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My experiences as a pioneer in the Mancos Valley

Editor’s note: This article is based on Anna Florence Robinson’s interview with Mrs. Jack J. Wade dated March 21, 1934. In the summer of 1879, my father, J. M. Rush, and my husband left Butte Valley, Nevada, to look up a new place to settle as Nevada, the boom silver state, had gone down owing to the low price of silver.

The large cattle owners could not sell enough to pay their taxes. They headed for Colorado, the Centennial State, not knowing where in the state they would locate.

And on the summit of the mountains coming in they met a man by the name of Cheribena and Antone Giorgetta and traveled with them to the McCarty place in the La Sal Mountains in Utah. My father and husband traded their wagon for saddle horses and there they headed for Rico, the new mining camp.

My husband being a mining man, they went to Rico and worked for a month or two. In the meantime, the Meeker Massacre occurred, and the people of Mancos were afraid the Indians would come and massacre them, as the Mancos Valley was the Indians’ home.

Ed Ptolemy went to Rico from Mancos and asked some of the men if they would not come down and help protect the women and children. And as my father wanted to find a place where he could farm, he and my husband came down, and on reaching Mancos country, they found an old friend, Mr. Davenport, who had come over here the spring before.

My father rented the McIntyre place now known as the Sheek Place. In November, my husband, John J. Wade, came back to Nevada to bring his own and my father’s family over. Father had remained to put in a crop. We all left Butte Valley, Nevada, the 15th day of December, 1879.

When we got to Deseret, Utah, we found that we could not cross the Wasatach Mountains. We went south to Silver Reef, a mining camp. My husband being a carpenter worked on what it known as the Barber Hill there.

We remained at Silver Reef until the third day of April 1880, and then came over the Buckskin Mountains and south to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River and to Tuba City. This was the last place where anyone was living, which we saw until we came to the San Juan River.

We came across country by road. Bill Hyde had crossed the same country this year, and we were trying to follow his trail. Once in a while we would see a wagon track through the sagebrush. But the Indians (Navajos) showed us the way. We were nineteen days making it from Tuba City to the San Juan. We sometimes thought we would never get through.

One place we camped on our way through the Navajo county is now known as Kayenta and an Indian school is established there now. My oldest daughter and her husband, John Wetherill, have a trading store there and a tourist headquarters also. She was a little girl 3 years old when we camped there and always remembered it because we had such a gorgeous sunset that night.

Two days later, we had to dig for water, and that place is known as Knock-i-low. In the Navajo language this means “travelers water.” And there is an Indian there now who saw us digging for the water that we found.

In two days more we camped on a nice little creek between there and the San Juan. My husband and another man who was traveling with us said that they would take saddle horses and ride on and see how much farther it was to the San Juan

It was about fourteen miles, and when they got there, the river was very high. They saw more tents across the river, so they shot off a gun. Some men came to the bank of the river and they asked if they could cross. The man said they could not, but that they had a boat. They would have to fix it up a bit before they could cross.

We had been without bread for several days. We had only some beans and dry beef. When our men got across the river they found that there was no flour to be had. The settlers – five families – had only fifty pounds of flour between them. But they had some wheat. My husband got some of that, which we ground in the coffee mill and made much of it. They paid 11-cents a pound for the wheat.

When they came back to camp, we all moved on to the river. My brother and husband swam some horses across and came on to Mancos to get lumber to make a boat so we could all cross. The boat they had was only a skiff.

But while they were gone, the men who were traveling with us – there were five of them with two teams – thought they would try to take their goods across with the skiff and were successful. They asked us if we wanted to cross too. We agreed. So they crossed all of our stuff except our wagon.

And whey my husband and father came, they traded the lumber they had brought to get the wagon. The family and goods belonging to them were brought across in the skiff. Mr. Hobs and Mr. Harmon, uncles of the Fielding boys, got the wagon across. The Fieldings were one of the families that lived there at that time.

We came up through the Montezuma Valley, and there was not a house in it. We arrived on the Mancos the nineteenth day of May, 1880. There were very few people there then. All of the ladies that were in the valley at that time were: Mrs. Sarah Menefee, Mrs. Davenport, Mrs. Doc. Reed, Mrs. Ratliff, Mrs Willis, Mrs. Hayes, Mrs. Morefield, now Mrs. Prater. But shortly after we came, Clark Brittain came with his family and then a Mr. Johnson and later Mr. Morris brought their families. People began coming in fast.

In the fall after we came my father traded a horse to Senator George West of La Plata County for the present town site of Mancos. There were only two log cabins here at that time. One was the cabin that is now in the park, and the other stood where the Trotter Hospital is now. The latter cabin was my father’s home for several years with additions built of logs.

That fall, Bob McGrew went east and my husband and I lived at his place. My father’s family moved from the ranch here to town. Other people built log houses and lived here too. As near as I can remember, the house where our postmaster lived now was the first lumber house in town.

In the spring of ’81, we had Indian troubles. The Utes at Cross Canon killed three men west of here, and a large band of horses were driven off. In June, several men from here and Rico and Dolores went after the Indians to try to get the horses back. They had a battle in the LaSal Mountains and one man from here, Dave Willis, was killed. In the spring of ’81, the Westons, the Wetherill family, the Sampsons and the Fields families arrived. When the Wetherills came, Mrs. B. K. Wetherill organized a Sunday school with Bob McGrew as superintendent if I remember correctly.

The winter of that year (’81-’82) we had a debating society and Father Hoage used to come from Durango to preach for us once in a while. Our first church was established with Mr. W. H. Howard as minister in 1890 or ’91.

June Head, historian of the Montezuma County Historical Society, can be contacted at 970-565-3880 for comments or corrections.

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