Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Eddie Ortivez
Contributed by: Karen Mitchell




Colorado Country Life - January - 2003
Colorado Kid - Stories of the Trail
by Karin V. Deneke

He is a cowboy; always has been. A throw-back to an earlier time, he is a man of few words, having lived his life mostly alone, working the ranches of southern Colorado.

The Colorado Kid is a different kind of cowboy than those often portrayed on the Silver Screen. There is no glamorous Hollywood image for this quiet man. Nor has he made a name for himself on the rodeo circuit, bustin' broncs or riding bulls. He is a working cowboy - one who knows what it takes to get the job done. Working wherever work is available, he is comfortable with bunkhouse living and long, lonely trails.

His legal name is Eddie Ortivez, but most people don't know it, even around Walsenburg where people have known him for years. Here they call him Colorado Kid. He is surprisingly short, when you meet him, but what The Kid lacks in size, he makes up for in personality. Slim and straight as an arrow, The Kid dresses in western garb and always wears his weathered western hat with its brim turned up on both sides. Everyone in town recognizes Ortivez, and many an old timer exchanges a cheerful, "Como estas?" or "How are you?" with the Colorado Kid.

Ortivez, who is pushing 70, lives with one of his sisters, Cora, in a quiet neighborhood on the northeast edge of Walsenburg. A large pile of coal, which will be burned to ward off the winter's chill, sits stockpiled in the front yard of the unassuming little dwelling. Ortivez is the youngest of a large family. How many there were escapes his memory and he is not much for details.

He does know he was born on a small sheep ranch his parents owned near Huerfano. Ortivez remembers growing up without television or any other frills. During his childhood, the coal-mining boom of southern Colorado was slowly subsiding and the meager years of the Great Depression were approaching.

Of Cherokee and Spanish ancestry, Ortivez's American Indian heritage is sketched on his face. Like many other residents in southern Colorado, he speaks both English and Spanish.

The name 'Colorado Kid' came to him early in life, while he was still in school. He remembers wearing a vest lettered with Colorado on the back. It didn't take long before fellow classmates started calling him the Colorado Kid. It Stuck.

For a time, he went to school at a mining camp at Del Carbon. His father, who had found work there, had moved the family from their sheep ranch to the coal camp. The Colorado Kid recalls camp life and the company store, which offered supplies for all their needs. He also remembers how the mining camps, spread throughout the hills, formed their own communities.

And then came the bust. Thousands of miners in southern Colorado lost their jobs and faced hard times. His family was in trouble; The Kid was there to help.

He was only 14, but he quit school after the eighth grade and hired on at local sheep ranches.

"In those days, there were sheep to tend, not cattle," he recalls. "When the price of sheep went down, ranchers switched to cattle. Tending stock and working as a ranch hand has been my life."

His memory of those days is sketchy. A sheepherder's life was Spartan and lacked the excitement and notoriety enjoyed by many a cowboy. Most cattle ranchers continued to look down on the sheep ranchers. The huge flocks of sheep had been blamed for over-grazing pastureland, leaving nothing for cattle to pick on. Their odor, which comes from the pads between their toes, according to Colorado Kid, is offensive, not only to men, but to cattle and horses.

The shepherd was usually by himself anyway, traveling with the slow-moving herd. Winters in the mountain valleys along the Front Range often brought heavy winds and drifting snow. During lambing season, young animals easily fell prey to prowling wolves and coyotes.

The Kid, stayed fairly close to home during most of his working days. Only once did he head north and hire on as a hand on a sheep ranch in Wyoming. By that time, following the infamous "30 years War" between the sheep growers and the cattlemen, many of Colorado's large flock owners had relocated, establishing their sheep herds on the vast grasslands of Wyoming and Montana.

After spending less than a year in Wyoming, Colorado Kid longed for the familiar surroundings of Huerfano County and returned to Colorado. He took on local ranching jobs wherever they became available. The Kid went with the flow. Never married, he admitted, "I was drifting like a tumbleweed."

