Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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David Firm

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Sherry Cook
Date of Interview - 12-10-1979
Interviewed by - Rosalyn McCain

David Firm
Date of birth - 6-21-1907
Parents - James Phillip Firm and Minnie Gordon Simpson
Paternal grandparents - David Scott Firm and Mary Firm
Maternal grandparents - Katherine Gordon Simpson, step-grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gordon
Ethnic group - Scottish
Family origin - Scotland and England
Date of family arrival in County - about 1890
Location of first family settlement - Santa Clara mines, then Pictou
Kinship ties - Margaret Garren, aunt

RM: When your family came to the county, when did they first come here?

DF: My granddad and grandmother came way back in 1890, I think.

RM: Is that right?

DF: Uh-huh. He worked out at here at the mines at Pictou. She ran a boarding house at Pictou.

RM: Where had they come here from?

DF: They came from Ohio. They came from the old country here, from Scotland. And grandpa worked in the mines in Ohio for a long time and they came out here and homesteaded back up here by Pictou. And grandma didn't want the boys to work at the mines so they bought the big ranch up there. My granddad and my father were partners. Then my dad had a business here in Walsenburg, in 1913.

RM: Uh-huh. What was his business here?

DF: He had a saloon here.

RM: Oh, and he had to close down during the strike, is that right?

DF: No, he moved to the ranch. The state went dry. Anyway, the state went dry and he had the ranch paid for, so he moved to the ranch in 1913. North of La Veta. And then my granddad and grandmother moved into La Veta. They lived right on the corner where that rock house is. That's part of the old estate.

RM: Where was the ranch north of La Veta? What was the area, how do you get there?

DF: Well, you go up, where that truck stop is on top of that hill. It's on over the hill. It's called the Tres Valle's Ranch. That's where I was raised.

RM: Is that right? That's lovely in there.

DF: My uncle Walter lived with us until my mother died. That was my dad's brother.

RM: I see.

DF: And we was in the ranch during the 1913 strike, that happened down here you know?

RM: And so Oakview wasn't very far from you folks, was it?

DF: No, Oakview and Opal wasn't. Because the miners, the day before they had the battle up here, marched across through the ranch.

RM: Is that right?

DF: And the next day we had the…you probably heard about it. The battle on the Hog.

RM: Those were quite some times, weren't they?

DF: Yeah. We used to stay up and watch the miners come through the ranch, but, then my sister and I, we rode horseback to school.

RM: And where did you go to school?

DF: In La Veta.

RM: In La Veta. So that was a pretty good ride in the middle of the winter wasn't it?

DF: Five miles. A hard way to get an education.

RM: That's right!

DF: My dad had registered Hereford cattle, showed cattle in the Denver area every year, prize cattle. Several trophies. In 1946, he sold out and dad bought a little ranch down here at North Veta, you know where it is? We had that ranch till 1960. Then I moved down here in '63. But there still one sister in La Veta, my dad's sister lives there yet. She's about 86 years old.

RM: Is that right? What is her name?

DF: Garren.

RM: Margaret Garren? She's one of the people that I haven't talked to that's been on my list and we've been missing connections; when I'm available, she isn't.

DF: There's where she lives, in the house on the corner. My dad was pretty active; he was a 32nd degree Mason and my uncle Walter, both.

RM: Now how did they manage the homestead and mine at the same time?

DF: We lived out here.

RM: So they homesteaded right near where the mining was?

DF: We still own the mineral rights. Now, they built them a adobe shack up there. Grandma had about 14 kids.

RM: Is that right? That' a lot of kids!

DF: Dad worked in the mines with his father when he was 12 years old, right here in Pictou.

RM: Is that right? They really started early, didn't they?

DF: He went to school. I think the third grade, dad went to the mine. He was pretty smart.

RM: So how were they able to get out of the mining and into other things? Were they able to save enough mining that they could go into other fields?

DF: Well, I don't know. I guess my granddad only worked out here, and grandmother run the boarding house, why then, all her boys were working and everything; any money they brought home they dropped it in her lap. That's what they bought their ranch with.

RM: So, it was a big family that enabled them to do that wasn't it?

DF: Yeah. Then dad paid his half out of the saloon and gambling hall. Soon as he got his half paid off, why we moved to the house.

RM: Remember any stories that they told of the days when they had the boarding house?

DF: No, I never heard my grandmother talk about it. Just feeding the miners.

RM: And how about the days when they had the saloon and gambling hall, I imagine they had some stories from there?

DF: My dad used to tell about the gambling house. Well, one story he said, he knew Bob Ford, for awhile. After he killed Jesse James, he moved to Walsenburg for awhile.

RM: Is that right?

