Colorblind living on the William’s Fork
September 27, 2013
William's Fork was first settled in the mid-1880s and among those early pioneer arrivals was middle-aged Civil War veteran Henry Davis. Davis and his wife, Susan, settled on their land in 1883, which is part of the present-day Seeley Ranch. Emancipated slaves born in the late 1830s, they had come to Colorado from Arkansas where they had married in 1865 shortly before Henry mustered out of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry. Another black family — the Buckners — also traveled here with Henry and Susan and settled in the valley. These early families were soon followed by a larger influx of pioneers, creating a regular little community along the river.
The tight-knit community, isolated from Hayden and Craig, depended on one another as they forged their new lives in the beautiful little river valley. Though Henry and Susan were described in later biographies and historical memoirs as "colored," it appears that the little community of 125 years ago was oblivious to skin color when it came to socializing and building a life as they worked together in a new land. Newspapers of that era tended to report any social activity, and there are numerous reports about Henry and Susan and their various interactions in the valley.
Ethel Deal Ratcliff recalled in her 1925 history of the valley that her mother, Luelia, spent an entire afternoon with Susan, as they baked biscuits and served coffee one day for a large group of Meeker men passing through. Another newspaper tidbit mentioned that the Pagoda Comedy Company would be hosting a concert at the E.H. Davis home with an admission charge of 25 cents. When George Woolley was accidentally shot, he was taken into the Davis home and nursed there until he died. The Davis and Buckner families clearly appeared to function on an equal footing with their homesteading neighbors in those early days.
In 1887, Susan fell ill and died — the first death of a homesteader in the William's Fork valley. There was no cemetery at the time and she was buried on a hillside overlooking the Davis homestead. Henry continued to live there until he sold out in 1896 and retired to the soldiers and sailors home in Monte Vista.
Susan's grave, though kept up for years, gradually sank into oblivion in the growing sage and sediment of the decades. In 1995, Museum of Northwest Colorado director Dan Davidson located the gravesite and took photographs, with the hope that someday the site would be restored.
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In 2010, after working with the Augusta Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to renovate the Wallihan gravesite at Lay, Davidson started working toward restoration of the Davis site. With a generous contribution from the Shell Exploration & Production Company, and an equally generous number of volunteer hours, in addition to the assistance of the local DAR chapter, the restoration project now almost is completed. Local rancher Erv Gerber soon will be installing the fencing which will then be followed by a dedication with the DAR and Shell.
Susan's grave is a reminder that our area of Northwest Colorado was founded with high hopes and lofty ideals for a better future. The Museum of Northwest Colorado strives to document those early aspirations and the lives of the pioneers both with stories and photographs. Be sure to visit the museum's website at http://www.museumnwco.org for a look at more photographs and history stories. If you have any photographs or stories to share, feel free to drop by the museum and visit with the staff. Remember, "History is now" and it's "Your Story!"
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar for the Museum of Northwest Colorado