Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Red Cloud St. Vrain Bransford

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Pat Mata

Who her father was, who was her mother is no doubt recorded somewhere; it might be known to someone still living. Distinguished parentage is no doubt a great help to some persons. It has been known to give them entry to select circles and to ease their way along life's rough road, but many of our best people have managed to get along without that help.

Red Cloud left no diary, nor other manuscript from which to tell you something of herself, she was of a retiring nature, of few words, and a lesser circle of acquaintances as I, her volunteer biographer, recalls her, and my recollections of her take me back more than half a century.

Today there is no one near with whom to review them. My recollection of them is clear and distinct and venture to say they will pass uncontradicted.

Red Cloud was a Sioux Indian, the widow of Marcelin St. Vrain brother of Col. Ceran St. Vrain, and, at the time chronicled, the wife of Uncle Wm A (Billie) Bransford. She was the mother of Mrs. Mary St. Vrain Sopris and therefore my maternal grandmother. Now, young people have grandmothers and see much of them. I not only saw much of grandmother Red Cloud, but in my very young days, I spent much time in her care and home. From the day that I was able to talk, and to walk, she would come up to me silently, take me by the hand lead me away from the ranch house, at the mouth of San Francisco Canyon, and then speak her first words, “come partner (companero) we are going for a walk." Those walks, meant to pick chokecherries, wild plums, to the spring, or to fish. Although she had three sons of her own, only two, three and five years older than myself, I was her “partner”.

Occasionally we would go to town (Trinidad) when it was necessary to buy provisions. I remember one such trip for which preparations and much talk had been heard the night before for an early start. Another uncle, the eldest, was to drive the ox team. We left the ranch house, grandmother and I seated in the bed of the wagon, for which cushions were provided to soften the bumps of a rough road. We had traveled about a mile from the home, and had reached half way up a low foothill when suddenly the break was pushed down, Uncle Alexander jumped off the seat, picking up his rifle in the act. We two passengers, not comprehending the action, and feeling some danger beside, for the wagon was backing down the hill, rose up ho1ding on to the wagon seat. The reason for the disturbance was soon made known. A large black bear had come over the brow of the hill — not more than a hundred yards ahead of us. Seeing the wagon, it started running along the ridge up toward the head of the canyon. Don Jesus Barela owned the ranch above grandfather Bransford's ranch home. The dog's and men of that ranch and numerous other ranch owners gave chase. Uncle Alexander had untethered one of our ranch horses, which was grazing nearby, had followed suit. At the head of the canyon lived a Captain Snyder, friend of Buffalo Bill's and my grandfather Bransford. It was he, and his dogs that finally killed the mother bear and adopted his small cubs. The cubs were given to Dr. Michael Beshoar, who had them chained, to the trunk of a tree in a lot beside his office building on Commercial Street not far below Main Street. Here they grew up to good—sized bears, too strong for their chains and to be killed as I recall the story.

Meanwhile grandmother and I were obliged to dismount from the wagon, place stones back of the rear wheels and wait for Uncle Alec. The distance up to Captain Snyder's was five or six miles and Uncle Alec must have traveled that far. Grandmother waited an hour or so for him to return, but seeing that he did not, decided to continue the trip — she guiding the team of steers while I sat on the more comfortable seat besides her admiring her skill and courage yet fearing we might encounter more bears.

We are still rereading the stories of the conflicts that raged between the cattle men and the sheep men for the grazing lands of the old west. I have just finished reading one of that type. I was reminded of the time that when I was a very small boy that I witnessed some of the resentment on the part of the cattlemen in our section of Colorado, toward those persons owning sheep or goat herds.

