Doc Holliday’s Trail and Annie’s Tree – a story of darkness and light.
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By Jim Byous
At 6,000 feet above sea level, I am gasping for air. I am also, as my father used to say, “getting old and soft.” Now I’m only two-hundred feet up in my relatively easy three-hundred-foot climb on the Doc Holliday Trail to Glenwood Springs’ historic Pioneer Cemetery. It sits on a lower ridge-bump of 8,095-foot-high Lookout Mountain that stands above and the Colorado city of around ten-thousand people. My flatlander-endurance is poor in the thin air as I trudge onward. The view is refreshing as I pause to take in the scope of the city below… okay… I stop to get my breath. But, I gotta keep going, The Beckster is getting ahead of me on our upward trek to see the West’s version of outlaw/lawman, John Henry “Doc” Holliday’s gravesite. He was born in 1851 in Griffin, Georgia but died in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. But where is he now?
What awaits us at the end of the short journey is a controversy, but I want to see it. Even though I am huffing and puffing I continue, The Beckster is tough, so must I be. The view to the right is beautiful as I stop again to choke down a bit of thin air. Clouds hang below the surrounding peaks as the occasional drop of rain pops onto my face. The smell of sage and pine and moist air waft past at intervals as we walk the hard-packed, red-dirt and narrow rocky road. A couple of walkers pass on the trail. I assume they are local… don’t know. Maybe they’re tourists too. Locals often walk here. Ahead is the evidence. On a gnarled pinon pine hugging the upper bank of the cut, hundreds of colorful streamers twist and bob on the light breeze.
They are striking as they dance on a background of cloudy-grey sky and remind me of the prayer ribbons and flags you see in photos of Nepal along the route up Mount Everest. These are wish ribbons. Most were placed there by Annie Zancanella who lives just down the slope. In her two battles with cancer, she found solace in tying ribbons to the tree on which she played as a child. “I spent my childhood playing on the mountain and walking with my father on his evening stroll up there,” she told me. “Now that my family has all passed I still like to walk that trail daily and think of them and my happy childhood.”
She started putting ribbons on the tree, using them to represent her own wishes, dreams, and prayers in her fight against cancer. After participating in a successful, non-traditional treatment program at Northwestern University in Chicago, she traveled to cancer centers in the USA to share her success story with university hospital students. Collecting ribbons from young patients at those hospitals she brought them home and tied them to the tree.
“It was just pretty much my ribbons from my heart being put on it,” she says, “And then I realized that I needed to spread this happiness…” She started taking bags of ribbons to the children’s hospital where she volunteered each month. The kids would write their own wishes, dreams, and prayers for her to take back to the tree and tie for them. She would then take photos and show them to the kids. Their words were on display for the world to see. The project grew.
Now others follow her lead by leaving wish ribbons, prayer streamers and mementos for others who are challenged by health issues. Since that time she has continued to fight. “I have had some more recent struggles with cancer but I’ve been able to keep a smile on my face and motivation in my heart.”
I came to the hill looking for the story of death, of disease and of legend. Now I’ve arrived to unexpectedly find a story of life, of adversity and of hope. In my mind, I am attempting to blend the two narratives into one. Annie is my daughter’s age. Her story strikes a father’s heart.
The record of the tree is strikingly symbolic to the history and name of the route, The Doc Holliday Trail. It’s antithetical to Annie’s story. Holliday is said to have traveled to Glenwood Springs for the purported healing benefits in the springs of the area. His sickness was then called consumption, now we know it as tuberculosis. It was the reason he left his home and dental practice in Atlanta to start wandering the west in hope of a climate that would help or cure him. His travels between Georgia and Colorado would be captured in legend; card games, gunfights, the OK Corral with Wyatt Earp, his death in a hotel room in Glenwood Springs.
After a life of hell-raising, gambling and fighting he would not “die with his boots on.” They say his last words, while looking at his bare feet, would describe the irony in dying in bed at the age of 36 years, “Now, that’s funny.” He was destined to die a more gentlemanly death, shoeless, and in bed in 1887. His burial in the Pioneer Cemetery on top of the ridge is a matter of opinion. Others say he was interred in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin, Georgia after his father had him shipped home to a family plot. In any event, he left plenty of legend for both.
