Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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July 1979
Interviewed by Elaine Baker
Contributed by Karen Mitchell

Jeannette: The Maes creek and Turkey Creek area was the first settlement in Huerfano county. The first pioneers of the area were Cortez and Maes.

Elaine: Do you think they came over in l848?

Jeannette: 1838. People that wrote of their travels in the area say, "Today we saw an Indian village but we didn't stop to visit." This makes me so mad because there were these people and they passed by and they saw them and they didn't stop to ask where or what it was about. George F. Ruxton was one of the great names of history. He died at twenty-seven after being in old Mexico and travel by mule and horse back, about four or five parts of the world even in Africa.

You girls should read this book because he, starts at the top of Sangre De Cristo Pass, spends a horribly cold and windy night and with his mule and his pack horses traveled down the east slope of the Sangre De Cristo. As he came down he saw some of these people. He saw a village which makes me think that he had seen two of them, one on Yellowstone and one here at Badito.

When the Maes's told about their grandfather they said they asked him, "How did you come here and why did you come?" He would tell the same story about it. They went hunting and trapping in the San Luis Valley for meat because they could sell it to the Army but when winter came the animals were too thin and they always found that the winter months...especially in the dead of winter hunting was a lot better on this side of the mountains, so they came over Sangre De Cristo pass into the valley of the Huerfano.

Those particular people did not go into the Cuchara. They headed for the base of Greenhorn Mountain and after hunting there where the winters were mild they came back and permanently made shelters and decided they would try the growing season.

Those two men Cortez and Maes are the earliest that I can think of as settlers in Huerfano County. Mrs. Maes is being buried tomorrow. She is the last of the older generations of the Maes's. Before one of them died they told me that entrance into the valley was because they were hunting meat to take back to Taos and The Santa Fe. I believe that in 1838 you can trace some of that with the Mexican history, the wars and all that. People were doing this, carrying meat back.

Elaine: When did you say that the Presbyterian Church in Farisita was built?

Jeannette: 1871 or 1872. The cornerstone was placed inside of the other corner stone which is in the newer church. They later took the records and they put them in the cornerstone. They're sealed into the stone foundation, of what remains of the 2nd church, built in the 1930's.

Elaine: Where would the church records of the smaller churches be? Were they collected?

Jeannette: They're supposed to have been. They were sent to Walsenburg to the Spanish Presbyterian Church where the Mennonite church now is on 6th St. Before that I tried to get them from the Presbytreians. somewhere in my notes I have a file on the Presbyterian Church. The records were not left in the Mennonite Church, because I searched. I grew up at Farasita and I knew so many of the people. The only man that's left that can talk about it is Sam Vigil. He is the father of......He is a very intelligent man, speaks beautiful English and he will do this in Spanish or English for you. He is one of the pioneers. Ask him about the various ministers he remembers. None of us will forget Rev. Jaramillo, he was a great person and he was serving the chruch in the time I grew up until the 1930's and then somebody came along after he no longer could give us services. They brought a minister, a very highly educated minister, from Mexico, and his wife, too was very talented person. The two great people went into the old church and they thought that you should have to give people something to do so they started building a new church. They didn't even need the new church but their idea was to have people making buildings and being busy during the depression. I too made some adobes for the church. I learned to make adobes. That was my first experience. Then they took the flooring, the windows and everything out ot the beautiful old white frame church which was in good condition. They took the bell, organ and all the things and put them in the new church. Then since there were no more Presbyterians living around there it became what I used to say, "A mixed bunch of people without a minister beginning to sing hallelujahs" and not a quiet kind of service. What do you call those people, the hallelujah kind? And then, that was the end of the circle system. Now, the man that is still living that you can talk with is Sam Vigil. This was in Talpa prior to the name change to Farisita. Whenever you find historians writing about Huerfano Canyon it's about the junction of the north branch of the Sangre de Cristo Trail with the Huerfano River and anything in that area was called the Huerfano Canyon originally. That was our Post Office and that was where they voted and that was where they had all kinds of things going.

