Giving Thanks and Making Plans

I would be remiss this Thanksgiving weekend if I didn’t give thanks to everyone who has supported my work, and who continue to follow me here. It’s been a fun and sometimes challenging ride over the past few decades.

If you follow this website, you know by now that, I will no longer be offering custom made hats after the end of this year. I am still finishing some “half-done” hats and will probably have some gallery returns in January, which I plan to post to Facebook. I plan to downgrade this site in December.

Some of you have been asking “What’s Next?”

Among my planned print projects is a retrospective of my work. Every hat has a story, as do those of you who now own them. So…. if you would like to share a photo of your hat and a few lines of your personal story, I will consider adding those to this book. You can send those to me at aphoenixhat at gmail. That project is a couple years away.

My next textile project is a very limited line of artisanal clothing, cut from mostly 1900s patterns, but with a twist, and featuring motifs from my more popular hats:

—Walking skirts with Tibetan chuba styling. A skirt with my “Wright at Home” applique at the waist. A ‘Fire Duchess” skirt with my Dumpster Fire flame motif along the hem.

—A Model T Duster coat with embroidered panels on the back. A frock coat in pieced wools. Jackets with ravens and crows, and a peacock inspired by the door at the Palmer House in Chicago, a design I have never successfully scaled down for a hat.

I hope to roll out the first pieces in the next few months. Follow me on Facebook and be among the first to see them!

Welcome to The Mercantile …

My hat tag line of “Culturally inspired yet universal, historical yet timeless, handcrafted to wear forever...” has run its course. After 30+ years of hatmaking, it is time for me to move on. I have a short list of hat commissions to wrap up, and will sell my current stock of hats on my website until they are gone, most are now at clearance prices.

UPDATED November 24, 2022:

My deadline for custom hat delivery for Christmas has now passed. I have hats at galleries for their 2022 Holiday Sales and Markets, many of those hats are now discounted. I will have a few new Ready-to-Ship pieces available in the next two weeks which will be available on Facebook.. I expect to have some gallery returns available here after the first of the year.

I am taking my custom hat catalog offline December 25, 2022, and will not offer custom-made hats after January 1, 2023. I am currently designing a very limited line of skirts, jackets and vests which I plan to launch in mid 2023. I am also considering publishing a coffee table format book of my previous works. Stay tuned: )

I will be downgrading this website in January but will still offer products for sale here, as well as my library of written works. You can also find me on Facebook, where I launch new products before they show up here. I am also now on Instagram at @augustphoenixmercantile.

I remain awestruck at the support I have received for my work since its inception. The focus of this website will remain textile related, but as my business is transitioning away from its original purpose, I expect not all of you will want to continue following me here. To those of you who choose to stay for the new adventures, you have my humble thanks and gratitude.

Tools of the Textile Trades

I thought it would be fun to share the sewing tools I saw in museums during my tour of Colorado.

Sewing

Many basic hand sewing tools have not changed much over the past few centuries.

In Gunnison, I was pleased to find a brass thimble that was as intricately decorated as the silver one I brought back from Turkiye a few years back. Also shown here are a needle case (date unknown), and the emory-filled strawberry that would have been attached to a tomato-shaped pin cushion, possibly dating to the Victorian era. A pattern tracing wheel with a package of Singer sewing needles that you might have in your collection. The orange card in that photo shows some small metal fasteners.

In the corner of a general store at a museum in Montrose, I peered into a case to see spools of ribbons which I assumed were for millinery but could also have been used for dresses, or for dressing hair. A counter full of bolts of thread for crochet or embroidery, and a traveling basket of similar threads at a museum in Silverton. I’ve got a few spools of those threads in my collection, in more muted colors, and a similar basket I have used to transport my needlework projects in. I suspect this basket may be missing its lid.

In the Gray House at the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison, the docent asked me about this tin, measuring 14-16″ across, with a dial in the lid. I informed that it was a sales case from a mercantile. The clerk would turn the dial to the selected item, and slide open the door, and retrieve the small wooden case containing the sewing machine needles or bobbin. I was allowed to demonstrate…

Knitting

The tripod device in the first photo was issued to homemakers during WWI, along with 10 pounds of wool yarn, to produce socks for the armed forces. Those who volunteered for this duty were allowed to keep the machine after the war. This machine in Gunnison used to be threaded. If you know how to thread it, drop me a line in the comments, the museum docents would love to be able to demonstrate it again.