Occasionally, the Colorado Kid had a chance to work a trail drive, an experience he described as a lot of fun. These were mostly overnight, wagon-train-style events, coordinated for tourists and local folks. Riders and wagons slowly made their way through such scenic areas as Bear Creek Canyon near La Veta. These drives did not lack creature comforts, unlike the legendary journeys undertaken by early settlers. There were tents or wagons to sleep in and the cook's pantry on wheels was well stocked. Once in a while, The Kid recalls, ranch hands had to assist riders with unruly horses.

Other recollections of a lifetime of experiences on different ranches pretty much run together for Colorado Kid. He does remember doing odd jobs on the Sulfur Springs Ranch near La Veta. One time he was helping repair platforms for the ranch's old cabins when a herd of curious Texas Long Horns, in from roaming the range, started breaking cabin windows as they investigated the ranch hands' work.

Then there was another ranch job where he rescued a mare stuck in quicksand and nearly wound up in the quicksand himself. He talks about bears and coyotes spooking cattle on the range during the many nights he spent under the stars. And, he remembers discovering a "dead lady" while rounding up stray cattle. Someone had apparently hidden her in a discarded refrigerator on a trash dump.

Colorado Kid never got seriously hurt on the job, but he did once injure his hand while trying to catch a horse. It was the middle of the night, and his boss's wife was about to have a baby. He was sent to catch a horse to hitch to the wagon. But the horse was spooked and unruly - in the shuffle the horse fell on him, pinning him underneath. The pain was so bad, The Kid passed out. As it turned out, both he and the boss's wife made it to the hospital that night. But, The Kid's only treatment consisted of a pain pill administered by a "real fat nurse." He was back cowboying the next day.

Of course, where there is a working cowboy there is a working horse. Right now, the Colorado Kid's favorite horse is a Welsh Pony named Indian Blood. According to Ortivez, the horse is a frisky jumper, which only allows The Kid on its back. Ortivez talks about Indian Blood as being small, but admits that the horse is getting taller, and the saddle heavier, by the day! But when you are pushing 70, that's not unusual.

Maybe that's why when payday arrives, the Colorado Kid arrives in town not on Indian Blood, but on foot. Wearing his familiar western vest and gloves, and his unique western hat, he is easy to spot.

Years ago, when it was still legal, he came to town sporting his guns. He remembers how he and his father and older brothers would walk the streets, holsters strapped to their hips, "looking like Bonanza." He still owns the holster, but admits with a grin that, "I got rid of the guns because I didn't want to get into trouble."

So today, The Kid, minus his guns, frequents the local coffee shops and bars in Walsenburg after payday. The proprietors and customers of Alys' Fireside Cafe and the Alpine Rose Cafe, as well as the Silver Dollar and BJ's, know him well. If you're looking for The Kid on his days away from the ranch, just follow his trail through these establishments and pretty soon you'll find him on a barstool at one place or the other.

"I look forward to his coming to town," says Barbara Vallejos, a waitress at the Silver Dollar for the past four years. She loves to listen to his stories of what went on out there in the "tollies," as he calls the wide open spaces. The Kid's visits are like clockwork. After he receives what he refers to as his "ranch money," he hitches a ride into Walsenburg and makes his rounds. A simple man, who has spent most of his years on the range, he believes in dealing in cash. And the dollar bills in his pockets satisfy his needs: a cup of coffee or a good meal here, a round of beers - perhaps with a chaser.

Not too long ago he turned over a pair of prized spurs, with his name engraved on them, to the former owners of BJ's, Joyce and Bill Woods. The spurs are displayed at the bar. The Kid's framed photograph also hangs in a place of honor at the bar.

A Colorado cowboy from the past, The Colorado Kid is clearly an institution in Walsenburg. No glitz, no glamour - he's no Hollywood cowboy. He's just the Colorado Kid, a working cowboy, still working, still riding the range.

Karen Deneke is a freelance writer and photographer from Walsenburg who has written for newspapers in southern Colorado. This is her first story for Colorado Country Life.

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