Prepare yourselves to follow me…
In June of 1879, a Canadian prospector named Richard Irwin discovered silver in an area that was located about eight miles west of Crested Butte, Colorado. Although the land belonged to the Ute, once word spread, the town of Irwin rapidly grew. By 1882, the town boasted of a population of 5,000, and the main street was a mile long. Many businesses were built and the town included a bank, shops, hotels, a theater, and a weekly newspaper, the Elk Mountain Pilot. The bustling town of Irwin had three churches, a school, a large ore mill, saloons and gambling houses and a town jail that employed two town marshals.
In 1880, President Ulysses S. Grant even visited the popular hamlet and stayed for a couple of days. But as quickly as the mountain hamlet grew, it suddenly died and disappeared. By 1885, Irwin was deserted. Few remnants of the town remained, except for the old Ruby-Irwin Cemetery.
As a child in the 1940s, my mama and her family would often take road trips around the countryside near her hometown of Hotchkiss, Colorado. One day when she was a girl, her parents started towards Crested Butte and drove over Kebler Pass Road. At one time, this route was the Ute Indian Trail. This was a popular area with the locals. With the Ruby Range to the west, the West Elk Mountains to the south, and Lake Irwin nearby, the area was beautiful with aspen groves and Colorado wild flowers that bloomed in abundance.
At one point on their travels, my grandfather pulled the car over, and my mother, Dotty Allen, decided to explore the area. She walked along and discovered a cemetery. One tombstone caught her attention, and the inscription stayed with her, for she memorized the words:
My good people as you pass by,
As you are now so once was I,
As I am now you soon must be,
Prepare yourselves to follow me.
The words haunted my mother. Time passed, and when my mother was in her teens, she tried to find this cemetery once more, but she was unable to locate it or the tombstone that gave her chills. She often told this story to me and my little brothers, and it provided us with one spooky story. Over the years, she often wondered just where this tombstone was located.
Recently, I stayed in the home of a cousin, Nina Campbell, who shared with me the family history of the Allens that came to Hotchkiss in 1886. In one of her books, that she received from her mother-in-law, Cabin and a Clothesline: a Saga of the North Fork High Country and Its People, she shared some of the family history. Later, she also wanted to convey the tale of Mary Bambrough that lived in Irwin and died when she was just seventeen years old. As she read, I instantly recalled the story that my mama told us as children. This was the woman! This was the tombstone that gave my mama goosebumps! Finally, the mystery of the tombstone was solved!
- Clock, Laura S. Cabin and a Clothesline: a Saga of the North Fork High Country and Its People. Western Reflections Pub. Co., 2002.
- Dallas, Sandra. Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.
- Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests – Resource Management, USDA Forest Service, http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/gmug/landmanagement/resourcemanagement/?cid=stelprdb5437382.
- Gregory, Lee. Colorado Scenic Guide. Johnson Books, 1996.
- Irwin Cemetery Headstones, Gunnison County, COGenWeb Archive Projec, www.usgwarchives.net/co/gunnison/costones/irwin.htm.
- Mary Bambrough (1864 – 1881) – Find A Grave Memorial, findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8008283.