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Ranger Rich

If you yearn for things old-fashioned, for a journey back to a bygone era when people talked about their horse-drawn carriages and wore clothes made from burlap potato sacks and uttered phrases like "land o' Goshen" and "holy smokes" and "lordy, lordy, lordy," go find some really old newspapers.

Of course if you want to feel like you've actually gone back in time 150 or 200 years, just sit in on one of Mayor Steve Bach's strategic planning sessions. (Steve is so old that when he was in grade school they didn't have history yet.)

Anyway, today we'll look at Colorado newspapers dating as far back as the mid-1800s, journalistic dinosaurs popular in the day but long ago left to the dusty shelves of history, abandoned by their readers, irrelevant in a modern age. But enough about this week's Gazette.

Seriously, a friend recently gave me a coffee table book titled Colorado Headlines, containing some 75 front pages that chronicle the history of our beloved land, back before it was even a state and before Phil Anschutz bought it.

Imagine, for example, a newspaper called the Cherry Creek Pioneer in what is now Denver but was, in 1859, called Denver City and was — I am not kidding — part of Kansas.

Historical footnote: When Colorado became a state in 1876, it claimed the mountains, lakes and trees. Kansas demanded duststorms, wheat and a thousand sturdy women to pull the plows.

From the front page of the Pioneer's sole edition, April 23, 1859: "A very pertinent inquiry, and one made daily by persons coming through for the purpose of engaging in agricultural pursuits is, 'how is the soil adapted for farming purposes' or 'what kind of farming country have you.'"

This small passage tells us that in 1859 agriculture was of keen interest to the people and, more importantly, that they had not yet invented the question mark.

Something the early settlers had invented, however, was a problem going to the bathroom, a serious issue of the day, which was addressed on the front page of the May 9, 1911, Denver Post in an advertisement for California Fig Syrup.

"Syrup of figs," the ad boasted, "is the most pleasant and effective remedy for stomach troubles and constipation."

Today, of course, there are much more effective remedies for constipation, including fiber supplements such as Metamucil, bowel stimulants such as Dulcolax, osmotics such as MiraLAX and listening to a speech by highly respected U.S. Rep. Doug "The Stool Softener" Lamborn.

The book also features the front page of the Sept. 7, 1877, Boulder County News, announcing the opening of the University of Colorado.

"Tis Done!!" the headline shouts, followed by these actual sub-headlines:

The University Dedicated!!

Inaugural Exercises!

Who Were Present, and What Was Said and Done!!

Boulder's Proudest Day!! Her Citizens Close Their Doors and Turn Out En-mass!!

The next week, on Sept. 12, the headlines announced: First CU-Boulder Student Binge-Drinks!! Throws Up On Sidewalk!! Passes Out in Shrubs; Pants Around Ankles!!!! Tells Parents School Is Great!!!

Nothing, though, quite captures the old days like a real story in the Oct. 31, 1888, edition of Denver's actual feminist newspaper (1882-1895) the Queen Bee (motto: "If a Toilet Seat Is Ever Invented, Put It Back Down"):

"Mrs. Mary Elmer warned the proprietor of a joint and gambling den not to sell her husband liquor. The woman's request being ignored, she armed herself with an ax and proceeded to smash everything breakable, giving special attention to the paraphernalia of the bar. The infuriated woman then woke up her husband who was in a drunken stupor in a back room, marched him home and treated him to a first-class flogging with a buggy whip."

A buggy whip, for those of you too young to remember such a thing, was a long-handled instrument usually made of wood and leather that was used to strike a horse's ass.

Like Mr. Elmer.

Rich Tosches (rangerrich@csindy.com) also writes a Sunday column in the Denver Post.

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