Letters from Ridgway: 1891

In keeping with last week's theme of reprinting some of the history that's lying around this ink-stained office, I ran across the following, one of a series of letters. The letters were written in 1891 by John C. Bachelder to his brother Millard and sister Lida. The letters were subsequently given to the late Roger Henn of Ouray, by Glen Bachelder, grandson of Millard. John Bachelder had been a conductor with the Kalamazoo and South Haven, Michigan, and struck out on his own for the Colorado frontier, landing in Ridgway. The following are two of those letters, reprinted from a 1991 The Ridgway Sun centennial edition:

April 2, 1891

My Dear Brother,
I hope you will forgive me for not writing sooner and for not coming to see you before I came out West but I was in a hurry, for I expected that my coming here as quick as I could get here would get me to work as soon as I got to Denver. But as it has turned out I might as well have stayed East for I have not done any work to speak of and have been here almost six weeks. Where I am now is about four hundred miles from Denver and Denver is about twelve hundred from Chicago - so you see I am quite a distance from Michigan - most too far to walk.
This place is a new town just started last August. There was only two houses here, now there is about 75, six stores, one drugstore and a hotel, partly finished. Board is high and you cannot hardly get a place to sleep. I am boarding on a ranch almost a mile from the Depot. I have enough to eat such as it is, but when you come to talk about sleeping it makes me tired, for i could not put a dog in the East in the places I have to sleep here.
But you can't help it for there is no other place. All the people you see here have their blankets and carry them with them from place to place. For when you start out in the morning, you do not know where you will be when night comes or what the weather will be. For you can start from here and go a few miles up the mountains and it may be snowing and blowing. And it only takes about thirty minutes to fill the track so that the trains cannot get through. I have been out with the snow plow two nights and four days since I came to Ridgeway (sic) and I have been here almost two weeks.
The train master talks very favorably to me and thinks he will be able to put me to work steady in a short time, but it does not look very favorable for me if I do not get work here soon. I do not know where I will go unless I go south, for there is no use going west any farther for mines are duller than they are east. There are thousands of idle men here in this country, the same as there are east, but I shall stay here for the present and see if I cannot get a run. For as soon as I can learn the road I won't have to brake long.
They pay good wages but everything is high. You ought to see some of the places where they run a railroad here. They have hills here that are almost straight up. The passenger (train) draws only three cars and the freight trains only six. That is all they can get up with and they have big engines and good ones too. They charge ten cents a mile fare and from 25 cents to 41.50 per hundred for freight. The branch is only 45 miles long but they do not mind that, for it is cheaper than when they had to draw the freight by wagons.
There is lots of mines close by here and very rich ones too. As soon as the snow melts on the mountains they will begin to rush the ore to the smelters and then business will be lively.
I never knew what it was before to get up in the morning and be all around through the day and not see a person I knew, but such is the case here…
J.C. Bachelder

July 26, 1891

Dear Brother Millard,
I received your welcome letter today and I had begun to think you did not get my letter. I have been so busy I hardly get time to write.
I am on a freight run. It leaves at 5:25 a.m. and sometimes we get back at 7 p.m., but oftener at 10 p.m.
We have from 8-15 cars of ore everyday for it is a rich mining county here. I have seen more cattle since I came here than I ever saw in my life. The cowboys have been getting them together from all over the mountains to brand the calves. Each one who owns stock have (a) private mark that is put on with a branding iron when it is red hot, and the mark never comes off. After they get through branding they turn them loose and pay no more attention to them 'til fall.
They wander around over the mountains and when they want them next fall some of them may be in some other state, but the mark will hold if they were found in Texas. There is lots of sheep raised here and in New Mexico. We are only 45 miles from the line. There is one tribe of Indians who have over 20,000 but they are of an inferior kind and the wool does not bring very much. The same with the cattle - they inbreed so there is not much to them. There is no hogs here - only what is shipped from the East.
There is some very nice horses here. I saw this morning 12 deer all in a bunch. Have seen several bear and mountain lions, also wolves, but did not have any gun.
I do not think I shall stay here very long for it is going to be a very hard place in the winter. The rainy season has set in and it will rain for the next month and then commence to snow.
I can see snow and ice any time I look at the mountains - and you can't look without seeing them. I could stand it here if I could have a decent place to sleep and a square meal once in a while, but I don't have either. I have not seen a person I knew since I left Denver and it gets mighty lonesome. I have lost 20 pounds since I came here. We do not have any decent meals here…
I want to stay here and earn enough so when I come back and if I do not happen to get work, that I won't have to go to the poorhouse. If it was not for that I would not stay here, but wages are good $75 for braking and $110 for running a train. But it costs very high to live, from $8-$10 a week and you have to furnish your own bed and that is 75 cents a night. I do not have to pay anything for a bed for we sleep in the way car and my bed is a bunk…I sleep cold lots of nights, common blankets cost $8 per pair - I have not had my underclothes off to sleep since I left Denver and I have not seen a sheet since I came here.
There are lots of idle men here tramping from one place to another. They all carry their blankets and when night comes build a fire and lay down by the side of it. You can see on the sides of the mountains dozens of fires any night. All the men here go armed - a belt full of shells and two revolvers in the belt - also a Winchester rifle strapped to their saddles and when they get on a tear, look out!
By the way, I have not taken a drink of anything since I came here. I have no use for it…
J.C. Bachelder


Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. atodd@ouraynews.com