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Contributed by Karen Mitchell
A Brief History of BENTON CANON
Written by Evelyn Capps Walker
A history such as we have compiled would not be complete without a mention of Benton Canon, one of the early pioneers of Huerfano County. Mr. Canon, born in Illinois, came to Huerfano County in 1865 when he was a boy in his teens. He became acquainted with some of Colorado's worthiest citizens whose deeds and words he remembered.
In writing his own story, Mr. Canon said, "We reached Denver on the 22nd of June 1865, loaded two wagons with merchandise and started to Pueblo. We arrived there July 3, 1865 and found a town of about three hundred inhabitants, made up of a mixed population of hunters, trappers and pioneers. We sold the late John A. Thatcher a bill of groceries and on July 4th ate our Fourth of July dinner on the counter of his store. It consisted of a can of tomatoes and some soda crackers for which we paid him a dollar."
Canon then joined J. A. Moore, a merchant, post trader, and came with him to the Saltillo Pino Plaza on the Huerfano River in November 1865. At that time, the Plaza was composed of about two hundred Mexican people. In his words, "That night the Mexican fiddle sang out the genuine Mexican music to the mazy dance of the Mexican Fandango. The beautiful Mexican waltz has come down the ages for centuries with these Mexican people, and no race on earth excels the native Mexican in time, grace and dignity in executing the historical Spanish waltz. I saw that for the first time on my first night on the Huerfano."
Continuing with Mr. Canon's first experiences he wrote, "The next morning brought me a thrilling experience. Ouray (Ule- pronounced Ulay) and his band of Utes, to the extent of about two thousand Indians, were camped in the cedars north of Saltillo Plaza, and my employer asked me to take a load or goods to the Indian village and "heap swap" for buckskins, etc. I was totally unacquainted with Indian character and objected to assuming the responsibility, but he insisted. So with a Mexican interpreter and a load of Indian goods, we moved out to the cedars. I sent my interpreter forward with some trinkets as presents to Chief Ouray for permission to trade with his people. My interpreter's name was Pablo Peralta. While I was waiting for him to return, my mind ran back to my Illinois home and if there had been a way to unload my job just then, I would certainly have done so. Finally my interpreter returned with about two hundred Indians, bucks and squaws, with furs, dressed buckskins, buffalo robes, etc. They surrounded my wagon and trade began with a vengeance. Two plugs of tobacco bought a dressed buckskin. In less than two hours, I had a load or buckskins, furs, buffalo robes and other pelts, and I had not lost my scalp".
In the year 1866, Benton Canon raised corn on the Huerfano River and sold the entire crop to Kit Carson, commanding officer at Fort Garland, for 12 cents a pound. Later he came to the Plaza de los Leones where he went into the mercantile business on a plot of ground on Main Street finally occupied by the Victoria Hotel. He was he first Treasurer of Huerfano County and held office continually for ten years. He also invested heavily in cattle bought up several ranches on Bear Creek as well as the Sporleder and Schultz ranches on the Santa Clara where he ran Hereford cattle. He brought in a hundred head of Spanish mares from California and was interested in raising fine horses.
In 1886 Mr. Canon sold his interests in Huerfano County and moved to Mesa County, but he never lost his love for his original settlement, returning many times to visit old friends. He often remarked that the happiest times of his life were spent in Huerfano County.
In 1915 Mr. Canon paid a visit here for the purpose of reorganizing a pioneer association. The result was a meeting of a number of old timers on November 10, 1915 at La Veta, and the Huerfano County Pioneer Association. Was organized. The following officers were duly elected: Hyram W. Vasquez, President; Louis B. Sporleder, First Vice-President: J.K. Kincaid, Second Vice-President: W.T. Sharp, Third Vice-President; Samuel J. Capps, Secretary and James G. Hamilton, Treasurer; Directors: Alexander Levy, Louis B. Sporleder, Charles Mazzone, Samuel J. Capps, Hyram W. Vasquez, J. K. Kincaid, James G. Hamilton, Fred G. Walsen, Samuel Jack, W. T. Sharp, T. M. Hudson, Benton Canon, Mary E. Hayden. Benton Canon was elected historian for the association.
These are quotes from Mr. Canon's message to his pioneer friends:
"Huerfano County has a wonderful history. In the memory of some of the oldest inhabitants now living, it was recognized as a desert wilderness where Indians, buffalo and other game roamed at will but now the 'war whoops' of the Red Men are heard no more. The principal purpose of the Huerfano County Pioneer Association is to arrange for the writing of the story of the early settlers who blazed the first trails, built the first log cabins, dug the first irrigating ditches and sowed the first grain, and we also desire to pay fitting tribute to our pioneer friends who have 'crossed the range'. They should be given due credit for the part they played in the civil, moral and industrial development of Southern Colorado."
"We believe that there is an obligation resting upon every pioneer to assist in gathering up the scattered threads of the early history. This is our duty, not only to the men and women who lived here in Territorial days, but to those who come after us."
In a letter written by the secretary and signed by the president at that November meeting, it was said, "The sands of time are rapidly slipping from under the feet of the old pioneers, their camp fires are burning low, and their ranks are growing thin so this history, in all probability, will be the only one ever to be written by the early pioneers themselves. What is to be done along these lines must be done soon or the story of their achievements will be lost and forgotten. "Unfortunately for us, Benton Canon died before the work was more than started. Others tried to go on with it, but they too, were "called home". The members of Southern Colorado Auxiliary of Territorial Daughters can well be proud and gratified that we have finally completed the history of some of these early pioneer settlers not only of Huerfano County but reaching out to all of Southern Colorado. We have, in a small way, repaid our obligation to our forefathers and our friends.
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