Category: Ghost Towns

Elaine Levine ~ A Dip into the Wild and Unruly Past

Cimarron, NM

One of my favorite things to do is to visit historic western towns.  In every single one of them, the energy of the last century feels alive to me.  This past spring, my husband and I took a jaunt down to the wild and unruly town of Cimarron, New Mexico–a historic stop along the rugged Santa Fe Trail.  We were on a mission to photograph an amazing saloon bar like the one featured in my latest story, LEAH AND THE BOUNTY HUNTER.

Over the years, Cimarron has been home to Anasazi, Apache, and Ute Indians, as well as traders, trappers, miners, and ranchers.  It’s now a lovely small town with historic buildings, a few shops, a museum . . . and a very haunted hotel–the St. James.

The St. James Hotel (originally known as the Lambert Inn) was built in 1872 by Henri Lambert–formerly the personal chef of President Lincoln–after his foray into gold mining proved less than lucrative.

The St. James, an oasis of luxury in the late 1800’s, hosted many

St. James Hotel, Cimarron, NM

well known western personages including Jesse James, Bat Masterson, Black Jack Tom Ketchum, General Sheridan, Kit Carson,

Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, Clay Allison, Pat Garret, Fredrick Remington, Annie Oakley, and Zane Grey.

What drew us to the hotel was the gorgeous bar in the restored saloon.

The tin ceiling in the saloon still has nearly two dozen bullet holes from gun fights that erupted inside the

room in the days when carousing cowboys rode horses through saloons and settled disputes with lead.

St. James Historic Saloon

When Henri Lambert’s sons were repairing the roof at the turn of the century, they found over 400 bullet holes in the double planked ceiling separating the saloon from the guest rooms above.

The guest rooms in the historic portion of the hotel are filled with antique and reproduction furniture.  The doors of unoccupied rooms are left open but areblocked off by velvet ropes, letting visitors peek inside rooms that look like museum vignettes.

I took some pictures of the hallways, certain I’d capture a ghostly image.  After all, with 26 recorded deaths on the premises, the probability for encountering an entity seemed high.

St. James 1st Floor Hallway

That night, I lay awake in our first floor room, listening to the music and sounds from the saloon slowly grow quiet as the hotel settled down to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.  Not a floor board creaked.  Not a door opened or closed.  No whispers from disembodied visitors echoed in our room or the hallway.  The absolute silence lulled me to sleep.

The next morning, as we were loading up our car, we came across a lovely young couple in the parking lot.  Theyhad stayed on the second floor, near the hotel’s infamous gambling room.  The woman was looking very pale and distraught.

We asked how they enjoyed their stay and quickly learned their sleep had been disturbed all night long by slamming doors, stomping in the hallway, men arguing, and a lingering scent of cigar smoke.  Her husband, a soldier, had tried numerous times to get the other occupants to settle down so that his wife could sleep.

St. James 2nd Floor Hallway

Of course, there never was anyone to scold because hell raisers in the hallway were not visitors from the human realm…

Elaine Levine is the author of 3 books in the Men of Defiance series that take place in Nineteenth Century Wyoming.  She’ll be giving away a copy of her latest release, LEAH AND THE BOUNTY HUNTER, to one lucky commenter (be sure to let her know if you prefer a paperback or a Kindle ebook version).  Visit her

website for more information

about her books.

Updated: August 18, 2011 — 6:20 pm

Deep Trouble

My next book, releasing May 1…which isn’t THAT far away, is called Deep Trouble.

Deep Trouble begins at a cliff dwelling site which is a somewhat fictionalized Mesa Verde and travels into the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Researching this book was really interesting. I’ll talk more about The Grand Canyon next month, today I’ll tell you a few things I learned about Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is located near the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The Anasazi inhabited Mesa Verde anywhere between 550 to 1300 AD.

The first record of Mesa Verde came around 1760 when Spanish explorers from California traveled through the region. Mesa Verde means Green Table and the area had a lot of lush grass for such a dry region. The explorers saw the green and named it Mesa Verde but they didn’t get close enough to see the cliff dwellings. No one would notice the cliff dwellings for another hundred years.

