Buena Vista’s Tales from the Past, by Suzy Kelly

Review by Ed Quillen

Local History – February 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Buena Vista’s Tales from the Past
by Suzy Kelly
Published in 2000 by the author

OVER THE YEARS, one bright spot in the weekly Chaffee County Times of Buena Vista was Suzy Kelly’s column of local lore. Often she focused on some historic landmark, explaining how it came to be there. Or she would expand on the life and family of a recently departed old-timer, or she would pick up on something from the past that you might have heard about and wanted to know more about.

Kelly has now compiled about 75 of these columns into a handsome book, profusely illustrated with old photos. It’s organized by topics — the town, mining, ghost towns, railroads, etc. — and covers just about everything I’d ever wondered about the rich past of the Buena Vista area.

The Lake County War gets a decent treatment, for instance, as does the ice business which once thrived there. (Blocks of ice were cut from ponds in the winter, and stored for use to refrigerate produce being shipped by rail the next summer.)

Kelly writes with a lively and engaging style, and of course a sample serves better than a description:

The value of the burro to early miners is shown by the following story:

On October 21, 1912, the boarders at the Mary Murphy Mine sat down to a dinner of boiled beef, beefsteak, canned string beans, canned spinach, orange fritters, condensed milk, and minced pie. Some of the men quickly became ill and could not finish their meal. The remains of the dinner were thrown out on the camp garbage dump. The burros, loose and rummaging around on the dump, found the meal and finished it off.

Within two weeks, five of the men died and others were seriously ill. Two of the boarders tried Epson salts and they recovered.

Meanwhile tragedy struck, as the burros started dying. Five of them succumbed to the poison. A cry of protest was heard from the miners, and legal, medical, and insurance investigators were called.

The state Bureau of Health sent down two inspectors who stated, “From lack of evidence, the poison was due to a poisonous weed in the canned spinach.” However, a whole can of spinach was fed to a Belgian hare with no apparent harmful effect.

The investigations were still going on a year later, as an investigator from the London Guarantee and Accident Company came from London to check on the tragedy. It was finally determined that botulism had killed the burros and the miners. The insurance companies paid owners for their burros, but most of the miners had no insurance and their families were not compensated.

Like many self-published books, though, this one could have used an editor. For instance, there’s a tale that involves a “sexton house,” which made no sense in the context, since a sexton is someone who maintains church property. Eventually I determined that it should have been “section house” — a railroad building.

The text suffers from far too many exclamation points, and the reader often sees it’s where its is proper — and it cried for an index.

None of these flaws is much more than an annoyance, but they all detract from the pleasure of what is otherwise an enjoyable and informative book, and a useful addition to the region’s history.

— Ed Quillen