Wright family’s roots in eastern Colorado date back more than a century
J.D. Wright wrote this story to commemorate the 100-plus years of the Wright family’s roots on the high plains of eastern Colorado, and their attachment to the soil established by their grandmother Lela Wright.
I want to relate the outcome of a trying time for the Wright clan as well as the entire nation. The flu epidemic of 1918, 100 years ago now, found her and the children just two years into the saga of the Wrights of Highland, Colo., and provided the first real measure of her determination, and faith in God and a new land.
Grandma was no stranger to the fragility of life having lost her husband and next to oldest child, a daughter Dovie in 1908, just 10 years prior to the time of this episode. A 39-year-old widow with six children, five boys and a girl, the oldest Dhu, 18, and the youngest Sid, 12, living and making a living in an open and barren land of Gramma grass covered rolling sand hills, a stark contrast to the lush hills and live running streams of eastern Texas and southwest Oklahoma. On his deathbed Grandpa John David, dying of presumed stomach cancer or liver ailment, made Grandma promise him that she would move from the family home as far away as she could to remove the children from the influences of that part of the country, as it had become a gathering place for restless young men left fatherless after the Civil war and the reconstruction era. Some of the notorious gangs had made the area a gathering place, in some instances permanent homes for their mothers, wives and babies.
Grandma and the entire Rogers family were devout Christians believing in the sovereignty of the Lord and his role in their lives. Having spent much time in prayer and felt led to make the move to Pueblo County, Colorado, to file on a half-section of land under the Homestead Act, the family left Oklahoma. Upon their arrival in Pueblo, Colo., they filed their claim in 1914 on a half-section of land northeast of Boone, Colo. To fulfill their requirements of establishing a residence, Grandma and a trusted friend of the Rogers’ family with the help of the Carter men, dug a dugout and covered it with a sod roof. The Carter family had filed on, and were living on, the east half-section. Having completed the dugout, the two of them returned home to Fredrick, Okla., and Grandma spent the next two years selling the home place and gathering the equipment and animals necessary for the task ahead.
THE ROAD TO COLORADO
In 1916, the family made the pilgrimage by immigrant train to Boone and on to the homestead. They had completed the requirements to prove up on the homestead and as winter set in Dhu, 18, and the twins, 15, had found work for a team, and day work tying burlap bags of dehydrated alfalfa hay at a dehy mill in north Avondale, a small railroad siding about 25 miles from home. Hubert, Edwina, and Sid stayed home to take care of the home chores.
By now the flu epidemic had already made its presence known. Grandma had by then established her reputation as a caregiver, bandaging up cuts and bruises and the odd broken bones, delivering babies, suggesting home remedies and helping care for sick folks. She was called to doctor flu cases in the community and had by early July already lost a patient. The new community of Highland, having no church or cemetery, was faced with a crisis that Grandma, or no one else, had foreseen. She took it upon herself, with the children, to donate a portion of their homestead to the Highland community for the construction of a church building and a cemetery; five acres each and contiguous, resulting in a 10 acre plat. The church never became a reality and the entire 10 acres is now the Highland Cemetery and still in use at this time.
The first recorded burial was July 1918, an A.D. Philips, however, there are three others in 1918 without a day or month indicated. It was another year until December 24, the day before Christmas, that the official deed was recorded. In the ensuing period of time there were many burials, a few infants and some older folks, but the majority were young middle-aged victims of the flu.
There was a church built adjacent to the Highland School and fairgrounds later on with a sizable donation of money and labor from Grandma and her boys.
SURVIVING THE FLU
Back to the Wright family and the flu. All the boys contracted the flu, Dhu, Roy, and Noy came down with it at work in Avondale and Hubert and Sid at home. The women managed to stay healthy. The story, as I got it from hearing Sid, my dad, and uncle Dhu relate the old stories of the time, was that Grandma had come by a large amount of pineapple, whether fresh or canned I can’t say, but the boys were forced to eat as much pineapple as they could. To Papa’s dying day he never ate any more pineapple. They also used what the family referred to as Sally Ann rags, named after an aunt, Sally, who perfected the item. It was a ripped up wool undershirt soaked in Mentholatum or Vicks and placed on the patient’s chest then infused with a hot iron. Papa had a 50-cent sized scar on his stomach where Aunt Edwina let the iron slip beyond the Sally Ann rag and left a blister. Grandma used Paregoric to treat the diarrhea and forced a large consumption of water and chicken broth down the boys. With much prayer and God’s grace, as well as her determination, the boys pulled through.
You almost have to think God had a hand in Grandma’s role in the Highland community. She was an extremely healthy individual, with a stocky build, very stout and seemed to never tire.
She was a connoisseur of good livestock, especially horses and mules. She brought with them a well-bred and pregnant American Saddle mare, a pacer, named Marlee that they rode a lot and if the occasion required she was placed between the shafts of a buggy, or Grandma used a light spring hack for everyday use when more than her presence was needed.
She had assembled a valise filled with her medical supplies; bandages, splints, adhesive tape, clean rags or cloths, iodine and alcohol, a few apothecary items, and her Bible, which she carried on the saddle or on the floorboards of the buggy or hack. She was usually armed with a small caliber carbine that the boys never touched, and jokingly contended it wouldn’t kill anything or anybody. Her medical education was limited to a doctor book and experience. I have heard her say when she had to make a major decision that God knew what needed to be done, and caring for folks wasn’t much different than being a mother. As can be imagined she had some detractors but while it bothered her some, it didn’t deter her from her calling. Her recommended diet in fair or foul weather was cornbread and black strap molasses with whatever else you had on hand.
On the human interest side of the situation, Uncle Dhu gained a wife and a 2-year-old son as a result of the flu epidemic. Our Aunt Ressa was the daughter of one of the early homesteading families in the community, the Bealmers, and was married to a young man named Hugh Lind who, along with one of the Bealmers, was among the first victims of the flu. A son, Hugh Lind Jr., was born to Ressa after the death of her husband Hugh. It bothered Grandma that Ressa was left as a young, single mother, and Hugh Jr. as a boy without a father. However, by September of 1921, Dhu and Ressa were married giving Ressa a husband and young Hugh Jr. a father, and Grandma a daughter-in-law and a grandson. This pleased Grandma and was an asset to the community. That union resulted in four daughters and two sons, besides Hugh Jr.
On a personal note, it is my desire to be buried in the Highland Cemetery in a deep narrow grave, wrapped in a saddle blanket, with a few words about dust to dust, and a few notes of retreat sounded on a bugle. The rest has already been provided for by His Grace. ❖