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Delta County, Colorado

"Looking Back, Remnants of the Old West,"

Excerpt from "Looking Back on Delta County, Remnants of the Old West," by
Helen M. Morgan, Copyright 1980
Material given to Mrs. Morgan by James Elijah Harding

William Harvey and Elize Mary Ide Harding

Will and Eliza Ide Harding lived on a farm in Furnas County, Nebraska in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds.  Furnas County could well have been named because of the heat. A well stoked furnace was hard put to compete with Old Sol in warming things up in that particular part of Nebraska and for some reason, Old Mother Nature skipped over that same county when watering her gardens, hills, plains and other parts of the world.

Will and Elize had seven children which added up to lots of shoes to buy and mouths to feed and they depended solely on their crops for their livelihood. Three years straight they planted their crops, then came anxious weeks of watching a blue, blue sky, hoping to see a little rain cloud. Their watching and praying was in vain, not even a small cloud to cover up the scorching sun to bring a little relief from the almost unbearable rays. They were becoming desperate as their finances dwindled and they knew they were going to have to do something different. Elize (it was Will's sister, Frances Celona Harding, Mrs Samuel Gaines hjlb) had a sister and brother-in-law who had lived in Olathe, Colorado for awhile and were, at that time, back in Nebraska, telling them of the beautiful Colorado mountains rimming fertile flatlands .and rivers of water so there was water all summer for the crops. there was no watching crops burn up in Delta County! It sounded like a little bit of Heaven to this sun parched family and they made a big decision! They sold everything that they had that they could get along without and among the things they kept were two teams of horses and they acquired two covered wagons which they loaded with all their remaining possessions and with Will driving one team, and thirteen year old John driving the other, they headed away from Nebraska and toward Olathe, Colorado.

The children were fourteen year old Estella, John, twelve year old Earl, Jim, seven years old and five year old Walt, three year old Betsy and baby Milo. The trip was long, tiring, hazardous and without problems, but a great adventure for the children. Five other families had left Nebraska with the Hardings and aside from their nightly camps, they stopped the wagon train periodically to rest and graze the horses when they came across good grass. All of the families rested and bathed and the soiled clothes were washed in water carried from creeks or springs and heated in tubs over a campfire and the wagons were one more neatly arranged. The trip was a great adventure for all the children and especially Jim Harding, who had a large imagination and lust for adventure, that trek across country was etched vividly in his young mind and the details are clear to him today. The whole train was eager to get to Colorado and to see those fabulous mountains and to verify the tales they had heard of the beauty and bounty of the West that had caused them to pick up and head for a strange and wild place. How beautiful! How cool and inviting they looked, and how close! Little Jim and Walt, just seven and five years old, decided they would walk all the rest of the way to those long looked for mountains. They struck out ahead of the wagons, two small boys walking ahead, determined to be the first to reach their dream. They didn't know the clear Colorado air made things look closer than they really were. Although the elusive mountains remained in the distance, the boy's enthusiasm held and when the wagons caught up to them, they refused to get in, and as the day wore on their little short legs worked slower and slower and the wagons went ahead. Their father, Will, stopped a time or two and the boys caught up but fastly refused to climb into the wagon. In the evening the train met a couple of hunters out to get meat for their table. They were driving a buckboard and looking rather rough especially to the two boys. Will stopped to pass the time of day with them and told them why the little boys were walking so far behind and asked them to ell them to hurry it up a little. The two hunters did that perhaps a little dramatically by pulling their rifles telling the boys to get to the wagon train and to do it fast. The two boys were properly frightened and let no grass grow under their feet. When they caught up to the wagons, they climbed in and were content to ride to the mountains. 

As the wagon train traveled through Canyon City, they saw a group of prisoners working on the road, each dragging a heavy ball and chain.   That left an impression on Jim that never did leave him.  The wagon train went through Gunnison and on over the pass, although they were going to Olathe and it might have been closer over the Blue there
was no trail so they went over the Black, which didn't have much of a road either. Several times the men cut trees and chained logs to the back of the wagons to help hold them back as they descended the steep inclines. With their ingenuity and patience they made it to Hotchkiss and then on down the river to Delta and back up to Olathe, their destination. Will soon found a job working for Will Hice on his farm and how good it was to farm and have all the water he needed, but farm wages did not bring in enough to support a large family, especially with another one on the way and Will started looking for something better. He heard the new railroad going into Paonia was looking for men, so he took the two older boys, John and Earl and went with horse and buggy to apply for work. In Paonia they went into a small grocery story to get things to make a lunch. Visiting the storekeeper, they learned he was Dave Eddler from Furnas County, Nebraska and that his wife had been a neighbor and friend of Will and Elize's. Well needless to say a good visit was enjoyed by both families and a friendship renewed. Dan Eddler lived on a farm and they were in the progress of threshing his grain crop.

Another man was needed on his threshing crew so Will went to work.   There were more mines being opened up above Paonia and Will thought the opportunities might be better near than in Olathe, so he sent John and Earl back with the team to move his family to the Paonia area. The boys went back to Olathe, broke the news to the family and with all their belongings, started the long drive up the river to Paonia. The trip took two days and they stayed the first night at State Bridge House, a large brick building which was a hotel, rooming house and saloon, located a little bit above Austin, close to the river, arriving late the next day at the Eddler farm.

