‘Aunt June’ and her history with Cortez history

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:12 PM

Several weeks ago, the Montezuma County Historical Society held its “Acknowledgement” program to thank people who have made important contributions to the preservation of our local history. Everyone acknowledged was very deserving of the honor.

One person asked not to be mentioned recently because she has been singled out in the past for her many accomplishments. She’s also the first person to say that her accomplishments came with the work of many people. All those other people would quickly reply that she has always been their go-to person for any question about local history.

June head came by her interest in our local history in a most straight-forward way – she is naturally curious. According to her niece, Linda Smith, “Aunt June’s interest was piqued on learning about historic stuff when she was a kid and her Granddad Dunning would talk about his ancestors and where they came from.” Along with that curiosity, she has an amazing memory for facts, and the ability to recall stories all the way back to her childhood in Cortez. She has accumulated a large amount of information. According to Linda, “Uncle Bill (June’s husband) and she shared a love for history, and so they would go and seek out anything they could learn about their families and what they did, where they lived and they visited cemeteries to see their headstones.” We have to add to this her ability to organize her historical material in ways that allow her to find it, which is a rare skill.

“As for her history of Cortez, it began from the research on the 10 blocks that were once called the Original Town site of Cortez ... and her love for learning all she could about the community when it first began just grew,” Linda said.

And she shares it. Here’s a sampling:

She has spent years documenting the graves in local cemeteries.She has shared her extensive information to forward the recognition of the historic Calkins Building and Historical Montezuma Avenue. She has provided important information to the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project. She, along with her lifelong friend Ginger Graham, wrote and edited four volumes of the irreplaceable “From Great Sage Plain to Timberline-Our Pioneer Heritage” local history. She is a founding member of the Montezuma County Historical Society, rarely missing a board meeting, and always keeping the Society focused on its goal of a local history museum.She has provided our area with ongoing historical information through this “Looking Back” column and articles in the “Travel Host” magazine which is distributed throughout the Four Corners. She has provided many of the historic photographs that decorate the Cortez City Hall. She is active in the Daughters of the American Revolution.June has lived in Cortez all her life, but her interests are by no means narrow:

“As for her travels with Uncle Bill, they loved the Red Rock Country,” Linda said. “They would travel all over and had a great interest in the trading posts. They were friends with Ira Hatch, who owned a trading post in Montezuma Creek. They would travel with Bill and Helen Small in their truck with the camper on the back and just go where ever they wanted to see new things. The travels would take them for 10 days to two weeks. Their motto was to find a place to park by 3:00 and it was beer time at 4 p.m. Her love for traveling with Uncle Bill took them to many places in the United States, and their love for history really found them in interesting places where they would learn more about their ancestors.”

The first time this writer was exposed to June’s gifts as a historian involved Montezuma Avenue and Stephen Smith. About Montezuma Avenue, several of us were helping to develop a walking tour of the historic houses along that avenue, and June had come to our rescue. She had already documented ownership of most of the houses, and had collected stories about their occupants. Nothing was left out of her accounts, not the good or the bad or the ugly. June had collected it all. About Stephen Smith, June was always able to answer the questions I had after reading more that 400 letters written by this pioneer Cortez businessman. Just as intriguing, June had worked for another Cortez legend, Creighton Rauh, who had preserved the Smith letters I was studying.

Several of us have been filling in for June by writing “Looking Back” articles for several months. It has been fun, but we are looking forward to June’s next article. She sets the standard we try to live up to. She also adds a presence to our community, and we all want to greet her as “Aunt June.”