Editor’s note: Part 2 of Walter Hall’s McElmo History will appear in Looking Back article on Nov. 4.The first record of irrigation in McElmo Canyon was in 1888. Four ranches held this priority; most all of canyon ranches held early water rights.
One of the early settlers was Fred Taylor, who came in 1882. Later, he acquired a ranch in the lower end of McElmo, which kept his name. He was the first man to bring sheep into the area.
Norman and Jasper Hall, fruit specialists, came in 1886. In 1888, they helped the Wetherills (of Mesa Verde fame) put up hay with scythes in the Mancos Valley. In the early days, when farming was first started in McElmo, range cattle roamed everywhere. Crops were extensively damaged because of lack of adequate fences. In 1893, because of damage to new orchards of the Halls, a bunch of steers was driven up under the falls of Trail Canyon and shot. Walter Hall, a son of Norman Hall, operated a profitable fruit and cattle ranch in McElmo. He was born in the canyon, and except for service in World War I and a short stay in California, he remained there all his life.
A.P. Edmundson came in 1887 by covered wagon, and Bowdish in 1888. Others were the Hambletons, Harrison Hill, Ottoways, Schalles, John Wilson, Ellsworth Porter and William Ashbaugh.
Etta Middaugh, W.A. Majors’ daughter, resided in Cortez, and shared vivid memories of the canyon’s history. She was 5 years old when her family arrived in 1887. She went to school at the old Big Bend, below the current site of Dolores. Etta was first married to John Dawson.
In the early 1900s, Hi Perkins of Utah brought in the first Hereford bulls. The Halls wintered the bulls for him. In the spring, the bulls were driven back to Perkins cow herd.
One of the early doctors was a Dr. Harrington. Old-timers recall that he used sage tea and kerosene as medicine for many ailments, including diphtheria.
A.P. Edmundson served as judge soon after his arrival in 1887. In 1888, he ran a plow team and helped construct the Lone Pine and Hermana ditches in the Montezuma Valley (called No. 1 ditch). He also freighted to Rico. One of his sons, George, blacksmithed in Durango in the late 1880s for $5 per month and board. He then came to McElmo and ranched. In 1896, he married Jessie Bowdish, who came in 1888. The Edmundson, Bowdish and Majors families all crossed the plains by covered wagon from Indian Territory. Because of a misplaced trunk, Bowdish stayed in Lamar, awaiting its arrival a year later.
Etta Middaugh recalled the “Stone Block” in Cortez was under construction at that time. Drinking water was brought to town from Mitchell Springs and sold for 25 cents per bucket. A well had been dug, but it was unsuccessful.
Other items of interest in Cortez at that time included Dan Sayler (Bert’s dad) had the first Post Office; Dick Kermode had a livery barn; Jim Morrison (no relation to the pioneer livestock family) had the first general store. John, Sharkey and Charlie Dawson’s mother operated a hotel in the “Stone Block.” Mitchell Springs was so named after Porter Mitchell, an early pioneer. Sons of his were cattlemen. One son, Gerald, was the only survivor and resided in Durango. In 1985, he still lived in Durango at age 90.
It is of interest to note that according to tax records, the Mitchells were the only people paying taxes on burros. Many stockmen owned them, so according to the tax records, the Mitchells owned all the burros in Montezuma County. Another Mitchell son, Hernan, was killed by the Navajo in the Henry Mountains of Utah.
Tom and Jim Lamb, early ranchers in the canyon, also ran cattle.
The pioneering Gus Honaker family came in 1882. One son, Henry, carried the mail from Cortez to Bluff, Utah, on horseback via McElmo Canyon.
I.O. Miller, a brother and a twin sister, came from Gardener, Kansas, in 1884 along with some other families. I.O. Miller was a stonemason and helped construct the old Strater Hotel in Durango. The Miller brothers brought in from Kansas about 75 head of Holstein and other types of dairy cattle, mostly registered. When they arrived with them, because of the shortage of hay, the cattle were turned out on the winter range, and not being range-type cattle, most of them died. Both brothers were schoolteachers and taught at Arriola. I.O. was the first superintendent of schools in Montezuma County. I.O.’s sons, John and Francis, homesteaded several places. Finally acquiring cattle more suitable to rustling, they wintered in Utah in the Horse Head Canyon and Pearson Canyon area. John sold out to Francis. In 1911, John married Josephine Smith, and in 1918 built up a hay ranch in a remote area in Yellow Jacket Canyon, where he built up another cow herd of about 250 head. This ranch, known as the old Miller Ranch, was very inaccessible, except by horseback, so everything needed was packed in by packhorse. What little machinery was used was taken apart and packed off of the steep rim, or items too large to pack were dragged down on improvised sled runners. About 1928 – Josephine Miller had passed away earlier – John sold his holding to John Lynton and Frank Pyle. The cattle brought $60 per head with calves thrown in, a good price at that time. John Miller then went to work for Joe McClure and Charlie Blackmer, who operated a large stock outfit. The Blackmers remained in the stock business, and John Miller’s two sons, Johnny and Robert, went on to operate a sizable cattle ranch in the area.
Permission to reprint this article was given by Sheldon Zwicker. June Head, historian of the Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for questions or comments.