Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Armano Cassai



Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Billie Crump
Date of Interview - 10-17-1979
Interviewed by Rosalyn McCain

RM: When did your family first come to Huerfano County ?

AC: 1898

RM: And where did they come from ?

AC: Italy.

RM: Where abouts in Italy ?

AC: Modonel. You know that name Modonelli ? That's what it is, a town by that name.

RM: What part of Italy is that ?

AC: That's the center part.

RM: And what did they do there ? What kind of work ?

AC: I really don't know.

RM: What did they do when they came here ?

AC: When they first came here Dad worked in the coal mines. He worked at the coal mines for over 12 years. And then he moved to the ranch in 1906.

RM: What mine did he work at ?

AC: Pictou Mine.

RM: And where was that ?

AC: After you go over the hogback towards Gardner, leaving from Walsenburg, it's on the West side. It should be south of your Gardner Road right after you took off the main highway. He worked there twelve years.

RM: Was he married when he came here ?

AC: No, mother come two years after he was here.

RM: Had they known each other in Italy ?

AC: Yeah.

RM: So he worked here and got some money and sent for her ?

AC: Right.

RM: I see. And when she came, did they live at the mine then ?

AC: Yeah.

RM: And what kind of work did he do in the mine ?

AC: He loaded coal.

RM: Above ground ?

AC: No, underground.

RM: Uh huh. So did he save his money mining and buy a place or did he homestead ?

AC: No, we never did homestead anything. We got a lot of land but we never did homestead any of it. No, we bought it outright.

RM: And where did he buy land first ?

AC: Right here.

RM: Right here. So then he stopped mining and started farming ?

AC: That'S right.

RM: So were you born here ?

AC: I was born here. All the rest of the family, there was 7 children, 3 of us born here, and four of us born at Pictou.

RM: So they started their family there and then they moved to this area. Do you remember them telling stories about the old days ?

AC: I could tell you lots of 'em.

RM: Let's hear them. What was life like in those days ?

AC: Well, it was hard to get a dollar in those days, and it was hard for a family to raise a family, because you didn't hardly make no money. Dad used to cut props to bring to the coal mines years ago, you know, during the winter time. Then we started in the cattle business. So then we started with small places here and we added different places. And then we bought, us boys, two of us, we bought the folks out, one part of it. Then we bought a lot of land on our own afterwards.

RM: So how much land do you have now ?

AC: Around five thousand acres.

RM: Is that right ? That's a lot of land. Is it all pretty much attached to this land ?

AC: We've got it all pretty much all together except a few little places that's scattered.

RM: And do you run it by yourself or with another partner or relative ?

AC: I have a nephew with me at the present time.

RM: And what is his name ?

AC: Sonny Bowers, you probably know him.

RM: Well I saw him with you today and Ive heard his name, and I've heard David talk about him, but I guess I don't really know him So how was ranching changed over the years ?.

AC: I had a brother that was in partnership with me and he passed away in 1967.

RM: And what was his name ?

AC: Bruno. And in '29 we bought the folks out here, and they moved to town, and had a home in town down there and they both died in 1960. And I still have two sisters; one of them living in Walsenburg, and one of them lives in Manzanola, she runs an old age home, rather, Ill take that Manzanola back, Rocky Ford. That'd be Sonny's mother and she is 75 years old and she's running an old age home.

RM: And then who is your other sister in Walsenburg ?

AC: Mrs. Elly.

RM: I don't think I know her.

AC: Max Elly's wife. He retired from the highway.

RM: How has farming and ranching changed over the years ?

AC: Well, we changed from the hard way to the modern way, but I still wish I was back to the old days where we put stuff with the horses. We let the horses go, cause we couldn't find no help to help us anymore and we went to tractors and those modern young guys don't like...... that's old fashioned again, so we went to better equipment, hay swathers, hay wagons to haul hay so I don't know where we'll go from now. But.....

RM: But you still liked working from the horses ?

AC: I still have all the horse machinery, including harness, wagons, stacker, buckrakes, rakes, And I also got the tractor equipment too.

RM: So you can go any way you need to ? Did you like working with the horses better ?

AC: Well, once you got through, you was through, with them horses, but the way you bale hay, you still got to haul them bales.

RM: Did you used to hire quite a few people to work for you then ?

AC: Yeah, we used to have quite a few people in the summertime.

RM: Would there be a baling crew that would come through ?

