Editor’s note: This column about the life of Elbert “Al” Nunn is based on an interview by Anna Florence Robison in March 1934. The first three parts were published the first Friday of April, May and June.I belonged to the Cattle Pool for a while. The Pool was an association of cattlemen for the care of their cattle and supposed to be very advantageous. It cost $5 per head to belong and get my calves branded. I couldn’t ride with them, and it cost me too much money to do it their way. I withdrew from the Pool, and the headmen didn’t like that at all. I took to branding mavericks just as the rest were doing. The Pool men rebranded some of my mavericks for the Pool. The Pool’s brand was a cross on the jaw. Frank and George Emericks worked for me, and we went out and crossed the Pool’s brand out on my mavericks and rebranded them again for me.
They had a trial, and I was sent to the penitentiary for seven years for branding mavericks. George Endricks for five years and Frank Endricks for two years – this was in 1892. Sterl Thomas was sheriff then, and he took the three of us to Cañon City. He said to the warden, “Here are three men who have no business in this penitentiary.”
The put me out as a Trustee right away for that reason. They needed a man on the prison farm to mow the orchard.
“Did you ever mow any Al?”
“I’m an expert” I told them.
They sent me out with a scythe to mow tall Timothy between two rows of trees. I mowed a little and quit. A week later, the foreman asked me what I had meant by saying I was an expert at mowing. I told him I had been given seven years to mow that orchard and would be at it yet when my time was up. The foreman laughed. They didn’t take what I said seriously as they had just put me out on the farm to get me out of the prison anyhow.
George Endricks and a prisoner named Brown, an educated man, talked my case over. George Endricks told how badly my family needed me at home, and how I had no business there. Brown composed a letter to send to the Board of Pardons at Denver, and George Endricks offered: “If they let Al Nunn out of the penitentiary and send him home to his family, I’ll serve my own time and Al Nunn’s too!”
The Board later came down and interviewed me. In the meantime, I took care of the team. One day, a messenger came to me and said that Mrs. Dr. Beaber was there to interview me. The warden took me in and introduced me. She asked me about my wife and how many children I had, their ages, and where they were in school. She inquired about my having to move two times a year. She asked me what a maverick was. I told her it was a big calf whose mother had run off with another man. She laughed and told me she’d see what she could do for me at the next meeting.
I was pardoned by the Board, as was George Endricks. The newspapers, in speaking of it, said “a man who offered to serve another man’s term so that he could go home to his family was too much of a man to be locked up.” George Endricks still lives in Denver. Frank Endricks was pardoned later and went to Cripple Creek.
Arthur Waldron was bringing the pardon papers to the penitentiary, and he was late. They had to let us out by six o’clock, and when the paper came, the warden told us not to take time for a bath but to grab our clothes in a hurry and get out.
I came back and sold my cattle and my place at Garrett Ridge to Windy Hall. I lived in Dolores and was marshal there for a number of years. I homesteaded land on the Disappointment, and lived there for 10 years. Then for several years I was back in Dolores.
On Aug. 3, 1925 I married Sophie Durchholtz at the Methodist parsonage at Cortez. Afterward, we went to live at her place at Dove Creek. We were there for two years, spent a winter in Cortez, and then returned to the Disappointment. I spent a year at Los Angeles. On returning, we spent a few months at Dolores and then moved to Cortez, where we have our home.
My first wife and I had six children: Eva, now Mrs. Ed Akin; Ida, now Mrs. Leonard Lavender of Disappointment; Albert Nunn of the Disappointment; Inez, now Mrs. Ross Thomas up the Dolores River; Nellie, now Mrs. George Thomas and Charles, who died at 8 years of age. I have 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. I shall be 89 years of age the 25th of April 1934. I am the only Civil War man that we know about left in the San Juan Basin. I have been in the Soldiers’ Home in California but didn’t like it because it was too military for my taste.
Other information: After the well-documented altercation between cowboys in Southwest Colorado and Southeast Utah and Paiute and Ute Indians took place in 1881, resulting in what has been termed the Pinhook Massacre. R.W. May and Frank Smith went to John Thurman’s cabin at Burnt Cabin Springs and discovered Dick May and John Thurman had been killed by Indians and the horses driven away. Soon after the discovery of the bodies, a roundup of the cattle in the Blue Mountains of Utah began. During this roundup the men (including Al Nunn) were attacked by Indians; one of the attackers were killed. The roundup ceased, and men went to the Big Bend of the Dolores to get volunteers to fight the Indians.
June Head, historian of Montezuma County Historical Society, may be reached for comments or corrections at 565-3880.Elbert “Al” Nunn 1848-1940