Colorado History

The Ten Weirdest Monuments Commemorating Colorado Critters

Our pioneer ancestors loved animals, finding most of them delicious. Basically, the settlers divided critters into three categories – wild (dangerous, to be killed and/or eaten), domesticated (utilized, then killed and/or eaten) and pets. Today deer, elk, mountain lions and bears still encroach on Front Range neighborhoods. Denver is the quintessential cowtown, having derived much of its income from the livestock industry for decades. Some of that legacy can still be found at regional county fairs and Denver’s annual Western Stock Show.

But pets have personalities. Whether they are vital assistants, unexpected heroes or “just” companions, they make an impression, get into our hearts in ways that make us memorialize them. Here are the stories of ten remarkable Colorado animal friends.

1. Jenny Lind Rock
Dinosaur National Monument
Civil War veteran Pat Lynch came out west and settled in one of the most remote areas of the country, at the juncture of the Green and Yampa rivers, in what is now Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado. The hermit lived there in crude huts off his soldier’s pension until his death at the age of 98, in 1917.  One acquaintance asserted that Lynch “had beaver and deer as tame as cattle and hogs.” Lynch claimed that he had befriended a nearby mountain lion, who occasionally brought dead deer for him to eat. For visitors, Lynch would demonstrate by emitting a piercing wail, and a mountain lion would indeed yowl in answer from the distance. Making reference to the famous Swedish soprano of the day, Lynch would then say: “Jenny Lind never sang a sweeter note.” Today Jenny Lind Rock still commemorates the story.

2. Prunes the Burro
A prospector named Rupe Sherwood bought Prunes, a baby burro, for $10, and they spent fifty years roaming the then-wilderness of South Park, scratching for gold together. Prunes was dependable – Sherwood would send him to town with a shopping list tied to his harness, and the grocers would fill the order and send Prunes back. When man and donkey got too old, they retired. Prunes was adopted by the town of Fairplay (he loved pancakes) and lived happily until he was taken ill from exposure during a blizzard. A heartbroken Sherwood paid for the monument that stands in Fairplay today – and when he died in 1930, per his wishes, he was cremated, and his ashes were added to it.

3. Dizzy the Lightbulb-Carrying Dog
Palmer Lake
In 1935, B.E. Jack, regional manager of Mountain Utilities, thought it would be a good idea to construct a 500-foot electrical holiday “star of Bethlehem” on the side of Sundance Mountain in Palmer Lake. He told his friend Bert Sloan, who owned the cafe in town. The two organized a crew and spent three months building the Star of Palmer Lake, which has been lit from December 1 through January 1 every year since. Bert’s dog Dizzy, named after then-major league pitcher Dizzy Dean, pitched in as well. Sloan made a pack for him, and Dizzy carried small tools and supplies to the construction teams on the mountain. In 2006, the town memorialized Dizzy with a twice-life-sized statue of him in front of Town Hall.
4. Sergeant Geronimo
Commerce City

Paratrooper Kenneth Williams adopted a half-German shepherd, half-coyote pup and named him “Geronimo” after the emblematic yell made when World War II parachutists leaped from airplanes. He became the mascot of the 507th Paratroop Infantry Regiment stationed at Alliance Army Air Field in Nebraska. Geronimo loved to jump, and he and Williams made many exhibition jumps to raise money for the war effort. Geronimo was made a sergeant by order of President Franklin Roosevelt. In combat in Europe, Williams was severely wounded during an attempt to destroy a bridge; Geronimo was there and alerted others, who rescued him. 
After a year of rehab, Williams was given an honorable discharge – and so was Geronimo. They settled in a home on Race Street in Denver, where Geronimo lived happily until he was killed in 1947 by a hit-and-run driver. An impressive monument to him sits in the Denver Pet Cemetery in Commerce City, with a lovely bas-relief and the inscription “Down to Earth.”
5. Mike the Headless Chicken, aka Miracle Mike
Ah, the vagaries of showbiz. On the morning of September 10, 1945, Mike was just an ordinary rooster kicking it in the Fruita hen yard of Lloyd Olsen. Then Olsen grabbed Mike to prepare him as the main course for dinner that night and decapitated him. Kind of. Olsen left Mike’s brain stem intact, and it turns out that not only can a chicken run around with its head cut off, but it can thrive. Mike soon became a national celebrity. Going on tour across the country, the Olsens and Mike made a splash — and some badly needed cash. The Olsens carefully fed Mike liquid food through his neck with an eyedropper and cleared the passage with a syringe. But tragedy struck in Phoenix in the spring of 1947, when Mike choked to death (they’d left the syringe at the sideshow). Years later, the town of Fruita introduced its Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, which is still going strong. The plucky chicken is also remembered by the Radioactive Chicken Heads’ memorial ballad, “Headless Mike.”

Keep reading for more weird monuments.

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Brad Weismann became an award-winning writer and editor after spending years as a comedian. He's written about everything from grand opera to movies for a diverse array of magazines, newspapers and websites worldwide.