The other two photos are paddles for carding raw wool to make into roving, which would have then been spun into yarn. There was a two wheel, multiple spindle spinning wheel which I failed to get a photo of. Also shown in this glass case were a pair of fingerless mitts, resting on top of a pair of red mittens, also at the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison.

I did not see knitting needles, which would have been wood or perhaps steel, and crochet hooks, which I have seen in bone and ivory for the turn of this century. A household of this period may also have had tatting needles, which I’m sure were safely tucked away in a drawer.

Finishing

Fabric would be pressed, and knit pieces would be blocked, with some form of iron. These are some of the more unusual irons I have seen. The first one was unusual to me because I had only ever seen this style of iron with a wooden handle, rather than this twisted metal one which would have been hard on the hands. It would have been heated on top of a woodstove. This iron was marked “25”, another one nearly twice the size was marked “50”. I hope that did not indicate its weight…

The second photo is a steam iron, if you look closely you will see my accidental self-portrait in the balloon-type water receptacle.

The last three photos are of a Chinese iron from the laundry cabin at the Museum of the West in Montrose. The pot was filled with coal, which would have kept the iron hot for an extended period of time. The handle is wood, the bottom is brass, and as you can see, the exterior of the iron is ornamented with continuous diaper patterning and Good Fortune symbols. I did not expect to be handed the iron when I asked to take a photo of it, and in my haste to give it back, I did not clearly note the design on the socket, which was secured to the wooden handle with a large copper rivet. The design might be fish or a dragon.

This final shot is of a General Store at the Museum of the West in Montrose. The sewing supplies and counter for ladies shoes and underwear were to the left of this counter. It hails back to the day when a clerk fetched your items, and you might even have them delivered to your door. Amazon does that now.

Beyond the Door – The Accessories

In my previous post about clothing I viewed during my recent trip to Colorado, I stated: “There were so many shoes and accessories that I am compelled to put those into a separate post…” This is that post. If I have mis-identified any of the dates on these pieces, please correct me by leaving a comment.

Shoes

I saw the white pair in a display case in the Stratter Hotel in Durango, which I believe date to 1917-20. Note the embroidery on the toe. The display is augmented with a pair of gloves, and a peacock feather. The burgundy pair are from the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison, I believe they date to the 1870s.

A pair of boots from the Ute Tribe, date unknown. I was quite taken with the scalloped bead edging. The shoes, also date unknown, have tiny mink head detail as an extension of the lining. Both pair in Montrose.

Hats

A beaver top hat, worn by saloonkeeper F.W. Koehler in Silverton. The interior sizer band and directions are in the next photo.

Mining hats from Silverton, an adult size straw hat from Montrose, a child’s straw with a brown bow from Gunnison. A modern day railroad brakeman’s hat I got to hold while I was on the narrow gauge train headed from Silverton to Durango : ) A wall of cowboy hats from Gunnison, and the embosser that was used to monogram the interior band with the owner’s initials.

Purses

A lace bag, date unknown. A tooled leather handbag that I think dates from the 1940s-50s. A metal mesh bag, which I was allowed to open. I explained to the docent that it was constructed from tiny flat 4-prong studs interlocked by rings. I have a necklace made using a similar technique. All pieces in Gunnison.

Fans, Pins, and Cases

A jeweled hair comb and hatpins from Silverton. A straw fan from Gunnison.

A glove case in Gunnison, the first I had seen, with apologies that the photos are blurry. The sign said that glove cases were used to keep pairs together and to keep the gloves clean since they were worn so often, though I did not see any gloves in this case. The second shot shows a front panel folded down, with clips for something I could not identify. The last shot is a large steamer-style trunk from Montrose.

The Rest…

An ermine muff (the docent said that ermines show up in his no-kill traps occasionally). A watch fob made in prison. A fur collar made from mouton with a heavily quilted interior. A lace collar. Evening capelets, the black one is beaded on the back as well as the front, the other one is embellished in passementerie. All pieces from Gunnison.

A parasol covered in brown water taffeta, with a collapsable handle. The brass sleeve on the handle slides down over the cord-hinged joint. It is very delicate but was also the least fragile parasol of those in this room.

If a yardstick was the measure of the clothing collections I found in museums on this trip (especially the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison), the photos I have posted would measure about a quarter inch on that yardstick. I hope to return to Gunnison to shoot and share more of their collection with you.