Elaine: I wanted to know about that church in the area? Was the first church.... Okay, so that was in 1871, was that the first church...?

Jeannette: That was the first Presbyterian church.

Elaine: What about Catholic?

Jeannette: Well,in Gardner there wasn't a permanent one yet. In Walsenburg there was. And down the Cuchara River there were by the great Catholic Machbuef, the French Priest. Well, he went to Gardner and up the Huerfano River, I don't know whether it was Gardner,but anyway he did cross the mountains and go through that area and he did serve people on special occasions. So, there were services in private homes, Catholic services, but a formal Catholic church but I don't know. Maybe there was a formal Catholic church, but I don't think so.

Elaine: How old were the Moradas, did they predate the Catholic Church?

Jeannette: Yes. It's a long ways back. Bill wrote the histories of the Penitents a few years ago and dug it up. I want you girls to know that the first formal laws of the church or organization were among the first laws written in the State of Colorado. The formal name for the penitentes is some other name, the Brotherhood of Jesus Christ, and it's recorded in the finish at home and it is one of the earliest forms of religious organization. It's unique, these penitentes. Bill has a paper and lots of stories on them. One of them was used in Time magazine a few years ago. They would be in the local Huerfano or Walsenburg World papers of 1932 or 1933 and I'm saying that it could have been along about July.

Elaine: Does Bill have some papers that we could read to get that information?

Jeanette: We lost all of our papers once in a suit case, when we were moving from Billings, Montana, to the ranch. I got sick out there and the doctor said I had to come back here for my health because I had tuberculosis and that climate wasn't any good. Anyway, on the way over, somewhere between Billings, Montana, and where we finally ended was on a ranch at the foot of Sheep Mountain, that suitcase with the stories I had written and what Bill had written, all the manuscripts were in there. We would have done anything to have found it. In a Story that I had of what happened in three hours, to 3 women In a three room house on Maes creek, it was a death at five o'clock in the morning, in one room. A Great-grandmother died and she was Indian, she was a sweet Indian I had always known, and at seven o'clock in evening the wedding took place in the middle room. The feast had been all ready and set. For many weeks they baked cakes and prepared all the food for this wedding. While thay were bringing her casket into the house and as the music was playing they laid the grandmother out on some boards and that was where the wake took place. The wedding took place in the middle room with the dancing, and the cakes and all the fun. There was a kitchen and it was a real busy place, too, with everybody cooking and one aunt suddenly realized she was having birth pains, and she had her baby in the third room in a corner of the kitchen on a cot. A death, a wedding and a birth and that happened all in about three hours. It was such a beautiful story at the time because I was so full of the whole..... and knew and remembered all the names of the people and the dates. That was the grandmother of the Cortez's.

Elaine: The Indian woman, because you told this story a while back, that was Margaret Viallpando's grandmother. She was a Cortez, right?

Jeannette: She's the third generation. First Cortez. He would have had to be her great-great-grandfather. I tell you in 1840 he married, but before that guess what? He went back with money and high hopes. "Now we'll bring our sweethearts home, our brides, and we'll have this house started for each one of them at the head of the creeks." The two men rode back to Santa Fe with their preparations for the brides that promised to marry them. After that the girls could not possibly be persuaded to give up the comforts of homes for the hard life they knew waited them on the Greenhorn. Then they made friends with the Indians. The two men returned empty handed.. The Sioux used to fight the other Indians. The warlike Indians, Comanches and Apaches, used to come up and hunt, too. The Sioux would come all the way down here from the Dakotas to hunt. Anyway the Sioux were in here and were helped by these two men to make the Utes friendly towards them so the two Indian tribes could become friendly and work against some of the mean ones. So he married the daughter of a Sioux chief, and therefore, the Sioux never bothered them. I didn't know too much about the Utes but they were all friends, the Utes and the Sioux. So she was the daughter of an Indian Chief, this is Mrs. Cortez, the woman that died before her granddaughter's wedding, great-grandaughter I guess it was. I would have to count back through the families.

