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Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Patricia Mata
Date of Interview - 11-8-1979
Interviewed by Elaine Baker
EB: This is November the eighth and Rosalyn McCain and I are at the home of Amelia Sporleder. I would like to ask a question. What's your feeling about what it was like, what feeling you have gotten over the years when the German settlers came in, what their life was like, what kind of life they brought with them, what kind of culture they maintained, and what they gave to their children, what the culture of the town was as a result?
AS: Well, I think for that you have the people that came here after the Civil War. They had to leave and they came here and took up farming and ranching before all these other things started. Those early settlers were all ranchers and it was a purely country life. Then the town started. Of course, when I came along Walsenburg was a fairly well established little city. As I said before it was a melting pot. The mines brought in so many different nationalities and so many kinds of people. The early families coming into the area after the Civil War farmers from the South that came and relocated. The Anglo Germans that came in were traders.
EB: Were there differences in the social community or was it just one community? When the ranchers and the early traders were here, did they get along in one community?
AS: I think so. As far as I know of. Course all of our family were in town here. I think it was a cousin to my grandfather that had the hotel. Our life centered around that.
EB: Which hotel was that?
AS: Well, it was down on the South Main. It was the old Sporleder Hotel. It was long before I can remember.
EB: When you talk about your family, are you talking especially about your Sporleder family?
AS: Yes, because all of the Joneses were gone by then so it was the Sporleder family.
EB: Would you tell us your impression of what your family was like and how they related to the West. I have always been fascinated by the stories of a very cultured, refined, sophisticated people found that culture in the context of the west.
AS: Well, both my grandfather and mother were musical. And so this was their entertainment. All of the children played or sang or did something. And they had a little orchestra. My grandfather played the violin and they had other townspeople. They had orchestra practice every Saturday night or Sunday over the weekend. They played for dances and did that sort of thing. So they brought their culture with them and kept it up.
RM: What kind of training did they give their children other than musical? Was there anything in their education that was different than say the kids down the street?
AS: No, they just went to school. Of course my grandmother could only speak German when she came. My grandfather was born in St. Louis, but he did go to a private school and learn German, so that he could speak and he could communicate with my grandmother.
When the older children were little, my aunt said that they only spoke German and when she went to school she couldn't understand what was being said. She was so embarrassed, that I guess she went home and cried. So they started to speak English. I don't know how my grandmother learned English like that, but she did. They stopped speaking German and they never did talk German again. Except as a little child I can remember when we stayed with my grandparents, my grandfather always got up in the morning and went down and built the fires and fixed a glass of lemon juice for my grandmother and brought it up to her, hot lemon juice. They talked German then and I guess they discussed their plans for the day and whatever they were going to do. They had this conversation in German in the morning and then that was it. They never spoke German any more the rest of the day.
EB About that year was that, that the family left Germany and what were the circumstances?
AS: That I don't know' because that's a long time ago.
EB: When did he first cane into Colorado Territory? We are talking about Louis Spor1eder, Sr. Right?
AS: My grandfather Jones cane in '72. He was here a year before, so I think it was 1873.
EB: Do you have any idea why? As he heard something... the adventures of the West or something, so he came by wagon train. I think it was.
EB: And dropped out of the wagon train.
AS: Why he picked this places I really don't know. That's why I wish we could have the manuscripts, because it would tell all of these things we'd like to know.
EB: Did the descendents of the German settlers, these very strong early settlers, stay together?
AS: As far as I know, there weren't that many of them, you know. The Unfugs came and that's' about all that I know.
EB: When you read about it, it seems like there was a little German community, because of who married who and then Levi...
AS: Well, Lily Levy was a Sporleder. She and my grandfather were cousins.
EB: It's so easy, reading about the past, to get one impression of the way things were. As I say, it seems like there was a little German community...
AS: Yeah. But, you know, when I was growing up, there weren't that many. They were a very close knit family. There were lots of Unfugs here then. They had really great times together. I don't know how many cousins there were but they used to go on picnics. I think there were 5 brothers in Walsenburg and then our family…… and they all had 5 children except one, who only had 2. But you see, that made alot of children, like 27, or something like that. So when they went out on outings, and of course when they were married they took their wives along, they had really big family gatherings. I can remember him talking about cooking corn on the cob in a washtub. That's a lot of corn. And they really had a lot of fun together.
EB: Your grandfather was very interested in the Indians. Did he ever talk to you about those stories, and tell stories, or was it all research that he did for himself?
AS: He didn't talk very much about his early life. He talked more of the present and the future. What was gone was gone.
EB: What was his attitude about the future? How did he see his country?
AS: He was amazing, as I say. He had alot of foresight. You know, he did alot of thinking. He had alot of books and some of them are fairy tales. As a little kid I'd say. “Do you believe in fairies? Do you think there are really fairies?” And he said, “Well, you know, you can hear things and you can't see them, like this radio. You know sound comes through the air. You don't know where it comes from. And so how can you say there's not fairies, just because you can't see them?” And that sort of thing. He was right up with the times, I think, most of the time.
EB: How do you see La Veta as different from Walsenburg, as a community, and how it has developed as it is?
