Sandia Peak Tramway / Albuquerque New Mexico

Many people who have visited Santa Fe New Mexico have taken the opportunity to riding the very unique Sandia Peak Tramway. The Tramway is located just north of Albuquerque and is a one of a kind adventure. It’s really a must stop on your Albuquerque tour. Whether you’re coming or going from the Santa Fe area, a side trip to the Sandia Peak Tramway is as close as you can get to a must stop. Young and old will marvel at this Sandia Peak Tram feat of engineering which makes it the most unique aerial tramway in the U.S.

sandia peak tramThe view from the top of Sandia Peak is absolutely spectacular. The view encompasses some 11,000 square miles of New Mexico. The ride on the Sandia Tram up to the top is also as spectacular in engineering terms.The tramway was built by Bell Engineering of Lucerne Switzerland which not only built tramways all over the world but built Switzerland’s first in 1888.

The building of the Sandia Tramway posed a very difficult challenge for the engineers from Switzerland mostly due to the mountains very rocky and steep terrain. When you ride the tram up the mountain you can readily appreciate the job they did to complete the 2.7 mile cable. One quite unique thing about the Sandia Peak Tramway is that there are only two towers supporting the cable over the 2.7 mile distance. The towers are anchored in granite by several 30 foot deep stressed steel rods. The elevation of tower two is 8,750 feet and it’s construction involved the use of helicopters because the terrain around it’s base was simply too rugged to build service roads.

sandia peak tramwayThe first riders took the aerial tram on May 7, 1966. This was after two years of construction and then after two months of testing. The two tramcars are attached to the hauling cables and the weight of the downhill tramcar helps to pull the uphill tramcar to the summit. The point where the two tramcars pass  midway between the base and summit, they are almost 1,000 feet above the ground.  The tramcars average 12 MPH. The main power is a 600 horse power dc electric winch motor. The tramcars have cable brakes which close automatically and hold the car firm if any emergency develops. Each car can carry up to fifty passengers.he tramway system such as the Sandia Peak Tramway requires servicing. In fact, the original cables were replaced in 1997. The replacement of the cables took seven weeks to complete and was again with the aid of Swiss engineers.  

Again, the view from the top of Sandia Peak is spectacular. In addition to getting some great pictures, there is also hiking along the trails of the Cibola National Forest. I have hiked a few times on these trails and it’s a good fairly level hike with a lot of great vistas. There is also dining at the top of Sandia Peak. In fact, a restaurant named High Finance is the one restaurant at the top and also is the only restaurant which has such a unique way of getting there. It’s an excellent place to dine while enjoying the one of a kind view.

top of sandia peakWhen you’re walking the trails on the top of Sandia Peak you will also notice the Sandia Ski area which is on the east side of the mountain. Albuquerque’s ski area, Sandia Peak is a winter sports mecca very near the city. The ski area is accessible by both the aerial tram and by automobile from the east side of Sandia Mountain.

The Sandia Peak Tramway is located on the western base of Sandia Peak in Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains. This is north of Abuquerque and east of Interstate-25. From Interstate-25, take Exit 234 which is called Tramway Road. Follow Tramway Road, East to the Sandia Peak Tramway.

From Interstate-40,  take Exit 167 which is Tramway Blvd. Take Tramway Blvd. North for about 9 miles to the Sandia Peak Tramway.

Pawnee Bill and His Wild West Show

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was the most acclaimed entertainment troupe in the latter 1800’s and at the turn of the century. Old West shows were quite in vogue in the last part of the 1800’s. No other show of it’s kind, and most likely no other show period, had the world acclaim that the Wild West had.

The Buffalo Bill show was in demand. When traveling throughout England and the Continent during the 1880’s and 90’s, the Wild West performed for heads of state, royalty and influential people of all callings. There was never another group of entertainers quite like Buffalo Bill Cody assembled. Some of these entertainers grew famous during their years with the Wild West, most notably Phoebe Ann Moses, the sharpshooter with the stage name Annie Oakley.

Pawnee Bill

gordon lillie and may manningA man named Gordon William Lillie, born in 1860, was also a Wild West showman. Lillie was known by the name “Pawnee Bill” and there were several reasons for this. In 1879, Gordon was working on the Pawnee Indian agency in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

The photo left is of Pawnee Bill and May Lillie

In 1883, he was given the opportunity to work with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as the Pawnee interpreter. This work with the show would ultimately give him his nickname Pawnee Bill. The need for an interpreter accompanying the Wild West was real. As most people recall, the Wild West performers for the most part were the genuine articles. The Indians were genuine Native Americans, some not many years away from the warpath. Sitting Bull himself joined Cody’s Wild West for about four months. Nevertheless, Pawnee Bill’s association with William Cody would lead to opportunities in the future.

