Saturday, September 08, 2007


Lee Marvin in "Cat Ballou"

This morning I went for docent training at Four Mile Historical Park, home of my new boyfriends. Four Mile House, built in 1859, is the oldest surviving house in Denver, though technically it was outside Denver--four miles away, in fact--when it was built. There were older buildings in the area, but they were swept away in the great flood of 1864.

Four Mile's second owner was one Mary Cawker, a widow who purchased the house in 1860 at age 47. Her moonshiner husband having died of TB in Wisconsin, Mary made the trip to the Colorado Territory with her teenage son and daughter. She soon had a thriving business serving the stage lines that stopped at Four Mile House.

One of Mary's profitable products, I learned today, was whisky--better and more accurately known as "Taos lightning." She cooked it up herself; the ingredients were:
  • Equal parts 180-proof grain alcohol and water
  • For flavor:
    • chili peppers (perhaps from New Mexico)
    • tannin bark (some sort of tree root; tasted like sassafras)
    • gunpowder(!)
    • strychnine (!!)
  • For color: grasshoppers; or if unavailable, cigar stubs
And you thought bathtub gin was nasty!

We weren't told whether Mary drank her own brew. I rather think not, as she lived to move to New Mexico (impelled by the 1864 flood) and then California, where she ended her days.


David said...

Wasn't it all Kansas Territory at the time?

Bella Stander said...

Um, yeah. (Purist!)