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Mining, Soiled Doves, and the Rocky Mountains

Updated: May 6

Research brings many rewards, chief among them the acquisition of knowledge, and my favorite kind of research is delving into the past. History is filled with a plethora of wisdom, accomplishments, heroics, cautionary tales, and fascinating stories. For my contribution to the McKenzie Sisters Mystery series, I traveled back in time to 1899 Colorado, specifically Durango.


"Autumnal splendor amid the aspens above the highway between Silverton and Durango in San Juan County, Colorado" | Gates Frontiers Fund Colorado Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

This historically-rich town was not the original setting, but as Cassandra (aka Casey) and I were getting to know each other, we couldn't agree on a number of things, and where she would spend most of the book was among our disagreements.


Enter Durango, a railroad town in southwestern Colorado where I lived on a small ranch in my youth. Even thirty years ago (yep, I'm kind of giving away my age) the town was quite different from what it is today, but what has not changed is the intriguing history of a wild west town filled with contradictions and tales of both survival and prosperity.


While my memories could not help me with what the town would have been like one hundred twenty-two years ago, it did provide me with a good foundation for the area, climate, and scenery. Riding the Durango & Silverton train up to Silverton is still one of my fondest childhood memories. At 9,318' elevation, there are no end of wonders to see. Go higher up to 11,200' and one can explore the Animas Forks ghost town, a mere 12 miles northeast from Silverton. I recently came across a treasure of childhood photographs that showed me riding the train and running through those high mountain valleys.


The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG) | Gates Frontiers Fund Colorado Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Of course, as a child I did not consider the area's history, but I have spent a considerable number of hours the past few months researching Durango, and each time I uncover an interesting tidbit I try to think back to what I recall from my days there.


Cassandra doesn't have my memories, but together we are unearthing all sorts of fun facts, like how on the fourth floor of The Strater Hotel, Hattie Mashburn was a sort of madam to soiled doves who occupied what was known as the "Monkey Hall." A lot of research I've done has been on the grand hotel because that is where Casey is staying, and also where I used to enjoy brunch (more on that another time).


For western fiction fans, it might be of interest to know that Louis L'Amour was a regular fixture at the hotel, and wrote many of his Sackett series novels there. They even dedicated room 222, located above the saloon, to Louis & Kathy L'Amour. Apparently he enjoyed listening to the ragtime piano music while he worked.


Have you been to Durango?


The Strater Hotel | Gates Frontiers Fund Colorado Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
The Strater Hotel | Gates Frontiers Fund Colorado Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The gorgeous building that has been The Strater Hotel since it opened in 1887 plays a minor role, though significant, in the book, but the town as a whole is a wonderful place for Casey to solve her case involving, none other, than mining, money, and murder.


Have you been The Strater Hotel?


Durango, founded in 1880, was constructed because of the gold beneath the rocky mountain soil, and built on the backs of miners, prospectors, bankers, and enterprising men and women who found various ways to make a profit off the land, and off the people who worked the land.


Cassandra's book is a rollicking adventurous mystery with a touch of romance, and while 90% of the history doesn't enter into the book, it is indeed fascinating, and vital to the foundation of the story.


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Further Reading:

More history on The Strater Hotel

History of Downtown Durango


Map of Southwestern Colorado - Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division
Map of Southwestern Colorado - Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

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Hi, I'm MK. When I'm not making stuff up, I bake, garden, explore, decorate, and so much more. It's not a blog about my personal life, but I do share the occasional story as relates to the specific post.

 

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