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Looking back: Pioneering in Southwest Colorado in 1882

The Simon Sisters, seated left to right: Mary Blackmer, Rachel Dickerson and Lydia Millard. Standing: Elizabeth Hammond and Sarah Rust.

Editor’s note: This column, by Fred Taylor, was based on an interview with Anna Florence Robison in 1934. Part 2 of Pioneering in Southwestern Colorado will be published Nov. 1 in The Journal. Permission to re-print this article is given by the descendants of the Simon girls – the Blackmer family, the Dickerson family and the Hammond family.I was born in 1860 at Lee’s Summit, Jackson County, Missouri. In 1872 my father moved to the plains of Nebraska. Many Southern people moved away from Missouri after the Civil War. They went to New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. I had my schooling at Lee’s Summit, where I was born, and in 1904 the old school house was still standing. The grasshoppers caused my father to leave Nebraska, and I came back to Missouri.

I knew I was not getting enough for what I was able to do, so I went to Cañon City, Colorado, where I thought I had a brother. I was 22 years old when I arrived there on Feb. 15, 1882. But my brother was over on the Western Slope. I was one of five men with a spring wagon and 20 head of horses snowed in during the winter of 1882 near Cumbres Station. We were caught in a blizzard. We had only overshoes. We had to thaw out our shoes in the mornings over a fire. The canyon was full of snow. Some of the white spruces were 75 feet tall, and we cut the tops out of them. We were there two weeks before we got out and down to Chama, New Mexico. We had food, though, and slept later on in the section house.

My job played out, so I went to Dolores and hired to the L.C. outfit, Sept. 15, 1882. Jim and Bill Brumley were running the L.C. cattle – 5,000 head, and they had two cowboys riding for them. I rode for various persons until I was married in 1888 to Marie Simon, down at the old log cabin on the Simon place. All the cowboys from the Blue Mountains and all around were there. And all who were not in the wedding were at the dance Al Nunn gave that night for us.

I was 28, and my wife was 26. She had taken up a homestead in the valley, and we lived there after our marriage. LaGrange, who promoted the No. 2 ditch company, suggested to Marie that she should take up the land there because the company he represented planned to put a town in the vicinity. Later the company bought three forties of her homesteads for $1,200, and she retained one forty for herself. The town did not materialize because the No. 1 and No. 2 companies consolidated with S.W. Carpenter, later of Mancos, at the head. The consolidated gave up the town site of the No. 2 company and went in with the town company that promoted Cortez.

Carpenter had the place where the Lichliters have lived for a good many years. It was a fine house. He demanded a great deal of respect. He had a private as well as public approach to his house.

In 1880, we built the good log house on the homestead. The lumber we used came from the Blatchford mill just east of Summit Reservoir. He owed me 10,000 feet of lumber, but on account of the mud, I had a very hard time getting enough to put a roof and floor in that house. A fine fat team could haul only three logs. It was quite a struggle, but we had a good time all the same. It is better to laugh at your troubles than cry over them. Our two oldest children, Mrs. Leah Blackmer and Ben Taylor, were born in that house on the homestead. We have two besides: Mrs. Ruth Doyle and Mrs. Lillian Cox of Long Beach.

Marie and Fred Taylor were married in 1888 “down at the old log cabin on the Simon place,” according to Fred Taylor. “All the cowboys from the Blue Mountains and all around were there. And all who were not in the wedding were at the dance Al Nunn gave that night for us.”

I planted an orchard and shade trees and planned to build a better house some day on that homestead. But we moved to the Simon place and later went to Mancos and McElmo Canon instead.

My wife’s father, Louis Simon, went to Kansas in 1855 with a French colony that had lived in Indiana. They colonized again about 40 miles west of Atchinson, and the colony is still there and doing well. Louis Simon had been a leading citizen and well-to-do, but some slick Frenchman persuaded him to put his money into a big flour mill, and it broke him. When he came to Lake City in 1878, he was an old man who had lost all he had. When things in Lake City went to pieces, the Simon family drifted to the Dolores country. They lived the first summer above the present Dolores and later down below present McPhee. Louis Simon filed on the first place in Montezuma Valley in 1880 or 1881. William Woolley filed a little later, and Mr. Hartman, Frank’s and Lillian’s stepfather, had a place on Hartman Gulch. Ten or 15 miles in those days was close for neighbors. Mr. Simon had five daughters: Lydia (Mrs. Barlow), Rachel (Mrs. Dickerson, Marie, my wife), Elizabeth (Mrs. Matt Hammond) and Sarah. Marie worked in other people’s kitchens and put Sarah through college and helped to care for the old folks. She learned to be independent too. One time she forded the Dolores when it was high and carried a single shovel placed before her on the saddle.

The first religious service was held on the Dolores in the fall of 1883, and the place was the ranch of W.H. Brumley, on which I was working for a cow outfit. A young chap named Sarver from Durango held the service, and it was the first preaching he ever did. He was only about 21. He had not been getting enough to eat, and he looked hungry. Marie Simon and one of the sisters rode up to Brumley’s to attend the service, and I helped them alight from their side saddles. Marie looked good to me then, and she still looks good.

Speaking of winters, the winter of ’83 was much like this one (1933-34). On March 20, 1883, the range cattle – 10,000 or 15,000 head of them went up to the hills themselves. The grass was green in the Montezuma Valley. The season was six weeks earlier than usual, and there were no bad late freezes. That was a remarkable year, and I have waited 50 years to see another.

The winter of 1879 was a hard one – perhaps as bad or worse than the famous winter of ’84. All freight had to come from Alamosa then. They packed flour from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Animas City on burros and sold it for a dollar a pound. My brother was there, and that’s what he had to pay.

On Feb. 10, 1884, after a very mild early winter, it began to snow. It snowed very hard for five days and nights. The storm continued through most of March and into April, and the railroad into Durango was blocked for six weeks. Many people just didn’t have things they needed very bad. There was very high water, and on June 10th, during roundup time, there was a little blizzard blowing.

In those days, Dr. Winters of Durango was much like Dr. Johnson of Cortez in the present day (1934). And we thought as much of him. He came on horseback or in a buggy and if it was a hurry-up case, they’d have a relay of horses or rigs along the road for him and he’d make pretty good time. A visit would be $50 to $100. Later, Dr. Landon from Rico used to come down the Dolores River when needed. People didn’t need a doctor quite so readily in those days as they do now.

Once I got kicked on the nose by a bronco, and I just slammed it into place and held snow to it. The snow melted like water, and I couldn’t see when I rode home. Nowadays a person would have been taken to the hospital after that accident, but I recovered from it with no bad results.

June Head, historian of Montezuma County Historical Society may be reached for questions at 970-565-3880.