Before Cortez was founded, before Montezuma County was organized, a chapter of settling a portion of Colorado opened one spring morning in 1882 when Oen Edgar Noland rode down the Main Street of the new town of Durango.
Noland, booted and spurred, had a .45 Colt on each hip and an Evans rifle in a scabbard under his leg. Not an uncommon sight. All white men rode armed in those days.
“O.E.,” or Ed as he was familiarly called, was a practical man who later lived in Mancos. The Nolands were pioneers, and each generation pushed onto another frontier. Ed’s frontier was Colorado. But Colorado in 1873 was a might untamed country. Ed came to Colorado Territory from Independence, Missouri, which had been his father’s frontier, and where he was born, September 25, 1852.
Nine years after he arrived in Colorado he faced the greatest problem of his life: getting a start in a vocation which he had chosen for his life’s work. He was a stranger in the new town on the banks of the Rio de Las Animas, Durango – and he was broke and by damn, he wouldn’t work as a wage hand for any man. Never had – except long enough to buy some needed clothing.
And that clothing included $21 for a pair of silk socks! Buying those socks was an appeasement of a boyish desire. Other clothing bought was denim overalls, jacket, long-handled woolens and miner’s boots.
And the job on which he earned the money to pay for the clothes and silk socks was carrying a hod for Jess Hallar Sr., who had a contract the summer of 1873 to make adobe bricks for Otto Mears at Saguache, Colorado. The necessary amount of money earned, Ed continued to work – a half-day.
Ed teamed up with a man by the name of Waters. They arrived in Lake City in winter of 1873-74 when that town consisted of only three log cabins and many tents.
The husky young partners got a contract at one of the mines-to-be; worked there until the following fall. Ed had staked a homestead claim in Slumguillion Gulch, where he built a staunch log cabin and harvested the wild hay on the meadowlands with a scythe. He made his home there during the winter months. Sale of the hay and fees from taking care of supplies and machinery left with him by overladen freight outfits en route across the range to Animas Forks and other San Juan Basin camps brought him a nice income.
In the spring of 1875, Ed became a freighter into the San Juan. He first arrived at Animas Forks on July 5. There was six inches of ice on the ground. Heavy hailstorm had prevailed all day and the night of the Fourth.
Ed spent the next six years freighting to various far-flung camps. With John Hill, he hauled corn for a nickel a pound from Fort Garland to Farmington, N.M., also across the Continental Divide to Animas City where soldiers were stationed.
In 1882, to continue good health, you did not ask many questions and many old-timers observed the code until they cashed in – in bed, or with their boots on.
When Ed Noland rode into Durango that spring morning of 1892, he knew what he wanted in life – an Indian Trading Post. But he was broke and didn’t have a thin dime!
He dismounted a few yards away from a general merchandise store. He strode forth, stepped into the doorway, and inside the store were Ed and Pete Schifferer, brothers.
Noland cleared his throat. “Good morning, Gentlemen,” he said pleasantly. “I want ten thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise, and I’m broke”.
“What would you do with that amount of goods, stranger?” Ed Schifferer asked, wondering if this man was drunk or touched in the head.
“Noland is the name, Ed Noland. I want to start a trading post on the Rio San Juan, the Four Corners region. Trade with both the Utes and the Navajos.”
“Plainly speaking, Noland,” Pete Schifferer said, “the Utes and Navvies are bad. That region in the Four Corners is Hell’s own backyard. Full of bad men who shun civilization for good personal reasons.”
“I’m going down there to be a trader, not a hired gun buzzard after bounty scalps” Noland declared.
Minutes passed before either of the Schifferer brothers spoke. Then, “We let you have the stock of goods,“ Pete said, “on one condition.”
“Name it!” Ed said without a blink. “I’ll meet it.”
“We take out a life insurance policy on you for $35,000 and keep it in effect until you have paid the goods – if you live that long.”
The policy was written by McFadden, Durango’s first insurance agent. He collected a year’s premium. No more. Within twelve months Noland had paid for his merchandise – and was still alive.
Noland’s store was constructed on the north bank of the San Juan near the Four Corners.
Noland participated in and witnessed many exciting events during the half century he was a Post Trader.
June Head, Historian for Montezuma County Historical Society can be reached at 970 -565-3880.