The existence of the cave dwellings was recorded in 1873 by John Moss, a prospector. Others had seen the cliff dwellings but Moss is the one who got the word out. He acted as guide to a photographer in 1875 and the world suddenly knew about Mesa Verde.

Two cowboys also reported the existance of the ruins in 1888. Tracking wandering cattle through a snowstorm on top of the mesa, they stopped on the edge of a steep canyon. Through the snow they could see the faint outline of the walls and towers of what looked like a huge palace of stone on the far side of the canyon. 

Excited about their discovery, they made a makeshift ladder and climbed down to the deserted cliff city, exploring its ghostly network of deserted rooms, where they found such artifacts as tools and pottery. Their condition was so good that some of the items were still usable. They named the dwelling Cliff Palace, and archaeologists later determined that no one had stood in the rooms explored by the cowboys for nearly six centuries

In 1891 Gustaf Nordenskiöld, a trained mineralogist, introduced scientific methods to artifact collection, recorded locations, photographed extensively, diagrammed sites, and correlated what he observed with existing archaeological literature.

His did great work documenting the site, but then he tried to pack up as many artifacts as he could from the cliff dwellings with plans to take them back to Norway. When his plans were found out he was nearly hanged and had to abandon the area, but he wrote a book about Mesa Verde called The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde. This book put Mesa Verde on the map and unleashed a tremendous interest in the odd place. But, because there was no one protecting the cliff dwellings treasure hunters began systematically stripping the place for souvenirs. They even knocked down some of the walls to let light into the cave dwellings so they could see better to work. The site was finally named a national park in 1906.

These pictures are of several different cliff dwelling sites, including one in Africa. I used them just to show you the different ways ancient people found to make their homes in difficult areas. The one on the lower left is particularly cool and it was a site like this that ultimately was my inspiration for the beginning of the book, because we start off with my heroine being abandoned in one of the high caves when her traveling companions, whom she hired to help her search for the Seven Cities of Gold, were NOT impressed with this first city. No gold here. So they stole her map to the next city, which will lead them to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, left her in the high up cave to die and ran off. Along comes our hero who finds a woman stuck up high where he can’t reach. No ladder because the outlaws shot the one they used to get up there to smithereens.

A scene from the hero and heroine’s first meeting. Gabe Lasley, who first appeared in Cowboy Christmas, hears screaming and shots and rides to the rescue. When he gets to the place all the shooting was coming from he finds….a spooky, long abandoned city carved into stone.

Deep Trouble

Gabe got to the top of the narrow arroyo and pulled his horse to a dead stop.

He was looking at something he couldn’t believe.

A mountain carved up into— homes?

Shaking his head he looked closer, trying to make the structure in front of his eyes something created by nature. But it wasn’t. These were man made. The lowest levels had structure to them. Rock work that formed walls. There were depressions in the rocks above the structures. Cave openings, multiple levels of them. He counted four layers, one above the other, of what had to be dwellings of some kind.

And now abandoned.

Gabe had never heard of this. He was just passing through the area now, but he’d ridden with the cavalry in Texas and the Southwest for years. How could this have gone undiscovered? And who had found it now and died?

Fascinated, Gabe walked his horse into this lost valley, then swung down and tied the gelding to one of a thousand mesquite bushes. The wind whistled through the hills and canyons. It was the only sound and that moaning wind told him no one else was here. Those tracks cut in the dust were the only sign that humans had passed through here in ages. Seven horses in, seven out. Judging by the tracks, he’d say two pack horses, maybe three. So five people had come in here. How many had ridden out?

He tried to remember exactly where that sound had come from and it wasn’t hard to figure it out. He could see where people had stood, horses, supplies. A camp had been set up here and had only been torn down a few minutes ago. A chill sliced up his spine in the Arizona heat as he realized he’d barely missed whoever left this place. The folks doing all the shooting.

