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Life in Big Bend and the young Cortez in 1885

The J. W. Hanna place at 24 South Beech St. in Cortez. The building, built before 1900, was adjacent to Underwood Plaza.

I was born in Kansas in the Indian Territory in 1870. About five years of age, I came with my family to Colorado, where we lived for a short time.

When I was fifteen years, old Dad got his wagon and started on for greener fields, and here is where we wound up. We came to Montezuma County with Ben Porter, Lon Wilson and the Cunninghams. My father lived on a ranch in the Mildred neighborhood just half a mile north of the old Mildred Schoolhouse before it burned. Their neighbors were the parents of Lillian Hartman-Johnson, publisher of “Hartman’s Colorado,” and Frank Hartman, who edits a newspaper in New Mexico. It was for the Hartmans that Hartman Draw was named.

I did not know the neighborhood very well because, two weeks after our arrival in the valley, I went over to Big Bend to work for Mrs. Morton.

Mrs. Morton ran a boardinghouse, and Morton’s also had the post office and a little store at that time. I liked it there. There is at least a part of the Morton house still standing on the site of the old end (1934) and you can see it from the highway as you go to Dolores. Mrs. Morton’s mother had a place nearby.

Stella Adams, who sometimes went by the name of Morton, was Mrs. Morton’s daughter by her second husband. Mr. and Mrs. Morton had no children in common. Stella Adams was about twelve years old when she was drowned in the Dolores River. Stella and an Armstrong girl were going bathing in the ditch originally, but there was not much water in it. Mrs. Morton was going to a school meeting, and they called to her and said something about going to the river, but Mrs. Morton did not notice just what it was they asked her. Stella jumped from a rock into a hole where the river was deep and did not come up. The children could not get her out. They ran for help, and Stella was recovered from the river, but she had drowned already.

When Mrs. Morton was told, she kept saying, “It can’t be! She couldn’t drown in that ditch. There isn’t water enough.” Mrs. Morton had not understood that the little girls meant to go bathing in the river.

They had built a log schoolhouse at the Bend, and Miss Lulu Swenk was teacher. She was from Durango, and she later on married Irving McGrew, a cowboy. George Bauer of Mancos had a branch store at Big Bend, and Ordway and Scharnhorst ran it. Later, the Bauer store was purchased by J.J. Harris and brother Andy. The three saloons were run by Tode Trimble, Dan Henry and Phil Kraut. When work on the Number Two Ditch began, saloons flourished, and shooting and fights began.

Dancing was a favorite amusement at Big Bend, and the guests were often pretty gay and lively on such occasions.

They had church at the schoolhouse now and then. Sometimes, the cowboys would get drunk and go to church and shoot out the kerosene bracket lamps. The dances, like church, were mostly at the schoolhouse.

I spent a year at the Mortons working the first time. I went to Durango with Mrs. Bill Brumley and worked. Later, I came to Cortez to work for the J. W. Hanna family at what is now the Major house.

It was September 7, 1886, that they had begun to lay out the Cortez town site, and the night before the surveying party camped where the Ute Mountain garage now stands. (Corner of North and Chestnut Streets).

When I came to Cortez to work, the stone buildings erected by the town company were already there. The E.S. Turner house was in process of building and there were a few more dwellings of officials as well.

Harry Harrison was running a bank in the courthouse. He was very tall and slender and known a “Handsome Harry.”

M.J. Mack was engineer for the ditch company and the town. Turner, Brigham, Payson and Coffin got all of the land around town and promoted it. The Ertel place ( on South Broadway) was Payson’s. He was a New York man.

For the first Fourth of July celebration at Cortez, they hauled two or three dozen green trees and set them in the ground to make it look as if there were trees growing here. That was just for the occasions. But the Hannas actually set out trees to grow at their place before the water was brought by ditch to Cortez. (The Hanna house was at 24 S. Beech, now part of Underwood Plaza.)

At that time, the water for the town was hauled from Dolores or from Mitchell Springs. We put all the wash water and even such slop as was not too greasy on those trees to keep them alive. The trees on what was then the Hanna place are much larger and taller than most Cortez trees.

My husband, William Blake, worked for M.J. Mack on the ditch, and he boarded at the Morton’s for a time. He and I were married in 1894 at the Morton place where my people were living at the time. After that we went to live at the tunnel. We came to Cortez to the Major (Hanna) house about 1900. Later we left Montezuma County and went to Wyoming and to Utah, where my husband was ditch supervisor for the government.

Mr. Blake retired from service in 1928, and we returned to Cortez to make our home. (The Will Blake home is located on the corner of South Harrison and Third streets. It was the home of Agnes Blake, their daughter, for many years.)

Excerpts are from article by Mrs. Blake in Volume 2, Great Sage Plain to Timberline, published by Montezuma County Historical Society. June Head, Historian, may be contacted for corrections, or questions at 970-565-3880.

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