DF: And one time, they, bunch of guys robbed the train coming in from Trinidad. Got the payroll off of it and then went down there and lost all the money in dad's saloon. Dad never did fool around with the miners or those working men too much. They'd come in and drink a little. He picked on the big guys that had money…He was well liked around here. Run them home, tell them, “Go home, feed your family.”

RM: Bet the wives appreciated that!

DF: He was well liked around here.

RM: When did prohibition come in? What were the dry years?

DF: Around 1912. Coming into Colorado. I don't remember the other states. I know Nebraska was still selling, because dad used to order it and it came from Nebraska. My granddad shopped once in a while, dad used to keep it for him.

RM: Was there a lot of bootlegging during the prohibition days in this area?

DF: Oh, yeah. Seventh Street, every house, selling beer, wine, bootlegging. I can name a lot of them, but I won't.

RM: They had the laws, but they didn't pay much attention to them?

DF: Well, the Revenuers used to come in there and the laws they had, they were just gettin' off…one sheriff got killed over that deal.

RM: Is that right? What was his name?

DF: Cornwall. And he was supposed to tip this old boy off and he didn't. He went there with the federal men and this old boy shot him. And then he went out here and barricaded himself in an adobe house and finally shot himself.

RM: Is that right?

DF: After he killed the sheriff. And you heard about the Baldwin boys that used to live up here?

RM: I don't know, I don't think I have.

DF: There were mean men. One of them killed his baby.

RM: Oh, my goodness!

DF: The sheriff went up there after him and his wife, pulled a gun out of the drawer and he arrested them saying to repent. And he had a brother and some law officer went after him and they both killed one another.

RM: Is that right?

DF: It was the Baldwins. Harry Capps was sheriff and Old Shorty Martinez was the deputy, you heard of him, I guess?

RM: Uh-huh. We heard a couple of stories about him.

DF: They used to tell some wild ones about him. Old Homer Potts, he was mean, you heard about him, haven't you?

RM: I don't think I have.

DF: Homer Potts, he killed the jailer down here.

RM: What were the circumstances there?

DF: Homer Potts was running around with the jailer's daughter and they went out on the street and had a shoot out. Homer Potts killed the jailer.

RM: Is that right?

DF: He was deputy sheriff here and he went and had a fight and he shot a fellow through a tree with a high powered rifle. He was always on the side of the law. He lived in La Veta till he died. He still has a daughter named Mrs. Lehmen, who lived in La Veta. Used to own the drug store. And there's where these Lewis's used to live up here on the Huerfano. Used to come into town; shoot up the town. Ride right down the street. Everybody ran when they rode into town.

RM: Do you remember any stories that they told about the Indians? Were there Indians still around when your grandparents came?

DF: Yeah, there was a band of Indians up here in the Canyon. Lived up there. They said that they used to see them riding up along the ridge at night, going and coming from the camp. They camped up there years ago. And they had that fort in La Veta, you know all about that?

RM: Yeah. Uh-huh.

DF: Old boy by the name of Hiram Vasquez was an Indian fighter. Went down to Cucharas with troops down there, there was a battle up there. Did you read any of his books that old Hiram wrote?

RM: No, I haven't.

DF: Probably got them there at that museum. Because he wrote books all about the Indians.

RM: Is that right?

DF: That was around here. He was raised by the Indians, they captured him and his sister when they were just little, 11 or 8, and they got away from him. He used to come to school when I was just in grade school, when he was still alive and tell stories about the Indians.

DF: Old Sam Capps, he was a Civil War veteran. Come to school and tell stories. He was the first County Superintendent. You heard about him? Old Sam Capps.

RM: Uh-huh. I've heard about him, but I haven't heard that.

DF: He was the Superintendent of schools…still got a grandson, he owns all this land by the Sand Crest, young Sam.

RM: I don't know him but I've heard of him.

DF: Eight ranches, raised a lot of cattle. Mom and dad used to talk about him when he was a kid; they used to send him over the hill and prairie. Get their milk cow or horse and get out there and said them steers would take right after you. He'd climb the first tree he came to.

RM: The Capps family were influential in politics and in the cattle business then, weren't they?

DF: Yeah. You see Harry Capps was sheriff long back. Claude Hart was a deputy. Old Shorty Martinez was a deputy and then I think Swift got in after Harry Capps went out.

RM: What was his name?

DF: Claude Swift. We lived up there on the ranch and we didn't have a car to roll on till about 1915.

RM: And you rode a lot, didn't you?

DF: Yeah. Mother used to, she never did drive a car. She had a buggy horse and she'd go to town on when she could get there with the horse and buggy. And then come a snow and we'd be snowed for 2-3 months at a time. Get out on horseback. Us kids would ride to school and bring home the mail and the paper. We always had plenty of food stored away to do us all winter.

RM: I'll bet you had to, didn't you? Did you have root cellars?

DF: Yeah.

RM: Did you mom do a lot of canning?

