Intro : This interview with Chuck Harris is a collaboration of the Mt. Sopris Historical Society (www.mtsoprishistoricalsociety.org) and the Immigrant Stories Project.
Harris: My granddad, Charles Harris, was the first to settle in the Roaring Fork Valley. He was born in Clinton County, New York, in 1852. He grew up in Wisconsin, and when he was 25 he and his brother, Bill, went to the Dakotas for a couple years. It was there that they heard about the excitement in Leadville and Aspen. So in May of 1880, my granddad and a guy named Tom Cannon made their way up over the pass and down into Aspen. Uncle Bill came two years later.
Granddad built a little cabin to hold their belongings and they set out down valley later that summer to find land suitable for a ranching. When they got to the lower valley, just outside of where Carbondale is now, they found wild hay growing, and they figured this would be a good spot to stay.
That first year, they got the land ready and made their living hunting and fishing and selling the game to folks in Aspen. Grandad told me that one time they caught 250 pounds of trout in three days. They packed the fish in grass and took them to Aspen to trade for food and seed potatoes. Those potatoes were the first of many to be planted in the Roaring Fork Valley.
By September of that first year, they had cut 20 tons of hay. They made a hay press that allowed them to load the hay on their horses and mules, and then they packed it to Aspen to sell to the miners. In the summer of 1881, Granddad and his partner started building the first wagon road to Aspen.
Gallacher: What about your grandmother?
Harris: Her name was Rosetta Noble. She and another young woman came west to teach school in Independence, a mining camp above Aspen. That’s where she met my granddad. He was a little rough around the edges but there was a spark there. They got married in 1886 and had four daughters and one son. That was my dad.
I was born on the ranch in 1917, and we stayed there until I was about 5 or 6. That’s when my parents and I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. My dad was a bit of an alcoholic, and I think he thought that maybe he’d get better if he wasn’t around all the homemade wine that his Italian friends were making.
Gallacher: Why Tulsa?
Harris: I have no idea. But my dad got a job driving a delivery truck and fishing on the side. He and this other fella would take my dad’s fish net and seine the creeks and rivers for fish. Then they’d bring them into Tulsa and sell them.
Gallacher: So he was doing anything he could to make a living?
Harris: Yes, after a couple years, we moved to Denver and my mom got a job in a department store and Dad went to work for Coleman Motors making trucks. We moved back to the Valley when I was about 11.
Gallacher: Did the time away help your dad?
Harris: Yeah, when he came back he was pretty well over it.
Gallacher: Tell me about your mom’s family.
Harris: My mom’s maiden name was Dickson. Grandpa Dickson came from Sweden. He was a shoemaker there and he would go from house to house and from town to town making shoes for the entire family, a year’s supply. They would give him room and board.
Gallacher: So he had to carry all of his supplies with him.
Harris: Yup. His last name was actually Hughmore. His name had a little mark over the “H” but when he came to the U.S. he had trouble making people understand his last name. He wanted to fit in. So, when he went to work in Red Cliff for this guy who had a freight line, he just took the guy’s last name. The guy’s name was Dickson so Grandpa just decided that his name would be Dickson, too, and that’s how he came to be August Dickson.
Later he moved to Aspen and met my grandmother, and that’s where my mom and her sister were born. Grandpa worked in the Smuggler Mine for quite a few years. Then he moved the family down along the river right near where the bridge into Carbondale is now. After that they moved to Glenwood Springs, that’s the place I remember as a kid.
Gallacher: What do you remember about the Harris Ranch. Did you have chores?
Harris: Oh yeah! And as I got older and stronger, I fit right in as a hired man, anything that needed to be done I did. As I got older I did a lot of the work with the cattle and the sheep. In fact, I went to CSU to study to be a veterinarian, but it turned out to be a lot of stuff I already knew and it was costing a lot of money, so I just came on home.
When I came back I told Dad that I thought we could do better if he ran the ranch and I went and found a job that could bring in extra money. So I went to work for the county running a road grader, and when that played out I got a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps, building roads and bridges and grubbing a lot of larkspur (a plant poisonous to livestock).
After that, I worked for the Forest Service for a while and then I went to work punchin’ cows for a few years. I was selling cars when I met my wife, Bobbie. We got married in July of 1941, and war was declared in December of that same year. I signed up and they took me for a while, but when the doctors got to lookin’ at my foot and my back they sent me home.
Gallacher: What was it about your foot and back?
Harris: Well I had a couple of pretty bad accidents when I was a boy. The first one happened when I was riding to school, in the winter, with my friend, Tony Schutte. We came up on a spot in the road that looked all right because it was covered with a little snow but, underneath, it was all ice. The horse hit that and all four feet were in the air. The horse landed on me and crushed the bone in my foot. That never did heal right. It’s kinda bothered me all my life.
A few years later, I was driving the folks’ Model T. I was with Tony and another guy in almost the same spot and we hit a soft patch on the road where the WPA crew had been working. The road hadn’t been compacted so the car’s wheel sunk in and it flipped. We were all thrown clear. I ended up landing on my back on a tree stump, still clutching the steering wheel. That Model T is still down in the ditch where it landed.
Gallacher: How long did it take to recover from that?
Harris: Years and years. But anyway, when I got out of the service in ’42 Bobbie and I decided to buy Catherine Store from her brother, Louis Glassier. Bobbie was Italian, her family, on both sides, came from the Aosta Valley. Her mom was a Clavell.
The original Catherine Store was built on stilts because it was so low and swampy there, but Louis had bought an old truck and hauled enough rock and dirt to fill it all in.
Bobbie and I ran the store from 1942 to 1948. We sold it and then bought it back in ’53. We enjoyed the grocery business. We worked hard. I had guys knocking on the door at the crack of dawn needin’ groceries before they headed out. We closed when we went to bed around nine. On Saturday nights we were open late into the night because the store was a gathering place for people in that area.
Not too long after we bought it back, Bobbie got breast cancer, and I was ready to sell the store. But Bobbie felt like work would be a good distraction, so I said, “OK we’ll build a new one.” And that’s what we did. We took the old store down room by room and built the new one that is there now.
Gallacher: So Bobbie fully recovered?
Harris: She did, she was a hard worker and a wonderful partner. A fella couldn’t ask for a better friend. We were married for seventy-one-and-a-half years. We raised two great kids, Glen and Alvina. Those kids meant everything to her and me.
So when Glen died suddenly in November of last year, Bobbie was already struggling a little with dementia and that was all it took. She kept saying, “Why couldn’t it have been me?” She died four months later.
Gallacher: It’s hard to be the one that’s left.
Harris: It sure is. I try to stay focused on all the wonderful things we shared. But it’s hard to be without them.