Walder daughter Clara Albert and her family. Mrs. Walder had a small grocery store in the front room. Her son-in-law George Albert Sr., drove the stage which carried mail and groceries from Idaho Springs three times weekly, Tues., Thurs., and Sat. In winter the twelve-mile-trip took three to four hours. A government marker stamped on a rock just below the Slater cabin, showed the elevation as 10,580 ft. I think Idaho Springs is 7500. Almost 3000 feet difference in twelve mile results in a steep road. In summer by automobile, it was somewhat faster, although the year Mr. Albert had the Stanley Steamer, an imposing red vehicle with clouds of steam, I think the mail was often late. There seemed to be a problem within the steam pressure and I don’t think he had it very long. When he gave up the mail route—I have no idea what year–Harry Walder took it over and as I remember it wasn’t very long after our move from the mine that Clara Albert took over the grocery business from her mother.
Away up the valley to my right from the top of the wagon was “Uncle Tom Winner’s” cabin. Tom and Dad had been boys together in Casey, Iowa. I think Tom first came to Alice on account of John’s recommendation. Ahead of us the road forked to cross Little Creek and Big Creek leading toward the white schoolhouse and our new home. Neighboring cabins we passed not far from our house were in front of the elongated log building that had been the school until the new one had been built in 1906. One of them housed W.S. Hall which had the post office. He asked us to call him “Grandpa”. Next door was Pete Sweeney, caretaker of the Alice properties. A couple of years later when a donkey Grandpa used for transportation produced a fool, he named it “Pete” but Mr. Sweeney was never known to refer to it other than young “W.S.”
Directly below the Slater house (soon to be known as Kaminky’s) an elderly lady, Mrs. Harper kept house for her son Robert. In the bitter Jan., of 1920 when we were all down with the flu, Robert come each evening to empty the slop jars. We were much too ill and it was too cold for trips to the outhouse. Worn, overworked Dr. Frazier, whose patients were dying like flies, frightened we children dreadfully declaiming, “You’re all going to die— one of you.” Mother took we three squalling girls to the bedroom, comforted and calmed us saying “We are not going to die. We’re going to fool that ol’ Dr..” which we did! We missed five weeks of school getting back in classes in March and continuing through June to make up for lost time.
In Jan. of 1921 when John was born, Mother had taught until Christmas, 1920 and Mrs. Elio Conwell, a widow from Idaho Springs, finished the term. Nathan Shapiro, a mining promoter from back East, had leased Dad’s Mine and also property of George Reynolds who lived a few miles past Tom Minner’s in the direction of the glacier. The boarding house close to his cabin and probably his mine was called the “Aircastle.” Mrs. Conwell boarded with Mrs. Babb and as Nathan developed a crush on pretty Elia; he schemed to move her to the Aircastle by firing the cook, a little old German lady and hiring Mrs. Babb. Mrs. Zeck turned up in tears on our doorstep with her huge eleven-toed yellow cat she called Hantz. If there are still big-footed cats at Alice, he is their propagator. Mother took her in and she spent several weeks —perhaps a month or so with us.
When Grandpa Hall started the winters in Denver with some of his children, Mother took over the Post Office. Some of the younger Halls with a variety of married names, became summer neighbors, when they bought the Marner cabin after Robert moved his mother to a lower altitude. After Grandpa gave up the P.O., he lived, when he was in camp, in the one room shack at his mine down the road beyond Alberts.
As punishment for not coming when we were called one March day, we were grounded to a radius of perhaps a hundred yards around our house. Feeling very much abused, we decided to run away. We set up camp along Little Creek about half way between Walders and Alberts. The Albert children brought us a package of gum for food and some gunny socks for blankets.
On his way to Mother’s P.O., Grandpa Hall came riding by on his donkey. He hailed us on his return trip reported, “Your folks say for you kids to get on home.” It was almost dark, getting cold and we were happy to obey. Mother fed us and nothing was said until we looked out on the snow covered world the next morning when she remarked, “Don’t you wish you were sleeping under the willows?”
