Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Sam Vigil

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Sherry Cook
Date of Interview - May 1879
Interviewed by Lucia Martinez and Jeanette Thach

Sam Vigil was born at Rouse in 1892. His parents' names were Ricardo Vigil, father and Monica Vigil, mother. His Mother's maiden name was Candelarita Martinez.

Lucia: Where did your family come from?

SV: From the southern part of New Mexico. They were coal field miners.

JT: Your parents were following the mining?

SV: Yes. Well, my father was a farmer too, you know. In the winter he worked in the mines and then in the summer he worked on the farm.

JT: Where was the farm?

SV: North Veta.

Lucia: How did you happen to know about the Presbyterian Church?

SV: I don't know much about the Huerfano Church…when it started, but in 1888 there was a minister from Pueblo, by the name of Alexander M. Darley. He was in charge of the mission work here. That's when I started living or lived, went to the mines, and that's when I was born, too, in Rouse. Of course, in 1888, a mission, a Presbyterian mission was established beginning in Fort Garland and that's about all that I can say about the Presbyterian Church. They started that year, in 1888. We had a church established here in Walsenburg in 1900 with a minister by the name of Reverend Jaramillo. Refugio Jaramillo, and so Mr. Jaramillo was taking care of the two churches, Walsenburg and Badito, founded in Talpa. Do you know what Talpa means? It's one of them rats like a gopher. We had this Reverend Jaramillo for thirty years.

JT: Rev. Jaramillo preached my father's funeral in 1923. He was still living in Walsenburg the, but he had quit going up there on the mail cart. First it was buggies and horses and then he would come on the mail wagon, but he always stayed at our house. On Sunday mornings my father and I would go sweep that church and dust it.

SV: Did they have music?

JT: Yes, an organ. Rev. Refugio and his wife was a sweetie, do you remember her name?

SV: Yes, she was a Sanchez from Alamosa. This minister Jaramillo married a girl that was a sister to Rev. Sanchez of Alamosa, I have a picture of that convention that they had there.

JT: A convention, in what year?

SV: 1921. Of course, it had been going previous to that, I couldn't tell when they started what they called the “Esfuerso Cristiano.”

JT: Sam, in the history that I looked up on the State of Colorado's first Presbyterian Churches it says that the head of the Presbyterian Churches was trying to establish as many churches as he could in the new territory of Colorado and he started out in 1860, with the man you mentioned a while ago, Rev. Darley.

SV: Yes, Alexander M. Darley. That missionary then was working in the district of Southern Colorado.

Lucia What memories do you have of the past? How did the people live?

SV: We lived on the ranch in the summer and in the winter we went to school in the coal camps. I went to Union Town, which was Pictou.

Lucia: To what grade did you complete your schooling there?

SV: Seventh.

Lucia: Were you very active in the church?

SV: I was, but when the people started to come, a lot of people would come from Mexico, and they would become members of this church, because Rev. Jaramillo would help the people from Mexico a lot. There was a bunch of forty that came one time, that wanted to become members and from here they went to the sugar beets in the northern part of Colorado.

Lucia: What kinds of celebrations did they have in the church?

SV: Do you mean programs? They had simple programs. They had a Christmas tree and had programs, and a lot of times, someone else would come and help preach, to help around.

Lucia: This Rev. Jaramillo, where did he come from?

SV: From Mexico

JT: His wife came from Alamosa.

SV: His wife's name was Marcelina.

JT: Rev. Jaramillo's brother was the reverend in Alamosa.

Lucia Then this man came directly from Mexico?

SV: Yes.

JT: He as a beautiful and very intelligent man. Well educated.

Lucia: When they constructed this church, prior to that was there another church? A church that was more ancient, what was the history of that?

SV: They came among, I don't know what the people were, that they called Pentecosts and various others. There were even Mormons here that came with them and that they called Holy Rollers.

Lucia: And how was that place. They have told me that in Badito and that area, that people would stop there and rest on route to Walsenburg or on route to Pueblo, and that there was a lot of activity in that area, do you remember that?

JT: I was telling these girls that's the way they came in 1883. From San Luis, they would pass over the mountain through Yellowstone or Pass Creek and they would stop at the Huerfano River and there they had their “colonias.” There was Badito, St. Mary's, down the river and all the way up the river about six miles there was a colony. I was telling these girls yesterday that when they would come from the other side of the mountain, wherever they would find the choke cherry plants and plums, the same things that grew in Santa Fe and Taos, they would name the valley after the other place in New Mexico. For instance, they had Talpa in New Mexico, they had Badito, and Chama, they gave these areas the same names for when their families came from the other side they would look for the same names of the plazas like they had there.

