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Pioneers tolerated hardship for freedom

Ross L. Talbott
Out On A Limb
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Somewhere around 45 years ago, I was hunting in a remote area. I climbed up through brush and timber to a high mesa that is about 8,000 feet altitude.

There, to my surprise was an old homestead cabin built on a rock foundation. Much to my frustration I realized there was an old wagon road that would have made my climb much easier.

I returned to the area recently, and the cabin is still there, although somewhat deteriorated. I drove in on a good road built with a bulldozer.



As I scanned the hillsides and valleys for elk, I reflected back over the years and pondered what it might have been like to homestead here around the turn of the century.

What sort of grit did people have that could go miles back into the mountains and homestead such a location.



Can you imagine building a wagon road up the mountains by hand? A high mountain spring determined the location of a small, handbuilt cabin.

Even surveying and building fence lines through the brush would have been a real challenge.

Food supply would have been problematic. Consider packing flour, sugar, salt and garden seed from a town miles away and on horseback.

They ate wild game, planted a well-earned garden and drank spring water. The heat was all from hand-cut wood, and the light was oil lanterns.

The winters were long and hard with snow accumulation up to 6 feet at that altitude.

The trip to town was several miles and included a ferry crossing.

There was no radio, no TV, no Internet, no telephone and no newspaper. You had to like your own company.

There were no insulated boots and none of the great insulated snowmobile attire. In fact, there weren’t any snowmobiles.

There were pack rats and field mice in abundance and no d-CON.

If they kept a cow for milk, the cow and the horses had to be fed all winter with hay put up by hand and water carried from the spring.

How about the problem of having children? There were no special formulas, no throwaway diapers and no medical help. Diapers had to be washed in the same cold spring water.

Bathing and laundry happened infrequently because the water had to be carried from the spring and heated on the stove in a tub.

Those pioneers even made their own soap. I still have my grandmothers’ big kettle she used to make soap, render lard and do laundry over a campfire.

Also, consider that there was no refrigeration in the summer and way too much in the winter.

As I sat on my 4-wheeler, with my binoculars and high powered bolt action rifle, I visualized a man on a horse with a fur cap and a black powder rifle. The powder horn and a pouch with balls and wadding hung around his neck. He wasn’t wearing orange, didn’t have a license and had no plastic game bags.

You could probably write a book on how these people made it without chain saws, post drivers and cordless drills.

The most critical thing was medical care. What did they do if they got bucked off their horse and broke a leg in some remote place? What if you got sick and the snow was 4 feet deep?

What do you do if lightning starts a forest fire? Or what if your cabin catches on fire?

We quickly forget the hardships the pioneers endured. You must wonder what motivated them. What was the return on the investment of such great risk?

That driving force can be expressed in one word: freedom.

The celebration of Thanksgiving is here and we seem to have lost our appreciation of the concept of freedom.

I don’t wish any hardship on you or myself but you only appreciate a cold drink when you’ve been desperately thirsty. You are thankful for warmth after you’ve almost frozen to death.

You really appreciate freedom if you’ve experienced serfdom and slavery.

That little cabin was hard but there were no taxes, no permits, no fees and no harassment.

What do you have to be thankful for this year?

“Out On A Limb” appears on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. Ross L. Talbott lives in New Castle, where he is a business owner.


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