Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews
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Oren and Ethel Benson

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Zale Nagler
Interviewed by Rosalyn McCain
Date of interview - 5-31-1979
Parts of tape deleted as per transcript

Oren Benson
Date of birth 2-8-1911
Parents - Grover R. Benson and Isa I. Benson
Paternal grandparents - George Benson and Isa Benson
Maternal grandmother - Sara Watkins
Family origin - Kentucky and Georgia
Date of family arrival in county - sometime in the 1800's
Location of first family settlement - Gardner

Ethel Willburn Benson
Date of birth - 5-9-1926
Parents - James Willburn and Lucy Murphy Willburn
Paternal grandparents - Aaron and Alice Willburn
Maternal grandparents - J.B. and Rose Murphy
Ehtnic group - Irish
Date of family arrival in county - Lucy Murphy came to Huerfano County to teach school in 1912. James Willburn was born in the County in 1892.
Kinship ties - Rose Benson, Ruth Hubbs, Jim Willburn, Francis Magnino, Aaron Willburn.

Colonias. Colorado

Ethel's Dad,Jim Wilburn, was born here 87 years ago in 1892. Her grandmother came here from Georgia when she was 9 years old. Her grandfather, Ashbury Quillian, built the Methodist church in Gardner. He originally came to Apache City and later lived in Rye and Buelah. Her mother came from Hoehne to teach school at Birmingham on Turkey Creek and later at Walsen Camp and Gardner.

Shorty's mother came from Georgia. His dad came from Kentucky and started ranching in Gardner. He bought the place across the river from the Agnes. He had 1,000 acres and raised cattle, alfalfa, hay and grains. He grew huge gardens. Shorty's folks went to school with Ethel's grandfather as a teacher. He was the first teacher in the county. Gardner school was then outside of Gardner toward the sawmill.

Shorty carried the mail to Sharpsdale three times a week in the 1930's. The mail came from Redwing by horseback to Sharpsdale. The mail came to Redwing from Tioga. There were Post Offices at Tioga, Farisita, Gardner, Redwing and Sharpsdale.

SB: One time I traded a Model T Ford for six sacks of wheat when I lived where Doyle Beasley lives now. I planted that wheat and made a good crop. There used to be more water. We had a lot of water, ten to fourteen years ago. There was more rain then. I lived at Beasley's place for 26 years. I was born in that house. We had more water there than we knew what to do with. There was more snow. The ground was covered with snow from November to spring. In those days we were riding horses, teams of horses and a wagon. I can still hear those old wagon wheels a' squeakin in the snow.

McAlpine came here in 1946. 1947 and 1948 were good years. There was lots of snow. There was a huge snowstorm in January 1948. The cattle ate the hay from the top of the haystack down on account of blowing snow. Those cattle were on top of the haystack. We had cattle on the Muddy then. It took all day to go feed them and to get back. We wouldn't get back till dark. You couldn't see the top of the fence posts. We finally decided to take those cows home.

The next Spring there was more water than they could keep in the river. What can you do? Just put on higher boots and spread that water all over the ranch. We got 20,000 bales of hay that year over there. These last few years they haven't gotten near that much hay there. They haven't bailed near that much since. He'll have hay again this year. He's reseeded, and he'll have the water. His head gate washed out last night.

I grew up in Redwing at Beasley's place. I was born in 1911. Both of my parents died in 1937 in September and December. We sold the ranch in 1937. We sold to Mr. James. He sold to Spoons. I moved to the Redwing house and helped my brother with the store there. You could buy anything there. We sold everything from horseshoes to straw-hat dies. We had all kinds of drugs, all kinds of clothes, shovels, and hoes; just about anything you could want.

There were a lot of people in this country at that time. They sold everything, stock saddles, grains, everything. In those days if they didn't have it, they'd get it. There were salesmen there every day. There were a couple of stores in Gardner, another store in Redwing, (Lucille Waggoner's daddy had that one).

EB: My dad sold his ranch on Turkey Creek, (Tony Pando has it now) about 15 or 16 years ago. He was 73 to 75 years old then. My mom was a teacher and my dad's father was a teacher. The schools were better before consolidation. There were 20-30 students in 8 grades.

