We tend to forget what a harsh winter would have meant to the early Mancos settlers. Somehow they were able to freight in enough supplies and shared with one another. Then when things looked okay with the railroad having been in Durango for a few years, there was so much snow that the railroad between Durango and the San Luis Valley was too snow bound to make it over Cumbres Pass. It was the winter of 1883-84 and there was no way to even make it to Durango for the people in the Mancos Valley.
A few men got together and decided they would go down Webber Canyon with pack horses and up over the mountain when they reached East Canyon. From there they would make it across Red Mesa to the Army fort at Fort Lewis. It was a good decision but when they arrived they found the commissary at the fort was also low on food. They were able to procure only a few things.
The winter became long and miserable but no one died. To stave off starvation they stripped Mormon tea bushes, gathered watercress from the few available springs and ate fresh meat. They must have been able to come up with a few other things to keep from getting scurvy.
Earlier in the valley fear became the emotion. It was the spring of 1881. Some miles off to the west of Dolores the Indians had gone on a rampage. Horses were stolen, homes burned and a number of people were killed. Signal lights were burned atop some of the Menefee Mountains adding to the fear-filled emotions. Families came from throughout the valley and parked their wagons outside of the fort. Word had been sent to Fort Lewis and fear turned to excitement as a company of cavalry with six wagons moved through the valley headed to quell the uprising. It was during that uprising that David Willis was killed. This was the only time the fort was ever used and people pretty much stayed with their wagons and never actually holed up in the fort.
Tragedies continued to happen and in 1882 George Frink was killed in a quarrel that got out of hand. His brother, Charley, was one of the early cowboys that settled in the valley. Charley had three boys and a girl after marrying Mary Rash in 1882. But Charley also met death early on because of a wagon accident. He was 39 when he died in 1894.
By 1885 six of the early settlers had died. They were John McIntyre who died in March of 1881, Dick Giles, David Willis, killed by Indians, Mrs. Ratliff, wife of James Ratliff, one of the early cowboys who settled in the valley, George Frink, who died as the result of a quarrel gone wrong and Minnie Weston Reid, the sister in law of George Manson Reid who died at the age of 24 from a concussion during a fight over a few bottles of beer in 1914.