Oral History

Oral history is the preservation of history through the spoken word of people and communities. It is simultaneously the oldest way of preserving history and one of the most modern through the use of recording devices. People have always passed their heritage down with oral traditions so each subsequent generation has the knowledge of those before. Family oral traditions exist even if it’s just Uncle Jim’s “largest fish ever caught” story in which the fish always becomes bigger than the time before. While oral history as a discipline is relatively new, the tradition itself is not.

In the mid-1900s, people began to record histories to preserve the heritage of communities, such as Gaelic speakers. As the discipline grew, oral histories began to focus on the “history from below” because written histories tended to ignore the working classes and focus on those higher in society. Since then, oral history has grown to include a large variety of topics, communities, and individuals. One of the greatest benefits of oral history is the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee; both parties influence the history being presented.

Here at the museum we’re always adding new oral histories to our collection. From ranchers to miners to longtime residents, these interviews give us a better understanding of the community and people that have built their lives here. There’s something here for everyone.

Help us add to our collection! We love hearing the memories of longtime residents and seeing the changing cultural landscape of the Royal Gorge region in the stories that are shared. We are open Wednesday-Saturday from 10 AM- 4 PM. You can also contact us at (719) 269-9036 or historycenter@canoncity.org.


Digging Up History

Today is National Miner’s Day which honors all miners; past, present, and future. Here in Fremont County we definitely have our fair share of mining history. Not only was the area a major supplier for miners heading into the mountains for gold and silver but it also became a prevalent mining area itself. Coal has been especially prominent in the area as a resource. Many of the names will be familiar; Coal Creek, Rockvale, Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, and Brookside still exist in some form today though not as actual mines. Of course, there’s also mining towns that no longer exist such as Chandler, Radiant, Bear Gulch, and many more. And while this industry has long since left Fremont County, we still have pieces of the past that remind us of those that toiled deep in the ground.

Propectors with Mules

Prospectors with mules in Cañon City, 1878; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

Rockvale No 1

Group of miners, photo labeled No. 1 at Rockvale, circa 1895; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

Royal Gorge Mine

Royal Gorge Mine, 1922; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

Candle Holder

Miner’s candlestick with sharp point to push into wall, circa 19th c; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center


Miner’s pick labeled Wolf Park Coal, Cañon City; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

Oil Lamp

Miner’s oil lamp that hooks onto hat, circa 19th c; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center


These images are just a few of the photographs and objects in our collection that remind us of the rich mining history in Fremont County. If you’re interested in history of mining in Fremont County or any other subject, stop by and visit us Wednesday through Saturday 10 AM- 4 PM!

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

“Now You Can Buy Coffee Again”

According to the National Coffee Drinking Trends report for 2017 conducted by the National Coffee Association, 62% of Americans drink coffee on a daily basis. With more than half the population as daily coffee drinkers, it’s easy to see that the drink is an important part of our culture and history. Whether it’s made at home or by a barista, coffee is part of the daily routine for many Americans.

During the American Revolution, drinking tea was considered unpatriotic after the Sons of Liberty dumped chests of tea in the Boston Harbor. Coffee wasn’t an unfamiliar drink but tea had always been more popular. However, during the war coffee began to reign supreme because it was grown in the New World and didn’t represent British economic interests. Coffee remained popular after the war but people were also happy to return to drinking to tea. Coffee houses thrived in the ports where merchants, primarily men, would meet to discuss business, but tea remained a staple in many homes because of its more genteel status.

So when did coffee gain a more devoted following? The American Civil War!

As part of their rations, men in the Union were given coffee. If the men didn’t have time to make it before they marched, they would just chew the beans. When the conflict ended, these soldiers continued to drink the brew that had fueled them during the harsh days of war. Coffee became an American staple and also secured its place with soldiers. After all, “…nobody can soldier without coffee” as one Union cavalryman wrote.

