November 14, 2020 by Ruth E. Lambert
During the dark days of the Depression, the residents of La Plata County struggled to survive and, in the rural areas, families helped to sustain themselves as they made the most of their farm produce and livestock. In the Allison area in the Southeast corner of the county, local families developed an innovative enterprise to help them get through those difficult economic times.
The small community of Allison was originally founded in 1881 as the first Denver and Rio Grande Railroad westbound siding and stop in La Plata County. Originally named Vallejos, the siding consisted of several facilities including a warehouse, section house, bunkhouse, and later a small passenger and freight depot. In the early 1900s, the town was renamed Allison and sported a post office in Young’s Store, a school, a community church, gas station, a grange hall, and a Catholic church. During the 1930s, the railroad warehouse was acquired by the Turkey Packers Co-op. The Co-op was an agricultural cooperative venture that was directed by local officers and involved many area farmers and ranchers. It was founded to provide income for farm families during the Depression. This operation included the transport of turkeys grown on local farms and ranches to the Co-op where they were packed for shipment to the East on the railroad. One early resident remembers turkey-filled farm wagons lined up outside the warehouse. Other residents recall plucking turkey pin feathers to prepare the birds for sale. As operations grew, the warehouse was expanded to include shed additions with wire window screens where turkeys were held for shipment. The Co-op was most active during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when as many as 13 railroad carloads of turkeys were shipped out during the holidays. The turkey operations continued during the Depression and throughout World War II. After that, the price of turkeys dropped, health standards changed, and the turkey business was discontinued.
Today, many of the historic buildings still exist in the town. The 1 ½ story Turkey Packers Co-op tin building is visible on the west side of Allison along CR 329 next to the old railroad grade. Tin sheets flap in the wind and the wire screens on the windows are torn. The loading dock along the abandoned railroad line is empty and the double tin doors are locked. Although the building may go unnoticed, it stands as a reminder of the enterprise and hard work of rural county residents. Many of the turkeys that graced the festive holiday tables of Eastern families had their origins in the Allison area.
By MK Gunn
What do you think of when you hear the word “wilderness”? Take a minute. Do you think of solitude or camaraderie? Of adventure or relaxation? Of wide open spaces or deep down and forested places? Do you think of wild animals – big or small? Or does the word “wilderness” conjure anything at all? And does it mean anything different with a capital W – Wilderness?
Southwest Colorado is home to the Weminuche Wilderness – the state’s largest congressionally designated Wilderness (with a capital W) area – and contains 499,771 acres of untrammeled lands. Our home turf also hosts the 158,790 acre South San Juan Wilderness, the 41,496 acre Lizard Head Wilderness, and the 37,236-acre Hermosa Creek Wilderness. That’s 737,293 acres. That’s 1,152 square miles! With all this Wilderness surrounding us, consider what you think you know about Wilderness and read on to see if you know your stuff.
The Wilderness Act was passed by the U.S. congress in 1964 thanks to the tenacity of Howard Zahniser. Sure, a myriad of others contributed to the idea, but Zahniser rewrote the bill an astounding 66 times back in the age of typewriters! He often worked on it for 30 hours straight. He also patiently attended 18 public hearings involving some 16,000 pages of testimony. All of this was to create a federal land designation never before seen in the U.S. Sadly, the stress of this killed Zahniser just months before he could see president Lyndon B. Johnson sign the act into law on September 3, 1964.
A great article on wilderness.org summarizes neatly that “Zahniser pointed out the law was intended to hold our expansionist tendencies at bay: “The nature of our civilization is such as to make wilderness preservation difficult at its best. That is the reason for wilderness legislation.” The main purpose of the Wilderness Act is to leave nature in, well, its natural state.
So, what can you expect when you venture into a designated Wilderness area? Perhaps most obvious is the lack of motorized and mechanized equipment. Human entry can only be achieved on foot or horseback. There are no roads, motor vehicles, bicycles, or even wheel barrows. (People with disabilities are allowed to enter via wheelchair). Land managers can’t even use chainsaws to clear the trails. Wilderness rangers and partnering non-profit groups use six-foot long cross-cut saws that take two people to use. These saws are remarkably efficient and very quiet. There is some pushback on the above regulations as well as much argument over just what “mechanized” means but that is a topic for another article.