In the meantime, I invite you to date these pieces, and if you recognize any of them, drop those details in the comments as well. I have volunteered to assist the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison in dating their pieces, and will forward comments to them for that purpose.

The Dress that Opened Doors…

It all started with a dress.

If you follow this website, you might remember that my great grandparents were married in Gunnison, Colorado in 1907. I inherited her wedding dress, and repurposed the damaged skirt into a 1910-inspired traveling suit to wear during my tour of mining towns and family stomping grounds on the Western Slope of Colorado. (You can review that project at “The Traveler’s New Clothes” and The Traveler’s Shirtwaist”.)

I contacted the museum in Gunnison about donating the blouse, which was in near perfect condition. Pam answered my email, and after reading about the theme of my tour, said that she wanted to introduce me to a couple of local historians while I was there. Gunnison was my last and most important stop on my 10 day tour, so I made an appointment for 2 PM Friday.

I arrived in my traveling suit with the dress donation, notebook and files in hand, and met the two local historians, David Primus and Larry McDonald, the Outreach Coordinator for the Pioneer Museum. Larry had prepared a 16-page digital book on a USB drive, containing links to hundreds of articles about my family from both the Gunnison Museum archives and the Denver Digital Library. I showed them the wedding blouse and a couple of other textiles I had brought to donate. David was especially intrigued with the pillowcase with blue-on-white photos of J.J. Carpenter and Cebolla. I think we talked for about two hours, and Larry scanned the small collection of photos and newspaper clippings from the files I had brought to share.

I was looking for the marker for the Sportsmen’s Hotel – a hunting and fishing lodge built by my great great grandfather in about 1904, and was flabbergasted to hear that it had not been swallowed up by the Blue Mesa Reservoir, but had in fact been moved and is now an apartment building at the edge of town. I was also looking for Jack’s Cabin, where my grandmother and family lived during the 1918 Pandemic. I had spotted it on a historical map but could not locate on a current road map. David knew where that was, and gave me directions, which I would follow the next day after touring the museum.

The next day, Larry met me at the door and took me through the main building. My first stop was a wedding dress worn by Rose Mauer on October 23, 1900. It was fun to see the pleating at the hem, which was similar to the pleating that I was wearing from the repurposed hem from my great grandmother’s wedding skirt.

Larry invited me into a golf cart, and off we went. The Pioneer Museum can rightly be called the Smithsonian of Gunnison, comprised of 30 buildings and several outdoor displays on a 16 acre property. Larry pointed to the buildings and what they contained as we drove by; he knew of my interest in textiles and was taking me to those buildings first. I did not keep track of which building I was in for the next set of garments, these may be in the La Veta building.

This traveling suit belonged to Florence “Flora” Johnston Outcalt (1861- 1936) but no date specific to this dress. So if you can identify the date, please drop me a comment…

This dress was taffeta with a brocade vest and no informational signage. Larry pointed out the buttons made from tiger eye set into silver bezels. It would lead me to start a series on Facebook and Twitter called “Date That Dress” to tap into the knowledge of the costume historians I follow on those platforms. As of this writing, this dress has been dated to 1896 due to the shape and size of the leg-o-mutton sleeves, and identified as daywear due to its color, and the high collar (edged in netting rather than lace)

Another pair of dresses, not dated. I apologize for the lack of clarity, my hands were now shaking. I had brought a tape measure with me, the dress at right measured a 23″ waist, the one next to it, a 21″ waist. The draping at front and back was asymmetrical, and the velvet under panel was only exposed on the one side. It’s an inspiring piece…

There were so many shoes and accessories that I am compelled to put those into a separate post…

I believe this next set was in the Gray House, a building that dates to the 1920s but converted to give visitors an idea of what a Gunnison home was like between 1880-1910. Walking in, it felt as though the inhabitants had just walked out, leaving all their possessions in the spots they had last used them.

In the laundry area was a display of underwear. A sign informed that in the 1880s, women’s undergarments were made from muslin and nainsook – textiles that held together through lye soap and boiling. By the 1920s, silk and rayon came in to use, and below-the-knee bloomers of glove silk replaced the ‘slip’ under long skirts. Shown here are a crotchless bloomers and corset cover set, and another corset cover (at far right) that had “stay-like seaming to a 21 inch waist. The figure was laced in to match this measure.”

