Monday, July 10, 2017

Best of Times Connecting with Roots

My most memorable road trips are focused on reconnecting with our family roots.  We just completed a wonderful road trip which took us from Texas to New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada and back again.  The most memorable stops along the way included Cortez CO, Moab UT, Elko NV, Salt Lake City UT and Grand Junction and Golden CO.  We spent three days visiting with my wife's mother, two days researching in Salt Lake City and three days visiting with my wife's cousin in Grand Junction.  I collected hundreds of images of photographs, documents and heirlooms at each of these stops.  There is enough material collected on this trip to write dozens of blog posts. 

The story that I am about to share was written by my wife's maternal first cousin.  Their common ancestors are John Arthur Fitzpatrick 1879-1963 and Vesta Price Fitzpatrick 1890-1988. Grandma Vesta died the year before I got interested in genealogy but fortunately we were able to make connections with most of John Art and Vesta's descendants shortly thereafter. Vicki and Max Stites have built a home near Collbran, Colorado that is a tribute to their ancestors. This home was a place where laughter rang through the rooms and in quietness our souls were refreshed.

Robin Cimino with her cousin Vicki Fitzpatrick Stites and husband, Max Stites in Collbran, Colorado, June 30, 2017

The Best Of Times Connecting With Our Roots
By Vicki Fitzpatrick Stites
7 February 2009

In Collbran, Colorado located in the Fitzpatrick Subdivision there is a small white house with a red roof. I have seen this house many times during my lifetime. It is where my father was born and raised along with his six siblings. The original house was very small and now has an addition, but the long, skinny part is the part I remember hearing stories about all these years. How my grandmother raised seven children in this tiny place is something I can hardly imagine.

This was the home of John Art  and Vesta Price Fitzpatrick in Collbran, Colorado.  The current street name is Spring Street. The original home was the narrow part of the ell which is closest to the street.

Collbran is a very special place to my husband Max and me. Our ancestors homesteaded there and we have been raised listening to stories, returning to reunions, and spending time there all of our lives. We both have very fond memories of the place and of the people who pioneered in this area. My great grandfather, John Alexander Fitzpatrick, was born in 1840 in Canada. His mother died when he was three years old and he helped his father until he left home to go to Wisconsin where he worked in the lumber mills. He went back to Canada and married Eliza Farlinger in 1872 and, after a time, they came to Colorado and kept a toll road near Buena Vista. There is a park named for him there.

Eliza Farlinger 1852-1909 and John Alexander Fitzpatrick 1842-1907

He came to the Plateau Valley in 1882. He staked out his claim and returned to Buena Vista to collect his family. They first lived in a sort of dugout and later built a log house which was the first house in Collbran. It is still in use. The first boy born in the Valley was their son Clayton. Their oldest son, John Art, was my grandfather. When he was of age, my great grandfather deeded him the corner lots where the Auditorium now stands, and he ran a livery barn for years. He also had an ice house and sold ice to the ranchers, to the creamery and to stores. He also carried mail and drove a team of horses from Collbran to DeBeque. John Art would harness the team in the dark with a kerosene lantern. It was a rough job having to contend with the mud and snow and other hazards of the road.

John Arthur Fitzpatrick 1879-1963 and Vesta Price Fitzpatrick 1890-1988
A photographer came around to their farm in DeBeque, Colorado a few months after they got married in June 1910.  John Art came in out of the field and Vesta was horrified because her dress was wrinkled per a story told to Jonni Fitzpatrick Kincher about 1980.
John Art met my grandmother, Vesta Price, in DeBeque where her parents had settled after moving from Buena Vista.  They were married on June 5, 1910. I am very fortunate to have their wedding certificate and we also have the announcement that was in the paper. It reads in part, "Probably one of the prettiest weddings ever solemnized on the Western Slope was performed at high noon on the banks of the Grand River (Colorado River), at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. T.H. Price, when Vesta, the pretty and accomplished daughter, became the wife of John Arthur Fitzpatrick, a member of one of the prominent families of the Plateau country. Elaborate decorations had been prepared for the occasion. Clemantis, honeysuckle and roses were festooned about the house and grounds in profusion. After the wedding the wedding party and guests sat down to one of the most bountiful and varied spreads seen at a similar function, everything the market could supply had been procured for the feast."

Grandma was a very accomplished lady. She raised seven children, worked as a
nurse for Dr. Zeigel at the Collbran Hospital, was a good cook, grew a huge garden, wrote poetry that was published, and was active in many community projects. She was a charter member of the Collbran Mother's Club which was formed in 1926, and they were an amazing group of women. They were responsible for getting the high school accredited.

