In the very early 1900s, a group of well to do business men in Colorado dreamed of a summer colony… A homestead where good friends and family could enjoy the summers socializing, drinking port, smoking cigars, riding horses, fishing and playing tennis while their children played together, away from the heat of Denver. The Moffat tunnel was under construction and Mr. Skinner (one of the top engineers) was asked to keep a keen eye out for good, settleable land close to the railroad, with views and running water. When this land was found, a timber and land claim was applied for. The land, of several thousand acres, was named Miramonte (which means behold the mountain in Spanish). Soon after, my great grandfather, Robert Graham Bosworth came to the land and wanted a part in this dream. It is a dream that my family is still a part of to this day. Every summer growing up, my parents would put my brother and I in the back seat of the car and drive from Utah to spend some time in this ancestral land called Miramonte. For as long as I can remember, it has been my favorite place in this world.
After passing through the gate, you follow a tawny gravel road that winds down through the alpine landscape for an incredible distance. It swings out over outlooks that reveal a breathtaking expanse of mountain ranges, including an unusual mountain that looks like a Saddle. At its foot, a large reservoir gleams in the light of day. You pass by the old doctor’s cabin, which due to years of neglect, is now missing a roof. And by the red barn with its glowing white interior. This is my safe place. Every stall used to be full with horses, whose nickers would fill the place like a heavenly chorus. It is Miramonte tradition to be married in the top of that barn, where the Labor Day square dance is held each year. As you continue down the road, you start to pass large summer cottages, spread out and tucked away into the landscape. There are nine of them in total on the property with a tennis court flanked by ponderosa pines to block the mountain breeze. Every so often, you can hear the far-off deep whistle of a train about to enter the canyon and the deep rumble as it passes through tunnel 23. That sound is one of my favorites. Even as a child, it seemed to stir in me some deep nostalgia from a time before my time.
As a part of this ancestral project that I’ve been fixated on, it dawned on me that I have a memory of a giant chest in the particular cottage that I spent time in as a child. I opened that chest many years ago and saw a collection of old black and white photographs in it. So, ever since last December, I’ve been hell bent on making it to Miramonte specifically to bring my son, Winter there to be nourished by his ancestral roots... And to get into that chest. As the land is inaccessible in Winter time, I had to wait until now.
I spent three days nose deep in that chest, up to my elbows in the black and white faces of people whose names I have only seen written on my family tree and heard mention about. Days reading through journals and telegraphs and letters written in the 1800s and 1900s. And have come out the other side both awestruck and deeply emotional.
I finally got to know my great grandfather. Robert Graham Bosworth was a prominent attorney that was admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court. He had attended Harvard University and Princeton University before practicing law as a partner in the Pershing, Bosworth, Dick and Dawson Law Firm. He spent most of his life as a corporate attorney before becoming a Colorado state senator and the senate majority floor leader. He was drafted into World War I where he was commissioned to be a captain in the United States Army, Field Artillery Division. In 1918, he was the assistant supervisor of instruction at the American Artillery School in Samur France. He commanded the second battalion; 19th field artillery from 1918 to 1919 in Luxembourg.
Growing up, knowing nothing more than his professional accolades, I imagined him to be a serious and reserved even emotionally cold man. But in that chest, I found a collection of letters that he had sent to his son (my grandfather who bears his same name) over the years, which brought him to life and completely changed the way that I saw him. He wrote poetry, which it turns out is not something that started with me. He even claimed that “turning a poetic phrase is a Bosworth family tradition” … A tradition my grandfather and father both followed, but neither ever told me about. Robert was a deeply passionate, warm, generous, social and emotionally effusive man. After reading his letters, I felt almost heartbroken to have never known him. Just to give you a taste of his personality, here is just one example of an excerpt from a letter he wrote to my grandfather, whose nickname was “Bob”.
All of his letters are like this. But Robert’s life was rocked by a tragedy when he was very young. But to tell you of that tragedy, I have to introduce you to my great, great grandfather Joab Otis Bosworth. Joab was born in Lee County Iowa in 1847. Joab started out as a chemist/pharmacist. And it was Joab that brought my family west to Colorado. Although he was not a trained chemist, he “picked all his knowledge up by dint of hard work and study.” He opened a drug store, which in 1876, he turned into a company called the Denver Fire Clay Company. He supplied Colorado assayers with a variety of products including chemicals, mining equipment and supplies, and clay crucibles.
Joab discovered clay deposits and his company went on to become wildly successful. The company's early production was of fire-resistant bricks for the construction of smelters. The company was a prominent American manufacturer, distributor, supplier and importer/exporter for Assayers, Chemists and Laboratories. It had branches in Salt Lake City, Utah, Albuquerque, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, Boise, Idaho and New York, N.Y. He became the founder and president of and the Denver Natural Gas and Oil Company. And he founded the Colorado Powder Company. Joab was one of the first inventors of flash powder for photography. But it is here that the story turns south.
One afternoon in August 1890, while creating a compound used in flash photography, the materials he was working with exploded. And tragically, Joab lost his life. The newspaper articles tell the story in grizzly, Sherlock Holmes style detail. Take this excerpt for example… “Mr. Joab Otis Bosworth, President of the Denver Fire Clay Company was instantly and shockingly killed at one o’clock yesterday afternoon. His charred and mutilated remains were found with his head resting to the East, his feet but a short distance from the counter where he was known to have been standing when the explosion occurred. The body nude, every vestige of clothing having been torn away by the explosion. When the body was tenderly lifted and placed upon a stretcher, it was seen that the right arm had also been blown away. Death had been instantaneous and the force of the concussion so great, that it practically dismembered those positions of the body not immediately touched by the blast. The remaining arm and legs fell off from the body when it was removed at the dead house. The search for other bodies was then continued, but without result.” Though others were injured, Joab was the only one killed in the blast.
His wife, Leonora, was left a widow with three boys. Including my great grandfather, who was just three days short of his second birthday when his father died. But his mother obviously brought him up to be a profoundly loving father. When Joab died, she took over the company that he left behind and ran it with her sons when they came of age. Leonora was also deeply devoted to orphans. In fact, she was president of the Denver Orphans’ Home. Perhaps not having a father made my great grandfather more deeply value being a true presence and support in his own children’s lives.
The further I walk down this path, the more it makes you wonder just how much free will counts in the story of anyone’s life and just how much each one of us is a pre-determined continuation of all those who came before us. I see so much of myself already written in these people I am only now learning about. From the nutty professor behavior to the entrepreneurial streak to the obsession with horses to the aptitude and penchant for poetry to the quest for achievement to the dream of intentional community, which was dreamed up in my family line far before I ever set foot on this land called Miramonte.
In one of the Miramonte cottages, there is a self-playing piano that has a nasty little habit of playing itself; even when no one has turned it on. It gives everyone at Miramonte the creeps, because all of us know that this place is haunted. But I imagine that next time, when I hear its echo, I will feel the pining for those days where this dream of Miramonte felt actualized. Days that I was somehow there for, even though I was not yet born.