SB: I went to school in Chama for 2 years. Then I went to Redwing. Those teachers worked. These days, teachers complain about the work with only 1 grade. There were about 60 pupils at Chama. There was one teacher. They kept teachers busy in those days. Grade school was downstairs in Gardner. The high school was upstairs. I had to go in to Walsenburg for the last year of high school. I used to ride horseback from Redwing in to Gardner to high school. Then I'd come home in the evening and milk about 12 cows and feed about 80 range cows. We had a bunch of horses. Oh, gee, it makes me sick to think about it now. But in those days we didn't think much about it. We just used to do it. There wasn't any other way to do it. There wasn't any other transportation.

My last year in high school in Gardner, the fellow at the store over there in Redwing had a Model T Ford. He hauled seven of us in to school every day. He turned the thing over a few times. It was high off the ground. They'd set it up and keep going. There were enough of us. We had some good teachers. Some of the kids from Gardner were a lot better than those kids in Walsenburg. Smarter kids or better teachers, I guess.

Gee whiz, people aren't friendly now like they used to be. There was more entertainment in those days. People would drive for miles with an old team and stay for a day or two, and then no sooner were gone when there would come some of your friends, and they'd stay all night with you. They'd go and pretty soon here would be some more. Rea1ly, people went more in those days than they do now. They had a lot of programs around. The country put on a lot of plays and had a dance every Saturday night some place.

They had a dance hall here in Redwing. They had a dance hall at the old Community Center and at the different schoolhouses. They had square dances, waltzes, schodishes and all kinds of dance. Local callers went around to the different places to call at the square dances. A bunch of local people were musicians. My brother used to play at a bunch of them. They'd have a guitar, violin, probably a piano, sometimes four or five instruments. My brother and some of the boys around the country used to practice all the time. He's the only brother I have living now. I had 4 brothers and 3 sisters. They're all gone but my one brother in California. It used to be if someone said something about a dance, everybody in the country'd go.

The Spanish people and the white people never mixed. They had their dances and we had ours. We used to have problems with them, so they never mixed. There were as many Spanish kids as white kids in the schools. All the classes were conducted in English. They weren't allowed to speak Spanish. They spoke English from the time they started right on through. They had to speak English.

EB: I went to school at Turkey Creek and then in Gardner. They took the high school out in 1945 and I finished high school in Westcliffe. I had a sister older than I who had her first school over there. Myself and my sister younger than me and my cousin stayed with her and went to school in Westcliffe.

There were a few more Spanish kids at school on Turkey Creek. There were a mixture of teachers. For a long time they had one teacher, and then there were two. One would be a Spanish teacher and one an English teacher.

SB: Neighbors got along good. They'd associate more. They'd trade work. We'd go help our neighbors, and they'd help us. When it got time to hay or work the cattle, we'd help one another. There was more cooperation among neighbors than there is now. There are a few people around here now that will cooperate, but some of them would rather go hire their own help. Of course, we help different ones with their cattle different times. We help Frank Baker all the time. I go help Cuerno Verde Ranch quite a lot, and they help me. That makes it pretty nice when you go help one another.

EB: The Methodist Church had the Epworth League for young people. We used to go there a lot. Of course, I didn't belong to the Epworth League. I belonged to the Catholic Church. There was a Turkey Creek Church. The churches would put on plays.

SB: People live different now, than they used to. Newcomers aren't too much interested in what's going on around. People that were here before were really interested in different things. The Gus Whites were in this country a long time. They were really nice people I remember. He put on quite a singing act down at the church on a Sunday night. He and two or three of his brothers, some of his friends from Texas put on quite a party for the community. They just volunteered to do it.

The more you teased and kidded around with the Spanish people, the better they liked it. They were honest. They'd joke with you.

We had a neighbor just down the road, a guy named Cordova. He was 90 when he passed away. About a year or so before he passed away. I looked over and saw him on top of the barn. I went over and told him, “You get off of there. What are you doing up there like that?” “Oh, yeah” he said, “I'm going to fix him. I'm going to fix him.” That old man was up on the roof still nailing away. He was a tough old guy. Don't tell me he wasn't.