Lucia: So then they married the Indian daughters because when they had gone back to Santa Fe their girlfriends didn't come with them.

Jeannette: The girls didn't want this rough life, no way. The girls were refined and had lots of beautiful clothes, were used to going to dances and they were very popular and charming and they certainly weren't going to give up the bright life in Santa Fe to come up herd goats and sheep. These men had prepared a really nice place for their brides, the best they could under the conditions. So, they came home after trying to get their brides or girlfriends to come. They didn't have any luck so they married Indians. Mr. Maes married the daughter of the Sioux chief. Now who Cortez's wife was I don't know, it could have been a Sioux chiefs daughter. It could have been a Sioux or a Ute but those are the two tribes that I understand were the friendliest to them up there in that area. They were choosey with whom they married,that's for sure,and they could be, because you see, they had won all these favors from the Indian tribes and they were their friends. They helped them learn how to plant, where the best hunting was. The trails were important to them and they had to thank the Indians for teaching them so I say those two men are the pioneer men of the county, Cortez and Maes. As far as I can learn there is nobody that settled earlier in the area except Maes and Turkey Creek.

Elaine: How about Vasquez, a Vasquez that was in La Veta who was killed by In- dians?

Jeannette: I don't know about that story, but the Vasquez family is Famous in the history of Colorado and their story well documented. Bill and I spent five different summers touring with the historical society of the San Luis Valley. We took the heads of three universities or colleges with us on a tour of the Sangre De Cristo Trail one time. Morris Taylor went and every time that he could, and those people were studying this area, and we wanted to establish where the old Spanish fort of 1819 was. There is still a huge argument about it. Mr. San Juan Ulibarri was our neighbor. When I was a little girl I was always bugging everybody that was older and I would say, "Where did you come from?" My mother and father didn't want me playing with the boys and girls. They'd say, "Oh, I bet she went to so and so's house, I'll bet she's in there." I was always sitting with same old lady or same old man just glued to those stories. Now I can't remember all those details. Anyway, I can tell you that what they told me about getting away from Indians and how the Indian woman also helped them plant their garden and showed them lots of things when they made friends, and what the Indians brought them. They were willing to help in every way and there were many little forts built on those hills for all the men, the Indians as well as the Spaniards to fight away the mean Indians you know, the ones that I told you would come up from the Eastern parts of our country and the northern and southern parts to hunt here. That's how I know they tell me about the animals being fatter here after wintering than they were in the San Luis Valley and that's why so many hunters came in here and that's why the Indians came from the North into this area because the climate in these two counties made the fattest animals, and it still proves that we have the hunter's climate. It really is the reason why so many of them came in here hunting wild life.

Elaine: What was your impression of the Indians, the relationship between the settlers and the Indians?

Jeannette: The tribes that were friendly were great neighbors and friends. They feasted and did everything together. They intermarried and took care of one another. The Indians helped the Spanish but it was mostly the Utes down in the San Luis Valley. The Utes were always beat up by the mean Indians.

Elaine: You told me about the Montoya house in Farisita being a fort at one time. How far back does that house go?

Jeannette: The oringinal stuctures that were first there are no longer there. There's piles of rubble which might be the adobe dirt. I would say that they were built between 1860 and 1870. There's a house that is almsot a duplicate of it down there east of Walsenburg. That was a Valdez house. It's on the Johnny King Ranch. They all have the same patterns. Thay call it the "mayordomo" house or the major person's home and the neighbors and workers helped him build it. In the big hall, the patterns of those homes is duplicated like here the lower Cuchara. That house is still standing in the order of the Garcia house and way up there between Redwing and Malachite I'm sure is a house still standing in an area they called the "colonias," and it too had the big wide hall and the rooms to the sides. I know of one that may still be standing and when you go into one of thse places you have a feeling of great nostalgia. They danced, had services, baptisms, great christening feast and funerals in these homes.