But who had done the screaming?

He stared at the wonder before him and studied the sign and terrain with no idea what to do next. There was nothing. No one.

The place was eerie, as if who ever had lived here before still watched, testing those who came. He heard wind whistling like a specter calling to him from those unnatural caves high overhead.

Where had the people gone who had done such work, created such a home? Who would work this hard then leave? Had they died? Had they abandoned all their labor? Had they been killed? And if so where were those that had done the killing?

His eyes went up four levels of stone homes. Gabe felt a quick chill of fear. No human hand created this. And yet what were the other possibilities? He was left with the sense that it was ancient and utterly empty of life.

“Help me.”

He jumped, drew his gun and whirled around toward where the riders had left. Heart slamming, he looked left and right. Blinked and gasped for air and saw. . .

. . .no one.

There was no one anywhere. Could the place be haunted? He didn’t believe in such things but—

That cry echoed and bounced until Gabe was surrounded.

“Help me, please.”

This time it was stronger and even with the echo, Gabe whirled back and looked up and up and up. A woman.

Gabe almost screamed.

Her face was soaked in blood, one arm flung over the edge of the cliff as she lay on her belly, looked down.

He probably would have screamed if he hadn’t choked on spit when he drew in an involuntary breath. While he coughed he fought to get a grip on his nerves.

Spooks and haints were something he’d heard of plenty growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. Lots of superstition in those mountains. But his ma raised them Christian and wasn’t given to such nonsense.


“I’m trapped. They left me.” Her voice was weak but it carried on the quiet of the canyon. This was no ghost. Except could ghosts fly? Because that’s the only way Gabe could see that she got up there.

The coughing ended and, with a whoosh of relief, his head cleared and he knew there was a woman up there. A real woman. A living, human being, definitely in terrible distress.

She was so high overhead, her face streaked in bright red blood. Dark hair spilling down over the edge of the cliff. He had no notion of what she looked like, only her voice and long hair told him she was female.

“Ma’am?” Gabe had no idea what to say or do.

“Help me, please.” Each word shook as if she gathered every ounce of her energy to keep talking. “Help me get down.”

“I’ll help you.” His voice didn’t exactly work. He tried again, loud enough she could hear him. “I’ll help you.”

“Promise you won’t leave me.” She sounded on the verge of pure panic.

Gabe couldn’t say he blamed her. “I’m not going to leave you. I promise.”

“Thank you.” Her voice broke, and he heard a muffled sob. “I need you to get me down.”


It wasn’t fair to ask a trapped bleeding woman how to save herself.

“I don’t know.”

Not fair at all.

Updated: March 15, 2011 — 11:56 am

Before and After a Boom

I absolutely love this picture. This is just the kind of image of that can transport my brain to another era, like falling into the rabbit hole.  Doesn’t it just come alive? Makes me feel like I’m standing right there on the edge of town…a tiny new community popping up in the middle of no where…which is exactly what happened in this historic town of Bodie, California. I came across this picture while looking up info on Montana mining towns, but I marked the site because I was really struck by the contrast in pictures, like I”d been pulled into the bright shiny start of a new gold rush community and then dropped into the aftermath following the boom by the picture below.

Here’s Bodie from another angle, the ghost town I’d expect to see nowadays with a skeletal reminder of its booming heydays. Can you see the church?  Kind of  spooky the difference lighting and angle can make. Bodie was a Quintessential boom town, making a sleepy start in 1859 when prospector W. S. Bodey discovered some gold. He died during a freak blizzard in November of that year, so the town was named in his honor…sort of.  A painter accidentally lettered the stable sign to read “Bodie Stables”, and the new spelling was adopted by the town.

Bodie remained an obscure little mining community with a handful of residents until 1876. A large deposit of gold-bearing ore was discovered and by 1880 the population had exploded to nearly 8,000.  The town grew to more than 2,000 buildings, including two banks, a brass band, railroad, miner’s and mechanic’s unions, several newspapers, and a jail. Over the years Bodie produced nearly $34 million worth of ore and bullion.

