The Hammond brothers’ journey west to Rico

Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018 9:21 AM
The three Hammond brothers, from left: Allen, Jim and Matt Hammond, shown in a photo taken in Dolores in the early 1900s. Chuck Hammond, the grandson of Allen Hammond, contributed the photos and article to the Montezuma County Historical Society several years ago.
Jim Hammond, circa 1900-1910.

Editor’s note: This is the first of two Looking Back columns about the Hammond brothers. Part 2 is scheduled to publish in The Journal on Sept. 7.By James Hammond

I was born in the province of Quebec, June 7, 1855. My brother Allen born in 1853, and my brother Matthew born in 1857 came to this county to make their homes also. They being dead, I shall have to give an account of them as well as myself.

As a young man, I worked eight winters in the lumber woods and eight summers in a sawmill, all for the same company. My brother Allen was a blacksmith and learned the trade in five years as an apprentice. My brother Matthew came to the state of Colorado in 1879 with a schoolmate, Joe Davis, who was a blacksmith. In Michigan, he had heard of Silverton, and some of the neighbors had been out here too. There was a good deal of excitement about Rico, in those days, and Joe and Matt decided to go there.

They got off the train at Alamosa and walked to Rico by way of Silverton. They had with them a little bedding, a few clothes and a small amount of grub. On the advice of another man walking through, they bought a burro, an animal which was unknown to them under that name. The man explained its uses, and they paid twenty-five dollars for one sight unseen. That was almost all of their money. The man who sold it to them gave them a rope and a description of the animal they were to catch. It was in a field with three-wire fence about it.

As they tried to catch it, the burro always went through the fence near a post. So Joe Davis finally stood by the post and caught it as it came through and held it until Matt got the rope.

They tied some of the stuff on it and took turns riding it until it played out. They sold it to another man for twenty-five dollars and continued on foot.

Our cousin John Hammond, my brother Allen and I came to Rico in April 1880. We also walked from Alamosa, but our route was by way of Saguache, the Gunnison country, Montrose region and Ouray.

When we arrived in Rico, there was only one shingle-roofed house in the town. The rest were mostly cabins. There had been only one mule in Rico that winter, and my brother Matt drove that. It was possible to make thirty dollars a day hauling house logs. They shaved shingles with a drawing knife.

Flour had been fifty dollars a sack earlier, but it was twenty-five dollars a sack when we arrived the middle of April. I bought a pie one day for two dollars and paid two dollars for a dozen eggs.

On arrival in Rico, I got a job chopping timber at four dollars and twenty-five cents a day. That was good wages for the time. There was a smelter, the first one in Rico, to be built and the timber was for that.

A short time after our arrival at Rico, I had a couple of days off from cutting timber, and a banker from New York, a man by the name of Bissell, wanted me to help him with a safe he was bringing to Rico. The banker had left the safe at Bear Creek, and the river was rising and the town was on the other side of the river.

I walked down to Bear Creek over no trail the whole fifteen miles through brush and swamps. I arrived about 4 in the afternoon, and the banker was there with a safe in a wagon drawn by a span of large, and one of small, mules. The small mules were the leaders, and I was in charge of them while the banker on the wagon drove the others.

Once, the wagon upset and rolled down a grassy hill, but we got it rights and went on.

At Priest Gulch a mile and a half above Bear Creek, I had to ride one of the lead mules on a crossing, and the animal fell. I hung onto it and the small span of mules, and I washed down to the bend of the river and lodged against some drift and brush. We got out safely.

The banker then tried to cross with the big mules, and one them fell also. The banker cut the tugs and let the mules go. They were washed down the river and under a log jam and drowned there.

When the river went down a month or two afterward, the harness was salvaged from the wreck.

The safe was in the wagon all that time, and it was then placed in another rig and taken on to Rico, where it was the first safe in the country.

When I got out of the river after that experience I was all wet. I saw a cabin near the river and went over. Two men were there getting supper and they asked me to eat. Afterward, I want on to Rico and had to go the last six miles after dark. I was afraid of bears, but I had to go on through.

Twenty years later, when I was wintering cattle a hundred and fifty miles below here on the Dolores, there was such excitement about uranium at Paradox.

Two men with burros and packs came from Ophir. They stopped by my little ranch while I was getting supper, and I asked them to eat with me.

Afterward, as we sat smoking and talking, they told me their name was Priest and that they came from Ophir.

It turned out that they were the men I had supper with twenty years before when I helped with Mr. Bissell’s safe.

Article and photos courtesy of Chuck Hammond, grandson of Allen Hammond. Part 2 will continue in The Journal on Sept. 7. For corrections, questions or comments, please contact June Head, historian, Montezuma County Historical Society, at 970-565-3880.