Telegram Staff Writer
Marilyn Dalton Ukele was born in the same house as her mother, Ruth Hickman. She even learned to walk there, which she’s heard entertained her grandmother a great deal.
Now, Bill Morrow has turned the old Hickman family farm into an arts refuge on 16th Street in east Rifle.
The house was once one among three little farmhouses that all belonged to members of the Hickman family. Six brothers and one sister came to Rifle during the frontier days, said Marilyn.
Marilyn’s grandfather, John Hickman, was one of the first. In 1887, he and his brother Owen took the narrow-gauge train from Pueblo all the way to Grand Junction and then came by stagecoach to Rifle.
The two men worked for cattle farmers until they got their own land.
“The town then …,” Marilyn said. “There was no town then. My grandpa was cutting grain where Rifle is now.”
A couple years after he arrived, John went back to Missouri to marry Emmaline Stephenson, the sister of Owen’s wife, Caroline.
“Can you imagine how hard it would have been for a young woman to move here then?” Marilyn asked. “She had to pack the water in, and there were dirt floors.”
Emma had three children in a log cabin by Rifle Creek.
“Women in Missouri told her it was a shame for someone with such a beautiful complexion to move out to such a harsh, dry climate,” Marilyn said.
But Marilyn said her grandmother loved the outdoors and planted orchards all over the farmland. She enjoyed picking the fruit.
By the time Marilyn was born, however, the orchards had been chopped down to make room for more profitable crops like hay, corn and sugar beets.
Sugar beets required a lot of labor. Marilyn said her family hired a lot of people who came to Colorado from Mexico to work in the sugar beet fields. The laborers would stay in a log cabin behind the house during the harvest season. Some would stay and some would go home when the work was finished.
Marilyn lived in the family home until she married Donald Ukele in 1945. Donald’s uncle Clarence lived at the top of Ukele Road, which was named for him.
They didn’t live on the family farm, or on any farm for that matter.
Marilyn and Donald had several businesses over the years. They even owned the Midland Hotel on Third Street from about 1965 to 1975.
“It was just a regular hotel,” Marilyn said. “Workers stayed there. I hardly recognize it now.”
Marilyn remembers that downtown Rifle used to be hopping on Saturdays. She said people would come to town to do their shopping during the day and then go home to do chores before returning in the evening.
“You’d come downtown and try to find a good parking spot,” Marilyn said. “Then we would walk up and down the street visiting, and you could crawl into the car with folks you wanted to talk with. People don’t visit like that anymore.”
When oil shale development started and Exxon moved in, the dynamic of the town changed, Marilyn said. When the company pulled out of the area, she’d never seen it so devastated.
“Rifle was a very sad place after Exxon left,” Marilyn said. “All those empty houses. This is much better. The growth has been rather slow this time, and I think Rifle’s coming back around.”
Thank you to Marilyn Dalton Ukele for sharing family information for this story.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will continue to be closed due to “extreme damage” from the latest round of heavy rain and flooding Saturday night, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Sunday afternoon.