Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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George Christiansen

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Dick Chenault
Date of Interview - 11-13-1979

SC: Did your parents come here, or did you? When did your family first come to Huerfano County?

GC: 1919.

SC: Was that your parents that came?

GC: My parents and four children, then. I had two brothers and a sister. My oldest brother is dead and my sister and brother are still living, someplace in California.

SC: And where did they come here from?

GC: My folks, brothers and sisters and myself came from the old country. My youngest brother was born in Colorado Springs.

SC: What was the old country?

GC: Denmark.

SC: How did they happen to come to this country?

GC: That I couldn't tell you. They just came.

SC: What was your father's line of work?

GC: He was a baker. They used to own a bakery here. My Nickname is Bake.

SC: I see. So they came to Colorado Spring first?

GC: No, they first came to Denver. We lived in Denver 18 months or two years. We lived, say a couple of years in Denver and a couple years in Colorado Springs and then we came down here. I used to live in this house up front.

SC: Where did you live with your family when you first came to Walsenburg? Was it in this house up here?

GC: That was the second house we lived in. Lived in another little house till we got settled and then my mother bought this house and we lived here, I don't know how many years, and then my step dad built a house down there. I don't know if you know where Jeff Rogers lives down there on Sixth Street. Then my mother died down there and I got married right away and moved in here, cause this belonged to my mother, this house and that house. I kept this one and gave that one to my brother. And he sold it. I've been living here now 44 years. I just lost my wife here in February. I've been here by myself.

SC: Oh, I see. What was your wife's maiden name?

GC: Ann, she was Ann Sterk.

SC: So you've been here then since 1919. So you went to school here? What was it like here in those days?

GC: Not bad. I can't complain. The wind used to blow through here. There's been a climatic change here over the years, even as far as the amount of snow we've had and things like that. But I can't complain. It's been a nice town and I like it all the time. I enjoyed school here.

SC: Was the bakery a big enterprise?

GC: It was a small bakery, but in those days we had a lot of coal miners and we used to be open on Sunday until 1 or 2 o'clock. In those days we worked seven days a week. And we did a lot of business on Saturdays and Sundays, with miners, an awful lot. It used to be right there where the utility building was on Main Street. Our bakery was in there. But we only had it about 3 years. My dad died and then my oldest brother was a baker, and he took it over for two of three years, but it was too much, he wanted to get out, he went out on his own and worked. Then my mother remarried.

SC: What was your line of work?

GC: My line of work? I was parts manager for years. I used to work for C.J. Williams, at that time it was called Motor Parts Company, now it's called NAPA House, up here the Walsenburg. The first time I got started was right over here behind this real estate business on the corner, right behind there was the motor parts company and the next place down was the doctor, dentist, Dupee Umsbuck. He was the dentist here. Then after that I went on up where the laundromat is now, that was a motor parts and I moved up there for a little while and then I went to work at Santi Motor Company. I worked there for 29 years for Santi Motor Company. I retired here a year and a half ago.

SC: Did your family have other relatives in this country or just your parents came?

GC: No, I have no relations here. I mean, not on my father's side or my mother's side.

SC: What part of Denmark did they come from?

GC: Copenhagen, that's where I was born. They came from Copenhagen.

SC: Do you remember the trip or...

GC: No, I was kind of small, very little I can remember, cause we came over in 1915.

SC: And what year were you born?

GC: 1909. August 26, 1909.

SC: Do you remember your parents telling any stories later about the trip or how it was to get to this par of the country or their growing up?

GC: Nope, I couldn't tell you. They owned their own bakery in Denmark before they came here. They sold that, I understand. I heard that. I had a picture of it one time but where the picture disappeared after my mother died I don't know. You know how children, they ransack through the house, lot of things ware missing.

SC: Has Walsenburg grown since you were growing up here?

GC: Grown?

SC: Has it gotten smaller?

GC: Less!

SC: The coal mines...

