The Sam Weaver story presented below was written about 1950 and was published in the Yuma Pioneer April 26, 1956, shortly after Mr. Weaver died. The two Weaver photographs did not appear with the original article but were instead published in the 1989 history "Yuma County - The Hundred Year Review" and are used here with the permission of the Sam Weaver family. Pioneer clipping provided by the Yuma Museum.
The following story was written by an early day resident of this region, Sam Weaver, who died on April 11 of this year. Its the story of his pioneer life and the growth of this county, printed exactly as he wrote it.
Since I had not seen my old home near Joes, Colorado for several years, my two daughters who live here on the western slope, Mrs. Hugh Campbell and Mrs. Carl Rinear, my son-in-law, Carl Rinear and I decided to make a short visit to see our old friends around Joes and Kirk.
We left Fruita, Colorado, where I have been living the past few years, by auto, July 1, 1949, and arrived safely in Joes that night. As time was limited, we saw a great many of our old friends, but not all.
While we were there I got the surprise of my life when some of my friends asked me if I would write up at least a part of my pioneer experience in eastern Colorado. With some reluctance I promised I would on condition that my report be accepted in rather rough form, which they fully agreed to do.
A Brief Summary of My Pioneer Experience in Eastern Colorado.
On the eve of November 14, 1886, I boarded the train at Axtel, Nebraska, my destination not fully determined but possibly Akron, Colorado. The reason for making the trip was to file on Government land, as I had not exercised my homestead rights.
There was a fine lot of passengers aboard the train and they were a very friendly bunch of people.
Let me inject right here that the weather was threatening, with just a few flakes of snow falling.
We had not gone far when I met a fine looking fellow and somehow just fell in with him. He asked some questions and finally asked me my destination. I rather evaded the question but said my mission was to find some good homestead land. He told me that he and three associates had laid out a townsite some 32 miles south of Wray, Colorado, where there was good soil and mostly level land. He said they were from Friend, Nebraska, and that they had named their new town Friend, Colorado.
His talk appealed to me and, since he said they would furnish transportation to the new town without cost, I concluded I would stop at Wray and go out to the new town of Friend.
We talked for sometime and soon pulled into Wray. When we stepped from the train, we got a real surprise, as a full-fledged blizzard was in progress. Then only thing to do was to find shelter.
At that time the town of Wray consisted of a Land Office, a Drug Store (which was just another name for a saloon), a Grocery Store and a sod Hotel. There was practically nothing on the south side of the river. We found the hotel and were able to get a bed.
There were a number at the hotel talking about the storm and wondering if everybody was at home. I didn't get much sleep that night as it was long after midnight when we arrived at Wray.
The second day after the storm we started for this new town of Friend. At 8:00 a.m., we were on our way in 6 inches of snow and no track broken, However, we had a good team of horses, and arrived just before dark, cold and hungry, at the town of Friend.
There was a Mr. Decker who fed people but I just don't remember what I had for supper. I remember that I slept on the floor of the man's house who located us.
We layed over one day to arrange for the trip to where I was to make my home. I had the landlady cook me a good piece of beef and depended on the locator to furnish the baking powder biscuits. The next morning I went after my beef but the landlady had no box to put it in, so I rustled around and found a nail keg, which served the purpose just fine. We got to the place and the locator showed me a vacant tract. I couldn't tell much about it as it was still covered with six inches of snow. It was way late in the afternoon when we got through as there were two other men who were located. Well, darkness came. The locator had a tent, so we put it up, threw an armful of hay on the snow, spread the quilts over the hay, ate some beef and cold biscuits and went to bed. I don't remember if I pulled off my boots or not. I slept very good that night. In the morning, we drove back to town for breakfast and took a rest. On this trip I did not see any sign of any living thing but did see quite a few dead cattle. Nothing but space as far as the eye could see.
The land office in Wray took findings as given him by the locator. I filed on a timber claim and also a pre-emption. The filing on a pre-emption cost $30.00. The law required the applicant to make bonafide settlement within 30 days. You also had to reside on the land 33 months, then advertise to make final proof, pay $200 and a deed to the land would then be forthcoming.
