Chan’s life in the region, Part 1

Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 7:18 PM

The following account was written by Robert H. Snyder (Bob), Box 653, Silverton, Colorado 81433 (or Rico, Colorado 81332). Incidents herein concern the lives of his grandfather (Chan) and his great-grandfather (Henry Edward) and their families. The account was written in longhand as Bob visited with people as they worked in the fields, as they roamed mountains, rode in automobiles, etc. — wherever they happened to be as they told about events. Most of the information in the writing has come from people, friends, and relatives who knew or were personally acquainted with the persons in the stories. Bob lived in the same household as Chan in the early days of Bob’s childhood — later in 1940 they were together an entire summer, camping and working mining claims in various parts of Colorado, as well as some in Utah. Some experiences were written from this personal contact. A greater part of the material came through Bob’s father, Robert A. Snyder, who was close to Chan most of his life.

(This portion of the story was printed in the Dove Creek Press on January 19, 1984 by the Dolores County Historical Society; Buz Grubbs, County Historian.)

In the early part of Chan’s life when he was perhaps seven or eight, he went one day to a place where a French Canadian trapper and his Indian wife were living. Chan’s father had gone to visit the trapper on business and Chan went along with him. As Henry and the trapper were talking, the trapper was chewing on a large piece of dried meat. As Chan watched the fellow chewing and enjoying himself, Chan said to the trapper, “What do you have there?” The old trapper smiled and said, “mooch-rat.”

In the year of about 1874, Chan, along with his father, mother, sister and brother, left Wisconsin Rapids and headed west, not knowing what or where their destination would be. However, they eventually ended up in the Black Hills of South Dakota in late 1874 or early 1875. Henry took a job as an operator of a Wells Fargo Stage Station, where the family lived for about three years, leaving there in 1877 or ’78.

Chan came to Rico in the fall of 1879 along with Henry, his father, and the rest of the family. Chan rode a buckskin pony which one of the Texans had given him in the Black Hill country before they left Deadwood. Chan helped bring the first wagon into Rico from San Miguel City, and also helped pack 60 head of stock with supplies when coming into Rico country.

Chan lived around Rico for several years (age 18 or 19) and after attending school he started to work in the mines near Rico. Previous to this time (when Chan was about 14-15), the summer following their arrival in Rico, the family lived near the mouth of Wildcat. It was here that Martha Jane (Chan’s mother) discovered the first gold along the Dolores River. From this time on, Chan was interested in placer as well as the cattle business, and was associated in this enterprise most of his life.

At about the age of 19, Chan went to work for the City of Rico digging trenches, probably for pipelines, water, etc. Later he went to work at one or two of the mines on Newman Hill where silver was being mined. At one time he worked for awhile on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, doing some mining but acting mostly as watchman. Another fellow worked with Chan on this midnight shift. The mine they worked was either the Newman or the Swancey. Later Chan went to work in the assay office (age 19) breaking or pounding up samples for the assayer. This work was at the Grand View smelter, which was located in the north part of Rico near the present day “Indian Village.” Chan worked on these jobs for a time; later, at about 19 years of age, as it was late summer or early fall, he decided to go into the lower country for a few weeks to help with the cattle roundup. (Cattle were scattered all over between the Dolores, Cortez area and Dove Creek — even beyond.)

In those days, stockmen who had cattle would more or less let the cattle roam on the open range; then once or twice a year, the cowboys would form a roundup to gather the cattle for branding and redistribution to better ranges, etc. depending on the season of the year. As Chan joined this roundup, he headed into the lower country with a few days’ supply of grub and a blanket or two for a bedroll. After riding for several days, Chan one morning came upon a camp which he thought to be the round-up camp that he had been looking for. As he rode down into camp he saw an Indian woman or squaw graining a deer hide. When he was quite close, she looked up and seeing Chan, squealed and started to run away. Chan suddenly realized he had not found the roundup camp, but had ridden into an Indian camp by mistake. As the squaw squealed and ran away, a number of young bucks ran out and surrounded Chan, some of them grabbing the horse’s bridle, others trying to pull Chan from his horse, out of the saddle. As fast as possible Chan pulled his six-gun and told the bucks to back off and to let go, which they did. About this time, the chief came out, saw Chan and asked where he was from, where he was going, or where he thought he was going. Chan, knowing that the Indians were on the warpath with the people from Rico, said he was from Durango, or a Durango man. The chief thought this over for a few moments, motioned for a number of the sub-chiefs, then proceeded with them up on a little hill and sat down for a discussion. While this was in progress, the young warriors were still surrounding Chan so that he couldn’t get away. After about 15 or 20 minutes, the chief came back to Chan and asked him again where he was going, and Chan told him about the roundup camp in the area. The chief asked him how many men were in the camp. Chan told him about 30 or 50. The chief, not knowing whether to believe this or not, felt it best not to take any chances on the possibility of 30 or so guns, so after a few moments deliberation, pointed out of the camp and said, “you go.” Chan turned his horse and as the warriors parted from side to side, he rode at a walk out of the Indian camp. Chan did not look back and as he proceeded at a walk, every second he half expected to feel an arrow or a bullet between the shoulders. As the distance increased, Chan began to feel better. He walked the horse until he was out of sight of the camp, then at a high run put as much distance as possible between himself and the Indian encampment in the shortest possible time. Several days he looked for the roundup camp — not having any idea where it might be. After traveling around the country for another three or four days, he came up over a ridge and off in the distance through the trees, Chan could see what appeared to be some kind of a camp. After studying the situation for a short time, he saw Indians and suddenly realized he had almost ridden again into the Indian camp. And to his surprise, it was the same bunch he had ridden into before (Chief Wash camp), only at this location the camp was 50 or 60 miles from where Chan had found it the first time. As soon as Chan realized what the situation was and the possibility of being discovered, he wheeled his horse and rode out of there in a hurry. (They did see Chan on this occasion too, but he got away.) It seems that Chan rode for several more days, but never did find the roundup camp. After returning to Rico and several months later as he checked with the ranchers about the roundup, Chan discovered the ranchers had held no roundup that fall. Even if they had, it probably wouldn’t have been composed of more than 10 to 15 men. (As Chan was being held by Chief Wash, he figured a mention of 30 men would sound more impressive and there would be less chance of his being taken prisoner.)

