Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Contributed by: Karen Mitchell

May 1979

Q: How did your family come here?

A: My family came here from Europe and they traveled by ship. They came to America in 1907.

Q: When did the family come to Huerfano County?

A: They came to Huerfano County about in 1908 as my dad worked in a gold mine and he got hurt so he came to America. My mom was left in the old country, was raised by her grandfolks and as a child, she was fourteen years old before she came to meet her parents. Her parents were strangers to her at that time.

Q: What country did they come from?

A: My parents are originally from Austria but when the war between Italy and Austria took place my folks were born -Italy took it over so therefore I call myself an Italian.

Q: What obstacles did they encounter?

A: When my folks came to America there was not much population and hard times mainly they had a language barrier and that made it hard for them to get to talk.

Q: How were things different?

A: Well as I spoke things were much different then than they are now. People relied much on their neighbors to get along with. When they lived with their neighbors it was just as one whole big family.

Q: How did your family acquire their land or lose it, if they did?

A: My dad bought that land after the first World War in 1918 up in Yellowstone. He bought 200 acres and he has never lost it.

Q: What were the homesteading requirements?

A: The homesteading requirements were that they were to fence that land, build a home on it, a liveable home and live on it for three years and they had to prove that.

Q: What did they do for entertainment?

A: Mostly they visited with their neighbors but as my dad he was a musician, he was an accordian player and he played for dances and he entertained himself and his family with his accordian.

Q: Where did they get their supplies?

A: They bought their supplies when my dad worked as a coal miner. Coal mining camps always had a store and they bought their supplies there. When they bought the ranch they just went into town with their horse and buggy.

Q: How often did you get supplies?

A: Likely, maybe once a month or every three months. When we had eggs to sell or homemade butter or cream then we would go to town and sell that and with that money we would buy our supplies. We always bought enough supplies like we bought a sack of sugar, a sack of flour and maybe ten pounds of coffee and the rest we had at home and that's how we got our supplies.

Q: What supplies did you make then that you can buy now?

A: MY mom used to make homemade cheese. That we didn't have to buy. And then, in the fall we would butcher a beef and a couple of hogs and we worked that over and we would make our own bacon, ham, and we would make sausage. We preserved it by putting the sausage in a big crock and then we would render that fat and pour it over and seal it. We would use that and we would have enough supplies the year round. We would grow our own garden and we had a root cellar which we saved all our vegetables in.

Q: What medical services were available?

A: When we got sick we almost always used the old time remedies. Took care of ourselves, stayed in bed, drank a lot of water and my mom, there was some old Spanish lady that used to have some old remedies, I can't think what they are now but she used them and that was how I growed up. I had pneumonia once and this Spanish lady with her own home remedies I am here to tell the story.

Q: What home remedies did they use then?

A: Well, when I was about five years old I had pneumonia, which I had pneumonia about three months before that and there was a lady, our neighbor, she was part Spanish and part Indian and she'd come over and help my mom take care of me. She would get these peppermint leaves and she'd beat up some eggs and they'd make it like an poltus all over my body and she'd wrap me in a blanket, it would have to be a colored blanket she said and then they soon broke my fever and that's what we had. We always used old remedies like that and here I am now to tell the story. I am now almost sixty-six years old and I do believe in them old time remedies.

Q: What newspapers were available then?

A: I can't say that I know of any newspapers available because I never did see a newspaper until I grew up and went to school.

Q: What goods did they grow?

A: When I was growing up we grew all kinds of vegetables as they grow today. The same kind of vegetables as we grow today that's the same kind of vegetables as we grew then.

Q: What was the effect of the depression?

A: The effect of the depression was terrible. One time my mom had bought some sugar because we couldn't buy much and she was saving this sugar and she put it down in the downstairs in the basement and that day we got a hard rain and the rain went in that cellar and got all the sugar. She went down there and got that sugar and brought it out and dried it on the table. That depression was very bad, you couldn't get the things you wanted to eat, you had to do the best you could.

Q: What was the effect of the war?

A: The effect of the Second World War - we were living in a coal mining camp which we called Big Four or Tioga and they wanted to draft my husband to go to the service. But, he was essential as he was a maintenance man so they exempted him and he didn't get to go. That was when we bought this ranch which I am living on now.

Q: What were conditions, working conditions like in the coal mines?

A: When my folks came to this country the coal mining condition was a very dangerous thing, they didn't have their air set right in the mines and many miners died of mining consumption. A lot of miners would go to work early in the morning before sunrise and come back after sunset. I know of some miners who died because they did not get a bit of sun.

