Elaine Levine on Ghost Towns

Dead towns tell tales.  Lies, perhaps, but stories worth listening to nonetheless.  The tales come from the whispers of changing times, lives that start and end or move on.

There are many ghost towns on the Plains of Colorado.  Keota is one.  Founded in 1880 by sisters Mary and Eva Beardsley, it was purchased eight years later by the Lincoln Land and Cattle Company.  It grew to support over 1200 area ranchers.  Situated over 100 miles northeast of Denver and almost 60 miles east of Fort Collins, Colorado, it was the only town for many days’ travel in the time of foot or horse and wagon transportation.

For a while, the town thrived.  In the late 1880s, the residents built a large schoolhouse on a gently sloping hill at the top of the town.  The view from the school is amazing.  The arid prairie rolls in shades of brown and pink in every direction, an ocean of empty land.  No trees, no streets or buildings beyond the handful that comprise the town.  The wind and dust were the town’s only constants.

In the end, the wind won.  In 1890, the post office closed shop.  The school continued on, though residents moved away when the railroad closed.  In the 1930s, the last graduation took place at the school. 

Standing in the streets of what was once an active, albeit small, town makes me curious about the brave souls who lived there.  They got to see the town grow from the dry dirt of a barren land.  The sisters Beardsley picked their hill and built their house without the benefit of trees or water.  Or even other residents. 

And perhaps they got to see their town die, too.  How frightening that would be.  It’s a theme I explore in my Men of Defiance series.  In my first book, RACHEL AND THE HIRED GUN, my fictional town of Defiance was a thriving village.  Situated at the base of the Medicine Bow Mountains, it had a lumber mill, a bank, several saloons and hotels, and a general store.  Sager and Rachel’s fathers are two of the area ranchers the town supports. 

By the second and third books in the series (tentatively titled McCAID’S WOMAN  and LEAH AND THE AVENGER), the town is well on its way to ghost town status.  The bank, the hotels and lumber mill have closed.  Only one saloon remains.  The town’s law-abiding citizens have abandoned it for the more prosperous environments of Denver City and Cheyenne. 

Left behind are two young women, friends of Sager’s brother.  They live at the mercy of the handful of decent citizens who remain–and the growing population of border ruffians and outlaws drawn to the empty town.  Can the Men of Defiance turn the town around?  Is love enough of a foundation for a future?

I hope you’ll visit my website (www.elainelevine.com) to get updates on my books.  RACHEL AND THE HIRED GUN will be released by Kensington Books in January 2009.  I’m writing a serialized prequel to that story which I’ll publish on my website in seven short video clips between now and the end of December.  You can also take a peek at RACHEL AND THE HIRED GUN by reading the first chapter on my website.

Elaine is giving away a T-shirt with her bookcover on it to one reader who subscribes to her newsletter this weekend.  If the drawing winner sends Elaine of picture of herself wearing the T-shirt, she’ll get an autographed copy of Rachel and the Hired Gun when Elaine gets her author copies in December!  Register to win and sign up for more news of Elaine’s new book here: www.elainelevine.com

What ghost towns have you visited recently?  If you stood quietly, with your eyes shut, could you hear the echoes of its former residents?

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62 thoughts on “Elaine Levine on Ghost Towns”

  1. I haven’t been to a ghost town, but definitely want to get the chance to do so!
    When someone mentions “ghost town,” I get goose bumps just thinking about it! LOL

  2. I have never been to a ghost town but the idea that your town could become deserted is a scary thought. Suddenly your little world would disappear.

  3. Good Morning,

    I haven’t been to a ghost town but I have always loved to hear about them. I have been to what are rumored to be haunted houses. It is as if you can sence a presence or feel the living that took place there. Have a wonderful blogging day.

  4. I do to, Sherry! There are so many stories I want to tell. Sometimes you just have to pick a starting point–and what better place to begin than with hunky cowboys? My webmistress did a great job designing a site that could grow with my writing.

  5. Hi, Elaine!! Welcome to Petticoats & Pistols! I hope you come back often and keep us informed on your trilogy. And you already know how much I love your cover!

    The ghost town theme for your book is so intriguing. I have a book on ghost towns with awesome pictures, and they do get the imagination going, don’t they?

    I love your website, too. It’s beautiful!