SV: My father was there then at that time and was in Chama for three years. My father came here after, headed to Trinidad because there was a great deal of work there making coke. The people that came from Taos, my father came with them, said that there was choke cherries, apples, grapes, and cherries abundantly here and many of them stayed in Cucharas because of that. This place was not called Walsenburg. It was called Walsen and many of them called it after the Leones. There was a place that has been forgotten called El Oso (the bear). This was located west of Walsenburg. There are still places that are listed in the water rights that are in the name of El Oso. There was Los Leones and La Posta in Cucharas.

Lucia: What can you tell me about the celebrations that they had in those times? I have been told that there were certain festivities such as Saints Days. Did that take place here and in Cucharas the way it was done in the valley of Gardner?

SV: They had a game of rooster. They would bury a rooster alive and they would go on horseback real fast and dig him out.

Lucia: Who participated in that fiesta?

SV: Oh, only the grown men. Whoever lost would have to pay the expenses of a dance.

JT: I remember all these diversions since I was small.

SV: There was a day of St. James, St. Anna's day. The women were beautifully dressed. You could not see the feet of a woman; the dress always fitted her to where she was comepletely covered. They didn't have electricity but they would gather lard and they would hang plates with lard, with a dish cloth and those were the lamps. The thing was, that whoever lost, had to pay for a dance of fifteen candles.

Lucia: Then the principal fiestas were St. James Day and what others?

SV: Noches Buenas, Santa Anna.

JT: The day of Santa Anna came first and then the day of St. James was celebrated.

SV: Noche Buena was a day that could not be left out. Where they bathed, was where they baptized the children in the water.

JT: In what month was that?

SV: In June.

Lucia: People from different areas came to this celebration; a great number of them would come down?

JT: They would come in buggies, walking, on horseback and in cars. The whole year they would await those celebrations to have a good time. Those were the times of the noisy dances. To me it was a big thing to go to Gardner when they had St. James Day.

SV: People were in cars, on horses and mules.

JT: Some people danced until the sun came out the next day, all drank, but they had a good time.

Lucia: And how about the Noche Buena? What type of celebration was that?

SV: Well they would have a feast, make something to eat like tortillas, biscuits, good candy, pies, turnovers (empanaditas).

Lucia: How did people get along then?

SV: Oh, there was always good and bad among the people, it wasn't always pacified. There were times when there were incidents like when Marques killed, I can't remember who it was but he told him, “Kill me, Kill me!” Was it Valdez?

JT: Valdez was the man that was riding along quietly on his horse, not bothering anyone and he told them not to be fighting. Then they wanted to take the reins off his horse and he told them to leave his horse alone and leave him alone or he would kill them. The one that was standing then told him, “Well kill me.” And he killed him.

SV: The saddest one was the killing of the Sheriff; Sheriff Aguirre was killed by Peralta.

JT: This was during the celebration in another year. The Deputy Sheriff went to quiet down the people that were fighting. His name was Fidel Aguirre, he was a very good man and the people liked him a lot. The two Peralta brothers were running around like mad, drinking a great deal, I guess, and they took a fence post out of the ground and they hit that man until they killed him, without rifles or guns, they just used the fence post. It was really sad.

SV: There were other cases. Before that there was a situation that happened quite sad when a criminal man had killed his wife or someone, I don't remember who it was but they dragged him through the street to take him to hang him. He committed a serious crime.

SV: It's a funny thing when you lose your mind, you don't lose it, but you can't remember. There were many cases, many criminal cases. There was the case when Martinez killed a doctor. After World War 1, there were some young boys that walked in on a doctor and started teasing him and I don't know what happened that they killed this doctor.

Lucia: In these times did your family own land or did they work in the mines?

SV: We had a small farm. We always managed one or two milk cows. We had chickens, pigs, and horses. In the winter we would go into the mine and work there and then in the summer we would go back to the farm. My brother, Dan Vigil, he was teaching school and he worked for Frank Tafoya.

JT: Frank Tafoya was the County Clerk. How many brothers did you have?

SV: One, well I had two, one died.

JT: Did you have sisters?

SV: No, we raised two girls, Mrs. Lucille Tafoya of Walsenburg and Mrs. Dick Valdez, lives in North Veta, that's all the family I had.

Lucia: Your brother was a teacher?