I had accomplished all that I could. I happened to meet a man who was driving to Wray so went with him. The roads were not much better than they were when we came out. It was after sundown when we arrived in Wray. I helped the man unhitch his horses and went with him to the livery stable. We hadn't been in the stable but just a few minutes when one of the horses lay down and began to roll. We could tell he was sick but could find no one around who could give any aid. The horse kept getting worse and soon died. I felt very sorry, for I didn't know about the owner's financial condition, but as my train was soon due, I just had to leave, regretfully.
I arrived at my home at Axtel, Nebraska somewhat weary but soon OK.
I had really planned to move to Colorado the following spring but as time went on, thoughts of moving began to grow dimmer and dimmer, and I gave up the idea of moving. I put out a crop and it did very well. However about the middle of August I told my wife I was anxious to see our home-to-be, as I hadn't seen much of it when I was there, since it was all covered with snow. So the next morning I loaded some feed into the wagon, also a plow and hitched my team to the wagon and started on the long trek. I think I made the trip there in five days. I had a good team and they stepped right out. I noticed a great change in this short time. Quite a few homesteaders had moved in. The sod crops looked good. I broke a few furrows around my claims and built a half dug-out and half sod shanty and covered it with boards but didn't put any bats on the cracks. I concluded I would stay one night in the shack. It looked rainy and I wanted to let the horses in for shelter. I had a hard time getting the horses in, but finally made it. It soon began to rain and the only room for me was to crouch down under the horses' heads. That's where I spent the night, and did it rain. At every crack of thunder the horses jumped and they got painfully near me. Whenever the lightning flashed, I could see the range cattle going by, thousands of them. My big worry was what if they should run into my shack, but nothing happened.
The next morning the sun was shining brightly and no doubt the birds would have been singing if there had been any there. I was there a week and it rained every day. I did have a change of clothing so fared very well.
Well, I had satisfied my curiosity as to my newly acquired lands, so, late in the afternoon, I turned my horses' heads to the east and started homeward bound. After I had gone about six miles I came to a German's house. As I was very short on eats, I pulled into his place. He was very friendly and supplied me with plenty of food. I thought maybe it might be wise to spend the night there, so I asked him if could stay and he said I was quite welcome. I put my team in the stable and chained them to the manger with a couple of trace chains which I had brought along to securely fasten my horses to the wagon wheel. The man then showed me where I could sleep. It was a sod lean-to to the main house with a dirt floor. Well, it rained again that night - simply a flood. I awoke some time in the night and I could hear it raining and knew that it was simply awful. I thrust out one of my hands and found water all over the dirt floor. There were a couple of steps leading into the main house so I gathered up the quilts and put them on these steps and spent the rest of the night trying to sleep on the steps.
As soon as it was light, I went out to the stable, but there were no horses there. Can you imagine how I felt? Well, I began looking around. Pretty soon I spied them about one-half mile away. I walked out where they were and found them grazing and apparently enjoying themselves. They had literally walked off with part of the manger, consisting of a 2" by 6" 12 feet long, and how they did it I can't imagine. Had it not been for the chains around their necks no doubt it would have been a different story.
To give you an idea of the rain, I had a large wooden bucket, they called them candy buckets, about a foot high, and truly it was three-fourths full of water.
When the man of the house came out, I told him what had happened. We walked out to the stable and when he saw for himself what had happened, he simply said, "How could the horses get out with that 2 by 6 fastened to them?" I wanted to make good the damage, but he jut laughed and said he was glad it was no worse.
I got some eats and went on my way rejoicing. I had been absent three weeks and was anxious to get back to my wife and baby. I soon arrived home without mishap.