There was an old lady lived across over here named Montoya. She was 96 when she passed away. She and her grandson Salvadore lived over here. I remember one time I nearly found him dead three years ago. I asked her, “Where's Salvadore?” She told me in Spanish “He is really sick.” She told me to go on in the bedroom. He couldn't even get up. Man he was sick, terrible. He told me, “I'm not going to make it.” So I just told him, “Yeah, you're going to make it.” I told him, “I'm going to go home and call your brothers in Pueblo to come and get you. If they don't come and get you, I'm going to call the ambulance. I'll send you.” He said, “what we going to do with grandma?” I said, “We'll come get her too.” Because she liked us.

So I came over home and called his brother. I got hold of his wife and she said, “They can't come because they have to work until 5:OO.” I said, “Oh yes they can. You call them down at work and tell them to get up here and get him. Salvadore was in bad shape.”

The doctors in Walsenburg said he wouldn't have made it through the night, if he had not got to the hospital that night. He was transferred to Pueblo Hospital and they had him in Intensive Care in Pueblo for days and days and days. I went up to see him, and they still had him in Intensive Care, and he was really sick.

The nurse in Intensive Care said nobody could see him, but his brother came out and said, “Look, you go in and talk to him.” He could hardly talk. But he came out of it and he looks better now than he ever had in his life. He's working for us now over at the ranch.

I took care of his light bills and heat while he was gone. He had his light bill all fouled up. He'd read his meter all wrong. I wrote the REA a letter and explained to them, “This man is really sick, and there's been a mistake, and now we want this corrected.” I paid the bill all the time he was gone. When he came back, the first thing he wanted to know, “How much do I owe you? You came and helped me all the time. You looked after my house and everything. I want to pay you.” I said, “I don't know. I got the stubs on the electric bill over at the house.” He said, “I want to pay you right away.”

I went back to see him two or three times. He had an operation, he ate everything on his trays and he looked good. He was sitting up eating. They said for awhile they didn't think he'd make it, but he made it. And he really appreciates that. I really think if we hadn't gotten him to the hospital, he wouldn't have made it.

But I just went over there cause we hadn't seen him. I'd talked to Frank Sanders and he said, “I don't think they're over there. There's not even a track in the yard.” Well, I didn't think anything about it. I thought, well, maybe they did go to Pueblo. When I got to thinking about that and decided, “Well, I'm going to go see. Then I'll know.” So, I went over there. There was that poor old lady, and there he was so sick. She went to stay with one of her boys in Pueblo. They had to take her to the doctor. She was worrying about Salvadore, and they finally had to put her in a Nursing Home, and she passed away.

She had a bunch of pillows in the oven and a fire in the stove. She was going to warm him and try to doctor him I guess. When I got there the fire was out. So I built a fire for her and fixed her something to eat. Then after I left she decided to try to doctor him. The next day when they started the fire up it started to smell. When they opened the door, the pillows were smoking.

My family sold their land during the depression. They divided the money between the family. There were a couple of us interested in it, but in those days you couldn't get that kind of money to pay the rest of the kids. So we just finally came to the decision. “Sell it and divide it later amongst the kids the best we know how.” They had a sale at the ranch. Sold all the furniture, sold the cattle. (Had about 20 milk cows.) Those days the dollar was hard to get. It was tough. Don't think it wasn't. We used to work from daylight to dark for a dollar a day.

There used to be some people who had the Gus White Ranch named Dietz, two brothers. I used to help them with cattle all the time. A lot of the time we'd get up at daylight in the morning and wouldn't get back till midnight. And the next day we'd leave at daylight again. And if I rode my own horse they'd pay me a dollar and a half. If I didn't, they'd just pay me a dollar. I sure wanted to ride my own horse. That other half a dollar really helped, and we had lots of horses.

They must have had 2,000 head of cattle. They owned the Bar H Ranch over there, all of Greenhorn Mountain. They had a real big ranch. They had cattle over there on the Trinchera. It was a job. It wasn't easy. Those were hard days.

Besides working for myself I've worked in the store with my brother five or six years. I worked for McAlpine about twelve years, and I worked for Houchin on Pass Creek for eight years, and now we've been here with Griffith and Kittlekamp twelve years, May 1. And I was in the service four years for Uncle Sam. He told me exactly what to do, and I had to do it. No arguing and he didn't take no for an answer.