Q: How about during the time when grandpa was alive?

A: When my husband was alive, we got married in 1935 and the wages at that time was $4.35 per day for working in the mine and they were long hours.

Q: What were the wages for employment? Were they paid by cash or checks?

A: The wages for employment were not paid by cash. They got a statement and they paid them by check.

Q: Did they have to buy their food there in the mining camp?

A: Yes, before the union came in they had to buy their food at company store. That was the rule. After the Union came in they were set free to go to buy their food in town if they so chose.

Q: Did you support or join the United Mine Workers?

A: Yes, my husband was a United Mine Worker.

Q: What demands did the Union seek?

A: The Union really bettered them because it set the miners free in those times because conditions other than that they never had a voice in many things. They couldn't say anything they wanted but when the Union came in they had a voice and they changed things around and they had a better living.

Q: Did you live in the tent colonies?

A: No I didn't live in the tent colonies but my folks lived in the tent colonies. When things got real bad they moved out and moved up to the Spanish Peaks where my mother had her parents living.

Q: Do you know what the tents were like?

A: No I don't but I heard my folks talk many, many a times about that massacre and they always said how horrible it was.

Q: What massacre was that?

A: That was the Ludlow massacre and my folks were there but when things got real bad my dad decided to move his family out and that was before the tents got burned and the people got killed.

Q: Were you at the Ludlow Massacre?

A: No, but my parents were.

Q: What kind of houses did you live in?

A: When I grew up my folks used to work for the C F & I and they always had homes built at the coal camps and they were, most of them were a four room house, and they were a fairly nice house, liveable.

Q: What was the attitude towards the National Guard?

A: The attitude was not very pleasant towards the National Guard because they didn't think that they should have had them there.

Q: Do you remember armored cars or

A: No I don't.

Q: Did you know Louis

A: No. I read about him in a book.

Q: Who were the strike leaders then?

A: I don't know.

Q: Did you know Jefferson King Farr, his nickname was King Farr?

A: No, I don't know him but I have heard stories where he built that ditch going from the Huerfano and he used prisoners to do it with. That's about all I know.

Q: Was he in your times?

A: No he was not.

Q: Did they pay you in script?

A: Yes they sometimes paid my husband in script and script was a type of money, it was just about the size of a quarter but it was very thin. It must have been made either out of tin or aluminum.

Q: Did you know Black Jack Kechum?

A: No I heard a lot of stories about him to know him I don't.

Q: Did you know Butch Cassidy?

A: No I don't know him.

Q: Did you know about the posse that Farr got together?

A: No I don't.

Q: Did you know William?

A: No I didn't know him either.

Q: How about Mother Jones who tried to help Union men?

A: I read about her but I don't know her.

Q: Do you know John David Rockfeller?

A: No I don't know him either but I have heard a lot of stories about him.

Q: What were the mining facilities like, were they very safe?

A: No. Mine facilities were not safe at all. A lot of men got killed because there was not no safety in the coal mines in those days.

Q: What was life like in the first years? When Huerfano was made?

A: I don't remember very much because I didn't go to town until I was about sixteen years old.

Q: Do you remember the great Walsenburg flood that happened in 1910?

A: No I don't, that was before my days.

Q: What was education like?

A: When I started school we lived in an all Spanish community. We were the only outsiders and I only knew how to speak Italian and when I went to school it was all Spanish speaking people and I learned how to speak Spanish because when I went to school they would go around the school house and get in a big huddle and I had to learn to speak to get in that company or I was left out. Before we went to school there were six in our family, three boys and three girls. My mother was a midwife and she was always off somewhere delivering someone's baby. My dad was a coal miner and he would stay at the coal mine, he would have a batch and stay there. We were pretty much raised at home alone. We would have to in the morning get up real early in the morning because we had about three and a quarter miles to walk to school. We would get up real early, milk the cows, slop the hogs, feed the chickens, straighten up the house and have our lunch ready and then we would run off to school. When the evening came it was back again at home and the same chores again. We were always pretty much alone, as I say my mother was always off with someone, helping someone.

Q: What was the relationship between the Anglo and the Spaniards?

A: In those days there was a lot of opposition. The Spanish people didn't like what you would call the White, as we were called and they didn't like the Spanish and it was not a very pleasant situation.

Q: How did the people relate to their neighbors?

A: We related very nicely. All the neighbors got along and visited each other, it was like one big family.

Q: What were the sports at that time?

A: The children made play toys of their own. We played ball, we would make a little merry-go-round with a pole, we would make a swing, everything was made at home.

