History Colorado’s critically acclaimed podcast, Lost Highways: Dispatches from the Shadows of the Rocky Mountains, expands the history of the American West by exploring how overlooked stories from the past have shaped current world events and continue to impact our lives today.
Each season, Senior Producer and Host, Noel Black, and Producers Maria Maddox and Dustin Hodge delve into overlooked histories from Colorado and The West that we couldn't believe we'd never heard.
Lost Highways is made possible by the Sturm Family Foundation and a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
For nearly a century-and-a-half, archaeologists have been studying Mesa Verde in hopes of deciphering what happened to the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived and thrived there for so long. For many, it remains one of the great mysteries in the history of North America. On this episode of Lost Highways, we’ll explore the way that historians and archaeologists try to solve these kinds of mysteries, and how they know what they say they think they know. Where does that confidence come from? How confident are they, actually? And what happens when what we think we know changes.
On this episode of Lost Highways, we look at the mustang, the wild horse of American myth and legend. Though they’re widely revered as symbols of untameable American freedom in the West, the reality of the wild horse in the 21st Century is far less romantic. From the long history of the horse's evolution in North America to the helicopter roundups on rangeland in The West, we'll follow the blurry line between the way we've mythologized horses to how we actually treat them.
Westerns often reveal more about the period when they were produced than the era they portray, but the genre won't die. On this episode of Lost Highways, we'll trace the rise of The Western in American pop culture, the significance of landscape in film, and the moral guidelines that set the boundaries for US films produced from the late-19th Century to the present. From classic to revisionist and contemporary films, Westerns have both created and pushed back on the myths America tells itself.
On this episode, we take you inside the history of NORAD, or North American Aerospace Defense Command. AND we’ll take you inside The Cheyenne Mountain Complex, the base that has stoked the pop cultural imagination of generations with movies and shows from Dr. Strangelove to Stargate to Interstellar. As the war in Ukraine and Chinese spy balloons have brought long dormant fears of a nuclear attack back to public consciousness, we’ll look at the way the Cold War reshaped and modernized the already militarized American West as it became the stage for a global high noon with the Soviet Union. We also look at the ways NORAD’s vigilant watch for threats beyond our borders may have made us feel safe, but also left us vulnerable to threats from within and the instability of our own nuclear arsenal.
Barney Ford was one of the most successful and resilient Black businessmen in the early American West. He came in search of gold, owned and operated hotels and restaurants, lost them in fires, rebuilt them, and enjoyed a reputation as a King of hospitality in early Denver, Breckenridge, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Much of his legend was built upon a 1963 biography called "Mr. Barney Ford: A Portrait in Bistre" written by a hack journalist named Forbes Parkhill who moonlighted as a screenwriter for schlocky westerns. And for almost 60 years, Parkhill's colorful account of Ford's birth, his enslavement, and his heroic escape to freedom were taken largely as fact. But then, in 2022, history happened.
Cathay Williams was an African American Woman who was conscripted to work as General Philip Sheridan's cook during the Civil War. When the war was over, she wanted to join one of the all-Black Army Regiments that later became known as the “Buffalo Soldiers." But women weren't allowed to serve at that time. So she put on men's clothes, changed her name to William Cathay, and spent the next three years as a Buffalo Soldier in the "Wild West." Her story could easily serve as a western myth – a portrait of so-called frontier courage in the face of insurmountable odds. But we look more closely at the way her choice to live as a Black male soldier also reflects the extremely limited options available to Black women at the time.
If you work hard enough, or get lucky enough, the distinctly American myth goes, anyone can become rich. And once you’re rich, of course, you’ll be happy … right? In the nineteenth century, no one embodied that American myth of the rugged individual than Winfield Scott Stratton, the first millionaire of the Cripple Creek Gold boom in 1893.
Two years after the murder of George Floyd, we look back at the origins of policing in America through the lens of the Denver Police Department, how their role in communities has transitioned over time, what happens when they abuse their power, and the long struggle for change.
Less than an hour south of Colorado Springs, Fremont County is home to more than a dozen prisons, including the Colorado State Penitentiary and ADX, or Supermax, aka "The Alcatraz of the Rockies." On this episode of Lost Highways, we look into the history of the architecture of those prisons to see what they reveal about our belief in the power of incarceration to make society a better place.
On this episode of Lost Highways, we look back at Mother Jones, one of the fiercest labor organizers in American history, and her role in the United Mine Workers of America's massive strike in the southern Colorado coalfields that led to the Ludlow Massacre on April 20, 1914.
In November of 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) into law. Now, more than 30 years later, we look back at both the letter and spirit of the law, which aims to return tens of thousands of stolen Indigenous remains and funerary artifacts to their tribes.
In 1863, two brothers from Colorado's San Luis Valley allegedly went on one of the most infamous killing sprees in the history of the American West. But the story's sensationalized lore has been entwined with the deeply contentious and unresolved history of land rights in the Borderlands of Southern Colorado for centuries. In this episode, we work with folklorist Jake Rosenberg to peel back the layers and see why the story still resonates today.
