NOTICE All data and photos on this website are Copyrighted by Karen Mitchell. Duplication of this data or photos is strictly forbidden without legal written permission by the Copyright holder.
Dr. William Buckles
Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Nancy Godfrey
Date of Interview - 1979
Interviewed by Elaine Baker
EB: What we were mostly interested in was the anthropological background of Huerfano County. Why don't we start with the Indian tribes? What Indians were in that area?
DB: Well, course there are perhaps 25,000 years of Indians in the area. To learn about the tribal Indians, we would have to take the earliest accounts, which would be the Spaniards in the plains. The Indians that they first met would be the Apache who lived in the area. The Navajo perhaps lived there. They are related linguistically, by language, to the Apache. The historic period was a very dynamic period of change for most of these people so that the conditions that they were met in, living in, say, small communities where they raised crops and they also hunted, depended upon migratory hunting, that changed very rapidly. They were living in small villages that were dependent up agriculture to a limited degree, fairly similar to the way the Navajo have done historically. If anyone has ever been down there and seen corn growing in the barro pits of highways and little patches of corn here and there, that was probably the pattern they used. And small villages. They also practiced hunting and gathering, to a major extent, because it's an area that you gamble in, and it's still a gambling area.
The Indians in the area were subjected to the pressures of the historic populations that were intruding upon the area and became pawns to it, in a sense. The French were coming from the North, the English from the East, the Spaniards from the South. They played different groups off against each other. One of the reasons for going into the plains was that they were monitoring what the others were doing. This affected the Indians because some were armed by groups, some were stimulated by groups. The French perhaps stimulated Indians against the Spaniards and vice versa.
Anyway, what happened was a change. One of the major changes was from the Apaches being pushed to the South by the Comanches who came from the North. The Comanches had acquired major uses of the horse and become extremely dynamic, had gone up as far as Canada from perhaps an historic origin area of Northern Utah, Western Wyoming. And got the horse, came in contact with the English up there, were stimulated perhaps by bullets in some of the Comanches from the guns which were coming from the French and the English and rapidly spread down into the South. And by about 1750 had become a major problem for the Spaniards, because they had pushed some of the Apaches further to the South to Huerfano County, and had been raiding on Spanish territories. This was one of the reasons why the Spaniards, the date is the late 1700s, attempted to colonize the Comanches here near Pueblo. They wanted to make farmers out of them. And this was under Gov. De Anza. It was a failure because the Comanche were not farmers in the first place. They gloried in the nomadic, raiding way of life. Moreover, they had religious beliefs, fear of the dead, and usually vacated an area when someone died. That's what happened there. Someone died and they vacated and left.
Following that period the Comanches became one of the dominant groups in the plains, making this general area their home, with raids far to the South, even into Mexico. They in turn were pushed by other Indians, though, that were moving down into the area. The Cheyennes, the Arapahoes, and by say the time that the fur trappers were getting out here, you find a very mixed situation. The fur traders would run into the Comanches, they would run into the Arapahoes, the Cheyennes, oh, in the 1820s even the Crow Indians were down in here. But by the time that reservations were established, the Indians that dominated most in this general area, this became a part of their reservation, would be the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe. The Utes were always here. I don't mean always, but in the historic period they migrated back and forth through the mountains and into the plains, capitalizing on the buffalo migration routes, with the mountains as a sort of stronghold. They were never removed from the mountains. Other Indians raided them in the mountains, and they were always near this area. How far back in pre-history these historic Indians go? The only ones that could definitely be identified with the area, prehistorically, would be perhaps some of the plains Indians who weren't here by the historic period at all. They would be the relatives of some of the historic plains farmers who had moved further to the East. In pre-history, this area had been a marginal area, but there had been times when there had been agricultural villages out here. Not large villages and not significant in terms of development of high culture, but seasonal villages. And from about the time of Christ on to maybe the 1350s, 1400s, there were populations of these people out here. But all of the other Indians, theoretically, they were living somewhere else. It is difficult to account for those who was definitely here in pre-history, in terms of definite tribes.
They types of life, though, we do know about. The area is marginal, just as it is today, droughts are common. Rain falls by chance. You could have good rainfall one year in one spot and ten miles away, poop rainfall. Most of the population is adapted to a large area. Historically the farmers have. The Indians in the past probably did the same thing, adapting the uses of the mountains to the foothills, to the plains, and not putting all their adaptations into a very strict, narrow area, but into broad areas, so that there were insurance policies to fall back on. And that's probably been the story, at least until we get way back into the past when environmentally it was much different than it is today. That would be, say, prior to 10,000 years ago, when it was cooler and it had more rainfall, perhaps supported a lusher type of plains environment, with more trees, particularly with trees that were at higher elevations. We have established that by pollen studies of the distributions of different types of species, different species of trees. At any rate, what the relationship has been, then, was to a completely different lifestyle. Agriculture wasn't around in the New World. The major lifestyle was adapted to environments much different than they are today. Different fauna. The species of that time represent what is called Pleistocene species, larger species of buffalo, mammoth, mastodon, camels, horses, not the horses we know historically. The early horses had become extinct entirely. The modern horses are from the Spanish. And then different plant communities as well. They probably had mixed economies, always, because humans are omnivorous. Biologically we are adapted to eat a great variety of things and we are what we were, and we were at that time as well. But that is a nutshell is a history of the Indians in the area.