Upstairs in a bedroom I found this men’s shirt, starched so stiff that it was board like. I did not see any of the detachable collars or ties that would have been worn with it. Larry started to pull things out of drawers for me to look at, and turned on a still-operational 1912-era Victrola. I probably should have noted what the song was on that scratchy, time-worn record.

In the nursery we found a little girl’s fur coat, bonnet and purse, that I identified for Larry as being made from karakul. A little boy’s velveteen suit, that Larry handed to me and asked if I could straighten the pants so they wouldn’t hang crooked. “Sure!” Just as soon as I pick my jaw up off the floor and snap a few photos (darn my shaking hands)…

In the next bedroom, Larry pulls me over to a table and asks about a large white tin with a dial on top. I tell him it’s from a mercantile, and it’s how sewing machine needles and bobbins were sold. The clerk would turn the dial to the item you needed, and slide open the door, and select from the wooden cases in that section. Larry allowed me to demonstrate.

Another bedroom, another closet, this one filled with garments that appear to date from about 1880 through the Flapper era. Larry hands me a shirtwaist to photograph. I carefully turn up the waist to see the hook and eye closures.

We exit this home so Larry can show me one of his favorites – a bear skin coat from the 1920s that belonged to Edmond Leonard, who came to Gunnison in 1894 and who would become a rancher. Larry is a pretty big guy but this coat would have swamped him, I’m sure it must have weighed at least 50 lbs. There was also a horsehair coat that I didn’t get a photo of, and pair of leather breeches, no tag or sign, that I wish I had been able to get better shots of, especially of the embroidery.

At this point my battery died, so I tried to make mental notes of the other buildings so I could come back and photograph them later.

I would return with my camera, and then drive to the edge of town, where I found the old Sportsmen’s Hotel, now the Cebolla Creek Apartments. A couple of the tenants were in the yard, so I explained that my great great grandfather had built the building they were living in, and that it used to be a hunting lodge where the Blue Mesa Reservoir is now. They had no idea…

Jessica invited me inside so I could see what it looks like now. She called her landlord and left my phone number on his voicemail, and he called me back when I got back to Seattle. How he acquired the building, will probably be subject to a separate post.

I returned to the museum on Sunday to retrieve a flash drive I had loaned to Larry, and told Pam I had found the marker for Jack’s Cabin, where I believe my grandparents met, and where my grandmother harvested hay for the Spann family. Pam disappeared for a few minutes, and returned with the contact information for the Spann family, who still own the property, and who’s patriarch is old enough to possibly remember my grandmother…

My great grandmother’s dress – both the piece I donated and the part that I wore – opened more doors than just the ones at this museum. It helped me find the people, who knew the places, where there were people who knew other people, all of whom would help me to piece together the puzzle that family history can present.

And it all started with a dress… (to be continued…)

A Wild West Tour…

The proprietor of The August Phoenix Mercantile is on the road in Colorado! To those who are looking for the ‘postcards’ from my tour of old mining towns, railroads and family stomping grounds, you will find daily missives at Daveno Travels.

Next stop – the train station in Silverton to board this beauty to Durango. I’ll be back in my Seattle shop late next week.

The Traveler’s Shirtwaist…

After I finished the skirt (as detailed in my previous post), I turned my attention to an Edwardian blouse called a shirtwaist. Webster’s defines it as “a woman’s tailored garment (such as a blouse or dress) with details copied from men’s shirts.”

I had already disassembled the remains of my great grandmother Velma’s wedding skirt, which was too damaged to restore. The blouse however, was in nearly perfect condition, with a pleated front, and a stand up collar, and full sleeves gathered at both the shoulder and a lace-edged cuff. I decided not to replicate it, but instead, to lift details from it for a wool version which would match my walking skirt.

I searched for a pattern that echoed the details of this blouse, and that was simple enough to match my sewing skills since I’ve only worked in rectangular construction, and this was my first foray into a tailored garment. An Australian company called Repeated Originals had a pattern that seemed to fit the bill, so I selected their “Blouse pour dame d’un certain age” dating to 1907, which was the same year Velma wore this dress.

The pattern arrived as a 12 page pdf that you download, print and tape together, and then cut out the pattern pieces. The instructions were minimal and probably adequate for a dressmaker who was familiar with this type of garment. But it looked mostly straight forward, so I cut out the pattern pieces and started sizing them. The front was pleated, so adjusting the depth of the pleats would probably fix the sizing. The back was more fitted and was very short (41 cm) so I made it longer and wider to fit my more portly figure. The illustration showed a waistband that was not included in the pattern. A clothier friend confirmed that shirtwaists were often attached to a waistband, sometimes with a peplum, and that there were hooks on the skirt to hold the shirtwaist in place. Moving ahead, I cut a draft bodice from some linen, which seemed to fit pretty well.

