Beginnings of business in Cortez, 1891-1892

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:14 PM
Two letters Steven Smith wrote from Cortez in 1891.

The next two columns contain letters written by Stephen J. Smith to his boss, E. S. Turner, in 1891 and 1892.

Smith was the local business manager for the investors in the beginnings of Cortez. He was 23 in 1888 when he came here to work in the town’s first bank. When that failed he became the secretary for the company developing Cortez. Smith dealt with a wide variety of business problems, and those he was doing business with also had problems. There was no bank in Cortez, and the railroad was not completed, farming was difficult, and money was short.

Dec. 7, 1891

Dear Mr. Turner:

I have just had a talk with Mr. White with reference to balance due on bank taxes. It seems the commissioners have directed him to push these matters. He has agreed to do nothing until I return from the east, which I told him would be about February 1st. He has also promised to do nothing with the Wason taxes before that time.

The Wason stage matter remains about the same, except that mail money due Nov. 15 has not yet been received. It may have been miscarried, or else, either there is to be more trouble or Parley has used it. It seems to me that it is nearly time for us to take the outfit and dispose of it as best we can. Parley will soon have but a few miles mail route to operate, is now only running to Mancos and Dolores, and most of his stock is out to pasture. I can not think but that he may leave us in the lurch. He this morning told me if he had one good team and $100 cash he would quit the country; and, in my mind, he is very likely at time of receiving some installment of mail money, which amounts to $858, to ‘skip out’ with the best team in the outfit. You are bound to loose considerable, and the longer it is put off, the worse it is likely to get. There is nothing to prevent him from trading off or selling the idle stock to parties leaving the country; we could never secure them again. Besides Parley is so heavily in debt, there is nothing to keep him here. Please write me what you think about it. I suppose it will require from $50 to $75 to go through proceedings and get possession.

I wrote you about the mortgage on the Sharp ranch having matured August 31st, last. I supposed the matter was arranged to wait until your return, and had thought nothing about it until Friday I saw it was advertised in the Durango paper for sale. I immediately wrote them to present the note to Colorado State Bank, and advised Freeman to pay it and charge it to my account. It is very funny they did not at least notify me before beginning proceedings, and I have so written them. However, it is all right for the present, although it ‘pinched’ me considerably, particularly as I am about to take a trip East.

There is still due and to be paid on ranch matters:

Mattson, $130, Sharp mortgage, about $300, and Water note, $225 and interest. We have about 100 tons hay, 1400 bushels of wheat, 800 bushels oats and several tons potatoes, but cannot sell anything for cash at this time. Farming is a decidedly unprofitable business, at least for us.

All these matters, including bank taxes, about $500, should be straightened out as soon as I return; and if possible, I should at that time have at least $1500 for the purpose. Unless the bank taxes, as above, are then paid, we will surely be put to considerable expense.

The Routt suit is still quiet. I had a long talk with him the other day, and I think he is inclined to let it stand until you return, and I of course encouraged such a course. As I heard nothing from you as to painting roof on stone block, I have arranged for it, same to be paid by Guillet, and credited on Rents. The work was absolutely necessary.

We have been troubled here again with another siege of “La Gripe”, nearly everyone being more or less affected. After ten weeks of cloudless sky, we were on Friday last visited with about 6 inches snow and a cold spell. Last night the thermometer registered 14 below zero, and 10 the night before. I think this cannot last however.

Not hearing from you to the contrary, I shall leave here about the 15th, for Denver and New York, to be gone from four to six weeks, unless something arises to change my plans.

At last report your family were all well? Sam is with them in Denver, but will probably go East when I do.

Cortez matters remain about the same. Saterlee is in charge of the hotel. Harrison is about to leave, I think. The railroad is finished to 12 miles above Dolores and about the same distance below Rico. The service to Durango is very unsatisfactory however, it taking generally longer to go by rail than by wagon.

Am well, and hope to hear from you soon.

Very sincerely,

Stephen J Smith

Presented by the Montezuma County Historical Society