EB: Can you say something about the first intersection between the Spanish and the Indians? We have certain people talk about the friendly tribes and the unfriendly tribes, what the Utes taught their grandparents, the communities in the Spanish Peaks and the communities in Greenhorn being combinations of . . . living side by side, Spanish and Indians at different times. Can you characterize the first contacts between these two cultures?
DB: Well, the first contacts were of a dominant society attempting to make another group . . . generalizing about all Indians . . . . This is going way back in the Spanish entradas into the plains, where, say like Coronado and others who dominated the Indians or attempted to dominate the Indians, but they always retreated to New Mexico. In New Mexico the conditions were so bad that it broke out into the Pueblo revolt. Despite these negative things I've talked about, during the time of the Pueblo revolt some of the Pueblo Indians even took refuge with some of the Indians out here. We have occupations, what we call refugee Puebloans. They are actually small Pueblo villages. The Spaniards attempted to make these people return and these in the late 1600s and very early 1700s were the consequence of some of the more prolonged Spanish visits to the area. And we get a lot of details about it. And it is rather interesting because some of the Indians were learning some of the tricks of the Spanish. The Apache, for example, had made some of the Pueblo Indians subservient to them. They, the Puebloans, some of them looked upon the Spaniards as their deliverance from a system that became as bad as it was in New Mexico. The Spaniard's relationships to the Indians were usually much different from those of the French or of the English, and even of the Americans. The Spaniards adapted to the area by taking over a large number of things from the Indians who lived had lived here. In other words, making that part of their culture, even though they dominated them and even though they forced them into being Christians. They were either humans and Christians or non-Christian non-humans. Still, their attitude towards the Indians was much more benevolent. They didn't take over land by wiping out the population. That could be said of the French and the English, that they took over areas that they made destitute of the original occupants. They either pushed them out or wiped them out and took it over and made it into an all-European colony. That is not true of the Spaniards at all and it has resulted in a great deal of intermarriage, with Spaniards and with the Indians and a great deal of mixture, not only genetically a mixture but also of cultural practices. So that it had its effect upon religion and upon a number of other things, technology, the manufacture of things. It has resulted in a more dynamic culture in many ways, certainly better adapted and adjusted to the environment than that which was brought by the English and by the French. The one brought by the English and by the French was one where they dominated, as I said. By the time it gets down to this area here, this was the fringe of what the English and French and Americans saw as the civilized world. And it was a very rough borderland. The people who did live here were of all types, but it was beyond the law. The earliest contacts, like in the fur trade, far beyond the law. They made their own laws. The relationship to the Indians was one of using them as a resource in trade, in taking the beaver from their country, marrying Indian women, but they didn't, with some exceptions, the didn't establish the blending of culture that occurred with the Spaniards. The fur trappers settled down, though, in communities, usually with the Spanish and Indian wives, but not in communities with the Indians, with some exceptions. So that would be like with some of the Bent children and with the Cheyennes. But it wasn't a dynamic blend. It did have fruition later because the adaptations that were being made were more to the Spanish pattern, the fur traders adapting to a Spanish pattern of having, say, digging irrigation ditches, similar to those in New Mexico, using Taos, the Espaņola valley, Santa Fe and so on as models, and establishing small farms here, like Hardscrabble and Pueblo and the Greenhorn community, by the Spanish pattern again, having a clustering of people sharing work such as digging ditches and tilling fields and other type activities like this. And it was in harmony with the environment, to a much greater degree than would have been the patterns of the English and Americans from the Eastern United States. So that, to answer your question, the relationships of the Indians and Spaniards were quite good by comparison with those of the Anglos. And it has resulted in a dynamic blend. There is, in particularly in Southern Colorado and New Mexico, there is a population that exhibits a number of the strengths of the different origins.
EB: You talked about cooperative community patterns based on those of New Mexico. We find a lot of that in our transcripts. Can you describe a basic pattern? You've just mentioned digging ditches together. What were other aspects?
DB: Well, the ditch is a good symbol of this because water was owned communally. And there was land that was owned communally. The settlement pattern is one that . . . the ditch would be the focal point, and it was done by the community and each family owned equal access to the water. The water was then distributed onto strips of land . . . this is a New Mexico pattern now . . . that was the ideal. It was used in differing degrees her in Colorado, but the ideal was that the water was distributed onto equal pieces of land. They were measured to be100 barres apiece. That's a little less than a yard, those were wide. And there would be long, narrow strips, so that each person and each family would have equal water and the would have roughly equal irrigatable land and then they would also have, in these long, narrow strips, other types of land. They would have grazing lands that couldn't be irrigated. They would have wooded lands, so that for every family you would have necessities. You would have the fuel and the wood for construction of houses. You would have the grazing lands. You would have the irrigated lands for the farm crops and the water that is the source of all.