AS: Well. I think because this is more of an agriculture community than it is a business, that's about the only thing. I really don't think there's too much difference, except it mainly agricultural and that does make a little difference.
EB: Do you think that the fact that the community developed from Southerners is still present, that the influence is still present here?
AS: I don't think so. I think they all developed their own things around here. We developed and made our own type of culture.
EB: I wonder sometime. It is so hard to see what people bring with them.
AS: That's right. But no, I don't think La Veta is too much different, except it's a nice, cozy little town. Of course there has been some kind of feeling between Walsenburg and La Veta for a long tune. I never could understand that. I still don't know why there should be any kind of feeling between two communities like that whether it is jealousy or what. I don't know why there should be. And of course, both of them are home to me. I have spent just as much time in one as I have the other. So I have no feeling about either one of them as being one thing or another. I think the people in both places are great.
RM: Do you think the difference is size makes a difference?
AS: No, I don't think it is anything to do with that at all. Really, I don't understand that at all. Maybe you haven't heard any thing or you haven't felt it. Has any body said anything about…….
EB: I think it is stronger there than it is here.
AS: That's right, but now why?
EB: I thought maybe it's because this is more of a closed group. There are more families that came and stayed, and until recently, not many people have moved in. But that's just pure conjecture; I don't know if that's really true or not. And I also had a feeling that if the early settlers were dominated by Southerners, then the suspicion that Southerners have of Northerners, even in the West, might have something to do with it.
AS: That sort of thing is so many long years ago that it has absolutely no bearing on the present. If it's there that's sad.
EB: I don't know. I think in some ways it is more the perpetuation of a myth than a reality.
AS: I think so.
RM: I have heard some comments from people in La Veta of feeling that there was a larger Spanish population in Walsenburg………. certainly not everybody, but here and there. I'd meet somebody that felt that was a big difference and a reason that they'd rather be here than in Walsenburg.
AS: Well, but I am hoping that all of that has gone by the wayside. And I really feel there is less and less of that., especially in the younger generation. I am sure there is not that much feeling of discrimination there. I would hope that before too long that that's a thing of the past. Because certainly though the years there's been so much intermarriage and that sort of thing that you can't say anybody is any particular thing any more. I believe that. There isn't anybody that I can think of in our communities now that aren't a mixture of something. There aren't any of them that can say they are a pure something. Because with the Indians and the Spanish all mixed up and Mexican……… there's no pure blood.
RM: I think that's probably true.
EB: They still say it any way, though.
AS: I know they do. Every time anybody says it I say “No, you are just an American, like anybody else” When they say they are a Chicano or what have you. I think, “No, you're not. You're just an American. We all are”
EB: If there were only a few German families, it is amazing the influence that they exerted in this town. How strong a force they were in business and the development of the town? Do you have any feeling about that?
AS: I don't think they even thought about that. Well, there was one Georgia Colony and those people, but as far as right in town. I guess that they must have brought a new kind of life to the people here, and it looked better to the others. I don't know.
EB: Could it be the addition of commerce and trade?
…………the parents died, so all of the children got here. That's how the Unfugs got here, because the oldest brother came and sent for the others. I think the two girls were the last to come.
EB: When did all the Unfugs leave? There aren't any left.
AS: They just died away. Can't live forever.
EB: Seems like of the twenty-five cousins there aren't any left. There must be some whose names aren't on the list?
AS: Oh, yes. Like Gretchen Summers, she's the only one left in her family. Louise Sporleder is the only one left in her family. Margaret Crump is the only one left in her family.
RM: Who is she?
AS: Peggy Meyer's mother.
RM: Is she in Walsenburg?
AS: No, she lives in Mississippi. But Peggy lives here.
AS: Of course, when they start talking and they say, “You remember the old days?” I remember a lot of things, but I don't go back that far. There have been a few changes in Walsenburg and that sort of thing, but during my lifetime, there haven't been that many really drastic changes. The town looks very much the same except for a few buildings gone and some new ones added. But I do remember when they didn't have pavement. I remember when they got the pavement.
EB: And the war. The war must have had a big effect everywhere. How old were you then?
AS: I was four when it was over so………. First World War?
EB: No, Second World War.
AS: Second World War, yes, course that was ……….your whole life changed during the……. I mean, you didn't have all these things. But I can't say that anybody suffered.
EB: This is a funny town. When other parts of the country were suffering, it didn't seem to affect this as much.
AS: My grandfather always said, small towns notice changes far less than the cities do. And the closing of the mines. It wasn't all that fast. You know one mine is closed and maybe they go on to some other mine and that sort of thing. If they'd all have shut down at one time that would have been a disaster, but they didn't. And another thing, a lot of them worked in the mines in the wintertime and in the summertime farmed. All Bear Creek was a lot of little farms and the miners raised their little crops and got their food all ready for winter. So they did pretty good. They worked part of the time and farmed part of the time, so they managed to make a pretty good living. Now all those little farms are one big one. Gardner did the same thing. All those people had their little farms and ranches and now they are all bought up by a big outfit. It goes back and forth.
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