    Missed meeting you in San Fran. 🙁

  6. I’d love to–thanks Pam! And a huge thanks to the Fillies for inviting me here today! What a terrific site you have here!

    Ghost towns are so much fun–we have quite a few of them out this way, tho nature is reclaiming them very quickly. Some are just faint lines in a farmer’s field…odd rectangles where nothing grows.

    San Fran was a zoo! It’s so hard to find people. I’ll be in DC next year…we could try again!

  7. One of my favorite places is in Colorado, not far from Laramie and Waldon. We have often camped on Red Elephant Mountain where I have found the remnants of an old log cabin. I love to take my book and sit within the remains to read and dream. The solitude and quiet is wonderful and I often imagaine who could have lived there long ago.
    I tried to sign up for your newslewtter but was not successful. Will keep trying. Love your website.

  8. It’s beautiful up there, between the Never Summers and the Rabbit Ears Pass. What a great place to daydream, Connie!

    I’m so sorry that link isn’t working for you. I’m not sure why it isn’t. Just drop me an email at elevine@elainelevine.com with “Subscribe to Elaine Levine’s Newsletter” in the subject (that’s all the link does).

    Thanks for posting!

  9. I love Western stories and Western towns; I once visited a ghost town and found it so interesting. This was in the Dakota’s.
    I signed up for your newsletter.

  10. The Dakotas are beautiful, Robyn! We took a family vacation out that way a few years ago and stopped in Custer State Park. We saw a buffalo standing on a porch of one of the houses in the park. It was so big, I had no idea how it got up there or how it was going to get down!

  11. Colorado is an amazing place. I live about a half an hour from the wyoming border and love it. I love that I can look out my window and see the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Some of the old towns that are still standing are so amazing. I went to Vegas for a wedding once and after the wedding we all went to this old saloon. It was so neat that it was still a running business, it still had all the old bullet holes in the walls it was great. I so love old historic building that are still standing and the stories that come from them. Like you said they worth listening two. I signed up for you newsletter.

  12. Elaine: Greetings to my CRW sister. Wonderful guest blog! I love ghost towns (and anywhere I’m likely to sense whatever was there before). Years ago, before a lot of the old Colorado towns like Black Hawk and Cripple Creek were transformed into gambling meccas, I used to love to drive up there, hang out and soak up the vibes. I think the creepiest place I experienced was an isolated, abandoned town in Arizona (I forgot the name!), either on the way to Prescott or just outside it. And there was an old saloon in Prescott where lots of ghostly images were attached to the ornate bar (original to the building). Excellent experience! Have a great blogging weekend. I can’t wait to read your book!

  13. {{{Elaine}}} Great post on a wonderfully interesting subject. It’s been years since I’ve been to a real, “live” ghost town — though I’ve visited plenty in my reading over the years!

    I agree with the comments about how they have a special ‘feel’ to them. The last one I visited, in Texas, made me expecially sad because there wasn’t even a sign or enough left to identify what town used to be there. [Although, that is the perfect set up for a writer’s imagination to take over, isn’t it???] 🙂

    I can hardly wait for January and your book to be available!!!

    ~ Melissa

  14. Hi Elaine,
    Congratulations on getting your book published and for persevering with your writing. (I read your writing history on your site.)

    I have never been to a ghost town before, but our family is planning our summer vacation for next year through several western states and as we like doing things off the beaten path, visiting an abandoned town seems like a great idea!

    Have a wonderful weekend.


  15. Ooo, Lynda. That does sound creepy! What a cool thing to see. Arizona has many places like that. A lot of hard living happened there…maybe still does. I know–your hero Dev needs to have a problem with an vampire…at a ghost town in Arizona (he does look good in leathers!).

  16. Melissa! Thanks for visiting! That’s the sad thing about most ghost towns I’ve been to out here. They just finish. The people up and leave. The towns return to dust. And no one remembers who or what or why.

    (And we’ll swap books in Jan–your 4th Daughters of Glen will be out!)

  17. Thank you, Za! It doesn’t usually take that long to publish (24 years–gaah!). the truth is, I just wasn’t any good. I had a lot of growing and maturing to do before I could be empathetic with my characters. And, oh man, now I have so much to tell!

    My son and I took a day-long tour of ghost towns out here when he was on vacation from the Army. It was rare for us to give each other much time, and that day remains very special to me. Keota was one of the towns we visited. I do hope you add a ghost town or two to your trip!

