The Old West: Cowboys at Beaver Creek and Indians at Meadows Trading Post

Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 4:11 PM
Forrest’s photo of unidentified cowboys relaxing at Trimble’s cow camp.
Trimble’s cow camp near Beaver Creek.

Part 2: Continued from The Cortez Journal, Jan. 3, 2014

In her interview, Allie Meadows Baer talked about an interesting visitor to her father Billy Meadows’ trading post in the summer of 1902.

Earle R. Forrest, a Pennsylvania youth of nineteen, approaching college that fall, had longed to visit the Old West and hoped to meet and photograph some cowboys and Indians. In June he got the chance for some authentic “cowboying” on the Beaver Creek range of Jim Trimble and Henry Morgan in Dolores County.

After learning the basics of cow camp life, Forrest asked Trimble how he could meet some Indians. It was arranged that Forrest would go to Henry Morgan’s ranch in the Montezuma Valley, with Morgan’s son Harry. The two of them would go the Navajo Springs Agency on the Ute Reservation for “Ration Day”.

After that he and Harry would follow wagon tracks south into New Mexico to the Billy Meadows’ Trading Post on the San Juan River, where Trimble said there were plenty of Navajos.

Forrest published a book of his early adventures in the West:

With a Camera in Old Navaholand, 1969. He said when they arrived at the Morgan ranch he found Charley Prather, a friend who had lived near his uncle’s farm in Missouri. Charley said he wanted to go with them to Navajo Springs. Jim Trimble had told them to get Morgan’s ‘democrat’ and a team to drive down to the agency the next day.

Trimble said they didn’t need to pack any grub but to take along their blankets, a frying pan plus a coffee pot. Prior to departing, the “democrat” had to be greased and made ready for travel. This was a vehicle very popular in the west. No ranch was without the “democrat”. It was a cross between a buckboard and a spring wagon, and a surrey. It had the bed of a spring wagon, a front seat like a buckboard plus two other seats that could be lifted out when not needed. It had a regular surrey top – no fringe – and made a good shade. It was a strong vehicle that could stand the worst bumps on a rough road or trail. We left the “democrat” and the team of horses at the Navajo Springs Agency and headed out by horseback the next day and just followed the wagon tracks headed for the San Juan.

In his book he describes the Meadows Trading Post on the San Juan “as primitive a building as I had ever laid eyes on. Built of logs set in the ground in stockade fashion, it was long and narrow. The roof of the house was flat, made of two layers of poles covered with brush and about six inches of dirt.”

There was a crank operated type washing machine by the kitchen door, “a luxury in the wilderness “ – better than the backbreaking wash board in a tub.

Forrest and Morgan were greeted by the excited group that included Billy Meadows and helpers, several small children and a woman holding a baby. They said they hadn’t seen a white man in two years. The woman was Mrs. Meadows and the baby was Alice (Allie) Meadows.

Billy Meadows told Forrest that most Navajos were suspicious of the white man’s cameras, fearing the lens might steal their spirits. He advised Forrest the best way to get his photographs would be to stay for a while and be patient until the Navajos knew and trusted him. Forrest built a primitive darkroom from a large packing crate that was covered with a Navajo blanket to keep out the light.

Forrest could not lift the blanket to ventilate it, so endured smothering temperatures in the summer heat while developing his photographs.

The Navajos slowly got acquainted with Forrest and his camera, and many would pose while visiting the Meadows Trading Post.

Harry Morgan was needed back at the cow camp, so the young men returned north to the ranch and range.

When Jim Trimble was assured that Earle Forrest could properly cinch his own mount, tie a diamond hitch to secure loads on his packhorse plus secure his camera to the saddle horn Earle Forrest headed south alone to spend out his summer at the Meadows Trading Post and surroundings before he reluctantly had to return to his home in order to begin college.

Forrest’s photo taken at Trimble Cow Camp nearBeaver Creek, courtesy of Frank W. Pyle.

“With a Camera in Old Navaholand” by Earle Forrest is available at local libraries or can be purchased.

Next month

Part 3 will continue in March. Mrs. Baer describes the life of Earle Forrest while living at the post.

Article written by Joyce Lawrence, Board Member (882-2636) and June Head, Historian, (565-3880). Please direct questions or comments to the authors.