When the threshing was finished, Will, along with Dan Eddler and Amile Dodie, went to Bowie looking for work. It was the fall of 1902 and the Juanita Coal Mine was just opening up and all three went to work. Will hauled the first load of coal out of the Juanita mine and helped shovel it onto the cars of the brand new railroad. Things were looking up for the Hardings and they bought a little place near Bowie, though at that time Bowie wasn't named yet. In 1906 or 7, a man named Mr. Bowie bought out the Juanita Coal Mine built a large house near the mine which was later used as the Post Office, so the little settlement became a town and was named for Mr. Bowie. The house, today, (since been sold and bought by Helen West, was moved in 1992) is right in the middle of town. For many years it thrived and it grew with a school of its own, stores and rooming houses.   The Hardings were a part of the growing up of Bowie, and as they lived there, working and planning for the future tragedy entered their lives, as their baby Milo became sick and they were unable to save his life and in 1905, before Mr. Bowie bought the mine, Will took up a homestead up Minnesota Creek, East of Paonia, quit the mine and went to farming which was what he liked to do best anyway.

The Harding family lived in a tent house for a year on their homestead as time as well as money was in short supply and their family kept right on growing. Three new babies came to bless them after their arrival in Delta County. They were Bob, Mary and Lloyd, but as the young ones came, the older ones were growing up into a lot of help and there was much hard work on that homestead. Clearing the land of brush and rock and no machinery to make the job easier, but many hands, although not making the work any easier, sure helped to shorten a job and the farm grew and thrived. Well this family of children got plenty of practical education but were a long way from any book learning, so in 1913, a schoolhouse was built up Minnesota Creek to benefit the Harding children as well as the other homesteaders near them, and that was where the children got most of their education.   After that first year, a house was built on the homestead, fences, barns and corrals sprung up. The farm grew as did the children, and one by one they married and left home. Estella married Harve Emmons and they lived and raised their family in Paonia.

John married Fae Cruse and they moved to Gunnison where they raised their family. Earl married Hazel Simms and they lived and raised their family in Paonia. Jim and John postponed their plans for the future when Uncle Sam called for help in World War One.

Their land laid partly in Gunnison County and partly in Delta County and John was sworn into Service with the boys from Gunnison County and Jim accompanied seven boys from Delta County. The eight boys went through training together and on to France; fought the Argonne Black Forest Battle which was vicious and bloody, and on to Germany and all lived through the whole thing to come home together. At this writing, there are two of them still living, Jim Harding and Merle Henry.

Well the war ended as wars do sometimes, and Jim Harding, along with his seven wartime companions, came home and their lives resumed in a peaceful world they had fought for. Jim helped his parents on the farm for a time until he met and married Leone Steven from Delta and they bought a farm of their own. It joined Will's land and they were able to help the elder Hardings at times, however, their family started arriving at intervals and farming wasn't as profitable as it should have been, and ready cash didn't always come in as fast as it went out. Jim went to work in the Oliver coal mine above Somerset. For thirty-four years Jim worked in that mine and at the same time, kept the farm going. His children grew up on the farm and went to school in Paonia..

John too, made it home from the war and as said before, married Fae Cruse. Walt married Gertrude Fry and they went to Fort Lupton where they lived for many years, raising their family there before moving back to Delta County.

Betsy married Charlie Miller and they lived and raised their family in Paonia. Bob married a Kansas girl and transplanted her in Colorado, living and raising their family in Paonia. Mary married Hans Fuller and they also lived and raised their family in Paonia. Lloyd married Lena Wolfenburger and they had to be a little different and moved to California where they raised their family and they all live out there yet.  Eliza and Will lived and worked on their farm, making the community a better place to live, as their children grew up and moved away from home as children have a way of doing. they saw their grandchildren grow up in a land that was made a better place to live because of their work and the work of all the settlers that moved into Delta County when it was young and uncultivated, a land that accepted the hard work and foresight of these old timers and in turn gave them a good place to raise their families and produced for them a livelihood.   Elize lived out her life on that farm and after her death, Will went to Paonia where he lived the rest of his life and close by were his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who all helped to make his last years pleasant.

Jim Harding, who as a little 8 year old boy wanted to walk to the mountain, got there even if he did have to ride in the wagon and he has spent his life in those mountains. He found they were just as wonderful as he thought they would be. When he retired from the coal mine, they sold the farm on Minnesota Creek and bought a place at the foot of Grand Mesa, one of the most beautiful and the largest flat-topped mountains in the world near Eckert where he and Leone live at this time. Jim could easily walk to his beloved mountains from his front door if he wanted to now, but somehow I think that desire has faded somewhat.  Will and Elize Harding made the long trek from Nebraska to settle down and help settle Delta County and the work they did here helped in many ways and will long show in the growing up of this area. Their descendants, most still living here, working at their various occupations, helping to keep Delta County the good place to live their parents could foresee many years ago and put their lives making it so.

HJLB 1998
James Elijah Harding was born the first day of Spring, March 21, 1894 in Hendley, Furnas County, Nebraska and died died February 26, 1986 in Eckert, Delta County,Colorado at age 92. The Hardings left Furnas County March 23, 1900 and arrived in Olathe first and then in May of 1902 to Juanita now called Bowie.

Mrs. Helen Morgan still resides in Delta, and is the author of many books about the early history of Delta County and the North Fork Valley. She gave me oral permission to quote or use this portion of the book. Further information on the Hardings can be obtained by contacting a descendent, Ms. Helen Alley.


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