Clampers toast the Columbine Bar

Plaque describes tavern's past

A Clamper who gave his name as R.J. and said he was the Humbug of Colorado reds a historical plaque unveiled Saturday at the Columbine Bar in Mancos. Enlargephoto

Times Photo/Tobie Baker

A Clamper who gave his name as R.J. and said he was the Humbug of Colorado reds a historical plaque unveiled Saturday at the Columbine Bar in Mancos.

Clad in a sea of red at high noon Saturday, the Clampers drank beer, christened a plaque with beer, then echoed with a "satisfactory" roar before drinking more beer to celebrate one of Colorado's oldest active saloons, The Columbine Bar.

The plaque that now adorns the red brick walls of the downtown Mancos establishment was bestowed by the Four Corners Camp in Colorado's Al Packer Chapter No. 100 of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E. Clampus Vitus.

"The Columbine is like the town's living room," said Clamper Ian James. "Like it says on the plaque, this saloon has been a meeting place for friends, family and strangers for generations."

Camp leader for the Four Corners Clampers, James, who owns and operates the Mancos Distillery across the street, said the dedication marks the Columbine as the camp's official watering hole for its 150 or so members.

"We try to add notoriety to some of the old western historical sites," said Clamper John Harting. "We're always scouting for places that we think deserve to be dedicated."

Though a painted sign hanging inside dates the bar to 1903, the plaque outside indicates the Columbine was established in 1910, the year current owners have proven the building was constructed.

"It may go back to 1903, but I'm reluctant to say that when I have no proof," said co-owner Betsy Harrison. "We've never pursued the state historical society, plus the building is not in its original condition."

Harrison is one of a handful of investors with a stake in the business. The earliest known saloon owner Harrison has been able to trace was a man named Walt Coppinger, who operated the Columbine in the 1930s.

Despite the seven-year gap in its founding date, there are no qualms about the notoriety of the saloon.

The murder of a former owner by his estranged wife, barroom brawls, knife fights, gambling and cowboys on horseback have all occurred inside the premises, creating a rowdy reputation for the tavern, Harrison said.

"We always get a horse in there on Mancos Days," she said. "We have many photos of horses and cowboys in the bar."

The plaque notes, and Harrison confirmed, that children were once warned to walk on the other side of Grand Avenue when passing the structure, and a 1948 article in the Mancos Times described the Columbine, named after the state flower, as "an old bar run by old timers." The rest, of course, is western legend.

Co-owner Pete Cruser was thankful for the Clampers' gesture to recognize the business as a historical landmark. He was so appreciative; he bought the entire bar a round of beers.

"Satisfactory!" the Clampers proclaimed, some driving in as far away as California for the unveiling.

In addition to The Columbine Bar, the Clampers Four Corners Camp has placed historical plaques at the Bauer House in Mancos, the Galloping Goose Museum in Dolores, the Ridgway Railroad Museum and the Mine Shaft Inn in Rico, to name a few.

Through various fundraising initiatives, the Clampers' main objective is helping orphans and widows. For the last five years, the Four Corners Camp has awarded an annual $500 hardship scholarship to deserving high school graduates who need college assistance.

"If someone needs money, then we try to help them out," Harting said.

The Clampers were formed in the mid-1880s during the California gold rush.

Today, there are approximately 80,000 Clampers across the western United States.

According to Wikipedia, the Clampers are a fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of Western Heritage, and the fraternity is not sure if it is a "historical drinking society" or a drinking historical society." Either way, beer figures prominently. The organization's name is in "dog Latin" (which is somewhat like pig Latin only different) and has no known meaning.