Pioneer Potluck: Cougars, Rattlesnakes and New Adventures

Lily bringing a piece of wood for her daddy to split.

The Mountains of Colorado
1963 to 1965

I had always wanted to live in the Colorado Mountains. When a little house came up for sale in Poudre Canyon, west of Fort Collins, for some reason I had enough money for a down payment, so we moved our little family 10 miles up Cache La Poudre Canyon and about 25 miles from Fort Collins. It was a very old house that had been built over a great big boulder, so we always joked that we have a rock in the basement. It had a large living room with a large fireplace, a teeny tiny kitchen, one small bedroom, and a porch surrounded by windows that looked out over the Poudre River. I turned that into our bedroom.


It also had two guest cabins, and I worked hard fixing them up with the idea of renting them out so I could make payments on my little dream home in the mountains. One of the cabins was made out of logs and had a cement floor. It had been used for a little souvenir shop. It had no heat. The other cabin was slab built and in good condition. I rented it out right away to a young kid who I should have done a background check on. Oh, but not me! I trusted everyone!

I painted, I cleaned, I made curtains. We played in the sun, and went for long walks along the Poudre River, picked chokecherries and wild plums. We even had horseradish plants. The kids played with the large leaves and waved them at log trucks as they went by, who tooted their horns back at them.

I bought an agitator washing machine. Every time it rained, I gathered the rain in buckets, heated the water, dumped it in the washing machine, ran them through the wringer, and hung the clothes out on the line to dry. I also gave the kids a bar of soap, shoved them under the dripping eves and they got a bath.

Our little place also had a cellar dug in the side of the mountain. It had rock walls, rock ceiling and a cement floor. It also housed the resident Bull snake. I was told that he would not hurt anyone, that he took care of the rattlesnakes that were in the area. Well, a snake is a snake, and sorry to say, I never used the cellar. On sunny days, we would see him sunning himself on a rock. He must’ve done his job because we never saw any rattlesnakes in our yard.

We saw the cougar, or mountain lion, as we called him, sunning himself on a large rock most of the summer. One day I went down to the mailbox across the road, turned around and he was stalking me, his tail swishing from side to side.  From then on I was very cautious about where my kids played and always scoped out the territory around us before we went outdoors. He always kept his distance. I think he was more curious than dangerous.

Winter came, the kids and “The Dad” and I loaded up in the pickup and all went to a saw mill to get wood slabs, so we could burn them in our big fireplace. The kids had fun sliding down the sawdust mountain, so we brought more sawdust home then we did slabs. But they had fun and we kept warm that winter, even though the fireplace emitted smoke from time to time. We also had a little electric heater.

At Christmas time, the kids were given a Creepy Crawlers set. All you people that raised children in the 60s know exactly what I’m talking about. It was a little mold with an electric plug to warm it up. The kids poured multicolored plastic into the molds, and “cooked” bugs for a small amount of time. They had brightly colored green, blue, yellow and red, centipedes, snakes, bugs and frogs. They made creepy crawlers until the ran out of compound. They had so much fun with them, laying them under boots and shoes, on tables and cupboards, just to watch me squeal when I saw one.

One of the three kids, I am not saying who, came up with the bright idea of putting them on “The Dad’s” side of the bed under the quilts. Well, I thought that was a pretty funny idea, so I went along with it. That night, Mr. Dad came home, at his usual very late hour, took off his shoes, socks and clothes and the last thing he took off was his glasses. He pulled back the covers on the bed, saw some bugs, sucked in his breath, grabbed his shoe and started beating on the bed. The harder he beat on the bed the higher the Creepy Crawlers jumped. He screamed at me, to get out of bed… there’s bugs in the bed! I jumped out of bed hiding a big smile on my face. I looked up and saw all three kids peeking around the doorway, with their hands over their mouth, their eyes lit up in total delight. I motioned for them to hurry and get back in bed before “The Dad” used his shoe on their bottoms.

