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Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Billie Crump
Interviewed Rosalyn McCain
RM: Okay, well I guess the first question is, when did your family first come to Huerfano County?
JC: We came to Huerfano County, 1901.
RM: And where did your family come from?
JC: Rye Colorado.
RM: Rye, and what have they been doing in Rye?
JC: They were farmers there. They homesteaded there in the early 8O's.
RM: In the early 80's. So they've been in Colorado a long time. And where did
they come from then?
RM: Uh-huh. What made them decide to come West?
JC: Well, you'd have to ask them. I couldn't tell you.
RM: Did they homestead when they came to Huerfano County?
JC: Did they what?
RM: Did they homestead here?
JC: Yeah, they homesteaded in Pueblo County, then came here.
RM: And where did they come when they first came here ?
JC: We used to live, we lived two years by the Martin Lake. There used to be
a house there. And we lived there for two years and we used to fish there.
RM: Is that right?
JC: And my dad used to catch a lot of fish there with a seine.
RM: You really fished there?
JC: Yeah, it was carp. And we'd clean them and ice them and the next morning we'd
take them down to the coal mines, and sold them, two pounds for a quarter.
RM: Well that sounds like a pretty good deal.
JC: We'd bring back five, twenty or thirty dollars, that was big money. That's right. Then after two years we moved up to Spanish Peaks and we lived right up against Spanish Peaks for a year.
RM: Is that by La Veta or...
JC: Up on the mesa from La Veta. And dad, well, of course I was big enough to
help him then, and we cut props, mining props.
RM: So you cut timber up there?
JC: For the coal mines. You know at one time there was seventeen thousand
people in Huerfano County.
RM: Is that right.
JC: And of course a lot of these big mines they had much as a thousand people in
the mine. The Walsen Mine, about a thousand people were there.
RM: Uh-huh. And so which mines did you usually sell your props to?
JC: Well to Pictou, Walsen, and Rouse.
JC: They're all closed down now.
RM:. That's right. When did those mines close down?
JC: Well, I wasn't here at the time, I left here in 1923.
And I didn't come back here until 1960. So they were closed in the meantime
along in the thirties, forties in there, is when they started closing down.
The last one closed here, oh about five years ago. The last coal mine.
RM: And where was the last one?
JC: The Morning Glory that's....
RM: Just off the way to Gardner here?
JC: Yeah, that's the one the Sudnar brothers used to run.
RM: So what did your family do other than cutting timbers for the mines?
JC: Well they was Farmers. We moved from the Spanish Peaks, we moved down here
on the Cucharas River three miles below Walsenburg and we farmed there. And
us kids grew up there. We built a house there, and we grew up there.
RM: Uh-huh, and where is that again?
JC: Three miles below Walsenburg on the Cucharas Creek.
RM: Uh-huh, East of Walsenburg.
JC: East of Walsenburg. And of course we grew up there and we helped farm and
I worked in the Sheriff's office for quite a while. And then I left here in
RM: And where did you go then?
JC: I went to Texas, El Paso Texas. I put in nearly Forty years down there before
I came back.
RM: What were you working at down there?
JC: Well, I first went to work in a garage, then I bought some land and farmed
and developed a bunch of land there, and sold it at a tremendous profit. And
I bought a ranch in Corona New Mexico. I bought a piece of land in El Paso
Valley again. All that land that I bought was taken over by the city limits
and by developers, so I got a tremendous price for it.
RM: Uh-huh, then you moved back here in. the 60's?
JC: Then I moved back here. I started buying land here. At one time I had eight
different ranches here, I had fourteen thousand acres of land. And I sold, Oh
I still got about six thousand acres. I got as much land and rights here, and
East of here about four miles. And I got a little farm out on the Huerfano
just below the Butte, that I bought about three years ago. That's where I
spend my time, that's my hobby place there. I have Bull Dozers, I have quite
a bit of equipment, I'm doing alot of land cleaning up. Making a show spot
Out of it.