AC: No, when we used to stack this hay... I don't know if you ever saw a stacker or not...You had horses on a buckrake, and they pushed this hay on a stacker, and then you throwed it on the stack, and you had a man on the stack, stacking hay, loose hay, and later on in the fall of the year if you sold the hay, you had to get a stationary baler in there to bale the hay.

RM: So you;'d just feed out of your stack in the winter ?

AC: Loose hay. Used to be loose hay then, but right now it's simple for a man to feed ten times more cows in the wintertime then we used to feed with loose hay, but there's expense with this baling hay.

RM: So which one comes out to be the best one financially these days ?

AC: Well, I guess the way we're doing it now is going to be the best, because you can't find the labor to help you. All these young kids has quit the farms.

RM: They are interested in going to town, aren't they ?

AC: Yeah, going after these big wages.

RM: That's right. Now do you remember any stories of Indians in those days ? Did you hear stories of the Indians around there or not ?

AC: We wasn't here. I can show you up there at my mountain place where there's trees, big logs standing, that's burnt, so they had to be a long time before we was here because the Aspens have growed up high around 'em. So I don't know how many years that was, and I don't believe you'll find an old timer that can tell you when that fire went through the country

RM: But the Indians were here at that time ?

AC: At the time, yeah. I think that's when the white men burnt the forest down, to run the Indians out, but them trees is still standing, burnt. They aren't trees no more, but just trees standing, the trunks of them, so I wouldn't say when that was. But you won't find no old timers that can tell you when that happened. I'm pretty young myself, so I know you won't find them. (laughter).

RM: How did neighbors get along in those days ?

AC: The neighbors got along better in those days than we do today. 'Cause we're having too much trouble with newcomers coming in from different states.

RM: There are a lot of new people around here aren't there ?

AC: Oh, yeah, but them days was horse and buggy days, and neighbors didn't get in a buggy and go a thousand miles like they do today, see, and they neighbored more together.

RM: Did they have each other over for dinners ?

AC: No, they had dances, at school houses on Saturday nights. And then they had parties at different times and they'd meet at different places. But right now they get in a car, they don't know their neighbors, drive maybe a thousand miles or so. On the next hand, biggest end of these farms was small farms at one time, and there was a lot of people, cause they was small farms. For the last 20 or 30 years the farms got bigger, bought other places, got bigger places.

RM: How many families would you say used to live on the land that you have now ?

AC: 8 families

RM: Is that right ?

AC: That's right.

RM: Do you think this land could support that many people now ?

AC: Well, the price of stuff, I don't believe it would. You know, stuff they have to buy. Now as far as cattle price is concerned, right now, the last two years have been the highest price I've ever seen since I've been operating, but I can show you a statement that we bought cattle in '29 for $!00. That was during the depression.

RM: Did the depression have a big effect on the people in this area, the ranchers ?

AC: Oh yes, it was bad, real bad. In other words, it wasn't just around here only, it was all over.

RM: It was everywhere.

AC: It was everywhere, everywhere. It hurt the people that had bought stuff before, see.

RM: Did many people around here lose their land during the depression ?

AC: Some of them did, yeah, quite a number.

RM: Not being able to pay their taxes ?

AC: No, pay their debts. See, they borrowed money to buy these places with and I'm going to look for it right now when this breaks, too, same way.

RM: I don't think there are too many people that own their own land outright these days, either, are there ?

AC: There's a lot of them in debt.

RM: How about transportation ?How often would you go into town, into LaVeta, in the old days?

AC: Well, like I said a moment ago, it was hard for them parents to raise a family in them days. We used to milk a lot of cows, raise a big garden, and we used to have a buggy here, and we used to deliver that stuff at mining camps clear to Walsenburg with the buggy, and believe it or not we's go to Walsenburg and back the same day in that buggy to deliver cheese, vegetables and whatever we sold, and we done that for years.

RM: That was the major of your income in terms of money, then ?

AC: That's right, something, you know to have expense money , to pay with.

RM: And what were the things you needed money for in those days ?

AC: Well, clothes, groceries, and you know what I mean ? And then naturally we still needed some farm equipment, we still had to have that too.

RM: Would you raise most of your own food ?

AC: Well, as far as vegetables was concerned, and we did have a system better that what we got now: we used to raise 10 or 12 hogs, we used to cure our own hams, cure our own bacons, have our own lard, and then we'd kill a beef and pressure cook it and put it in jars, and now everybody buys it out of the stores, see.

