Dollie Barlow Landis Barnes – In Love with the Circus
My name is Dollie Barlow Landis Barnes. I was born in O’Fallon, Illinois to my parents Frederick and Caroline Barlow in 1859. There were six of us kids in all. I came to Glenwood Springs in 1882 with my new husband, James Landis. Jim was a wonderful man; strong, hard-working and a good provider. We knew each other growing up back in Kansas. He had come out to Colorado to find his fortune and was living in Leadville when, in 1879, he found this lovely valley. The next year he homesteaded 160 acres of the land that was to become Glenwood Springs, including the property where the hot springs is located. As Glenwood’s first official settler, he harvested hay on the valley floor and sold it in Leadville and made his home in a tent on the west side of the Roaring Fork River. Jim moved his mother and siblings out here from Kansas in 1881. His father had been killed by bushwhackers from Missouri in the early 1860’s.
My family, the Barlows, followed us here in 1882, three years before Glenwood Springs officially became a town, and opened the Hotel Barlow. The first hotel was in a large tent and later Papa built a real building to house the hotel. It was jokingly named the “Venison House” because often that was the only meat they could get to serve their customers. Papa also worked as a police magistrate back in the days when the railroad was first through here and lots of wild men stirred up trouble. He also worked as a judge and an elder in the Seventh Day Adventist church. Mama ran the first post office in town, a little dugout built into the side of the hill down by where 7th Street is now. The post office was officially called Barlow until 1884 when it was changed to Glenwood. In January of 1883, our son Harry was born. We named him James Garfield Landis, but everyone called him Harry. Harry was the first white child born to any resident of Glenwood Springs. We even had a Certificate of First Born recorded at the courthouse as proof that our Harry came first. Jim had a business running a stage coach three times a week from Aspen to Glenwood, hauling passengers and mail. In 1885, we started building a two-story brick home where the County courthouse stands today. We also had homesteaded a ranch up in Spring Valley.
One evening, about this time of the year, Jim went out to the stable we had in Spring Valley to check on the livestock. He had taken a candle to light the way. The candle accidentally lit the thatched roof of the stable on fire, so Jim hurried to get the horses out of the stable. The horses became panicked by the fire and knocked him to the ground trampling his head and body. Jim crawled back to the house, badly injured. The next day, our neighbor, Mr. Van Cleve, took Jim to town for medical help. In a few days time, he seemed to recover, walking around town and conversing with friends. Feeling better, he went back to work on our new brick home, but the physical exertion caused a relapse. He was in so much pain in his head and neck, that when he passed away two days later, it was somewhat a relief. Two year old Harry was left without a father and I was a widow. Although, there is no headstone, my first husband, James Landis is buried here.
In the 1890’s, an interesting man came to town.
His name was Al Barnes and he brought with him what was referred to in those days as a dog and pony show. It was kind of a miniature version of the circus. He brought with him the most amazing thing we had ever seen or heard: a phonograph. He charged 10 cents a person to listen to the squeaky machine through headphones. His show consisted of the phonograph, a pony and a picture machine which he hauled from town to town in a wagon. I was fascinated by the world of traveling shows and after much discussion, decided to join Mr. Barnes as his partner.
I sold the Spring Valley ranch and used the money to help build our show into the Al G. Barnes Circus. The residents of Glenwood Springs probably saw my actions as scandalous, but when you are presented with an opportunity, you have to take it. I left young Harry to live with his grandparents and went out on the road. What an exciting life! Our circus became quite successful and I found that I had quite a head for business. Eventually, I became more than a business partner to Mr. Barnes when I became his wife. A majority of our circus shows played out on the west coast, from San Diego to Tacoma, so we lived much of the time in southern California. We later joined forces with a circus man from Denver named Otto Floto and officially formed the Al G. Barnes Shows Company.
But by 1912, things had started to sour between Mr. Barnes and me. He had a wandering eye, you see, and became involved with Mrs. Julia Barlow, my brother Fred’s wife. I left him just after Christmas of 1912, and after several attempts to obtain a divorce, one was finally granted several years later. Mr. Barnes would marry twice again before his death from pneumonia in California in 1931. In 1929, he sold the Al G. Barnes circus to Ringling Bros. for $100,000.00.
Going back in time a bit, just before Christmas of 1900, I was living in southern California when I received urgent news. My son Harry had become ill, and I was needed back in Glenwood Springs. Harry had been ailing for several days and it was thought that he had the mumps before the doctors could determine that it was really appendicitis he was suffering from. A well-known doctor was summoned from Salida to perform an appendectomy, but during the operation it was apparent that they had waited too long. The appendix had burst and infection had set in. The day after surgery, Harry passed away and joined his father in the afterlife. I arrived from California in time for the funeral. There were so many people inside the church and out. The pulpit was a mass of flowers and everyone had such nice things to say about my son. The Glenwood band played and the choir sounded beautiful. It became obvious to me that my boy was well-loved by his friends, classmates and the residents of Glenwood Springs, perhaps the best testament to a person’s life.
I finished out my life quite comfortably in California, surrounded by the many friends I had made during my years with the circus, and in 1937, I laid down my earthly burdens and passed quietly away at the age of 77. I was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. Although, I am not buried here with my loved ones, I frequently come back to visit in this town that my family pioneered.
Thanks for listening to my story.