The Second Coming that didn’t arrive

Article by Ed Quillen

Salida History – July 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

PART OF the millennial excitement as the year 2000 approaches comes from some Christians, who believe that Jesus will return to earth next year.

Such predictions and calculations have been around since the dawn of Christianity, even though Jesus made it clear that “No man shall know the hour and place of my return.”

That doesn’t keep people from trying (I once ran across a 400-page book that used biblical chapter and verse to put the return at 10 a.m. GMT on September 3, 1994), and another such reckoning set the place as Salida’s Tenderfoot Hill. The time is unclear from what I’ve been able to learn, but it was around the turn of the century.

The story, for us at least, begins with historian and author Abbott Fay of Grand Junction, who has retired as a professor of history at Western State College (earlier in his career, back in 1950, he taught in Leadville).

Fay writes a column of historical briefs for one of my favorite exchange publications, the North Fork Valley Chronicle in Paonia, and that’s where I ran across this tale.

The story of the Second Coming and Salida, as Fay discovered it, was in a column of reminiscences by a Fred O’Bannon that probably appeared in a Paonia newspaper — Fay had just the clipping, and it had no date or publication information.

Amid his other recollections about Paonia’s early days, O’Bannon wrote this:

“Paonia had three newspapers. The oldest was the Paonia Gazette, owned by C.A. Fredericks. He was a devoted church man and was known all over the state among his clan. They set a date for the second coming of Christ. They were to meet on top of Tenderfoot Hill on a certain date. Fredericks had a large family but he and his wife packed their white robes and departed for Salida, leaving their children behind. On the appointed day the mountain was covered with white-robed people. Christ was to appear in the morning. They waited until about dark and then departed for their homes. We kidded Fredericks so hard about the event that he sold the paper and departed for parts unknown.”

FROM OTHER SOURCES, we know that the Paonia Gazette began publication on Nov. 23, 1900. Fredericks published local news, although he avoided political topics, and each edition also featured a “Sermon Page.”

But when did Fredericks and his white-robed flock venture to Salida for the Second Coming?

I don’t know when the Gazette quit publishing, but two new newspapers (the Paonia Booster and the Paonia Newspaper) appeared there during the latter half of 1904.

It thus seems logical that the pilgrims traveled to Salida during the early summer of 1904. Then a humiliated Fredericks, upon his return to Paonia, left town quickly. He either sold his newspaper to a new publisher who changed its name, or just abandoned it.

With that analysis in mind, I examined the microfilmed editions of the weekly Salida Record and the semi-weekly Salida Mail for the summer of 1904.

You would think that the arrival of a few dozen white-robed pilgrims in Salida would rate a big front-page story, but I didn’t find one.

My search was rather hurried, though, and my guess that it happened in the summer of 1904 was just that — a guess. From what I knew, it could have happenedjust about any time between 1900 and 1910.

I called Donna Nevens of Salida, hoping she’d run across the story during some of her research into our past.

“I haven’t read every word of every paper from the first decade of the 1900s,” she said, “since I focus more on the 19th century. But I’ve looked through most of them, and I don’t remember seeing anything like that, and it’s something you certainly would remember.”

She joined me in some speculation that Salida has always attracted people who don’t swim in the mainstream. Thus the arrival of a flock of white-robed pilgrims, all waiting to be transcended into Heaven when Gabriel’s trumpet blew and the foot of Jesus touched the tip of Tenderfoot Hill, might not have been deemed sufficiently newsworthy to get into the paper.

MY NEXT CALL was to Dick Dixon, author of several local histories, including one about the Turret area, where mining excitement reached a crescendo during the first decade of this century.

To tell the stories of Turret, Dixon has read every word of every available Salida newspaper published between 1900 and 1920, “and I’d sure remember it if there had been anything about pilgrims from Paonia.”

Perhaps it wasn’t newsworthy?

“No, back then the local authorities were really concerned about hoboes coming through on the trains. They kept a sharp eye on that side of the tracks, and activity over there always showed up in the papers.”

Dixon says the safest conclusion is that “it never happened here. Maybe the preacher and his followers did get on a train in Paonia one day, and they returned to Paonia a few days later, but they never came to Salida to wait for a Second Coming on Tenderfoot Hill.”

Our own Martha Quillen asked, “If they really thought it was the Second Coming, which presumably means that they might be raptured right on into heaven, why didn’t they bring their children with them? Don’t you think they would want the kids there for such a momentous event?”

Which makes me wonder whether the Salida tale was just something they told people around Paonia. Perhaps, it was their explanation for an excursion to some remote spot — a place out in the woods where they could do things that they didn’t want to do around their children.

Abbott Fay points out that he likes to have at least two sources for every tale, but the only source for this one is Fred O’Bannon’s undated column in an unknown newspaper most likely published in Paonia.

And that’s where it sits, as best as I can tell. Does anybody remember hearing a Salida end of this story from a parent or grandparent? Any ideas how to frame the date more precisely?

I’d like to know. This is an interesting story, but the only thing I am certain about is:

If the Second Coming had indeed occurred 95 years ago on Tenderfoot Hill in Salida, someone would have heard about it.

Ed Quillen has lived in Salida since 1978, and has yet to hear anything about the Second Coming in town. In writing this article, he was proud of himself for avoiding the joke about not being able to find three wise men and a virgin.