I decided to replicate the embroidery from the back of Velma’s blouse onto my own shirtwaist. I don’t know if shirtwaists were embroidered for daywear, but my mission was to carry forward my family history in wearable form, with strict historical accuracy being secondary to my purpose.

I transferred the embroidery pattern by laying Velma’s blouse over a piece of Kraft paper, and used a straight pin to prick around the edges of the embroidery at 1/8″ intervals. I then ‘connected the dots” on the kraft paper with a sharpie, and then traced the design onto a piece of tissue paper which I pinned to the wool of my shirtwaist (a process I learned from Chinese embroidery technique)

My time was limited, so I appliquéd small flower-shaped lace pieces I had gleaned from a thrift store garment, instead of trying to replicate the flowers from Velma’s blouse. I applied soutache by hand for the stems, which worked fairly well and saved me hours of embroidery time. I lined the back panel with a piece of jacquard from my mother’s wedding dress, which made my shirtwaist a multi-generational heritage piece.

I didn’t have enough lace to inset into the shoulders of my shirtwaist, and decided 100 year old lace wouldn’t hold up at that stress point anyway. I did squeak out enough for the body of the collar, shown below and in comparison to Velma’s blouse.

Two lace appliques also hid a gaff I made when I lengthened the back but forgot to lengthen the front sides to match, which also created an unexpected fray point when I tried to turn the hem. Applique work has become one of my favorite “fix-it’ tools.

The sleeves posed another quandary. I had planned to cut the sleeves from the remaining panel of her skirt, to take advantage of the lace chevron detail, but there was too much damage to work around. I also couldn’t figure out how the sleeves from this pattern worked, so I gave up and disassembled something from my closet to get a pattern for a standard set-in sleeve. I turned to YouTube to learn how to convert a standard sleeve into the Bishop’s sleeve that was closer to the one in the pattern illustration.

I shouldn’t call it a Bishop’s Sleeve, for all the swearing that was involved. The YouTube tutorials said to cut the sleeve longer than your wrist, so it would blouse. But it came out too baggy, and the lace panel I had applied got lost in all the fabric. So I tore the sleeve out, moved the lace panel up about 6″, shortened and narrowed the sleeve by about 4″, and terminated it onto a shorter cuff. I reset the first sleeve three times to get the shoulder seam in its proper place. At least the second sleeve went in much faster, since I had made and corrected all of my errors on the first one…

At this point, I also realized that the ‘wool’ I had chosen for this project, was actually a wool-Lycra blend, with just enough stretch that buttonholes for the front placket became a terrifying prospect. I did consider making a placket from silk that would lay under the front placket, which would conceal the buttons and buttonholes and leave the placket unadorned (as shown on Velma’s blouse below).

But even that seemed daunting, and it left the front too plain, and I reminded myself that I wasn’t making a replica of Velma’s blouse. So I sewed non-functioning buttons onto the front of the placket, and I used hooks and eyes underneath as the actual closures. I moved those three times before I got them right.

The end result was a shirtwaist with a very pretty back, and a front I planned to let hang tunic style, after trials of mounting it onto a waistband made me look like a sack of potatoes. I ultimately added a small decorative brooch in front to cinch it in, which tricks the eye into seeing a peplum.

I have now deviated enough from the original pattern that I’m not sure I can call it a proper shirtwaist. But In spite of the trials, errors, and design deviations, I’m happy with my new traveling ensemble. I hope to get more photos aboard the Alamosa Car on the Silverton-Durango steam train in a couple of weeks…

The Traveler’s New Clothes…

It’s been awhile. Too long perhaps, since last I traveled or made The Maker any new things.

The last long distance trip I took was to Chicago in 2018. Now that COVID-19 has become more nuisance than threat, I am breaking my travel-fast with a trip to Historic Colorado next month, you can see the initial plans for that excursion at Daveno Travels.

