When I was about seven years old, I used to find the huge woods beyond Fleming Road a fascinating place to explore. This was, of course, before Firewood Drive, Sweetwater Drive, and the Ritchie Avenue extension were built. On the north side of Fleming between Brayton Avenue and Mort’s Pass, there were only a few rather new houses, Russell Bruzina’s farm, where the new Mort’s Pass is now, the Sansone’s house, just west of the new Brayton, the Follick’s house, almost directly across from the older Brayton, and a house built in 1928, on the NE corner of what is now Fleming and Firewood.
The point is-there was a huge woods back there, darn near as big as Texas to a seven year old kid. There was one structure back in those woods, a hunting lodge (you heard me right), owned by Dr. Stewart Matthews. By the time we found it, it was no longer in use, so we were free to “camp out” there, or to do whatever our imaginations thought up. Sometimes it was a fort, sometimes it was a cowboy’s line shack.
When I say we, I’m referring to David Melvin and myself. David was really cool, because he owned the one thing I wanted, but was not allowed to have; a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. One day, while we were back in those woods, and tiring of messing around the hunting lodge, we struck out to the east, along a mysterious rut in the ground. We had noticed the rut before, and we had discussed what the heck it might be, but we had never followed it. It was really like a two foot wide ditch next to a two foot wide hump, like laying an “S” on its side in profile. It was almost like years ago, someone had meant to lay pipe there, but had never finished. It ran straight as an arrow for about fifty yards and then just sort of faded away, at both ends. It was not new, as it was well weathered and full of fallen leaves. So, down the rut we went into hitherto unexplored territory. As we came to the slope of the hill down to the creek, we stopped and looked out over the view; woods as far as the eye could see. Then, Dave looked down, and there, in the ground, was a hole. It didn’t appear to be very large, but it was partially covered with forest debris. Clearing the sticks and leaves away, we stared at a two foot by two foot opening in the ground. Peering down into it we could see enough to tell that it was a sloping hole into the earth, not a straight down drop. But, how far did it go down? It was too dark down there to tell. David and I looked at each other, and almost simultaneously, said to one another, “Flashlights!”
Over an hour and a half passed, as we ran home to my house, searched for a flashlight and batteries, and then did the same over at Dave’s house. Finally, with two flashlights in hand, we arrived back at the hole. Dave decided to “slide” down first, figuring his Daisy Red Ryder could handle anything he might encounter down there. I followed right behind, and what we found was amazing. As we looked around, we were surrounded by four stone walls, about six feet high. Above our heads, supported by six very stout upright logs, was a “woven” ceiling of heavy wood cross beams with smaller “sticks” woven into layers over the beams. My first thought was no wonder you could walk right over it without even knowing it, and we had.
We spent the next hour or so, exploring the several rooms, formed again by woven stick panels attached to the uprights. Overall, the whole place was about fifteen feet square. After our explorations, we sat on the earthen floor and dreamed out loud about what we had found. It was surely not built by any kids; it was far too rugged and well-built. It also looked as though we might have been the first people to have entered in many, many, years. A mostly rotted pair of leather work boots and an old tobacco tin were the only items still occupying this subterranean hideaway. There was no evidence of recent occupation.
Having vowed never to tell anyone else about our find, we continued to visit it for the remainder of the summer, but come winter, we abandoned it, never to return. Times change, and boys change and move on. Eventually, I gave it no more thought until about 1966, ten years later, when we had a plumbing problem at our house. The plumber came and went to work, and I struck up a conversation with him, as he fiddled under the sink. Eventually, the plumber brought up the fact that he had grown up just a block away from my house on Woodbrook Lane. Surprised, I asked, “Where?”
“Oh, it’s gone now,” he replied, “but it used to be right where the water tower is up at Hilltop Field.”
“There was a house there?” I asked. “I’ve lived on this block since 1952 and I never saw a house there. There was a reservoir up there though, where the field is now, but they filled that in back in the fifties.”
“Exactly, and my house was the reservoir keeper’s house. My dad was the reservoir keeper.”
This got me to thinking. If this guy grew up here on Hilltop Field, judging from how old he is now, he must have lived up here back in the twenties.
“So you grew up here? Maybe back in the twenties, or so?” I asked.
“I wonder. Over in the woods north of Fleming Road there used to be a stone foundation covered flush with the ground with a roof of woven sticks and heavy uprights to hold it so good you could walk right over the foundation and never know it. Did you ever see that back when you were a kid?”
“Nope, too dangerous to go lookin’ back there back then.”
“Dangerous?” I asked, surprised.
“Yep, too dangerous. But-I have heard of it, just like you described. Away back, there was a log cabin there, sitting right on the edge of the hill back there with a view of the whole valley. I did see that cabin, back in about 1917. Yep, that’s about right, ‘cause it was right after my tenth birthday that my father took me back there squirrel hunting. That’s when we spotted the cabin and had a look at it. Too bad though, because some time later I heard that it had burned, leaving nothing but that foundation you were in.”
“Well...who put the flat roof on it then,” I asked.
“Moonshiners did that, during prohibition. They had their still down there.”
“Here, in Wyoming?” I asked.
“Yep, here in Wyoming.”