At its peak 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups were regular occurrences. “Badman from Bodie” described the town’s rambunctious inhabitants, earning the community a reputation for violence that rivaled Tombstone, Deadwood and Dodge City. Eventually the gold went the way of water in these hills…and the booming town dried up along with it.

Here’s an interesting tidbit I found on Bodie

The Founder Has His Day

“Bodie’s confirmed status as a gold-producing community inspired its historically-minded citizens to wonder about the unfortunate prospector who had succumbed in a snowstorm some 20 years earlier and become the town’s namesake. They located his shallow grave and dug up his bones. One area pioneer said the remains were those of William S. Bodey from New York, but his presumed widow in Poughkeepsie said his first name was really “Wakeman.” The New York Times printed “Waterman.” Despite uncertainty, which continues to this day, citizens organized a grand funeral procession and formally interred the bones in the town cemetery. But they failed to mark the new grave and quickly forgot its location.

Still, it’s the spark  of life in the first picture that really takes me back.  Do you feel it?  Or maybe that picture really makes me believe in GHOST towns 😉

Updated: October 8, 2010 — 6:11 am


Hi everyone!  I have kind of an odd  topic today about “strange things happening for a reason.”   Okay, maybe I should have saved this for closer to Halloween, but it’s a story that happened in the summer, and summer is coming to an end, so I wanted to tell you all about it now.

Because everything I write takes place in Oklahoma or Texas, and because I was born and raised in Oklahoma, most of my research tools are right at my fingertips.  Talking to older people in the area, going to the actual places where my stories are set, and visiting museums and landmarks are all part of my research practices for just about all my novels. 

Louis L’Amour said that if he wrote about a creek or a particular landmark, it was authentic; that it was actually where he said it was, and looked the way he described it.  I don’t quite go that far, but I try to keep the setting and every other component of my writing as true to life as possible.  In order to do that, sometimes you just have to “be there.”
Tamaha, Oklahoma, was an unlikely candidate to be included in my story, FIRE EYES, until I visited there.  But how its inclusion came about is a story in itself—and proves that sometimes our research, as that other saying goes, “happens.”
Though there’s very little to say about the actual town of Tamaha as it exists today, I couldn’t help but use it in my story, FIRE EYES, released last year.  In those long ago days of more than a century past when my story takes place, it was a thriving community.
There’s an odd thing that happened that made me include Tamaha in my book.  I’d been working on it, and had come to the part where the villain and his gang needed to reference a landmark.  But which one? And what was the significance? As I said, I try to stay as historically accurate in my writing as possible, and this story takes place in the eastern part of the state, toward the Arkansas/Oklahoma border.  I must admit, I’m not as familiar with that part of the state as I am with the central part, since that’s where I was born and raised.  A lot of these smaller towns don’t even dot the map, and I had never heard of Tamaha, until one day in May, 2005.
I’d just spoken with a lifelong friend, DaNel Jennings, who now lives in a town in that eastern area of the state.  In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that she and her husband, Jeff, were doing some genealogical research and she had learned she had some relatives buried in a small cemetery in Tamaha.  Now, the intriguing part of this was that her relatives bore the same last name as my maiden name, “Moss.” 
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we really were related?” she asked.  We’d always secretly hoped we were, and pretended that we were, when we were kids.
“Yes,” I responded with a laugh, “but where in the heck is Tamaha?” (As if I would know.)  She began trying to tell me where it was, and I said, “Never mind.  It’s a good thing Jeff knows where he’s going.  Let me know what you find.”
I hung up, wistfully wishing that I could go with her—but that was a three-hour drive and they were leaving the next day.  No way I could take off and drive down there on the spur of the moment, with family obligations.
A couple of hours later, my sister Karen called.  “Cheryl, I need you to come down this weekend,” she said.  I was really intrigued, because she is my “much older” sister—10 years older—and never much “needed” me for anything before.
“What’s going on?”
“I promised Mr. Borin I would take him to visit the graves of his parents and siblings for Memorial Day, and two of his brothers are buried in a cemetery in Tamaha—”
I never heard the rest of her sentence.  I was sure I had misunderstood.  “Where?”
“Tamaha.  And the others—”
Stunned, I interrupted her. “Wait, I have to tell you something.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I’d never heard of this place before, and now, within the space of 2 hours, two people who were very close to me had told me they were going to be going to the cemetery there! 
This was no mere “coincidence.” 

