Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews
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Ermer Andreatta

INTERVIEWED BY PATRICIA CHEEK – 19 Jul 1979 at Andreatta Ranch, Yellowstone Creek

ERMER ANDREATTA-born 27 Mar 1920, is a farmer-rancher
Parents were – Emilio and Rosina Andreatta
Paternal Grandparents were – Augustoly Andreatta
Maternal Grandparents were – Bortello and Maria Andreatta
Ethnic Group – Austrian
Family Orogin – Tyrol, Austria
Date of arrival in County – 1906
Location of first family settlement – Santa Clara

E: My mother's name was Rose. Maria Rose Andreatta. And my dad was Emilio Andreatta. So, they had the same name before they even started. She come to this country in the year. . .oh, I couldn't tell you exactly, but she came over on a ship from Italy. In a French liner and she come straight over to ?????????? That's where my mother settled at. But my dad, he started from Hastings, and then from Hastings he (moved to) Rouse, and then from Rouse he rented the Pene place. He farmed there at the Pene place for a while and then for a while he lived up in ????? And then from there, he came to these coal mines down here in Tioga, Sunnyside and Turner. And then after that, he worked at the Alamo, he'd farm and clear land and stuff like that.

Q: When he first came here, did he start working in the mines first, or did he get his land first?

E: No. He started working in the mines. Actually, he didn't start farming on his own. . .1916 was when he started really farming his own land. Before that he was a coal miner skipping from place to place, wherever he could get a job.

Q: In what year were you born?

E: I was born in 1920. March 27.

Q: And by that time your family was already living here part of the year.

E: Yeah. My oldest brother was born in 1918. So he was the first one born here in the house. My dad, to tell you the truth, was a midwife. He was the one who delivered us all.

Q: And how old were you before you started living in a mining town?

E: I started living in the mining towns when I started going to school in 1926 which was Sunnyside school house. I went there a few years. Two or three, I can't recall back that far. Then I went to the Tioga school house. I went to school there also. Then I guess, I must have been about 8 or 9 years old when I started at the Yellowstone school. I went there to the eighth grade. After that there was the depression. . .the depression hit during those years. I had to go work on the fields

Q: Now as far as the farming, your dad worked only part-time, you said, on the farm.

E: Just part-time on the farm. My mother. . . .actually, it was all my mother's doings on the farm. She's the one that kept the farm going. Between peddling like. . .we made salami, like I said and she peddled salami and cheese and butter, eggs and different things that we'd raise on the farm. We used to raise cabbage, squash, corn, beans. It was like a garden farm, more or less in those years. And some sheep. She did a lot of peddling.

Q: Did she do that on a regular basis?

E: Oh yeah. That was regular while we were growing up.

Q: How did she do it.

E: She did it with a... .they call it a buggy now, but old country people used to call it a spring wagon which was a real light like buggy made out of narrow gauge wheels and all it took was two horses. That's what she used to deliver.

Q: Did she just go to other people's houses or did she take it right into town and sell it?

E: No. She used to go from door to door. She used to drive from door to door.

Q: From here?

E: Yeah. She'd have her days. Whenever she'd go down, she'd go down and. . .well, people that she knew, some of them so she'd go to different homes. Maybe some wanted butter, others wanted eggs, salami or whatever. So, she'd deliver. When she'd deliver the next week, when she would go back, they would put an order ahead of time so she had an idea what she had to get prepared for the following week. She used to do that.

Q: How did your dad get his land? Did he get it by grant or did he have to buy it?

E: No. I'll be honest with you. The way he got his land, at that time they were living on Bob Pene's place in La Veta and there was a guy by the name of Mike Vincenti, he used to own this place. So, they brought my dad and mother over and they came over to look the place over and so they sort of dealt on it. But my dad didn't have no money. So there was a fellow down in Walsenburg, he passed away already, still his name was Herman Rufini . He dealt with him and the one that backed my dad the first time, before Herman Rufini, was my grandpa. His name was Bortolo Andreatta. The other guy, I can't remember his name. Anyhow, they backed my folks up and they bought the place. Then a few years later, my folks couldn't quite make the payments and my grandpa was going to take the place away. They were going to foreclose on him and it so happened that my dad heard them. He was behind the store when they were talking, so my dad. . .he just went straight to this fellow that he hadn't even met actually. He told him what was happening and the man told him just to come down and pay them off and my dad says, “Well, do I have to mortgage anything for you to back me up?” He says, “No. You come down, I'll give you the money, and pay them off and then when you have some spare time and not doing anything, you come down and then you can mortgage. He trusted my dad just by seeing him.