Okay. Now the pattern that the Anglos brought, the Americans brought out to this area, was that of the rectangular homestead, on the other hand. It doesn't fit the area. You plop down a 160-acre piece of land that is one square, out of one section, out of one township, and it may have only one resource, dry land. No water, no nothing. The Hispanic pattern is much better adapted to this and it has taken us a long, long time to adapt our own uses of the land so that now through public sources, say the federal dam building, diversions of water, and things like this, forest land, we share those things. But it through common ownership, maybe not always equal access . . . but the Hispanic pattern did have equal access.
EB: So the ditch system in Southern Colorado, the ditches were legalized and formalized in Colorado law at some point. What was the pattern, what was the time period and the pattern in which the people applied for ditch rights? And how did the system get distorted?
DB: Okay. The system was first come, first served. And it was based upon taking water from a source, a river, not owning the land necessarily on the river itself. The pattern really comes from mining. It comes from the California mine. The Placer mine and the gold rush of 1849 depended upon water to separate the gold. And the gold often was a distance away from the water. And so you established your right to the water by building a ditch and distributing the water to your dry side. But you got the right to the water. Okay. Colorado had a similar sort of thing happening. It had a blending of the Hispanic pattern of community ditches, and a blending of the mining laws. But the primary thing on it, in terms of who owned, was who came first. Who established the first use of water? It is called priority law, in Colorado. Colorado is interesting because these laws that were made here were the model for the rest of the Western states. Prior to that time, it had been those who owned the water along the actual stream dominated the land, had the water.
EB: People out our way at the beginning of the Huerfano say that their parents came first because they came over the pass and that they were using the water there and that they had ditches because they were closest to the source they assumed the use of the water. They didn't understand the ditch laws, the irrigation laws and applying for it. For instance, #1 in the Huerfano is way, way down in a much later settlement. The people in Chama who were the original settlers in a certain group have, like a #68, and have no water, essentially, on their land. At some point the ditches were there and at some point the law came through and people applied for it . . . .
DB: Yes. One of the problems is that there were those who recognized the pattern very early and claimed. The important thing was to have claimed water. And a great many were ignorant of the laws and they weren't told of the laws, either. Now the people in, say, San Luis, were informed of the law because they had representatives in the state legislature. At that time it was the territorial legislature. And they were informed of the laws; they knew what the laws were. But there were a great many people around the state who either didn't know what the laws were or didn't conceive at the time that it was necessary to make the claim.
EB: They didn't understand the implications?
DB: Right, they didn't understand the implications. That's not just true of the Hispanic population. I have worked with a great many water rights, and say in the upper Arkansas River Valley the ranchers around Salida and Buena Vista, they have very, very poor water rights, because they failed to claim the water at the time the miners in the mountains were making claims. What happened was that by the time they got to claiming the water, they were late and then they underclaimed. Farmers tend to be conservative. They don't speculate on the potentials of the land past their immediate needs, or say needs to support their families. Most of the early farmers didn't think in terms of tens of thousands of acres. They thought in terms of what was necessary to grow the crops they had. And so they under-appropriated water. They only made claims to what their ditch would hold at that time, and when the need to have larger pieces of land, as the economy increased, they needed more than simply a subsistence crop, they needed a cash crop, the water wasn't there. It has already been claimed by others. Now what happened was that in the 1870s in particular, large corporations claimed tremendous amounts of water in Colorado. The began large ditch systems on the lower Arkansas River Valley, the Platte River Valley, in the San Luis Valley and they claimed far in excess of the amount of water that was really available. So later on you found out that a great many would never exercise the water rights that they had claimed because there wasn't that much water. But what it did was to deny others, later claimers, or those who failed to claim, at a later date, any water. It was already gone. What happened was that they over-appropriated, those corporations did. Many of the corporations were not Colorado corporations, either. Well, they were incorporated in Colorado, but the capital for them came from Great Britain, from the Eastern United States, Wall Street, all sorts of places. Most of the benefits didn't go to the people who lived there. The benefits, say the water that was claimed and diverted into large irrigation ditches, and then farms in Eastern Colorado, went to people who came into the area. The railroads were built in to stimulate the migration in; the ideas of growth were sold to people in marginal areas in Kansas and areas further to the East. And they were the ones that came in and filled up these ranches. We find that the populations that have continued to live in the area . . . with exceptions, plenty of exceptions, but by and large weren't able to reap the benefits of all these changes that were taking place, of water rights, of the ditch systems. They were . . . their opportunities were lost by other having gotten to them first.
The priority law says that the first one that claimed gets the greatest amount of water always. In other words, will always have water. The last one to claim is the first one that has his water cut off. And then sequentially from the last . . . Say if there were 100 claimers to water, #100, the last one that claimed, when the water begins decreasing, he's the one that has his water shut off. #1 is the last one. Well, the stream should be dry by that time, theoretically. That's the way the water laws developed.
