A Sunny Slope memory preserved

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:21 PM
Mary Elizabeth Lupke admiring apple blossoms.
Wilbert Lincoln Williams (1861-1928), photographer.

This young lady, captured enjoying new blossoms in a young apple orchard, her straw hat artistically placed at her feet, signifies not only a single moment in time, but also the rich dreams and ambitions of families who settled the promising Dolores area before the turn of the 20th century.

Growing up in the German settlement southwest of Dolores along Hartman Draw, Mary Elizabeth Lupke’s immigrant family had been in Montezuma County since the 1890s. She was working nearby as a waitress at a hotel (probably the Rio Grande Southern) in Dolores in 1910 and may have posed in 1911 for her future father-in-law, photographer W. L. Williams, on his visit from Pueblo, Colo. The Montezuma Journal in Cortez that year said he owned local farmland.

At the same time, on the William Meyers farm near Myler’s Corner (today’s Highway 145 and Road P) a handsome young man was boarding and farming on his own account, possibly on the land of his father. Evert E. Williams evidently found his way to the German settlement, as he and Mary Elizabeth were married in 1912. In addition to the German settlement near Hartman Draw, optimistically named “Sunny Slope” in 1919 issues of the Montezuma Journal, Evert tried dryland farming on a homestead near Goodman Point, where they were visited at times by Ute Mountain Utes.

Mary and Evert raised two sons and a daughter in the Dolores and Sunny Slope areas of Montezuma County. Their daughter, Ida Williams McCabe, is still living in Oregon.

The Artistry of W. L. Williams

In 1915, Evert’s aging father, Wilbert Lincoln Williams, sold his photography business in Pueblo and came to live with Evert’s family. Born in 1861 in the Illinois “Land of Lincoln,” Wilbert had chosen a career in photography by 1884, where he owned a studio in Alamosa, Colo. He advertised with an associate in the local newspaper, including Spanish language notices. In 1886 he married Ida May Neale, and son Evert Williams was born in Alamosa the next year.

About 1893 W. L. was photographing Southern Arapaho Indians in El Reno, Oklahoma Territory, where they had been forced onto a reservation. The 1900 census shows Wilbert and family in Walsenburg, Huerfano County – not a very lively place for the fine photographer he had become.

He returned to Alamosa for a short time, was divorced, and finally made his home in Pueblo, where his business thrived. His descendants recall that he was an accomplished pianist and at one time played with a local symphony.

In September 1915, when W. L. Williams moved in with son Evert and family, he continued with photography, having business hours in Cortez, Dolores and Mancos at intervals. The last newspaper mention of his photography business was in 1920. After that he and Evert partnered in farming until Wilbert’s death in 1928. Wilbert Lincoln Williams is buried in the Cortez Cemetery.

Through the generosity of great-great-grandson Sam Williams of Oregon, we can share these memories of new spring orchards and glimpses of those who came to make their homes in Montezuma County.

Joyce Lawrence, Montezuma County Historical Society board member is compiling histories of pioneer photographers of the Four Corners region, 1870--1920. Readers with questions, corrections, or a photo by W.L. Williams in their family album, please call Joyce at (970) 882-2636.