Q: And then you said they got additional acreage later on?

E: Yeah. Then he homesteaded here on Silver Mountain, 440 acres. That was in 1934. The last time he could homestead. That was right after the depression.

Q: What did they do? Did they run cattle on that land or farm it or??

E: Well, he built a cabin on that ranch and then he fenced it all. That's just about all of it and then he did put a few fields in and he used to keep cattle there, the cattle we used to milk which was about 17 or 18 head of cattle all summer long that we would milk, us kids.

Q: During the whole time, what did they grow mostly?

E: Well, he used to grow corn, oats, barley, wheat and then he had fields of alfalfa.

Q: When you were a kid, did most of the stuff that you ate, come from what you grew and what you raised yourself?

E: Yeah. Everything. There was very little we'd have to buy, my folks had to buy. But they'd have to buy like flour . They'd buy any where's from a half a ton to a ton of flour. Yeast, they used to buy, in those days, there used to be dead cubes of yeast. So they'd buy that and sugar and really essential things that they needed, that they didn't raise right here. When they'd buy that, they'd buy in big quantities. They'd buy in the fall so they could have for all winter in case of storms and stuff which it used to. But most of the stuff we raised.

Q: What kinds of chores did you kids have to do when you were small . . .when you were growing up on the farm?

E: Well, we'd have to milk every morning before we went to school which was three miles and a quarter to go to school because we used to walk. Then in the evening we'd come home and have to clean the barns, feed the cattle, help my mother feed the cattle and keep the buildings clean for milk toss and things like that. We'd always have to do that. We also had rabbits, chickens, pigs and turkeys.

Q: Do you think you had to work pretty hard when you were small?

E: Well, in one way, yes. In one way, I enjoyed doing it. There were hard times but. . . I didn't have no worries.

Q: When you said you started to go to the mines, now when the summer was over, then what happened?

E: When summer was over and come fall, my mother had to go into town, into the coal mines rather, to get us. . for us small kids into school. Then come spring we'd come back and we did that until, oh, I imagine I was about eight years old.

Q: How did she get you when she got you ready to go?

E: Oh, she used to use what they call, in those days, a big lumber wagon, which was considered like now, one of them big trucks, you know, a heavy duty wagon. That's what they used to take us in.

Q: To and from?

E: Yeah. And then after that, we finally. . .my folks finally moved back and we stayed on the farm all the time. Then my oldest brother got himself a donkey. And then I had an aunt and uncle over in Bear Creek, and they gave us another one. So then we had two donkeys for us kids to ride back and forth to school. So we used to ride back and forth. Sometimes our poor donkeys were tired, so we would still walk to school and we'd come back. . .and there was Mary's uncle, Sequiel Martinez, and we'd stop at his house and we'd play like we was crying and cold and stuff so he'd lend us a horse to come home. We did that. He used to lend us a horse so we'd come home and take care of his horse and the next day we'd drop him off when we were on our way to school.

Q: Can you remember any of the things your parents or your grandparents may have said to you about what it was like for them when they first got here?

E: Well, I'll tell you, the way they said, it was hard for them. Because they were foreigners, they didn't know how to speak a word of English. They had to learn it all from scratch and then not only that, if they went to the coal mines and stuff, because they were foreigners they'd hold them back. Even in those days, I mean, which my dad did get along, because he was a timber man in the coal mines most of his life, but they always. . the coal mines always had their favorites. So if you didn't look right to them, they'd lay you off, where the other guy, he more or less was their pet and they'd keep him in. No, they had a hard time.

Q: Did they ever tell you what made them decide to come to southern Colorado?