Elaine: Which side of the highway is colonias?

Jeannette: The north side behind the ridge. There were similar houses. There's one where the Salazars now live along the Huerfano River. You know that building that's still standing. It's this side of Malachite and on the other side of Gardner you will see a gray adobe building. It's the one that is south of highway 69 just before you come th the Pass Creek Road. Now I'll go back to Ulibarre and tell you why when I was child I visited all these old timers. In every way that I can remember they used to say, "See, we came down from the mountains from Santa Fe over the pass and it took so many days and so many nights and....". I'd ask, "Where did you first come in this walley?" and they would say, "Well, we spent the night at the old fort, and, years later when I was a grown woman and married to Bill and living down on the canyon which is North Oak Creek, will anyway we'll say it was the Harmes Canyon, on a branch of the Sange de Cristo Trail which leads right down to where Talpa (Farisita) was to be and the main trail led to Badito. On that trail when it comes off the top of the Sangre de Cristo Pass, when you first come into a valley that's where San Juan Ulibbarri told me that he had slept on the journey from Santa Fe. He said, "Someday I will take you." I had been there many times because my mother had a little homestead near there and so one day when I was married to Bill and a woman of about twenty-eight years of age, he came by the ranch early in the morning and said, "Now I'm ready to go, and here's this man past eighty riding this horse gingerly, leading the way up the trail. At the top of of the pass San Juan pointed out the rubble of one log which he said was the spot where a cabin had stood and was used for an overnight camping place for travlers on the trail. Bill and I are still arguing that this camping place is or is not the site of the old fort. That was what San Juan had always told me in Spanish years before and that was where it had to be and Bill and Chester Bartlett and all the rest of them keep telling why it was somewhere else according to the journal of Jacob Fowlwer which describes it as five miles from the top of the pass. But I still think that the fort was there. San Juan said he slept as a little boy and the walls had crumbled and so to speak, melted into the earth.

Elaine: He came from Santa Fe and Toas.

Jeannette: Yes, via San Luis. His family name isn't on this map so apparently he had come further than from San Luis, traveling through San Luis. Yes, they traveled through San Luis but from what part of New Mexico he came I wouldn't remember that. I have to tell you this, they named many place that they came through or to for the place they came from in New Mexico so when you go to NEW Mexico some time and go searching off the main track you will find a place called Vadito and when they came to the crossing they called it Badito. When they came to Talpa to a place that looked just like a town down there near Taos called Talpa, that was the name they gave to the place called Huerfano Canyon. Then as you go up the river you will find places like Chama, Colorado; Chama, New Mexico. There is a duplicate of names. It was because that they were homesick. It would tell people that the people that were from Talpa came from Talpa, New Mexico, and the ones from Badito came from Vadito and so on. B and V are interchangeable in Spanish.

Lucia: It's like Santa Fe. Santa Fe was named for a Spanish town in Santa Fe, Spain, because it was the same: the terrain, the climate, everything.

