LUMP Gulch lies between Rollinsville, Colo., and a brash old mining boom town called Central City, an hour and a half outside of Denver, 9,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains. A broad, open space, Lump Gulch is dotted with old cabins and newer houses, lodge-pole pines and lush aspen trees that turn a fantastic canary yellow every autumn. Ute Indians passed though the area on the way to their chipping grounds to make arrowheads every summer. The path they made is still there. Like so many mountain landscap es in the Rockies, Lump Gulch is incredibly beautiful, quiet, and clear. The air is thin and cold most of the year.
A small community evolved as folks moved in and out after 1859, when gold (and rumors of gold) again and again brought groups of immigrants and American settlers. Some 300 or 400 people still live there, though the town is only three miles long and about a mile wide.
Jane Wodening, a mountain woman who has built her life in the still-wild environs near Lump Gulch, and who raised five children right in it, wanted to uncover the spirit of the place and its denizens. It occurred to Wodening 12 years ago that the old-timers who lived there had stories to tell. As a resident herself, she knew how interesting, and sometimes eccentric, the lives of early inhabitants were, and she began gathering all the anecdotes she could.
She compiled the stories of this much-loved place in a small book called "Lump Gulch Tales." Ms. Wodening has devoted herself to keeping the spirit of these tales alive, like a good folklorist or an anthropologist - with perhaps less of the scientist's detachment and more of the storyteller's affection for her subject. Her stories do not make up a history, but offer something more than history - a feeling for a time only recently past in a place still echoing with the character of the old West and the vi brant folk who peopled it.
Wodening herself loves the mountains, living isolated in her little cabin much of the year - connected to the outside world primarily by means of her CB radio. "You have to think about the mountains all the time," she says. "You have to be careful, because you are all alone. Rocks get loose. And it's hard work to live there." Hauling water, chopping wood, laying in stores for the winter, it's almost a 19th-century kind of life.
Lump Gulch is peculiarly alive in Wodening's book, though nothing earthshaking ever happened there. Yet, the stories bear the full range of human emotions as they are told simply in the vernacular of the area. When I read them the first time - some nine or 10 years ago in "Rolling Stock" magazine - I felt as if they'd "spoken" to me, as if they had been told just for me. I felt I knew them all, from Mrs. Schuster and her porcupine to the mysterious Mr. Owen who built a submarine and then filled it with r iver rocks and sank it in the Missouri Lake.
* "Lump Gulch Tales" is available through Jane Wodening, P.O. Box 1503, Nederland, CO, 80466-1503. ($10.95 includes postage and handling.)