Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews
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Jose Benjamin Abila

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Karen Mitchell
Interviewed by Gloria Campbell
Date of interview - 9-15-1979

B: I was born and raised here in upper Huerfano. No, excuse me, I was born in Delta and I came to Redwing when I was about five years old, and started school here at Chama. I went through the eighth grade. I'm very well educated…..eighth grade. I also went to Red Wing school. My teacher was Mrs. Stacy. She's dead now. I come from a family of ten boys and one girl. Her name is Adonisa and I guess you know the rest of them, don't you?

G: Do you want to tell them the names of your brothers?

B: My oldest brother is Antonio Faris Abila, then me, Jose Benjamin Abila, Euvaldo Abila, Tobias Abila, Joseph Eugene Abila, Manuel Gilberto Abila, Cristofero Sergio Abila, Tomas Kino Abila…he's dead now, Ofilia Adonisa, my sister. They call her Mary now. Then Guillermo and then David Armando. Many brothers. Two of them are dead now.

G: When were you born?

B: May 14th, 1923. I'm fifty-six years old, and I'm getting gpretty old.

G: Can you tell me about your father?

B: Well my father was born here in Redwing. He passed away when he was sixty-eight. He stayed here all his life. In fact, he homesteaded some land here and raised a buch of ornery kids, but we done alright.

G: What was his name?

B: Porfirio Abila.

G: And your mom's name?

B: Benedita. She was born and raised here too.

G: What was her maiden name?

B: Valdez, daughter of Manuel Valdez and Manuelita Valdez. Her parents came form San Luis, and my Father's parents came from New Mexico.

(part missing)

B: No, he investigated very much, in fact many records, as did my cousin Leroy in California. But they don't spell my name right. I wanted to find out if my real name is AB or AV in Abila. Last month I found it is Abila.

G: You were saying about your grandparents that they came from San Luis.

B: On my mother's side yes. On my father's side it is claimed that my grandfather came in a covered wagon, crossing the mountains with his parents and according to a story I have, his parents were killed and Captain Deus raised my grandfather. He was a captain. This Captain Deus raised my grandfather, and when he grew old enough, he came over here with another man. They considered themselves as brothers. Although the other was a Valdez and my grandfather was an Abila. And my granddad homesteaded here. So he died at the age of eighty seven when he passed away. In his life here he used to run the mail on horseback from Badito to the Sand Dunes. They changed horses here in Redwing. There were stables here, years ago, six or seven years ago.

G: Did you ever hear about the toll road to the Sand Dunes?

B: They had a trail.

G: How about your grandmother?

B: My grandmother passed away when dad was six years old. I've got her picture there, and her aunt raised my dad till he was seventeen. Then my grandfather remarried again to Cruzita Rodriquez. She's dead now. She is the mother of George Abila, half brother to my papa, and the deceased Eloy. The only one who is living is George. He lives in Boulder.

G: Why do you suppose your grandparents came from San Luis?

B: Because in those days as I understand, they were fighting too much and they wanted to leave from there and they found this place that was more peaceful.

G: Do you know what year they came?

B: Let's see. I have so much in my head about that.

G: What land did your grandfather Juan Santos Abila homestead?

B: He homesteaded right here, east of my place here what they call the Wilson's place. Then he homesteaded up the Mosca Pass.

G: How many acres did he homestead?

B: At Mosca Pass when I was a kid, if I remember right, he had three sections. And over here, I think twenty three hundred and twenty. And let me tell you something. I think he sold that place for……………, if I remember right, dad used to say he sold that place for a burro and some sacks of grain.

G: Why?

B: They didn't know any better.

G: Did you hear at what time your grandfather got water rights for the place he homesteaded? Or did he ever get water rights?

B: Well, I don't know who got the water rights because I've got all papers of the water rights. Who registered the water I don't know. But I was looking in my books here that these water rights all over the country are eighty, ninety years old. In fact this one where I live today was registered in the 1800's, ditch #26, 1800's. Starting up there is the #96 and #42 and so on.

G: Tell me more about your grandparents.

B: My grandmother died when dad was six years old. So I didn't even know her. She was a Sanchez. That's all I know.

G: Was she from here?

B: I believe she was from here. She was the sister of ___, you remember my uncle, Gregorito Sanchez, Charlie's father. She was his sister.

