Category Archives: people

Letters from Bettie

When the Morrison Heritage Museum was in operation, the Town staff directed any historical correspondence to us. In the 1990s, we received several postcards from Bettie Swanson Ries, the granddaughter of John Swanson. But the letter we’re sharing today was written in 1986 to Sam Arnold, and is included in the Morrison Historical Collection at the Jefferson Co. Archives.

The beginning of a letter from Bettie Swanson Ries to Sam Arnold, written August 4, 1986.

Bettie began her letter with a note of appreciation to Sam Arnold for his little book, The View from Mt. Morrison, but went on to share a variety of reminiscences about her time growing up in Morrison, at the Cliff House in the 1930s. People and places remained fresh in her memory when she visited in July 1986, and she writes that “it lifted my heart on Sunday July 27 to see the young people of today enjoying Morrison and environs in their way, and to recall how we enjoyed and loved it in ours 50 years ago.” Bob Dylan had played Red Rocks that weekend.

The Swanson Family, second owners of the Cliff House.

Peggy Hahn invited me into the Cliff House as my grandfather, John Swanson was the second owner. I gave her a lot of information about how it was in 1929, and how I recalled what my mother, Helen Keel Swanson said it was when she came as a bride. My father Harry Swanson never knew any other way of life except hotel living.

From Red Rocks to Soda Lakes and Berriens to Schneiders, Bettie packed a lot of stories into this one letter. Working at the Hillcrest Inn, swimming in the pool there, and climbing Red Rocks— times were different in Morrison back then. Read Bettie’s entire letter here.

The First Morrison Cowboy Celebration

The Morrison Cowboy Celebration, so the story goes, was conceived early in 1996 when “uncle” Mel Justice was sitting around with a group of locals and sporting a mighty fine, rainbow-colored pair of suspenders. Bob Dougherty was on hand that night when a discussion about Mel’s suspenders led to his mention of a poem called “Billy Carpenter and Smith’s Elastic Braces.” Uncle Mel had never heard it. Bob recited it to Mel and all present, and the idea of a poetry gathering was born.

This inaugural event benefited from the talents of Mary Jordan, who convened a photo shoot at Teresa’s Holiday Bar (that archetypal Morrison saloon) that gave the event a lasting visual imprint. Performers, “saloon girls,” and one unnamed equine launched an image that rocked Morrison for five years running. Debby Mason and Roger Poe signed on as organizers; Patrick Gerace designed a logo and program artwork; and town businesses got involved as sponsors and advertisers. It was a community effort.

1996 performers gathered at Teresa’s Holiday Bar; Jerry Walker, Roz Brown, Bob Dougherty, Liz Masterson, Sean Blackburn. Also saloon girls with bar owner Kim Bianchi, cowboy Gary Gray, bartender Willie. Photo by Mary Jordan.

The Celebration was a major hit, even that first year! Bob rounded up a few of his friends and put together a show, held at the Morrison Town Hall in early September. Bob Dougherty himself acted as emcee, and other performers included Bill Barwick, Roz Brown, Liz Masterson & Sean Blackburn, Maggie Mae Sharp, and Jerry Walker. According to a later report (we’re pulling from the old website here):

Maybe we should start with what the Morrison Cowboy Celebration is NOT. It isn’t a weekend-long festival of all things cowboy. No pony rides, no chuckwagon cookouts. No rodeo. At least, not yet. You won’t find a whole lot of fringe and glitter, but lots of worn jeans and working cowboy hats. It is two grand evenings of some of the best and most diverse cowboy music and poetry you’ll find under one roof at one time. Two evening performances offering a great value for your entertainment dollar. (Because of the small size of the Morrison Town Hall, advance tickets are strongly recommended.)

Australian-born emcee Bob Dougherty entertained audiences with classic cowboy poetry and loud shirts at the Morrison Cowboy Celebration.

As Morrison’s resident (via Australia) cowboy poet, Bob became the emcee and focal point, known as well for his loud cowboy shirts as for his Down-Under-inflected poetry. Bob was once profiled in Westword, whence this introduction:

In the evening, Bob Dougherty works behind the bar at Theresa’s Holiday Bar in Morrison. Dressed all in black, his long gray hair pulled back severely from his face, a cigar clamped between his teeth, he will look up from the taps and say something terse and Western, such as: “Hello, trouble.” He will say this with an Australian accent.

Dougherty is a mass of details: tattoos, earrings, the Three Tenors on CD, an ability to converse in Thai, wine snob, baseball fanatic, extra in the film The Man From Snowy River—”my derriere, anyway”—and, sentimental fool that he is, a tendency to shower women with red roses and Swiss chocolate. —from The Odd Couplet BY ROBIN CHOTZINOFF, Westword, May 23, 1996

At the end of the two evenings, performers launched a tradition for the event by gathering onstage for a rendition of “Happy Trails” to send their audience home on a high note.

Part 1 of ?? …

Bead Hill Angus Ranch

The headquarters of the Bead Hill Angus Ranch.

The headquarters of the Bead Hill Angus Ranch.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

In its original setting, this cabin nestled into a rocky hillside north of Bear Creek was built here by Lee Cox in the 1940s. The one-story building was designed after a stagecoach stop from settlement days, giving it a vintage look earlier than its origins. Mr. Cox probably also gave the adjacent hill its name, Bead Hill, for the Native American artifacts he collected in the area and elsewhere. It is not, to our knowledge, an official placename.

Lee Cox, relaxing on his porch in happier days.