Okay, you wanted to talk about . . . .
EB: The practice of abducting . . . .
DB: Abducting. This was a very common practice, stimulated by the Spaniards. Although it probably goes way back in time. In other words, the Indians had fought and vanquished the males, often, and if the women and children were converted into the group it would increase the size of the group. The plains Indians did it. The Utes were one of the major groups that did it. They would raid on their linguistic relatives the Paiutes and some of the Shoshonean-speaking peoples of Utah. There is ample documentation on this and it has been the source of several articles of deeper research. But they would bring them back and they would sell them, particularly to the Spaniards. The Paiutes, in particular. A number of Paiutes lived in the fur trapper's communities in this area. A wife of, I am not positive which one, but I recall, Kincaid I believe it was, the fur trapper, was a Paiute. They were sometimes preferred wives, as a matter of fact. They were quite subservient. Maybe that was because they were a long ways from their relatives or anything else. The reverse was practiced as well, so that the Plains Indians would often capture the Ute Indians and make them into captives. Ouray's son, I believe, was captured by the Dakota and was related at one time to a group of Utes going far, far into the plains. And I believe that they liberated the son who didn't recognize then his father. I don't think during the rest of Ouray's life that the son recognized Ouray as his father. Among the groups that probably did the greatest amount of capturing were the Comanches, who lived in this area. They would go into Mexico, in particular, and capture women and children, bring them back, and use them to increase their population. At one time the Comanche, it was about 1750, they lost over half of what could be said to be Comanche by a smallpox epidemic. They intentionally increased the size of the population by the persons that were captured. It was very widespread, though, so that a large number of families of say Hispanics in the Rio Grande Valley had members of the household who were captives who had become part of the household. Sometimes they were servants originally. Another thing they did, I might add, a lot of the weaving was done by captives, particularly by Navajos who were captured. And what is called the Rio Grande style of weaving, which comes from New Mexico and the Hispanic population, has often incorporated elements from Navajo weaving, and vice versa. Many of the elements such as the diamond, which is called the Sotillo diamond, which occurs in Navajo weaving, and often was taken by persons who learned their weaving in an Hispanic household and gone back to the Navajo. So it enriched, in a sense. It is not a pleasant thing, but it has enriched genetically the populations of both groups. To talk about pure Indians is very difficult. Or to talk about pure Hispanics or even pure Anglos. Because we are such a mixture, regardless of where our origins are. To give you an example, the Navajo, who of course don't live in this area, but at one time probably did, in their various migrations that ended up in the Southwest, they began with probably a mixture, since all groups have always been a mixture, but what you call pure Navajo. They had what were called clans, which were descent groups. You traced your decent back to a clan. These were added onto by many captives and other people that married into the Navajo. Someone, an anthropologist, one of my profession, has done an analysis of the clans and their makeups and the origin of the clan names as told by the Navajo, and only one of them can be determined to be a pre-historic clan. In other words, to have been pristine, to have lasted this time. All the other clans are identified with the travels that they had in the historic period, which would be the equivalent of the Mexican people. In other words, made up with people who were incorporated from Mexican, contacts with the Hopi, with the other Pueblos of the Southwest, so they are amalgamations. They recognize this. But the thing that is important culturally is that they are Navajo. Well, that true with other groups here, like with the Hispanic population. Who have been added onto by so many of the groups that they lived among, the Indians that lived in the households and then became part of the family. And this is the nature of the population. That's part of the dynamic nature of it, too. Genetically it is a very viable population. Those are seen as being genetic advantages in almost all populations, to have mixture. And this is one of extreme mixture.
