Baca County History

by the Plainsman Herald

Blanchat: by Dr. Bill Stoner


NOTES:  This post enhances a previous post: “An Old Stone Schoolhouse in Springfield”  If you recall Joseph Blanchat was a stonemason who helped build that building.   The article below was posted first in the Plainsman Herald awhile back.  Thanks, Bill for the work on this.  I have added a few artifacts supporting this article.  The first is the stone cooling trough and headstone mentioned below and the second is a March 1, 1907, Springfield Herald clipping that talks about Aug Blanchat building A. A. Denny’s new store.  

I had a struggle with myself when thinking about putting this article in the paper. My concern was the guilt of selfishness I would feel by not sharing it with the people of Baca County. I will explain in a moment; but first, thanks to Don Lowery for showing me the way, to Steve Doner for naming the way, to my wife, Shirley, for explaining the way; and to others either knowingly or not who helped along the way.

Several months ago, Don showed me an abandoned homestead. The site was fascinating as it posed several unanswered questions: when, who, why, how, etc. Don took a picture of the headstone of the lone grave which has a name that neither I, nor Shirley, could make out. She tried doing genealogical research on the name Anchat to no avail. Then, I showed Steve the site and without a blink, he pursued the name Blanchat and found a silver mine of information on the Blanchat’s 18 homestead claims filed in Baca County including the names Joseph, Henry Oliver, and August Paul Blanchat. The information was found in The Homestead Years, Baca County, Colorado, published by Valorie Millican in 1998. With that, Shirley found the gold mine.

From Shirley’s research, the parents were Joseph Y. Blanchat from Switzerland, who was born in 1843, and Adalaide Olivier from France, who was born in 1845. They were married in Ohio in 1867 and had all 12 of their children in Holmes County, Ohio even though they homesteaded and lived in Baca County, Colorado. It appears to have been a common practice back in those early days for the pioneer moms to give birth to the children “back home” while living out here in the Wild West. As I recall, some of Shirley’s ancestors used that practice. The Blanchat children were George Frank (born 1868), Larance (1870), Josephine (1871), Frank (1874), Josephine Mary (1875), Mary (1876), Henry Oliver (1878), August Paul (1880), Lucy (1882), Julia Adalaide (1884), Anna Laura (1887), and Joseph E. (1889); 12 kids over 21 years.

Furthermore, this research starts to provide some answers to the many questions the site poses. The site is located northwest of Walsh on private land atop a small hill with Buffalo Point a half-mile to the northwest. There is some confusion on the filing details as it appears as though an October 1888 filing was corrected (misspelling) in December of 1902. The site clearly indicates an enormous amount of stone work. That makes sense only after you find out that the father, Joseph, was a stone mason. He knew and understood architectural precision. The main structure is double-lined with 10-inch-wide sandstone’s quarried from nearby Dry Creek, and is exactly 22 feet by 22 feet. A separate room to the west is exactly 14 feet by 14 feet. There is evidence of two wells; a windmill a few yards north of the 22×22 structure and a hand-dug well a few feet southwest of the 14×4 room. The hand-dug well was dug to a depth of almost 56 feet and is currently dry. Interestingly, this well is covered with three large 4-inch-thick fitted rocks with a hole in the middle indicating that a windmill might have been placed on top of it. That notion is a natural conclusion because it appears as though there is what Steve calls a rock cooling trough in the 14×14 room that flushed cool running water around whatever they wanted to keep cool. The “plumbing” appears to have the water enter from the hand-dug well, with windmill atop, from the south and exit at the northwest of the trough into a pond northwest of the room. This entire trough, 8’4” long by 22” wide standing 10” above ground, was cut from an enormous solid rock. (See John Haven’s Episode #2 in the Plainsman Herald for another example of a cooling trough.) Pure speculation on my part, but I suspect the cooling trough was put into its 14×14 room after the technology for drilling windmills came to the area; i.e., that is what the adjoining room was built for after the 22×22 structure was built. Setting a windmill on top of the well was just good architectural design if indeed that is what happened. I personally think this cooling trough needs to be put into a museum because it is so unique.