Grandma told us, "In those days if one of our graduates wanted to go to college, he had to take another year at an accredited high school. We wanted to change that so they raised money through catering other clubs dinners, putting on shows and holding bake sales for expanding the library and improving the science lab and building an agriculture shop. It took us four years, but in 1932 Collbran High School was finally accredited."

Over the years the Mother's Club carried out other community-oriented projects like buying land for a park in Collbran and helping to get electricity into the area so it was available to everyone. In the early 1930's there was still no electricity in Collbran, so Grandma and her group went to work. A small generating plant was established and street lights soon went up in addition to home lighting. In 1945 there the Grand Valley Rural Electric Association franchised with Collbran to supply electricity to the area.

The Mother's Club celebrated 50 year at Grandma's home in Fruita in 1976. Grandma lived to be a wonderful 97 years old. I was so glad my children got to know their great-grandma. She had 17 grandchildren, 33 great grandchildren and 8 great-great grandchildren at the time of her death and to all of us she gave something special. Two quotes which we heard her repeat often included, "Everything happens for the best," and "try to learn something new each day." I remember calling her in the evenings after school and she would ask me what I learned that was new that day. If I didn't have an answer, she asked me to hang up, think about it, and call her back. I still try to learn something new each day.

I discovered, when Max asked me to marry him, that we had many connections we weren't aware of. I came home the night I got my engagement ring and told my parents. My dad said, "I sent you to Colorado University to meet a doctor or lawyer and you're going to marry a Stites." I soon learned that Max's grandma and my grandma Vesta were good friends growing up in Collbran. I also learned that Max's mom and brothers went to school with my dad's brothers and sisters. Our wedding was more of a reunion for all these people, than a wedding. Everyone had such a good time rekindling friendships and remembering childhood antics.

After we were married I learned that Max's great great grandparents, Rufus and Rachel Stites homesteaded in the Collbran area with my relatives. Rufus was born in New Jersey, homesteaded in Illinois, then moved to Kansas where he homesteaded near Mound City. He then homesteaded near what is today Niwot, Colorado. He then heard of land opening up on the Western Slope and, after checking it out by himself, moved his family in the 1880's to Collbran. They built a home on the east side of Big Creek where the road from Parker Basin crosses the creek. Their son, John, was Max's great grandfather. His son, Arlonzo, was Max's grandfather and he married Bessie Kruh. Arlonzo, better known as Lonnie, ranched all of his life well into his early eighties and was known as one of the best irrigators in the Plateau Valley. It was said that he never wasted a drop of water.

Rufus Stites 1828-1892
John Wesley Stites 1858-1938 and family.
Arlonzo Cary Stites 1886-1971 and his sister, Tencia Stites 1883-1965

Arlonzo Cary Stites 1886-1971 and his wife Bessie Kruh AKA Goldia Bessia Kruh 1888-1977

His initials were A. C. S. with the C standing for Cary. When we had our son, we wanted to be sure his initials matched those of his great grandfathers., So, he is named Aaron Cary Stites. One of the problems to be faced early in Collbran history was that of schools. Country schools were established and were taught by girls who had finished the eighth grade. Three of the Stites girls taught in these schools. The school on Kansas Mesa was known as the Stites School for many years because Rufus donated the land on which it was built. Rachel donated the land on which the Collbran Congregational Church was built.

Bessie Kruh Stites, Max's grandmother, was known as being one of the best cooks in the Valley and there was always room at her table for whomever stopped in at mealtime. She canned and pickled nearly anything that could be canned or pickled and still made soap as late as the early 1960's. No one ever left her home empty handed.

Sarah Kruh 1890-1982

One of Max's great aunts, Miss Sara Kruh, was a remarkable person. She graduated from Grand Junction High School and attended State Teacher's College which is now the University of Northern Colorado and earned her A.B. degree in education. She taught her first school at Bull Creek and then taught for forty-seven years in Collbran, Loma, Fowler and Grand Junction (151 grade at Tope Elementary). She retired in 1962 to her home in Plateau City where she had a huge garden, worked hard in the church and traveled. She was a most remarkable woman and I never did see her write in cursive; it was always in first grade block print.

Max's mother's family also were some of the early pioneers in the Collbran area. Heber Young, her grandfather, came to the Plateau Valley in 1885 from Utah as a result of a disagreement with the Mormon Church. Heber Young was the son of John Young who was Brigham Young's brother. Their first homestead was on Mormon Mesa, so named because they had been Mormons. The cabin and bull fence he built still stands today. The Youngs established a sawmill and later built a frame house on Kansas Mesa.