RM: And how would you cure your ham and bacon ?

AC: We'd put them under brine. We had brine formed to put them under.

RM: And how long would that take ?

AC: That'd take about between 25 and 30 days, something like that, but then other people had different systems. We used to make sausage, too, and this sausage, we'd have to make the sausage and then hang it up to dry and we'd put it in crocks under lard, and it kept. It was seasoned well, see. And these hams we'd take them out of this brine and we'd hang 'em up and they'd dry, and the meat was very good.

RM: So those would keep indefinitely ?

AC: Yeah, they'd keep indefinitely. But other people had a different method, a lot of people would make sausage and fry it right away and they'd still put it under lard in crocks, you know. And a lot of people smoked their hams and bacons, so there was different methods that was used.

RM: Was that more a time consuming method, to smoke it ?

AC: Well, I never did like the smoked meat, but a lot of times it would all depend on what kind of wood they used.

RM: would the women preserve a lot of foods by canning ?

AC: That's right, mother did can a lot; a lot of garden stuff, like peas, or carrots, or corn. I forgot to tell you, the women around them days, not all of 'em, but the women that had come from foreign countries, they'd help milk them cows, and they also made the cheese themselves, instead of somebody having to do it.

RM: They were hard working women, weren't they ? And they'd raise a big family to boot.

AC: That's right And another thing, we didn't have electricity. I got electricity here, which is my fault, that part

RM: You don't think you should have gotten it huh ?

AC: 10 years ago, I put it in. So we went without electricity all our life.

RM: Some ways you wish you didn't have it huh ?

AC: Well, the way it keeps going up, I wish I didn't have it. It's like this heatin' stove. I never did get away from this heatin' stove. All these people went to gas or butane or electric, but now they all wish they had their stoves, and there's a lot of them going back to the stoves now.

RM: That's right. People's utility bills get so high they can't hardly afford to pay them.

AC: Well, they should have never stopped the coal mines. They used to burn a lot of coal.

RM: Think they'll come back ?

AC: They'll come back.

RM: And how about entertainment ? What would people do for entertainment ?

AC: Oh, lots of times the kids would get together and they'd play baseball; no parties though, because it was too far to go to town, or they'd go huntin; kids would hunt you know, for pastime. But there wasn't too much entertainment around here And we started going to the town school in later years...but that was the same deal. By the time we got done doing our chores in the morning, it kept us going fast to get that done before the bus came, and in the night we'd come back and we'd have the same chores again, you know, go do the chores.

RM: So where did you go to school before you went into town ?

AC: We had two country schools up there about two miles. And them two miles, when we first started, we had to walk 'em back and forth every day. We used to go clear up that Devils' Stairstep to that school house up there. And in later years they made another school house here about mile from us.

RM: And how many students would there be in one of those schools ?

AC: Well, up here there was about 25, maybe 30, and one teacher taught all the grades. So now, your copy machine, I hope they hear..These teachers not got it easy along side these school teachers that used to teach here, years ago.

RM: That's right, and there'd be 8 grades, and they'd have all 8 grades and 30 kids to deal with. They earned their money in those days, sounds like.

AC: Those school teachers'd get $20-$25 a month at the most.

RM: How about outlaws ? Did you hear any stories about outlaws in the early days ?

AC: What ?

RM: Outlaws, bad guys.

AC: No, I tell you what, I don't remember any of 'em.. Walsenburg had a lot of it, but up here we didn't.

RM: How about quarrels between neighbors ?Were there things that people would quarrel about?

AC: I tell you, in those early days when we first started, we had the best neighbors in the country, very little quarreling going on. Oh there'd be words, like you and your husband would get in an argument once in a while, but there never was too many quarrels.

RM: Generally people got along pretty well and helped each other out ?Did they quarrel over water at all ?

AC: Oh, quarreling over water, that's been going on ever since they opened the first ditch.

RM: How did they settle that between people ?

AC: Oh, they'd get it settled. After awhile they'd all get some water, and that was the settlement.

RM: What heros do you remember when you were a kid ?

AC: What ?

RM: What heros. What people did you look up to when you were a kid ?

AC: Well, I don't know as I looked up to any of 'em.

RM: What was it like being a kid in those days ? What were the differences would you say, between growing up then and now ?