GC: Coal mines. Well, you're from Texas and you're not familiar, but: when I came here ... I may be mistaken, on some of this. Ask these older timers you'd get the statistics. I think in the time we was around here, that time, there's around 17,000 people in the county. I may be wrong on that. Varies a little bit. But now I understand there's not over six in the whole county as it is. You can see why. The mines closed. You don't have a coal mine in the county right now. Not one. Some of those mines may have had as many as a thousand people in a camp. They had their own club houses, bowling alleys, pool tables, like that, Walsen Camp, Canyon, Date Four, Pictou, Toltec. There must have been 30, 40 mines around here. We used to go out on 69 when we'd go to Gardner, there must have been 20 mines before you ever got to Gardner. I think there's one tipple still standing out there at Gordon.

SC: What was Walsenburg like? Growing up as a boy here, do you see differences in the way kids grow up now and the way it was then?

GC: Well, let's put it this way: kids are so far advanced. Today, 10, 12 years old they know more than we did when we were 20 or 25, actually. One thing, their schooling, you got your radio. You got your TV. And I have a brother-in-law that's a couple years older than I am and I don't know if you'd say we are narrow minded, I don't say narrow minded, but we can't see the things, do today. We weren't allowed and never thought of it cause we didn't have the money or the opportunity or the transportation. I know because I have a niece that's going to USC up here, in her second year, that's my brother—in—law's daughter', she's I think 19 or 20 and he just can't see the things that she does. Is this being taped too? That's all I want to say, see, things are different. But their way of life, it's different, they got to change. We don't change as much. Like we talked. We're set in our ways. We didn't have cars in those days.

SC: Cars made a big difference?

GC: Oh, yes, cars made a big difference. When we used to go to the show it cost us 5 or 6 cents to go to a picture show. Stay all afternoon. Bag of popcorn, a nickel. Honestly. Now the bids can't go to the show, right? Can't afford to buy a hamburger anymore. Used to get hamburgers for a nickel or a dime. You take on the weekend, in those days if we had a quarter, and I'm not lyin' ...I don't care if they hear this or not would last you all week. Today if the kids don't have $10, they can't go out. They can't even go downtown.

SC: That's right. What were some of the things you'd do for recreation here when you were growing up?

GC: We played bill, just like any kid. We played tops. I bet you the kids don't know how to play a top game. We used to play marbles all day. And we played baseball, like other kids, but we didn't have a $15 or $25 glove on our hand though.

SC: Did they have a baseball team here?

GC: Yes, when I was a boy they used to have a baseball team here.

SC: Was that connected with the school?

GC: No, these camps, most of these camps had baseball teams and they'd play one another. Like Cameron had a team, and they'd play Walsen camp, or they'd play another camp, Ideal, or they'd play Pitou, and you know, teams like that. But your money and your transportation have made a lot of difference and the viewpoint of things have changed a lot. The old timers just can't see some of the things that the younger. . .Another thing that's come up is dope. Smoking, drinking. Let's put it, in my house there was always wine or whiskey or beer, in the house. If the kids wanted it, they could have it. But it was so easy. It was there but they never touched it. Parents didn't say that you couldn't take a glass of wine, because they didn't mind giving their kids a little wine. Not to get drunk. But they figured a little wine didn't hurt really, much. . . . poultice and put it on and use that. Sure they had medicine at the drug store, but I bet if you look even at my medicine cabinet, you'll see medicine, lotions, pills, a thousand kinds. At that kind women had, a choice of what? Two, three makes of cold cream. Now how many could you buy? A thousand different kinds, I bet you. They didn't have eyelash mascara, God knows what it is.

SC: Life was a lot simpler then.

GC: Right, right.

SC: So like here on Main Street, were there restaurants, cafes, bars, a picture show?

GC: Yes, oh, yes. They had four theatres going at one time. Used to have one over here called the Strand and over on that street they had two in one block. Then we, had the Fox Theatre. Later on they opened one way down below there. And at one time we had an outdoor theatre.

SC: This was a movie theatre?

GC: Oh, yes. Outdoor.

SC: Summer time.

GC: Yes, and I think who ran that thing was Levy. Maybe he could tell you something about it. He didn't run it but one of the Levy's at that time did.

SC: So life was simpler but there was plenty of entertainment.

GC: Oh, there was plenty of entertainment. It wasn't money entertainment. We used to go, as I got older, to a lot of dances. Kids that were in high school, we got in half price if it was dollar, we'd get in for 50 cents. They used to have 2, 3, dances a week here. Now you couldn't give a free dance that's draw 50 people.

