Haunted Creede, a Love Letter

Main Street, Creede, Colorado, December 1942. – Library of Congress; photographed by Andreas Feininger

Haunted Creede, a Love Letter

By Kandra Payne

Hi, I’m Kandra. Many of you may know me from behind the circulation desk at the La Farge Library here in Santa Fe. I was recently lucky enough to have a book published, and I wanted to share a little bit about my book and how it came to be . . .

I stood there on the snowy playground crying. I was six years old, and my first grade teacher, moved by a short story I had written for her, had just told me in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Kandi, one day you will be a writer!”  Puzzled at the sudden outburst of tears, my sweet teacher, Miss Pate, took my hand and asked me why on earth I was crying. “I don’t want to be a writer,” I sobbed, “I want to be a professional basketball player!” She hurriedly explained that I did not have to be one or the other, I could write about being a professional basketball player. This must have placated me, because off I ran to play on the merry-go-round and did not give it much more thought. This exchange has always stuck with me though. In the back of my mind, Miss Pate’s proclamation and conviction that I would one day be a writer was the first vote of confidence to spur me in that direction and was perhaps one of the most important. When my book proposal for Haunted Creede was approved by Arcadia Publishing, I thought to myself, “Well, Miss Pate, you were right, and thank you for inspiring me so many years ago!

My research for what would one day become the collection of stories contained in my book Haunted Creede started in that very same tiny elementary school in its little library at the top of the stairs. I checked out all the books dealing with anything paranormal and devoured them. At the same time, I began collecting ghost stories about my hometown. My Aunt Jennie Kay probably told me my first, and to this day, my favorite ghost story. It is in the book, so I will not spoil it for you here, but it did encourage me to continue collecting and asking to hear more about those Creede ghosts. My collection and fascination with history grew as I did, always immensely proud to be from this charming and unique little mountain town with its boomtown beginnings and claims of being one of the wildest places in the Wild West.

Three Men stand in the doorway of the Junction Saloon where East Willow and West Willow Creeks meet. – Creede Historical Society Archives

Creede is an old silver mining town high in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. The town had its boom in the early 1890s and was considered, in its heyday, a haven for many of the most famous characters of Wild West lore. Poker Alice, Bat Masterson, Soapy Smith, and Bob Ford, slayer of the bandit Jesse James, had all called Creede home. There was certainly no shortage of stories to be passed down about Creede at its boomtown best. The only question was whether those stories were suitable for the ears of a child. I have to say, I had a hard time believing some of the reports I was told. The sleepy little mining town I grew up in bore no resemblance to the one in the crazy tales of mayhem I was hearing—dancehalls, prostitutes, gunfights, claim jumping, brutal murders. I had a hard timing stretching my imagination far enough to believe these could have happened in my Creede or that there had once been 10,000 residents in a town that now had a population of about 300. Where on earth did all those people LIVE? What did they DO? I had many questions and there seemed to be few concrete answers. As an adult I would set out to answer those questions and solve the mysteries that had intrigued me so as a child.

The book took an unexpected step toward realization, several years ago when I took a trip with my husband Scott to Victoria, BC. While strolling through the streets we saw a sign advertising a ghost tour. I begged him to go along with me, and he, being a paranormal skeptic, protested loud and long, but finally gave in to my enthusiastic cajoling. At the end of our tour, he turned to me and thanked me for persuading him to go! Pleasantly surprised to have learned so much local history on this one hour walk and having seen some pretty spectacular places that we would otherwise have missed, he had loved the tour. The spooky tales expertly told by our guide had added an immediateness to the history, had brought Victoria’s past to life. Later that night Scott told me: “This kind of tour would work well in Creede, and you already know all the ghost stories!” The idea germinated, and I became convinced that he was right. It became one of my dreams to share Creede’s rich history by creating its very own ghost tour. In 2017, as Creede prepared for its 125th anniversary, the time was right to put the tour into action. The Creede Ghost Tour became part of that anniversary weekend celebration and enjoyed much success. Ever since that first summer, the ghost tour has shared Creede’s history with hundreds of people. This book grew from the requests of several tour guests to see these stories in writing.

Main Street, Creede, Colorado – Courtesy of the Author, Photo taken by Annie Butler

Putting my collection in writing has been a labor of love. I liken it to piecing together a jig-saw puzzle of historic facts and eerie stories, tracing personages through newspaper archives, learning who these women and men were, what they did, how they came to live in Creede, what their contributions were to the boomtown they found themselves in, and why they might still remain here in spectral form. At times I felt the ghosts reaching out to me, guiding my research, and I hope that in some small way, I can return the favor. There is a saying that every person dies two deaths, one being corporeal death, and the second and final being the last time the person’s name is spoken aloud. It is my hope that by sharing these stories and speaking these names, I am doing my part in keeping both their memory and history itself alive.

Haunted Creede is a love letter to my hometown, Creede, Colorado. We should soon be adding the book to our library catalog, so be sure to put it on your hold list and register to join in on my author talk on September 30th. This is a book that I hope others will find interesting, and maybe even entertaining. For those who are familiar with the town of Creede, I hope that you might find in the book a little something you did not know about our colorful past. And for those who have never heard of or been to Creede, perhaps these stories will inspire you to come on up and spend some time with us at 8,852 feet.

In the spirit of our Booked Solid in Santa Fe Blog, here is a list of books that have inspired me both as a reader and a writer:

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

American Ghost by Hannah Norhaus

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston

Author Talk with Kandra Payne

Online

Wednesday

September 30th

6PM

Register here https://tinyurl.com/y22fnybq

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