The Indian racetrack near Old McPhee

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 11:45 PM
The 800-acre Charlie Johnson homestead and old racetrack are located under McPhee Reservoir.

Editor’s Note: This is the last of three parts of Erastus Thompson’s recollections of life in Montezuma County in the late 1800s. The entire article is in the Montezuma County Historical Society book “Great Sage Plain to Timberline “Our Pioneer History,” Volume 4.The cabin Charles Johnson Sr. moved into when he first came to the country was owned by Dick May. Dick May was killed in a fight with Indians in the Cross Canyon area. I hauled his body back to the Dolores, and he was buried across the road from where the old cemetery is on the old Johnson place.

In 1879, Cal House, Jake Straus, Jim Nash, George Webb and I went down to the racetrack to bet on horse races with the Indians. The Indians bet blankets.

Jim Nash was riding in a race and there were many bets on it. Both white men and Indians were judges and Jim Nash was beating in the race. In place of going between the judges as he was supposed to, the Indian wheeled off to one side, and the Indians grabbed up the blankets and some of the money. Jim Nash was angry about it and began quirting the Indians.

All that prevented that from causing trouble was some men came riding up bringing the report of the Meeker Massacre. The Indians snatched up their things and broke camps. The white man had no business going down to the Indians’ racetrack at all.

I was in Texas for Mrs. Lacy at the time of the Beaver trouble. I was gone 11 months as 1,700 cattle had to be rounded up. I took along 18 or 19 head of horses. It was hard to get men to make the trip. I got a man named Pickens to hire them for me. He said the ones he employed would be all right until it stormed. Mrs. Lacy had a ranch on the Vernajo in New Mexico, and she hired more men to come here. Goodman had brought 7,000 head of the Lacy cattle to this country in 1881, and I brought this second bunch in 1883.

Lacy and Coleman were partners. Coleman brought his part of the cattle to the panhandle, and Lacy brought his here.

Coleman undertook to bring his cattle to this country, but Coleman was drowned in the San Miguel in 1886. His cattle were known as the J.C. cattle.

The man whose cattle were drowned in the Dolores was named Smith. He was coming with cattle from Arizona and had experienced drivers. They watered the cattle at the San Juan and crossed the Mancos fast.

They brought them over the old Indian trail. The cattle should have been brought into the old Bend and trailed into water. The cattle smelled the water and pushed along fast and came down over the bluff at the Jim Lavender (now Jim Hammond) place and fell and killed one another. It was a regular stampede ,and the Dolores was dammed with dead cattle. This was a large bunch – about 2,000 head. I do not know just how many were killed.

Had the drivers led the cattle to the old Bend, they could have taken them into the water where it was not so steep and safer. The main thing is to point the cattle right and keep the drags up. But so often the cowboys instead of leading as they ought to do would get to the rear of the bunch and visit and let the cattle do their own leading.

Lacy’s place was on the Vermejo in Colfax County, New Mexico. We had to come about 700 miles to here. It was a Land Grant, and Lacy and Dawson were the only two men who had deeds from the Mexican who owned it. We crossed the mountains at the head of the Vermejo – north of Taos and came into Colorado at about Antonio.

Mrs. Lacy was a Brumley. Lacy was killed after they brought the cattle here. The care of the cattle was under direction of the Brumley brothers who hired a man to run them in the Blue Mountains.

Lacy was killed at Fort Lewis. He had cattle on the Mancos, Thompson’s Park and through the San Juan generally. When he was killed, Lacy was waiting at Fort Lewis to see about some cattle which he had lost. Lacy thought they had been sold to the government. A man who was in with the rustlers who had stolen his cattle saw him and killed him. That is the supposition of mine.

Once Ben Quick and some others and I took a bunch of cattle to Durango that belonged to Pierson Brothers. They wanted us to stay there and hold the cattle for a couple of days for $10 or $15 extra apiece. The cattle were to go on to Cascade. There was nothing wrong about these cattle of Pierson Brothers’ and they had no idea there would be trouble.

The Farmington outfit got it into their heads the cattle had been rustled and shot into the bunch that was holding the cattle. (We had gone back home).

The Eskridges and Ike and Port Stockton and his wife were among those in the scrap. Port Stockton was killed, and his widow stayed right with the fight and had her arm shot off. She was a cousin to the Stockton boys and later on married Mr. Estes and was mother of the Estes boys.

The Stocktons and Eskridges went to Silverton on a robbing expedition and killed the Marshall.

They were then outlaws and pretty well out of the picture.

Ike Stockton had a way of coming up to a person and acting very friendly and then shooting. Everyone was afraid of him.

Sullivan was employed to kill him. Sullivan killed Ike Stockton between Animas City and Durango. Ike probably had a gun but he didn’t get his gun out. It was said that he squealed.

June Head is historian of the Montezuma County Historical Society. She may be contacted at 565-3880 for questions or corrections.