Editor’s note: The following is based on a Anna Florence Robison interview of Alice Henderson Akin on March 13, 1934.I was born at Millville, Rust County, Texas, Sept. 25, 1855. My early childhood was passed at Riley Springs, Texas. After the death of both of my parents, I went at the age of 11 years to live with my aunt at Cleburne.
I married James P. Akin from Hot Springs, Arkansas, on July 2, 1874. After our marriage, Mr. Akin and I made our home at Cleburne, where he was marshal a part of the time. We had neither of us any near relatives in Texas.
Mr. Akin’s mother and his married sister, Mrs. William Brumley, were already living on a ranch near Big Bend. They kept writing for us to come to them. They said we could do fully as well in Colorado as in Texas and that the winter weather was marvelous.
This was the winter of 1883-84, known since as the “Winter of the Big Snow.” That year, there was a very mild, open winter until some date in February when it began to snow. Some say it snowed for 40 days without really clearing off. Others say 48. I do not suppose anyone knows exactly.
Mr. Akin’s relatives wrote before it began to snow so much. My husband and I and our four little children – Ed, aged 8 or 9; Tom, 6 or 7, Eula; and the baby Henrietta – started for Colorado late in March. It had probably been snowing here for six or more weeks then.
We were snowbound for a week or more three miles the other side of the section house on Cumbres Pass. There were quite a number on the train, and the only food with us was a few sacks of dried beans and some Limburger cheese.
During the time we were snowbound in the train, they brought food to us from the section house three miles away on snowshoes. I was not well, but somehow I didn’t mind it as I would have supposed. I wasn’t sorry I came, and I didn’t want to go back. There was one other woman on the train besides me, and everyone was kind and helpful.
The head man at Cumbres, a Mr. Leyden I believe his name was, had a sled made to bring me and the children to the section house, where we could be more comfortable.
I had a heavy and long winter coat, which I had recently bought for my journey into Colorado. It was not suitable for plodding through such snow as there was on the pass. The character of the trail was such that I could not ride far, and then Mr. Leyden put his own coat on me and wrapped my feet well in gunny sacks. He took my arm and helped me to walk that snow trail.
Before he left the snowbound train, the man got out our baggage and let me open my trunks and get out bedding. We even took my feather bed along to the section house.
As we went along the trail, Mr. Leydon would point out to me stove pipes sticking out of the snow. That was all you could see of the houses. They had cut stair steps in the snow for us to go down into the section house from the trail. The snow was that deep.
They made us very comfortable in the section house, where we stayed another week before we could go on to Durango. There was about 100 men at work cleaning snow off the tracks.
It was too high for me on the Cumbres, and I had to sit up much of the time in order to breathe. The brakeman made liniment for my husband to rub on my chest, and it helped much.
When we got to Durango, my husband decided to go on over to Brumley’s on the Dolores River on snowshoes. It was nearly April. I remained with the children at a house in Durango where Miss Lizzie Allen and her sister were staying at the time. We had come to Durango on a freight train, and we stayed in the outskirts of town, so I took little notice of the place.
When the roads became good – perhaps it was the first of May, or anyway late April, W.H. Brumley, my husband’s brother-in-law, came for the children and me and our things in a wagon. The water was very high everywhere on account of so much snow. The mountain roads with the deep ruts and the steep slopes on the outside edges frightened me.
And when we came in sight of the greatly swollen Dolores at the Billy May ranch above Big Bend, the water formed a huge lake, and it seemed that I had reached the “jumping off place” indeed. We crossed the Dolores below the Morton place and stayed the first night with the Mortons at Big Bend.
We lived in a log cabin near W.H. Brumley’s house across the river from Big Bend for several years. Mr. Akin worked with his brother-in-law’s cattle. We did not get lonely, for Mr. Akin’s mother was there with his sister, and Jim and John Brumley lived there too. There were enough of us that we did not need to be especially afraid of the Indians.
The children went to school in Big Bend in the summers. The first two or three schools were held in a dugout. Then they built a log school building, which was standing until a few years ago. My oldest boy, Ed, used to row Bill and John Brumley’s children, Tom, Eula and himself across the Dolores in a skiff to attend school. I used to be uneasy about them, for the Dolores was so swift there.
At Big Bend, we had plenty of vegetables and beef to eat because we could raise them ourselves. But all other groceries and supplies we had to get from Mancos or Durango by wagon or pack horses. But we all managed to be quite comfortable nevertheless. We used to get vegetables from the German settlement.
Jim Trimble, the Moores, Mortons, Grandma and Grandpa Johnson and Mr. Ordway were among our good neighbors in those days. A Miss Benson, who taught school at Big Bend, also started a Sunday school there.
We had dances around at private places, which were greatly enjoyed by all. They used to have the finest suppers at Nunn’s place down the river. About midnight, everyone would gather around the “big table,” and it remained set all night so that anyone who was hungry could go and get more to eat. And some guests stayed until morning. Another diversion was horse races.
We lived across from Big Bend until the railroad came and the town was moved to its present site. Paul Akin, my son, was the first baby born in present Dolores. We lived for a while in Dolores, then moved to the Burch place, 10 miles above town. Later, we bought a place of our own where we lived until our return to Dolores 19 years ago.
June Head, Historian of Montezuma County Historical Society, can be reached for questions or comments at 970-565-3880.