During war, rationing is frequently implemented in order to give the military priority to resources. During World War II, ships were at large risk from German U-boats so shipping certain foods and resources was more difficult. Americans were given ration books since many things like butter, milk, sugar, and gas were in short supply. On November 29, 1942 coffee was added to the list. The Cañon City Daily Record ran an ad from Hills Bros. Coffee on November 30, 1942 informing the public they could once again buy coffee. To prevent people from hoarding coffee right before rationing began, grocers weren’t allowed to sell it leading up to the official day rationing began. Once the freeze was over people could take their ration book to the store and anyone over the age of 15 was allowed to receive one pound of coffee for every five weeks with a ration stamp. That calculates out to roughly only one 8 oz. cup per day! To make it last, many people would reuse grounds which made a watery beverage or find a non-coffee drinking neighbor willing to share their ration stamps. A coffee substitute named Postum, made of roasted grains, became popular as well.

Gas had been rationed on the east coast since July but Fremont County had yet to feel that pinch. Two days after coffee rationing began gas rationing took effect on December 1, 1942. Non-essential drivers were limited to 32 gallons for every two months. However, gas rationing lasted far longer than coffee rationing, which ended in July of 1943. So for all you coffee addicts, you can be glad you don’t have to survive on only one cup a day!

Ration book

War Ration Book One with stamps attached, 1942; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

Gas Ration

Gas Ration Book with stamps attached, 1944; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

Got Milk?

Thanksgiving is nearly here so it seems like a good time to talk about cream. What’s pumpkin pie without a generous dollop of whipped cream? We found here in our collection a milk bottle and cream separator. According to the original patent of a milk bottle of this design, it was filed in 1921 and issued in 1925. According to Norman Henderson, the inventor, “the constriction serves to hold the cream from running back into the bottle as readily as it does in an ordinary milk bottle. At the same time it tends to prevent any milk running to the mouth of the bottle until the greater portion of the cream has been poured out.”

Milk bottle flipped

It sounds like it made life at least a little easier! Of course, it’s even easier today with cream sold separately from milk at the grocery store. The dairies do it for us with large machines. But this bottle shows a small glimpse into the past. Does anyone remember ever using one of these?  Let us know!

The museum will be closed for Thanksgiving the 23rd-25th. We return to regular hours next week, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 AM-4 PM. As always, feel free to contact us at (719) 269-9036, send an email to historycenter@canoncity.org, or stop in and visit us! Happy Thanksgiving!

Stopped in Their Tracks

Like the proverbial horror movie villain that refuses to go down no matter how many times he’s hit, there was an elk that refused to fall no matter how many times hunters managed to shoot him. He just continued to stand with his head held high. Of course, the fact that he was stuffed was the reason he refused to go down. In October of 1945, two articles on this elk were published in the Cañon City Daily Record.

According to the stories, this animal caused quite a bit of excitement for hunters when they came around a curve in the Newlin Creek region outside Florence and saw an elk within perfect range and sight. The hunter would take a shot, knowing it was perfect….only to see the elk entirely unmoving. A second shot would be fired, the hunter steadily moving closer, only to find the elk had been dead for quite some time. The body of this speciman was riddled with bullets from other hapless hunters that found their hopes of bagging this large elk crushed. The story only gets better upon learning locals would go to the spot with the hope they would see an unsuspecting hunter take a shot at the poor elk that had already withstood so much.

It appears to be a mystery as to who placed the elk along the road to fool those that encountered it. And if someone did know, they weren’t talking. It was probably far too entertaining to spoil the fun! If you know any stories about this elk we’d love to hear them. Send us an email at historycenter@canoncity.org or stop by anytime between 10 AM-4 PM Wednesday – Saturday!

Colorado Women’s Suffrage

Colorado is the first state to grant women the right to vote…..on a technicality. The territories of Wyoming and Utah both granted women the right to vote in 1869 and 1870 respectively. Women’s suffrage was repealed in Utah territory in 1887 and not returned until statehood in 1896. Wyoming on the other hand was admitted as a state in 1890 with women’s suffrage intact. That means while Wyoming was the first state to have women’s suffrage, Colorado was the first state to vote for women’s suffrage while already a state in 1893. Regardless of the ranking, it’s exciting to know Colorado was one of the earliest to grant women’s suffrage, 124 years ago.