You were interested also in how the Indians left the area. Mostly it was by treaty. There were usually stimulated by events, specific events that occurred. The Indians that lived in Eastern Colorado were not bound by widespread treaties until roughly the time of the Civil War. The event that happened that caused the treaties to take place was the gold rush, the 1859-1860 gold rush. The route through the plains was needed, safely through the plains. And so the American government began making treaties. I think one of the first treaties, the Fort Laramie Treaty, I think the date was 1858, which was a policy that was established by the government to have areas that the Indians lived in, that they were to be supported with federal aid, but that would be their areas. They wouldn't have to compete for them, and they would stay out of the white's way. That didn't work. There was a treaty in 858m 1861, pardon me, here in Colorado. One of the agencies was at Booneville, as it was called then, today Boone. The Indian agent was Albert Boone, a grandson of Daniel Boone. This treaty essentially set aside area in Eastern Colorado for the Cheyenne. They were the dominant group at the time. The other Indians to the west were not affected; the Ute Indians in particular were not affected by that treaty. What happened was a very tragic thing, the Sand Creek Massacre, in 1864. This was during the Civil War, when there were no troops of significance in this area to defend the population. It was the frontier. And the Sand Creek Massacre was an Anglo sort of revenge against the Indians. Then what happened was the Civil War ended, the troops came back, and there was a determined effort to remove the Indians from all the areas of Colorado from the Eastern side where the Gold Rush had been occurring. A treaty was made in 1868, which effectively removed the Ute Indians. They were removed from the San Luis Valley and also from the Denver area and the gold areas and then had Western Colorado, the 107th was . . . the 107th meridian, I am not sure where that would fall, but I think it is the west side of the San Luis Valley. I did leave out something very, very important, which was a battle that took place here. One of the reasons the Ute Indians were in disfavor with the whites and vice versa. And this is what is called the Pueblo Massacre, of 1853. At Pueblo, Colorado it is called the Christmas Day Massacre, although it too place on Christmas Eve, according to the histories. But what happened was, and I am going back a little bit, what probably precipitated this was that the Indians of the Plains had been on good relations with the whites, especially the Cheyennes and others, through the Bent family, from Bent's Fort, they had been supplied with not only subsistence, but with guns, guns to go out hunting. The Utes had never been given guns and the Arapahoe and the Cheyenne and other had guns supplied by the Americans and were warred against. They demanded guns, too, and also subsistence. And they were antagonistic against the federal government, which would seem logical. The battle against the . . . it wasn't a battle. It was a massacre, at Fort Pueblo, was a reaction, one of the reactions to this. But what it did was to stimulate a group from Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley to go after the Utes and punish them. And they punished them very severely. A battle took place. The Utes were badly beaten and a number were killed. Horses were taken. It was wintertime. This was one of the major outbreaks of the Utes against the whites. They were on relatively good terms from then on until 1868 when they gave up the San Luis Valley. The objective of that treaty was that Colorado was to be developed on the Eastern slope, and the Utes would not interfere with that development. They did come back for a number of years, seasonally, primarily in the summer, because their patterns prior to that had been migratory. They had come over, across the ranges, to buffalo hunt on the plains and the continued to do that and the buffalo by that time were becoming scarce and they would take up the habit of dropping in on settlers and often intimidating settlers. At least the settlers felt intimidated, begging food . . . of course their own resources had been diminished. The Gold Rush had resulted in large-scale killing of game in the mountains and driving of game out of the country and so the Utes were in a bad straight. The tragedy that happened was that very shortly after that, gold, large amounts of gold and silver were being developed in the San Juan Mountains, and whites, miners had, against the treaty, intruded into it and were there. The Bruno Treaty of 1873 was made, where the Utes ceded the San Juan Mountains area to the U.S., gave it up, the area was demarcated very clearly, what was Ute and what wasn't Ute. One of the areas must North of San Juan Mountains was a place called ( ) Park. And from the very beginning the whites . . . it was a favorable area at the foot of the mountains, and the whites had moved into it. And the Utes tried to get them out, the Army was called out. They were never effective in moving the whites out. Within a few years it resulted in another problem, which was that the Utes had similar infringements upon their property, whites intruding, and they resented this and it broke out in the Meeker Massacre of 1879. That's far up in northwestern Wyoming, but it had an effect all over Colorado, because the massacre . . . Nathan Meeker was the agent in that area. He had attempted to make the Utes into farmers. He plowed up their race track. He had tried to force them into working into the ways Meeker felt everyone should be, disregarding Ute culture. They tried to react within the channels, that is by going to the Governor of Colorado and other officials and telling them that this wasn't what they wanted, that they wanted these policies stopped. They weren't stopped. It resulted in the Utes killing Meeker and a number of other whites and the Army coming in and being defeated by the Utes in a battle. It was called the Battle of Milk Creek. The Thornberg Massacre it is also called. Well, what happened was that the public was against the Utes now and this was 1879. By 1881 they had been coerced into signing a treaty. Ouray was the primary agent in doing this and Otto Mears, a white from the San Luis Valley, had coerced a number of other Utes into signing the treaty and they abandoned Colorado and they were removed in 1881 which opened up, except for a small reservation that is still left, the Southern Ute Reservation, the Ute Mountain Reservation, in southwestern Colorado. It was abandoned.
Similar things happened to the other Indians. The Cheyenne, after the massacre, in 1864, had been removed. The cavalry under Custer and other soldiers eventually ended the Plains warfare. By the 1870s there was really no effective Indian force in Colorado. Occasionally, but mostly it was restricted to the northern plains. Wyoming and western South Dakota, but that was ended by the Black Hills Gold Rush. And then the Custer Massacre and ultimately they were all put upon reservations.
