Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

When they arrived in Elbert County, everyone wanted to see Denver. The owners wanted to sell some cattle to cover expenses. They took a couple of cowhands and camped on Capital Hill in Denver. Colorado wasn’t a state yet and there was no Capital building on that hill yet. In 1876, Colorado became a state and eventually the Capital building was built.

Dad punched cows out there for a number of years. He was known as “Rawhide” John on the range because he made rawhide quirts, which he also sold to the cowboys.

Someone reported that the Indians were bothering people. The Indian wars were over, but sometimes there were incidents. The Army came around to the cow camps and issued guns and ammunition to the men. The men were sworn into the Army, but were to go about their regular duties. Many years later, when Dad was in his 80s or 90s, he told me this story. I asked Dad if he was ever discharged from the Army. Dad said, “No, they just gathered up the rifles.” I said, “Dad, do you realize you may have a tremendous amount of back pay coming?” We had a good laugh about it, but that was the end of it. Dad would never dream of taking money in those circumstances!

Once when they were out on the plains in eastern Colorado, Dad told the cowboys to make sure they rolled up their bedrolls really tight. They rode many miles during the day to graze the cattle. At night, if a cowboy hadn’t rolled up his bedroll tightly, he would find that his bedroll was left at the last campsite. The chuck wagon cook wouldn’t load it; he just let it lay. When this happened, the cowboy just saddled up and went after it. Sometimes it took most of the night, but it sure taught them a lesson; they were really good about tying up the bedrolls after that! Navigating on the range was difficult at night, trying to find that last camp site.

The owner of the cattle company needed a chuck wagon cook, so Papa took the job. He cooked for 1 year and when the boss came around to pay everybody off, the owner said, “Well, John, I promised you $30/month to cook for me. You cost me less money and the men are happier with the food than they’ve ever been, so I’ll give you $40/month and I want you back next spring!” Dad said, “If I’m worth $40 to you, I’m worth $40 to myself…” and Dad never worked for anyone else the rest of his life.

He drifted into Hugo, Colorado in 1880. Papa probably knew something about Hugo and had probably been there many times before he decided to go there and set up his drugstore. He was probably well-known before he moved there, too. He must have rented a place to live when he first got there. He brought medicines with him and started a drugstore and ran the drugstore for quite a few years.

Within the first year, he was elected the Justice of the Peace. Here’s a cowboy just off the range and he’s elected to a public office!

Hugo became the county seat of Lincoln County. Father was appointed to be the first County Judge by the Governor of Colorado. The County Clerk was Addison K. La Due. Addison was Dad’s best friend in Hugo and named his second son La Due after Addison. I named my son John La Due Williams, so the name has carried on.

Hugo was part of Elbert County of which Denver was the county seat. Lincoln County was created in 1889 by taking parts of surrounding counties and was named after Honest Abe. Hugo was a big division point for the railroad and it had a rail yard, repair shops, etc. In 1880s, the main cattle trail between West Texas and Montana ran through Hugo along Sandy Creek.

Papa’s brother, Jake, came from Missouri to help run the drugstore. I still have a picture of John in a buggy out in front of the drugstore with Jake standing in the drug store door and I still have letters from Jake, too. John had a little dog up on the buggy seat with him.

In 1889 Lincoln County was created. The Governor of Colorado appointed Rawhide John to be the first County Judge of Lincoln County. After the first term, the position came up for election and he was elected to that position.

In 1892 Dad moved to Denver to go to Gross Medical College. He graduated in 1895. I still have his class graduation picture and a medical book that has his address and brand.

John hadn’t seen his parents in Missouri for 21 years so he wanted to make a trip back to see everyone. The problem was that he didn’t have any money. He worked in a pharmacy during school and slept there part of the time to save on rent, but all of his money went to pay for his college education. Dad made arrangements with a medical book company to sell medical books on his way back to Missouri to pay his way.

Dad went to Russell, Kansas on his way back from Missouri and opened his practice in Russell and Hays. He travelled between the two towns to visit his patients. His practice wasn’t doing too well, but he heard about a practice that was for sale in Ordway, Colorado. Dad bought the practice, but found out that it wasn’t doing any better than the one he had before.

Justus Noyes Corbin, who was called J.N., in Moab found out about Dr. Williams and wrote some letters to him to come to Moab, Utah. (I still have a couple of those letters). J.N. was quite the entrepreneur; he owned the Grand Valley Times, which was the first newspaper in the area. The Times Independent is the current newspaper and is a direct descendant of the Grand Valley Times.

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