SV: My brother used to teach school. My brother, Dan, used to teach school and he worked in a store once in a while. He was working near, in that store there. In that store owned by Mr. Wise. Well, coming up to my town of North Veta. You know where that is? They had North Abeyta and South Abeyta. These creeks come out of Mount Mestas. On the other side is South Abeyta, that's what they call now Middle Creek, in the middle of the mountain range there.

JT: Now Sam, you were the Water Commissioner?

SV: The Deputy Water Commissioner.

JT: From what year to what year, do you remember?

SV: From 1948 to 1962.

JT: Sam was the Deputy Water Commissioner and he took care of all the water rights and the tributaries on the Cuchara from here to the lake, to the Cuchara dam. He managed all the rivers and tributaries to Lake Cuchara. He took in all of La Veta too, the whole Cuchara River and the tributaries, Santa Clara.

Lucia: Your job was an important one because there were fights all the time over the water?

SV: There was a Mr. Cordova killed someone in Malachite, his neighbor. They fought with shovels until Mr. Cordova killed this man. We had him in jail as a means of security because there were quite a few people that were angry with him.

JT: How many people can you count that killed each other fighting for water?

SV: There were a good five times. The Deputy Water Commissioner before me, Theodore Sandoval, they threw him in the water several times and me. Mr. Harold Craig called me in so that I could be a commissioner because he was sure that I wouldn't fight with them. There were a lot of people that used pistols. When they went to check on their animals or do anything they carried their pistols. There were various instances, in Trinidad, and Hohne. There two were killed. In Cuchara, Mesita Butte, there was one man killed by the name of Mr. Hanson. Joe Faris, your brother, the water commissioner, was ready to fight because Joe would tell them how to use their rights. Their water rights were false. There was a paper that told of the water but it didn't show the rights. It said he had rights to the water but it didn't say how much water and of course when there was just a little water he walked around…

Lucia: Who had the proper rights?

SV: La Veta and Walsenburg; city water was number one. There are some rights that are very complicated because here at Martin Lake (Lathrop State Park) it alone has sixty one. Instead of it being one, two or three it has sixty one and it's a question that will never be answered because the water belongs to the State and if the water passes through the middle of a town they have to have water, they have to give them water.

JT: That's the law of the State.

SV: When they don't they go up to higher authority and it is Federal Aid so it's quite a problem.

JT: You were a very good commissioner, everyone respected you. No one fought with you.

SV: I didn't have any problems.

JT: He was a very unusual Water Commissioner. My brother liked you a great deal. My brother was the District Water Commissioner and he respected you very much. He always aid, “Whenever Sam says something that's the way it is, I have to go see him to ask him what the trouble is.” Oh, how terrible those days were when they used to fight with my brother.

Lucia: In the story you were telling us about Hansen, I didn't understand it quite well.

SV: That fight, I believe, was not over water but rather the problem was over land boundaries. It was a matter over the farming property. I had problems with my own father, because he couldn't find what to do after he married another woman, he was a widower, and I told my father, “If I make a boundary, if I request this part or that, what terrain do you want?” His reply was, “Do as you want.” So I went with Eloy Montez and fixed the deeds, but I always have a way to settle by straw vote. “Que pide usted, y si sacaba el phosphoro mocho?

JT: That's how you and your father did it?

SV: Yes.

JT: And you stayed with?

SV: I stayed with the trees and other things and he kept the house. I didn't get a house but I had to be satisfied.

Lucia: Were already married at that time?

SV: Well, my mother died and my daddy got married with Carlos Duran's mother, Charlie Duran's mother. That's the way we settled a few things, you know, because if I give the chance for you to take your pick then you could do it. Others killed one another like the Hansens. And I had the desire to talk with that rancher, Mr. Potts, about that.

Lucia: Did you and Mr. Potts work together?

SV: We lived together. I would loan him land to plant on, for a garden and I would make use of some of his property.

JT: You don't mean Mr. C.E. Potts, you mean Homer Potts at La Veta.

SV: Homer.

JT: This man that he talks about about died a long time ago, Homer Potts. This man that you visited was not Potts. The Homer that you knew was from North Veta. Was he a good friend of yours, a good neighbor?

SV: Oh, yes! This Potts that you are talking about killed John Wright.

JT: I want to tell you that Homer Potts, before he died, still had his land there in North Veta. He came to tell Bill to sell his land and his daughter came with him and sold the land. When it was time to pay for and collect for the land, just before settling everything Homer Potts died and then everything had to go through court and that case was in our office for quite some time. During that time, some people came and said that Homer Potts was a man that had killed another man and that he had killed him close to the office where we were located in the Klein Hotel. I told them I didn't want to know anything about it because that man was so good with us. “Oh, but you don't know how bad a man he was,” and that is why they told me that, because it was true that he had killed a man. Whey did they get into a fight? Why did Homer kill him?

