Colorado Settlers Homesteaded Close to Family

After my father, W. C. Lewis, and my two married brothers, Lemuel and Gwynn, each filed on 640 acres of land in Moffat County, Colorado, in 1916, they returned to our home near Denver to tear down all the barns and salvage what lumber they could use at the new homestead. The wood was loaded in boxcars, along with the horses, cows, chickens, and all our possessions, and shipped by rail to Craig, Colorado. These Colorado settlers traveled with the stock, to care for them, and my two sisters-in-law, Mother, and I, then about seven years old, rode the train over the old Moffat Road to Craig, Colo.

We all moved into a vacant cabin on the outskirts of Craig. We lived there until plans were completed for the 40-mile trip to the homestead and the wagons were loaded.

I remember how surprised I was when we drove to Craig for groceries and I saw the American flag. I thought we had left the United States.

My folks knew of two vacant cabins on Timber Lake Draw, not far from our new land, so that was the place we headed for, always watching Baker’s Peak and the Black Mountains ahead of us. The roads were terrible. I remember how frightened Mother was when a hayrack, loaded with furniture, turned over. She thought Gwynn, who was driving, would be hurt, but he had jumped and saved himself.

We had been warned in Craig about the danger of ticks. We were advised always to carry a bottle of turpentine and to touch the ticks with turpentine when they stuck to the skin. One morning I found a tick on my leg and I knew that was the last of me. After a big commotion the tick was removed and we were on our way. But I grew sick, and my folks, inquiring of other homesteaders they happened to meet, heard them say I had mountain fever. I recall we stopped to water the horses at the Herring homestead but I remember nothing more of the trip until Father carried me into the cabin.

Mother gathered sagebrush roots to burn in our stove and Father made a bitter tea from the sage leaves and he was able to get some down me. Then my sister-in-law came from the other cabin, across the ravine, where my brothers’ families were living, and said Gwynn was sick with the same symptoms I had.

Lemuel and his wife rode horseback to Baggs, Wyo., 12 miles away, to get a doctor. He came in his Model T coupe. I heard him whisper to my parents that I was going to die. When

Mother came to my bed, I said, “Don’t you believe it. I am going to live.” I got better fast, as did Gwynn.

Work started on building the cabins on the three homesteads. It was delayed once as Father and Lemuel stopped to put up a fence that would hold our cows and horses. Mother’s and my work was to herd the three milk cows, but one day while we were eating our dinner, they disappeared. Gwynn saddled a horse and took out to find them. He was gone several days and finally located them at the edge of the forest reserve. Had they wandered into the reserve, he never would have found them for the trees were so dense there.

Our cabin had a kitchen, a front room, and two little bedrooms. Lemuel’s and Gwynn’s cabins each had one big room and a lean-to kitchen. We were glad to move from the little cabins on Timber Lake Draw because their doby roofs leaked rain.

The men started to dig water wells. Gwynn found water on his claim, but Lemuel and Father failed so they had to haul water. Later Lemuel moved his cabin, with its beautiful view of Baker’s Peak and the Black Mountains, to the valley where he had a spring and a well.

Next came the horse barns. Father, my brothers and their wives, hauled lumber and logs from the mountains where there was a saw-mill.

In the early spring, the job of cleaning the ground of sagebrush began. The men tried everything to dig the sage out. Finally, with a John Deere tractor, they succeeded in breaking 100 acres on Father’s place and 60 acres on each of the boys’ places.

They planted wheat and that year it thrashed out 10 bushels to an acre. It was a big job just trying to keep the gophers and jackrabbits from eating the grain, altho the government furnished poisoned oats for their control.

The men decided that the country was too dry for grain crops, so they would raise stock and grow only enough feed to bring them thru the winter. There was a lot of open range for grazing. Father bought 500 head of sheep. Lemuel bought cattle, and Gwynn raised pigs.

After the sheep arrived, Mother and I herded them, following them all over the range with our dogs. Father built two long sheds and a large pen, and we brought the sheep in every night. We always had a horse or two to ride, for the sheep would go far to find grass. One day they ran several miles in a hailstorm before Mother and I could head them off.

Another time when we were on the range with the sheep, we were in a big rainstorm, a regular cloudburst. We could hear the roar of water, and looking up Timber Lake Draw, we could see it coming toward us. Mother and I hurried the sheep across the draw to the side where we lived. The water was black, carrying old lumber from a gold miner’s camp upstream and sagebrush; it filled the draw bank to bank, about four feet deep.

When Mother and I found beautiful rocks we brought them home to put around our cabin and cave. We also brought in deer horns, buffalo horns and cactus plants. Our cave was a real showplace. The flowers in summer were beautiful-Indian paintbrush, bluebells, morning-glories-so many I cannot name them all. 

Mrs. Kittie Ann Hickman
Rawlins, Wyoming

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.