As I discovered during my trip to Morocco, “Dressing the Part, is Half the Fun…”

You will find posts about Cebolla and Gunnison on this site. My great grandparents, Harry Carpenter and Velma Eastman were married in Gunnison. Her wedding dress has been sitting in a plain cardboard box in the bottom of my closet, simply labeled “Velma Eastman, 1908.” The gown, along with a family history I am compiling, became the impetus for this trip. I booked a seat on a narrow gauge steam train running from Silverton to Durango, in one of the cars that had been restored to its original 1880s condition, and also booked rooms in historic hotels at either end. The train belongs to the same D&RG Line that ran in front of my family’s hunting and fishing lodge back in 1910. So how could I embark on this journey and not do so in period-inspired traveling clothes?

After Googling “Women’s Wear 1890-1910” I settled on the end of this time period so I could leave my bustle and corset at home. A search of my closet yielded a few pieces that loosely translated to the era, including a pleat-front blouse, and another with a lace collar and lace insets on the sleeves. I found a collarless pin-striped cotton shirt for $5 at a thrift store, and added new buttons and soutache to a vest I already had. I fashioned an undergarment from the top of a dress, whose skirt had already become hats awhile back. Boots, hats, a paisley shawl and jewelry were also waiting for me in my closet, along with a couple of other passable walking skirts not shown here.

I pulled the skirt to Velma’s wedding dress out of its box and found it was badly stained and torn. A piece was missing that I surmise may have become a child’s a christening gown. Upon removing the skirt from its waistband, I found a straight length of batiste with inset lace and pleating, instead of the gored pieces I was expecting. I spent a weekend repairing the pleats and the lace from two 100″ panels of this century-old textile.

This weekend, I stitched the lace to some grey wool from my recycled textiles stash, and added soutache between the pleats to tone down the high contrast between the white batiste and the darker wool and to further stabilize the wedding lace. I had intended to make a 1908 era walking skirt but ended up with more of a dirndl. The waist is elastic in a striped silk casing, and I ran lace along the inside of the hem because I’m fond of that additional detail. I also inset pockets because every traveling woman needs pockets.

But in an attempt to use the full length of lace, the skirt swamped me. So I removed a 16″ panel, which became a drawstring bag; a fun little side project that used up some decorative odds and ends. I’m all about finding a use for everything, even if it means my projects are over-ornamented both inside and out…

Next up – the rest of Velma’s wedding skirt, combined with a piece of shirt-weight pearl grey wool from my stash, reworked into a shirtwaist to match my 1908/dirndl skirt…

The Sportsmen’s Hotel in Cebolla

Photos and text are from our family archives unless otherwise noted. This photo has a notation on the back: “Mr. Harry Carpenter, from Dad, Jan. 21, 1917.

“Probably the best known resort was Sportsmen’s Hotel at Cebolla Creek and Gunnison River, founded by J.J. Carpenter in 1882.

David Primus, from the Digitization Project on Facebook

The town of Gunnison, Colorado was founded in 1874 during the Colorado Silver Rush. Gunnison became a smelting, railroad and supply town, with chief exports of coal and cattle. Several communities sprung up nearby, including the town of Cebolla, named after a wild onion that grew in the area.

My grandmother’s grandfather, J.J. Carpenter, settled in Cebolla sometime after 1878. He built his first lodge across the river, and later (around 1903) rebuilt it on the other side of the river, to be nearer the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) Railroad which had linked Gunnison to Grand Junction in 1883. According to my grandmother, “there was also a wagon road leading west to Sapinero and east to Gunnison, though most travel was by train.”

That building would come to be known as the Sportsman’s Lodge, Sportsmen’s Hotel, and later, as Carpenter’s Fishing Lodge. J.J.’s son Harry, and Harry’s wife Velma Eastman, continued to live there after they married in November 1907. Their daughter – my grandmother Mildred – was born there in September the following year, and recounts from her later childhood that “I used to wash dishes at Gram’s hotel [the Sportsman’s Lodge] for a nickel, and then spent it for a Hershey candy bar, so Gram got her dishes done pretty cheap.” My grandmother also went to school there with 7 other children, in one of the tourist cabins that was converted for schooling during the winter. After Mildred married, she and her husband worked there for awhile in the 1920’s.

My mother was born in Kelso, Washington in 1930, but was raised in Cebolla for her first few years. “My earliest childhood memory was when I must have been two or three years of age. I was pushing my great-grandmother in a swing… It may have been my great grandmother Carpenter [J.J.’s wife Louise Wiseman-Carpenter] or possibly my great aunt Maude Carpenter Darlington.”