He had all this Pass Creek country - four different places, and we worked for him about eight years. He had it all paid for in seven years. He paid $100,000 for it. I know what he paid for it because I was running cattle of my own up on that upper country when he came here. Because the people that had it there were four brothers, and the only one left was pretty old, and he was paying his son-in-law to take care of it, so he decided to sell it. This guy Houchin came along and said, “I understand this place is for sale.” I said, “It is, but the only way you can see most of it is on horseback, because there's just too much country where you can't go in any kind of vehicle. If you're really interested, I'll go with you.”

I told him, 'All those trees you got - little trees - you sell them for Christmas trees - about $2.00 a piece. All that big timber has no business there. There's too much of it. I know a man that'll come in here with a sawmill – Bill Wolgram.” He took a sawmill up there and stayed two years. He said it was the best timber he ever cut. He hauled two loads every three days out of there to CF&I. And he sold about 10,000 Christmas trees out of there every year. And he bought a bunch of cattle down in Texas - 160 Hereford cattle.

By the end of seven years he came down to the place where we were living (where Nick Faris is now) and he came down and he told me. “Now look, I got this place all in the clear. I don't owe anybody anything. Cattle and everything we've paid for the whole ranch. I think we've done a good job in seven years. “But” he said, “I think I'll mortgage this and buy a place over on the Huajatollas. I sure like that little place over there. We talked about it a few hours and I finally said, “Now you're a grown man. You know what you want to do. The ranch is going to make you a pretty good bunch of money from here on out. It's no problem now that you've got it paid for.” He said, “I sure like that place.” And you know, the first thing he bought that place over there, I told Ethel, “He's going to go too big, and he's going to lose a lot of this country.” He bought that whole outfit pretty cheap over there.

You know if you sell 10,000 Christmas trees every year for about seven years for about $2.00 a tree, you have a pretty good income coming in. There is a lot of country back in there that's kind of a hard place to get to, but the man that bought those trees, he got 'er. Lots of places, they were so thick they weren't doing any good, and maybe he just cut out a few of the best ones. Next year, some of those would be good. They sold a lot of that big timber. I told them, “Those trees, if they stay there much longer will be rotten, and they won't be any good for anything.” I said, “Sell them. Lumber is a pretty good bunch of money.” I talked to Bill Wolgram myself. He used to run a sawmill, and he was a good sawmill man. He stayed up there, and cut timber till he just flat couldn't hire anybody to help him anymore, and he had to quit. He told me many times, “I could have just stayed right on up there and cut a lot more timber. There's a lot of good timber up there. If I could have just had some help or found some help, but I just couldn't. “So,” he said, “What can you do? You can't run a sawmill by yourself. You got to have five or six guys. And Bill was a good sawmill man, too. He had a few guys there that were really good. Then they got to goofing up. He had to just quit - sold out.

When we left over there I sold Wolgram a bunch of cattle. He told me last year, “I think I've got one of those cows that you sold me.” And that was twelve years ago. “You've still got her, huh?” I told him I didn't much want him to sell those cows cause they still have my brand on them. I might want to get them back someday.” He said, “You're going to have to hurry. I think there's just one left.” Course he put his brand on them too. They were cheap in them days. They're not cheap now. We sold some bulls just three weeks ago in La Junta for $1200.00 a head. Now we got to turn around and go buy a bunch. I don't know what they give for them. The boss never would tell me.

The alfalfa Al Griffith planted two years ago did real good. He got his place in just pretty good shape if that water up there wasn't so sandy and muddy. It just fills your ditches full of sand and just goes where it don't belong. He went and had all that land leveled and it's good now. I had near all of it planted, all but a little bit on the side. I think maybe they got it planted since then. That's really a nice ranch there now. When it comes out. Some of it's already up and growing that we planted not too long ago. That'll make a nice field. He had Sergio Abila go down there with his ripper and rip it up, and he got it leveled up. There was some land down behind the field. He said, “I don't think I'll plant that.” I said, “Well, look, now wouldn't you rather have it all planted and finished. You've got the seed. You might as well put it in there. There's not a third enough there. You ought to plant this”. And it sure looks good down there.

I told him, “If we don't get water out of the river this year I'm going to buy a million gallons of green paint cause I'm going to have this ranch green this year. I'm tired of looking at this old dry dirt. But it sure comes out of it if you give it a drink of water.

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