In the Southern part, the Apaches had been living on the fringes of Colorado. Some of them had been living with the Utes in the San Luis Valley. They also were removed with the treaty that the Utes signed to give up the San Luis Valley. They moved to New Mexico. The group that was particularly living in this area were called the Jacarilla Apaches, meaning the "little baskets." And they today lived on a reservation near Chama, New Mexico. Theirs was a particularly bad lot for many years. They were in a deep depression and many still are. Their land was taken over by lumber companies, basically. The other Indians who had lived here, the Comanche, by the 1860s, '70s, they had disappeared as a major group within the confines of Colorado. Mostly they were in the Southern plains and Western Texas and in Oklahoma. They were raiding, but mostly it was breaking looses from the reservations but they would raid, say, the trail herd, which were intruding often into Indian territory, into their lands. They would raid the Goodnight Trail, which was the route of the Texas train herds up to Southern Colorado. But effectively by 1870 Indians were no longer an issue in Eastern Colorado. They would visit periodically. Many of the settlers in the Eastern plains would describe how Indians would go through as destitute families. Some Indians did live in the area that had given up the reservation, and that were living with families. The Higbee area had some early settlers that traced back tot he fur trade period. And there were some Indians living there that . . . some even from Western Mexico . . . there were two that were in a biography that I read recently that for some reason they ended up, perhaps captives of the Comanche originally, and had lived with some of the relatives of Kit Carson in the Higbee area. But identifiable Indians had disappeared. In other words, identifiable by their allegiance still to their group. Many melted into the Hispanic population, probably. There is a line between who is Anglo and who is an Indian, and who is an Hispanic and who is an Indian, that is defined more by how others see you than how you see yourself.
Okay, early trails in the area. There is really an excellent description of trails for this area. There is a geologist in Denver; his name is Glenn Scott, an unique individual. He is responsible for mapping may of the soils in this area, and he has some other interests as well, which include the historic period, and he had compiled a series of maps based upon aerial photography and going out and visiting the trails, attempting to walk them out where possible. And he delved into the history of the individual trails. And put them on maps and they are readily available for a lot of people. They can be acquired from the Federal Center in Denver for a nominal price. What these trails mean, they indicate the equivalent of say the arteries, to living organisms, for what was going on. Of you look at the dates of trails and their destinations you learn a tremendous amount. Those that terminate somewhere, like in the Walsenburg area, or in the Pueblo area, were usually relating to some specific activity going on. There are many, though, that passed through the area. You can say that the earliest trails, and the use of the area, were a way to get through it. They were going to Taos or to Santa Fe. As time went on, there were communities that developed, like the Greenhorn community, and then Walsenburg, and this would be a destination. And an origin, perhaps. When the railroads were being built in Eastern Colorado, railroad ties from this area were going out on some of these trails. So this was when the commerce began turning around and going the other direction, from actual resources that were being used in this area. Other trails relate to much longer usage: Indian trails that go over a great many of the passes, Medano Pass, Sangre de Cristo Pass, Music Pass. Those trails were pioneered by the Indians. They were still used as sheep trails and others. But it's a rich, rich source of information, and one that is readily available to everybody. Along the trails, of course, are a great many resources; stage stations that have disappeared from use, houses that formerly were stage stations and were converted into other uses. Many of them have been masked and lost, others disappeared, but there are a great many thing to be discovered about the area and this would be a rich way to do it, would be by following the trails.
Another, of course, later trails, would be the railroad. Or the railroads, because this had been an area that is dependent upon the railroads. Really pioneer railroads, also. The Denver-Rio Grande is an example. The earliest railroad in the area built into Pueblo in 1872 and I believe in 1873 or 74 it was in Trinidad, passing through Huerfano County. The route that it takes today parallels the old route. But it is not exactly he same. But it was a pioneer in this area. It pioneered in a number of ways. Some of the earliest communities were related to the railroad. The rail head towns, although there weren't many in this area, because they had a definite destination in mind. But some of the railroad construction camps associated with it would be some of the earliest occupations. Some of these are unsung. No one knows what the names of the people were in them, or what the names of the towns were, but they did have them. Moreover this determined land use, because a great many communities built up following the railroad going through, which were the typical form of town. In Eastern Colorado they differ greatly from, say, the farming community, based upon the Hispanic pattern. The railroad town was usually owned by the railroad and was plotted out in a square, usually parallel to the railroad axis, so that it isn't necessarily North or South, but is aligned alongside the railroad. There are a great many lands here that were owned by the railroads. The Denver-Rio Grande had a land company that went along with it and this determined the ownership of land later on. And the of course the CF and I Corporation, which came from the Colorado Fuel Company and the Colorado Coal Company, the uses of the mines and all the spurs to them are abandoned, or the majority. Find a railroad grade, and it goes somewhere. You can find a town at the end of it. One that say was abandoned following the coal wars of the early 19th century. Even the roads, the modern roads are being abandoned in many areas. Roads that were pioneered by the freighters that were leading to the railroad construction. A great many historic figures were associated with freighting in this area, Richard Wooten, Dick Wooten, and Dave Wood. Dave Wood of later fame on the Western Slope, much more fame than over here, was a freighter in this area. A great many that became rich and famous in Colorado history pioneered some of these roads in that period.
