The Fence Post obituary: George Reis
George Reis, 99
Nov. 7, 1919 – May 11, 2019
Lifelong Westcliffe, Colo., rancher, George Reis passes away at 99 years.
George passed away on May 11, 2019, at 99 years, six months, and four days old. He passed away at Sharmar Nursing Home in Pueblo, Colo., where he had been residing the previous seven months. The funeral service was held on May 17, 2019, at the Valley Bible Fellowship in Silver Cliff. George was interred at the Rosita cemetery in the Reis family burial plot with his grandparents, parents, aunts and other relatives. George was from the third generation of the Reis family to live in Custer County.
He is survived by his wife, Zara Reis of Westcliffe, and his children, Wayne Reis, David (Karel) Reis, and Byron (Kathy) Reis of Westcliffe, and daughter, Lavina Reis of Aurora, Colo. He is also survived by three grandsons, Christopher (Kate) Reis of Pueblo West, Colo., Adam (Tricia) Reis of Westcliffe, and Brian (Katy) Reis of Pagosa Springs, Colo. He is survived by great-grandchildren, Thomas, Shelby, Claire, Travis, Liam and Carter, who are in the sixth generation of the Reis family.
He was preceded in death by his brothers John A. Reis and Leonard Reis, and his sister Mary (Reis) Kastendieck.
George married Zara Benson on July 29, 1951. They were two months shy of celebrating their 68th wedding anniversary.
George was devoted to his family and his cattle. He was a longtime officer of the local chapter of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. He often slept in his easy chair during calving season, waking up multiple times during the night to go outside, often in blizzard conditions, to care for his newborn babies.
George was born in Denver on Nov. 7, 1919, to Hattie L. and John G. Reis. George’s parents and grandparents lived in Antelope several miles south of Rosita. His mother had travelled to Denver to stay with George’s grandmother shortly before he was born so she could be nearer to a hospital for the birth. His Dad bought a fully enclosed 1917 model T Ford from the doctor in Denver which they used to bring George back to Antelope a week after he was born. The car got stuck in the snow going up Rosita Road, where it stayed until the next spring. It was unusual to have a fully enclosed car with glass windows and a hard top at that time. Most cars were still open sided.
Later as George was growing up, he remembered that the car did not have much power. The family often had to get out of the car and push it up the hills. The roads in Rosita have changed and used to be steeper.
George’s grandparents were both born in Germany and immigrated to America sometime around the 1880-90s so his father could avoid becoming conscripted into the German army. The family lived in Antelope for the first few years of his life. In 1929, when George was about 10 years old, the family sold the property in Antelope and moved to the current ranch on highway 69 six miles south of Westcliffe. This is where George lived the rest of his life.
He and his brother Leonard eventually took over the operation of the ranch from their parents and did so until 2001 when Leonard passed away. In the early years they raised Hereford beef cattle. In the late 1960s and early 1970s they added some Charolais-Black Angus Cross heifers to the herd. At the height of the cattle era, they had about 1,000 animals, counting cows, calves and yearlings. The herd was later reduced to a more manageable number and for many years ran about 230 cow-calf pairs. The herd was severally reduced to about 70 cow-calf pairs during the drought cycles from 2002 to 2012. It was painful to him and other ranchers to be forced to send so many good breeding animals to slaughter. George was fortunate to be able to keep at least some of his herd. There were a lot of ranchers from Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas during this drought that were forced to totally eliminate their cowherd due to grass, hay and water shortages.
In the early years of the ranch, and one time each fall, they transported the cattle by train or truck to sell at the stockyards in Denver, which is now the home of the National Western Stock Show. At that time, Aurora was not developed and was open wheat fields. The area around the old Stapleton airport was also open farm fields. In the most recent years, they have sold the cattle at La Junta Livestock Commission.
George went to school in a one room schoolhouse for his first two years in Antelope. After moving to the current ranch property, he attended school with about eight other children in the Knuth one-room schoolhouse, located at Colfax and Horn Road, where he finished his grade school years. He learned to ice skate on Grape Creek which was next to the school.
He then attended all four of his high school years in the school in Westcliffe. He “batched” the first half of his freshman year in town. There were no school buses at that time, so his parents rented a room for him in a house in town. George and one other student from the Knuth school stayed in this house. This room was in the house one house east of the current liquor store at highway 69 and Main Street. The lady that lived there did provide them with some meals, but they also cooked most of their own meals. The other student quit school after Christmas break and never returned. After Christmas, George’s parents did not want him to stay in town by himself, so they arranged for a ride with a neighbor, Wilbur Vickerman, who had the use of a Model A Ford and who would stop by and pick up George on his way to school. Wilbur gave George a ride to school everyday for the next few years. He graduated from Westcliffe high school in 1939. There were 29 kids in his class.
The Westcliffe school only had one sport which was basketball. George had never seen a basketball until he began attending high school. George played on the basketball team competing against other schools like Cotopaxi, South Park, and Fairplay. Because there was no school bus, they had to travel to away games in private cars. The team record was unremarkable with some wins and some losses. The ball they played with was memorable because the team never had a very good ball. The school had a small gymnasium which was in a hole down two flights of stairs which George likened to playing in a cellar.
His family used teams of horses for the majority of the ranch work. His parents had about 70-100 head of cattle. It took almost all morning to feed the cattle using a Belgian horse team and wagon. They grew about five acres of potatoes and five acres of peas. The kids had to weed the potato and pea patches and hand pick the peas when they were ready for harvest. They also cut, raked and stacked the hay using horse teams.
They had eight milkcows which he had to milk before walking to school. He also had to clean the horse barn for eight draft horses when he got home from school. His mother sold extra cream, milk, and chicken eggs in town or traded them for sugar and flour. They butchered one beef in the fall for meat. The beef was always butchered in the fall as there was no refrigeration and it had to be cold enough to keep the meat from deteriorating. The sides of meat were hung up in the house in one of the upstairs rooms. They cut smaller pieces of meat off as needed for meals. They also butchered five pigs every year. The pig meat was soaked in barrels of salt water and then smoked. They needed lard for cooking and the pigs were well fed so they put on plenty of fat. They ate pork most of the year since the cured pork would last longer than the beef.
They later had an International truck with side racks which was one of the first trucks in the Wet Mountain Valley. The truck was used to haul their potatoes to Walsenburg where they sold or traded with the miners from the nearby coal camps to obtain sugar, flour, coal oil and coal oil lamps.
The family bought their first tractors in 1941 and 1943. They continued to use the horse and wagon teams along with the tractors for the next seven or eight years. George continued to use riding horses to run cattle in the mountain pastures until he was in his mid 70s. He was still running the squeeze chute at branding time in his mid 80s. He continued to ride his 4-wheeler for fall cattle roundup in the mountains until he was 94 years old. In the fall of 2018, just before he went into the nursing home, he was still using a hoe to weed the garden and chop weeds around the edge of the house. He also still occasionally rode his 4-wheeler out in the pasture to inspect his cows and the hay crop.
As an adult, he liked to take motion pictures of family activities on a Bell and Howell 8-millimeter movie camera. He would show the film on a projector for family movie night. It was great fun when he played the film in reverse. Kids in bicycle wrecks flew back onto their bikes, the Westcliffe town parade went backwards up the street, and swimmers jumped backwards out of the swimming pool and up onto the diving board. George ran the film projector while the kids ate popcorn and drank pop. This was great entertainment since there were only three fuzzy television channels available by antenna.
George was blessed with a healthy and long life. Those who knew him best remember the twinkle in his eye and his mischievous smile. He was a good father and husband and will be greatly missed by his family.