Pawnee Bill met May Manning, another western performer, who was known to many as the “Champion Girl Horseback Shot of the West.” May Lillie“, her soon to be new name, was quite a skilled female sharpshooter. The couple (pictured above) were married in 1886 at May’s parents home in Philadelphia. Gordon Lillie’s wedding gift to his bride was a pony and a Marlin 22 target rifle.

After the marriage in 1886 they started their own western show called, “Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West“.  Unfortunately, the first year didn’t go too well financially and they then created a smaller show called “Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show.” This new smaller operation fared much better and Lillie recruited Jose Barrera (pictured below), known to audiences as “Mexican Joe“. Barrera was only 15 years old when he joined Pawnee Bill. Even at that young age he was an expert equestrian and roper. He was called the greatest trick roper in the world. Mexican Joe along with other performers were also noted for their unique “Bailable a Caballo” in which both riders and horses danced in pairs to the music of a twelve piece band. During his lifetime, Mexican Joe toured throughout the United States and Europe. He performed with Pawnee Bill, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West and with the successful Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Show. Mexican Joe was a star in many old west shows.

mexican joeIn regards to the talented May Manning, she became very involved in Women’s Relief efforts, buffalo herd preservation as well as Indian culture. May also became involved in films starring in  “May Lillie, Queen of the Buffalo Ranch,” a film produced at the ranch. In 1936.

The image right is of Mexican Joe

In 2011, May Manning Lillie was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth Texas for her work during her Wild West Show career as well as her role in the preservation of the American bison. The Pawnee Bill Ranch was a refuge site for the buffalo.

The Wild West Shows

To give you a feel for Pawnee Bill’s show, the group included Mexican cowboys, Pawnee Indians, Japanese performers, and Arab jugglers. The show appeared to be part western show and part circus. Pawnee Bill featured boomerang throwers, Turkish musicians and freaks of all sort in his museum annex.

Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill Cody joined forces in 1908. This new show was called “The Two Bill’s Show“. Unfortunately, while traveling with their show in Denver Colorado, the Two Bill’s Show was foreclosed on and dissolved. “The Two Bills Show” didn’t enjoy the same fame as the Cody’s Wild West show. The photo below is of a cowboy around 1902.

Visit the Pawnee Bill Ranch Museum

1902 cowboyToday, you can still see an edition of Pawnee Bill’s show during the last three Saturdays of June. Tickets for these events can be bought at the Pawnee Bill Ranch Museum in Pawnee Oklahoma.

The ranch area containing the buildings is located on Blue Hawk Peak. The Ranch refers to it as “the hill” to differentiate it from the lower pavilion/picnic/arena area and the large pastures that comprise the bulk of the ranch.

These performances in Pawnee Oklahoma are not part of the Pawnee Bill shows that take place in Fort Worth Texas. The tickets for the Pawnee Oklahoma events cannot be purchased online, only at the Ranch Museum itself.

Visitors to the Pawnee Oklahoma ranch can now tour Pawnee Bill and his wife, May’s, 14 room mansion which is fully furnished with their original belongings. Today, Pawnee Bill Ranch consists of 500 of the original 2,000 acres. It also includes original outbuildings.

The ranch is now operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. The Pawnees Bill Ranch is open as a historic site dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of history as it relates to Pawnee Bill and May Manning Lillie. Many people who visit the Pawnee Bill Ranch combine it with a visit to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Both the ranch and the museum in Oklahoma City make good additions to your Oklahoma vacation planner. They fit in well for a low cast family trip.

The city of Pawnee Oklahoma is a very historic and an excellent place to visit when you’re in the area. Also a good place to add to your summer vacation road trip planner.

The splendor of the old west cowboys and Indians are still very much alive and well in Pawnee. The magnificent old buildings stand today as monuments of a time gone by. Pawnee is.located in the northern part of the state, about 50 miles northwest of Tulsa and about 75 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)

Annie Oakley and Frank Butler / The Sharpshooting Duo

In the late 1800’s and at the turn of the century there may not have been a more famous couple than Annie Oakley and the skilled sharpshooter Frank Butler. They were partners in marriage as well as partners in show business. They traveled together, performed together and had a marriage that lasted some fifty years. Today, a fifty year marriage between such famous performers is a rarity for sure.