This lack of motorized equipment not only forces everyone to slow down and smell the flowers; It allows visitors to experience only the sounds of nature. Wildlife is more at ease. One time, my dogs and I were walking so quietly through the Wilderness that as we stepped out of the woods into a clearing, we inadvertently sneaked up on a young mountain lion stalking a herd of cow and calf elk! It was like being inside an episode of Plant Earth. As the Wilderness Act states, Wilderness must have “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”.
The Wilderness Act also mandates that there are virtually no permanent manmade structures in designated Wilderness. “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The word “untrammeled” is often used by Wilderness devotees. Synonyms for “trammel” include drag, hobble, curb, inhibit, impede, obstruct, and encumber. Inside a Wilderness area, you will find no fences, dams, outhouses, weather stations, corrals, or shelters with the exception of some structures that existed before the area became designated Wilderness. If some sort of structure is erected, including a tent, it must be dismantled within 14 days. However, bridges are allowed where deemed necessary for safety. Other structures may be allowed on a case by case basis so long as they are “substantially unnoticeable”. For more clarification on structures in Wilderness and much more, read US Forest Service Manual chapter 2320 entitled Wilderness Management at this link: tinyurl.com/FSM2320-WildernessManagement.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: Many designated Wilderness areas have regulations that go beyond what is stated in the Wilderness Act. For examples, campfires are not allowed in Chicago Basin and the entire Needle Creek drainage within the Weminuche Wilderness. In our four local Wilderness areas, dogs are allowed to be off leash as long as they are under voice control. However, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness west of Boulder, dogs must be on leash at all times. There are sections within other Wilderness areas where dogs are not allowed at all. Group size limits also vary. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the local regulations before visiting any swath of public lands, Wilderness or not. Often, calling the main offices and talking to a real human being is the best way to make sure you have the most up to date information. Responsible use helps keep public lands open and beautiful for future generations.
MK Gunn is Volunteer and Education Specialist for the San Juan Mountains Association. She helps manage a variety of volunteers who spend days out in the Weminuche Wilderness educating visitors. Contact her at MK@sjma.org
By Ruth Lambert
SJMA has begun a project to study the history of Hispano settlement along the San Juan River in Archuleta County and southeastern LaPlata County. The Hispano contributions are often unrecognized and under-appreciated yet they add a richness to our collective story.
Often at old or abandoned small settlements, the church and cemetery are the last remaining elements. In order to learn about the early settlement in the San Juan riverine area, this project studies five Catholic churches at Pagosa Junction, Trujillo, Tiffany, Allison, and the church ruins at Juanita. The project is assembling historical information from church records, genealogical data and interviews with knowledgeable people; collecting historical documents and photographs; and documenting the churches through field recording and photographs.
The communities of Pagosa Junction, Trujillo, and Juanita were established by Hispanos from the Tierra Amarilla and San Luis Valley areas and they developed mercantile stores, post offices, schools, mission Catholic Churches, and cemeteries. With the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1881, railroad facilities, portable saw mills, and bridges were constructed. Although some community members were employed by the railroad and lumbering industries, the settlements remained small, isolated, and Hispano with few external influences. The hamlets persisted until the 1930s through 1950s when train service was discontinued and many residents moved away. In La Plata County, the towns of Allison and Tiffany were initially established in 1881 as railroad stops that developed over time into farming communities. Hispano residents moved into these settlements for railroad work and later when lands were withdrawn from settlement along the San Juan River for a future water project that became Navajo Lake. Today, the remaining churches offer the best clues into early life along the river. The settlement of Tiffany and its church, the Iglesia de San Antonio have been the focus of recent study.
Tiffany grew from the early railroad stop in the early 1900s to establish a mercantile, expanded railroad facilities, a school, livery, and a dance hall. Ditches for irrigation and a lake were constructed to provide water for residents.
With a sizable Hispano population, the Iglesia de San Antonio, was completed in 1928 to serve local Catholic families. The building was constructed by local residents of hand-made adobe blocks that were covered by wire and stucco. The style of the church is reminiscent of Territorial Adobe buildings that were popular in San Luis Valley, and the Rosa and the Tierra Amarilla areas of New Mexico. It is all original.
The church was operated as a mission church from Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Durango and was serviced by a visiting pastor. The church operated until 1972 when the regular weekly services for the parishioners were transferred to St. Ignatius in Ignacio. Over the church’s 91 years, it has been faithfully and lovingly cared for by local families. Mass is held annually on St. Anthony’s feast day in June when church members attend the Spanish Mass.