Arrowheads and artifacts. Artifacts from the prehistoric period are clues to lifestyles. Archeologists put together a view of the culture by looking at the types of tools they used, just the same way that today we would be able to distinguish between say a farm and a ranch by the types of tools that were there. This would be true of the Indians of the past. Farmers had pottery. Not always, but pottery was used. They had grinding implements. The greater the amount of farming generally the greater the number of grinding implements and the more sophisticated their shaping and their use. The hunter of course would have higher frequency of arrowheads at their sites. In eastern Colorado we have both types of sites. We have those of farmers. There are villages that do occur. Some that have visible houses. These remnants of houses still are apparent, that have been associated with these artifacts. Most of them have been collected today. Being candid about it, the majority have been removed. So it becomes very important to conserve what is left, because a great many of them also have been dug into. And the digging into these has removed them from their real association. If you had a room that was undisturbed when it was abandoned, and the artifacts were in place and someone had dug into it more recently and disturbed the relationship, no longer is it possible to construct the relationship of the individuals that lived in them, how they organized their lives. For example, we have in our rooms, in our homes, evidences of social organization. Where a father puts his chair to face the television, and which chair mother takes and the children take. This is true of the Indians as well. There are differences in the way their farming communities are organized socially and hunting communities are organized, or hunting societies. So that many of these clues, by being disturbed and lost, are lost forever, because there is no one left to answer these questions. In Southwestern Colorado, in particular, a great many have been destroyed and disturbed and should be protected. An important thing would be to have a citizen's type protection, so that people who own land that these occur on would be aware of their value and they would legally keep people off. Or make it into a system where people could view but not take. On Federal and State land it is against the law to remove artifacts or to dig them up. There is an antiquities act which . . . both the Federal and the State Antiquities Act which prohibits this and rightfully so, because the information contained in there is part of all our heritage. If it's anyone in particular's, it the Indian's, and they're opposed to this. How wrong it is to dig up an Indian burial, as an example. We'd no more think of going into a contemporary cemetery and digging it up, at least the average person wouldn't. And an Indian certainly wouldn't. They feel very strongly against this. It is today unethical for an anthropologist to dig an Indian burial, unless it's endangered. And all attempts are made to discover what group it would be associated with and not to mistreat it. There is no more personal possession of these either.
Whether the stereotypes would be true of a completely lawless frontier, it would depend. It would be related to what activities were going on and the types of persons that were attracted to these activities. By and large the fur traders, on the fringes of civilization, although they might have been thought of as a lawless group, were not, because they had a community of fur trappers and fur traders and they had to adjust their laws to living and working together and then within that the development of laws, unwritten laws, but simply the laws of living together, again, applied to their relations with say, the Indians that they were living in association with, or trading with. Many wrongs have been, let us say, perpetrated to the Indians by one group who had done something wrong, killed someone or stolen something, and then the next group of trappers comes through and are punished for it. But they worked these problems out. By and large their relations were fairly good. There were problems that developed at times. The Indians, for example, might consider themselves to be at war with New Mexico. I recall reading one of the journals of trappers that had included in it two residents of New Mexico who were dressed slightly differently than the rest of the fur trapping party. And they ran into Cheyennes, I believe it was, almost into what is today Kansas and the Cheyenne wanted to kill these two Mexicans, and insisted upon it, but the fur trappers fabricated a story that they weren't from Mexico, that they were actually French, and since none of the Cheyenne understood French it solved the problem temporarily. So there were problems. But speaking again, going back to the problem of law and order in a more general sense, the, say the communities, the farmers, the settlers, they had to abide by the law. The water systems were based upon adherence to the law. It was based upon a principle that you could trust a person, you couldn't always trust them, but by and large, that a person who was on the same ditch system, would not abuse it, that mutual labor would go into maintaining the system. That's the way to weld together something you might not think of as a community, this concept of sharing labor and sharing responsibilities. The same thing would apply to communal grazing lands. Much of the area around these communities was communal. And no one took advantage of this system to try and run a commercial operation off of the communal grazing land. Or to abuse it by stealing the cows of their neighbor. So that would be an uncommon situation. Now there were times, though, when it really broke out into lawlessness. One of the examples would be, oh, say like in railroad construction camps. These were often end of camp. They were based upon bring disparate groups of people together, contract labor groups, say of Italian, Irish and other like this. I've read descriptions of camps that were described as being held together by the law of the pickaxe handle, literally, where the contractor was the law and order. The Union Pacific Railroad, although they did not operate in Southern Colorado, too it upon themselves, going through Julesburg, Colorado, to have some known thieves killed. I mean, they didn't resort to calling in the sheriff or anything. They simply killed them themselves, hired gunmen to do it. One famous outlaw in Colorado, not known normally form Colorado, but was hired by a railroad construction camp, was Doc Holiday, who was hired by a contractor one time to intimidate all the elements that were hanging around his camp, the gamblers and the prostitutes, and others like this, to leave. So that was a particular, bad situation. But they were out in a community all by themselves made up of people that didn't have natural ties to each other, where taking advantage was part of the system. The railroad contractors really took advantage of many of the laborers. They brought them out and