AC: We had better kids then, than we have now (laughter). When we was kids you didn't hear all of these crimes we've got today. All I can say is if they'd burn those T.V.'s, all of 'em, for families to up by, we'd stop a lot of that, They watch them programs and they think they're real.

RM: What would families do in the evening, instead of watching television.

AC: We didn't have television. Television in this country up there didn't come in until, oh, 15 years ago. We had radio. We had old time radio.

RM: Did people read a lot in the evening ?

AC: Oh yeah, they all had papers and read 'em.

RM: Did they have someone in the family that could play guitar ? Did they have music ?

AC: Unless you had a musician in the house.

RM: But most people didn't ?

AC: No.

RM: But when you had the dances, you had the local musicians ?

AC: Ordinarily yeah, we had people from, like out of towners, or some of them lived in the country.

RM: And what kind of dances did they do ?

AC: And these box suppers, I forgot to tell you, we had a lot of them..

RM: And where would they be held ?

AC: They'd be held at the school houses. In later years we started going to these town dances.

RM: And how often did they have dances ?

AC: Well, when we first started going to dances they had them twice a week..

RM: Is that right ? That's a lot of dancing.

AC: On a Saturday and Wednesday in the middle of the week.

RM: Uh- huh. People danced more in those days.

AC: Oh yeah. Now they don't hardly have no dances, very few.

RM: I know it. And what kind of dances were those

AC: Square dances.

RM: And there'd be callers that would go around from place to place ?

AC: Yeah.

RM: And how many squares did you have in a dance ?

AC: There's enough room in that hall, they'd fit them.

RM: How late would the dances go ?

AC: Well, if there wasn't no quarrels...liquor was always in the game. Somebody didn't get too drunk around there, they'd hold 'em until daylight.

RM: And they'd go all night dancing ?

AC: That's right. Liquor, they always have it. They made this whiskey, a lot of guys, and they'd bring it to the dance and sell it.

RM: That was during prohibition ?

AC: Uh-huh.

RM: So were there a lot of people that made their own whisky ?

AC: No, just a few.

RM: Just a few.

AC: They sold it, but they went to jail for it.

RM: Right, that's what the law was about wasn't it ? Now, about sports and games. What were the popular sports ?

AC: When we went to school, no basketball, it was just startin' when I quit school, basketball. No football. But they did have baseball and track meets. Other than that there was no other sports, that is through the schools.

RM: What about outside of the schools ? Did they have baseball teams outside of school ?

AC: They had a town team. The men played. They always had a town team.

RM: And who did they play ?

AC: Aguilar...and many of the coal mines had a team. Two little towns up here, I call 'em Ojo and Oakview, up here by baldy mountain. They're all gone and destroyed now, and down there in Walsenburg we had a lot of them mining camps, they're all gone. But I can say of the town of Laveta, we had a better town, a bigger town when I was a kid than we've got now.

RM: You had more things in those days ?

AC: We had three stores, grocery stores, we had two drug stores, 2 barbers, we had a dentist, a hospital, we had an excelsior mill, we had a cheese factory, and we had two hotels. And now we haven't got them.

RM: Was there a bank also ?

AC: And there was a bank. Now we don't have it, so this town went backwards since I was a kid...

RM: People didn't used to go into Walsenburg for things.

AC: We did all our business in our own town. So our town went backwards, it didn't keep a growing.

RM: And what was the reason for that, do you think ?

AC: Well, the trains changed to diesel now, they done away with the roundhouse. The cheese factory quit. Oh, and we had a flour mill here, too. Used to mill our own flour. They quit. We had an excelsior mill that made wood pulp, it quit. And the hospital couldn't make a go of it here anymore so that these people went to Walsenburg to set up a hospital. And, oh, we had a dentist here, too, and we don't have it no more.

RM: And what was the reason for all those businesses not making it ?

AC: Well, let me put it this way. People stayed more at home and couldn't get out and go like they do now. And we had these two mining camps up here, Oakview and Ojo. They had a lot of people come down here that traded in this town, and that stopped. In other words, let's blame the car for all of this, got the people on the fly, and going to different towns.

RM: The automobile has really changed the face of life, hasn't it ?

AC: Right, but I tell you, if I had to do it over, I wouldn't change it a bit. I could change a few mistakes, but there isn't a soul born that didn't ever make a mistake.

RM: So, would you rather live in the old days, or now ?

AC: Well, I'll put it this way. We got along all right in the old days.

