Moving from Trading Post to McElmo Canyon

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:21 PM
Original Earle Forrest photo of Wan-wan-er-wi-get, a Southern Ute, from Frank Pyle.
Original Earle Forrest photo of Red Goat and his mother, Navajos, from Frank Pyle.

Part 3 Continued from January and February's Cortez Journal

In her interview, Allie Meadows Baer talked about the interesting visitor to the Meadows' Trading Post in 1902. Earle R. Forrest, 19, from Pennsylvania, had longed to visit the Old West where he hoped to meet and photograph some cowboys and Indians. After learning “cowboying” at the Jim Trimble and Henry Morgan cow camp on Beaver Creek, it was arranged for him to visit the trading post where Trimble said there were plenty of Navajos.

Allie said, “In Old Navaholand with Camera was the book written by Earle Forrest. This book particularly talked about my parents' trading post. This young fellow wanted to come out to the “West” and he wanted to take up photography. After staying at the cow camps around Dolores, he was taken down to Navajo Springs for “Ration Day” and he was so interested in the Indians he just wanted to see more and get pictures of them.

“A friend of my dad's told him he would take him down to the 'Billy Meadows Store' and see if he couldn't stay down there for a while. He came down and my dad told him he could stay to get pictures of the real natives and the way they lived and dressed. My folks fixed him a place to sleep and our dad told him that he would get to meet a lot of different ones there if he would just wait for them to come to the store.

“They had this big grocery box (a huge thing) and they fixed it up for a darkroom. His darkroom 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 Indians were scared to death of the Kodak; they didn't want any pictures taken with the “magic black box with the evil eye” (lens). He thought if he could take pictures and show them (develop them there) they would know what it was.

“Finally the Indians got to coming and he just got all kinds of pictures taken. Mr. Hatch (Joe), who was the clerk, understood the Indians very well and he knew how crazy they were about their stuff in pawn, so he would tell the Indians that if they would let that fellow take their picture he would let them put on their six-shooters, big cowboy hats and their pawn. He kind of bribed them and they got so they weren't afraid and Forrest took all kinds of pictures.

“In late August, Forrest knew it was time to say 'farewell to our trading post and that he hoped to return the next year if possible.'

“About 1900 there was a Catholic Mission run by the Catholic Sisters called Seneca, New Mexico. They had a school there for the Indians and my dad paid for our older brothers to attend. About 1902 as the kids were getting older, my folks felt that they had to get into an area where there was a school, so they left the trading post and moved down into the 'lower valley.'

“Dad worked for Jim Frink, and old timer who ran cattle. We lived there for about five years and then moved down into McElmo Canyon. After we went to the canyon in 1913 there was such a big family of us and there was no middle school, just the upper and lower school, so the first thing they said was that there would just have to be another school built, as 'all of those Meadows kids a-coming--we just have to have more school.'

“They had a school meeting and finally decided to build the 'Battle Rock” school. I think it was about 1915 and they built the school. There was six of us at that time going to school. They had summer school before the Battle Rock School was built and we went there until the school was finished. Everyone donated their work and the Baxstroms, Pete and his son Harry, were good stone masons. They cut and quarried the rock from around the canyon as it was plentiful and then everyone turned out to help build the school. After it was finished they used to have dances and they got a piano and lights, too. They had a lot of box suppers and things like that to take up money for use at the school.

“The Indians used to come in and camp right by our place in the wintertime. I can remember our mother trading them a sack of flour for a sack of pinon nuts. Every year there would be a group of Indians come in there because it was nice and the weather was mild and they would stay all winter. We used to go out and watch them at their camps; they had a little tent; something like a teepee and they would be around the campfire. The property that my folks owned at McElmo Canyon is the place where my brother John lives now.” (Now area of 12200 County Road G.)

The original Earle Forrest photographs are courtesy of Frank Pyle of Dolores. Article written by June Head, Historian (565-3880) and Joyce Lawrence, Board Member (882-2636), Montezuma County Historical Society. Please direct questions or comments to the authors.