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Camp of the Whispering Pines

STONEWALL — Back in the late 1910s and 20’s, this time of year was when dozens of coal camp kids were just returning (or recuperating) from their summer camp experience. Yes, it is true. While their hardworking parents remained at their posts in the mining or coking towns, watching billows of smoke or coal dust, listening to the work whistles, squeals and thumps of heavy machinery and wished for a breath of clean mountain air, their children were off hearing bird song and inhaling the pure smell of pine trees. They were the lucky few who attended Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s Camp of the Whispering Pines in Stonewall. CF&I was the largest company operating in the southern coal fields of Colorado, and their mines, and therefore their camps, were the biggest in the two county area. At one time or another, Las Animas boasted 18 CF&I properties, while Huerfano County had at least a dozen. The Sociological Department of the company dreamed up this teenage idyll. The Sociological Department was the branch of the CF&I established to improve the lives of miners and their families through instruction of the American way of life (as the officials perceived it). The department introduced miners, most of them of foreign or rural American birth, to arts and handicrafts, first aid and manual training through lectures, workshops and traveling exhibitions. It also introduced good clean American living to the

mining towns by way of the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA, where programs and social gatherings were scheduled to teach standards of health and hygiene as simple as the use of a toothbrush right up to the difficulty of setting broken limbs, and to provide facilities for recreation. As the YMCA programs moved into the larger coal camps, scouting programs for youth were also initiated. Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girl troops were organized to be both fun and functional. It was for these young people the summer camp was built. Around 1915, the concept of sending the scouts off on camping trips was devised. The earliest trip for Camp Fire Girls was said to be in about 1916 when they traveled to the abandoned coal camp of Tercio, a popular spot for end-of-term school picnics, company field days of sports and games and other large outings. That summer in their camp, the girls slept in the old Tercio school house and took their meals in the former boardinghouse, meanwhile enjoying the fresh air through hikes, rock climbing and games. The jaunt was so successful as judged by the girls and their leaders that the program was quickly expanded. In 1916, CF&I purchased 40 acres, the former “Gysin place”, in Stonewall for a camping ground. The company promised to build a fence around the property, complete with a handsome and welcoming gateway arch. They went so far as to stock the stream (aka the Middle Fork of the Purgatory River). In 1917, the YMCA along with school teachers, Sociological Department employees, volunteers and chaperones, operated the camp. Just one session brought 72 Camp Fire Girls to Stonewall. All but seven were from Las Animas County CF&I camps and the remainder from Walsen in Huerfano County. The girls boarded the train in Trinidad to the end of the line in Weston, and from there were transported for their 10-day stay by automobiles. Their quarters were said to be the “Stonewall Country Club”, the official name of the lodge. There they could camp outside under the trees or sleep inside in one of the rooms, or on the spacious porch. Their activities included gathering wood for the cookstoves and fireplaces, learning arts, crafts and folk dancing, taking hikes and rock climbing, and attending various scouting ceremonies as well as Sunday School. Part of the YMCA credo was the health aspect. Girls were scheduled for daily physical exercise classes for which they donned baggy, knee length bloomers and middy blouses. The location chosen for the lodge was at about 9,000 feet altitude, surrounded by mountains, streams and trees. Wildlife abounded in the forest, including deer, turkey, bear and the ever-entertaining squirrels and chipmunks. A site on a hillside in the pines was selected to house the lodge, which was originally 56 by 25 feet in size. While transportation to the lodge was free, the cost of the 10-day session was $5.00 per head. This limited enrollment to those families who divert so much from already tight budgets. The new camp was formally opened with ceremonies on June 23, 1918. It was named Camp of the Whispering Pines by acclaim of the kids themselves. The lodge featured an immense stone fireplace and a front porch spanning the length of the building. A bath house with four showers and four dressing rooms was a highlight and possibly a novel one since “shower baths” were just gaining popularly nationwide. Three sessions for girls were held, and then the boys took over the premises. One of their guides was the Rev. George S. Darley. The YMCA and other organizers were joined by members of the Red Cross who oversaw the girls’ war and other patriotic work. These classes would have included sewing articles for soldiers, first aid and rolling bandages. During the years of World War I and later, these articles included such items as “pajama suits”, bed shirts, knitted socks, wristlets, “helmets” (meaning warm headwear), and sweaters. Each session of the girls also took part in a 20-mile hike and shorter walks to rock formations and scenic highpoints near the camp. The girls’ schedule was: 6:45 a.m. Rising bell 7:15 a.m. Setting up exercises 7:30 a.m. Devotional exercises 7:45 a.m. Breakfast. Cleaning of grounds and buildings 9:30 a.m. Folk dancing 10:00 a.m. First air 10:30 a.m. Stenciling and painting 11:00 a.m. Red Cross work 12:00 noon Dinner 1:00 p.m. Rest 2-5:30 p.m. Recreation 5:30 p.m. Supper 7:30 p.m. Entertainment 9:00 p.m. Retiring bell 9:30 p.m. Lights out. The boys schedule was no doubt much the same. The regimen was augmented by practice for and the presentation for entertainment by the campers in turn during the evenings. In 1919 returned war veterans assisted with the physical training and outdoor activities for the boys. Some 200 youth attended that summer including three sessions of girls and two for boys. With sessions open to a maximum of 50 scouts, this would mean some 250 young people had enjoyed the facilities that year. The camp had been improved by painting the buildings and adding a rain-proof shed for the kids’ baggage, the fact of which suggests a previous incident. The bath house had been improved and a piano added to the lodge. In 1920 the camp opened June 7 when 22 boys from the Walsenburg area attended. Another session for males followed and the girls began their activites in July. No less than 50 boys from Huerfano County opened the 1921 season. Another male group attended, and two girls groups. They enjoyed a new screened-in porch and “new heating apparatus for the bath house”. In 1927 some 100 girls of Huerfano County attended. The camp had just received electricity, so times were changing and so was camping. The activities no doubt remained the same. In 1930 the camp had been turned over to Boy Scouts only, and not necessarily those troops from CF&I camps. As the Depression deepened, and $5 bills became scarcer, use of the Camp of the Whispering Pines faded into history.