In 2019, Spike Lee's 2018 film "BlacKkKlansman" won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film brought national attention to the story of Ron Stallworth, the first Black Detective to work in the Colorado Springs Police Department, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. But what many people don't know is that Colorado has been home to THREE Black Klansmen. In this episode, Noel and Tyler talk to experts, scholars, Theo Wilson (the most recent Black Klansman), and more as we explore the story of Dr. Joseph Westbrook, who infiltrated the KKK in the 1920s in an effort to protect the thriving Five Points community in Denver.
People don't often think of Colorado when they hear the word "lynching." But in 1900, one of the most horrifying racial terror lynchings in US history took place in the small town of Limon on the Eastern Plains. Hundreds of spectators looked on as fifteen-year-old Preston Porter, Jr., was burned alive. More than a century later, a group of people from across the state of Colorado came together to make sure that he was remembered—and that his story was told.
In the winter of 1874, Alfred Packer led a group of prospectors into the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. After returning alone, he confessed to eating the remains of his travel companions, and was convicted of murder despite claiming self-defense. The conviction sealed his place in history as the "Colorado Cannibal." After almost 150 years, Noel and Tyler look back at Packer's story and discover there’s much more to it than simple questions of guilt or innocence.
Juan Federico Miguel Arguello Trujillo lost his name, his language, and his culture at a Catholic school in Trinidad, Colorado in the 1940s. When he found them again he found himself at the center of some of the most important moments of 20th Century Chicano history.
On this episode, how Trinidad, Colorado -- an iconic Western mining town along the old Santa Fe trail on the New Mexico border -- became the unlikely location for two pioneers of gender confirmation surgery. Their work would earn Trinidad the now-dated nickname: "the sex change capital of the world."
In 1970, a man named Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche came to the US with the mission of teaching Tibetan Buddhism to Westerners. He enthralled hippies across the country and paved the way for a distinctly American Buddhism. But there was also a "shadow side" to his charisma. On this episode, Noel and Tyler explore the life and times of a beloved teacher who was no stranger to controversy.
Noel and Tyler look back at intentional artist communities Drop City and Libre to understand why one thrived while the other died, and what these two communes might teach us about the balance between freedom and order. (Photo Credit: Dean and Linda's Dome by Roberta Price).
In 1936, Colorado Governor "Big Ed" Johnson declared martial law in an attempt to close the Colorado/New Mexico border. In this episode, we unravel the historical context of this one decision, touching on issues of race, labor, and immigration that speak to the United States' current political moment as well.
Musician Neyla Pekarek (formerly of the Lumineers), helps tell the legend of Rattlesnake Kate, an early 20th century Western icon who refused to play by the rules. After surviving a rattlesnake attack, Kate earned herself a place in the pantheon of American tall tales.
The music for this episode was by both Earth Control Pill, and Neyla Pekarek, whose album Rattlesnake is out now.
On July 5th, 1978, nineteen disability rights activists blocked multiple buses at one of Denver's busiest intersections, causing a 24-hour traffic jam. Their actions would revolutionize the way we think about accessibility.
One hundred years ago, a pitcher with a nasty curveball and a mind for business named Rube Foster formed "the Negro Leagues." In a story that in many ways mirrors American history from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans in baseball shaped the game and American society beyond the ballfield. It’s a story that runs, surprisingly, straight through Denver and an event that called itself “The Little World Series of the West.”
There are still more than a thousand public high schools across the country that use stereotypes and caricatures of American Indians as their mascots, and Colorado is no exception. We still have more than 30 of them. On this episode of Lost Highways, we look at the history of American Indian mascots and the different ways that tribes, teams, governments, and communities have grappled with the controversy.
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, all-Black settlements sprang up throughout the West as formerly enslaved people and their descendants sought to build a better life. In this episode, Noel and Tyler look back at one of those communities in Colorado.
Born and raised in Wheatridge, Colorado, Dean Reed moved to Hollywood at the age of 19 in an attempt to become a star. He was groomed to be a teen pop idol before becoming a socialist during a tour of South America in the 1960s. He eventually settled in East Germany, where, despite remaining unknown in the United States, he became one of the socialist world's biggest stars. In this episode, Noel and Tyler dig into Reed's archives at History Colorado as they reconsider the legacy of the Red Elvis.
Noel and Tyler spin the dial on the talk radio time machine to meet Alan Berg, the loud-mouthed Denver media personality who helped pioneer the “outrage for profit” business model that drives political media today. Berg was on his way to stardom until his assassination by neo-Nazis in 1984.
Tyler and Noel set out to investigate an alleged feud between two bickering bonsai clubs. But their quest leads them instead to Amache, a WWII prison camp for people of Japanese ancestry in southeast Colorado.
In 1975, a newly-elected Boulder County Clerk named Clela Rorex had just settled into her job when two men walked into the courthouse and asked for a marriage license. Her decision would reverberate across four decades.