RM: What was it like to grow up as a kid out here in the early days?
JC: Oh, you mean, how it felt to grow up. Well, there was nothing to do here.
After I left the Sheriff's department I drilled for a while. Well, I did a
lot of well drilling, then I decided to go to, well, I started to go to
Tampico, Mexico to the oil wells. But when I got to El Paso they said that
they had a war there with the drillers and they killed some drillers and one
thing and another, so they told me that I could go out there if I wanted to,
but that was the situation. So I went to work in a garage there in El Paso
and I was putting in maybe twenty years with the Chevrolet Dealer down there.
RM: Uh-huh. Now how about when you were a boy here in Walsenburg, what was it
like to grow up here?
JC: Pretty rough. We didn't have money like the children do now. We used to,
each holiday we got twenty-five cents, and I think the Fourth of July we got
twenty-five cents. So we bought ten cents worth of firecrackers, one lemonade
for five cents, and ten cents worth of candy, and that was our celebration.
And when we first moved out here, Walsenburg still had dirt streets, they
wasn't paved. They used to run race horses up and down Main Street.
RM: Is that right.
JC: And they'd put out the old wooden beer kegs along this wooden sidewalk, and
then they'd have planks on that and that was their seats. That's the way the
people would watch the races.
RM: When would they have the races?
JC: The Fourth of July.
RM: What other things would they do for the Fourth of July? Mostly the horse
races or other things?
JC: Well, they had horse races and foot races and they had pretty much like it
is now. And the fireworks, course we got fireworks right in town. It wasn't
prohibited like it is now. No, we used to get a bunch of firecrackers, those
little firecrackers for a dime, that was a big celebration.
RM: How about games, what games did kids play in the early days?
JC: Well, they played baseball. I played baseball for a while, then I rode
broncs at rodeos quite a bit. One time I remember we was up here above
Walsenburg, a little kind of a picnic there, and playing ball there. We were
supposed to ride some horses. A fellow knocked a fly and it come down and I
caught it and there was an old man sitting on a log spitting, chewing tobacco
and he says, You have to catch it or it would have hit him in the face. So
that kind of made me mad so I told my partner, I used to have a partner that
I used to ride around with, I says, Let's go ride us some horses. So I
went and rode a bronc. There was a bronc that a fellow had, turned out he
couldn't ride it. He sold it to an old German woman, and this German woman
was using him for a plow horse, but he was still a bad horse. So she says, “I
got a horse you can't ride'. So we went and got him, and I got on him, and he
bucked a little ways then reared straight up like he was going to fall
backwards. I turned loose and he threw me out there about twenty feet. I was
up above the horse when I left him. The old German woman said, “Aw, he sure
threw you graceful'. That sure made me mad, so I told that little boy, Let's
catch that horse, I think I can ride him. So the next time I got on him he
started bucking and raring up, and when he did that, in them days we had a
quirt loaded with shot, it's kind of like a short whip. And I hit him right
between the ears and he came down and bucked a little ways and of course I
rode him then. But after that, they rode him here one time at a rodeo. He
throwed him the same way he did me, only he landed on his head and shoulders
instead of his feet, so it broke his collar bone.
RM: So how long did you ride broncos?
JC: Oh, I rode broncos for about three years. Of course, I rode them for many
years, but I mean in a rodeo, we had about three different rodeos here.
RM: Would you go elsewhere to rodeos or just here?
SC: Well, I rode here and I rode in Pueblo and Aguilar and down in the country
here that they call Holly. There used to be an old gathering there for cow-
boys and people down there, newcomers. And of course I've always rode horses.
I haven't quit riding yet. Of course I don't ride broncs any more. But I
still ride horseback.
RM: How has farming and ranching changed over the years, what are the changes you
JC: Well, it's changed a whole lot. Of course we used to farm in the old horse
and buggy days. We didn't know what a tractor was. We didn't get any tractors
till way back in, well we didn't.get started with tractors till, oh about the
2O's, that's when we started getting tractors. A lot of fellows farmed with
for a long time after that. We got a tractor it was about a 1920, a little
RM: I bet that was really exciting when they first got the tractors?