I began planning for the trip to Colorado, where I was to make my home, and the time soon passed. So, about March 1, 1888, I chartered two box cars and filled them up. I had five cows, three horses, some machinery, barbed wire, and household goods. My father and, of course, my wife and baby, came with me this time. We arrived in Wray in good time and I was certainly surprised to notice the wonderful improvement in the town. Most every business was here now. Quite a different picture from my first visit here in 1886. Well, I unloaded as soon as I could. It seemed like everything had to be done at the same time and just myself to do it. To cut it short, I loaded up the wagon, with rack on, with the most essential things and stored the other goods in the livery stable. We started out, with my father driving the team on the wagon and I on a big lubbery horse, driving the cows. The second day we arrived within three miles of my claims. A couple of young men had settled there and had dug a well. There was also a sod house that had been occupied by a couple of young women who had, as I learned later, proved up on the land and had gone away. As there was no one to say no, we took possession. The main object was the well and also the little sod house was more comfortable for my wife and baby than the half dug-out I had build on my land. The next day I went on over to my land and was much surprised to find that the shack I had built the year before was not there. Nothing but a pile of dirt. So I got busy and built another half dug-out and half sod shanty and covered it pretty good, and in about a week we made a bonafide settlement. I did hate to leave the sod house and well, although it was a real job to draw water from the well with the "Old Oaken Bucket" for five cows and three horses, but now the only thing left to do was to drive the cows to the Arickaree river every day. I had two barrels so took them with me every day and brought them back full of water to use for wash water in the house. Every few days I would go over to the well and bring back our drinking water.
The next thing was a well of my own. I soon found a man to dig a well by hand. I also hired a young man to take care of the dirt as it came to the surface. The dirt was hoisted out by using a horse and a pulley. I could not spend much time on the well as there was too much other business. There were the cows to water, no sign of shelter for the horses, and goods to haul from Wray. I think it took 17 days to finish the well. Then a windmill was the next thing. I finally found a mill in St. Francis, Kansas. In a week or ten days we had the windmill up and that was a great load off my shoulders. As I had only one load of goods hauled from Wray, I thought I should get to this next. It took ten trips to complete the task. Let me say right here that during this first year, I slept at least half of the nights on buffalo grass.
My next job was to break some sod and get some crop in, so I broke about 10 acres and planted it to corn, and it made a good yield. I also made some improvements on my domicile and enlarged it some.
About July 15th, my father decided he would go back to his home in Nebraska. I did hate to see him go, but was glad he had been with me to help as he did.
The year of 1890 was rather dry. I had 40 acres in corn and raised 200 bushels. The range cattle made a raid on me one night and ruined a lot of that. I had brought three small pigs with me and before I knew it I had just too many hogs. We had been selling butter, but when the price dropped to three cents a pound, I told my wife we would not sell any more butter. So I got a couple of barrels and dumped the milk into them and fed it to the hogs, and with what corn I had it put the hogs in fine shape. I was duty bound to keep some corn for the horses, so when my supply was running low I butchered the whole bunch of hogs, 38 in all, and cured the meat. I sold hams that were cured and smoked for six cents per pound in trade at Siebert. There was a saw mill about 15 or 20 miles west of Deertrail. I went up there with a few shoulders, cured and smoked, and they were glad to pay me 10 cents per pound. I took my pay in lumber at $10 per thousand feet. I made several trips to the saw mill. You could have all the slabs you could haul for 35 cents.
In 1891 I was up that way again and just east of the town of Deertrail I saw 6,000 long-horned steers being shipped, not by car loads, but by train loads. I was told that a long-horned steer three years old would weigh 900 pounds, and the price they brought was three cents per pound, or $27 per steer. The branding and the round-up and cowboy's pay amounted to $1.50 per head. That left the cattle barons $25.50 net. Quite a handsome profit. But they didn't fare that well all the time. In hard winters they had heavy losses. Well that will do for long-horns.
I believe it was in the fall of 1889 that I heard there was pine to be had near a small station on the Missouri Pacific railroad, called Cedar Point. I asked a few of the nearby land seekers if they would be interested in making the trip to see these pines. They were in deep canyons. Two of my neighbors and I decided to make the trip. It took us two days to get there. We found the pines alright, but they were large trees and in such deep canyons that it looked impossible to get them out, so we decided to cut cedars instead. Each cedar made one first class post. We got down into the gulch and chopped them and trimmed them. Then we would tie a few of them together and drag them to the top with a horse where we could load them on the wagon.
