Part 2Editor’s note: This column about the life of Elbert “Al” Nunn is based on an interview by Anna Florence Robison in March 1934. Part 1 was published in April, and Part 3 will publish on June 7.I went into Oklahoma and worked there. I met a man named Russ Bean on the Rio Grande. Bean Canyon up the Dolores is named for him.
The governor of the territory had ordered Bean out of the country because of his fight with Sam Paull, who was part-Irish and part-Indian. Bean had leased land from Paull and used to put 1,600 acres in corn every year to sell to the government. There was no collection law in the territory, and Russ Bean had a lot of money owed to him. He told me who owed him and how much each owed. He asked me what I would do to get this money.
“I’d get it with a shotgun,” I told him. That was the only way under the circumstances.
“By God, you’re the very man I want,” he told me.
I went to Wyley Johnson, who owed $600. He had lots of cattle, and a man I knew named Berry wanted to buy cattle. I went to Berry and told him to meet me at Johnson’s next morning before sunup and I’d sell him some cattle. They were both there but couldn’t decide upon the terms. So I told him I’d sell him some of those cattle at so much, and Johnson would give him a bill of sale for them. I already had the bill of sale made out without the date and the number of cattle filled in. I figured how many cattle it would take at the price Berry was to pay to come to $600 and filled in the number and the date. When the transaction was finished, I owed Johnson $8, and he dunned me for it. I told him I charged that for making the sale for him. I finished the rest of the transaction.
Mr. Bean’s family had already left, and when I finished up the business, I left too. We went to the San Luis Valley in ’75. The Bean family moved to a place called Cat Creek, where Bean bought cattle. I was in a sawmill outfit at the foot of the Spanish Peaks. The Beans and I came to Silverton the spring of ’76. Before that, in ’75, I freighted with ox teams from the little town at the foot of Spanish Peaks to Lake City. There was a load of bottled beer packed in barrels in straw. The load turned over and rolled down into a gulch. My helper and I gathered it up and repacked the barrels. The man I was hauling for was a big chap I had known at Fort Riley. I told him about the overturn and breakage of six bottles containing beer. “Oh, that’s all right” he said. “I allowed you that much to drink out of each barrel.”
I had to go over on Tomachi Creek to get a load of coal to Lake City. I had to cross a big, high bridge recently built and with a loose pole floor. The poles moved, and the oxen were very much afraid to cross on it for that reason. We had a time getting across. I remember another fellow who was with the outfit trying to get his team of cattle across. He was standing up on the bridge praying:
“O, Lord Jesus Christ, if you’ll help me to cross this God-damned bridge with this outfit, I’ll never ask you to help me again.”
He finally got across all right too.
In the Silverton country in ’78, I hauled lumber from a sawmill owned by a man named Sharks. The Bean family moved onto the Dolores River and built a house a mile-and-a-half up the river later known as the Ras Thompson house. Bean ran cattle up on the Mesa, and they watered at a canyon known as Bean Canyon. Later, when his son Jasper was leaving home, the old man gave him some money and stock.
“Here are $500 and two horses,” he told Jasper. “You can make something of it or nothing.”
“You don’t talk right to that boy,” commented old man Denby, who was listening.
“Mr. Denby, this is a family affair,” responded Mr. Bean.
“I can whip you,” said Mr. Denby.
“If you can, don’t do it,” answered Bean.
Denby knocked Bean down, and Jasper shot him in the temple. As he fell, Mr. Bean shot him in the top of the head. Denby is buried on a hillside above the Bean place. That happened perhaps in 1880.
Jesse Love and I went from Silverton up Cunningham Gulch and into Antelope Park. It took 12 yoke of cattle to pull a wagon up there with a little stuff in it. The snow was so deep it was over the oxen’s backs. We freighted between several points and Alamosa.
At Los Pinos, I ran cattle for Granddad Johnson. Alfred Dunham and I turned in beef every Monday morning at the agency. There had to be so many head every week. We also rode after cattle and branded calves. My first wife was Granddad Johnson’s daughter Nettie. Granddad didn’t like for his children to marry. Nettie and I were planning to have a double wedding with Ollie Nash and Jim Lavender. A man drove up to Johnson’s and told Granddad I was going to take his daughter away. So when I came, Granddad met me with a shotgun and said. “Hold on there! Hold on!”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Enough the matter,” he answered. “I want you to turn around and drive away from here.”
“This is a post office here, a government place,” I replied.
“Mr. Rohre,” he said to the clerk, “see if Al’s got any mail.”
“Mr. Nunn, I don’t believe you have any mail here,” Rohre replied.
“It’s not mail I’m after, it’s a female,” I answered him.
I was facing Granddad Johnson and didn’t have much space to turn around and get away. Just as I got close to Johnson in making the turn of my rig, a tug came loose, and I had to get out in front of him and hook it up. About then Nettie came out of the house and climbed into the spring wagon beside me. She was of age, and her father couldn’t rightfully stop her from marrying me if she chose. We drove away to the wedding. That was Feb. 18, 1880. But Granddad was sore at us all summer over it.
We rented a place on Pine River from an old cripple named York. Of course, we had to trade at Granddad’s store and get mail at his post office all summer, no matter how angry he was with us. I always took money enough to pay cash for everything I had to buy from him, even if I had to borrow it from someone else in order to do it. I don’t know when he would have made up with us had not the affair of his stolen racehorses come up.
Five men stole Granddad’s racehorses – Bluebird; Selim; Daylight, a trotting mare; another thoroughbred; and an old saddle horse. They stole them out of the pasture at Pine River. Just after that, he rode up to me and said in a friendly way for the first time since the wedding: “They stole my horses last night, and I want you to go with me to help me get ’em.”
“I’ll have to have somebody to stay with Net while I’m gone,” I told him.
“I’ll send Hattie down,” he promised. (Hattie was another of his daughters, now Mrs. Howard Porter of Dolores.)
So Granddad, his son Sam, Chick Porter and I went after the horses. When we got to Farmington, New Mexico, Port Stockton was there. He and four or five others joined us. Before we got to where the horse thieves were, we had to zigzag up a hill. Port Stockton and I were leading our horses and going on ahead. George Cox came up to me and said: “You want to watch that gentleman,” he warned me, indicating Port. “If you come across those fellows, he’s as liable as not to kill you and join them.”
As we were coming toward the hilltop where we would get our horses again, Port said to me, “Is your gun loaded, Al?”
“Give it to me and I’ll take the load out,” he suggested.
“I don’t hunt men with empty guns,” I told him. “I might not have time to reload.”
June Head, historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for comments or corrections.