The marker in Glenwood Springs is referred to as a memorial since Doc’s exact location in the cemetery has been lost to history. He may or may not be here, but still, the site and its view across the Colorado skyline is worth the hike as is a stroll through the rest of the burial
ground. The area is a carpet of rocky, iron-red dirt, highlighted with short pinyon pines, cedars, sagebrush and white marker stones. A smattering of lawn covers a central square of memorials and graves suggesting families still visit and care for those interred here. If the cemetery were a ship, Doc’s grave would be the wheelhouse at the point of the ridge with the balance of the site stepping up the slope toward the top of Lookout Mountain.
There, up the hill from Doc’s spot, stands another marker for a well-known character of western lore, also the adverse of the symbolic tree. Harvey A. Logan, 1867-1904, is known to most folks know as Kid Curry, an associate of Robert L. Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, and his partner in crime, Harry A. Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid. Logan rode with Cassidy’s Wild Bunch at the turn of the 20th century. One account of Logan’s death says he shot himself in the head after being trapped by a posse in Parachute, a town forty miles to the west,
and was buried there. Others say he was traveling through Glenwood Springs, became ill and died. Either way, he died… somewhere in Colorado. And, now there’s a marker for him in the paupers’ section of Pioneer Cemetery.
Time passes quickly as we survey the grounds. The sky is looking more threatening. I am tired and still slightly out of breath, it’s starting to rain. The view is exemplary and the rain isn’t hard, but it’s time to go. We need to say goodbye to Doc. Local ghost stories tell how folks leaving whiskey or cards or tokens for Doc receive a “Thank you,” as they stand and listen quietly. I have no whiskey, nor do I have a deck of cards nor trinkets. Perhaps a compliment will work.
“He Doc! You have a great mustache!”
I listen quietly as raindrops increase… nothing… not a peep.
“Wait,” I say… I lean over the iron picketed fence, “That IS you, right Doc?”
Looking at The Beckster I say, “Doc’s not talking. Didn’t work. Well, back to the car. I’ll try the same trick in Griffin, Georgia when we get home.”
She stares at me in mock disgust and turns to the trail to walk back down. She has a knack for ignoring my jokes.
“But he really did have a great mustache,” I affirm, following her along the path.
She pays no attention to my explanation and continues on. The lady has class.
Looking down on the neighborhood rooftops I imagine driving a horse-drawn hearse up this route. It would be a tight squeeze, but possible. Was this the main route back in the day? I don’t know but I do know that another route from Cemetery Creek and our start point is driveable by car, complete with parking spaces… but it’s blocked by a gate. And, this walk is good, we need the exercise… no… really.
We pass Annie’s Wish Tree again. A long, magenta streamer catches my attention. It reads, “1 Year Cancer Free * Annie 4/18/14 – 4/18/15.” The young lady is an inspiration. Now she is planning a volunteer trip to impoverished areas in Africa to help children in Tanzania. When she comes home she will carry more ribbons that will blow in the mountain breezes – waving and asserting hope – 130 feet directly down the slope from Doc’s marker. Doc Holliday’s Trail and Annie’s Tree are a story of darkness and light.
I hope Annie is doing well. Her story now lives on with the others who are linked with the trail and the cemetery and the hill. Her story gleams brightly among them as she illustrates as she says, “It’s an absolute goal of mine to continue to inspire others and for my wishing tree to bring happiness to all who stumble across it!”
I’m glad I did… stumbled here. For me, I think of my daughters and grandchildren and pray that they will have a measure of Annie’s determination and drive.
Doc Holliday’s story is dark and deadly.
Annie’s story shines with hope.
Annie has grit.
Here are other things to do and study in Glenwood Springs.
Our thanks to Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association for photos and to Annie Zancanella for background in this story. We were not compensated for coverage of the location and attractions. – JB
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