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Experiences of Bird Jackson Kirtland Who Came West to the San Luis Valley

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
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Surname/tag: Kirtland
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This life story is located in my grandmother Leta Boice Boutwell’s Book of Remembrance, Bird Jackson Kirtland would be her maternal great grandfather

(Spelling and punctuation corrections have been made – no changes were made to the sentence structure or voice – other corrections will be shown in parenthesis – Linda Fretwell Duchaine – June 2007)

"It was in the year 1877 when my great grandparents, Bird Jackson Kirtland and family who lived in Alabama, were severely persecuted for a religious cause as were the pilgrims of old who first came to settle America. They were threatened with mob violence. The mob placed several hickory switches on the door step with a note tied to them saying they must leave at once, or the hickory switches would be used upon them. This brought much sorrow into their hearts.

My great grandparents, with others who had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made hasty preparations to leave their native homes at once. They disposed of all their earthly possessions at a great sacrifice, leaving relatives and a few friends who had not turned against them.

Then they began their journey westward. They met a group of Georgia Saints at Scottsborough, where a large river had to be crossed. The men at the boat were inexperienced and knew nothing about loading a boat. They loaded it too heavy, and when the boat left for the other shore it began sinking. After much struggling they returned to shore and unloaded part of the load. Then they succeeded in crossing the Tennessee River in safety.

Before crossing the river my great uncle disposed of a fine team of mules and a wagon which cost him three hundred dollars. He sold them for the small amount of forty-five dollars. Others of the company made similar sacrifices. At this place the company chartered two passenger cars and one baggage car from the railroad company. After traveling four days and nights westward, they arrived at Pueblo, Colorado, five P.M. Thursday evening, November 20th, 1877. They received permission from the railroad superintendent to have the cars switched from the main track, and the company remained in the cars overnight and until eleven o’clock the next day.

Following are some of the names of some of the people who came in this company: Milton H. Evans, Daniel R. Sellers, William A. Jones, Bird J. Kirtland, Samuel S. Sellers, Miles Wilkbanks, Hugh L. Sellers and others. The company numbered seventy-three people. The company rented a large theater which was not in use at that time until they built barracks where they lived through the winter of seventy-seven and seventy-eight or until May 13th, 1878.

While they remained in Pueblo that winter John Morgan thought it advisable and necessary to put all their money in one general fund or the United Order under which the pilgrims of old who settled America lived. The reason which compelled them to do this was because some did not have enough to keep them through the winter. They bought some heating stoves, also two large cook stoves, placed one at one end of the barrack and one at the other. Four women did the cooking for a week, and then four more took their places. This plan was carried out until all had a chance, then they started over again. Two men assisted the cooks by chopping wood and carrying water. Turns were taken by the men who could not secure employment. Some of the men were able to secure employment. This money was put into the fund and each person shared equally. Before the winter was over it became necessary to put all members on rations to make the supply of food last.

It was on the first of February 1878, my great grandfather Bird Jackson Kirtland past away, leaving a wife and six children and my great grandmother, who was living with them to battle the hardships of pioneer life, to go to their destination alone. This was a very hard trial to encounter.

On May thirteenth, they left Pueblo by rail, arriving in Ft. Garland, Colorado, which was as far as the railroad extended. There was a Mexican man with a small pony team and wagon to meet them and haul their baggage. There being no room for anyone to ride, everyone had to walk all the way. It was snowing and blowing severely and was very cold. They had to wrap quilts around them to keep from freezing to death. They waded the Rio Grande River, this making it much colder, then they journeyed on until they arrived at Los Ceretus, a little town southeast of Manassa. This was a very bleak and barren-like desert where there was fairly nothing but sagebrush and the lonesome howl of the coyote. This bleakness would cause a person with plenty of means to combat the difficulties of pioneer life to shudder at the thought of locating in seemingly such a God forsaken country.

A family of eight in number to begin making a livelihood was left in the hands of four girls and two boys, the oldest of the boys only twelve years of age. They lived at the Los Ceretus from May until the early spring of 1879, raising a small garden for food and a few Irish potatoes about the size of marbles.

In the early spring of 1879, the town of Manassa was laid out and surveyed. My great grandmother’s eldest daughter Delilah with the help of 13 year old brother Dan and Tom Chandler went down the Canyos River, chopped and split cottonwood trees enough to build a crude rail pen, with no chinking between the rails. The roof was covered with split logs and sage brush, which was comparatively no shelter from the rain. They had to hang bed quilts around the walls to keep out the bitter cold wind. They lived in this condition until about the first of November, when the thirteen year old boy and a few neighbors built my great grandmother a little two room log house. She and the family were very thankful to have a place they could call home and a place from the bitter cold and rain.

A very kind Mexican man let the family have some cows to milk. The rent he required was half of the money from the butter. The other half of the butter was more than the family could use. They sold enough of the surplus butter to buy the four girls and mother a calico dress each. They were as proud of them as a girl would be of a nice silk dress today.

Alamosa was not in existence when the company arrived in the San Luis Valley. During the year 1879 and 1880, the railroad was built through the valley. Then Alamosa, La Jara, Romeo and Antonito were settled. The entire family secured employment where possible.

Two or three men went in together and bought an ox team and wagon with which to haul wood from the pinion hills. It would take two days to get a load of wood and haul it to Conejos and sell it for two dollars.

The plows and farming implements were very crude. They had to cut grain with a reap hook and cradle.

About the second year of their farming, they met with a great deal of discouragement. They had frost and snow every month of the year. On the first day of August 1879, about one foot of snow fell, causing the wheat to fall almost to the ground. Then it frosted very band and the flour made from this grain was very dark, and the bread made from it was almost unfit to eat.

The reason those pioneers settled at Manassa was because the water came down the little river, making it easy to irrigate the farming land. The grassy meadows afforded hay for their stock. The water was near the top of the ground and was easy to dig wells for domestic use. Some thought it advisable to locate at Romeo as the railroad was being built through that part of the country, but under the conditions of obtaining water from the Conejos River for irrigation, this would take about seven miles of ditch work. They would have to dig 60 or 70 feet for water and for these handicaps, they did not settle in Romeo.

The pioneers suffered many hardships and struggled to overcome every difficulty that came in their way, making it possible for the children of today to enjoy the luxuries of life."

- Posted online by Ancestry.com user: MelissaWhite95 on October 10th, 2011

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