JC: If you had a tractor, you were up in the top knotch.
RM: And how would you say people got along in those days, were people neighborly?
JC: Well, the people got a long a whole lot better then they do now. And you
could buy things so cheap. Of course, you didn't make much but it went so
much further. You take five dollars and go to the grocery store and you could
hardly carry it out. Now you can take fifty dollars and carry It out with one
RM: That's right.
JC: So it makes quite a difference. But we had our own butter, our own eggs,
our own meat, so we lived very cheap. In them days we lived just about, I'll
say about one fifth of what they're living for now, maybe less than that, one
fourth I'd say. Especially the farmers, cause all we bought was a little
sugar, pepper, and salt. The rest we had our own.
RM: You raised a garden in the summer time.
JC: Sure, we had a big garden, a lot of vegetables. Put up a lot of vegetables,
and fruit trees. We used to buy apples and stuff like that for a dollar a
bushel, peaches for a dollar a bushel, sometimes less potatoes the same way.
We didn't raise any potatoes but we could buy them for a dollar a hundred. So
it made a big difference.
RM: That's right. Now how about, what would be the things that you would raise
that were your cash crops. What were the things that you would have surplus
of and you'd have to sell. Would it mainly be beef or...
JC: Well, we raised beef, and we had a farm below Walsenburg, it was kind of a
vegetable farm, and through the summertime we'd load up a load of cucumbers,
carrots, and stuff like that, and go to these coal mines and sell it. Honey,
we had a lot of bees and we raised a lot of honey in them days. We sold them
little square boxes, I think they weighed a pound.
RM: From the honey comb.
JC: Yeah, honey comb. .I think they weighed a pound or about a pound.
Sell two of them for a quarter. And now what are they, about a dollar?
RM: How many hives of bees did you have?
JC: There was about sixty hives.
RM: Sixty, so you had a lot of honey.
JC: Wall, my dad was a good bee man, and he never used any protection. He work-
ed with bees without any protection. Us kids, we'd get stung right away. He
never used any protection just to work the bees in.The honey is called Super.
I don't know if you understand what that is.
RM: That's the excess honey isn't it?
JC: It's what you put on top of the hive. That's where the good honey is. And
of course we all got a lot of bees a swarming, then you might be out in the
field and a bunch of bees coming by you. thousands of them, you see.
RM: So how much honey would you have to sell? Do you have any idea of how
many pounds of honey?
JC: We had a separator also. We'd put big sections of honey and spin it. It
would spit out the good honey, and leave the bee bread out, cause the bee
bread is in those big sections in the lower part of the hive. Bee bread,
which is very bitter, that's no good. But the honey that would spin out, we'd
have quite a few gallons of honey to sell that year. Pure honey too.
RM: How about the wild life, what changes has there been in the wild life over
JC: Well, in them days we didn't have too many people hunting, there was lots
of wildlife. When I was a kid we had a deer and a steer hanging in the barn,
kind of a beef house all winter long. We never knew what it was like to buy
beef. Wanted a piece of meat, go out there and cut it. We'd freeze it and
it'd stay froze.
RM: Did they have more severe winters, was it colder in the wintertime?
JC: Well, I think it was colder, we had a lot of more snow. In the early days
had a lot more snow compared to now. The Cucharas.River used to run in the
winter and summer, and now it don't hardly run at all in the sumnertime, very
little. And most of the time it's dry in the summer time. We used to fish in
RM: Is that right.