RM: How about the role of the church in the community ? Was it more active, or more important ?

AC: Churches, I will say that. We got more church's come down here in the twenty year period now then we had before. But I don't know about attendance at most of them.

RM: And did the church used to sponsor a lot of things, Christmas programs, that sort of thing ?

PAGE MISSING.

AC: I'd say that we did have 'em, but people died and they didn't know what they died of. Now they've come out with Cancers and Heart Attacks. In them years, they didn't know what they was, they just died and they went off. That's all I can say about that. And I'm about right, too, cause they never did find out the remedy until later years.

RM: How about the chores that children did? What kind of things would the children help out with ?

AC: Oh, they'd have to milk the cows and feed 'em, and clean the barns out, and then in the summertime they'd help raise the garden, irrigate it, and then we worked in the fields when we were big enough to handle a pitchfork. But when we first started we didn't have these stackers and buckrakes and we used to have to haul the hay with wagons, so you used to have to pitch it that way. It wasn't all mild. And when we was young men already, just young, just startin up good, we used to go on these balers to make a dollar, stationary balers. Three men pitched forty ton of hay, and one man stacked them bales. In a day, I said, I didn't say in a week.

RM: That's a lot of work.

AC: I hope to tell you.

RM: How about water, did you haul water in those days ? Did you have any indoor plumbing ?

AC: I hope this record hears it. I carry water today.

RM: You have a well out here ?

AC: I have a well, but I didn't tap to it.

RM: So, you're still haulin' water ?

AC: I am still the old fashioned way.

RM: Well, you can't freeze up in the winter and you can't have all these problems that people have with plumbing.

AC: I'm still going to fix it. I'm still young yet, I'm waitin' till I get a little older, I'm still young yet, and then I was going to fix it. So you and your record book, see, are not getting the best of me.

RM: How about the second World War, did it have much of an influence here ?

AC: Oh yeah, it took a lot of us farmers. It took a lot of us farmers to the war.

RM: Were a lot of the young men lost during the war ?

AC: Yeah, we lost quite a few right from this town. Gasoline was rationed, food was rationed, so pretty near everything was rationed, and it was really a hardship.

RM: Did things change much after the war ?

AC: No, it didn't have too much effect. Things didn't go down like it did after the first World War.

RM: What kind of things would people grow in their gardens ? What kind of vegetables would they raise ?

AC: Lettuce, Cabbage, Cauliflower, tomatoes, corn, peas, onions, beets. Well, I remember well, cause I had an acre of it down there to plant.

RM: And was that just for your own use or would you sell some of the vegetables ?

AC: When the whole family was there we could probably use it. In later years it was Dad and Mother and I and we had one, two, three, four gardens. For the four of us. On different places and the biggest end of it, we would give it all away.

RM: That's part of what I do. I always plant more garden than I need, and it all goes... And how much money would you say a family needed during the year, in the old days, to get by ?

AC: Well, you asked me a good question. I couldn't answer that. Cause it was always something new would come by that you had to buy or replace or something.

RM: What was the country side like when you were growing up ? In what ways was it different than it is now ?

AC: You mean the land ?

RM: Uh-huh.

AC: It didn't change too much. It's about the same like it's always been. I'll withdraw that just a little bit. I've got a mountain place up there at the head of Cuchara and they've ruined the country developin', other than that the rest of the country didn't change too much, but they did ruin that head of Cuchara.

RM: They didn't do that right did they ?

AC: I've got a place up there yet. We never sold a lot in all them years we had that land. We tried to keep it like it was. And it'd still been better if they'd kept it like it was, people could drive up there and look at it. But now they've destroyed it. They made roads, and you name it, they did it.

RM: How about the wildlife, had the wildlife changed much ?

AC: The wildlife has changed some. When I was a young boy growing up they had a boundary through here and they never did leave huntin' past these rock walls up here, up the other way, and there was a lot of game. But now they've throwed it open all over, see, and they've wrecked it. There's only one thing we've got in here we didn't have and that was antelope and elk. We got a lot of them now. There's not too many deer anymore.

RM: That's about the end of my list of questions unless you want to tell me some stories, I know you have stories.

AC: I wouldn't know. If there's nobody an old timer would come and ask me about so then I'd remember and tell them. But right off, telling you....There's a place I've got here at the head of Cuchara, it's not on the highway, that was a homestead but we didn't homestead it. I took your sister-in-law up there to it last week.

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