Stone Cooling Trough


Steve says what is unusual about the rocks are their large sizes and that he had not seen a flagstone stood upright or vertical as an interior wall inside the exterior wall of a two-wall structure. The quality of the stonework is exceptional although the ravages of 130 years plus some obvious pillaging and blowing dirt show the site in a lesser condition. There appears to be three water ponds surrounding the site with two of them rock-lined near their tops as is the hand-dug well. The grave is about 120 feet southwest of the 14×14 room and an extensive corral lies to the southeast of the 22×22 structure at the far end of which is a dipping vat for treating cattle. The concrete vat is dated September 19, 1929. Don told me he had talked to a cowboy named Holly Knighton in the 1970s, brother of Dick Knighton who ranched west of Pritchett, who said he had used that dipping vat. The corral has a rock foundation of an irregularly shaped room which acts as part of the corral’s fence about half-way down the fence line. Incidentally, many of the stones show some fossils of the vegetation kind and Don showed me that the fossils are also present in nearby Dry Creek. Typically, there is one lone mulberry tree at the site (currently bearing delicious fruit) lying very close to the northeast corner of the 22×22 structure. Apparently, homesteaders in this area rarely saw a tree.

The grave at the site is for the second child, Larance. The records spell the name with no “u” but the headstone definitely has a “u” in it (as in Laurence). The young man died at 19 and, according to Ralph Bohl, he was killed by a “bad horse.” Apparently, this event has originated the story, either truth or fiction, that the cowboy was buried with silver-handled pistols and that the horse was also buried nearby. The third child, Josephine, also died after living one year but we don’t know why she died. It turns out that the seventh child, Henry Oliver, taught school to Shirley’s Aunt Jewell and Aunt Dorothy Harlan at the Eureka one-room school southeast of Vilas (ca 1917-20). From Jewell’s journal:”…he (Henry) had a motorcycle with a sidecar…that bumped along…”

Shirley assembled all the material she found on the Blanchat’s into a folder. It contains an 8-page Family Group Record gathered from the Internet program providing birth and death dates with locations on all 14 members of the family; a copy of a page out of the county history book talking about Henry, Dorothy, and Jewell; plus more articles in the book indicating that August Paul Blanchat married Lola Jones, (a granddaughter of the homesteader’s Joseph and Sarah Jones), and Henry Oliver Blanchat married Sarah Rutherford (who was the daughter of the pioneer Annie Rutherford) with both Sarah and Henry becoming Chiropractors practicing in Wellington, KS; also, a copy of the 1900 Census showing a family of nine; a copy of Henry’s draft registration in 1918; a sheet compiled by Steve of the property locations in Baca County; then two maps showing where the locations are with, oddly, one map indicating how the Blanchat’s surrounded where Shirley’s grandfather-Harlan’s land was; then pictures provided by the Internet program of the father, mother and kid’s headstones; and, finally, one of the nicest pictures of all, the picture that Don took of Larance’s headstone which Shirley has already updated in the records. Later, Steve talked to Calvin Thompson and Ogle Cogburn who both indicated the site was later that belonging to a man named Hez Barrett who was known to wear a long floor-length furry coat in the winter with a fur-lined cap. The property is now occupied by Brad and Kristen Cook and son Dayton. Oh my gosh, look at that; the second teacher at Eureka was Clara Barrett, proceeded by Lola Hoffman and followed by Louise Schweitzer. So here we go again…

The information in Shirley’s folder is available to anyone who may need it to conduct their own research. With ten Blanchat kids surviving to adulthood, there are probably dozens at the first level of lineage (grandchildren of Adalaide and Joseph) and hundreds at the next, etc. And Steve says there are probably dozens of sites like the Blanchat’s around the county. In fact, one of the reasons for this publication is to stimulate an interchange among folks who could fill in other details or describe their own stories. Our county history book is becoming one-sided in time and is in a serious need of an update.  Just look at all the old-timers around us who were not old-timers in the 70’s and if we do not record their fading memories, then those memories will be lost forever. We will only have rocks lying around and they do not talk much. Please don’t be selfish with the information like I was tempted to be. I suggest that the concerned members of Baca County institute some kind of a recording program where the old-timers are given the opportunity to talk about their experiences relevant to their own history of Baca County. Such a program might be administered in a friendly local (to them) environment where they could come and have their memories recorded. The old-timers might be provided beforehand with a questionnaire that asks them questions to help jog their memories. Such a question might be: “What is the most exciting thing that happened to you when you were a teenager?” These interview centers should be in each of the current locales in Baca County including Kim, Pritchett, Campo, Springfield, Vilas, Two Buttes, Walsh and Stonington; the purpose is to ensure a comfortable environment to conduct the interview. There may even be a need for a “comeback” because of what might transpire during the first interview. It is not clear at this time if our current retirement centers (nursing and assisted living homes) would also be places to conduct such interviews as we will have to deal with the issue of authenticity. Clearly, the end objective of assembling all this information is unknown at this time; we will have to gather the data before we know what to do with it. But, getting it is of paramount importance; the clock is ticking…

Below is the March 1, 1917 news clipping describing another Blanchat building:

Blanchat to build a store March 1 1917 issue of the Springfield Herald Describes Blanchat buildin store in Springfield

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