JC: A lot of fish in there. A lot of what they call, suckers and carp and course
the trout was further up the fountain. A lot of fish in them days. A lot of
of fish, a lot of game. People in most of the ranches used to have their
deer. They never bought a license, they didn't know what a license was in
those days. They just went out and got a deer and used it. And now
everybody's hunting, so I understand. I read an article in the paper the
other day where they sold 85,000
licenses and there was only 75,000 deer in the state. So they had 10,000 more
licenses than there were deer. But I don't know what percent. I haven't seen
the paper, but I imagine, I don't think that 50%. of the people that didn't
get a deer. I got mine Saturday.
RM: I think you're right, I think a lot of people didn't get them.
JC: A lot of hunters, come from all over. We had a lot of out of state hunters
here, all states.
RM: Now how about the different segments of the population, what different
nationalities of people were here in the early days?
JC: Well, when I was in the Sheriff's office I pretty well spoke 5 different
RM: Is that right and what were they?
JC: They was, German, Italian, Spanish. Polish. Slavish, and Bohevian. Slavish
and Bohevian are pretty much alike. But at that time there was every kind of
nationality that you can think of. Any nationality you mention, that was
here,working in these coal mines. There was Japs, there was chinamen, there
was Koreans, there was Greeks, there was Polish, Slavs and Italians. anything
that you could think of was there in those coal mines. They used to get into
a fight once in a while, and of course they couldn't speak English. So when
they brought them in I'd do the best I could to interpret for them. Then I
went down close to the border and I turned Mexican. Can hardly speak English
RM: Now how did the different nationalities get along?
JC: Well, they don't get along. Some of the Foreign countries, with foreigners,
are worse about that. Some of these foreigners had trouble in the old
countries see, then come here they still hate each other, and will fight
every chance they get.
RM; Now which nationalities seem to have the hardest time getting along with
JC: Well, the French and Italians was hard to get along with. Then of course,
the Russians, they had wars there all their lives. They always fight, they
never, never quit. The other smaller country, they didn't have much chance.
The bigger country did the most fighting. Of course Germany always had
fights too. Germans and Russians and Italians and French, they were about the
4 most larger countries.
RM: Are there still a lot of Russian descendents here now?
JC: A lot of what?
RM: Russian people descendents?
RM: What happened to them?
JC: Well, when the coal mine quit they all left. I don't know a Russian
in the county. At one time, you see, during the time when I was in the
Sheriff's department, I knew nearly everybody in the county. But of course,
now I still know quite a few people. I know some of the old timers. Most of
the old timers
that was here when I was a kid are up here on the hill cemetery. There's very
few of the old timers, they moved away, died and stuff like that. We had
a lot of Greeks here.
RM: Are there many Greeks here now?
JC: I think there's two left.
RM: And who are they?
JC: Well, I couldn't tell you now. There's a half Greek here, his mothers
married to a Greek, and his name is Skarmas, he's a half breed. He's a
probation officer here for Huerfano County. He's part Greek. And there's a
little Greek they call Gus. Gus Augustine or something like that. He's still
around. I think he's in a home now. That's about the only two Greeks I know.
Course, there's a lot of Slavish people, Polish people, a lot of Italians,
and lots of Mexicans too.
RM: Now where did the Greeks go, did they go back to Greece.
JC: Well, either died out, or went to a bigger town, scattered around. When
the coal mines quit they didn't have nothing to do, so they just took off.
Course, some died of old age. A lot of them were killed in the mines.
RM: Sounds like a dangerous occupation, doesn't it?
JC: Yeah, they had an explosion every once in a while and then they'd have
cave ins and things like that.
RM: Sounds like that was a hard life.
JC: It was.
RM: Did your family ever do any mining?
JC: I had two brothers that worked in a coal mine that wouldn't do anything
else. One of them got killed out there at Morning Glory. Got his neck broke
coming... there was this machine there and he was moving a machine coming up,
he was getting ready to move his machine, and he hit his head against the
wall, there was rock lower than it should be. And he hit his head on that and
broke his neck and it killed him. He lived a short time after that. The other
one is still alive and he had cancer for the last five years and he's staying
home and he's still living and suffering. He'll be 80 in the spring. That's
the only two coal miners we had in the family.