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed people to gain legal title to 160 acres of public land by paying a $10 filing fee, clearing and improving the land, and living on it for five years. J.J.’s first Land Patent, issued on November 11, 1904 was for 80 acres. He expanded his claim by an additional 160 acres with a second Land Patent on July 1, 1908 (Homestead Certificate No. 38, signed by President Roosevelt.)

In the April 17, 1894 edition of The Salida Mail, there was a notice that a “new post office established at Cebolla, Gunnison County – Jacob J. Carpenter, postmaster.” My grandmother told me that the train left a mail bag there at noon and again at 4 PM when the train returned. She also recounted how tiresome it was to fetch the mail twice a day from the train.

J.J. Carpenter marketed his establishment to fly fishermen and big game hunters across the United States. He showed his guests the best places for fly fishing, while his twin sons – Howard and Harry – led hunting parties into the hills to hunt deer, elk and mountain sheep. One of our family stories claims that at least one of those hunting parties included Buffalo Bill Cody. I asked my grandmother if she remembered anything about that, but she said “Nellie [her sister] and I were always sent outside to play. Grampa didn’t want us disturbing the guests.” We also have a family theory as to the demise of Howard Carpenter, as told to my grandmother by her father Harry.

Postcards from my family collection

And, there was a bear, rescued by J.J. who found her as an orphaned cub and brought her back to his hotel as a pet. Guests would feed her beer from a baby bottle and the bear gained nationwide fame. Published stories list the bear’s name as Maude, but the hand written note on the back of this photo from my collection notes the name as “Nellie Bear.”

“Nellie Bear” on her post, waiting for the train to arrive. The lodge guest cabins are in the background.
My Great Grandmother, Velma Eastman-Carpenter (Harry’s wife) playing with Nellie as a cub.

Montrose Daily Press, February 3, 1913: Nellie, pet bear to J.J. Carpenter, is dead and the entire town mourns … “The town of Cebolla gave Nellie a funeral that attained the proportions of unanimous display of public grief. A handsome stone monument will mark the bear’s grave.”

The D&RG stopped serving Cebolla in either 1933 or 1954 (depending on the source), and Cebolla, along with the nearby towns of Iola and Sapinero, were submerged by the Mesa Reservoir in 1961. In September 2022, I went to Colorado to look for the marker at the reservoir, and was thrilled to find that the building had been moved before the valley was flooded, and is now an apartment building on the edge of Gunnison.

The story behind the Sportsmen’s Hotel and the dynastic family who operated continues to fascinate me. The Carpenters appear to have been well known in Gunnison society. The following clippings as well as those I will present in future posts, give a glimpse into their activities deemed important enough to chronicle in the daily news. [Sourced from ColoradoHistoricNewspapers.com]

  • Dubois Chronicle, April 21, 1894: The West Denver lode, owned by J.J. Carpenter, is the extension of the Pride of Denver on the west. A tunnel is now being driven to work the lode…assays run from $7-$10 in gold at the moment.
  • Gunnison News Champion, January 19, 1906: J.J. Carpenter and sons are working 5 men at their saw mill, cutting railroad timbers. Sportsmen’s Lodge now has 12 bear dogs and plans to add 2 more – giving him “the finest pack of bear dogs in the state”.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, February 23, 1906: New cabins are being built at Sportsmen’s Hotel – cabins will reach over the water so guests can fish off their porch or lie in bed and fish out the window.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, July 14, 1905: An advertisement for the Sportsmen’s Hotel, “Rates $2 per day!”
  • Gunnison News-Champion, March 15, 1907: Mrs. Carpenter was left in North Carolina with her aging parents – she has malaria – J.J. returns to Sportsman’s to prepare for a big bear hung on March 25 with Ches. Gates, son of New York multi-millionaire John Gates. They’ll take 20 horses and 26 dogs to Crystal River. Harry and Howard [Carpenter] will go as guides. It’s the Gates’ second trip.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, July 1, 1910: J.J. Carpenter says he’s expecting a big crowd on the Fourth. Sportsmen’s Hotel is doing better business this year. “River clear, fly fishing good, some fine catches being made.” Among the newcomers at the hotel are Guy U. Hardy from Canon City, Mr. Douglass from Denver, and Mr. Baldwin of Denver. All are enjoying meals prepared by the new Scotch cook.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, February 9, 1912: J.J. Carpenter anticipates a business trip to Denver this week.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, October 11, 1912: Harold Carpenter [son of J.J.] is missing – was to marry a Montrose girl. [I will include additional news articles in a subsequent post specific to Harold.]
  • Gunnison News-Champion, August 15, 1913: J.J. Carpenter is in Denver this week with a carload of cattle.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, May 14, 1916: Garages to house 8 autos are added to Sportsman’s Hotel.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, February 11, 1916: 30 inches of snow in Cebolla, J.J. Carpenter’s barn roof collapses. His wife returns after her recent operation.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, March 23, 1923: J.J. Carpenter changes the name of his famous tourist home from Sportsmen’s Hotel to the Carpenter Fishing Resort.
  • Gunnison News-Champion, April 27, 1923: J.J. Carpenter celebrates his 71st birthday [at the Carpenter Fishing Resort].

