Bear Tracks & Cactus Trees: More Info on Life in Early Baca County

Hi there!  I’m Heidi, Kent’s wife.  I swiped this blog for a minute so I could tell you about a great book filled with Baca County history.  I grew up in Balko, Oklahoma and until recently I thought Kent was my only connection with Baca County.  My parents recently surprised me with a book they have had for many years.   A friend of our family, Iris, had written a couple books about her childhood and early years in Balko.  She gave a copy of each book to my parents, they read them and thoroughly enjoyed them.  Recently, mom was sorting through their collection of books and came across the books from Iris.  Dad decided to read them again.  He realized this time that the first book was Baca County history!   Kent had taken Dad by Soldiers Canyon just a year ago so he remembered the area when reading the book.   Iris passed away many years ago, but she has left us with some great history.  Iris was at our wedding, but I don’t think she knew Kent was from Baca County.   Oh the fun those two would have had had they known their connection!  Well, thanks for letting me be a part of Baca County too : )   I’ll let Kent give you a review of the book now.

Bear Tracks and Cactus Trees

One of the books,  “Bear Tracks and Cactus Trees” documents her journeys with her parents from the Oklahoma Panhandle to the Western Baca County to Arkansas and back to the Oklahoma Panhandle.   Baca County residents will enjoy this book as roughly 2/3 of the text covers her time in early Baca County.   What is very interesting about this book is a first person account of how they really lived life in early Baca County

I have included below a few excerpts from the book that many of you may recognize.

The second paragraph in the book tells us,

… my father, Albert Elmer Powell and my maternal uncle, Jess Jackson, had earlier set out to secure some of the virgin, unspoiled land in Baca County Colorado.

Chapter III “The Quiet Prairies”  says,

Nothing, anywhere, compares with the quiet solitude of the prairies before they are touched  by man.

It was easy to see that the day-dreaming child had turned off on the wrong trail and gone east in the direction of the store and Post Office, called Joy Coy, seven and one-half miles away.

Chapter IV, “Strange Bedfellows”  begins,

We arrived on our claims at the exact time.  The merchant at Joy Coy was in need of someone to freight his supplies out from town.  Joy Coy was a general store and Post Office, seven and one-half miles east of our claim.  It was there that we did all our buying, such as that might be.  Stocks in the store were groceries, hardware, shoes, patent medicine, clothing, yard goods and numerous other items, all of which required a lot of freighting.   I have only a vague idea of where all the customers came from.  They certainly did not live close to us and we didn’t even know about them.  I believe there were some few settlers east of Joy Coy (towards Pritchett), and they, no doubt, traded at the store, but in the area west of Joy Coy there were no settlers, except the two families of us, and we lived together.

She discusses when freighting many of the hazards of sleeping outside on the ground including rattlesnakes as well as the following,

On another trip when they awakened, Papa had a feeling of being pinned down, although he could feel nothing extra on top of him.  He asked Uncle Jess to try and see what was holding him down down.  Uncle Jess, quietly, a very unusual action for him, peeked out from under the edge of the tarp and let out a quiet chuckle.   ‘There’s a full grown JJ cow standing right over you with all four feet straddling you.’  he said.  In this case they decided to flap the covers and yell loudly.  The cow almost literally flew off without even touching them.  She didn’t stop until she was well away from those noisy, strange-smelling men.

Chapter IX “Milking Wild Cows”  gives a perspective most of us will recognize even today,

Temperatures in that vast high country can range from a possible 110 degrees in the summer to 20 to 30 degrees below in the winter.  Nothing about that area is consistent, except possibly the inconsistency, so that these are not usual temperatures but have occurred in some years.

There is also discussion of JJ cattle in the chapter titled “Mad Steer”, an entire chapter discussing Soldiers Canyon just north of the Colwell and Jackson homesteads,  as well as a discussion a short time living in Springfield after they moved from the homestead.  There is also mention of familiar area names such as Mizer as well as a note that Iris’s brother Lloyd was friends with LeVoe Holt, son of early Baca County Banker Sam Holt.

This past week while in my hometown I did have the chance to go with my wife, Heidi, and my father-in -law run out west to visit Elmer Briles who lives within view of the location of Joy Coy.   When you head west out of Pritchett, Colorado and then follow the curve of the pavement It is about a quarter mile south of the curve on the west side of the road.  Me and what is left of Joy Coy is shown in the image below.

Bear Tracks and Cactus Trees

Elmer gave us a great tour, showing us the Joy Coy site as well as the locations of the Prairie Queen Cemetery and Prairie Queen school.  Following that visit we had a chance to head on west to visit with Eddie and Joyce Ming near the actual Powell and Jackson homesteads.  For those of you who would like to read the rest of the story I am going hold off telling any more of the story for now.   After learning of this I was able to find a few copies on Amazon.  I got a copy for us and I also purchased a copy which has been placed at the Baca County library.   There is also one copy still left on Amazon.com.

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