RM: Is that right. Did he mine all of his life then? Did your brother that is
still alive, did he mine most of his adult life?
JC: Once anybody start working at the mine, they won't do anything else. They
just fall in love with it somehow, they just like to work there.
RM: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
JC: Well, to start with, my mother was a mother of 21 children.
RM: Oh, my goodness.
JC: That's right. And there was let's see,... There was 9 of us grew up to be
full grown. We lived at that time, when I was a baby, where I was born, we
lived in Rye Colorado which was kind of high, and that Black Dipheria set in.
And the doctors, course them days didn't know what to do for us too much. In
one week they buried three different children.
RM: Oh no.
JC: Lost quite a few of them. But my mother was a strong woman, when she was
well. She finally died with cancer when she was 55 years old.
RM: Is that right.
JC: But she used to get out in the field and pitch hay with the men folks. In
them days we didn't have machinery to pick up our hay or haul stuff like
that. We used to put it on the wagon, with a pitch fork and take it off with
a pitchfork, and stacked it in stacks. Then we fed it to the cattle that way.
RM: So she worked hard all her life I bet. Didn't she?
JC: It was a hard life, but it was a good life. There was no drinking or dope
or something like that, we didn't know, In fact, I didn't know what dope was
until I was a grown man. Oh, I heard about it. but I didn't use it.
RM: So, what would you say are the things that are good about the old days and
what were the things that were bad about the old days?
JC: Well, there was nothing too bad. The only thing is we worked harder them
days. We worked many hours. I pitched hay myself for my neighbors from day-
light to almost dark for $2. a day.
RM: Is that right ?
JC: That's a whole day, about 12-13 hours. And now for that same work, course,
they don't pitch anymore, they use machinery. But it's all done with
machinery. So it's much easier now. We've had it hard. We worked harder,
about the only thing. We lived all right, never did go hungry, or anything
like that, regardless. I remember when we had 1903 panic, when there was no
money, and we would take eggs and butter and trade for salt and pepper and
sugar. Of course, we ground our own flour. We used to to have a flour mill in
RM: Is that right ?
JC: We used to take our flour there and have it ground and had bread. My
mother used to bake bread twice a week.
RM: And how much would she make for that large of a family?
JC: She used to make 5-6 pretty good sized loaves. And it would last us 3 days.
Then when we moved here there used to be a flour mill, here in Walsenburg. We
still call it Walsenburg Mill down on 8th Street. They changed it to a feed
store. Purina Feed store.
RM: So there used to be a mill there, in the old days?
JC: We had good flour. Course we raised good wheat when we were in Rye. Course,
when we came here we raised good wheat too. And made good flour.
RM: What are the things that you miss about the old days?
JC: I don't think there is anything.
RM: You think you're living in a pretty good time now.
JC: Oh, I miss the good times we used to have. We used to have dances, we used
to dance all night. I called square dances for many years. I called square
dances till I ruined my throat. Oh, we used to dance till 2-3 o'clock,
sometimes till daylight.
RM: And where would they hold the dances? Where would they have the dances?
JC: At the little school house mostly.
RN: And how often would they have those?
JC: Well, every two weeks, three weeks, something like that. Sometimes every
week. Whatever peop1e felt like. Course they had dances in town too. But
we had a lot of dances Out in the country. We used to ride, maybe like going
to out to Huerfano and Apache to the little school house there, ride out
there on horseback, and then ride back after the dance. Sleep on the horse
RM: Let her take you home, huh.
JC: We had a lot of fun in them days. A lot of hardships and a lot of fun too.
Them's the days gone by.
RM: That's right.
RM: Were there a lot of home cures when people got sick. Home remedies and
herbs, different things like that?
JC: No, I don't know of any. I don't know if my family used any. We always
had a doctor all the time though. For instance for boils and stuff like that,
they made poultices. They made their own poultices out of Flax seed. Flax
seed and stuff like that. To drink anything, of course these miners and them,
they used good whiskey for their remedies.
