Historical Research & Writing


I have been writing for the Boulder Daily Camera since 1977, starting with historical features, as well as a food column. From 1984 to 1988, I wrote historical features for the Longmont Times-Call. From 1996-1998, I wrote a history column for the Boulder Planet. During this time, I also contributed to the Coloradan (the University of Colorado's alumni magazine) and have freelanced for a number of national and international publications from the California Mining Journal and Evidence Technology Magazine to the British magazine Cornish World.

In 1998, I returned to the Camera as history columnist. Compilations of some of my history columns are in my books Only in Boulder: The County’s Colorful Characters and Boulder: A Sense of Time and Place Revisited (see Books page). I still write a history column for the Camera, sharing the position with long-time friend and colleague Carol Taylor.

Below are links to a few of my recent history columns.
These –– and more –– can also be found here,

Boulder County History –– Pettem

CU professor Mary Rippon had to completely separate her personal and professional lives
in order to keep her job.
(Carnegie Library, Boulder Historical Society collection)

CU’s Mary Rippon defied convention with love affair

Camera, September 23, 2018

Mary Rippon arrived in Boulder in January 1878 as the third instructor (and first woman) to teach at the University of Colorado. She also was the first woman to teach at a state university anywhere in the country. Back then, no guidelines pertaining to teacher-student relationships had been put in place.

A decade later, when Rippon was a 37-year-old professor, 25-year-old Boulder resident Will Housel enrolled in one of her German literature classes. During a semester-long study of Faust, the teacher and student consummated a romantic relationship.. ..… Read more

Rippon Love Affair

In 2010, the original gravestone for “Jane Doe” was combined with a new stone for Dorothy Gay Howard.

Caring community led to "Jane Doe’s" identity

Camera, April 7, 2019

In 1954, Boulder community members pooled their resources in order to show respect to a murder victim –– an unidentified young woman dumped down an embankment in Boulder Canyon. Contributors raised funds to buy “Jane Doe” a plot, as well as a gravestone, in Columbia Cemetery, on 9th Street.

The generosity of these average citizens made it possible, more than a half-century later, to identify the victim and put her real name on her grave.Read more

Jane Doe Identity

Geologist Matt Silverman, left, and retired attorney Karl Anuta recently visited the McKenzie well and discussed its significance.

McKenzie Well still significant despite encroaching deveopment

Camera, June, 30, 2018

Drivers on the Diagonal (Colorado Highway 119) northeast of Boulder may be familiar with the surface equipment of an oil well that sits west of the highway’s northbound lane near its intersection with Independence Road. The pumpjack and dark green tank (dating from the mid-20th century) mark the site of the McKenzie Well, one of the earliest oil discoveries in the Rocky Mountain West.

Boulder petroleum geologist Matt Silverman has often called the site the “oil field next door.” Now, dwarfed by the construction of multiple three-story apartment buildings, it literally is just that.... Read more

McKenzie Oil Well

The circa-1898 dress is decorated with hand-painted landscape and railroad scenes, as well as the railway company's logo. (Carnegie Library, Boulder Historical Society collection)

Switzerland Trail dress remains a mystery

Camera, July 1, 2018
In 1898, when the Colorado & Northwestern Railway began an ambitious advertising campaign and asked the public's help with a name (or brand) for its new narrow-gauge railroad into the mountains west of Boulder, J. E. Snook came up with "The Switzerland Trail."

The C&NW added "of America." Promotional literature promised flatlanders (limited at the time by horse-drawn vehicles) a chance to experience unsurpassed mountain scenery only a few hours from home.

The company's brochures and photographs still exist today and are well-known collectors' items. But one obscure artifact -- a dress -- has railroad fans baffled. Read more

Switzerland Trail Dress

“Jungle” resident Emma Birge was photographed with an unidentified man in Boulder in the 1930s. ( Carnegie Library for Local History)

Homeless Emma Birge lived in Boulder’s Jungle:
'Em Bugtown' chewed tobacco, had a corn-cob pipe and ‘politely asked’ for food, money.

, June 2, 2019

When speaking of homeless encampments these days, reporters and others often use the word “jungle.” Seattle has a “jungle,” as does Denver and, likely, other cities as well. In the 1920s, so did Boulder. A stretch of land along the north side of Boulder Creek (occupied by today’s library and municipal buildings), was a hobo camp known both as the “Jungle” and “Bugtown.”

The jungle reference, at least in big cities, is making a comeback, but the press no longer refer to the homeless population as “characters.” In Boulder, one of the characters that the press liked to write about was Emma Birge, more commonly known as “Em Bugtown. Read more

Boulder’s “Jungle"

John B. Schoolland and a group of Boy Scouts pose by locomotive "No. 30" in Boulder's Central Park in 1957. Carnegie Library, Boulder

Engine “No. 30” is Boulder’s Link to its Railroad Past

Camera, March 10, 2019

More than a century ago, an intricate web of railroad lines ran into and out of Boulder, providing the city with a sense of place. One line that captured the hearts of many was the Colorado & Northwestern Railway, commonly called the Switzerland Trail of America.

Long after the C&N's only surviving steam locomotive was retired, it was brought back to Boulder, where it remained for 51 years, next to the Boulder Bandshell in Central Park. Although it's no longer on display in Boulder, railroad historians still visit "No. 30" at the Colorado Railroad Museum, in Golden, where it's on loan.Owned by the City of Boulder, the locomotive is the best artifact to connect Boulder County with its railroad past.. ..…. Read more

Engine “No.30” is Boulder’s Link to its Railroad Past

Edward Baker’s grave has finally has been recognized, as documented in the Buffalo Soldier story. Below, in the first row, are a few photos from October 11, 2016 when members of the Buffalo Soldier Organization assisted Jack Box in setting the stone.

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Long-term missing persons
Unidentified remains
Cold case homicides
Boulder County, Colorado, history