I promised her I would be there—no matter what—Friday afternoon.  We would be going on Saturday morning.
I would never have found the place on my own.  I doubt that Mapquest even has it on their site.  But Mr. Borin, an older gentleman my sister had befriended in years past, knew exactly where to go.  Once we got there, I stepped out and found the headstones for the “Moss” family.  It was amazing to think that my best friend, DaNel, whom I had not seen in over a year, had been standing where I was just a few days earlier—a place neither of us had been before. Again, I wondered what our research through family ancestry would yield. Were we related, as we’d always hoped?  There was an incredible sense of connection, for me, not only for what we were doing that day for Mr. Borin and his long dead relatives, but for what DaNel and I might discover about our own. (BTW, cemeteries are also one of my passions–great for research, just by reading the headstones and figuring out what happened.)
As the three of us, Karen, Mr. Borin, and I stood in the quiet peacefulness of the old cemetery, a man made his way toward us.  “Can I help you?” he asked, introducing himself.  We explained why we were there. “Let me show you the historical side of Tamaha while you’re here,” he said cheerfully.  He had lived there all his life, and there was no detail about the once-thriving community and surrounding area that he didn’t know.  He was glad to share his knowledge, and believe me, I was writing in my little notebook as fast as I could while he talked.
The cemetery is on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River.  “Right down there is where the J.R. Williams was sunk.  She was a Confederate ship, but the Union seized her and changed the name to the J.R. Williams.  But Stand Watie and his men seized her back.”(June 15, 1864)  Our guide chuckled at the thought. 
NOTE:  (Stand Watie was one of only two Native American brigadier generals in the War Between the States.  He was the last Confederate officer to lay down his arms, and was also Chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time.) 
“Come on, I’ll show you the largest black oak tree in Oklahoma—and the oldest.”  Sure enough, it stood towering over one of the first buildings of the settlement of Tamaha, dating back to the 1800’s. 
Next, we visited the town jail, the oldest jail in Oklahoma, built in 1886.  We were able to walk right into it and take pictures.  “We’re trying to get money up to preserve it,” he said.  It stood in the middle of an overgrown field.  “Watch out for snakes, hon,” he told me. Yep, he didn’t have to tell me twice.  My eyes were peeled.
When we left, I knew I had my landmarks that I needed for my book.  I had seen it, and my imagination took over.  It was the “jog” I needed to get on with the writing, but I will never believe for one minute that it was coincidence. 
I use many research resources, but because of the nature of what I love to write—western romance—and because I have been so blessed to actually grow up in the area that I’m writing about, I feel like the most invaluable resource available to me are the people and places I meet and visit.  It’s all around me.
One of the best “hands on” research places I’ve ever been is The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.  I worked there for two years, and I loved every minute of it. The best advantage of working there was the fact that every morning when the doors opened, there was a whole new crowd of people to visit with, and yes, I carried a piece of paper and a pen in my pocket at all times. As for research books, I swallowed very hard and bought the complete set of Time/Life books about the West.  I use it constantly.  Another set of books that I have that really have been a great research tool have been Shelby Foote’s three-book series on the War Between the States.  Very easy to read and full of rich detail that you wouldn’t find in a “regular history book.”
But my day of research at Tamaha is one that I will never forget, and that I’m so glad to have been able to take part in.  Have any of you ever experienced anything like this?  Some kind of remarkable occurrence that has affected your writing  in some way?  Do you classify that as “research”?  Share it, if you have—I know I can’t be the only one!
Below is an excerpt from FIRE EYES. I hope you enjoy it! 
THE SET UP:  A stranger has shown up at Jessica’s door in the evening.  She is reluctant to let him inside, even though good manners would dictate that she find him a meal and a place to bed down.  There is something about him she doesn’t like—and with good reason, as we find out.
“Evenin’, ma’am.”