RM: I think there's some people that still use that.
JC: We wasn't a drinking family, none of us drink in our family.
RM: Were children raised more strictly in those days?
JC: Much stricter.
RM: And how about education? What school did you go to?
JC: I went to school, well, at first I went to school at Walsen Mine... We
lived at Martin Lake, that's where I started. Then I finished at the
school up here on the ranch, called Bevil School.That was right on our ranch,
three miles East of Walsenburg. For a while I went to school at Pictou,
Colorado. You know where Pictou is? I stayed with my sister and went to
RM: So how far in school would people go generally in those days. What grade
would they finish?
JC: If you went to the 8th grade you were a smart person. I didn't go to 8th
RM: HOW far did you go?
JC: Just 8 years old.
RM: And if you went past 8th grade would you go to a different school?
JC: Yeah, you went to High School then.
RM: So then you would go into town, to high school in Walsenburg ?
JC: I never did go to high school. Most of my education was by experience.
RM: So most of the 1st through 8th grade were in the little school houses in the
JC: All the classes was together in the little school houses. We didn't...they
wasn't seperated. They had one teacher and then they had 15 or 20 kids.
Course, there'd be so many in each grade and they'd have to read or whatever
she asked them to do. Now they have a teacher for every few kids and have 4
or 5 teachers for each kid.
RM: Oh, it's not that bad.
JC: They have a different room for every little class.
RM: Oh, I see what you mean. The kids go to different teachers for the different
JC: Yeah. I have a nephew that's a principal here in Walsenburg.
RM: Yeah. He's a pretty good principal from what I hear.So that's your brother's
JC: My brother's son.
RM: So how many children did you have?
JC: Three boys
RM: Three boys and where are they?
JC: Well, one of them lives in Garden City, Kansas
RM: What does he do there?
JC: He works for a bunch of Veterinarians, a bookkeeper and supply man,
Veterinarian supplies. Then I have one son in Walsenburg that worked for the
City of Walsenburg. And I have a son in Lander, Wyoming whose a Game Warden
and Game Warden Supervisor, who had to retire the first of the year. He'll
have his 30 years in. He's only 55 years old.
RM: And how many grandchildren do you have?
JC: Let me count on my fingers first.
RM: Lots, huh.
JC: 12 grandchildren. Now you're going to ask how many great-grandchildren.
RM: I won't ask you. Do you know?
JC: Let me see, I just want you to know how many great grandchildren I don't
have too many. There's 3 there, 4, 5 ... 6, ... Last I can count is 6 great-.
grandchildren. I've got a great granddaughter going to be 18 pretty soon. I
might live to be a great great grandfather.
RM: That's right.
JC: I intend to live till I'm 103.
RM: Really ?
JC: Then get sent to penintentiary for fooling around with some man's wife.
RM: Is that what you're going to do huh ? Sounds like most of your sons have been
very successful. Sounds like you have a very nice family. What advice would
you give young people today?
JC: First thing is to stay off of liquor and smoke and dope. That's the main
advice. And the other advice is to realize the value of money. Young kids
don't realize the value of money at all. They just don't think money is
nothing. They get too much to start with and they don't realize the value of
it. There might be a time when they will, but it will be kind of late. This
thing of running around smoking dope, smoking cigarettes, and drinking liquor
is the worst enemy we got in the world.
RM: So you've never smoked at all? Never smoked cigarettes.
JC: Never did smoke or drink, drink liquor of any kind.
RM: May be why you're so healthy, huh.
JC: I've always worked hard. I ratted around at night quite a bit, in a clean
way. I was quite a go getter, in those days, I don't deny it. I never did do
anything that would hurt my health.
RM: I think that's about it for the questions I have to ask you. Do you
think there's anything about the old days you'd like to talk about?
JC: Let me think. I think I told you about it all... To tell you the truth.
RM: Then I'll just turn this tape recorder off then.
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