Tales from the Tread: Honoring Routt County’s Daisy Anderson
Tread of Pioneers Museum
A large blue sign hung on the gate to Daisy Anderson’s garden that read, “Thank God I’m in Routt County.”
As we celebrate Black History Month in Routt County, it is a privilege to honor the late Daisy Anderson, a Routt County resident for nearly 60 years. Later in life, she was famously known as one of the last living widows of a former American Civil War soldier and enslaved person. The community fondly remembers Anderson as a local rancher, gardener, cook, writer, poet, educator, activist, and lecturer, among other talents. Anderson’s story is long and full.
Longtime locals lovingly remember Anderson as a kind and generous neighbor, with her abundant garden and livestock, or her tasty fried chicken at her family’s restaurant, the Rushing Water Inn, in Strawberry Park.
However, Anderson’s impact reached far beyond Routt County. At 91, she received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Colorado Holiday Commission’s Humanitarian Award in 1992. In 1998, she was inducted posthumously into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in Little Rock.
Anderson received national attention in 1997 at the age of 96, as she, a Union widow, and Confederate widow Alberta Martin shook hands in peace at the wall of “Pickett’s Charge” in Gettysburg National Military Park, 134 years after that bloody battle.
“The most amazing thing about Daisy is that she refused to ‘go gentle into that dark night,’” wrote her niece Rita Williams. “Nobody expected the last Union widow (that they knew of at the time) to be a black woman. (It) was pretty interesting watching her and the Confederate widow engage and sort (out) their connection. We are still concerned with the fight to save the Union.”
Life with Robert Anderson
Born on December 14, 1900, the oldest of eight children in a Catholic family in Tennessee, Daisy became a rural school teacher in Arkansas. Eager to leave the strain and poverty she experienced in the South, when she was 21, she married 79-year-old Robert Anderson, a wealthy landowner and farmer from Nebraska. Decades before the couple met, Robert left slavery to join the Union Army in 1864 and served as a Buffalo Soldier, the nation’s first all-black Army regiment, on the Western frontier.
“He treated me like a queen,” she fondly recalled of her short courtship and marriage. “I had a wonderful life with him, he took me on trips around the country, and we met a lot of people and did many things I never dreamed of doing.”
Robert told Daisy many stories of his life as an enslaved person and the hard work and experiences that led to his success. Daisy recounted that Robert wandered starving for days to eventually find a home in Hemingford, Nebraska, where he persevered, working the land for many years when countless others had given up. By 1918, he was a wealthy man known to own the most land in Nebraska, more than 2,000 acres and a 22-room home.
Her husband’s stories and experiences inspired Daisy to write the book, “From Slavery to Affluence: Memoirs of Robert Anderson, Ex-Slave.” The book was initially published in 1927 and reissued several times.
Daisy and Robert were married eight years before Robert died in a tragic car accident in 1930. She ultimately lost her husband’s land and wealth. “She had never learned how to handle money, and before long, she lost everything to manipulative people and the droughts, wind, and grasshoppers of the ’30s,” wrote the Steamboat Pilot in an interview with Daisy in 1991.
Life in Strawberry Park, Steamboat Springs
Daisy joined her sister Mae in 1937 in Routt County, where Daisy picked strawberries in Strawberry Park, cleaned at Perry-Mansfield Camp, landscaped, and helped run the family restaurant, the Rushing Water Inn, that opened in Strawberry Park in 1943. The two sisters also grew vegetables and strawberries and were known for their jams and jellies.
After building cabins on their Strawberry Park property, Daisy and Mae became two of only four licensed women fishing and hunting guides in Colorado. The sisters’ Rushing Water Inn offered lodging, excursions, guide services, gourmet cooking, and more.
Inspired by the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, Daisy devoted much of her life to racial harmony, service, religion, and keeping the memory of her husband alive. In addition to her national recognition and awards, she gave talks and lectures widely and published a personal memoir, “Have You No Shame?” in 1967. She won national awards for her poetry, and her poem “Don’t Wait” earned her 1990 Golden Poet award from the International Society of Poets. Daisy died in 1998 at the age of 97.
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