Category Archives: story

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 ?? …

“A Tuesday in late March”

Quarry #10 near Morrison, or Clay Saurian #1, as drawn by Rev. Arthur Lakes.

One hundred forty years ago this month, Morrison entered the history of paleontology in an impressive way, with the discoveries made by Rev. Arthur Lakes on the hogback north of our small town.

On a Tuesday in late March 1877, a young professor made a discovery at what is now Dinosaur Ridge, near Morrison in Jefferson County, Colorado. This discovery transformed American geology and started a revolution in our understanding of dinosaurs. It also sparked a dinosaur “gold rush” that led the great scientific institutions of the East to turn their sights west. The fabulous wealth of such men as George Peabody, Andrew Carnegie, and Marshall Field was unleashed in a quest for the biggest and most bizarre dinosaurs to fill their museums. —Hunt, Lockley, & White, 2002

Arthur Lakes sketch of the quarries along the west slope of the Dakota hogback, from a letter to in 1879.

Ultimately, Lakes agreed to send the dinosaur bones discovered at Morrison to Professor O.C. Marsh at Yale’s Peabody Museum. For the next two years, Lakes and colleagues (including Benjamin Mudge, in white in above drawing) continued to send bones and reports to Marsh documenting their work at 14 sites along the hogback. Lakes also recorded their activities in his diaries, leaving us an extensive historical record of Morrison’s part in the “Bone Wars” of the late 19th century.

Lakes sent his first letter to Marsh on April 2nd, 1877. This letter told Marsh about the discoveries and their position in the sequence of rocks. He included good drawings of two partial bones and a detailed sketch of the geology of the area now known as Red Rocks Park and Dinosaur Ridge. —Hunt, Lockley, & White, 2002

Only four of the quarries yielded significant discoveries. Quarry #10, the Clay Saurian, is known for Apatosaurus ajax (YPM 1860). This site near the southern end of Dinosaur Ridge was relocated in 2002 and has been worked since then by teams from the Morrison Natural History Museum. Based on Lakes’s sketches of the hogback, his diaries, old photos, and field surveys, the location of Quarry #1 was identified in September of 2009 (Ghist & Simmons, 2010). The rediscovered quarry site was named a county landmark in 2014. This and other sites along Alameda Parkway are managed and interpreted by the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge.

National Natural Landmark Plaque on Dinosaur Ridge

The entire “Morrison Fossil Area” was named a National Natural Landmark in 1973. In 2011, the Landmark was expanded to include Late Cretaceous track sites near Golden, and is now called the “Morrison-Golden Fossil Area.”

Ghist, John, Simmons, Beth. 2010. Rediscovering Arthur Lakes’ Historic Lost Quarries at Dinosaur Ridge (Morrison, Colorado) Presented at 2010 GSA Denver Annual Meeting, 1 November 2010.)

Hunt, Adrian, Lockley, Martin and White, Sally. 2002. Historic Dinosaur Quarries of the Dinosaur Ridge Area Friends of Dinosaur Ridge and the University of Colorado at Denver Trackers Research Group.

JCHC. 2014. Preserving Prehistory: Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, Meyer Award for Historic Preservation. In Historically Jeffco magazine, Vol. 35: 39-40. Jefferson County Historical Commission.

JCHC. Dinosaur Ridge Describes Dedication of National Natural Landmark in May 2004.

A New Home for the Cox Cabin

See Part 1 of this story here.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

We’ll pick up where we left off, with Town Manager Carol O’Dowd’s account of her meeting with Lee Cox:

We reminisced about his life and how to save his home, now in the new state highway right-of-way. I offered the idea of using his cabin for a town museum. He liked the idea and approved. Lee died soon after he and his relatives gave the necessary signatures; he died comforted by knowing that his log home would live on as Morrison’s natural history museum….

Then came the challenge of moving the cabin. The Highway Department guys had a soft spot for Morrison and maybe for me—I had taken some pretty serious razzing from them in meetings where I was the only woman in a room with 20 engineer-type males. They gave us the cabin and 10 days to move it before the bulldozers arrived. Robin Smith helped me find a house-moving company just in time.”

Meanwhile, retired USGS paleobotanist and Town Board member Dick Scott had convinced the Town Board that a natural history museum, especially a free building complete with himself as free paleontologist-director, would be a great asset for Morrison. He writes:

“We picked out a site on Morrison’s 80-acre Designated Open Space at the south edge of town. The spot was next to the highway and on a hillside where a basement would double our space. Jack-of-all trades DeWayne Rhodig fired up the town backhoe.

The moving company slid long steel beams and wheels under the cabin. Early one Saturday morning a bulky procession led by our lone police car crawled down Morrison’s main street, lumbered around the left turn southward across Bear Creek, and inched its way into position above DeWayne’s excavation. Later, DeWayne constructed basement walls underneath. Lee Cox’s cabin then became the Morrison Natural History Museum…”

Cox Cabin on the move through Morrison in December 1987.

Cox Cabin on the move through Morrison in December 1987.

More from Dick Scott’s notes on Morrison’s late 20th-century history:

A few pages back we left the Cox cabin perched on steel beams over a hole in the hillside, awaiting conversion to be the Morrison Museum. Why start a museum? I had multiple reasons to believe in the project. First, Morrison’s unique role in the history of paleontology certainly justified a museum. Second, the museum’s visitors could bring needed dollars to our restaurants and shops. Third, the museum as an informal teaching tool could broaden children’s interest in science and nature through their strong fascination with dinosaurs. It was worth a try.

Arthur Lakes’s discovery of dinosaur bones north of Morrison in 1877 earned the small town a significant spot in history. Before the Morrison Museum formally opened, interest was arising in another kind of dinosaur fossils. When Alameda Parkway was extended over the Dakota hogback in 1937 by WPA workers, dinosaur tracks were uncovered along its route.

The east-side road cut through the steeply dipping Dakota sandstones, exposing large surfaces bearing ripple marks and literally hundreds of dinosaur tracks… Then reports surfaced about people digging up the tracks and stealing them. As the Morrison Museum began to take shape, Denver’s Metropolitan State University professor Dr. Martin Lockley, a dinosaur track expert, expressed concern about theft and destruction of these tracks. His concern led to the forming of the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge. The origins of the Morrison museum and the Friends were intertwined.

The early history of the Morrison Natural History Museum is tied to that of the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, who aimed to protect the dinosaur tracks and educate the public about them. Dick Scott served as the first director of both entities, and the Friends initially met at the unfinished museum, which remained their headquarters until about 1993.

Cox Cabin arrives at a newly excavated site south of Morrison.

Cox Cabin arrives at a newly excavated site south of Morrison.

With its foundation/basement completed, the building awaits final transformation.

With its foundation/basement completed, the building awaits final transformation.

Winter view of the museum in its early years.

Winter view of the museum in its early years.

The museum in summer, mid 1990s.

The museum in summer, mid 1990s.

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.