G: Tell me about your mother's side of the family.

B: Well, I don't know too much. I know they were raised………. My grandfather, Manuel Valdez was raised in San Luis. He was born in San Luis and Manuelita, his wife, my grandma, was born here in Colonias. Oh, you don't remember but I remember him. He was very old when I was in school here. I was only about seven years old but I remember him.

G: What did he do?

B: He farmed here on the Casias's property, here in Colonias. He farmed all those places that Joe Vargas has there. And my grandfather gave him all that land that Pablo has. It belongs to my grandfather. My grandfather is still alive. He is 97. He is with an Aunt of mine, Aunt Annie in Odessa. He was with my father and mother for a long time but mother got sick and couldn't take care of him. So, they took him there. Sometime ago he was here and his sons and daughters look older than he. Really, I've got some tapes of him here. He sings to you and everything. He's really active. So old! I was teasing him because I am mischievous. (a great tease) asking him if he had found a girl friend there. He became angry at me. He said. “What do you think I am? That I am very young?” And I said, “Well you look so young. No” he said, “I am already very old”. He likes me real good.

G: Did they come from San Luis? Do you know if they came from New Mexico?

B: No, he came from San Luis and he came to work. He herded sheep here at Vegoso, and there he met my grandmother when he was a young shepherd. Then his parents took him to San Luis. Then he came back. In those days as I've been told, men did not ask a woman to marry him, as we do today. The parents would say, you will marry this women. Have you heard of this? His parents liked the woman. They told my grandmother, you are going to marry this man and he stayed there until they were married and they were together all their life until she passed away. And he is still here.

G: Who did he herd sheep for?

B: For the Montez's. I don't know which Montez. Do you remember a Montez who was mentioned a lot around here? Juan de Dios Montez? Perhaps he herded sheep for them. For his parents as I understand it, all those places were their's.

G: Did he have sheep?

B: Yes, he had his few sheep.

G: What else did he do?

B: He sheared sheep. He herded sheep and farmed his little place.

G: Was he interested in politics?

B: No. The one who was interested in politics was my grandfather Juan Santos Abila. He really was interested. Just mention politics and he was ready.

G: What did he do or what did he say?

B: Well, he would bet on the presidents, he would bet on the commissioners, on his own commisioner. He was a staunch Democrat. As soon as there was anything said about politics, he was a great one for betting.

G: Did he give speeches too?

B: Oh, yes. You don't remember. I think you were not even born then, when there was El Clarin here in Walsenburg. Do you remember that?

G: No.

B: He and the deceased Juan Cardenas, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, Juan Cardenas was a Republican and my grandfather, Juan Santos Abila was a Democrat and they told each other off through the newspaper, El Clarin. That was a lot of fun. They didn't get anything out of it except to get angry at one another.

G: What more can you tell me about your mother's family?

B: She had a brother Juan Valdez in San Luis. I've heard the story about my grandmother but I don't remember it but I do about my grandfather. Yes, she had a brother Juan Valdez. He lived in San Luis. I knew him.

G: Did he live there always?

B: He lived there always. He died in San Luis. He died about ten years ago.

G: Did you ever hear how people got along with each other in the days of your parents or your grandparents?

B: In those days people didn't treat each other as they do today. In those days, as I remember, that when my grandpa Juan Santos and grandpa Manuel killed a cow, it was for all the neighbors. They planted for everybody. Everyone helped each other. If my grandfather had a cutting machine and the other didn't, they borrowed it from him or just took it. It wasn't as it is today, now it is a question of money. They lived so peacefully that I can't forget it. My grandpa Juan Santos had many sheep. He had a few cows. Every time he butchered, he took us meat. Chicharrones (cracklings) you know. It was very different from today.

G: Would you say that your grandfather Manuel Valdez was a wealthy man?

B: No. Nobody had money in those days. He was a working man and he had only enough to make a living. Like my grandpa Juan Santos. He didn't work for anyone, neither did grandpa Manuel. They lived off their ranches with a few animals, hogs, cattle and sheep. They didn't have money.

G: Did they go to Walsen a lot?