SV: Because there was a problem with a daughter and it seemed that Homer Potts had the upper hand and John Wright was very attached to Jeff Farr. He was a politician and not only a politician but well-known socially. There was a lot of conflict against us, bad environment. John Wright was a jailer. I don't know what Homer was doing, at that time, but John Wright was a jailer. I knew one of Potts' daughters in La Veta. I used to go to La Veta and used to know all those people up there but I don't anymore. I now know these people that are coming; they come up here all the time. (Senior Citizens Dinners).

Lucia: What were the names of the first families that you became acquainted with? The first families in the Rouse area, etc.?

SV: Harry Capps had a lot of sheep and cows in Santa Clara. He was a cattle rancher. In this place here, in Walsenburg and around here, there were cattle ranchers but there were more sheepherders. On the East part of the county the Vigil's, Max Vigil, he did pretty good. There were also the Valdez's and on the Huerfano it was the Lewis's.

JT: The Baxter's were at Badito and the Thorne's, Taylor Thorne.

Lucia: Then, in this area and the surrounding areas were there any other families other than the Vigil's and Valdez's? Can you remember?

SV: There were the Bustos, Pinos.

Lucia: Were they already here when you arrived or not?

SV: Yes. There used to be some mines, not coal but metal mines. They had that malachite; it's a metal that you make copper from. I remember this fellow, Captain Deus.

JT: Did you ever know Captain Deus?

SV: No, I knew the family, Oscar Deus but I didn't know the Captain. I tried to keep track, find out who volunteered to go to fight in Santa Anna, New Mexico. I tried to get some history and so I got Ramon Valdez and Dominguez, he is the grandfather of this Salas that is coming here now (Senior Citizens Dinners). The children of Dominguez, the ones that robbed, presumably robbed, the post office and store in Oak View. He committed a couple of other crimes.

JT: You were born in what year, Sam?

SV: 1892, April 2.

JT: You had a birthday, what birthday was it?

SV: 87. Some of these people that went across these mountains did that walking. They walked from here to Chama. Sanchez, a fellow by the name of Lupe Sanchez, father of this Juan Sanchez, that comes from Pueblo or Denver once in a while, he got caught in a storm and he built a fire and the wind blowing towards the fire, he got burned up. He got roasted. They brought him almost dead when the brought him in.

Lucia: During your time, did you happen to hear of the Indians?

SV: No. My grandmother bought a little Indian. The Spanish people used to go out there and look for little Indians to take whatever they could and the Indians would come to steal or take the property, the cows or whatever they had, horses especially, but I never was that. This little Indian that my grandmother bought died with smallpox, because smallpox was terrible. There weren't any doctors, nothing medical, nothing at all.

Lucia: Concerning the religion that existed in this area, were many people from the Presbyterian Church or were some Catholics? How was it?

SV: I don't recall the Catholics and Protestants getting together. It seems that the Catholics studied one way and the Protestants another way.

JT: Did the Catholics worship with the Protestants?

SV: For Christmas they did get together and, at that time, all the Saints would be adorned. In these meetings when there were Catholics and Protestants, there seemed to be a division always among them as long as religious history has existed. The day of all the Saints was on Thanksgiving Day, this was a day when they would make noises, sounds at the windows and the children made a type of Halloween. This would be All Saints Day. From there derives the custom or activity when the children would go play tricks or make noise. They would have feasts also. Among the religions it seems that there always was a division. Right now there are sixteen churches here in Walsenburg.

JT: There are two churches that are well established and that is the Catholic and the Methodist Church. The Methodist church consists of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, they are all together in one church. It took quite a few years to join these Protestants in the Methodist Church but still they sit divided. There are five churches in one. It took us several years to get all those churches together in order to have one good church; in order not to have differences but the people still are not joined. There is but one God, but people have many ways of serving Him and they forget that there is but one service that God wants and that is to be good with your neighbors. Once in a while I sit back and think about all the churches I attended when small. I went with the Penitentes on Holy Week, to the morada, and I was always with everyone because my father had always said that wherever they worshipped God, that those were good places. We didn't have church services there in Farisita or Talpa. I learned since I was very young to respect people as they prayed the way that they liked to. When there weren't church services in Gardner or Farisita, my father would take me to the Catholic Church and then on another Sunday to the Methodist Church, and another Sunday, he would take me to the Presbyterian Church and with all these religions, I believed that everything was right. They still ask me, “Where do you belong?” I'm not a member of this church or any church.

