Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 8, 2013

Prostitutes’ headstones

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:19 pm
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(click on any photo to enlarge it)

Like many towns in the Rocky Mountains, Silverton, Colorado, got its start in the gold- and silver-mining boom of the 1870s. Mine bosses advertised in overseas newspapers to get workers, and ore was extracted at a frenzied pace; the town was gathering place, supply source, and entertainment headquarters. It was a rugged life for those determined enough to persevere through the brutal winters and in the perilous workplaces. Even the mules weren’t safe, as evidenced by the headstone pictured to the right.

An 18:1 ratio of males to females attracted women desperate for income, as the law looked the other way regarding prostitution. After all, prostitutes had to pay a fine of $5 each month to the city’s coffers and, with as many as 117 of them working in 1883, that steady revenue certainly helped balance the budget. They lived on the wrong side of the tracks and frequented the dance halls, saloons, and bordellos on that notorious east side of town.

In the quiet morning light, the town cemetery beckoned us to explore. Scattered beyond the imposing granite monuments of railroad tycoons and city fathers, a small collection of simple headstones marked where a few of these too-used bodies lay. The markers, softened today by dappled shadows, appear to have been purchased by the local historical or cemetery society.

I paused on the hillside, grateful that someone felt their lives and deaths were worth remembering, wondering whether most died alone in their anguish and despair, shaking my head at the pure calamity of it all. This is not the place for a tirade against the indescribable evil of the sex trade, which degrades and demeans women and children and destroys every shred of self-esteem and worth. The ongoing battle to free these prisoners belongs to all of us. Let me simply say that my heart was overwhelmed by these few tragic epitaphs describing women of Silverton. May they rest in peace.

February 6, 2012

Jay Canyon 4: Revelation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
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(Continued from Jay Canyon 3: Reflect)

Halfway back to our car, in the middle of nowhere, a man’s voice hailed us from forty yards above. “Did you visit the ruin site?” he inquired. Tara and I looked at each other, wondering how much to say. Archaeological etiquette calls for much discretion in these matters.

He had monitored the site for quite a number of years and had a detailed history of it; when he heard I was a park service employee, a bond of trust was established. With a note of excitement in his voice, he asked, “Those bones in the granary — did you see them? They’re adolescent ancestral Puebloan.”

Within the granary: a teenager's bones

My mind careened back to the ribs and pelvis, which we had carelessly assumed were from a deer because that and rabbit are the only kind of bones we ever see. Instantly the niggling disconnect in my brain, the missing piece, came into sharp focus. Now I saw the acetabulum, the cup-shaped depression that holds the head of the femur. Above it, the sweeping curve of the iliac crest was unmistakable. Half of a human pelvis, all right.

The man continued his story. “Pot-hunters looted the site multiple times. Four or five bodies’ worth of bones were in a pile on the surface when I first came to the alcove decades ago. They were re-interred in the midden, but folks keep poking around and digging them up.”

After talking further and thanking him for his illumination, we made our way down to the car in utter silence. Everything had changed with one sentence. The place we had just explored was not just a food storage site or a group of houses; it was also a family cemetery.

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