The shingles put on that house lasted over sixty years. Heber's wife was Lucinda and they had four boys. Heber raised both sheep and cattle. One time when Heber was away the "Night Riders" killed all of his bucks. Max's great grandmother supposedly grabbed a shotgun off the mantle and fired a couple of rounds at them. This was the period of the sheep and cattle wars in the West.

Nona Ellen Call 1885-1960 and Willard Young 1888-1964

Heber and Lucinda's second eldest son, Willard, was Max's grandfather. He ranched most of his life and, like many others, fell on economic hard times during the Depression. His wife, Nona, wanted to buy Max's mother a store-bought dress for graduation, but they didn't have the money. Willard sold one of his work horses in order to buy her a dress and a class ring. Grandad Willard had quite a sense of humor and one day when he and his grandsons were walking down Main Street in Grand Junction, he was stopped by a panhandler. When asked for money, he quickly replied, " Fella, I'm workin' this side of the street; you go work the other side." Heber Young would be proud to know that his great great grandsons still ranch in the Plateau Valley and that both are college graduates.

Max and I both have very fond memories of fishing and camping trips we took with
our dads and granddads on the Collbran side of the Grand Mesa. All of our grandfathers
and Max's great grandfather worked to build Bonham Reservoir, Big Creek #1 and
Atkinson. We have part of a Fresno Scraper that was used in the work on the reservoirs. On these trips to Collbran, going up the winding canyon, I always got car sick. However, I also knew that a stop at what was Branson's Drive-In was in the plan when we headed home and that ice cream surely tasted good after following my dad around all day.

Vicki's dad, Karl Fitzpatrick with his string of fish.

We return each Memorial Day to decorate the graves of our relatives. They are scattered in two different cemeteries and there are a lot to decorate. We can go back seven generations of the family on Max's side if we count our ten month old granddaughter and five generations on my side. Each year Max and I tell stories about the persons and our children now can tell those same stories. It is particularly unique because if we stand by Max's mother's grave, we can see the house where she was born.

Grave of Vesta and John Art in Cedar Crest Cemetery, Collbran, Colorado June 30, 2017

This is where we will find our final resting place. We always take a picnic and spread it
out in the cemetery and eat among the stones that represent our loved ones. It is always
a very special day for us.

Max and I have always dreamed of owning land in the Collbran area and we both feel a large connection to that place. After Max's father's death, we and his aunt established a Stites Scholarship that is given to one or two seniors each year at the Plateau Valley graduation. It is our way of giving back a little to the place that has been so meaningful to us. We had about given up on our dream until we were driving around four years ago in the fall and saw a sign that said "Eight acres for sale." Well, you just don't see eight acres for sale up there; usually it is 100 or 200 or 600. So, we called. We decided we had to make this work and begin our dream. We put our house up for sale in order to downsize and used the extra money to purchase the land. We have worked for three years planning, figuring, and building and we now have our place about two-thirds finished. Max took the lead and became the general contractor. He really didn't know a whole lot about building a house, but he has done a magnificent job. Building the home has been a family project and in June our son-in-law, his two brothers, his father, our son, Max and our nephew from Ohio spent a week framing the house. Those memories are ones none of them will forget. It was almost an old-fashioned barn raising. Since then, we have worked a little at a time. Our goal is to finish this summer because my mom, who will be 85 in October, wants to have her birthday celebration there.

So, some of the best of times have been returning to our roots and our hope is that many generations after us will use the home as a retreat from the busy world; a place to enjoy nature, look at Grand Mesa as it towers in front of the house, sit on the porch and watch the sunsets, and see the deer and elk as they come down off of the hillside. It will be filled with family memorabilia: a saddle that belonged to Grandpa Lonny, a beautiful table and old stove that was Aunt Sara's, crocks brought over by the Mormon side of the family, Grandma Vesta's books of poetry, and many other items. It is a place where the birds' songs are clearly heard, where the hummingbirds fly right to your shoulder and where the stars twinkle and play in the dark sky at night. We hope it will be a legacy that inspires our family to connect and re-connect with those who went before them and a place where the stories will be told, people remembered and appreciated for the hard times they endured. We hope it will be a place where laughter will ring through the rooms and, in the quietness, a soul may be refreshed.

So, my grandparents began with a little house and we are building a little house so that the roots that run so deep might re-connect once again.

Here is a small sample of the dozens of heirlooms that Vicki and Max have preserved in their house in Collbran. We were honored to have been invited to experience this wonderful home.

No comments:

Post a Comment