SC: What about the church. Were you active in a church here, or was your family?

GC: In a way, when I was small, yes. I think most kids when they were young, they were, I don't want to say they were forced to, but more or less asked to go.

SC: What was your church?

GC: They didn't have one. I'm a Lutheran.

SC: They didn't have a Lutheran Church here?

GC: Never did.

SC: Would you say the church was more active in the community then? Were there more churches?

GC: I couldn't say, cause I haven't been there.

SC: How did neighbors get along? Did you feel it was more neighborly during that time?

GC: I think so. In a small community, yeah. Because everybody knew one another. I bet 10% of the homes in this town when I was a kid, never locked their doors. Brother, today, you lock both the front doors and the windows, and you don't believe me, you'll find out. In the big cities, you've heard of the big cities, they don't know their neighbors, they don't care. Most likely the people live next door live two different lives all together. Here a coal miner is a coal miner. Whether they was a coal miner here in Tioga, or Ideal, they were coal miner, and they had the same type of life.

SC: Were there quarrels, do you remember people quarreling or there being arguments in the community?

GC: Well, you are always going to have arguments, you are always going to have differences. Started beginning of time, didn't it? But I don't think it was so prevalent at that tine. I really don't think so. That's my personal opinion.

SC: When you were young, who were your heroes? Do you remember a few people the kids looked up to? National figures, or local figures?

GC: No, I can't think of anybody, from my own standpoint. Being young, we didn't have TV. We had radio.

SC: Did people listen to the radio a lot?

GC: Really, they did. It was the only entertainment people had, outside of going to a theatre. Your radio isn't really too old. I guess the '20's when I first heard radio. And the first radio I actually heard was one my brother put together up in the bakery shop. They used to buy these kits and they put them together.

SC: What kind of stuffs did you sell in the bakery?

GC: Anything.

SC: Did you make pastries?

GC: My folks made the beat pastries in the world.

SC: Wish we still had 'em here.

GC: French pastry and ... ask some of the old timers.

SC: Was it called the Christiansen Bakery.

GC: No, City Bakery. Bread, French pastry. And it wasn't electric ovens. It was all handmade. There wasn't no machinery in those days.

SC: Where did you go to school?

GC: First I went to school in Springs, I guess I was in Kindergarten. Kept moving around. First school I went to was called the Washington School. There's still a Washington School. But it was an old red brick building and they tore it down.

SC: Was that in the same place the Washington School is now?

GC: Right. Over on 5th. Then I had. . . they only had to fourth grade. Then I had to go to what they called Hill School. It's still there, but they don't use it as a school anymore.

SC: Is that where the district offices are now?

GC: Yes, up on the hill.

SC: So that was an intermediate school.

GC: Right. I went there 5th and 6th grade. Then I had to go to the High School, 7th and 8th grade, called Huerfano County High then.

SC: What were the schools 1ike then? You had grades, one room for each grade? This wasn't like out in the country with the one room schools?

GC: Oh, yes. We didn't have the same lesson, like if we took English we was in the English room and Math in another room, and foreign language went to another. That was in high school but in grade school we stayed in one room.

SC: Were the schools strict?

GC: Well, they'd get out of order. It depends on your principal. You didn't get away 4th murder like you do today. The teacher could hit you. I had my knuckles hit. I was in the wrong. Sure.

SC: We were talking about the automobiles before. What kind of transportation did your family have? Did you make deliveries from the bakery and had to use transportation?

GC: At that time we had a horse and, well, wasn't a buggy really, had kind of a van on the back that you could put stuff in. One horse shay. Actually we didn't have any automobiles, until 1927 when my folks bought a car then.

SC: What kind?

GC: Chevrolet.

SC: Do you remember when the first cars came to town?

GC: Nope. They had 'em long before I got here.

SC: People used horses right up into the twenties?

GC: Oh yeah. Take all the farms, they didn't have these mechanical things that they have, loaders now and plow machines and tractors. Far as I know, then I never did see 'em.

SC: Were the streets paved in Walsenburg?

GC: Not when we first came here. I think the paving started in '21. About 1921 they started paving Main Street. A lot of the sidewalks, a lot of 'em, still had boardwalks. Some of 'em had slabs of red rock, about 4 by 4 or 3 by 3 and they were just kind of woven in.

