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The pioneering Lyntons left imprint on Southwest Colorado

Editor’s note: This article was provided by Pat Castle. It was printed in Volume Four of Great Sage Plain to Timberline “Our Pioneer History.” Castle’s grandfather was James Earl Lynton, son of John Lynton.A devoted union of two pioneers that would last 61 years in a rough and raw land. The couple was married on Sept. 10, 1879, in Animas City, Colorado, and would have a lasting influence on this section of the state for generations to follow.

John Henry “Jack” Lynton was born in Chester Co., Pennsylvania, on March 4, 1859. He learned the carpenter trades while still a young man in his native state. He left home at the age of 19 to come out west to the territories and worked as a cowboy, freighter and trader. Jack worked on the Old Chisholm ranch in New Mexico and engaged in mining in the Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona. He knew many of the famous characters of that time personally and knew Dodge City and Abilene in their wildest days.

In 1876, he located to Animas City, Colorado, where he continued in the carpenter trade and was a very early building contractor in the towns of Animas City and Durango. He was selected as one of the first alderman in Durango and remained in that position as long as he lived there. He was remembered fondly in Durango as an upstanding citizen and one of the finest shots with a rifle in the area. He was a good friend of the writer for the Durango newspaper The Wage Earner and many are the stories he told of “Jack” as a hunter and marksman in the early days of the area. The following was written in the Durango Wage Earner on Aug. 5, 1909:

“To Huntsman: No, we do not regard Mr. Roosevelt as the most successful hunter now living for we believe that our friend Jack Lynton, Assessor of Montezuma County, could give him cards and spades so to speak and beat him bagging game any day in the week.”

Laura Jane Lavender was born in Texas on March 4, 1858. She was the daughter of Henry W. Lavender and Ellen Rhoades. At the age of 10, Laura crossed the plains with her parents and combined families of the Lavenders and Rhoades. The families drove a herd of cattle from Stephenville, Texas, to Cimarron, New Mexico, and remained there for a year before moving the clan and the cattle herd to Pueblo, Colorado, and Old Bent’s Fort in Bent County in the fall of 1869. The families stayed in Pueblo and the “Bent Wire” section of the state, raising and selling cattle until they relocated to Animas City, Colorado, in 1877. The men soon started building cabins on the banks of the Animas River. Laura’s parents along with Laura’s grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins must have made up a good portion of the fledging settlement of Animas City. They had come to the area seeking grazing land for their cattle and would soon become an influential family in that endeavor in this part of the state.

The Lavenders were one of first families to lay claim to the area known as “The Disappointment” in 1879. They, along with Wilson Nash, who had his business interests with Charlie Johnson, started cattle operations in the area soon after. With Henry Lavender and Jim Lavender (Laura’s older brother) overseeing the activities in Disappointment, the cattle operation continued to grow into a sizable herd. The cattlemen of this area were known for their fierce loyalty to one another and were bound together in need and friendship. This was depicted in the events surrounding the death of Laura’s mother. The winter of 1884 was brutal even for a country known for heavy snowfall. Laura’s mother, Ellen (Rhoades) Lavender, had become very ill at Animas City in the middle of this snowbound winter and soon passed away on Feb. 21. Jim Belmear, who was married to her young half-sister (Nervy Rhoades) wanted to inform Jim Lavender and family of the passing and set out on snowshoes in the middle of a blizzard to the Disappointment Valley. This journey took Jim through Hesperus, Mancos, the Johnson ranch on the Dolores river and finally to the Disappointment Valley. All along the way, he would be greeted kindly and given food and a place to sleep. It was the end of May before Jim made it back to Animas City just in time for the birth of his daughter. Ellen Rhoades is buried in the Animas City Cemetery with her two sons, Orvil and Henry, Henry being the earliest recorded burial in that cemetery. The post office/village of Lavender in the Disappointment Valley was officially recognized on Aug. 10, 1888. The name was taken from a previous post office the Lavenders had started and operated in Bent County, Colorado Territory in 1873.

Laura and Jack moved onto the Lynton ranch a few miles up the river from Dolores in 1888 at what is known as Big Rock. The old homestead still stands to this day. Laura and Jack raised seven children on the ranch. Lawrence William, Elizabeth Roberta, Ella A. (died aged 11), John Henry Jr., Joseph Leroy, James Earl and Margaret Alice. The children would be raised on this ranch, and each one would in their own way leave their mark as well. Jack had started running his cattle with the Disappointment bunch in 1882 under the Rafter L brand and built up a large cattle operation as well as being active in farming and community service. He became active in politics and served on the Board of Registration for the Lower Dolores Precinct in 1897. He would be elected as Montezuma County Assessor in 1908. Laura enjoyed visiting her many relatives in the area. Her aunts and sisters were raising families of their own and lived throughout Montezuma, Dolores and La Plata counties. The many relatives of Laura and Jack included the Belmear, Campbell, Coon, Culver, King and Ent families and always supplied a good reason for a visit.

Jack lived to be 91 years of age and passed away in Dolores in 1941. Laura would live to be 87 years old and died in 1943 in Dolores, having spent the remainder of their lives on their beloved ranch among their many family members and friends.

From an article written by Eldon Zwicker in 1985 and found in the Montezuma County Historical Society archives:

“It is of interest to note that in 1932, Earnest Hall, Paul Walton, John Lynton and many other cattlemen, sold high-quality Hereford cattle for $25 per pair. If calves were weaning age, $18 a head for all cows with small calves, bulls, dry cows and yearlings. I was working for John Lynton at the time. He shipped 400 3-year-old steers, fat and of high quality, to Kansas City. They brought 2 cents per pound there.

June Head, historian of Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted at 565-3880 for comments or questions.