B: Yes, when they went to thresh. Because I used to herd sheep with grandpa Juan Santos. He had sheep and I used to go and stay with him when I was very young. And they used to go to Walsen on a team of horses. I was very young one time when they went by buggy for chile to Pueblo. Listen, one time my papa went away to work and found work in Montrose. He was already married and my mother stayed here with us because we were quite small, I and the three oldest. We came. Then we went again. They went by horse drawn wagon. It took papa eight days to reach Montrose.

G: What did he do there?

B: He planted onions. They raised a lot of onions there. He also worked in the ranches and they gave him shares of onions.

G: Did anyone of your family deliver freight?

B: Only my grandfather Juan Santos ran the mail from Badito to the Sand Dunes.

G: Who else delivered mail?

B: I think one of the Santistevans did. An uncle of Roger Santistevan. It seems to me they (exchanged) took turns.

G: Did they deliver the mail every week or how did they do it?

B: Once a week.

G: Did he stay there until the mail came?

B: No. They took the mail from here in Badito to the other side of the mountain and brought back the mail from there. They waited until there was enough mail to bring, once a week. Do you understand me?

G: What kind of celebrations did they have in your grandparents time?

B: Oh, my grandfather Juan Santos was as fast as a horse and ran races on foot. They had the cockfights. You don't remember that? Your dad remembers the cock fight days. They played polo. My grandfather Juan Santos was one of the fastest. They would bet, sometimes wining, sometimes losing.

G: In what celebrations did they do that?

B: I don't know, but they did. Well, as I remember they had cock fights, the 24th and 25th of July. It was St James and St Ann's days. They were already old when I remember that.

G: What else did they do during the celebrations?

B: Oh, they drank a lot of booze. They made their own. Both my grandfathers liked it. They also gathered to talk (reminisce). They would talk about what they had done when they were young. I thought, then, that what they had done was rather curious and even doubtful. But when I grew up, I realized that what they had done was true.

G: Did they talk about the law?

B: Yes, they had laws. But the one who carried a good pistol was the law, according to what they said. My grandfather Juan Santos read a lot. He read the Bible a lot. He used to tell me what was going to happen. Now, I see happen what he told me. I don't know how, he knew by just reading the Bible. He was very interesting to listen to.

G: What did he say?

B: Oh, what's happening today. He used to tell these things when I was young, eleven or twelve years when I was with him in the sheep camp. He would tell me, “In your day you will be able to talk to someone across the ocean in minutes.” I would think, how does he know? And it is true. He said we would see houses on the road. I couldn't understand how, but just look at the trailer houses and all that. And I was just a little kid. Have you ever been in a sheep camp? Well, we had a tent and I had one of those lanterns or a candle and he stayed there reading the Bible. Then the next day while we were walking, he would tell me what was going to happen. I didn't pay too much attention because I didn't believe it because I thought, well how does he know. He would tell me, by the time you become a man, this and this will come to pass.

G: Where did they herd sheep?

B: At El Mosco Pass.

G: Did he have many sheep?

B: Not many. He had about 300. I don't know how many he had, I was too small. I went with him only as company for him.

G: Did you have sheep in Manzanola?

B: Oh yes. One time between Faris and I, we lost 300 sheep in fifteen minutes in a flood.

G: What year did that happen?

B: That happened in 1947. My father, Faris and I were in Pueblo for a sale and we left my two brothers and Solomon Cordovas sons watching the sheep. A torrent of water buried the sheep and carried them away. Six remained and they were six of mine but those that Faris owned were all drowned. There were dead sheep from the river here way down to Huerfano, all drowned.

G: Did you give up owning sheep then?

B: Faris quit. Faris and I were partners at that time. We were young. Faris quit as he became discouraged because he had bought them under the FHA loan and he owed for nearly all of them. But they pardoned the bill because it wasn't his fault. I wasn't in FHA and I too lost the few I had, but at least six of mine were left. He quit owning sheep and ranching and went to work in construction. Now he is retired. I kept on ranching. Then I came to that other business. I am retired now.

G: With whom did you go to school?

B: I can give you the names of all you want. Those who were in my grade were, Eutiquio Bravo, Charlie Abeyta, Charlie Sanchez, Cornelio Quintana. We started school at the same time here in Redwing. I went to school with Bud Benson and Eva Benson, the Gonzales, Marta and Sophie, Bobby Bellah, Bonnie Valdez, Elojio Salazar and Albert Salazar. Oh many more. The teacher was Mrs. Stacy.

