Oral Histories

Blankenagel, Norma P.

b.1930

blankenagel

At the present La Sal location, in the early days, lived Bill Jensen, and to the west was Eph Wilcox, Dutch Rynio, and Lynn Day. Jessie and Sarah LeeMaster lived on the north side of the Black place, and that is our land, too. The land north of the Black place now belongs to Max Wilcox, but he has sold some of it. West of the Wilcox place lived William and Inez Stevens, west of them was Joe Bankhead, which is also on Rattlesnake property. Mel Henry and Merle Hisson, Lynn Hyde, Will Shafer, and Lucian Tangreen were all on land that now is part of Rattlesnake Ranch. North of Rattlesnake was Jim Wilcox, Dill Hammond, the first bishop of the LDS Church in La Sal. Billy Graham, Ken and Nathan Kempton, and C. A. Ploughead were just south of the highway, and we also own the Ploughead place. We have sold that off in little pieces for people to live on, since we have had so many people coming into La Sal.

Then the townsite was about a hundred acres and it was divided into twenty-seven lots. Pluma Yarborough had lot number one, and she married Charles Zufelt. John Swenson, Omere Secrest, Oscar and Dorothy Jameson lived there. Jessie LeeMaster and Will Leech were some more residents of the new La Sal on the old townsite property. I thought you might be interested in some of the old names. It is amazing, Rattlesnake which is just a good ranch for one family, was homesteaded by many small farmers. It is sadthat they all had to leave because of drought. This is desert country. For a few years at a time we will have a few good showers in the spring and some good snows in the winter. But that doesn’t happen very often. About every seven years we get a good year. In the meantime we starve, you might say. Those people just plain got run out because of lack of water. They didn’t even have culinary water and water for the cattle, much less for irrigating the land.

The Old Cemetery – There is a cemetery just south of the highway, close to La Sal, and there are fifteen graves in it, Many of them are unmarked. But those that are marked are: William Bass, Frances Bass, Susanna M. Bass, Mark Ralston, Daniel Oscar Ralston, and Benjamin Jones, who is a foster son of Hardy and Sonny Redd. Marjorie Gramlich is buried on a small plot on the old Barney Smith farm, which belongs to the Blankenagels.

Indians – I have heard that Piute was the name given to any of the Utes that were renegades. Maybe the name means “bad Ute,” I don’t know. Anyway, early in the spring of 1881 a number of impudent Piute Indians were camped at La Sal and they spent much of their time racing their ponies on a track they made by roping and dragging the settler’s calves to make a smooth track. This of course would anger the settlers. These Piutes were constantly begging for food that the settlers could hardly spare but if they tried to refuse them, they were threatened. One day the old Indian called Wash, finding no one home at Coyote but the Maxwell couple, demanded: “Your squaw cook um biscuits for me.” When Cornelius Maxwell refused, Wash struck him with his quirt several times. Maxwell ran for his gun and took a bead on the retreating Wash, but just as he pulled the trigger, his wife knocked the gun up, probably saving the tiny settlement from annihilation. A few days later, Philander Maxwell, coming home from a trip to Moab, was stopped at Pack Creek by three squaws. They made him understand that “the Indians were heap mad” and he “better vamoose.”

A few hours after arriving home at Coyote, two Wilson boys from Moab came in riding double, they were hunting lost horses. On their return, and near the place where Maxwell had been stopped earlier, the Wilson boys were fired upon by the Piutes. Joe was shot in the foot and fell from his horse. Both boys hid in the brush. Ervin escaped, but Joe leaving a trail of blood, was found by the Indians and shot in the face.

Surprisingly he survived, but pretended to be dead until nightfall. Afterward, he started crawling toward Moab, fifteen miles away. Near morning, two kind Indian squaws found him, gave him water, placed him on one of their horses, and left him fifty yards from his home. He was blinded in one eye, maimed in one foot, and had his hands and feet full of cactus, but he lived through it [ Actual date of the Wilson boys’ being attacked was fall of 1880].

Ervin, thinking his brother was dead, had run as fast as possible to Coyote and safety. The five men gathered the women and children into their cabin fort. Each man had a gun, but only Grandpa Maxwell had a few cartridges. Luckily, they were not attacked, for had they been, this tiny settlement would have been completely wiped out. Several Indians peered over a nearby ridge, but no shots were fired.

The next important Indian story is the Pinhook Draw Massacre. Another band of about forty renegade Piutes, in the early part of May 1881 were harassing the stockman around Big Bend, now Dolores, Colorado. They were rounding up and stealing horses in the area, when they came upon the horse ranch of John Thurman and Joshua Alderson. They had a band of about 1500 head of horses gathered in the vicinity of Ute Springs, on the Utah-Colorado boarder. Dick May and Barney Smith were visiting Thurman to buy saddle horses, when the Indian band appeared.

The bodies of May and Thurman were found at the cabin a few days later by a friendly Navajo called Little Captain. A volunteer posse from Durango, Mancos, Rico, and Dolores was organized a month later with Captain W. H. Dawson in the lead of fifty men. Dawson and his men headed toward the Blue and La Sal mountains.   Another posse of Blue Mountain men, under Spud Hudson, were also tracking the killers with about a dozen men.

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