In early 2019, the Iglesia was listed on Colorado’s Most Endangered Places List, only the second listing in La Plata County and the first listing to recognize the County’s Hispano heritage. In September, the Iglesia was listed on La Plata County Register of Historic Places.
The church is an important part of the Hispano history of our area and a priority for preservation. The next steps for church preservation are applications for grant funding for stabilization and repairs and community fund raising. Once funds are acquired work is scheduled to begin next year.
If you have historical information to share about these churches or for additional about the Tiffany Church or this project, please contact Ruth Lambert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Small rural cemeteries of La Plata County have played an important role in the lives of early settlers. These burial places have allowed individuals to honor their families and friends while fulfilling burial practices that often reflected their ethnic origins and customs. The cemeteries provided a mechanism to record their testaments to a loved one, giving future generations an intimate glimpse into their lives, personalities, and pasts. These monuments are chroniclers of past lives; the witnesses for cherished souls now gone.
For historians and genealogists, carved inscriptions and images provide valuable clues about family histories and past lives. Inscriptions give information about family relationships; religious beliefs; occupations; countries of origin; and health, mortality and disease. Images give us additional information about their lives through artistic expression. Marker materials and fabrication speak to family and community economics and technology. On the Kansas plains, an elaborate Victorian tombstone tells of a family’s heartfelt loss by depicting a young girl eternally asleep in an open shell of marble. Along Colorado’s isolated Purgatory River, at a lonely windswept cemetery, the love and loss of Hispano families is carved on sandstone tombstones with folk art images of stars, flowers, diamonds, and moons mixed with handcrafted Spanish inscriptions. In rural La Plata County, hardy early pioneers are remembered with markers of wood, sandstone, and metal in small hidden cemeteries. In some cemeteries, loved ones were buried with a boulder or fieldstone as the only indication of their passing.
For the past three years, the SJMA has conducted a project to document the small county cemeteries. Our work builds on the previous recording efforts and existing burial records. Our project goals are to work with existing cemetery associations to assemble cemetery records to help preserve historical information, and to develop a searchable on-line database. This information will help family researchers and historians locate the final resting place of individuals who migrated into La Plata County in the past; these burial records may provide the important missing piece in the family story.
As we have recorded the graves of loved ones, we have been touched by the realization that early life in the County was hard. Fairly consistently about one third of the graves are for children under 10 years of age, many from the same families. Loving tributes to mothers are found at all the cemeteries over all the years. And in small lonesome cemeteries, small American flags flutter at the graves of veterans, reminding us of the lives lost on our behalf. One of the most poignant markers was a marker in loving memory of a young 19 year old sailor lost on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1944. These inscriptions remind us of the lives of real people that have passed on.
April 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. With the war, our country sent many young men to join European forces to fight in various war theaters. At home, Americans supported the war effort through numerous conservation efforts. One of the sayings at that time was “Conservation is Patriotic”. Even though the War effort focused attention on conservation, resource conservation, as an attempt to achieve sustainability, has at least a thousand-year history in Southwest Colorado.
Anthropologists and historians have studied human exploitation and adaptation to our fragile environments to understand prehistoric and historic occupations in our area. Numerous studies have described prehistoric human activities to cope with uncertain environmental conditions, including strategies to manage water, soil, and domesticated and wild plant foods. Research indicates that early inhabitants struggled to meet their food needs using a variety of conservation practices. Ethnographic data indicates that in many places traditional conservation techniques are still practiced and that these traditions remain an important part of the communities.
Historic records provide interesting documentation about efforts to conserve food resources. As the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson established the US Food Administration that called upon Americans to plant gardens and grow their own produce, so that government supplies could be used for the war effort. Slogans such as: “Eat potatoes, save the wheat; drive the Kaiser to defeat” were heard. In response, existing family gardens were expanded, vacant lots and parks were planted and became known as “Victory Gardens” and Americans produced about 75% of their household food needs. In 1918, the La Plata County Women’s Council established a community kitchen to train young women to can fruits and vegetables, Fort Lewis Junior College students harvested crops, and Durango planted Victory Gardens and participated in meatless and wheatless days. During World War II, family gardens again provided household produce when food rationing was implemented.
Today, household and community gardens abound to provide healthy produce for our consumption. Farmers’ markets, edible gardens and old and new orchards provide area residents with food sources that have their beginnings with indigenous and pioneer settlement, western sustainability and, more recently, the conservation efforts stimulated by World War I.
Ruth E. Lambert is the cultural program director at SJMA. Reach her at 970-385-1267 or email@example.com.