Last summer, 2008, I found something out from my Dad that was absolutely astounding. Now this ain’t a myth, this is true. I’m shootin’ ya’ straight here.
My family and I, wife and two little kids, then 6 and 2, drove out to see my Dad in the farm country of Southwest Colorado. He grew up out there in the ’20s and ’30s and finally retired there. I did a bit of growing up in the Denver suburb called ‘Littleton’ back in the day, but anyway…
Lots of driving, over 3,700 miles in 12 days, and we made the most of it and saw lots of neat stuff. Including the Denver Zoo and the Albuquerque Museum of Natural History. We also saw the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and the crisp sprawling beauty of southern Wyoming. We visited with my dad for a few days out there in the plains where he grew up and I found out some weird stuff that I never knew. My Dad never talked much about himself when I was a kid.
So dad was 89 years old last summer, he and my Mom adopted me when he was 43. His Dad (my Granddad) died in 1935 at 80 years old- when my Dad was only 16! You might want to read that again because frankly, if I were reading this on someone’s blog I’d have too. But here’s the startling thing: Gid Thompson (that was my Granddad’s name) and his brother Bill, fled the Carolinas when they were kids, probably to avoid possible conscription in the confederate army of the civil war in the mid 1860s. Over the following decade, in their early teens, they both slowly made their way out West apparently by nefarious means. They reportedly killed a guy in Kansas near Dodge City, this is documented, and robbed him of about 4 thousand dollars. They fled Dodge as many outlaws did at that time by crossing the border into Colorado’s Baca County. They bought up a good amount of land and set up a homestead there. About 10 miles south of the old place they settled on, was a town called Boston. That town was frequented by outlaws and spillover scum from Kansas and was eventually burned down by that same ilk sometime in the late 1880s. At some point, Gid and Bill were arrested for the gunning down of a Sheriff in the main street of Boston, I think his name was Smith or Miller or something, and Bill went to jail for it. They were both caught and went to trial a few years before about the aforementioned murder of that guy in Kansas. Gid spent time in Leavenworth for that but was strangely out in two years. Bill wound up spending a couple of years in jail for the murder of that lawman in Boston, Colorado. It seems that in both cases, one brother took the full rap for the other and was strangely out in two years. For MURDER!
It’s so quiet out there now, but it was a very different place in the late 19th century. A lawyer who was looking up stuff for my Dad recently uncovered these facts in a book about Baca county, and I read the excerpts while I was out there.
One of the many things I found amazing when hearing about the past of Baca county, is that many things we see in TV shows and movies about the old west actually happened in that town of Boston and in that county and the stories were handed down to following generations in the old oral traditions. But because none of the major players involved had a “catchy name”, the people and even the town itself faded as ashes into the dust of memory. If one of the shooters in that town had a name like ‘Bat’ or ‘McGrew’ or ‘Ringo’ or something, they’d still be singing about it. But ‘Thompson’ just doesn’t have a ‘catch’ to it that would make its owner immediately famous. (Boy, I’m sure finding THAT out) But the deeds were still done, even though they are not sung.
Now, all that remains is the old Boston graveyard on a hill nearby. My dad and I went there a few years ago and from that graveyard hill you can still look across the farm road and see the tiered flat ground that were the city foundations once. It’s been plowed over dozens of times since then and you can barely make it out. I never knew until this trip what a wild and bloody town that was, and the part my Dad’s father played in it.
Cool trip, I must say.
But think of this, my ‘Grandfather’ was alive when Lincoln was alive. Not Great Grandfather, not Great, Great, Great Grandfather, my Grandad. Makes me feel old to think about it but I’m really not. I’m only in my late 40s.
So fast-forward to this last January, the eve of the President’s inaguration: Dad called me to talk. The last couple of times I had spoken with him on the phone that week, he had seemed grouchy and tired. Exactly how he seemed when I was a kid, but not how he’s sounded in many years. He called to tell me that he’s putting his ducks in a row- or as he called it, ‘closing the gates’. He turned 90 this past April. He said that he wanted to finalize any loose ends so that his affairs won’t be in such a mess when he ‘goes’. The weight of the conversation kept me from asking, “Gee, aren’t ya’ gonna’ watch the inauguration?” He wouldn’t have liked that I don’t think, being as… let’s say ‘non-progressive’ about politics and such.
But despite this fact, and with the burden of a life-discussion on our backs, I let it alone and hung up and began to reflect on the extraordinary bookend that my Dad closes in the twilight of his life and in the hand to hand of his father and himself. Chiefly, that his father walked the Earth with President Lincoln, he breathed the same air as slaves, and heard the first cannons of American civil rights shaking the clouds.
And that man’s son, will likely die under a black President.