Autumn has passed, but the tales of the Slide Rock Bolter should keep you up at night. For today’s tale of cetacean legend, we look to the vibrant woodlands of North America. You probably don’t think of sea mammals when you think of landlocked Colorado. The Slide-Rock Bolter, a dreadful mountain whale, was one of many “fearsome animals” American lumberjacks claimed to have encountered in the early 20th century.
William Thomas Cox, the State Forester of Minnesota, who authored Fearsome Critters of the Lumberwoods, with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts in 1910, is the author of the story of the Slide-Rock Bolter.
What is the Slide Rock Bolter?
Cox described the different creatures that logging industry workers conjured up late at night in their shanties in this collection of lumberjack tales from around the United States. Southwest Colorado is the setting for The Slide-Rock Bolter’s narrative.
Forester Coert du Bois, who created the pictures, and botanist George Bishop Sudworth, whose Latin taxonomical names for the species complemented the work’s ironic impersonation of a field guide, collaborated with Cox on the project. Cox writes about the Slide-Rock Bolter:
“There has been much unease produced by the existence of the slide-rock bolter in the mountains of Colorado, where in the summer, the woods are becoming overrun with tourists. Only on the highest mountains with slopes more than 45 degrees does this terrifying animal reside. It has a huge head, small eyes, and a mouth that extends back over its ears, resembling that of sculpin in some ways.
The tail comprises a divided flipper with large grab hooks that fasten around the mountain or ridge peak. It frequently stays there immobile for days, keeping an eye out for tourists or other unfortunate creatures that might fall into the gulch. The bolter comes down like a toboggan, scooping in its victim as it goes. Its momentum carries it up the next slope, where it slaps its tail over the ridge and waits.
At the perfect moment, after spotting a tourist, it will lift its tail, loosening its hold on the mountain. Its small eyes will be fixed on the unfortunate tourist, and it will drool thin skid grease from the corners of its mouth, which greatly accelerate.
There are reports of taking groups of tourists quite far back into the hills, where entire groups of travelers were downed at one scoop.
The animal poses a threat to the woodlands as well as to tourists. Many a draw through spruce-covered slopes has been reduced to rubble, with the trees being uprooted or cut down as by a scythe when the bolter has crashed through from the peaks above.”
The Slide-Rock Bolter was presumably dreamt up late one night as part of a storytelling competition, when experienced campers competed to persuade newbies that “fearsome monsters” existed in the woods, like most things that lumberjacks recounted stories about.
The shape of a whale was probably picked because of its enormous size and unusual tail, which fits the peculiar behavior of this particular cryptid and is far from the ocean where any real cetacean would swim. Cox’s narrative describes how one forest ranger convinced the Slide-Rock Bolter to attack a tourist-costumed dummy.
A Colorado travel guide and a Norfolk jacket, typical of upper-class men who could afford to seek adventure in the far west, served as the bait. However, the dummy was filled with dynamite. As the Bolter slid down Lizard Head for the kill, “the ensuing explosion obliterated half the structures in Rico, which were never rebuilt.”
We can place the Bolter in a larger perspective thanks to Rico, Colorado’s extraordinarily exact geographic location, which is the setting for this particular story. The Slide-Rock Bolter is a glimpse of the conflicts that occurred during a period of significant transition in southwest Colorado, according to research into Rico’s economic history.
Instead of being destroyed in an explosive attempt to stop a gigantic whale, Rico’s buildings fell into decay due to a significant economic shift in the town just before the Bolter’s tale was written.
Following the discovery of gold in the area, American miners began squatting in what had been designated as Ute territory by the Treaty of 1868. The Ute people spent years defending their territory from gold-seeking prospectors.
Still, their representative Ouray and his wife Chipeta were coerced into giving up 3.7 million acres of land by Felix Brunot, the head of the Board of Indian Commissioners, who never kept his word to return Ouray’s kidnapped son in exchange for American rights to mine the San Juan Mountains.
After the Brunot Agreement was signed, mining operations in America really got going. One of the communities that sprang up and flourished in the 1880s was Rico, which had 5,000 residents in 1892. However, Rico’s luck changed the very next year when a silver panic struck the community.
Most enterprises shut down when the price of silver fell, and at the turn of the century, only 811 people remained. Rito’s wealth vanished as fast as it had appeared.
What the Slide Rock Monster Could Really Be
When mining fell out of favor, lumbering quickly overtook it. The Brunot Agreement was broken by the United States, which sparked violent vengeance and the Ute people’s exile to Utah in 1881. Their densely forested abode was now vulnerable to exploitation.
When the mines in southwest Colorado were shut down, the demand for wood for railroads had grown enough to make logging still profitable. Initially, the forests there were cleared to support the mining sector. The coveted western yellow pine that grew close to Rico was cut down after the New Mexico Logging Company bought the cutting rights.
The local lumberjacks must have noticed the swaths of debris on the mountainside that indicated the locations of closed mines and related them to Rico’s dilapidated structures, coming up with the Slide-Rock Bolter explanation to explain the ruination of both the environment and the town.
However, logging in southwest Colorado had a fall as significant as its boom, just like mining did before it. Mainly, deforestation was to blame. The New Mexico Logging Company moved further south in 1914 because they had used up the timber source that had sustained the Utes for hundreds of years in just ten years.
The lumberjacks’ Slide-Rock Bolter targeted affluent East Coast tourists since the early American conservation movement attempted to limit logging in Colorado due to the startling rate of destruction. Instead of the environmental destruction they themselves were causing, the lumberjacks of 1910 must have perceived eco-tourists and their conservationist ideology as the main threat to their way of life.
Even though the Slide-Rock Bolter story is humorous, it makes hints at the conflicts between conservationists and lumberjacks.
The narrative found in Fearsome Critters of the Lumberwoods reflects the brief period of logging’s dominance in the history of southwestern Colorado, caught between the decline of mining and the emergence of national parks. In fact, Cox was inspired to write down the stories by their fleeting nature:
Regions that produce lumber are shrinking. Long stretches of woodland that seemed to run on forever are all but gone, and many streams that used to be brimming with logs and echoing with the singing of the river drives are now quiet. Some claim that the traditional logger is going extinct. I want to retain at least a description of some of the intriguing animals he created in this small book.
Lumberjacks created the Slide-Rock Bolter in response to the apparent environmental harm caused by the mining industry while inadvertently causing it via their own actions.
The mining and lumbering industries could bleed the ground dry in a few decades after the treaty-breaking removal of the Ute, who had been living sustainably in southwest Colorado for hundreds of years.
The tangled history of colonization in Colorado gave rise to the man-eating mountain whale of Lizard Head, which serves as a cautionary tale about how rapidly human avarice can alter a region.
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