Tales from the Tread: Honoring Daisy Anderson
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
A large blue sign hung on the gate to Daisy Anderson’s garden that read, “Thank God I’m in Routt County.”
As we continue to 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 slave. She is fondly remembered as a local rancher, gardener, cook, writer, poet, educator, activist and lecturer, among other talents. Anderson’s story is long and rich.
When we celebrate Anderson on social media each year for Black History Month, we are struck by the number of longtime locals who so lovingly remember this 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. 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.
At the age of 91, Daisy received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Colorado Holiday Commission’s Humanitarian Award in 1992, and in 1998, she was inducted posthumously into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in Little Rock.
Born Dec. 14, 1900, the eldest 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 just 21, she married 79-year-old Robert Anderson, a wealthy landowner and farmer from Nebraska. Decades before the couple met, Robert had 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 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 a slave, and his 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 as the black landowner with “the most land in Nebraska,” more than 2,000 acres and a 22-room home.
Daisy was inspired by her husband’s stories and experience and wrote the book, “From Slavery to Affluence: Memoirs of Robert Anderson, Ex-Slave.” The book was originally published in 1927 and reissued several times.
Daisy and Robert were married for 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.
Daisy joined her sister Mae in 1937 in Routt County, where Daisy picked strawberries in Strawberry Park, cleaned houses and at Perry-Mansfield Camp, landscaped, and helped run the family restaurant, the Rushing Water Inn that opened in Strawberry Park 1943. The two sisters also started growing their own 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.
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.
Candice Bannister is the executive director for the Tread of Pioneers Museum. For more, go to TreadOfPioneers.org.
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