E: Really, the reason my dad come….see grandpa, my dad's grandpa, he worked up in Silverton in those mines and he must have did pretty good up there because he went back to Austria and built a. . well, it's like a castle that he built and settled back there. He stayed back there. So, I imagine the stories he told my dad, got my dad the feeling to come to this country.

Q: Where is your family originally from?

E: It was in Tyrol, Austria at the time, which after the first world war, the ____________took that. They took that section over.

Q: And what was your dad's name?

E: Emilio Andreatta.

Q: And your mother's maiden name?

E: Well, they used to call her always by Rose Andreatta. They were both Andreattas. They were no relation whatsoever.

Q: Can you think of anything that stands out in your mind when you lived in the coal mining towns that was interesting to you as a kid growing up there?

E: Well, yeah. I do. When we were in the coal mines. . .what I used to like, well we were just young kids, but I used to like to watch the train come in. See because most of the coal mines. . .they'd bring the water in and then to the stores. . .in those days, they'd bring bananas in great big ole tall crates. See, we had burros and we'd go down to the stores when they'd empty them and us kids, we'd take that stuff you know, that they put the bananas in, and we'd feed it to our donkeys. We enjoyed that.

Q: Do you remember living in the coal mines when anything particularly interesting was going on? I mean, do you remember anything like a cave in or a strike that was going on at the time that you lived there?

E: No. In the mines, when I was there as a child, they didn't have any strikes, but when we were living there in Tioga at that mine, it seems to me that there wasn't one day that the siren wouldn't blow that they would haul somebody out of that mine either injured or killed at that time.

Q: Can you remember. . .what did your mother feel when she heard that siren?

E: Well, I'll be honest with you. She was always worrying about my dad. She was always wondering you know. .

Q: Did your dad ever get hurt?

E: Yeah. He got hurt at one coal mine, but not bad. I wouldn't say bad because he was working in the coal mine, and as he was timbering, part of the roof caved and hit him right across the nose here. It cut his nose all the way down. So when he reached up and felt that there was no nose there, he wondered what happened and he felt down on his upper lip, and there was the nose you know. So my dad, all he did was. . .somehow or another, he cleaned it up and he pushed it back and still, to the day he died, he had a black streak around his nose where his nose had been cut off.

Q: He never got medical aid?

E: No. My dad would never go see a doctor.

Q: Where did you live? In what kind of a building did you live?

E: We used to live in a boarding house and my mother used to run it. She used to take boarders in to try and help my dad make a go of it for us kids because we weren't a great big family, but we was a nice sized family. We were six kids living and with them two was eight. So, I mean in those days, it took quite a bit. But they used to support us.

Q: How long did your dad work in the mines?

E: Oh, since he first come to this country in. . .I think it was 1942 or 1943, during the war is when he quit the coal mines.

Q: What do you remember about like Walsenburg, the town, when you were small?

E: I'll tell you one thing. When we first used to go down there, but we didn't go down that often, but right behind that Andreatta store, it used to be Andreatta store, then they changed it to Circle A meat market. Well, behind there. . .that's what took my eye, they used to have a great big building there where you could put your horses in like a livery stable. I remember that and I remember also in back of Hobeika's my mother used to deliver butter to them.

Q: Do you remember anything else that impressed you about it when you were there?

E: I don't remember the year but there was a boot-legging business there. She used to go deliver her whiskey.

Q: Your mother made whiskey?

E: Yes, she did. She got caught three times too. She made it three times and got caught all three times. Yeah. She used to deliver whiskey down in Walsenburg. They didn't boot-leg in large quantities, but they boot-legged just enough to get them over the hump you know.

Q: Did she make wine too?

E: Wine, always, always, til the day she died. For the family use.

Q: And then after you started living here on a fulltime basis, then what? Did you just go to school and did the farming until???

E: Well, after I grew up and I was 18, then I went to Denver to school. I went three years to Denver, the Aviation Institution of Denver. I wanted to learn how to fly and repair airplanes, so I spent three years there. Meanwhile, during the time I was there, just getting ready to graduate in the spring, the war broke out, in '41, Dec. 7, so I decided. . .I volunteered, but they didn't take me that time because I had put down everything that I had been doing stuff and they knew I had been going to school, so the day after, which was Apr. 10, I graduated, and Apr. 11, I left to the service. I spent four years with the United States Air Force.