Annie and Frank in Cincinnati

young annie oakleyFrank Butler was born in Ireland and came to the United States at the age of thirteen. During his early years in the U.S. Butler developed excellent skills in sharpshooting and put together an act. Who would have believed that his future partner for life would have also been a very skilled sharpshooter? As fate would have it, Frank Butler met a 15 year old Annie Oakley at a shooting competition held in Cincinnati Ohio.

In a way it was love at first shot. Actually, Butler met Annie when he placed a $100 bet with a Cincinnati hotel owner that he could beat any sharpshooter he could produce. The person he produced was Annie Oakley. After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet. After that he began courting Annie, and they married on June 20, 1882.

The Origins of the Annie Oakley Name

Annie and Frank Butler lived in Cincinnati at first and the story of her stage name, Oakley, which she only adopted when she and Butler began performing together has a few different versions. One is that she is believed to have taken it from the city’s neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided. Some other people believe she took on the name because that was the name of the man who had paid her train fare when she was a child. Regardless of the fact that her birth name was Phoebe Ann Moses, the name the American public came to know her as was Annie Oakley

A Touring Duo

Annie and Frank began touring together as an act and joined the Sells Circus which had it’s winter home in Ohio. In 1885 they joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West where Annie picked up the nickname of “Little Sure Shot”, given to her by Chief Sitting Bull while he was with the Wild West for about four months. When Annie first joined the Wild West there was a big rivalry with another skilled sharpshooter, Lillian Smith, and eventually this rivalry and ill feelings caused both Annie and Frank to quit the Wild West. They resigned from the show at the end of their first trip to England during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Smith left the Wild West a few years later and Annie patched up her relationship with Cody and she and Frank rejoined the troupe.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips Into History article on Samuel Colt, His Repeating Firearms and a Murder Trial

The Trials and Successes of Samuel Colt

annie oakley 1899Frank Butler and Annie Oakley remained very close. Frank was part of the act at various times. Annie had the limelight and that was okay with Frank. he understood that they were a team and her success was good for both of them.

Often Frank would stand in as a target so to speak for Annie when she was performing.

One well known episode of this occurred in 1899 when the Wild West was touring Germany. Annie had a particular shooting act where she would shoot the ash off the tip of a volunteers cigar. Annie Oakley would ask for volunteers from the audience and typically there wasn’t anyone volunteering to hold the cigar in their mouth while Annie shot the ash off. Frank Butler would then stand up and act as the prop.

In 1899, while performing in Berlin, Annie asked for a volunteer and none other than Kaiser Wilhelm II stood up  and volunteered. Obviously this caused some anxiety among his entourage. Annie, who was known sometimes to take one shot of whiskey before her act, probably wished someone other than the Kaiser himself had stood up. She took aim and fired her trusty Colt 45 and shot the ash clean off the Kaiser’s cigar. You couldn’t invent this kind of story.

During her and Frank’s time performing with the Wild West they traveled all throughout Europe from Spain to the Netherlands  and just about everywhere in between.  Oakley and Butler left the Wild West for good in 1902. Annie then did some acting in a play written specially for her named “The Western Girl“.

The Hearst Trouble

Oakley and Butler met their next challenge as a result of William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper chain. Hearst had a reputation for sensationalism. In fact, many people had claimed that Hearst’s sensationalizing of the battle ship Maine explosion in the Havana Cuba harbor actually started the Spanish American War. Such was the influence of print media at the turn of the century.

The most popular new stories in the year 1904 seemed to be about cocaine prohibition. Hearst’s newspaper published a false story that Oakley had been arrested for stealing to support a cocaine habit. A devastating accusation made on such a popular American as Oakley. As it turned out, the woman who was actually arrested was a Chicago burlesque performer who decided to tell the police her name was “Annie Oakley”. The real Annie Oakley spent about six years suing Hearst and other newspapers. Oakley filed some 55 lawsuits and won 54 of them. The story of the time was that although she won and cleared her name, the amount of money she collected from the suits was less than her legal costs.

Other papers that had printed the story written by Hearst quickly reprinted a retraction story when the truth was discovered. Not Hearst. When Annie was finally awarded $20,000 from Hearst (today that would equal about $300,000) he tried everything he could not to pay. Hearst went as far as sending his own private detectives to Oakley’s home town in Ohio to try to dig up gossip and dirt. Hearst tried to unearth anything he could smear her with. The detectives  were unable to find anything for Hearst.