JT: Then when a minister said “Come and join the church,” I was eighteen years of age then and that minister was very strong in saying, “If you don't come to the alter now, the devil will take you.” I have always said that doesn't matter what manner of prayer they have or manner of kneeling or what nose they make. It doesn't matter what it is if it worships God, I like it. One time when I saw that the Catholic Church no longer had their very proper ritual, they no longer had mass in Latin, I didn't understand why they changed so much. I still think it's kinda nice to have some of the mass in Latin.

SV: In my opinion, God is here in everyone.

JT: I know that many wars have taken place because of religion. Throughout history men have fought because of their beliefs and there isn't any difference because whenever they finish their fight God is there watching them all.

SV: There is something I have never told anyone, but I have always been with the Catholics, I have been a Protestant. I see that the Catholics differentiate from the Protestants because they use more the life or existence of Mary and the Catholics do not use Christ like the Protestants do, there's a difference. I stop to think that Christ and Mary have been the Gods. Mary to them and Christ to the Protestants; it seems that they use Christ more. I see that history shows us that the Saints, that the Prophets, God was with them, he led them. There is something that they said, that there was a Goddess of the Aztecs. When they saw that Moses, like God (asolaba) slaughtered nations at times. He would punish them so bad that he would completely slaughter nations. Mary didn't do that. Nevertheless, it still comes out that there is but one God, for Catholics, Protestants or whoever there is only one God. Now, look at the miracles. What are miracles? Something that we don't understand. They say that Jesus Christ cleans all sins and those time the Prophets destroyed towns. Anyway, a person has a chance to think as they can as they want but the thing is that whatever a man sowth that he shall reap, it doesn't matter what it may be. The wars and all these other things that happen are mysteries that take place that are not for us. When this or that began, when did the light begin, when did space begin, who is behind the sun sending all this heat? These are mysteries that we cannot comprehend. Mysteries that are not for us. We use religion to leave peacefully as much as possible or if not we pay for what we planted and the wars is what it brings.

Lucia: I would like you to tell me something about the mines. Your father and you worked in the mines right?

SV: I handled the scale, I weighed the coal.

JT: What was the name in English for your job?

SV: The scale. (Weigh Master)

JT: How did they weigh the coal?

SV: You would bring the coal and it had a piece of rail and the scale had an iron rod that marked the weight. They had chips, what they called chips, coins with numbers, the numbers of the coal miners and if they wanted to see the scale they would come and see to it, if I was weighing it right.

JT: About how many pounds fit into one of the mine carts?

SV: About a ton and a half. That's a pit car. Then I had to fill the cars and report the coal, whether it was slack or chunked and all that. That was a place where you had to do the right thing or else.

JT: How long did you do that?

SV: From 1917 and then I went to war.

Lucia: What can you tell us about that, the war?

JT: Where were you sent?

SV: Well, from here I went to a training camp in Deming, New Mexico. Mose Daher was there with me, that bunch.

Lucia: What year did you go to war?

SV: 1917-1918.

Lucia: Prior to that you had worked in the mines?

SV: Yes.

JT: How old were you when you went?

SV: Twenty-five.

JT: Do you remember how many men were with you from Walsenburg, that went to the same place?

SV: No, they had a list of that and it ought to be in the Court House. You can get a lot of this from the fellow that's got the Wonder Bread, Ed Joseph. He's a service man.

Lucia: When you went into the service did you go in during war time?

SV: I went in as a farmer so they took me down to take care of the horses. Away from danger. I was lucky. My brother had been a teacher and they put him in to teach Mexican people, Mexican boys, to interpret. We both were pretty lucky.

Lucia: Did you go overseas?

SV: Yes, I went overseas. I guess about sixty men from Walsenburg, in one bunch but there was more than that out of Walsenburg.

Lucia: Where did you go, to France?

SV: England, because the English Strait was excessive with the German torpedoes, so we had to go around somehow and land in France and from there spread out as the Germans already had France. We were looking for a lot of trouble, I tell you, if we hadn't escaped, millions of people would have been killed. The second war had the same pains.

JT: What year did you come back to Walsenburg from World War I? Were you away in the war two years or more?

SV: No, I was overseas for 49 days and in the service for about one year total. I was made Commander in the American Legion, then, they made me Chaplain. I have been in the Fitzsimmons Hospital five times to pump my stomach. I consider myself pretty lucky at my age; I can still do something like this and reach our purpose. I believe we ought to learn more and more of these affairs, because our purpose is this. The more we talk about it to others it is to the benefit of everybody. I am very happy.


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