On November 7, 1893 the results arrived from male voters voting on women’s suffrage. The election returns were 35,698 votes for and 29,461 against. And while this was an exciting moment for Colorado women, it would be another 27 years before women would have the right to vote nationwide. Just to get the right to vote in one state had been a long battle. As soon as Colorado became a state, women were campaigning for the vote. It was even put before voters in 1877 but failed to pass. A disappointment to be sure but it was still an important step in the process.

Beginning in 1876, a Territorial Women’s Suffrage Society was organized. They met for the first time in Unity Church in Denver on January 10th. One of the vice presidents was a Cañon City resident, Rev. William Shepard. Another vice president was Maria M. Sheetz, an avid proponent of women’s suffrage here in Cañon City. Maria Sheetz moved to Cañon City with her two daughters after the death of her husband. She ran the McClure House, a boarding house, until she was bought out in 1876. She then moved to the house she built on Greenwood Avenue which still stands today. Maria was also on good terms with Susan B. Anthony and even received a letter from her in 1877 telling her to keep pushing for women’s suffrage. This letter is in our collection here in the museum!

The 1876 Colorado constitution laid the groundwork for women to gain suffrage. The vote for women could become state law through a simple majority vote on the part of legislators and the electorate rather than through a constitutional amendment of which a two-thirds vote is needed. For a constitutional amendment women would have needed 66% of the vote rather than the 55% majority they received in 1893. But the goal was achieved and women in Colorado joined the men at the polls in 1894, ready to cast their vote for the very first time.

Interested in learning even more history? Stop by Wednesday-Saturday between 10 am-4 pm to conduct research or tour the museum!

Happy Birthday Prof. Kessler!

Hundreds of visitors have, and will continue, to stroll past the stegosaurus fossil in the Prehistoric Journey exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The question is, how many of them know who found it? Or even that it was found only a few hours’ drive from where they stand in the museum? That fossil, found in 1936 and voted the state fossil in 1982, was only of one of many contributions by someone of this community. Today is the birthday of Frederick Carl Kessler, fondly called Prof. Kessler, a beloved citizen of Cañon City.

Prof. Kessler was born in 1883 in Missouri but moved to Colorado in search of the rugged western life he had heard about. He soon realized being a cowboy might not be what he was really looking for. He enrolled at the State Teachers College in Greeley and gained his teaching degree instead. After a stint teaching English in the Philippines, Kessler returned to Colorado in 1925 and secured a position as a history teacher in Cañon City. He was a popular teacher and would lead geology tours on weekends for many of his students. It’s unsurprising this would lead to the creation of a geology club which is still active today!

Kessler led many trips to the Garden Park area and unearthed fossils. While many interesting finds were made, even including some diplodocus vertebrae, the stegosaurus would be the most well-known. Prominently displayed in Denver, this fossil was more complete than anything Kessler or his student had found before. Knowing more experience was needed to excavate than he possessed, Kessler contacted the Denver Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). Staff members traveled down in 1937 and determined the fossil was an important discovery and plans were made for excavation. Through the National Youth Administration, Kessler arranged for his students to help with the excavation and earn experience and money.

Kessler finally retired from teaching in 1949 but he wasn’t done being an educator. Kessler acted as curator for the museum from 1949 to 1963 and everyone still went to him with their geologic finds. He never stopped exploring the area! And at the age of 76 he found love, marrying his longtime friend Mrs. Martha Scott. He passed away in 1963 just before he would have celebrated his 80th birthday.

Prof. Kessler left behind a legacy because of his love and enthusiasm for the history and geology of Fremont County. As both a teacher and as a curator of the museum, he shared that love with the public and gained appreciation and respect in return. So thank you and Happy Birthday Prof. Kessler!


Prof. Kessler standing next to the casing from the first oil well in Garden Park drilled in 1862 Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center


The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.