The following comments were left on my original post at Daveno Historica (a family histories blog). I have edited some comments for clarity.

  1. Lee Carpenter(March 15, 2021) The bears name was Nellie. They left it alone too long and the bear malled one of the hands that fed it so they shot it. I have the original picture of the tack room with the eagle and the stuffed kitty. My great grandfather [Earl John Carpenter, Sr.] killed that mountain lion with a bowie knife at 13 years old. Earl John Carpenter Sr. married Dottie Dillie. They had 3 children: my grandfather Earl John Carpenter Jr. and my two aunts, Charlotte, and Betty. I have Howard’s pocket watch.

augustphoenixhats (March 15, 2021)

That is sad about Nellie, I had not heard that story. Cool story about the mountain lion. I have several photos of that, it looks like they moved it around for various photo opps.

  1. Anonymous(April 11, 2021) Hi Lee, my name is Lynn Carpenter Cadrin and I am related to you! My great grandfather was Lloyd DeVere, one of your great grandfather’s older brothers. I am fortunate to still have my uncle George living… I believe that is Howard, that is the watch chain hanging out of his pocket. I have that watch.
  2. Justin Wean(August 24, 2021) Hi! I’m Justin Wean. I am related to both of you. Betty Carpenter is my Mema. I am so fascinated by both the Carpenter and Devere sides of this family. My father is Gregory John Wean. Son of Betty Maude Carpenter and Frank Peter Wean Jr.
  3. Claudia (December 30, 2021) Hello, J.J. Carpenter was the brother of my great grandmother Sue Carpenter Childs (one of the siblings that stayed in Mitchell County NC). I have been reading the news articles about Howard’s death and the inquest once his remains were found. Several news articles mentioned that J.J. had mentioned who he thought had killed Howard. Do you know who that was?
    1. augustphoenixhats (December 31, 2021) My grandmother was told by her father, Harry (twin to Howard) that it was the priest who went with Howard on that hunting trip. Two men left but only the priest came back. She also said that her family left the Catholic church and became Episcopalian after that. I have not yet confirmed the story.
    1. doveoysterachilles90645(March 1, 2022) I found where the priest, Father O”Farrell, died from a crushed skull in 1923. He was late for a wedding, driving fast after a New Years Eve Party. A sketch of him accompanied the article. He was young and nice looking. I also found written that Howard’s fiancee, Anna Landry, was a part time housekeeper for Father O’Farrell.
    2. augustphoenixhats (March 2, 2022) I had also heard there was some connection between Anna and Father O’Farrell that hinted at the priest’s jealousy of Howard regarding Anna. Thank you for this information.

New Product at The Mercantile…

We are pleased to welcome Marie Cooley and her “Tarot of the Tailors” to the August Phoenix Mercantile!

This lovely Tarot deck, designed and crafted by Marie Cooley is now advertised in our online shop and is available for purchase directly from Marie via PayPal. You may contact her at The Fitting Room at the email address listed in the following announcement.

“Twenty years ago, give or take, my Husband and I created the Tarot of the Tailor: a fortune telling deck for Creative people, especially sewers. They were designed as gifts for our friends and made by hand. They proved to be very popular, and the opportunity presented itself to have the deck professionally printed. I have been selling them ever since, as an adjunct to my corset making business.”

“Each deck contains 22 picture cards (with a blank of course to let you create your own or replace the one the dog ate). A booklet is included to help interpret each image to give insight for the reader to ‘read’ the future and ‘give advice’ for the creative person – all in the spirt of fun and games!”

“The cards come wrapped by hand, and tied with string to make a nice gift presentation.”