Q: And then after you came back from the service, you came right back here again?

E: I came back to farm. We'd farm in the summertime and in the winter, we'd go work in LA. We worked 7 years in LA.

Q: What were you doing there?

E: There we worked at National Battery, building batteries and then I worked at Columbian in Reynolds which used to make aluminum screen doors and windows and then the last year I went out there, I worked on a packing company.

Q: It was all factory work though?

E: Yeah. All but the last year. I worked as a packer, which loads trucks and stuff.

Q: When did you finally get married?

E: I was an old bachelor. I think I was 34 years old, just about.

Q: Did you meet your wife here in Wa1senburg?

E: I knew her when she was a teeny-bopper.

Q: It took you that long to get around to her?

E: Yeah. No, I'll be honest with you. I had swore when I was.... just before I went to the service, I said I would not get married until I was past 30. I made a vow and I kept it.

Q: And so what do you do now? Do you strictly stick to farming now?

E: Mostly farming and then there's been a few times....I work out for others.

Q: Do you still primarily raise the same kind of stuff now that you did then?

E: When my folks were living? Well, no, it's different. It's a different operation now than it was then. Because now it's strictly hay fields, we raise mostly hay and barley and oats and nothing else.

Q: Can you remember anything about like when you were young, where you went to church or did you?

E: Well, I'll be honest with you. Yes, I did. I went a few times. But not voluntarily.

Q: And then what? Did you have to go all the way to Walsenburg?

E: Yeah. My mother. . .she made us go to Walsenburg a few times and then, well...I'm a Catholic and...confirmation? So, they got us down here in school. I was a small fellow. So we went from school confirmation you know. We're supposed to practice. So they got me up in the church there and they told me what to do so I went.....and instead of bowing down to the priest, I bowed down to the people. And my sisters like to kill me. Because I never was a church goer. I'll tell you the truth.

Q: How often did your family go to town?

E: There were times when the weather was bad and maybe a month or two before they would go to town.

Q: But sometimes it was more often than that?

E: Sometimes it was more often.

Q: How long did it take you to get to town from here?

E: From here? With the team my dad had. . .between two and two and a half hours to get into Walsenburg. That was short cuts and all.

Q: Do you remember when you were a kid if there were any particular diseases, different diseases that they cured more than they do now?

E: Oh, the Spanish flu, yeah. My dad told me because the Spanish flu hit when I was a baby. Right around the First World War, close to l9l8 Pa lost two sisters in 10 days with that Spanish flu. And that they did cure. But measles, mumps and small pox and stuff like that, they did not. My mother was a midwife and she never did cure it. She was very good at it. She could have been qualified more as a doctor than a midwife.

Q: Ok. Do you remember any special remedies she had. . .like when you were a kid?

E: She had a lot of them. Well, I'll tell you one. . .the main thing she would do. She'd make sure she would give us something that would clean our insides out.

Q: Castor oil.

E: Castor oil. And then after that was.....all we had was..... Then she'd put us to bed. She'd cover us good and she'd give us ginger, honey and a shot of whisky and a little water. And she'd keep us in bed until we really broke out with a sweat. She wouldn't let us out of bed. Then in a day or two, it was all over, the cold.

Q: How do you feel you were raised differently than the way you raise your own kids today?

E: Well, I raised mine about like the way they raised me. Yeah, really. I raised them about the same. They very seldom go to a doctor, the kids. The only difference now is that. . .well, they have that polio vaccine, shots for the small pox, measles and all that.

Q: How about discipline?

E: Well, discipline. . .I'm a little more lenient than my dad was. There is one incident that I will never forget. My dad one time. we come home from school and we come in the house and he says, “Well, go milk.” I says, “Dad, just wait a minute.” And that's the last time I ever told anyone to wait a minute. I seen that No. 10 boot coming behind me out that door. I never did say 'Wait a minute, dad,' anymore. My dad was strict. When he gave an order, you turned it out. I think that was good.

Q: Did you find that your life was any different, like during the depression, did you find that there were any changes?

E: I think it made a man out of most young people, which it did out of me, I know, because I realized things were bad and could get worse.

