Pioneer Life at Big Bend on The Dolores River in 1882

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:20 PM
“Big Bend” was located on the Dolores River about 1887. The log cabin on the left was the school house. Harris Brothers Mercantile was located to the right of the school house and has the big wooden sign on the front of the store building. Other businesses not identified. The last building on the right has a sign that said “Lodging” and “Restaurant.” This may have been the boarding house owned by Mr. and Mrs. S. O. Morton.

We were very comfortable on our place at Lone Dome. Our neighbors were the Barnes family, Gene and Charley Salter, Jim Trimble, some English people, a bit later, the Dillons, and the Bradfields.

Every family had log cabins to live in and just what housekeeping paraphernalia they could haul in their wagons except the family of Charles Johnson who lived near where McPhee now is. They had moved into their large, new adobe house about three months before we came. They had nice furniture and lived very comfortable indeed.

At Lone Dome, we ranched and ran cattle, and after I got over being afraid of the Indians, I liked pioneer life very much. We did very well with our ranch. My children I always brought up, to Dolores – the present town, it was, by the time they were ready for school – for the winter. We built a house in Dolores and still live here (1934).

Rico was our market in those days. When the weather was suitable, we took produce up there in wagons. Sometimes we took it on packhorses. At one time, I sent up 80 dozen eggs at a single trip. I had ice to pack my butter in for the trip so that the merchants would be willing to buy it in summer. I have sent as much as $30 worth of butter to Rico at one time. We used to get 50 cents a dozen for our eggs and 50 cents a pound for our butter before the railroad came.

The winter of '84 was almost as nice as the winter of 1933-34 until the last of February. Then it began to snow, and for 22 days we could not see the sun. The snow was so deep that they could not break a road. Mr. Trimble from below us thought he had to go to Big Bend for the mail. He got above our place when his horse gave out and he had to give up the attempt. Finally they drove cattle over the trail and broke a road in course of time so that people could come up to Big Bend on horseback. Many people down the river got very short on food, but we were fortunate enough not to run short on anything but coal oil. At our place, the snow was far over the height of the well curb, and our dog fell into the well. My husband had to fish out the dog and then dip out all of the water and clean the well as a result. In later years, we piped water to the house from a spring on the hillside.

The highest water we ever had here at Dolores was October 5, 1911. The water was all over Dolores deep enough to swim a cow or a horse. It washed hay from one end of a field to the other on our ranch. It washed a lot of squashes from the Vasco Bradfield ranch down onto our field. There had been a great deal of rain all summer and it came to climax in the flood.

When we first came here, everyone was much afraid of the Indians. When we were new here, my husband had to go over to Durango for a lot of supplies, and he had Mr. Nathan Dickerson go with him to help him haul them over. I naturally did not want to remain on our ranch with him away all nights, so I went up to stay with Mrs. Dickerson. That night we had an Indian scare. I was lying on the bed asleep, and Mrs. Dickerson was reading. I woke up to hear her asking who was at the door. The man who had the place rented opened it and told us the Indians were on the war path and that we had better go immediately up to her father's place for the night. Mr. Simon lived about a mile away. We got dressed to go right away. The man who had notified us went on up the river telling people. There were a good many living on the river at that time, and most of the ones below us took time to bury their belongings to keep the Indians from finding them so easily. Mrs. Simon and Mrs. Dickerson wanted Mr. Simon to take them up to Grandpa Johnson's at once. Johnson's house stood in an open place where the Indians could not well ambush the settlers. That was why everyone was going there. Dave Johnson and a man known as Jesse came by Simon's on a wagon. They had their guns all ready to shoot. I got on the wagon with them and went on up to Johnson's and when we got there, no one was at home except Mrs. Johnson's mother. We put the horses in the big corral. There was a large crowd of neighbors there. Al Nunn and Chick Porter arrived. Both of these men had married daughters of Grandpa Johnson and worked for him as well.

Part 3: The final part of this story will be published in the Oct. 3 edition of the Cortez Journal.

June Head is the historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society and may be reached at 565-3880. The article maybe found in Volume II, Great Sage Plain to Timberline, which is published by the Historical Society.