  18. Hi Elaine and thanks for blogging at Wildflower Junction! I’m not sure it’s considered an actual ghost town, but I love Virginia City. Lots of western lore in that mining city. Great cover for your book, btw. Wishing you much success!

  19. Hi Elaine great blog! Once I went on a ghost town jeep tour, it was very stressful because the driver kept asking me if I was a believer, then he yelled at me. I guess you are not supposed to be eating pudding on a Jeep tour, but who knew.

    Have you ever been on a Jeep tour of a ghost town Elaine?

  20. Hi Elaine,

    A big welcome to P&P! We’re so happy to have you with us. I love when guests come and I get to find out about them and their books. I’ve read some great stories by guest authors that I probably would never have known about.

    Love the cover of “Rachel and the Hired Gun.” Wow, the model is sure handsome. Looks exactly like what a cowboy hero should. Yours has that toughness about him but the tiny little smile shows that there’s a gentleness lying beneath the surface.

    Your subject of ghost towns is something near and dear to my heart. I love visiting places that were once thriving towns. We have quite a few in our area. Mabelle and Dundee, Texas are within forty miles of here. Then, there’s Anarene. And yes, I can stand in them and imagine the people who once lived there and who put their blood, sweat, and tears into making those towns thrive.

    I hope you come back again before too long. You’re always welcome. Good luck with your book!

  21. I can’t believe I’ve never been to a ghost town. I love history and the thought of stepping into an uninhabited town would let me have more of a visual of what might have been. This will be on my “to do” list for a visit soon!!
    I really look forward to some good reading of yours!!

  22. Howdy, Elaine!

    As you know Westerns have never been my thing, I am more a Regency type chick. But since you let me read yours I have have been hooked! Can’t wait to get my own copy of “Rachael and the Hired Gun” when it makes the bookstores in January ’09. You are the best!

  23. I live in Oregon and there are several ghost towns in the Eastern part of the state.
    Am looking forwrd to reading Rachael and the Hired Gun.

  24. Can you believe I’ve never been to Virginia City? That would be a great trip…I’ll have to put it on the list!

    Thanks for having me here, Charlene. Y’all know how to make a gal feel welcome!

  25. My goodness, Ima! That sounds dreadful! What is the right answer to such a question when you’re alone and at the mercy of a man driving buckwild in the middle of nowhere? I hope you didn’t tell him you believed in pudding! I’m sure that was one trip that you won’t forget!

  26. Thank you Linda! It’s an honor to visit the site of so many talented authors–especially ones who love the West as much as I do!

    I hope you do pop over to one of the ghost towns near you. Take a picnic and give yourself a fun outing. Everyone needs a break now and then!

  27. I’ve never been to Oregon, Estella, but I would love to go. If you do get a chance to visit a ghost town in your state, I hope you’ll let me know what you thought of it!

  28. Hey Elaine – love your book cover.

    Back in the early ’80s, hubby and I caught ‘gold fever’ while travelling through British Columbia.

    Yup – we bought the books, gold mining pans, etc and heading up to the ghost mining town of Granite City which sits on the banks of the Tulameen River, just a few miles north of the Can/US border.

    We were travelling in our 20′ RV which wasn’t big but it was wider than a car. If I’d known we’d have to hug a mountain on a single lane road a couple hundred feet above a river just to get to Granite City…well, I think I’d have changed my mind and found a more accessible place to pan for gold. On the way there, I was on the rockface side which was pretty scarey b/c I kept thinking the mirrors were gonna scrape off. Then we saw a car a mile or so ahead and I almost lost it. A couple corners later, we found a ‘pass zone’ and settled down to wait. I don’t know if the other driver was used to it, but I thought he’d go over the edge at any moment!

    We finally got to Granite City. It was so…incredible. I had a book in my hands with photos from 1890 and 1970. I walked to the remains of a log cabin, and stood there, staring at the same building as in the photos. Then I looked up at the surrounding mountains. I could ‘see’ the area filled with the miner’s tents. And when I closed my eyes, I thought I heard the voices of men calling to each other over the sound of the rushing water.

