Mountains

Q&A with the author

COURTESY PHOTO

"Trail Canyon: 6 Miles Long, 10,000 Year Deep," co-written by Howard "Bud" Poe and Ann Butler, was recently released after 10 years in the making.

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

For Howard "Bud" Poe, compiling "Trail Canyon: 6 Miles Long and 10,000 Years Deep" was a labor of love. The 150-page book took about 10 years, and some helping hands, to finish. Poe, 78, is not a writer by trade, but he was undeterred. He felt motivated to document the real-life tales of Trail Canyon, a place on the doorstep of Cortez but unknown by most.

Poe talked with the Cortez Journal about the canyon and about the writing process. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Where is Trail Canyon, and how did it get its name?

Geographically, Trail Canyon is a tributary of McElmo Canyon. It lies about five miles due west of Cortez, at the periphery of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. The name might represent its role as a shortcut coming from the west. There is a history of trailing cattle there, and it may have been a Native American trail in the past too. A small stream runs through the canyon, so it'd be a logical route for a trail.

Why did you decide to write a book about this particular canyon?

About 15 years ago, my wife and I bought land in Trail Canyon. But even before that, I had followed the work of Gary Matlock, a retired archaeologist who wrote a historical overview of the place. This led to the idea of amplifying his report to include more personal anecdotes - for example, like about the Baxstrom family that homesteaded there. In 1934, Harold Baxstrom was born in a little one-room house down the middle of the canyon, the same year as me, but under polar-opposite conditions. This intrigued me. It struck me that Harold's story was one slice of a longer time capsule of all the people who occupied Trail Canyon. During his survey work, Matlock found a broken projectile point - a piece of flint - dating to the Paleo-Indian era. It gives us the 10,000-year timeframe in the book's title. The range of inhabitants in Trail Canyon a colorful, diverse palette.

Why is Trail Canyon meaningful or significant to you, personally?

Not to sound too corny, but it turned into a love affair of sorts, to preserve the canyon in its natural state as much as possible. My view is Trail Canyon is a special spot, still pristine and with rich history. We've sold blocks of the canyon to two other families, who are good land stewards and put land into conservation easements. My mission at this stage in life, and I'm not getting any younger, is to continue leaving the canyon in good hands so it'll be preserved in a reasonable fashion.

Who will find your book of interest?

I'd say anyone with a fondness for this region and wants to get a better grasp of its background. It's certainly a non-fiction book. It's a potpourri, if you will, of history, mystery, culture, forces of nature. It's not a conventional dry history book or archaeology book. More a sampling of one particular canyon over the centuries and the people who lived in it.

The book has plenty of photographs, maps and illustrations for the visually-minded, to break up the text.

This wasn't a solo effort. Who were the key players who helped pull this book together?

We had a group of four we called the "Odd Quad." Harold Baxstrom, who coined the name, was born and spent his early life in lower Trail Canyon. His family were old homesteaders. Mary Jane Schott, who worked at the University of Texas, bought property adjacent to Trail Canyon. She was inspired by its beauty and wrote several poems about it. Gary Matlock worked as a cowhand for his uncle's ranch in the canyon as a teenager and became a career archaeologist. I came here from the Midwest after retiring from business. Because of our different backgrounds, we were the Odd Quad. A few moved away, though, and our group was faltering. So I hired Ann Butler to pull off the miracle of gathering all our information into a reasonably coherent and readable form. Thus we became the Quirky Quintet.

What people groups made Trail Canyon home?

The Paleo-Indian peoples, more than 8,000 years ago, were nomadic. You can't exactly say they had a permanent home in Trail Canyon. They moved with the seasons and the wild game. During the Basketmaker era they started to settle down. Then there were the Ancestral Puebloans - sometimes called Anasazi - followed by the Utes, Spanish explorers and later white settlers.

What are a few interesting anecdotes from the book?

There were a couple of deaths in Trail Canyon in 1931. One was a murder stemming from domestic violence, and the other is a mystery.

A 16-year-old pregnant girl was found, with her dog, frozen in the snow after she had wandered outside during the night. No one could figure out why she left the house without much warm clothing.

On a less grim note, Harold Baxstrom was born, prematurely, in the one-room rock house. He weighed something like 3 pounds. There was no doctor, no running water, no electricity. It was a true, vintage Little House on the Prairie-type birth. His mother laid him in a shoebox lined with cotton beside the stove for warmth. I was born a few months later in Detroit, in a modern hospital with all the amenities. We came from opposite universes but still connected later in life around Trail Canyon.

Do you have any other books in the cards?

No, this is my first and last book. I'm not a writer. More than anything I'm a string puller. I had this fascination with Trail Canyon. The story kept unwinding on me and I couldn't let go.

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