Lee Cox, relaxing on his porch in happier days.

Mr. Cox continued to raise cattle on this land, once owned by the Rooney family, until the 1980s, when the site was endangered by the advent of the beltway being constructed around Denver. His later years were reportedly spent in frustration and bitterness, and he died about 1987 in a nursing home in Morrison. Former Town Board member Dick Scott reconstructs the story:

When the Town hired Carol O’Dowd [as Town Manager] in 1985, the state had already begun obtaining right-of-way for the new four-lane beltway, C-470, around the metro area. The Morrison interchange plan crossed Lee Cox’s ranch and, unable to sell it to be moved, the state would soon demolish his large, modern (built in 1945) “log cabin” ranch house. Lee alone, heartbroken, ill at eighty-some, dourly resisted each visitor while holding his shotgun when answering each knock at his door. Carol described her visit with Lee to me:

“Visiting all Morrison’s neighbors, I knocked on Lee Cox’s door. My smile got me past his shotgun, and I built a relationship of trust. Ill health soon sent him to the Morrison Nursing Home and I visited him there. We reminisced about his life and how to save his home, now in the new state highway right-of-way….”

A last-minute effort saved the cabin itself (read Part 2 here), but the site, now a stone’s throw from C-470, is currently occupied by the Town of Morrison’s sewage treatment plant.

Lee Cox's champion entry in the 1948 National Western Stock Show.

Lee Cox’s champion entry in the 1948 National Western Stock Show.

Remembering Rolf Paul, Mayor and More

In preparation for packing some of our old —and some not so old—historic files off to the Jeffco Archives, we ran across an issue of the Morrison Messenger that was prepared in remembrance of Rolf Paul, who served on Morrison’s Town Board of Trustees from 1974 to 2000, and as mayor from 1980 to 1984. Rolf served the town with dedication, but not without controversy. By nature outspoken and colorful, he made enemies quickly, but turned many of them into friends if they stayed around long enough to appreciate his love for this small town.

Rolf Paul designed the distinctive logo for the town of Morrison, as well as many others in Morrison.

Rolf Paul designed the distinctive logo for the town of Morrison, as well as many others in Morrison.

As Mayor, Rolf quietly protected the small town from financial ruin and did his best to create exciting cultural events to keep the town a dynamic place to live and visit. A graphic artist and independent small-business owner, he juggled the Town’s needs with those of the foil-embossing and die-cutting shop he operated out of his home. For his business and his town, he operated on the principle of “bigger isn’t always better,” his daughter Krista reported. Rolf succumbed to cancer in January 2002, but is still well remembered in Morrison.

Read more about Rolf Paul’s legacy for the Town of Morrison.

Horton House Fire brings Painful Loss to Morrison

Historic Horton House

Historic Horton House in Morrison

Early this morning, the Horton House Bed and Breakfast was destroyed by fire! Heartbreaking photos indicate the extensive damage to Lila Horton’s childhood home, which she has run as a bed and breakfast for many years. (See “historic hospitality,” courtesy of City and Mountain Views.)

Lila has been at the center of Morrison’s history for many years, carrying on the preservation efforts started by her mother, Reenie Horton. She has owned and restored several historic buildings in town, some of which survive on the property.

If you have enjoyed staying at the Horton House, or just appreciated its quaint charm in a quiet corner of Canon St., please consider helping Lila and her family weather this tragic loss. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Lila replace basic necessities and find a place to stay.

Family Visit: Schrocks and Smiths

Yesterday I had a nice get-acquainted visit from three descendants of two pioneer Morrison families. Since the Heritage Museum closed, people don’t find us as easily, but we always appreciate hearing from people who grew up in Morrison or folks who are researching family histories or have something to share. Now that we’re primarily online, please post your comments on any page here, or send an email to info AT

We first heard from Jonas Henry Schrock (III) a few months ago, and that historic name got my attention! Yesterday, Jonas and I met for the first time, and he brought along cousins Karl and Mark Smith. The Schrocks and the (Henry*) Smiths are two of Morrison’s handful of early families whose stories are woven into the town’s history and who have many descendants in the area. Mark and Karl’s father, Bill Smith, had visited several years ago to share stories.

Jonas I came to Morrison in 1874 and homesteaded on Mt. Fischer. In 1888, he married Elnora Cleveland, and they began raising a family, ultimately seven children in all. Jonas II, born in 1899, was known as “Joe,” and, of course, was the father of Jonas III. Mary Schrock later married Henry Smith, of the Baker & Smith Garage, a long-time Morrison enterprise on main street where today the Morrison Carworks continues to provide similar services. They are the grandparents of Karl and Mark Smith.

The original Schrocks bought a home in town in 1906 and, as the gentlemen reminded me, sold the mountain property to John Brisben Walker, who later renamed the mountain “Mt. Falcon” and built a tourism empire in nearby Red Rocks.

Jonas Schrock ran, at various times, a meat market, liquor store, and saloon in Morrison. The latter is best remembered, and was the scene of an infamous double murder, the result of a quarrel between patrons in 1889. Jonas was considerably older than Elnora, and when he fell ill and later died, she was forced to sell some of the property to support her family. At this, she was obviously very successful, as her family grew and prospered as part of Morrison’s story. Like so many Morrison pioneer women, Elnora was hardy and capable and did what needed to be done!

More on the Schrock saga, along with the Smith story, will appear here later.

* Morrison’s other Smith heritage is in the Jeremiah-Robert Smith line.