Charles T. Birdwhistle

by | Mar 6, 2023 | Cultural Character, Fort Collins, People Groups | 0 comments

(Image from the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, M00350.)

On April 25, 1898, the U.S. Congress declared war on Spain. Upon hearing the news, a 17-year-old resident of North Topeka, Kansas, by the name of Charles Birdwhistle, along with his good friend, George Turpin, organized a volunteer company, which they offered to Governor Leedy for service in the war. The boys were sent to Cuba where their regiment of Buffalo Soldiers fought alongside Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the taking of San Juan Hill. When the Treaty of Paris ended the war only seven and a half months after it had begun, Charlie went on to fight in the Philippines under Major General Arthur MacArthur and his son, Douglas MacArthur.

Though Charlie moved back to Topeka after his military service, he eventually relocated to Denver, where he became a waiter. He was also head waiter at the Stanley Hotel for a short time in 1920 and then moved to Fort Collins where he settled down permanently. Charlie was head waiter at the Northern Hotel when, on October 7, 1920, he served lunch to Franklin D. Roosevelt before the vice-presidential nominee headed over to the courthouse steps to give a speech.

On November 2, 1922, Charlie married Mamie Lowe. It was also at this time that Charlie decided to become a pastor. He saw a need for an African Methodist Episcopal church in Fort Collins, and he began a campaign to purchase a lot and construct a building for the small Black population in town. He became pastor of both the Fort Collins and Canon City churches.

Charlie ran a one-man janitorial company which served a variety of businesses including the Y.M.C.A., a bank, and the City’s Light and Power office. He carried a shoestring around with him on which were strung all of the keys of the businesses where he worked. He quite literally had the keys to the city in his pocket!

Charlie and Mamie were very social and frequently hosted out-of-town guests including the entire traveling musical group from the Piney Woods Boarding School in Mississippi, the “Williams’ Colored Singers’ of international renown (according to the local paper), and twenty-two Pullman Porters who were in town for a Union Pacific Unit Meet. Former army buddies also often stayed with the Birdwhistles when they were in town.

Mamie passed away at their home, 1005 W. Oak St., on January 17th, 1943. Charlie followed three years later, on April 15th, 1946. The 8-paragraph obituary printed in the Coloradoan the next day attests to the level of respect the community felt for Charlie upon his passing.