    We stayed half a day before making the trip back to civilization. Yes, we panned for gold. No, we didn’t find any. Yes, I freaked when the cliff was on my side of the RV heading back…

    There are photos here of where I stood:

    Someday, I’ll go back…

  29. Wow, Anita mae!! What a trip. Those mountain passes can be terrifying. Adventures like that somehow carve themselves into our memories so that a day spent in that rugged terrain seems more vivid than a week in our own backyards. Thanks for sharing that fun story and those wonderful photos!

  30. Hi, Elaine, I can’t wait to read Rachel and the Hired Gun. Ghost towns are special. Bob and I have been to several in Colorado: Carson, Ashcroft, South Park City, Nevadaville, Gothic, Crystal, Independence, and just a week ago we were in Marble. But the scariest was way, way back in the early 70’s, we camped just below Alta. We’d had a hair raising drive on the shelf road up because several Winnabagos of a camera crew were coming down. It was late, and we pitched our tent, ate, and went to sleep. We were startled awake during the night by a sound that reminded me of Pan. Eerie flute-like sounds that had my imagination running wild. Then we heard definite animal sounds, and they were getting louder. And they sounded big. We scrambled into our car, and Bob hit the headlights. Dead ahead was a whole herd of upset sheep. Fortunately, the headlights scared and scattered them, and we spent the rest of the night in the car. The next morning we looked around and discovered we’d camped next to an old dump. Up above was a ghost town: Alta. While exploring Alta, a woman on horseback with her border collie came along and asked if we knew why her sheep were scattered all over. Since she was not happy trying to round up her sheep, we played dumb. Our headlights had spooked the sheep but if we hadn’t turned them on, our little tent and us would’ve been trampled. I never knew until that night how big adult sheep are.

  31. I have never been to a “ghost town”, but have always wanted to!

    What an interesting subject to blog about!

    I signed up for your newsletter!!!!!!!!!

    Have a great weekend!

  32. Hi Elaine, how fun to see you here! I’ve never actually visited a ghost town, but I love old mining towns. What an interesting blog. Our beautiful state has so much to offer.

  33. Hi Elaine! Great post. I adore the stories of old ghost towns. Being from back East and now living out here in CO, it is so interesting to know this kind of history is close to us.

    Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait for your release!


  34. Elaine, I love the post! I love ghosts and their, ahem, haunts, but I’m not remembering ever visiting a ghost town!

    Ghost battlefields, yes.

    Thanks for the fun, and sorry I was late!


  35. Hello, Elaine! Welcome to Wildflower Junction (my favorite place on the web and my internet addiction). What a terrific topic and congrats on your trilogy…. Holcomb Valley, once Southern California’s gold mining hotspot, is abandoned now, there’s not much left, but I set my current project there so get to do some good imagining. One of my favorite places is Virginia City, not a ghost town, but a wonderfully preserved wild west city. And I’m sure it has plenty of ghosts lingering from Comstock miners, cowboys, outlaws, and fancy ladies LOL.

    Thanks for the great post.

  36. Hi Elaine!! Intriguing post!! I love reading about ghosts (I’m writing about one right
    now:-)). I visited a couple of ghost towns when I lived in Arizona, one they turned into a tourist attraction, which wasn’t entirely authentic but fun all the same.

    Rachel and the Hired Gun sounds like such a great story! I can’t wait to read about Sager! He sounds fascinating. 🙂

  37. That’s so sweet of you, Viola! I love ghosts too–as you know from our discussions about my own haunted house! But ghost towns don’t always have ghosts (wouldn’t it be cool if they did?) It’s the total absence of any human presence in a place that was built by humans that makes them so eerie.

    But now you’ve got me thinking…a town of ghosts would make a neat story!

  38. Thanks SOOO much for being our guest in Wildflower Junction this weekend, Elaine! You had a great turnout! Don’t be a stranger, ya hear?

    Tanya, we {{{like}}} P&P junkies!

  39. Think my computer ate my blog comment! Can’t find it anywhere! Basically it said I’ve never visited
    a ghost town. Would like to visit a site in New
    Mexico which began as a mining town in 1882. When
    the demand for coal dwindled, the town began closing
    down in 1940. The Post Office closed in 1947. My
    interest: my Mother was born in Gibson, N. M. in 1918.

    Pat Cochran

  40. Hi Pat! Computers do the strangest things! Mine sent my last post twice. Oh well! I’m glad you popped in! Gibson sounds like a great ghost town candidate! If you go, send me a photo!

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