DF: Uh-huh, she used to do a lot of canning. We always had plenty to eat.

RM: Did you grow big gardens in the summertime?

DF: Oh, yeah. Always had a big garden. Had a big apple orchard. All kinds of fruits up there. No, never did go hungry.

RM: Now, how about during the Depression years, did people living in, pretty much in the country like that with their own food supplies, feel the Depression years very much?

DF: There were very few people that didn't leave the ranches. All these dry farmers that couldn't make a living. And they put on a relief program for them. Government took most of their land, they were trying to rehabilitate them, loan them money. And when they put the WPA works on them a lot of them moved to town. I think that's what's bothering them. Because when they lived out in their little sand briar district, all of those folks had decent work in the summer. They used to work in the summer for a big ranch or something. They'd make enough money to buy their clothes, raise enough for their own food. They were happy. Then they moved them all into town and they started hitting the booze joints. My dad picked up a lot of that land from the government.

RM: So people would lose it to the government and then the government would sell it to the people?

DF: Yes, sell it to the people. Yeah, they just moved them off lock, stock, and barrel.

RM: And the families never did get back to the land again, did they?

DF: Oh, a few of them own a little piece, some of the Vigil's over there, they own a little bit of it. But that's all in that Navajo development outfit now. There's all that down there (Sand Arroyo) North Veta district. That was a big settlement at one time. They used to have a school house there. George's run that store there. You know Dicky George? His mother ran that store there. The Half Way Store, they called it. That's where the Navajo sits now. There was a big store and a Post Office. All those people from North Veta and Sand Arroyo, used to tickle me, when we were at the big ranch, these people from Sand Arroyo would head for town on a team of horses. When it was real cold they would have a tub sitting on some rocks and a load of pinion wood. Had a fire in the tub to keep warm. It was an idea. They would come through there and the snow would be a blowing and get stuck; their teams was so poor they couldn't pull a wagon. We'd take them in and feed the horses, put them on the floors and feed them over night.

RM: You had your own boarding house for people that got stranded, didn't you?

DR: That ranch up there had a big house on it. The old house, that used to be the half way station between here and the top of Ute Pass. Yeah, they used to change horses there. Had a big house over there. It's still there. It's been all remodeled. We lived in there in 1913 to 1918. Dad built a new house. It was a big old house. Had a big horse barn and all the stalls were, at least, as big as horses. And it's still there! We remodeled it all, but had show cattle in there.

RM: Now, what was stage route at that time? What route would the stage take?

DF: It left Walsenburg and went up to that ranch, up that north road; you know where the Navajo place is? That back road? They took the north road and stopped there at the ranch, and they took the ridge on over the pass. Used to go up through, between the mountains, where they had a pass over there. And then there was a station up on top of the pass, another one. There's were the old boys got the outlaws, cut the heads off and brought them home in the gunny sacks.

RM: Now, who was that?

DF: I can't remember the names, but it was kind of nasty, there was a big write up in the Pueblo Chieftain about it here a few years ago.

RM: Is that right? That was the Espinoza brothers the he killed?

DF: Yes, I think so.

RM: Well, I could almost think of his name!

DF: They were outlaws for about a year or something there. I mean, everybody was after them.

RM: And what had they done?

DF: The stole some horses and one thing or another from the Army, when there was a strike.

RM: I see.

DF: There was a big write up in the Chieftain about it.

RM: Well, I've seen a picture of him dressed as a mountain man and I can't think of what his name is.

DF: Why there's a lot of these old timers, take old Sam Vigil down there. Well, I met Hazel. Yeah, take it easy, I think he's the one who told me about it before it ever came out in the paper.

RM: Is that right?

DF: One time they robbed the stage going from La Veta to Ojo. And some of those fellows over at Sand Arroyo went looking for that money for years, they said they hid it over in the canyon over there.

RM: They never found anything, though?

DF: No, they didn't find anything. They hired this Homer Potts that I was telling you about, this guard on the stage. He used to ride a horse up the ridge. And this Bill Dick, he was related to the Dicks here, they had a mine up there by La Veta, the Ojo Mine. He was going up the road with the payroll and they shot him right out her by Marlboro.

RM: Is that right?

DF: They killed him to get that payroll. They never did get the payroll, the guys that shot him. There was a wagon full of Spanish people coming down the road. They took off.

RM: They got scared?

DF: And the next day the posse came up, they drove that posse, these law officers from Walsenburg, looking for them clear up that ranch, but they didn't go that way! Just come back the river and come back to town. Never did catch them. But, boy that was a wild time!

RM: I bet it was.

DF: And during the 1913 strike they had these Scabs up at old Oakview. One of the guys that was they called them Scab herders, left La Veta and started up over the hill…almost 4 0r 5 miners laying up there for him. He was really riddled, in a little red automobile. We used to call the draw across that, Death Valley.