Q: Was there a lot of a financial difference through your family?

E: A real financial difference there was, yeah. In fact, my dad wanted to give that Herman Rufini the ranch back at the time. He was willing to. . .he couldn't give him nothing down on the principal and couldn't pay all his interest and he told him to take the ranch back and the man said, “No. Things have changed. When they do you can pay me back.”

Q: That means during that time you weren't even selling your produce or anything really.

E: Nothing. There was animals. . .in fact the cattle we had, because my dad was a small operator anyhow. . .imagine, I don't remember exactly, but anyhow, the most he ever had was 20 head of cattle at that time and which, during the depression, you could buy a big cow for 15 dollars. A full grown cow for $15. They were real cheap.

Q: So you just namely. . .just stayed here then and you still just grew your own food and everything.

E: That's right.

Q: Your father was still working in the mines, wasn't he, during the depression?

E: The mines weren't going that good and then we tried. . .I don't like to say it, but anyhow....we were known for carrying guns anyway, so we used to have them at that time hanging all over the wall. And you know, kids when they're growing up, you're proud of what you got so you put it out there. People that come in. . .they could see that stuff. OK, so my folks tried to get help from the Red Cross and when the Red Cross came in, they refused us. So they asked my mother what she was going to do with those guns we had hanging on the wall and she told them, “Them guns are for one thing. Before my children starve, they'll be used.”

Q: Quite a lady.

E: Oh, she had the guts. But, no, that's the truth now.

Q: Do you notice any big difference like in the countryside around this area in the years since then, since you were a kid and now?

E: Yes, I do. Oh, there's a big difference. For one thing, when we were kids and growing up in those years, the whole country was a lot cleaner than it is today. There was more water. We had more snowfall. Every winter we had more snowfall than we have had for years and water in the spring, we had water most of the year which this is the only year now that we have water. Last year we didn't have water. There is a big change.

Q: Talking about water....did you ever get in any disputes over water rights?

E: Yes, we did. We've had disputes over water for. . .since 1939. Since 1939 up to 76, June. 1976 is the last dispute we had for water.

Q: With whom?

E: It was just one of my neighbors, close neighbor and relative.

Q: So you really don't know how the practice of water rights got started or do you?

E: Well, really, yeah. Actually, water rights got started when the settlers first came. That was in 1800's. The water rights got started from Kansas, and worked up west. In other words, the lower you go, the better the water right is because priority is lower. And the higher up in the mountains you go, on the average that is, it gets higher and higher. And then there was a lot of people in those years that did homestead, but they didn't think about putting in a claim for water.

Q: Did your father?

E: Well, my father, no, he didn't have a chance. The only claim he put in was for flood rights.

Q: What are flood rights?

E: But it started from east and come up.

Q: So where are you on the list?

E: Way on the tail end.

Q: But you do get enough water obviously?

E: Yeah. Well, there's one thing. There's priority and then there's hiority. And I'm on the hiority list.

Q: Which means?

E: Higher up.

Q: Very good.

Q: You said that you never did work in the mines.

E: Never. My dad would never leave me.

Q: For any special reason?

E: Not that I know of. But I think he didn't trust me too much, because I was wild when I was young. So I might as well admit it, he didn't let me work in the mines.

Q: Your brothers worked in the mines?

E: Both of them.

Q: How old were they when they started?

E: One started at 18, the other one must have been about 22.

Q: How long did they work there?

E: I think one worked about 8 or 10 years, the other one probably worked two or three years, just during the war. During war time.

Q: And now, how much property do you have up here that you farm?

E: Well, let's consider me and my youngest brother, we're still tied in but we split, but on paper we ain't split, just by word. 2760 acres we owned together.

Q: And still besides putting in the hay, you run cattle up here?

E: Yes.

Q: Do you still like living up on this mountain?

E: Yes, I do. I love it.

Q: You won't come down, huh?

E: No, well I'll go down as a visit, and stuff like that. But, move out, no.

Q: You go to Walsenburg more often now, I take it, than you used to?

E: Oh, we go pretty often. That's what you get when you got a wife and a bunch of kids.


E: Yeah. All the time. Well, just one. I only have one in school now. The rest have all left.

