Log In

Reset Password

Mancos 1884: The big snow and other travails

James Martin Rush Jr. recounts the big snow and the travails of the canyon and Four Corners

Editor’s note: This article, the second of two parts, is based on an interview with Anna Florence Robinson on July 17, 1934. Part 1 was published April 3.From The Montezuma County Historical Society

Our party on the way home camped at Lake Canon and put the horses in a side cañon. Nat Kilburn and I were on the first watch, watching horses until midnight. Jim Kevelin and Scharnhorst had the rest of the night.

Next morning, six of the best horses in the bunch were gone. The Indians had sneaked the horses out of the cañon while the second group was on guard. Jack Wade and Jim Kevelin took the back trail out of the cañon to the mesa top, and there an Indian met and said he’d get the horses back for three dollars and bring them in. I had to pay half of it, though half of the horses did not belong to me.

On the way back, we came to where Hernan Mitchell was buried, and Nat Kilburn and I got a big flat rock and marked his initials on it. As we came around the South Monument by which Mitchell was buried, we found Mitchell’s and Merrick’s old mattress and ore sacks.

The night before the horses stampeded, Clemins and I made one Indian go and find some stuff he had stolen. A big Indian came into camp, and a man was fixing some sawlike cobbies for a pony when the Navajo tried to take them away from him. He cut the Indian across the fingers with a knife. The big Indian said something, and Tom Moore put a gun in the Indian’s stomach. He did not even bat an eye.

We did not find either gold or silver on our trip, but we were out of food when we got back. I had a girl then. I heard all the tales they made up about her talking in her sleep about me while I was gone.

The season of 1881-82 in this country was the hardest year we have had up to this time. According to Ras Thompson, who was here at the time the Dolores was lower than it is now (July 17, 1934). When Exon’s came to Mancos (Mrs. Rush was Sarah Emma Exon), you could cross the Mancos anywhere on stones. Water stood in holes at Mancos, but it did not run. That was when Ed Gerber said he was going to come up and cut Menefee’s and Todd’s and Ratliff’s and Smith’s ditches so water would come down for him to irrigate his crops.

The previous winter had been pretty cold, but there had been very little snow indeed. In July 1882, however, it finally began to rain, and there was a wet fall and the snow began to fall in November, and all of the old cabins began to leak.

The winter of 1882-83 was a nice mild winter here with a nice amount of snow. In 1883-84, there was little snow to speak of until the first of February, when the big snow began.

Mrs. Rush had a cousin here from Missouri, and he was five weeks getting home. He went to Durango and then by ox team to Gallup, New Mexico, and Santa Fe.

In 15 days, there was 7 feet of snow at the Rentz reservoir site. The first wagon that went from Mancos to Durango the 20th of May 1884 had to have a cut through 20 feet of snow at Hesperus Divide dug through before it could go on.

Smith and I brought the first tobacco to Mancos after the big storm. We took a pack outfit 30 miles down Mancos Cañon, around by the south of Cherry Creek to Fort Lewis and on to Durango. We charged a dollar a pound for the tobacco. We had to get bacon at Fort Lewis, and it was terribly rancid. We were nine days on the trip to Durango and back.

Everybody was afraid that year that they would not be able to put in a crop that it will burn. People had money then but no food. They had a flour mill in Mancos that winter, and that was a help. In Rico that spring flour was $50 a hundred, and hard to get at that. There was no pork to be bought in Mancos, so when Rush butchered a big hog that spring, Mrs. Rush Sr. gave so much of it away it was gone in a week. Exons had butchered a big cow and corned her down, so they fared pretty well. Lots of people had no coffee or seasoning – in fact, not much but potatoes. The first dried fruit that was packed in was wormy.

When old Mrs. John White had sent some butter to Rico the previous summer, it was so rancid the merchants would not buy it. They dropped it in a jar and that same rancid butter was brought to Mancos the spring of 1884, and they ate it flavor and smell and all. They ate the rancid Fort Lewis bacon too, but one old lady said “the smell of it would smother you entirely.” People were not at all particular that spring what they ate so long as they could get it at all. Exons had dried grapes and plums that they had brought from Kansas, and they had a few hens and got a few eggs so they fared better than most.

The year 1884 was the end of the real snow in this country. In 1885, there was much excitement about a tunnel, and I worked a month on the approach to it. No one got paid for work. I quit and went home after that. My father was not well either. I worked on the farm the rest of the year, and the next year I worked at Dave Lemmon’s sawmill that gave the lumber to build the big flume into Cortez. My half-brother from Texas was here on a visit in 1885.

On April 16, 1888, I married Sarah Emma Exon, and we lived on Chicken Creek the first summer. That fall, I filed on a homestead above the Menefee place and built a cabin. We moved into it November 1886. The next spring I got in a crop there. In March 1889, our oldest child was born. The snow was too deep to get out with a wagon, so I used a saw, a blade saw, an axe and a broad axe and made a sled of a pine tree to haul my wife out on.

This child was Marietta Frances Rush, who later married Albert Eden and had two sons, Albert Harold Eden and James Alfred Eden. When her first husband died, she lived at home for three years. She then married Guy Stroup Exon, a distant relative on her mother’s side. (His mother was one of the Stroups of Alamosa. His cousin Harry Stroup was one of the San Luis Valley Packing Co. The Exons from which he comes and Mrs. J. M. Rush’s people are from the same original family in England where the name was Haxon. By her first husband, Marietta had a daughter, Daisy Frances, deceased. Her third son is Guy Rush Exon. Marietta now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We lived on our homestead and proved up. Our next child, James William, was born there and died before he was a year old. My daughter, Minnie Virginia, was also born on the homestead. Our next child, Henry was born in 1896 at the Sandy Rush place on Chicken Creek. He also died in infancy as did our last child, Martin Randolph born in 1906 in Dolores.

In 1896, we moved to Dolores with my wife’s brother, William Exon, to run a store and meat market. We built the building Dr. Lefurgey has now for our establishment the winter of 1896. Upstairs was the lodge room for the Silver Star Lodge No. 105 of the Knights of Pythias and the Pythian Sisters. We finished it in 1907. I remained in business with Exon 21 years. In 1911, I went back to Texas, which I had not seen since 1866. I went to El Paso. Juarez, Indian Hot Springs, etc.

I have since made two trips to California. I was janitor of the Dolores Schools from 1921 to 1931, and my home is still in Dolores.

My wife, Sarah Emma Exon Rush, was born on Rock Creek, Wabaunsee County, Kansas, July 10, 1896. Her people came to Mancos in 1882. She had three brothers, Sol, John and George in Mancos and one brother Will in Dolores. Our daughter, Minnie lives with us in Dolores.

June Head is Historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. She can be reached for comments or questions at 970-565-3880.