SC: What was it like during the depression here? Was this area hit very hard?

GC: Well, I would say yea, money was tight, but they all seemed to, let's say survive. There wasn't enough. Maybe a few got hurt, I don't know. But it wasn't like in New York where people had money. They only had so much here and they only had so much to loose.

SC: How would you say World War II affected the community? Did many boys from here go?

GC: I guess a percentage, but I don't think it affected it here too much. I didn't go. A couldn't go. I was called but they didn't want me.

SC: Do you think there were many changes after World War II?

GC: Not in this community. Not as far as I can see.

SC: Do you remember any stories about Indians around here?

GC: There were no Indians around here when I was here.

SC: Were you here during any of the coal strikes?

GC: Actually, the big strike they say, was 1913 and that was before I got here. I wouldn't know nothing about that. But they had a militia come in here. I forget what year that was, 1919, 1920 and I remember very little, but I remember they was up on what they call Walsen Hill. They used to have a baseball ground up there and they settled up there.

SC: Did you have children?

GC: I have a boy living in Connecticut. Two grandkids.

SC: What kind of work does he do?

GC: He owns and operates an electronic store.

SC: What year were you married?

GC: 1935.

SC: Where were you married?

GC: Walsenburg. By the judge. Judge Hammer.

SC: Did the families come to the weddings? Did you have a big wedding?

GC: Nope. My mother had passed away. All we had, got married at his house. All we had a best man and…

SC: Bridesmaid?

GC: Well, yes. That's all we had. We celebrated our honeymoon up at Crested Butte, Colorado.

SC: Where is that?

GC: Have you heard from Gunnison. Well, it's about 20 miles from Gunnison. That's where they've got a big ski lift.

SC: Was there a hotel, ski place?

GC: No, that ski place isn't very old. Had a hotel but we didn't stay in it. See my wife used to live in Crested Butte, but she graduated from Huerfano County High, too, and my son graduated from there. My son was in the submarine service for a number of years.

SC: So you stayed at someone's house?

GC: Stayed at my sister—in—laws house. Couldn't afford anything else. We talk a lot, kids today, I don't know.

SC: Real different.

GC: Dog eat dog, I guess, in the big cities.

SC: Did people used to make more of their own things? Did they make tools here, or did people make their own clothes?

GC: No, most of 'em had big families, but today if you have 1 or 2, that's a big family, then it was nothing to have 6, 7, 8, kids. Nothing at all, just, put more water in with those potatoes. But there was more homemade bread, homemade cakes, they'd make their own sauerkraut.

SC: Do you remember foods your mother used to make? Danish Foods?

GC: I couldn't name 'em. We used to have 'em in our home. I still have a sweet tooth.

SC: What were the grocery stores? Now there is the one big supermarket.

GC: Oh, yes. There were more independent owned. There you had a dozen or more. And a couple of meat markets, and things like that. But there was... there was a number of grocery stores and they were independent, no chains stores in those days. There were convenience stores all right, but not like the chain store. Another thing, all these camps had their own stores, carried groceries, clothing, and all of them had their own post office, too, so people that lived out here 10 miles didn't have to come to town and buy a stamp. They mailed the letter at what they called the company store. They'd get their groceries, buy their clothes. I think a lot of things were bought through the catalog stores in the early days. Then the stuff had to be shipped to the company store, through the mail and like that. People couldn't come to town every day. Gas was cheap but they didn't have the money either, so what the heck? I know the first time we went to Denver, I think it took us 8 or 9 hours to go to Denver, back in '27 or '28. You didn't go up and come back like you can today. If you went up you stayed overnight end rested up. Then came back the next day or so.

SC: Would people from Walsenburg go out in the country around here, for outings? What were some of the favorite spots?

GC: Lot of picnics in those times. Family would get together and they'd go on a picnic, like up there to Martin Lake, up to Cuchara Camps. You couldn't get into Cucharas Camp and park your car there, not if you wanted to now. They'd go up there and play baseball, horseshoes, have picnics. All these mines used to have at their own company picnics, go up there and roast a pig, you know. Keg of beer, tubs of it. Each pitch in. I wasn't a miner, but I got invited through my wife's folks.

End of Interview

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