The stranger looked down the business end of Jessica’s Henry repeater. It was cocked and ready for action.

She drew a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. She stood just inside the cabin door, the muzzle of the rifle gleaming in the lamplight that spilled around her from the interior.

He raised his hands and gave her a sheepish grin. “Don’t mean to startle you. Just hopin’ for a meal. Settlers are few and far between in these here parts.”

“Where’s your horse?” She didn’t lower the gun.

“Well, funny thing. I kinda hate to admit it.” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “I, uh, lost him. Playin’ poker.”


“Over to Tamaha.”

“You’re quite a ways from Tamaha,” she said. “Even farther from where I expect you call home.”

He gave a slow, white grin. “More recently, I hail from the Republic of Texas.”

Jessica raised her chin a notch. It was almost as if this man invited dissension. She disliked the cool, unperturbed way he said it. The Republic of Texas. “Texas is a state, Mister. Has been for over twenty years.”

“Well, now,” he said, placing his booted foot on the bottom porch step. “I guess that all depends on who you’re talkin’ to.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she stepped back to shut the door. “I think you better—”

“Ma’am, I’m awful hungry. I’d be glad for any crumb you could spare.”

“What did you say your name was?” Her voice shook, and she cleared her throat to cover her nervousness. Most people had better manners than to show up right at dark.

“I didn’t. But, it’s Freeman. Andy Freeman.”

“Are you related to Dave Freeman?”

“He’s my brother.” He gave her a sincere look. “Look, ma’am, I’d sure feel a heap better talkin’ to you if I wasn’t lookin’ at you through that repeater. I been lookin’ for Dave.” There was an excited hopefulness in his tone. “You seen him? Ma, she sent me up here after him. She’s just a-hankerin’ for news of him. He ain’t real good about letter-writin’.”

Jessica sighed and lowered the rifle. “Come on in, Mr. Freeman. I’ll see what I can find for you to eat, and give you what news I have of your brother.”

“Thank you, Ma’am. I sure do appreciate your hospitality.”

FIRE EYES  is available at

Updated: August 27, 2010 — 10:55 am

I Love Ghost Towns

Lena Nelson DooleyLena


   Characters who grip your heart


Ghost towns are spread all across our country, but there does seem to be a larger number in the western states. What turns a thriving town into a ghost town?

 A number of events can affect the life and growth of a town. Take for instance Golden, New Mexico, the setting for my latest novel.

General Merchandise This area was inhabited by Spaniards and Indians long before Americans became interested in the area. However, the first gold strike west of the Mississippi was in this area. Hence the name Golden, New Mexico. Miners struck gold there in 1825, years before gold was found in Colorado or California.

 The area remained fairly quiet with just mining camps and placer miners. Shortly after these mining camps were formed, the San Francisco Catholic Church was built in about 1830. That building is still standing. Tourists along the Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe like to take pictures of it. My publisher included the church building on my cover.

 Decades later, several large companies put money into the mines. In 1870 Golden was chosen as the center for the mining district. At the time of my book, 1890, the town supported several saloons, businesses, a school, and even a stock exchange.Golden Mine area

 I believe the major influence that led to the later demise of Golden was when the railroad chose to go through Los Cerrillos far to the north of Golden. When the mines began to play out, the town declined. By 1928, the post office closed, and Golden became an official ghost town.

 Most of these ghost towns have interesting histories if a person wants to dig deep enough to find it. And that’s what I did with Golden.Golden New Mexico

 Perhaps you have areas near you where a town used to thrive. If so, please tell us about some of them.


Photos of Golden, New Mexico used by permission:



Lena’s exciting new book is available now!

Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico


All that glitters is not gold.

Updated: June 6, 2010 — 10:34 am