Jeanette: Yes, the climate, the trees, the bushes, the whole thing and so wherever they found the currants and the wild plums and the chokecherries and wild berries all growing the same way here as they did there they would duplicate the names. I want you to record this because that's the way that is. Then through the years, the way Dan Montano told me, (the man who died two weeks ago and that I have been crying about for not visiting him before he died), he told me to come back and I promised to and I took this job that I'm on, just because Bill said this is all you've ever wanted to do. I said, "Bill, I've never had as much to do. I've got to move the office I've got to put all that stuff away and I can't do it now. He and Elise Carey, my friend who was helping me for three months, "Jeannette this is absolutely the job you have to take, they need you and, you need it. It gives you an excuse to go to people's homes and say, "Now I am here to write your story," You know that I feel not guilty sitting here. If I'm late to the center it won't break anybody's heart. Now, going back to the reason why i wanted to go talk to Dan Montano. He remebered all the people along the river, where they lived along Turkey Creek, Maes Creek and all of those tributaries to the Huerfano and what they were doing because he was born there and went to school there ninety-seven years ago. There was school and he was very proud of his formal education because he got to go to a school and their teacher came,..their fathers and parents would go to Old Mexico and they would pick out the most intelligent, educated, refined teachers they could find for their children. For Only the boys. They could only afford to educate their sons because they had to divide up the cost of the teacher's wages and living expenses in the home because there wasn't any government as such. Before Dan was born they already had a formal government here in Huerfano County but they brought the most educated and refined instructors and they were always men, not women. There was one on Chama and in other settlements in the county.

Elaine: This wasn't the end of the like 1890's that he went to school?

Jeannette: The school might have been a public school by then. I'm not too sure.

Elaine: We're talking to different people about the schools and Evelyn Bailey says that there was always an Anglo teacher in Malachite when the rest were all Spanish.

Jeannette: No, the Anglo teacher taught the Anglos and the Spanish. The Spanish had some trouble learning but sometimes they took an interpreter. Well, one child in the school who knew a little bit of Spanish and a little bit of English would be the interpreter. I was one. I did it for the teacher.

Elaine: Was it true that most of the teachers were Spanish but in Malachite there was always an Anglo teacher, someone whose first language was English.

Jeannette: Well, that could have been anywhere. I mean they would have to have a good English teacher and children in Spanish couldn't learn from an English speaking teacher unless the English speaking teacher knew Spanish. That didn't happen too often. They had a hard time communicating between the children and teacher. The law didn't allow me to speak to those children on the school grounds in Spanish and then I broke all the laws. I was dying to teach and I wanted children to really learn so if someone wanted to report me as teaching by Spanish in the school room they could just come and haul me off if they wanted to. That was the only way that I could make children know. I spoke Spanish so it was much easier for me to do my thing. I would say it in Spanish first and then in English and sway back and forth but it was against the law. I taught for twelve years and I'm going to tell you where i taught. I'm familiar with the area. I taught in what is Talpa or Farisita off and on from 1929 to 1941. I quit teaching because of my two children. A mother can't leave them every morning. You could always leave one. I hauled our poor son to Pass creek school, the Upper Pass Creek school, then I had people babysit him. The babysitter always had higher wages then I did. She got more than we earned. She got her board and room and higher pay than I did. I could get all my pay and them I'd say, "Now Bill in one year I didn't get but three outfits to wear, three smocks and almost the same skirt," because I really loved to teach, I really did love to teach. In fact it's really easy to teach if you love to teach children. Ben Vigil is one of my pupils and Mrs. Joe, the Commissioner's wife, Rodriguez, she was in my eighth grade class and two other girls who every once in a while say, "Hello teacher!" Ben Vigil still calls me his teacher and I say, "you were always one of my favorite pupils," because he went and got the lumber to patch up the school for us, made benches. I have some real good friends on Turkey Creek and Maes Creek who still say, "She was my teacher." I had three boy pupils which Bill will never forget, I was nineteen and they were twenty-two. You know, the school directors came one day and told me I couldn't have those three boys in school because they were older and they might make love to the teacher and it was dangerous. Now this was really backwards. I was being protected from my own pupils and those boys loved school. The reason everybody loved school, we didn't have recesses we used up the time singing. O-o-o they were wonderful musicians and talk about voices, they had wonderful voices and they danced and I had a ball teaching the children. They taught me "Paloma Arrante." That's a song that I have never heard since, a dove that kept flying from one place to another. It's a girl that flies around. The Aguirre's still live around, here, who were my pupils. Lots of pupils are still here that still meet me. Ben Vigil is one who never forgets me. "She was my teacher," he says. It was wonderful teaching up there.

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