. . .someone who’s helplessly hopin’ that someday
They’ll finally find the one. . .~~Steve Earle, “Hopeless Romantics”
The deserted mining camps of Colorado are a rich source of ghost stories. When they were at the peak of their population, some numbered in the thousands: miners, gamblers, prostitutes, laundresses, dreamers, doers, bartenders, drunks, lynch mobs, musicians, children, horses, mules–and just as quickly were empty as the mines played out and the citizens moved on. The ones who died in these temporary cities didn’t always move on, though.
One of my favorite stories from the mining camps comes from a place called Buckskin Joe, after Joseph Higginbottom, a trapper and mountaineer who first settled there.
The hero of our story was a prospector named, improbably, J. Dawson Hidgepath, who came to town sometime around 1863-4. In addition to being a rather unsuccessful prospector, Hidgepath was a romantic. He was looking for a woman to call his own, and he wasn’t especially discreet in his choices; he chased married women, schoolmarms, and dance hall girls with equal passion. His life was frequently threatened by irate husbands, and at least once he was beaten to a pulp by a dance hall girl’s pimp, but that didn’t discourage him.
Nor, apparently, did death. On July 23, 1865, Hidgepath was killed when he fell off a cliff face. Depending on which version you read, he was either working at his legitimate trade and slipped, or fell while picking wildflowers for his latest crush.
He was buried, and promptly forgotten, until his bones took to escaping from his grave.
His skeleton first paid a visit to a married woman to whom he had once paid assiduous court; he knocked at the door, shoved a passionate love letter under it, and the startled lady opened the door and toppled over in a dead faint. When she came to she babbled for hours about bones.
He turned up in totally unexpected places: a dance hall girl’s bed, on the front porches of more unfortunate married ladies, and at least once in the kitchen of a very nearsighted lady who mistook his remains for soup bones and tossed them into her soup pot. Her husband, with keener sight, pulled them out just in time.
His bones were buried under a giant boulder by the exasperated townsmen, but kept up their visits to the ladies until a crowd decided to finish him, once and for all. His bones were taken a nearby settlement where the mine had already played out and dumped into the pit of an outhouse. The bones never escaped from there; as one commentator wrily put it, no gentleman goes courting smelling like a toilet.
Still, Hidgepath kept up his amorous ways. The story goes that many years later, a lady visiting the ghost town went into the abandoned outhouse where his bones rested to answer a call of nature and was startled by a whisper from down below: Will you be my own?
For fuller versions of this humorous tale, check out TWILIGHT DWELLERS: GHOSTS, GHOULS AND GOBLINS OF COLORADO (1985) by MaryJoy Martin, and SPOOKY SOUTHWEST: TALES OF HAUNTINGS, STRANGE HAPPENINGS, AND OTHER LOCAL LORE (2004) by S. E. Schlosser.
. . .hopeless romantics are usually hopelessly true. . .