We were there two days and our grub supply was getting low. The sun was getting low too, but we pulled out a mile or so and camped. We just had enough crumbs to give each one a bite. We picketed our horses out, spread our blankets on the grass and rolled in. The next morning, we hooked up and started for a sheep camp 12 miles down grade. We arrived about noon. The ranch was on the Arickaree and a wonderful spring gushed out of the bank close by. There was a cabin there, but no one was in sight. Evidently the herder was out with his flock. We raided the cabin. We found a pan of bachelor bread, a fore quarter of mutton, a few potatoes, etc. We took all there was in sight and drove out some distance as there was not much grass around the sheep camp. We finally found a spot where the grass was very good. We larieted our horses out, rustled some cow chips and prepared to put on a feed. That was the first mutton I had tasted since I was a boy in Illinois, but I recall I enjoyed it as did the rest of the party. We ate all that we had cooked and we all agreed that we were not so entirely satisfied so we put on another feed and consumed it all and we were 60 miles from our homes, but we made it OK.
This sheep camp was known as Walk's camp. It was known to all the stockmen as a watering place for herds being driven through the country.
In 1892 I raised a very good crop of both corn and wheat, probably 800 bushels of corn and 200 bushels of wheat. I hauled some of the wheat to Wray and sold it for 35 cents per bushel, but 35 cents would buy something then. The corn I utilized at home.
Let us now move up to 1894. I planted 30 acres to corn. There were a few showers around planting time and that was about all the rain that fell. As time went on I didn't see how it could make any kind of a crop. My wife's parents lived near Greeley and as she hadn't seen them since we were married, we decided to pay them a visit. One of my neighbors, who didn't have any livestock at all, lived about three miles away so I asked him if he and his wife would just move into our house while we were away and take care of my stock. I had probably 10 head of cattle, including some good milch cows. He said he would so we made ready and set out for Greeley in a covered wagon. This was about June 25, 1894. We were as I remember, four days on the road. We were so glad to see them. My father-in-law was living on a rented farm just north of the city limits of Greeley. It was there that I had my first experience in irrigation. My, what a sight to see everything growing so wonderfully with the aid of water. I helped the best I could and rather enjoyed it but it was work. I didn't do all this work alone as my wife had two brothers who managed the farm. After we had everything watered, the oldest boy, who was about 21 years of age, asked me if I would like to take a trip up to Wheatland, Wyoming, 100 miles north of Cheyenne, as he had some real estate interests there. I said I would go, as I would see some new country. The horse had not been broken, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone, break the horse and make the trip at the same time. We hitched him up with a good steady mare of mine. He reared and jumped around quite a lot but finally settled down and we started on our trip.
We arrived at Wheatland without mishap. They had an irrigation system there from the waters of the Laramie river. They had an experimental farm there with most everything growing on it that you could imagine. We looked around for a few days while my brother-in-law attended to his business and then started on the homeward trek in a sort of roundabout route. We went up in the mountains where water was taken from the Laramie river. We went from there to the city of Laramie. We saw the old Fort Saunders, built of logs but still in a good state of preservation. We arrived back in Greeley after two weeks vacation and glad to be back. We found everyone in good spirits. We then proceeded to do some more irrigating and harvested a crop of oats.
After a few short weeks we said goodbye and left for our home. Arriving there, we found our man still on the job. The corn still did not look very good. Some was tasseled out but most of it wasn't. I concluded that if we were to get any good from it, it would have to be harvested now. In order to get as much feed as possible, I decided to pull it up, shake the dirt off, let it cure out and then put it in a very tight pen where it could not be molested. If the stock I had could have gotten to it they could have consumed it all in one feed, but luckily the winter of 1894-95 was very mild. I don't think we had over two inches of snow, so came through fine. It's simply wonderful what stock can do on this short buffalo grass, especially when it cures up in the fall without being rained on. I have worked half-breed ponies full eight hours on just this sort of grass. I have been told by old cowmen that the fattest cattle came from the shortest grass county and I am prone to believe just that.