RM: Is that right? And where was that?

DF: Just above La Veta.

RM: Is that just coming up that hill out of La Veta? Is that where they were?

DF: No, on the other side of La Veta. Where it goes out of La Veta. I know mother and sister were on the old water train, and that train used to haul water down to Cucharas, every morning.

RM: Is that right? And you could just ride it?

DF: It had a coach on it. It would come down in the morning and go back in the evening. Well, they had a bunch of army guys down here and when they heard about the shooting over here they loaded up the cars with soldiers. My sis and mother was the only ones there. Took them up to La Veta…where they never knew.

RM: How did most of the county feel at the time of the strike? Did they sympathize with the miners?

DF: When I heard the hours they put in and the pay they was getting…go into the mine before daylight and it would be dark when they come out. Work for a couple of dollars a day, loading coal.

DF: That's about all the stuff I got, if it will help you any.

RM: What was it like growing up in the country as a boy in those days, living fairly isolated from the other families? What were some of the things that you did for fun?

DF: Oh, we used to…I had an uncle that had a ranch just about 5 miles from our place and we'd go there and we'd go ice skating and go sledding and used to go to different school houses to dance, you know, and a big feed.

RM: Uh-huh. Did people do more dancing in those days, do you think?

DF: Seem to, yeah. Used to love to go out and go those dances. Some of them had an old organ and somebody played an harmonica or something. And dance all night. Dance and eat. Yeah, we'd get out, my sister and I, and bundle up and go horseback across there…….Oh, we used to have parties! We always had plenty to do.

RM: Now, how many brothers and sister did you have?

DF: I just had one sister. She lives in Pueblo. My dad and uncle was partners and Uncle Walter lived with us until after mother died. She took care of him; he moved in with us when he was 17 years old.

RM: Is that right?

DF: He was working on the drill rig, one up there. He was drilling for coal with Hank Allen, Uncle Walter was. Then, when dad went in business down here, Uncle Walter was working for him, when they were both running the business.

RM: Now, where did you go from the ranch? Did you run the ranch for a time there yourself?

DF: No, I just worked for my dad and uncle. And when we got the ranch at North Veta, my uncle moved to La Veta and he quit the farming business. My dad didn't want to quit so be bought a little ranch down there and I moved down there and ran it with him. I bought some good cattle on my own. We was there up until 1960. We sold out. He had a heart attack, so he sold out to a fellow from Texas. I worked for 2 years for him and he sold. Then we moved down here 1963 and dad died in 1964. And Uncle Walter lived in La Veta by himself. He owned his own home up there till 2 years ago. And I used to go up and help him.

RM: Is that right?

DF: I worked for the Goemmers in La Veta. I left the ranch up there and we moved down here. I couldn't quit working and get away from the cows. I started in 65 and worked up till a few years ago, for the Goemmers.

RM: Now, did you live up there or did you live here while you were working for the Goemmers?

DF: Lived here. Drove back and forth. We'd get snowed in and stay up there till we get out. I lived here and we had ah…bought this place out here and had a house down here. One Sunday it burned up and went clear to the ground! So, we lived in an old shed out there. While I built this house. I built this house myself.

RM: This is a beautiful house. Just lovely!

DF: We done all the work ourselves. We drew up the plans, sent them in, had the logs cut the way we wanted them.

RM: Did you do the stone work on your fireplace?

DF: No, I didn't. I had old Charlie do that. I was working at the ranch and we was a little pressed for time, and it was getting along towards winter. I was working up there and here half the night. Still not finished!

RM: I know what you mean, we're remodeling a house at Gardner, and Oh, I think my husband thinks it's never going to end.

DF: I've been wanting to make some light fixtures, to put up there. I don't know if I'd be able to make it. But, there's a lot of work. I'll get at it one day. Seems like I've been busier since I've retired than any time else. ……… She used to paint, but she quit that, I don't know why. She's a pretty good artist. But I got stuck one the macramé work here.

RM: so you were born here and you lived here 6 years and then you moved on the ranch. And would you come into Walsenburg very often when you were a kid?

DF: Oh, we used to come down here about once a moth, when it was nice weather. My dad used to sell hay out here at Walsen camp, haul hay and feed the horse down on the back road. We had an old team, spring wagon, we'd come to town once in a while, when we needed supplies.

RM: And what were the things that you would buy in town that you didn't have?

DF: Oh, we used to buy flour, coffee, sugar, things that we needed.

RM: Would your mom make most of the family's clothes? Would you buy clothes?

DF: No, bought most of the clothes. She didn't do much sewing. My grandmother Gordon used to knit sweaters and socks. We would come down, usually the fall of the year and get school clothes and stuff like that. Enough to do us all winter. And she used to make butter and trade it for groceries in La Veta. She used to make butter every Friday night.

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