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Scanned and edited by Dick Chenault
Interviewed by Rosalyn McCain
Date of interview - 7-31-1979
Esther Flora James
Date of birth - 9-16-1898
Parents - John Johnson and Annie Johnson
Family origin - Fredricktown, Missouri
Profession - Postmistress, ranching
My daughter Mildred, just left this morning. She has been
here visiting me, for a month. She is 63 and is my second child.
She is a supervisor in a garment factory. My oldest son made her
think my health was bad. But it isn't so. The doctor thinned my
blood, and I really feel much better now. I was getting absentminded. My son is 64, and he lives in Walsenburg. His name is
Curtis Loyd James. Mildred is thirteen months younger than Curtis.
Then there is Joe, which is twenty months younger than Mildred. He
has a used—car business in Pueblo. He has five daughters. One of
his girls is married to a doctor in Chicago. Two granddaughters,
are in Denver. One has a girl who is nine years old, and the other
one has a little boy in school.
I have lived here since 1936. That is a long time. I wasn't
by myself until a few years back. In the winter I go out to live
in Gardner. I stayed here by myself. I have worked like a man.
I raised one of my oldest boy's sons. I took him when he was about
three years old. His mother tried to take him back home, but he
wouldn't go home. I took him to Jim Wilburn's place in the winter,
for twelve years. I would take him to Gardner to school. We lived
in and around Gardner during high school. Now he is 700 miles from
here. He is up in Montana. He is a foreman for a big ranch. He
runs cattle, and he works for a retired banker, who raises cattle
and raises seed. My grandson is in charge of the seed business.
We came here from Fredricktown, Missouri. I had the measles,
and we took our oldest boy out of school, because we all got the
measles. It settled in my lungs. We came to Gardner in August
1923. I responded to this climate right away. We first lived in
the Methodist Parsonage. Two years later we went to the Redwing
Store. I took the exam and was the Post Mistress, there for five
years. The Postal exam was like an eighth grade exam. My ex—
husband and I both took the exam, and I won the job. Charlie and
Billie Addington ran the store, but we rented it from them. It
was a big old store. The postman there had the mail route too.
There were alot more people there when I was there. There were
alot more families too, and they all had children. Most of the
children have all left. Like my children.
I tell people that in twelve years Gardner will be a hippie
town. They are the ones having children now. All of the people
my age don't have any children here anymore. That new laundromat
is run by a hippie fellow, and it is so nice. I hope he will stay
there and that he will make some money. The hippies that have
come in, haven't been mean. They did right when they came in.
They stayed in the background. They watched, and learned the ways
here. When people say a slurring word about the hippies, I say
they are just people. The law has never had to get any of them.
They don't have much meanness in them.
Frank Baker has cattle here. He went all around my fence and
fixed it up. He's up and about, and doing okay. They have a lot
of company. I don't know how Stella does it. The last time he
was here he wouldn't stay for warmed—overs. I eat dinner with
them about once or twice a year. They also had their cattle here
I sold out my cattle two years ago. So I don't have anymore
cattle. I just have one old milk cow and her calf. She is the
best milk cow I have ever had, and she gives so much good milk.
She is half Hereford, and I have no idea what her father was. I
make lots of butter. I churn that sweet cream and work out all
the moisture, and then I freeze it, and it tastes real good all
winter long. My freezers are in Gardner. I move into Gardner
after deer season is over. I wait till I see a big storm coming.
I have everything ready, and then I just go on in. I live in
Oren's house, between Martinez' and Rose Alice Benson. I've lived
there six winters. I come back up when the spring opens up. So
I spend half of my time here and half of my time there in Gardner.
We built this house in 1933. I was left alone here and owed
so much. I was up here a'foot. My banker loaned me the full amount
for a used car. I'd get the pinkss and go down there a'crying. He'd
listen to me and say “Get on home and get to work. You'll make it.
I watched you when you were in the Redwing Store.” I was a hard
worker, and I did things the way it seemed right to do it. I got
along fine. I got cattle, and they came right along. I've always
been able to take a little, and make a little bit more. I kept
my heifers, and sold my steer calves to make up their expenses.
I don't think people manage like they used to. Welfare spoils
people. I had it rough.
My ex—husband homesteaded for three years, up farther from
here. You were supposed to live on your homestead, and he didn't,
so he lost his homestead. The person who had this land was the
person who filed his deed. He died, so my husband bought this
640 acres. We built this house. I went back to Rye. The inspector
came. I had made bread and ham, and the inspector had dinner
here. He said “Anybody who builds a house like this is okay. I
don't need to inspect the rest of your land." I have 1000 acres
now. I bought the other land to go with it.
My husband was good in alot of ways. He had a wonderful
personality. He was kind of dishonest, and he was a woman chaser
from one end to the other. We just drifted apart. I'd have things
done, and then he'd break in. I told him, “I'm not going to have
you here getting me stirred up." He went back to Missouri. He had
holdings there. The last time I saw him he said, “With all the
other women, you've been first in my heart."
That's why we moved here. In six months he was in the pot
just as deep as before. I think it's a disease in both men and
women. Just like alcoholism. He's 81 now and almost blind. He
married a young woman. That is his second marriage. He has grand-
children. My son Joe went to visit him, and he said, “His second
wife is just like you, Mother.” Joe never fooled with his dad. His
dad gave his two boys two pigs. Joe got two little ones, and he
traded them for a tractor.
The Redwing Store was a general merchandise store. Everybody
didn't have a car in those days. In the late twenties and for
fifteen to twenty years the Redwing Store was a good place. I
made a dollar a day at the post office. I paid insurance on $6000
policy for my husband, and little policies for the kids. A little
was a whole lot in those days. I wasn't even going to take the
postal exam, but my husband said I should try. I beat him and got
the Post Office job myself. I didn't even plan on taking it.