As the eldest, I was custodian of the previously mentioned “Dress-up-clothes “. I was mystified and irked as two choice costumes completely disappeared. Spring came and one day in the woods, I found them under a log-mildewed beyond repair. Elizabeth and Wanda–whose last name I don’t remember—her mother also was a cook for a brief period of time at the Aircastle– came in from school, filched a snack of cold potatoes spread with mustard and “dressed up.” They were out in the wood when they tried that game and stashed the clothes in the handiest spot.
I made another interesting discovery in the woods one day, coming upon a stolen nest of eggs evidently laid by one of the hens we’d had a previous summer. I was elated at the idea of real eggs in the mud pies we baked in the sun behind the house, elated that is until I cracked the first one and learned what a really rotten egg smelled like!
There were five families of summer people who come regularly to Alice. Mr. and Mrs. Sands–no children–had a comfortable log cabin on the shore of Silver Lake. One day we girls went to spend the day with “Aunt” Jackie, (seems it was customary to bestow a title on most of the adults in our world.) We all got extremely sick and vomited from one end of the cabin to the other—the upset later attributed to an overripe cantaloupe we’d eaten for breakfast. I remember Aunt Jackie walking back and forth waving a skillet of something burning to counteract the odor. Seems like it was coffee.
Goodyears lived in a log cabin on the shore of St. Mary’s Lake with a magnificent view of the Glacier from their front windows. A short distance behind them, away from the lake was the Fuller’s cottage. I remember it as a brown frame building. We were still living above the mine when we attended a birthday party there and I made a pig of myself on strawberry ice cream that I couldn’t tolerate for years after. Half way on down the hill toward the Aircastle I seem to remember the remains of a house that had burned which I think belonged to the Stewart family. Adjacent to the Aircastle was the summer home of the Davises. Their children, especially a daughter Louise, were closer to my age but we had little in common.
After Grandpa Hall’s children started coming to what had been the Harper cabin, we had more congenial playmates, specifically for me, one Gertrude Bond, a chunky blonde youngster. We had been taught food was to eat, not to waste. Gertrude threw away half an apple Mother had given her, leading to my one and only fight. If winning was sending the opposition bowling home, I won, but I lost her companionship for the remainder of that visit. As they returned about every weekend we were soon friends again but I was always careful to keep the upper side of the hill when we played together.
Each Fourth of July for a number of years the Rocky Mountain Ski Club of Denver sponsored a Ski Tournament at St. Mary’s Glacier. Hundreds of people invaded our small community, from many states, for a few brief hours. Hot and thirsty they were hesitant about drinking lake water. My enterprising younger brother and sister took a washtub, (probably the same one we took our weekly baths in on Sat. night), filled it with water from the lake and sold it for five cents a cup. The next summer they progressed to lemonade but the overhead ate up the profits and John Jr., alienated his business partner, ten-year-old Alice by his sales pitch, “Lemonade made in the shade by on old maid—there she is folks.”
The most publicized Fourth was the one when a young man named Head disappeared. There was an electrical storm that afternoon. Up above timberline lightning runs along the ground like wild fire. Among the many theories printed in the Denver Post from the murder to kidnapping to amnesia was the son of the Texas oil man had been struck by lightning. Bloodhounds searching the area come in our front gate (ours was the only dwelling that had a fence) and out the back! A year or so later, Pete Sweeney, riding his horse on a tour of Alice properties, reached down with his cane to overturn a strange looking rock. Discovering it was a skull he hurried back to camp where he called Dr. Frazier (who was also the coroner). George Reynolds went with him to bring it back to our house in a gunny sock, where Dr. Frazier met them. We all observed it atop the gate post where Dr. laid it for examination. We were sure that was the first time any part of Head had been close to our gate despite the dogs tracking. Other bones must have been widely scattered by wild animals and as far as I know the disappearance still remains a mystery, although I have a vague recollection it was established that the skull was Head’s head.
In 1925 my schooling necessitated another family move as I was ready for High School, in Idaho Springs, so we too became “summer people” but after experiencing city living, our Alice camp held little interest for me as I became more interested in “love stories” of another variety.
Written by Rosalie Kaminky Galloway, 1982