It was one late afternoon, near dusk when out on patio of the ranch house my mother, grandmother and others of the grown ups chanced to be there at the same time. Someone of those present, called attention to the cloud of dust in the west in the direction of the Trinchera Pass. It looks like sheep. There was no doubt about it for within an hour or two, it proved to be to be a covered wagon, and about a hundred or two hundred sheep. They passed on the opposite side of San Francisco Creek from the ranch house. A woman holding a babe in her arms was driving the team while the man, mounted on a horse, drove the sheep. Mother crossed the brook, went toward them, spoke to the woman and the man and then returned to the house. An hour or so later after we had our supper, a meal during which all the grown up appeared excited, but careful of their speech, mother invited me to go with her for a walk. It was a dark night but the pathway was well trodden led in the direction of the spring, from which the water for domestic uses was supplied. Halfway between the house and ranch of Don Jesus Barela were two groves of trees that hid the houses from each other. Behind our house and two groves of trees was a cornfield. As I recall the corn was about as high as my head, which was about three feet. Between that field and the groves, the newcomers had camped. I was too young to understand the conversation, even if I had heard it. I was busy admiring the baby, a lovely little girl which today I would say was about six months old. I also observed that the mother of the child was a pretty woman as I referred to her afterward. I did notice very plainly though that the woman was afraid of something and the man too looked harassed and worried. Later I remember overhearing that they had come from somewhere in New Mexico and they had been told to leave. While they were camped near us for just that night, they feared their sheep might he killed. I do remember that when I got up the next morning and it was early, they had already departed. Whenever I see a pretty woman nowadays, and at other times in the years that have gone by, I am reminded of what was perhaps the first time I was conscious of the attractiveness in women.

My first lesson in geography was given to me by Red Cloud, my Sioux grandmother. As I have already stated she called me “partner.” Incidentally too, I might mention that my first bedtime stories were Sioux stories. I have often times wished I could remember then. But about the geography lesson.

“Come, partner, you must go to bed early tonight for tomorrow we are starting early on a long trip.” Nothing more was said, not a word of where we were going. Knowing that she was a person who spoke no unnecessary words I accepted the fact and asked no questions. In the darkness of the room, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard grandmother say “time to get up partner for we must be off.” With the sun not up yet, as I passed through the patio I saw that Miguel, a Ute boy raised by my grandmother, had a horse saddled and was holding him ready for us. We ate our light breakfast, grandmother mounted in the saddle and I was placed on behind her, and we were off. We traveled in the direction of the hills to the west of Fisher's Peak. As we climbed higher I sometimes felt myself sliding off behind. I was cautioned to hold on tight. It was the spring of the year, early in June; the winter had brought a lot of snow and the spring an unusual amount of rain. Fisher's Peak, the range to south and east and west never looked more lovely. There had been much wild game.

All at once, we climbed to a spot that for a considerable space was level. While we waited to allow the horses to rest, I gazed upon a scene of beauty and color such as only our Rocky Mountains provides. My eyes caught sight of a very smal1 lake bordered by a variety of flowers of entrancing colors and a small forest of trees in full leaf. The bright rays of the still early sun gleamed through the forest, casting upon the clear water of the lake, with its profusion of variegated flowers. But the most entrancing sight of all, were five or six deer, two or three of them very young ones. That sight did not last, but a few seconds for the mother deer had seen us and away they went.

As I feasted my young eyes on all they were taking in you may well believe that in later years when I was receiving my first introduction into literature I was reminded of it while reading Evangeline.

We continued our climbing until we reached the Mesa or top of the mountain, There we rested and ate our luncheon.

