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The pioneers and outlaws of McElmo Canyon

Part 2

The first record of irrigation in McElmo was 1888, and four ranches hold this priority. Most all the McElmo Canyon ranches hold early water rights.

About 1928, John Miller sold his holding to John Lynton and Frank Pyle and went to work for Joe McClure and Charlie Blackmer, who operated a large stock outfit. The Blackmer boys are still in the stock business here. John Miller’s two sons, Johnny and Robert, now operate a sizable cattle ranch in the area.

Another old-timer to the area was Riley Scott, who came in 1876. He is reported to have brought the first hogs into the area. They were unloaded at Arboles and driven to Silverton. Riley filed on land near Durango where the “66” gas station is now. Riley freighted from Durango to Moab and elsewhere. A grandson, Lee, who was a stockman of the area, recalls that his father, Leonard Scott, was employed by a cattleman by the name of Spencer, who lived near Norwood.

Leonard was given the task of taking a sizable amount of cash to Durango. Spencer had sold some cattle for cash, and it was feared some disreputable characters would attempt to take the money, so Leonard, who was just a boy, was given the job of taking the money to Durango on a pony. He passed the “would-be” robbers. They did not suspect him of having the money and let him ride on. The money arrived safely in Durango.

Tom Fowler of the Canyon also ran sheep in the early days. Tom used to freight from Durango with four small horses. He had several burros that ranged on the Ute Mountain. Some went wild and over the years increased until they grew into a sizable herd. Indians ate them, cowboys chased them and roped them for sport. Today, none remain.

Perry Majors also ran sheep that he brought in from New Mexico.

Jim Holly, another early settler, homesteaded the ranch in the lower canyon that Fred Cline now owns. Holly also ran a trading post near Aneth, Utah, named the Holyoke Post Office.

Cattlemen of the early days included Bill and Al Prater, who ran cattle in Yellow Jacket Canyon. They built a cabin known as the Twin Cabins near the mouth of Prater Canyon, and the cabin still stands. Jim Frink also ran cattle here in the winter. At that time, his wife ran a store in Cortez.

Bill Ashbaugh and Sandy Tozer homesteaded in the mouth of Sandstone Canyon in Yellow Jacket Canyon. Sandy proved up on a “40 acre” tract and later on he proved up on some more ground. In McElmo Canyon, the first post office was known as the Moquie Post Office and built in 1901. The William Baer family now owns the place.

A man by the name of Riley originally squatted on the ground. Riley, who ran mostly horses, had his winter quarters in Yellow Jacket Canyon, and a side canyon bears his name. He was killed by a horse dragging him on a trail going down the east side of Black Mesa near Groundhog. The trail bears his name also.

Adam Lewy also located in Yellow Jacket Canyon. He began building a fine rock house which he never completed. A horse bucking over a rim in that area killed him. The horse was killed in the fall also. A Black man worked with Adam there and had a small cabin nearby. A canyon draining into Yellow Jacket apparently was named after him and called (N-word) Canyon. Earnest Lewy, a brother of Adam’s ran cattle in John’s Canyon in Utah.

Jim Morrison and Harry Morgan, both of prominent pioneer families, also ran cattle in the Yellow Jacket area in 1904.

A bad drought was prevalent over this area in 1904, and 1905. Walter Hall relates that one summer it never rained enough to run water off his ranch house roof, but in the late winter of 1906, snow came in unusual amounts. Snow lay 3 feet deep for so long that many cattle died of hunger and exposure. Some froze to death standing on their feet.

Several pioneers have not been mentioned due to lack of information.

Tom Horn, of Wyoming fame, carved his name in a cave fed by a good spring in the mouth of Trail Canyon, near McElmo. Old-timers recall of him being in the Canyon country and also the Butch Cassidy gang. Dwight Morrison recalls several times when his parents hid out the gang.

Another item taken from The Journal in 1904 – “Hotel rooms, Mrs. Anna Lewy Proprietor. $2.00 per day; special rates to Montezuma County people. Up to date in all its appointments, an elegant dinner will be served every Sunday, Cortez, Colorado.”

In 1874, Capt. James Robinson, under President William McKinley, went to the Dolores area and homesteaded in Bear Creek, on the Dolores River. The place has been in the family until recent years. It passed down to his son, Jesse, then to Jesse’s son, Ward and later was sold by Ward’s widow, Angela. Ward’s son, Jesse resides in Alaska.

Another item taken from an old issue of The Dolores Star stated that John Dunham was filing at Lavender, Colorado (Disappointment.) It was witnessed by Sam Bankston, James Belmear Sr., William Sutherland and Robert Nash.

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 more per pound there.

Permission to reprint article given by Sheldon Zwicker. June Head, historian of the Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for questions or comments.

Jun 16, 2021
Walter Halls’ McElmo history