put them in the commissary system where they were indebted to the contractor for food or for blankets and other necessities of life, and everyone felt they were being gypped in way, at least at times at the extremes. And these would be very lawless situations. The gold towns were like that when there was a brand new rush. It would bring in the worst elements, but what would happen very shortly would be that there would be the development of a law. The miner's law is a classic example. The miner's laws in Colorado were ways to make no individual above the laws. They came from California and were based upon, just the same way the water was based on, miner's law, so was the running of the camp. So there was a council of all the people that lived there together. They might even elect representatives to a council. They would form a mining district and if someone committed an illegal act, and there was no sheriff to call upon, the council was formed and they decided what they would do. Usually the decision was known to the person who had done the crime and they left. They would go somewhere else, but the word would get around. So this lawlessness was a sort of a relative thing. Certainly the settler's frontier wasn't the lawless situation as it's been represented as. The trail herds, oh, there were problems, because they were temporary and going through areas, they may pick up some cows that belonged to a rancher that didn't belong, but they would have ways to be protected from this, the ranchers would. They would go through the trail herds and separate their stock. But, still, in the development of communities it wasn't a lawless situation. Perhaps viewed in terms of the ties of kinship and of ethnicity, in the past there were probably more groups that were opposed. In other words there were smaller groups that were separated from other groups by language or other things that were not adequately protected. That may be true. Within the groups, though, there wasn't lawlessness. It was perhaps between groups that you would find these relationships. On the other hand, some of the most lawless activities might have taken place when industrialization came here and where, on a very wide scale, human rights were abused by some of the practices of the mine owners. This was particularly bad in Huerfano County in the coal wars, and it resulted in a great many changes in ownership of some of the companies, in union policies. This perhaps was a more lawless period, the breaking out of open warfare, than we had in an earlier stage. Okay. Did I answer your question?
EB: What was the social atmosphere like in the frontier? Was there a lot of vice and prostitution?
DB: Well, the frontier was masculine based, first the fur trappers, going back to the beginning. Rarely did they marry, in what we might think of in an obligatory sense, a female for life. Often, the fur trappers would have a sequence of wives. But these wives would also have social groups that they could return to, the tribes that they came from, unless they happened to be a former Paiute who was captured and brought over here. And this characterized the attitudes of males on this frontier. Their relationship to females was been more predatory, until, say, the settlement began with farmers coming in, say following 1860 after the gold rush, with families coming in. There is generally a sequence that would take place, say with a new town, a new community. The sequence would be one of primarily a male group settling there. Not in a formal sense, but simply using the resource, finding the resource like gold or whatever the resource might be . . . new grazing lands, and then there would be a settling down, where families would come at a slightly later date. On the fringes of this first settling in there would be the movement of bars, of liquor, sources for liquor, women, whether they would be prostitutes who would follow in an organized sense or whether they would be opportunists who would live on the fringes of this situation, seeking a husband. There would of course be married women as well, and families, and children born of these that would be the genesis of the development of normal social relations through marriage. But there were a number of women who followed the camps. The railroad construction camps would be followed by prostitutes who would establish bordellos within the camp. Often it was a male who brought them and it would be males who would maintain this. There would be an evolution then. With many of the camps they didn't last. But when a camp lasted and became a town . . . not necessarily a railroad construction camp but say a mining camp or a ranching community, the nucleus of a commercial area, very rapidly there would be a change. There would be the right side of town and the wrong side of town development. So that there would be the families and churches and the other things, and usually segregated from this would be the red light district. On the community level it was often a double standard, in the sense that one side of town would act like the other side of town didn't go on. Yet, there would be intercourse between these. Like there was a double standard among the males at this time, but to a much lesser degree perhaps than now, although that's a judgment we can't make. It still was a . . . you could have upright communities going and you would have a red light district within it, and maintenance of this. Often these would depend upon the tolerance of the community, though. The communities like some of the mining communities . . . Leadville would be a classic example of that . . . it was recognized that if they controlled those elements and taxed them that it could be a favorable source of income. That you would . . . this was probably going to happen anyhow and it could either be outside the law or in the law. And so they taxed them very heavily and they were a major source of income. So in the situation it was difficult to derive city revenues otherwise. In other areas they weren't tolerated. One town would be known as a town that would have a red light district and the next town may not have this. As maturation occurred, usually the male dominant population would begin to dwindle. So that those activities that were going on where you would have a migratory labor force would move on. The construction would be over, the railroad would be built and you would develop into a more mature community and with this would be families. And usually the prostitutes or the vice element would move on to the next community. Ultimately America ran out of frontiers and they became concentrated in the urban areas. And so that is the pattern today. We still have the same process going on though, where you have, say a military base, a large . . . all male or mostly male population, particularly a temporary population away from home, where you have the concentration of vice, gambling. This isn't to say that it's human nature, but it's a part of American cultural patterns.
Back to the Oral Interviews Main Page
Return to the Huerfano County Home Page
© Karen Mitchell