Grandmother Red Cloud then gave me my first instruction in geography. Until then I probably had believed that all there, was to the world was San Francisco, the Canyons to the west and the Casimero Barela Ranch to the east, and Trinidad. Grandmother after first pointing out the ranch house, and the neighboring ranches, told me to look as far beyond our home as my eyes could take in. She said: “do you see that white line that stretches out to the right like a ribbon that is the Santa Fe Trail. It leads for a great distance and many miles of travel to the country from which your mother's father originally came. In the opposite direction, to the left, it arrives in Trinidad, goes beyond, and crosses the mountain where Uncle Dick Wooten, whom you know lives. Leading still farther it crosses the mountain and continues on to Santa Fe, where your mother went to school. Also behind us, but on our right is a country they call Texas, the land from which those cattle with the very large horns, of which you have recently seen so many pass here. Again, pointing ahead of her, is a very tall peak, very much higher than Fisher's Peak, and the name of it is Pike's Peak. And another long distance beyond is a town called Denver. It was near Denver that your mother's uncle, Col. St. Vrain built a trading post to which Indians of many tribes and the fur hunters came to trade. It was known as Fort St. Vrain and in it your mother was born.” Once more, with a wide sweep of her arm indicating the country at our back and to the right she said, “In that direction but many days of long journeying lies a country and a town that I have not seen but of which your grandfather St Vrain told me, it is called Louisiana. Your grandfather's father, Jacques Marcellin Ceran de Hault de Lasua de St. Vrain, lived there and married Marie Felicite Chaunet Debried of Spanish Lake of the province, of Illinois, now known as St. Louis, Missouri. The largest town in the Louisiana country is called New Orleans. It is on a large river that flows into an immense body of water called the Gulf of Mexico. Your grandfather's people came to Louisiana from a country far, far away, across great seas traveling in houses that move on the water, by force of the wind blown against great sheets stretched across poles nailed to the floor of the house. Some, day you will see those waters and travel in the same kind of a vehicle.”

Little did I suspect, and more faintly did I dream that so much of her prophecy would come true, but it did. This lesson in geography was given in plain, simple language of one or two syllables not only as befitted the comprehension of a boy of five years of age, but also, in the vocabulary of an Indian woman, she without education had nevertheless, as Dr. Michael Beshear, who knew her well, had said: “learned to accommodate herself to the ways and customs of white people with a reputable intelligence.”

In the last years of her life, and when I had reached the ripe age of about eight years, grandma Red Cloud said to me: “You do not have to go to school today, do you partner?” “No grandma, on Saturdays we have no 1essons.” “Then come with me, you have dug many caves and tunnels I want you to dig one for me.” We left the home, walked to a spot near when, the Animas Street Bridge is today. She handed me a small pick end shovel and told me to: “dig me a tunnel here, deep enough to build a fire and make a hole for the smoke to come out, while I gather the chips and the wood.” Her task done, my job finished and the fire burning, she undid a package she had carried with her. It contained three or four pieces of buckskins and a jackknife. With the knife, she whittled two forked sticks, stuck them in the ground on either side of the chimney and across them laid another stick. Next she unrolled one of the sheets of buckskin, stretched them across the crossbar. All that I remember or understand of the operation was that she was smoking the skins. By moving them about, I assume it was to give them all over coloring. But I do know that this was the first step in the operation of making a buckskin suit for me. Many pairs of moccasins had been made for me to wear around the ranch. She had promised me a suit complete, from headdress to five moccasins but something seemed to prevent the starting. My guess is that she could not get the buckskin, that the beads, and the feathers, for which she had written (I do not know - I do not think I ever learned from whom) failed to arrive. Meanwhile she was growing feeble. The coat, waistcoat and trousers were made and I wore the suit in one Fourth of July parade. It has been worn by my two sons, and is today as good as the day I first put it on. The work was all her own, the beading and design. She regretted that the material for the hat and the moccasins had not been received. Having a few beads left over, and deciding to use them for some extra bit of decorations she asked her husband (Uncle Billie Bransford) to sketch an a bit of paper my initials. He did so, W. S. The coat of the finished suit had a row of beads down the center of the back — this is the way it appears. W.S – S.W.

She showed it to Mr. Bransford who chuckled and said: “Very good, very nice Red, but why did you reverse the initials? Being unable to read her answer was: “These two letters (S) are the same, aren't they?” “Yes”. “Well then why shouldn't they be together?”

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