Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Karen Copperberg

Quilts with a story


Karen Copperberg/Left Hand Valley Courier From 1845 to about the 1860’s, a red, white and green quilt was considered the “Cadillac” of quilts, which Mac and Jan MacAnulty displayed.

On Wednesday April 27, the Niwot Historical Society (NHS) was lucky enough to hear the presentation, “Quilts That Settled The West,” by Jeananne Wright.

Besides being a collector (she has one of the most complete quilt collections in the U.S.), Wright is an AQS Certified Quilt Appraiser, and gives about 30 talks each year.

This lecture, one of 11 programs she shares, focused on the Oregon Trail, quilts made from 1840-1870, and what happened to the settlers that made them for their journey. Wright has, on several occasions, met people in the audience who turned out to be descendants of the quilters who made the quilts she owns. The hardships and life stories woven into the quilts all have a purpose, and a documented reason for the colors and the patterns used.

Wright has researched quilts and their stories since her collecting started in the 1960’s. She had 19 quilts stolen from her in 1992, which only boosted her interest in the history behind the quilts. Since 1995, she has given hundreds of talks.

Besides the utility of the quilts on the Oregon Trail (it was recommended that each family member bring three quilts per traveler to keep warm during cold prairie nights), there was a need for remembering the family members left behind, as well as something cheerful and colorful to look at once the settlers reached their destination. In many cases, the quilts were stitched by the mothers, sisters and aunts of the traveling female in the family, and a sort of farewell gift, made with love.

Many died on the trail, mostly of typhoid and cholera. There were between four and ten graves per mile, along the nearly 2,200 miles between Independence, Missouri and Oregon City, Oregon. Many times the quilts were used to wrap the dead, before they were laid to rest in shallow graves along the way.

Wright owns the oldest documented quilt in Colorado, dating back to 1856. She also shared that most states had their own patterns they were fond of, and the colors of the quilt can help date it. Pastels were not available in this country until after World War 1, when the Germans handed over their formulas for the dyes. Earlier red, white and green quilts were prized, but some of the more vivid colors were made of poisons, like arsenic. Quilts were traded for a “toll” equaling $5; $100 in today’s money.

She spoke of the wagon wheel pattern being prominent in that era’s designs, since the wheel was so important to the wagons that traveled west. It was also part of Niwot’s history. Porter Hinman, who platted Niwot in 1875, ended up donating his farm, which became Niwot, because his son was not able to take over the farm after he fell and was run over by a wagon wheel. He survived but was crippled by the accident, so the younger Hinman became postmaster (of Hahn’s Peak in NW Colorado) instead. Hinman’s name is still given to the Hinman Ditch, which runs underground through Niwot, even though the street he named disappeared when the Diagonal Highway was built west of town.


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