I first moved from the Redwing Post Office to the Montez place.
We lived there for four or five years. My ex—husband sold that, and
we lived in Denver for one year, and then we came back to Gardner.
My husband had to be on the move. He would take off on his own
and come back here every once in a while. I soon told him, “Nothing
doing.” We have never been enemies. I just got a divorce.
Alton Tirey is a good boy. His brother Bruce, was my husband's
buddy, and he was a woman chaser too. Alton, and his mother, put
his stuff on the back porch, and he straightened out for a while.
Mrs. Tirey was a good woman.
Women's roles are so deep, It's so hard to tell. All the
time I've been talking, I was in the background. Homer Benson
was A—1 100%. If it wasn't for him, I never would have made it.
I think they built Ben Abila's house. He died while he was living
there. Lottie is such a good person. She was a niece of Mrs. Fred
Deiz. She raised her, and that's how she met and married Homer.
Women can take over a big business now. It hadn't got to
that place then, but I think there's women that could even be
president. Women have just kind of held back. There's good and
bad business men. I actually believe that there's no difference
between men and women in judgment.
We lived in the big part of the barn when we moved here.
My oldest boy was two or three. He went to school from here, and
he finished high school upstairs where Mrs. Harney lives. The
last part of high school he went in to Walsenburg. I don't remember,
if Joe and Mildred finished high school.
Way, way back it was the rich and the poor. The cattlemen
like Diez had a lot of cattle, The rest of us had just a few,
and now a lot more have cattle.
I tried putting up hay here a couple of years. I kept the
cattle below the gate. Then I got out of here in the winter.
It's been a long time since I wintered my cattle here. I was
twelve years on Jim Wilburn's place, and now Tony Pando has it
in the winters.
I have what I made with my cattle. I was kind of goofy to
go through that, but I liked the work and that's how I made my
money. I had ten or twelve cows to start with, and gradually built up
enough so I had the right capacity. Then I cut down to forty or
fifty, I thought that's what my place could handle, but I never
wanted to be big.
When I was a girl, I milked with my step—grandmother. We
had big old stanchions. We had no milk cows. We had to milk
twelve cows to get the milk of one milk cow. We hooked their heads
up to milk them, and it is a wonder none of us got killed when
those cows would squeeze up together, I can remember one time
when one of the cows slipped, and I can still see her legs sticking
out and falling from step to step. I couldn't stop laughing at
the time, even if she had really got hurt. We went to Grandpa's to
live after mother died.
Back in those days people raised up their kids, and now they
just grow up. When I grew up there weren't modern things for kids
to do. Kids got up early and helped with the milking and chores.
I walked three miles to school. I don't know if it's better or
worse now. There was a one—room school with one teacher, and now
they would have three teachers for that number of students. When
I grew up, people didn't have the education that they have today.
We had fun, going to school. There was a bunch of us that
walked to school together. If the girls got through the eighth
grade, they were doing good. Later girls went two more years. Now
most go through high school. There wasn't the need for it then.
I didn't go on to school, but my work didn't need it, and I did fine,
Most parents get kids through high school now. I don't know if
it's better or worse. Maybe at that time that was enough, because
most girls got married and had families.
Men didn't even read much. My husband's mother had 19 children.
She raised thirteen of the children. There was one set of twins,
and they didn't need an education. There was no birth control
knowledge. The women nursed their babies till they were eighteen
months old, and they wouldn't get pregnant. Maybe that worked, and
maybe it didn't.
My work gave me something to do in addition to making me money.
I don't feel like I was ever smart, but I have the ability to do
something. I have good judgment about what to do, and how to do
it. My husband couldn't do that, and I could. He'd say, “I'll be
back later this evening.” and I wouldn't see him for two weeks.
A lot of things have changed. Old folks live together, so
their income doesn't change. Young girls are free with themselves,
There were some ornery ones in the old days. They didn't go off
and live together, they just managed it some other way. Girls
who did were really shunned. If they got pregnant, they stayed
home with their parents, had the child and didn't repeat it.
They lived with their parents, and had the child.
My daughter Mildred, built up to the very top in her work. I
never have told my kids how to do it. They had to decide for themselves,
what they want to do and how they want to do it.
I sold all my cattle two years ago in July. I had a very
serious surgery at the end of July, and the doctor said, my chances
were very slim, of ever getting off the operating table alive. I'll
be 81 in a few days. I don't have my old pep and vitality, and I
can't work like I used to.
I don't know how the government can support everybody. The
young, the old and the middle—aged people. They can't keep so
many people going, without working. My son in Walsenburg is on
welfare, and I feel real bad about that. He should have been able
to do something with his life. It is hard on the taxpayers. It's
not the poor and not the rich, but the in—between that keep things
going in this country.
When I kept books at the store and post office, I had to balance
my books. One time I came out 1 cent off, and it took me seven to ten
days to find the mistake. Homer specialized in figures. He didn't
go to school, but he was good at figures anyway. Mrs. Benson had
spoiled her boys, but Homer was a good person.
The real—estate agent was here this summer. This place is for
sale. I have sold a lot of Christmas trees. This place has lots
of big pine trees, they are good tall trees for corral poles.
Nothing has been sold off here for two or three years. There are
a lot of aspen. There is a lot of water. There are springs. There
is no water right to a ditch. That goes to the Caldwell place.
There is a big spring 3/4 of a mile up, another just above the
house. There are three springs in the old hay field. The back
side has good springs, if they were developed. Someone could do
a lot with this place if they had some money to put into it.
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