During the years between 1885 and 1895, Chan divided his time between Rico country and the Slick Rock area. Chan, along with his brothers, ran cattle and horses around Rico during the summer and the lower country in the winter months.

In the late 1880’s Martha Jane suffered a stroke and as a result of her illness, Henry moved to Moab, Utah. After they settled in Moab, the boys would on occasion go there to visit. It was on some of these visits that Hank became acquainted with Carrie Crapo, and later Chan became acquainted with Sarah.

On Dec. 28, 1895 Chan and Sarah were married at Moab, he being about 30 years of age, and Sarah about 17. Within a day or so after their marriage, Chan and his new bride left for Slick Rock country since Chan had to get back to check on the cattle. The first night out they were caught in a dust storm. They stayed in the area the rest of the winter, and in the late spring moved their stock and outfit into the high country near Rico. This migration between Slick Rock and Rico and back again went on for several years. On Sept. 26, 1897, a son was born at Moab which they named Ruben Chancy. April 11, 1899 at Ceader, Colorado (Slick Rock area) another son was born which they named Robert A.

In the spring of about 1902 or ’03 Chan and his family were living at a place called “the Pines.” This was located near the present town of Dove Creek or in the higher country where Dove Creek gets its present day water supply. Chan had a cabin in this area where the family lived when they were in this part of the country.

It was while they were in this area that Chief Wash, who was a leader of a band of Utes, used to come out to Chan’s place quite often and eat. That is, the chief would eat, but fire the men back, men of his band who rode with him. Also the chief and his band would kill beef from the stockmen around the country; but Chief Wash told Chan that they wouldn’t kill any of his beef. (The policy seemed to be that the chief would kill someone’s beef and rub deer hair on it and tell Chan, “pretty good buck meat.”)

On one occasion, Chief Wash came out to the place when Chan wasn’t home and wanted some flour, salt, etc. as occasionally they did. On this visit, Sarah told them to get out since they had been coming back quite often and always wanted more and more each time. She met them at the door with a 30-30 and to Ruben she gave a .22 rifle. (While Sarah was telling the Indians to get out, Ruben — being 5 or 6 years old — was waving the .22 around saying, “Mama, I don’t want this.”) The Indians were not afraid of Sarah and the 30-30 because they knew she would not shoot, but when they saw Ruben with the .22 which he was waving around, they began to back away not knowing when lead might start flying. Anyway, the Indians decided to go their way for the time being. Chan and Chief Wash over a period of time became good friends; while they were out hunting together one day Chief Wash began to laugh and looking at Chan said, “pretty good Durango man.” Chan looked very much surprised and suddenly realized that Wash was the chief who 15 or 20 years before had caught him when he rode into the Indian camp by mistake while looking for the roundup camp. After the initial surprise was over, they talked over old times.

While Chan and the family were living in “the Pines,” it was the policy for Ruben and Rob to play together. (Ruben being about 5 or 6, Rob about 3 or 4) as Sarah had told them several times not to stray too far away from the cabin because of the wild animals and Indians that were roaming about. The boys, not really paying much attention to what their mother had told them, strayed some distance from the cabin during their play. So mother, Sarah, decided it would be a good time to teach the boys a lesson. She went out the back door of the cabin, made a wide circle through the timber and came out behind the children. Without their knowing about it, and being not far away yet out of sight, she began to howl like a coyote. The children hearing this, became somewhat scared as they imagined all sorts of things. As their eyes grew larger and larger they began to back away and run for the cabin. Mother circled and arrived before the boys. As the boys came puffing up all excited, Mother asked them what was the matter. They told her of the coyote they had heard, and how big and close it was. Mother asked if they had seen the coyote; the boys said, “no, but it was real close.” She asked if they were afraid and what would they have done if the coyote had chased them. Rob piped up as big as could be, “I would have jumped on the coyote and rode him ‘til his tail fell off.”

On another occasion while they were located at “the Pines” a bear came out of the timber and looking around, sniffed the air, waddled over to the watering trough and began to drink from the trough. Mother Sarah saw the bear and not knowing what might happen next, took Ruben and Rob and pushed them up on top of the cabin, then climbed up on top of the cabin herself. After a while, the bear went back off into the timber. Chan, not being home at the time, became acquainted with the experience when he came back to the cabin that evening.

To be continued next month.

Virginia Graham of the Montezuma Valley Historical Society is the co-editor of “Great Sage Plain to Timberline”