The Latter Years

annie oakley 1922The photo at right is of Annie Oakley in 1922. Annie and Frank spent their later years working for charitable causes and in general helping women.

Womens suffrage would not occur to after World War One. During the war they helped raise a lot of money for the Red Cross. Butler really became the family supporter after Oakley left Buffalo Bill.

While Oakley spent her time suing William Randolph Hearst, Butler became a representative for the Union Metallic Cartridge Company. After Oakley’s absolute final Wild West show in 1913, they settled into a comfortable retirement. They spent the winter in North Carolina, taking automobile trips, and hunting.

This couple, Frank and Annie, who remained married for close to fifty years and traveled the world together, meeting heads of state and royalty, both passed away at close to the same time. Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926 in Greenville Ohio of pernicious anemia. She was 66 years old. Frank Butler, her husband, died eighteen days later. The story was that Frank was so upset over Annie’s death that he simply stopped eating.

Garst Museum

Those wanting to learn more about the amazing life on Annie Oakley and Frank Butler need only visit the Garst Museum. The museum is located at 205 North Broadway in Greenville Ohio. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by the Darke County Historical Society. The Garst Museum is home to the Annie Oakley Center and would make an interesting side trip when you’re traveling through the area.

(Photos and images are in public domain)


The Columbia River and the “King of the Steamboatmen”

The Columbia River was and still is the aorta of the American Northwest. Along with it’s tributaries such as the Snake and the Williamette, the famed Columbia River stretches for thousands of miles. What was once a mighty river that needed to be tamed now is a mighty river that Oregon tourists enjoy continually. Riding up the Columbia River to the beautiful Columbia Gorge and viewing the scenery that Lewis and Clark did is a fascinating trip into history. A Columbia River map will show you just how large this river is. The Columbia River has a rich history that the following story will help tell.

The Columbia was recognized very early on by the Native Americans to be a highway through otherwise difficult and sometimes impossible terrain. The Columbia ran it’s course through jagged mountains and remote flat lands. This amazing river spread so far to the east into Montana and Idaho that it almost converged with the Yellowstone River which flowed in an opposite direction. A some points, a rain drop could run in either direction, west to the Pacific Ocean or eastward down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans. The Columbia River of course made it possible for Lewis and Clark to reach present day Oregon.

john AinsworthOne of the best ways to fully understand the significance of the Columbia River and learn what it took to make it a navigable route, is to take a glimpse into the life and feats of one of it’s very first river pilots. This man was named Captain John C. Ainsworth ( pictured left) and many referred to him as the “King of the Columbia River Steamboatmen”. He arrived in Oregon in 1850.

Like many experienced steamboat men, John Ainsworth gained his river piloting skills along the Mississippi River. He recognized the opportunities present in the northwest. Fellow steamboatmen would ask John Ainsworth the  question…why would a skilled river pilot waste his time in the relative wilderness of Oregon when there was plenty of money to be made down in California?

Ainsworth had the good fortune at the time to meet a man by the name of Lot Whitcomb (pictured below right). What Whitcomb didn’t have in knowledge of piloting a steamboat, he did have in industriousness. Whitcomb was buying up materials to construct the first home built steamboat made in Oregon. The boat that Lot Whitcomb would build was named, unsurprisingly, after himself, the “Lot Whitcomb”.The vessel was 160 feet long with a 24 foot beam, two boilers producing 140 horsepower and capable of 12 MPH on the open river. It was a sidewheeler boat. The Lot Whitcomb steamboat was roomy, had a dining room and an interior of polished wood. Whitcomb’s new vessel offered elegance in the wilderness. It was the best looking boat in Oregon.

lot whitcombAlthough it was a very impressive vessel, the “Lot Whitcomb” was a sidewheeler. The feeling however among boatmen was that a sternwheeler would have better control on a swift flowing current. The Columbia River promised to have many such currents. Sternwheelers were  known to be able to penetrate narrower waterways for the very reason they could be narrower by design, not having wide paddles on each side of the vessel. With the rudders placed close to the rear paddlewheel,of a sternwheeler,  quicker maneuverability could be expected. All good things to have on a river like the Columbia.