Whoever reads this will probably think that the writer was either locoed or had a brain storm. Be that as it may, what I have seen and experienced, I should know. Never have I attempted to overdraw the picture and I challenge anyone to deny any of the statements I have made.
What we hated to see the most were prairie fires and three-day blizzards. I have seen the whole country, from the Burlington railroad to the Rock Island railroad on fire. Not a pleasant sight to see when you realize that the grass upon which we depended for our livestock was being destroyed.
Our great frontiersman, Kit Carson, wrote in his life story that one of the greatest sights on the American continent was a prairie fire at night, and the more wonderful, if you can forget for the moment, the damage being done.
I believe I saw more dead cattle in the winter of 1895 than at any time before or since. There were outfits that came in from somewhere and skinned these cattle. I heard it said that they received as much as 50 cents per hide.
Now let us go back to 1886. I told of the new town called Friend. This town was five miles west and one mile south of the present town of Idalia. The town of Burlington was on the map in 1886, but no town west of there that I heard of until you arrived at Limon. I got a little ahead of my story. This town of Friend built up quite fast. There was a general store, a drug store, a blacksmith shop, post office and a livery stable. I got my mail there for a while. The town of Idalia was soon located, although there was barely enough people to support one town. The year 1890 was rather dry and some of the people pulled stakes and quit, and by 1893 there wasn't much of a town left, so that's that.
If you could see any old timer and ask him where Rock Island was or had been, he would tell you it was at a point one and one half miles east and one mile south of the present town of Joes. It's the place I told you of when we moved out. I said two young men had put up a sod house and dug a well and we camped there a while. For years when you mentioned Rock Island, people knew just where it was, but how come the name Rock Island, I don't know.
The first night I was in Friend, a man drove in by the name of Hoyt. I later learned that his real name was DeHoyt. He didn't have much to say and left the next morning in the south-westerly direction. A year later when I came back, I heard people mention the name Hoyt and found out that this man had gone to a point on the south fork of the Republican river, which was due north of Siebert and founded a town and called it Hoyt. There was scarcely anything there as it looked from the road, just a small shack, and when the Rock Island began grading for the railroad the town disappeared, but the name lasted for several years.
The year of 1890, as I have said before, was rather lean but I did raise a nice lot of squash and turnips due to the late rain. Having heard that Yuma was very dry, I concluded to load up some of my squash and turnips and take them to Yuma. There was no road to follow. The day was very hot, but about sunset, after I had just gotten out of the sand hills, the wind suddenly began to blow from the northwest and the longer it blew, the colder it became. I saw a building a short distance from the trail and concluded to take refuge there. As it became colder and was freezing, I covered up my produce with my quilts to protect them and thought I would find shelter inside the building. I opened the door and struck a match and got the surprise of my life. There on the floor lay the dried up skeleton of a cow and the waste from the body was scattered all over the floor. How it came to be in a dwelling house with the doors all shut, I could not figure out. I concluded I was not sleepy and went back outside and when I began to shiver with cold I would run down to the dim trail and back again and so put in the rest of the night.
The next morning I drove into Yuma and the people gathered around my wagon, so surprised to see what I had and where it was raised, as there was absolutely nothing in the way of garden or crop of any kind raised around Yuma. I traded my products for groceries at a fair price and made my return home.
During the year 1900 we had fairly good luck. Our cattle and other livestock increased and soon people were asking questions abut who was going to move as the range was being pretty well eaten off, but no one moved. Loco came up and made rapid growth. Blackleg had broken out among the cattle and also pink eye. All this seemed to come at once. At this time I had 120 head of high grade Shorthorns and out of the lot I managed to save 25 head. I was not alone. It affected all the settlers but from this loss I never fully recovered. For five years before this disaster I was in the saddle every day. After this experience things didn't look so bright.