I turned around and hollered at The Dad, “they’re just plastic, just Creepy Crawlers.” He screamed back at me… NO they’re not! They are jumping around in the bed! I told him to quit beating on the bed and they wouldn’t jump. He put his glasses back on, bent over and took a look, and stomped off to sleep on the couch. I gathered up the creepy bugs in the bed, trying not to laugh out loud. For years and years the kids used to talk (and still do) about Dad and the Creepy Crawlers, with tears running down their cheeks in fits of laughter. He NEVER did think it was funny!

That kid in the cabin, ended up in jail, because he shot some cattle with his rifle, not too far from where we lived. My children had told me from time to time someone was looking in their bedroom window, but when I would look I never saw anything. I know now it was the kid in the cabin. It still raises a hair on the back of my neck.

I loved that place but it was too difficult in the wintertime to keep warm, and drive 10 miles up the snowy, icy, winding road. I worked at the hospital, and the kids had to be dropped off at school, kindergarten and daycare in Fort Collins. After two years we moved closer to town, work and schools. I still owned the place when I moved to Alaska, and traded it to my dad for money to buy fishing sites in Alaska.

And there is another fish tale to tell.

My Grandma's Chicken Stew
My grand parents had a big chicken coop and yard in the middle of 80 acres of cherries, apples and plums.  They sold eggs all summer long. The chickens were killed and plucked in the fall.  Grandpa would take them 14 miles into Fort Collins, Colo., sell and trade for groceries and more feed for his layer hens.  Grandma fixed this wonderful dish from an old layer hen that was ready for the chopping block.  The slow cooking makes a tender, great tasting Sunday chicken dinner. 
1- 4 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 6 to 7 pieces.
1 teas salt
1 tea pepper
6 cloves of garlic
2 tblsp bacon fat or olive oil
2 teas butter
1 pound of potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half, do not peel.
1 cup onions cut in wedges.
4 large carrots cut in 4th.
3 slices of smoky thick bacon, diced
3 cups of chicken broth or warm water.
In a heavy Dutch oven, brown salted and peppered chicken pieces in bacon fat or olive oil and butter. Cook until skin is crispy and deep brown.  Remove as it browns and set aside.  Pour off all fat but 2 tblsp and add the bacon, onions, carrots, garlic. Stir-fry 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and 3 cups of broth.  Place chicken pieces on top, skin side up.  Place a lid on top and bake in 350 degrees oven one hour or more.  Take off lid and continue to cook 30 minutes.  Grandma cooked her chicken all afternoon in the old kerosene oven; because she would say it was “a tough old bird.”  She cooked pheasant and rabbit the same way.  Serve from the Dutch oven with a fork and a large spoon to get some of the great broth in the bottom.  Great flavor and great memories.  I have cooked moose roasts this way. 

Easy Peach Cobbler
For campfire or oven.
This can be doubled and baked in a 9 X 13 baking dish.
If you are cooking over a campfire – use 2 foil 9 x 13 pan, placing the one foil pan inside the other to make the pan stronger.  Place cobbler over campfire to one side of warm coals.  Cover with foil, loosely and let bake, turning often to keep the baking even.  Slide warm coal under to keep fire at even heat.  Fun but requires a constant watch for an hour. 
 OR bake in your oven at 350 degrees for about an hour.
Use Bisquick for biscuits or the following:
1 1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 stick butter
1 large can peaches
Mix first 4 ingredients to make dough.  Melt butter in a small 8 x 8 baking dish; spoon dough over butter and top with can of peaches and juice. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Yes, the dough is on the bottom and peaches on top. Bake 350 degrees to 375 degrees.   Bake until crust is brown.  Serve with vanilla ice cream! 

Basil Salad Dressing
This requires fresh basil.  This herb grows so well in Alaska’s warm long days.
1 cup sour cream
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tblsp fresh basil – minced or 2 tblsp dried, sprinkle with very small amount of water.
1/2  tea onion salt
1/2 tea garlic salt
1/8 tea celery salt
Pinch of red pepper
Combine all ingredients.  Cover and chill at least 1 hour.  Serve over  those fine red Alaskan tomatoes, picked right from the greenhouse and sliced over torn bib lettuce.Sprinkle with cracked black pepper.