Conflict at Totten Lake in 1880s

Monday, Oct. 3, 2016 10:57 PM
The Wilkerson barn.
The horse pasture of William Woolley, who purportedly kept about 100 head of horses at his place, most all of them Thoroughbreds, Arabians and quarter horses.

By Mrs. Matt Hammond

Editor’s note: Mrs. Hammond came to Dolores River with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Simon in July 1881. Mrs. Hammond’s, daughter, Rose Roelker, was interviewed in 1934 and gives more detail on the killing of Mr. Genthner. Mary Lou Unterburger sent information on this incident and gives information she received from her father, Taylor Wilkerson and her brother, J.T. Those accounts follow.In 1882 there was no one killed, but Dan Williams’ cabin on the Dolores was burned and the Indians fired at him. In ’84, Hank Sharp and Dolph Lusk, while driving cattle, were fired at by the Indians. Sharp was lightly wounded, and Lusk’s horse was killed, and he himself was reported dead. Lusk was severely injured. Sharp rescued him and Lusk was taken to Fort Lewis for medical attention.

On June 22, 1885, some white men killed a small band of Indians on the head of Beaver Creek. One squaw escaped, and a day and a night later, the Indians attacked the Genthner home. Mr. Genthner had received the mail that day, and he and his wife were sitting up late reading. Mr. Genthner smelled smoke and went out to see what was on fire and immediately returned and told his wife that the house was on fire. He thought the Indians were around. He tried to put out the fire and was shot and killed. Mrs. Genthner and her four children, one a baby less than a year old, escaped. (This baby was the first white child born in Montezuma Valley.) Mrs. Genthner was shot, the bullet breaking her collarbone. Carrying the baby and helping the other children, she made her way to Mr. Simon’s place. In crossing an arroyo, she saw Doug Woolley. He frightened her again because she thought it was another Indian. But it was only “Doug” Woolley (age 15) who had taken some bedding and was sleeping out away from the house to lessen the chances of the Indians finding him. The next morning, Doug went to the Big Bend for help, and a party of men went up to the valley and buried Genthner.

Rose Roelker interviewLouis and Louise Simon came to La Plata County, which then included Montezuma County in the 1880s. They were French people born in Switzerland. After marriage, they settled in a French colony in Nemaha County, Kansas. Their daughter Elizabeth (Hammond) was born April 9, 1865. They lost their home in Kansas after the drought in the seventies and came to Montezuma Valley. Later, they took a place in what is now the Lakeview neighborhood. (Mrs. Roelker said the Simon family might have known William Woolley in Kansas and found themselves neighbors in the valley when they settled in this neighborhood.)

Potatoes were high because they had to be freighted so far. Louis Simon and his family planted thick potato peelings and raised a fine crop of potatoes that first year.

Mrs. Simon baked some pies for her silver wedding anniversary celebration and put them on a shelf outside to cool, and the Indians ate them. (Part 1, published in The Journal last month, mentions that Mr. and Mrs. D.H. Sayler and family were at the celebration and the Indians went through their house and took everything they wanted, including all the food.)

The Simon family provided the first wedding in present Montezuma County, according to Mrs. Roelker, when Elizabeth married Matt Hammond Dec. 25, 1885.

Mary Lou UnterburgerMr. Genthner, who is mentioned in several articles as the victim of the Ute revenge for the 1885 Beaver Creek Massacre, was buried on the Lakeview farm where I grew up. My brother, J.T. Wilkerson, said that our father marked the site with a plowshare. This area was about a quarter mile south of what is now Road M. (south of the Lakeview School area). I recall there were two houses in the fields south of the farmhouse where we lived when I was very young. One of the houses was on the west side of the arroyo but was a dark ruined heap subsequently razed by my father. It was in the area where Mr. Genthner’s grave is located – a pretty setting for a pioneer farmer’s house with its cottonwood trees and grassy slope down to the arroyo. The house on the east side of the arroyo was a sturdy little house which was later moved behind our farmhouse.

According to local accounts, Mr. Genthner had been killed in June 1885 by Indians who set fire to his house and shot him when he came out. The stories of his wife and children’s survival vary widely.

The events occurred in the area of Totten Lake. The Wilkerson property was located on County Road M; the Genthner property south of the Lakeview School between County Roads L and M; the Sayler property was located west of the center edge of Totten Lake; the Simon property was located east of Totten Lake on County Road L. The Woolley property was east of the intersection of County Roads 29 and L with the big horse pasture east of County Road 29 and Totten Lake.June Head, Historian of the Montezuma County Historical Society may be reached for questions, corrections or comments at 970-565-3880.


This article and other pioneer stories have been published in “Great Sage Plain to Timberline – our Pioneer History”. They are available for purchase. Our new publication: A cook book featuring “Recipes of our Early Pioneers and their Descendants” should be available for purchase around Thanksgiving, 2016.