Q: And now compared to what their school is like today, how different is that from when you were going to school?

E: Well, I'll tell you, they have it more easy now. I'll be honest.

Q: It was harder for you?

E: Yes, it was. Well, I'll tell you, for one simple reason it was harder, well we had 3¼ miles to go in the morning. We had to even walk mostly, and when we didn't walk, we had the burros and stuff you know and, the kids now, well, it's a lot easier because the bus picks them up right next to their home or either they drive to the bus and then it takes them right into school.

Q: Well what about the school inside though? What was the differences between what your school was like....what was your school like inside?

E: Well the difference between our school and the schools of today....when I was going to school they had....aIl the children went to the same school whether they were in the first grade or the eighth. Then there was no....the only difference that they had to split they didn't have no rooms, separate rooms. They'd have....maybe the kids would have four or five chairs on the one side and then the other grade would have half, they'd have to split that way, But the kids was all mixed..... they was all in the same school and then they never had any electric lights in school, no restrooms. All they had was a....they had a wood heater, in fact the way they worked it down here, our family would take care of it one month, go early to school, light the fire, clean the ashes out and get that school warm for when the children came. Then the next month it would be the next family's turn to do the same thing.

Q: And one teacher took care of all the children?

E: One teacher took care of all of them. And it wouldn't have been bad but there was one teacher that was partial to one kid more than another and like I say I was ornery, I won't deny it, so the teachers were never partial to me hardly. They'd have to work me over.

Q: Did they give you a lot of homework to do? I mean was the homework about the same as it is now?

E: Well the homework..... yeah they give us homework but maybe it would be maybe just two books, maybe English and math and stuff like that. They'd just give us two instead of like they do now. They give you four or five different books....subjects to study on. But we had to memorize what we took home. When we went to school the next day.... that had to be all in the head....that book we could read it without looking at it. It was memorized.

Q: The schools in the mining towns were kind of the same too. Was it a one room school?

E: At the beginning yeah. Un-huh. Then they started having just, maybe they just had a petition but it was only one teacher. The schools I went to. But they had a dark room I know that.

Q: What was that?

E: Well that was a room when you wouldn't obey and they couldn't do nothing they'd keep you locked, they'd lock you in there. That was in Sunnyside. The reason I say they had that dark room is because they used to lock me in there

Q: Did they paddle kids then too?

E: Yeah they did. And believe me I'll be honest with you. I did get paddled quite a few times but all in all the teachers I had I still love them because for the simple reason I know that 99 percent of the time I was at fault. It wasn't them. Now that I'm grown the time I thought they were all at fault the teachers were at fault, but they weren't.

Q: What did you do for entertainment? Did you have sports and things in school?

E: Well the biggest sport we had was playing marbles.

Q: Playing marbles?

E: Marbles. That was the biggest sport. When I went to school, we'd play marbles which was very bad for our parents.

Q: Why?

E: Because when we'd come home we didn't have no knees in the pants. Oh we tried to play ball but it wasn't ball like we play now. We never had that. The last few years yeah. We tried to play baseball but never football. It was baseball and basketball we tried that a lot too.

Q: What kinds of things did your parents do for entertainment?

E: Dance. My dad used to play an accordion.

Q: Where did they have the dances?

E: Well they'd have dances in our home or they'd go to see some good friends and then he'd take the accordion and they'd play and have a dance right in the home, in people's homes.

Q: In the mining towns what did they do for entertainment there?

E: Oh they did that too, They used to get together. . .a bunch of them from the same part of the country. . they'd get together and maybe they'd have a great big house so they'd get together and maybe one would play accordion or something else but there was mostly accordions so they'd play them and they'd have dances.

Q: Did the nationalities pretty well stay to themselves?

E: Yeah. When they'd celebrate they'd sort of split up, yeah. The Italians would be more or less separated and maybe then the bojons and the Greeks, or whatever the nationality was, but when it came to go to school they were all equal, or in the mine. They got along well. I'd say they got along well. I imagine there were some incidents between them, but here and there, but they used to get along pretty well. But when they used to celebrate they used to....each nationality used to hang together.

(Endo of Side I - nothing on side II)

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