G: And were you allowed to speak Spanish at school?

B: Here in Redwing where there were mostly white people we could. When we were in Chama, if we spoke Spanish the teacher fined us a penny, so we would learn English since we didn't know it.

G: So the school got rich?

B: They raised funds you know. I see now that that wasn't right. Every time they caught us speaking Spanish, it cost us a penny. And then with those pennies that they saved up they would buy Christmas decorations or something for the school and we learned to say good—by, hello and all that.

G: Did they let you speak Spanish in this school?

B: Here where there were white people, we would speak Spanish and they would listen with their mouth open and say, we can understand a little. I wish we…………….

G: For how many days did people get together?

B: They got together, even though I was very small, I remember that they came together. They would get together at my grandfather's house, (maybe your uncles remember, maybe your dad too) to tame the calves. They gathered to dance at that house where Salomon Cardenas lived, OK, the Martinez house. They had dances there. I remember though I was very young. And the in—laws of Tierra played the violin and guitar.

G: Who played them?

B: Antonio Manzanares played one time. I'll never forget. He was a little old man who was blind. They played the violin and danced all night. And they went to serenade. They had a good time.

G: When did they serenade? What did they do?

B: They serenaded the Manueles (new years day). They gave them supper and recited verses dedicated to them. I remember because I took part in it.

G: How important was the Catholic Church in the life of the people?

B: Very important because everybody was very timid. They feared God greatly. They were very devout Catholics. I remember that there were other religions. But to my thinking the Catholic religion was the strongest. As I told you before, my grandfather Juan Santos read the Bible all night because he was very devoted to it. He liked to counsel a person and put him on the right road.

G: Was he a Penitente?

B: No.

G: Was anyone in your family a Penitente?

B: My papa was, here in Chama.

G: What can you tell me about this Morada?

B: Well, the Morada was in good condition for many years and then it fell down. I don't know why. It is still down. There were many at one time when I was very young. We used to go to the Tinebras as they were called. My papa belonged there and we would take them food. The Penitentes stayed there a week praying.

G: Who was the presiding officer? (literally the older brother, head brother)?

B: At that time it was the deceased Daniel Perez.

G: Was he from here?

B: Yes.

G: Where did he live?

B: He lived there where Charlie Sanchez lives, the brother of Rosana Perez, the wife of Daniel. Of Marta. They killed him years ago. Someone shot him when he was hunting, you heard about that.

G: I believe that there were many here who were Penitentes.

B: Many. There was a Morada here and one at Pass Creek.

G: Were there two at the same time?

B: Yes. All these people of Pass Creek. I believe that your uncles were not. But the deceased Manuel Gallegos was. He lived in the place the Garcias owned. The Garcias were Penitentes and had their Morada where Esequiel lives now. There where Esequiel Garcia has his trailer.

G: Do you know when they built the church here?

B: The church in Chama? Oh that was here as long as I remember. As far as I know, everyone got together——there were many people here who all had 20 to 30 acres———and built that church. As I understand, that church is older than the one in Gardner.

G: Where did the people of Pass Creek go to church?

B: Many came here to Chama and to Gardner. But almost everyone came here to Chama. We used to go by horse—drawn wagon or by buggy. I remember, see I am very, very old.

G: Did you hear anything about outlaws?

B: You know, I don't believe those stories about outlaws. People were no longer bad, cattle rustlers and all that. Well when they wanted meat, they would go out and butcher one.

G: Killers?

B: I don't want to mention names. Yes I remember. I was very young, times were hard, especially for a large family such as mine. It was very hard. What helped us a lot was that we lived as we lived on the ranch. My father had his hogs and a milking cow. We never lacked food. Nothing. But we didn't have money. I remember that. Then my father was very energetic. (go getter, not intelligent in the English sense). We never lacked anything. Yes. we were short of clothes but not food. Because I believe 95% of the people went through a great deal of trouble during the depression.

G: Do you mean that the people here didn't go through the same?

B: They didn't go hungry. They didn't go through a lot of trouble. You don't remember but they were giving people help for their families with commodities. They gave these commodities to 95% of the people here. When we lived here and I was still very young the government bought sheep, or I don't know how they got them, but they gave each family one or two depending on the family. These were free.

G: When did this happen?

B: This happened about 1933.


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