My father discovered the Quartz Creek Valley shortly after returning home from WW II . . . and yes, Pitkin natives, he discovered it exactly the same way Columbus “discovered” America.
In the 60+ years since, his family of 7 children and now countless grandchildren have wandered the Valley from Parlin to Cumberland Pass every summer. Like every family that has come to love this area, ours has a number of traditions
that have made it special to us. Among them is “Pitkin Jake.”
I’m not sure who originally came up with Pitkin Jake but I suspect it was my brother, Marc. In any event, from a young age I remember his name being invoked whenever something unexpected or unusual occurred. If a fishing rod were
misplaced or a rod tip mysteriously broken, someone would suggest “it must have been Pitkin Jake.” If an unusual
sound was heard outside at night it was always Pitkin Jake. If one of the kids angrily stormed from the cabin because he felt he was being cheated at poker by his older siblings (which he was) someone would gleefully call out after him “watch out for Pitkin Jake!”
Prior to our annual July 4 get together a couple years ago, it occurred to us that we didn’t really know who Pitkin Jake was, so we decided to have a contest to create a back story for the character. The rules were that the story
could not be more than 600 words and each of us had to read it in the scariest possible voice over candle light on the night of July 4 in Pitkin.
Below is my submission to the Pitkin Jake contest. It is offered as an example of one family’s tradition (albeit a bit warped) that makes Pitkin special to us. One caveat: It’s intended to be scary and it’s a bit gory in places
so read at your own risk – at night and by firelight, if possible. :)
Franz Jacob Mueller appeared in Quartzville, Colorado, in the spring of 1879. A large man with wild hair and long, unkempt beard, people would later recall two particularly striking personal characteristics: extraordinarily large,
powerful hands and eyes so black that light itself seemed unable to escape them. Known simply as “Jake” by the
townspeople, he lived alone on his claim along the banks of the Quartz Creek in the mountains above town.
By the summer of 1882, Quartzville – now known as Pitkin – was a boomtown of over a thousand souls. Drawn by tales of rich silver veins in the surrounding mountains, hardscrabble men like Mueller had poured into the little town
in droves. But so too had those who would prey on such men, notably including the feral O’Leary brothers; Sean, Danny, and their particularly sadistic older brother, Paddy.
On the afternoon of July 4, 1882, as the residents of Pitkin celebrated the birth of their young but quickly-growing nation, Franz Mueller walked into the Pitkin Assay Office carrying the large, canvas satchel that was his constant
companion. But on this day, the satchel contained 30 pounds of the purest silver ore the assay officer had ever seen. When pressed, Mueller would only say there was much more where that had come from.
Predictably, news of Mueller’s strike spread quickly among the denizens of Pitkin’s many brothels and saloons and by the time he left town to return to his claim the jackals had caught his scent.
The following day, the O’Leary brothers were observed buying drinks in the STR Saloon. The meaning of STR is lost to history but some say it stood for “Shoot then Run.” At any rate, the unusually generous behavior of the O’Learys
was so completely out of character for the shiftless and perpetually broke trio that it drew the attention of the sheriff.
Suspicious of their sudden reversal of fortune, he rode out to Mueller’s claim only to discover the old miner’s body. Tortured, strangled and shot, the murderers had cut off his left hand in a final act of depravity, or perhaps
to persuade the old man to divulge the location of his mine. Whatever the reason, the hand was nowhere to be found.
Taking the body back to Pitkin and placing it in the old ice house, the sheriff called the O’Learys in for questioning. The trio insisted they knew nothing about Jake or what had happened to him. Despite never having been known
to do a day’s honest labor, they insisted that a claim they had been diligently working had finally come in.
Sensing the sheriff had no evidence on which to hold them they became increasingly bold. At one point Paddy gleefully declared, “Hey, if I’d known the old Kraut was in trouble I would have given him a hand, get it?” then he laughed
uproariously. Eventually, lacking evidence to charge them the sheriff was forced to release the three whence they returned to the saloon and their debauchery. Later that night, the people of Pitkin were awakened by the shouts
of men, followed by terrified shrieks and screams and then . . . silence.
The following day, newspapers across Colorado reported two noteworthy events in Pitkin: First, the ravaged body of Franz Jacob Mueller was inexplicably missing from the ice house. Second, a canvas satchel was found on the steps
of the Assay Office. In the satchel were the severed heads and left hands of Sean, Danny and Paddy O’Leary.
No other remains of Franz Mueller or the O’Learys were ever found. But it is said that in July of each year, Pitkin Jake roams the banks of the Quartz Creek at night still searching for . . . his missing left hand!