The steamboat was built simply because Lot Whitcomb believed in the potential for steamboats in the northwest just as John Ainsworth did. Whitcomb eventually offered the job of commanding his new steamboat to Ainsworth. He accepted. Unfortunately, the two found out they didn’t get along too well. Most historians attribute this to the fact that Whitcomb could have been envious of Ainsworth steamboat piloting abilities. He knew river navigation much better than Whitcomb. Regardless, John Ainsworth stuck it out with Whitcomb and kept envisioning the potential for himself to operate a fleet of steamboats on the very river that Lewis and Clark in 1804 used to explore to the Pacific Ocean. relations with Whitcomb didn’t improve and as far as Ainsworth was concerned it was only a matter of time that he would leave and strike out on his own. The problem however was money. Ainsworth didn’t have the needed funds to begin his own operation. His plan was to convince fellow Oregonians to fund an able steamboat captain like himself. He would need to convince them of the economic potential of Columbia River steamboating. As time went on and John Ainsworth was piloting on the Columbia River the population was growing. That also meant that the commerce was growing. Competition from other boats grew and Ainsworth had the uncomfortable thought that perhaps some other experienced boat men from the Mississippi would emerge and steal his dream.

steamboat lot whitcombA strange thing happened shortly after the official brass band accompanied launch of the Lot Whitcomb ( sketch at left). The steamboat got itself hung up on a reef. At first, people who heard the news blamed Ainsworth, but as it turned out, he had taken the day off and the boat was piloted by none other than Lot Whitcomb himself and an assistant. Whitcomb of course called Ainsworth for help in freeing the vessel at which he flatly refused. he didn’t want to get aboard until the boat was back where he left it. The story is that Whitcomb had spread rumors that the hang up was Ainsworth’s fault even though he was nowhere near the accident scene. The rumors started to tarnish Ainsworth’s reputation as an excellent steamboat pilot. That signaled the end of the association between the two men. Ainsworth received a payment of $3,500 for his time with Whitcomb. At the same time Whitcomb had severe financial problems and sold had to give a controlling interest to an Oregon City Company. Ainsworth stayed on piloting the “Lot” and plowed his money back into the steamboat. For this he received a share of the ownership. In 1854 the Lot was sold for $40,000 and was to be sent to work on the Sacramento River in California. Ainsworth received $4,000 from the sale as his ten percent share.

John Ainsworth, now with his $4,000 to get started, befriended a Mississippi River man who was an excellent engineer, and they together made plans to build a sternwheeler for Ainsworth to operate. The boat envisioned was to be built and named the “Jennie Clark”. She would be 115 feet long and 18.5 feet at the beam. The boiler was centered on the vessel and the rudders were to be placed very near the rear paddlewheel to give maximum control. The Jennie Clark was built and launched in 1855 and didn’t take long at all to start making a profit with both passengers and freight. The story of John C. Ainsworth and his steamboat company only grew from here. The public domain image below is of Astoria, Oregon in 1868.

astoria oregon 1868John Ainsworth and a group of investors incorporated the Oregon Steam Navigation Company in 1860. Ainsworth’s company was so large it controlled the shipping routes of steamers, railroads, and freight lines. It essentially became the biggest transportation monopoly in the Pacific.Northwest. The company also began operating steamers between San Francisco and ports along the Columbia River such as Astoria and Portland. By the year 1869 the OSN Company virtually controlled Columbia River traffic. Then, In 1872, Ainsworth exchanged a controlling interest in the OSN to the Northern Pacific Railroad in return for the railroad’s bonds.In less than twenty years John Ainsworth turned an idea and a dream into vast wealth. To be sure, it was the right idea at precisely the right location.

In April 1879, Henry Villard purchased the Oregon Steam Navigation Company for its full capitalized value of $5 million. Ainsworth then relocated to Oak Lawn, California, a very wealthy man. This was not however the last of Ainsworth business ventures. After selling out his shares in OSN, in 1883 he entered the banking business. Ainsworth founded the Ainsworth National Bank in Portland and later in 1892 he started the Central Bank of Oakland.

The Columbia River and it’s famed Columbia Gorge continue to marvel visitors. Today, tourists have the opportunity to ride up and down the river enjoying cruises lasting a week or longer or they can simply take a picturesque day cruise and get some great photo opportunities. Many people also enjoy the dinner cruises on the boat Portland Spirit. If you have the opportunity to do any of these things you just may want to remember the dream of John C. Ainsworth and the great success he had operating a fleet of steamboats.

John C. Ainsworth passed away on December 30, 1893 near Oakland California. He was seventy-one years of age.

(Photos and images are in the public domain)