Not long after this, four of my neighbors and myself formed a cream pool. We each bought a separator. The cream was tested every morning at Kirk and a member of the pool delivered the cream in Stratton every day. We received 18 cents per pound of butterfat. I sold cream until the separator was paid for, then quit and used the separator for our own cream and fed the rest of the milk to the hogs.
As I am nearing the end of my story, it might be well to tell you the changes that took place in that county during that time. When I settled there in 1886 we were in Arapahoe county, which extended from Denver to the correction line the width being from what is now the base line south to the correction line, which is now the line between Yuma and Kit Carson counties. There was a Yuma county then1 but it was north of the baseline. There was also a Washington county, but it too, was north of the base line.
In 1900, I had a Notary Commission in Arapahoe county and it was changed to Adams county in 1902, although it was not a legislative act. Not later than 1903, through an act of the legislature, which stated all that portion of Arapahoe county lying directly south of Yuma county as it is today. So without changing my residence I lived in three different counties and served out my Notary Commission under one and the same seal.
In 1887, Cope post office was established and in 1888 a general merchandise store was started in Cope. Kirk also became a post office in 1887 and was located four miles directly north of the present town of Kirk. It was established by George Niekirk. In two or three years a petition was circulated and Kirk post office was moved to its present location.
For years I got my mail at Cope from the fact that Cope had a grocery store and I could sell my butter, eggs, etc., there. On one of my trips to Cope in the year 1889, I saw Grand-pop Cope planting the trees that now make up the Cope grove. It used to be a generally accepted fact that the Cope grove was the largest grove of trees between Denver and the state line.
A rural route was started out of Kirk along about 1907 or 1908. I then changed my address from Cope to Kirk.
Now a word about schools. By 1889 quite a number of families had moved in, most of them had children coming of school age. Having in mind the need of a school, I wrote the county seat of Arapahoe county, and asked him what would be the first step to take in organizing a school district. He replied, saying that he would come and investigate, which he did. When he came, I took him around the country and we talked with all the families interested in having a school. The superintendent thought it was necessary to take in quite a large territory to get the required number of children to form a district. He also said we would either have to rent a building or build a school house without public money as there were no school funds and it would be necessary to have three months of school a year.
Gotleib Idler, Charlie Idler and I built the first school house, which was of sod, 14 by 20 feet. When we had finished I notified the superintendent. He immediately sent me a letter, giving us an organized school district, designated as District No. 60. This school house was built one mile east of the present town of Joes. This served as the only school for a number of years. As time went on, the number of school children increased, so the district was divided and more school houses were erected.
In the year of 1914, the town of Joes was started. It consisted at first of a small store and post office, owned and operated by two brothers, Charlie and Joe White. The little town grew and soon the need of a high school began to be evident because of the number of students who were unable to go on with their education due to the fact that attending high school took them far from their homes. So by consolidating school districts, a high school and grade school were built in Joes about 1920 and it is to this school that I wish to dedicate this story.
Now friends, there is more that I could have written, but I believe I have give you, a fair insight into the Pioneer Days, and I didn't go though any more hardships than hundreds of others. Had I ever thought that I would have been called upon some day to tell of my experience, I could and would have jotted down the events as they happened and would not have had to rely on memory alone. I know in these pages I have gotten the horse before the cart sometimes, from the fact that I could not, in many instances, give the correct dates, but rest assured, I have done the very best I could, and fully appreciate the honor that was given me in asking for this write-up.
I sincerely hope it will prove of interest to all who read it. I would appreciate a line from anyone, young or old, who might care to write me.
With best wishes to all, I subscribe myself,
Very truly yours, S. M. Weaver.
Yuma county was created on March 15, 1889 from the east half of Washington county. Washington had been formed on February 7, 1887 from the southeastern part of the original Weld county.
Are you related to this family? Allie (Weaver) Lakey, email@example.com, Sam Weaver's granddaughter, would like to hear from you.
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