I’m homegrown, a retired teacher from a rural Colorado school, and live on our family ranch south of Cotopaxi, Colorado. Since I mostly write Colorado-set historical fiction and non-fiction for young readers you’re going to get a bit of an eclectic tour of Colorado starting with my immediate surrounding and then to a few of the settings for my books.
First, let’s get Denver out of the way. I grew up there, but none of my books are set there unless you’re a believer that nothing that is ever written escapes the filter of an author’s experiences and who that person is at the heart level. With that said, the closest book to my growing up experiences was published before I began to focus on historical fiction. It has been re-written and is out today under the title, Insects in the Infield, and captures the feel of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s when motoring around the neighborhood (and beyond) on a bike was common, and the freedom that went along with it electrifying.
I left Denver for good after college and after marriage and a 12 year detour to British Columbia, returned with my husband to take over the lease on a ranch that has been in my family since 1948. My husband and I are now the third generation to ranch here, raising and selling beef naturally with a lifetime goal of continually improving soil and pastures and leaving the ranch whole for future generations to benefit from.
We are situated at the north end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This is a smaller mountain range that stretches from New Mexico northward to the middle of the Colorado. If you were a pioneer, traveling a southern route on your westward journey, your first mountain sighting might have been of the Spanish Peaks which Wikipedia wrongly names as part of the Rocky Mountains instead of this smaller, independent mountain range.The pioneers didn’t know the difference either. In my biography of Edward Wynkoop, one of the founders of Denver, he describes the cheers from the seventeen (frozen) throats of the men in his party when “there before us, darting their snowcapped points into the blue outers were the three Spanish Peaks of the Rocky Mountains.”
We’re not always frozen here, but at 7500 feet, we catch our fair share of Colorado winter weather. A storm can last a few days, but almost always clears quickly leaving the contrast of white against a crystal clear blue sky just as Wynkoop described it. In contrast to Arizona, our predators and plants are a bit larger and less poisonous and prickly. Our county has the largest population of Mountain Lions in Colorado and possibly the entire country. Black bear, coyotes, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and big horn sheep along the Arkansas River are predominant.
Our stretch of the Arkansas River is also the area planned for the controversial, 40 mile “Over the River” draping by the world famous artist, Christo. There are some court cases pending in effort by to stop the project, but so far they have only been able to delay the “draping” until some future date. It’s been nicknamed by locals as “rags over the river” or ROAR—Rags Over the Arkansas River.
Without getting too far from the home geographically, let’s retro-leap to 1882. In that year, a group of courageous Russian Jews immigrated to Cotopaxi to escape the latest pogroms of the Tsarist regime. They planned to farm and eventually own land. The remains of this colony are at about 8,500 feet on the southwest corner of our ranch and formed the basis for my first published historical fiction novel for young readers,
Nothing Here but Stones. It was first published in hardback in 2004 and is now out in paperback.
This is the book that lured me down the historical fiction trail. Not only did I find it fun to write about an event that literally happened in my back yard, but it launched me into other parts of the state. In 1864, while most of the rest of the country was focused on wrapping up the Civil War, the Sand Creek Massacre took place in eastern Colorado, roughly in the area of Eads. During this massacre a group of friendly Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians who believed they were under the protection of the US military were attacked and brutally killed. The events leading up to and beyond the massacre formed the basis for my second historical fiction book, Hard Face Moon, which tells the story of this event through the viewpoint of a mute 13 year old coming-of-age Cheyenne boy.
To lighten things up a little, my final writing destination in Colorado to date is Cripple Creek, Colorado where Ruby, an 11 year old girl, her donkey, and a cat find themselves in one predicament after the next. There are three Ruby and Maude Adventures set in Cripple Creek, Rescue in Poverty Gulch, Trouble on the Tracks, and Trouble Returns. I call these books my antidote to writing about the Sand Creek Massacre as they are light-hearted and fairly tame in comparison. The history of Cripple Creek began with a booming gold rush and stretches into the present times. Many of the original buildings have been converted into casinos, but the historic flavor of this elevated (10,000 plus feet) mountain town remains.
This completes my tour. If the idea of reading more about Colorado’s past has grabbed you, leave a comment for a chance to receive a copy of Massacre, Murder, and Mayhem in the Rocky Mountain West, a compilation of articles published in conjunction with the Pikes Peak Library yearly history symposium. Make sure to include contact info.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour and learned a little bit along the way. More about me, www.nancyoswald.com More about our business and Grass finished beef: www.oswaldgrassfedbeef.com
(all info author provided)
(all info author provided)