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If you did not have water, you could not survive in the livestock business. My grandparents from soggy old Ireland soon realized this and moved to a new place beside the Yampa River. Their last child, the only girl, died two weeks after her birth. My father Henry, the second son, ranched the second expansion, four miles away from my grandparents home.
His brothers occupied neighboring spreads. Our family ranches were not very far, maybe fteen miles northwest, from the famous Meeker Massacre site. However, we grew up hearing stories of how the Utes slaughtered Indian Agent Nathan Meeker, a former agricultural editor of the New York Tribune and founder of the Greeley Tribune kidnapped his wife and daughter, and held off the U.
He was living nearby in when angry natives killed Indian Agent Nathan Meeker, eight other White River Agency employees, and two freighters who were delivering our to the outpost. The Utes lost twenty-three men.
Army removed the Utes to reservations in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah, the town of Meeker sprang up near the massacre site. Downey, a circuit riding pioneer, came to hear confessions and say mass now and then. Whenever he showed up on his mule, my father and my uncles, then boys, would run and hide under their bed.
They were scared to death of the priest. I imagine they were scared because he was a stranger there to correct their behavior. Ultimately they would come out of hiding and the priest would spend a few nights at my grandparents ranch teaching the kids catechism. However, my dad and his brothers would rather chase wild horses than listen to that priest. They would chase down the wild horses, rope them, and then try to break them.
That was one of their favorite sports. Once they tied a sled to a young wild horse, then they all piled on the sled, and let the horse run loose. Horseplay was their main recreation. Those boys tamed enough of those wild beasts to pull the ranch wagon into town. Theyd go to Meeker once a month or so for shopping and rodeos. Once a year theyd go all the way to Rie, the nearest railroad town, to buy supplies that included barrels of our, dried fruits, dried beans, and provisions to last for months.
These s barracks used by soldiers who put down the Ute uprising were converted to the Meeker Public Library, shown here. Today the ofcers quarters also house the White River Museum.
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She was the oldest of sixteen children. Her father, Gilbert Patterson, was a mine superintendent during Leadvilles ush times. The Pattersons lived on the southwest outskirts of Leadville. My family passed down stories of taking food over to Baby Doe Tabor who holed herself up at the Matchless Mine. She would never answer the door, so they would just leave the food on the porch for her. After graduating she found a job teaching in the tiny northwest Colorado town of Maybell. My dad, who had just come back from World War I, was working on the family ranch not far south of Maybell. He would ride up there for the Saturday night dances in the schoolhouse.
There he met the school marm, asked her for a dance, and fell in love with this beautiful 5 2 brunette. As this view of Meekers July 4, , festivities suggests, the ranching town had more horses than humans. The Sweeney clan rarely missed July 4th celebrations and the rodeo in Meeker, where they also did their shopping. My older brother, Gilbert, was born on the ranch in after a painful delivery. Five years later, a midwife in Craig, Jenny Starr, delivered me on February 13, The nearest post ofce was the now gone town of Juniper Springs, which had a big hot springs pool, a hot bubbling mud bath and a general store that served as the post ofce.
We lived next to the spreads of my uncles Frank, Patrick, and Joe, who never married and inherited the family home ranch. Ranch life was rugged. One of my rst jobs was to go down to the river and get buckets of water as we did not have running water in the house. We drank water right out of the Yampa River but never got sick. As a lad, one of my other jobs was gathering wood and coal for our big kitchen stove, which was not only for cooking but heated the whole house.
We all slept in one room. My dad always got up at in the morning to build a re in the stove. For meals, we had a cellar full of canned goods, barrels of foodstuffs, a great vegetable garden, and we butchered our own meat. We didnt have refrigeration so wed cut ice from the river in the winter. With a horse, sled, and a big saw, we cut blocks of ice fteen inches square. We put the ice in our log ice house and covered it with a layer of coal dust and slack that kept the ice from melting.
The ice would last all summer. We used the blocks of ice to ll an old fashioned wooden ice boxin which wed keep our milk, cream, butter, and everything else cold. We had practically everything we needed on our ranch. When I turned seven, my folks gave me a Every time I would shoot, I would have to run in the house to have my mother cock the 22 because I was not strong enough to do it. So, I learned to hunt with one bullet and got really good at it. One time, the gun slipped and shot a hole through our brand new linoleum oor. Can you imagine giving a 22 to a six, seven, eight year old today?
My parents put me to work in the hay elds, walking the horse that pulled the hay wagon. I started out as a stacker boy, then advanced to hay raker and hay mower.
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Every summer we irrigated, cut, and put up hay. In the winter, we fed it to our livestock. Livestock had to be cared for seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, year round, no matter how deep the snow. Craig shivered in bitterly cold winters. Sometimes wed even get a freeze in July. In winter it would often be twenty degrees below zero for days on end. Maybell, the nearby town where my mother once taught school, long held the Colorado record for coldsixty-one degrees below zero.
We had to learn to deal with, even to play in, the snow and cold. We started ice skating on the Yampa River. I had a real pair of ice skates. My dad and his siblings used to see how close they could come to the thawed, running water. I never did that, nor did I fall in the river. In the spring time the Yampa grew huge and fast, but usually came down by summer when we swam in it. On the ranch we raised cattle to eat and to sell.
This led to some conicts with neighboring sheep ranches like that of the Kourlises, the famous Greek sheep ranching family. My grandfather and my fathers generation would shoot sheep that wandered onto our cattle pastures. We got along better with the Gossard Ranch.
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On their 30, acres spread they raised Morgan Horses, cattle, hay and wheat. My father would ride on the train near the cattle for the two day trip to the Denver stockyards. He wanted to make sure our cattle got water and hay along the way and did not lose a lot of weight. Mother, Gilbert, and I, would ride in a passenger coach. When the white faced Hereford steers went through the Moffat Tunnel they would turn black faced from the trains soot and smoke. At the stockyards, we washed off the soot and smoke and prettied our steers for sale.
My dad would join us in the Standish Hotel late at night, after taking care of our livestock.
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It was demolished in Wed always have a fancy dinner at Baurs Restaurant, which I thought was a magical place. I remember looking into their show window and drooling over the roast beef and all those candies and deserts. During the familys annual trips to sell cattle at the Denver stockyards, June Marian OConnell Sweeney took her sons Gilbert and Robert on a tour of the town. Baurs Restaurant, shown here at Curtis Street, was the place to eat for the Sweeney family and many out-of-town visitors. My mother took my brother and me around to every church in Craig and asked us which one we wanted to go to.
We looked at the First Christian Church of Craig. They had a handsome sawn log building covered with lap siding and painted white with a big corner bell tower. But my mother picked the Congregational Church. While I enjoyed going to that church a lot, I probably should have been going to a Catholic Church.