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John Vernon Weston
Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Harriet Holly
Date of Interview - 2-3-1972
Crisp Comments by Lucille
The son of British immigrants, John Vernon Weston comes by his love of horseflesh honestly. Now at the age of 83, Weston, semi-retired Turkey Ridge rancher, looks back over a lifetime spent in Huerfano County and says, “As a small boy I wanted to be a jockey.” Why, I must have been about 14 when I rode my mare, Pansy, and won a race.
“I remember it was on the 4th of July, and I beat my Dad's entry, Cotton Tail, and even Jeff Farr's top horse. And it was Farr who gave me the money for the entry fee!”
Reminiscing, Weston speaks longingly of the country's annual celebrations which featured rodeos, parades, horse races, and dances. And whenever one was being held, Johnny was on the committee helping to stage it.
“First we'd have just observances, and they were usually on the 4th. They were held just north of town near the Hog Back. We had a little arena there. Sometimes they'd be in Gardner.”
“I remember, too, we'd just have Gallo Days. That was a version of an Old Mexico sport always celebrated on the July 25. Why, I don't know. Anyway, it was sort of a horse race. A rooster, or gallo, would be buried up to his neck in sand. A man on horseback would ride by at a gallop, and that rooster would duck his head. The first man to yank the rooster out of the sand won the race!”
“It took a skilled rider to win, and not get spilled. One time my stepson, Clifford Wells, won it and the other contenders got mad and jumped him. I stepped in to help him and a deputy sheriff slugged me. Claud Swift was sheriff at the time and he asked me to forget the whole deal. Said he'd fired his deputy.”
Among the county's celebrations were the annual Black Diamond Jubilee and its successor, the Spanish Peaks Fiesta. As usual Johnny was in the midst of the planning and helped run the “shebang.”
In his youth Johnny was known as one of the best bronc riders in the area. He rode broncs when a chute wasn't even used. A horse would simply be caught and held on a prairie. Johnny won his first money at Del Norte.
The fifth of seven children born to John J. and Fannie Gail Weston. Johnny arrived in this world at Walsen Camp August 17, 1888, and with a handicap. He had St. Vitus dance, and didn't whip the malady until he was 25.
His Dad and mother came from Liverpool, England in about 1886, and Weston Sr. went to work in the coal mines, later buying a farm at the foot of Mosca Pass. He pursued both occupations, coal mining and farming.
Johnny remembers his first teacher at Sharpsdale, near the Pass, a Miss McIntire. He had to walk over two miles to school and back. He later attended schools at Pictou and Maitland.
It was while the family was living at Pictou that Johnny saw his first live, “sure-enough” Indians. They were camped out at the spring and his Dad traded for a little black mare. One of the Indian boys stole it during the night, but the chief made him “own up to it and fetch it” when Weston Sr. went back to the camp.
While he was still a young sprout, Johnny says two famous outlaws came to this county. One was “Peg Leg” and the other Bob Ford. The pair once was found by the law” at the Fruith and Autrey, a ranch just north of the present city limits.
“Folks used to raise lots of spuds in Gardner when we lived on the farm. It took two days to make the round trip. One of these I delivered to was Maurice Cowing, you know, the father of the late Maurice Cowing Sr., the banker. He had a general store.”
“Sheriff Jeff Farr used to let me sleep in the jail during my trip. Then I'd load up with staples--flour, sugar, and stuff for the return haul. I remember well the merchant at Gardner. Not his name, mind you, but the man. He was blind. I can see him yet counting his money by feeling around the coins and telling what they were just by the size.”
After growing up, Weston worked for J. T. Hudson, a stockman, on the Lower Huerfano. One of his jobs was to help catch the wild horses in the herd and break them--just enough to where they'd sell to the U.S. Army cavalry.
“Remember Judge Walter Hammond?” asked Weston, “Well, don't know whether you know it or not but he used to run sheep at Bradford Lake, and I worked for him, too. Me, and his son-in-law. Myers, and Dick Rogers. Rogers was Earl Rogers' father.”
“I'd gone into business for myself and was one of Hammond's neighbors. My place was west of his at Williams Lake. I'd borrowed the money from Jimmy Dick at the bank and went into the cattle business. Cow and calf pairs were $25 then. That was in 1922.”
Hammond sold his sheep to Clyde Pritchard and Howard Kountz. I then went into the sheep business myself in partnership with Bill Wells. He died in 1928. In 1936 I married his widow, Ellen. She had two sons, Clifford and Mark.
“I forgot to tell you about the first paying job I ever had. It was after I hauled potatoes. I went to work for Bob Wilson at Redwing punching cattle. He paid me 50 cents a day and board.”
“Wilson was a big cowman. I think Alton Tirey's mother is a Wilson. Anyway, we used to have these big roundups at the foot of Mosca Pass. The country was mostly open range then, and one of the wagons would be from the San Luis Valley, and another was the JM's--that brand belonged to the Myers.”
“Another job I had in the early days was with Ed Lewis. I stayed at his cow camp. It was located where Malcolm Major now lives in Butte Valley.”
Weston's memories then went back to 50 years ago when he was about 33. He recalled when he and his brother, Bill, helped build the Farmers Union Dam out of Creede on the Rio Grande.
“We had six teams and four wagons, and we hauled supplies to the reservoir. We were paid so much a hundred for the freight, and I got $100 per month as stable boss. There must have been a 100 men working on that dam--mostly Greeks.”
“You know that reservoir is still there. I was up there about a year ago.”
In 1953 Weston was 64. It was in that year he was named the Oldest Active Cowboy in Southern Colorado. He was nominated by the Walsenburg Saddle Club of which he was a member and vice president. There were 40 saddle clubs represented and he was honored at the Pueblo Saddle Club's Cowboy Ball.
Weston is also a World War I veteran. He served in the infantry. “Never did see no active fighting,” he commented, “got there a short time before the armistice was signed. My division was to have been a replacement. We had to stay a year after the war was over guarding Germans. I remember we landed at Bordeaux, France, and then were loaded into freight cars and taken into Germany at night.”
Weston uses a cane now. His left leg was broken in 1960 and eight years later, his arm. However, he still keeps a keen interest in the ranching business and helps his wife feed their cattle in a pickup.
Johnny and Ellen have a valuable collection of pictures. Many of them are of the Spanish Peaks Fiesta when Weston served on the assocation. Past queens and their attendants, parade entries, and children caught in action during the catch-it-and-keep-it calf contests are among their souvenirs.
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