Q: What religions existed?

A: The religion that was in our community, there was just one family that was Presbyterian, the other ones were all Catholics. They all got together and built them a little Catholic church. The church is still standing but there are no longer any services there.

Q: How was morality different then from now?

A: If a girl had a date the boy was to go to their home and get permission from the parents, ask if the daughter could go with him out to a movie or wherever they were going. It seems that they don't do that these days.

Q: What did respect for elders involve?

A: We were always taught to respect your elders and I think that goes along very much when you have religion brought into your home.

Q: Why was the first grandchild usually given to the grandparents?

A: My folks, my mother was raised with her great grandmother in Europe and she stayed there, her and another brother. When her folks came to America to earn a living the old folks kept the younger ones there with the idea that that would draw the younger people back to their country.

Q: What do you remember that was here then that is not here now?

A: The horse and buggy principally. I rode that horse and buggy many a times. I would go to town when they went shopping, mostly with my mom and I would help her unharness the horses and feed them then in the afternoon we would go shopping, in the morning we would get up real early and put the harness back on our horses, get our buggies ready and all the provisions we had and away we would come home.

Q: If you could, would you go back and live the way you did then?

A: Not as far as the horse and buggy but as far as being close with the neighbors, I would love that very much.

Q: Is there anything you would like to talk about?

A: Yes. I would like to talk about how we used to work when I was growing up, me and my brothers and sisters. I always was classed as the strongest of the girls so therefore I always got the job of harnessing the horse. When I was growing up we plowed with just a plow and I would put the horses lines around my neck, with one hand I would hold and plow and we would walk. My sister had a bucket of corn, she would follow us around and plant the corn. I would go another round without her plant- ing the corn and she would plant the corn on the next round. That was how we got the corn planted. We would hoe the corn by hand. We would get up really early in the morning, about four, as soon as it got day light and we would go out and hoe that corn. We would come in in the hot part of the day and take care of the house chores and then late in the evening we would go back and do it again and that's how we got our crop done. We never had a planter, it was all hand work.

Q: What did the boys do?

A: My brothers were younger than us girls and of course they were smaller so they didn't have to do as much as we did. They also got out there and pulled weeds or harvested corn or peas or beans. We would harvest the beans, make big piles and then when it was harvest time we would thrash them. We'd put the beans on a big flat surface of the ground and then we would take sticks and beat them or step on them and then we used the wind to blow the shaff out. We were very poor people. People used to give us alot of clothing and my mom used to improvise, make them over to fit us. For the boys she always made their shirts at home. The trousers she did buy. Children today have it much easier because when I grew up things were very hard. I am glad that it was that way because today I don't miss a thing because I never did have it in my life.

Q: When you were growing up what was the entertainment?

A: When I was growing up the entertainment was, if we wanted to go to a dance or visit our neighbors we never had a car, most of the time it was foot work. Sometimes we would get a horse and then we would ride and we would come home usually by midnight but it was always entertaining with one of the neighbors. They would have a guitar, a violin, they would make the music and we would dance to it. It was all like a big family.

Q: How close were the neighbors?

A: Our closest neighbor was about a mile.

Q: How has ranching changed?

A: There is a big change in ranching because when I was growing up it was all horse work, we didn't know a thing about a tractor so that was how we did our work, with horses. That was our transportation, our work on the farm and all.

Q: How has the cattle business changed?

A: There is a big change because when I was growing up we always had our own milk. It didn't have to be a milk cow. We milked anything that had milk.

Q: How were the living facilities then that they are not today?

A: When I was growing up we didn't have all the convenience that we have today, water in the house, an inside bathroom, that was all outdoors. It is much better today.

Q: What is the difference in preserving food?

A: There is a lot of difference in preserving food nowadays because you have a home freezer. We still do some home canning but then we had to use some home canning and I can still remember my mom when we used to butcher. She would preserve this meat down in a big crock and put some kind of a brime on it and then afterwards she would take it out and hang it up by a string in our smoke house and they would smoke it. That was real good. I am sorry today that I don't know how they did it because I didn't pay too much attention and I am afraid that that has gone by. The ones that knew about it are gone.

Q: Where did you get your seasonings?

A: We mostly used salt and pepper. When we made sausage we would buy other spices. Our main source of getting spices was from the Rawleigh Man.

Q: Are Rawleigh products still available today?

A: Yes. Rawleigh products are still available today, they are very good products and you can get those products from Carrie Allen Menegatti, she is the agent for those products.

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