Pioneer life at Big Bend in 1882 Part 3: Continued from September

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:19 PM
The Charles Johnson Ranch near Big Bend, reprinted from the book “Where Eagles Winter” by Wilma Bankston.

A man who had notified us of the Indian scare went on up the river telling people.

Everyone was going up to Grandpa Johnson’s place on the river where the Indians could not well ambush the settlers.

I got in the wagon with Dave Johnson and went on up to Johnson’s and when we got there, no one was at home except Mrs. Johnson’s mother. There was a large crowd of neighbors there. About 4p.m. in the afternoon after the warning was given, two of Grandpa Johnson’s son-in-laws arrived. They were hungry and were wishing the Johnsons would come on home so that the crowd might be fed.

Mrs. Dickerson was acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, but I had never met any of them up to that time. Mrs. Dickerson told Al Nunn that if he would show us where to find things, we would get dinner. Johnsons had a lot of their provision down in the basement and did part of their cooking down there. Mrs. Dickerson told me to go down in the basement and make biscuits. I did as she directed and was busy cutting out biscuits to bake when the Johnsons came home. I felt so embarrassed there in a strange woman’s kitchen cooking up her flour and lard and things without her permission that way. But Mrs. Johnson didn’t mind. She knew how it all was and made me forget at once how foolish I felt. After that we all had a splendid time getting acquainted before everyone decided it was safe to leave Johnson’s home.

When my husband and Mr. Dickerson got back from Durango, we went down to our ranch again, and we found the people from down below us, who had been at Johnson’s home previously, at our place because it was open too and could not be ambushed.

Much later on when the Indian troubles were over, my husband used to hire Indians to help in the hay and to dig potatoes. When I got used to them, I wasn’t afraid of them at all. But when we first came here, there was reason to be afraid.

And, of course, the Genthner killing disturbed us all a good deal. (Mrs. Moore’s story of pioneer life is continued in Volume II of Great Sage Plain to Timberline.) This article will continue with an interview from Mrs. Howard Porter, daughter of Charles Johnson also in Volume II of Great Sage Plain to Timberline. She describes their home at Bend Bend on the Dolores River.

After my father had the store and post office at Pine River for several years, he wanted to move on. Grass was getting scarce for there were too many cattle and horses in proportion to the size of the range. He came over to the Dolores Valley and bought land for a ranch from Billy May. He also took up some land. Then he put a great many improvements on his new place. There was a fourteen or fifteen-room adobe brick house built for him by some men from Durango. It was painted brick-color on the outside and the bricks outlined with white so that it appeared like a building of regulation brick. It was canvassed and papered on the inside and very comfortable indeed. But the builders had not put a stone foundation under it as they should have done. For that reason we never planted flowers or shrubbery of any sort against the house wall. When we left the house in charge of a caretaker in later years, flowers were planted against the walls and disintegration began with the necessary watering. It progressed until the house fell, many years before such a thing need to have happened otherwise. The big stone barn, built by the same men was also defective in its construction and fell in later years before the site was converted into the present McPhee.

The stone barn with its windows high along the sides was somewhat fortress-like. It was also situated so that no one could approach very near it without being seen. For the reason when the Indians had killed Genthner and the word came to the people along the river, they gathered at our place to defend themselves again the attack they feared and expected. We were returning from a funeral of a man killed as a result of a fall from a horse. The funeral was at the old graveyard. We were driving along and saw a horseman riding toward us in high excitement. We knew instinctively that something was wrong though we denied it to one another. He told us we’d better get home quickly because the Indians had risen and were killing everyone.

When we reached our ranch, the yard was full of people cooking and making camp. We had a large basement under our house and did our cooking there in summer. Mrs. George Moore was in the basement cooking tin after tin of biscuit. She was preparing for a siege. She said they thought they had better feed the men before the Indians came, for there might not be time later.

There were people sleeping all over the yard for the next two or three days. But no Indians appeared, and the neighbors went home again.

June Head is Historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society and can be reached for comments or corrections at 970-565-3880. Four volumes of history have been published by the historical society and are available for purchase at “Books” in Cortez or through the historical society.