By Richard Lilley
Anna Isabel Wetherill was born January 24, 1865
on Diamond Island near Leavenworth Kansas as the Civil war was just
coming to a close. She was the third child in a family of seven. She
was the only girl in the family after the first born girl, named
Alice, died at the early age of three.
After moving to Leavenworth the Wetherill's had a home on a hill south of town where their water came from rainwater which ran into a large cistern or from the muddy river. Anna was just a few years old at the time and while her mother was drawing water for washday she left the cover off and Anna fell into the cistern, which at that time had seven feet of water in it. Her father came running and took a dive into the cistern. He couldn't keep his head above water and hold Anna up at the same time so he had to let her go under every so often so he could come up for a breath until men came running and pulled them out.
One of those close calls that could have changed our history.
When Anna was eleven her family moved to Joplin Missouri where she was to meet her future husband, Charlie Mason. Charlie was eighteen at the time and had a job delivering water from an excellent well on the Mason's property and the Wetherill family was one of his customers. Anna announced to her parents, when she was eleven, while living in Joplin that she and Charlie would be married when she turned twenty.
In 1879 when Anna was fourteen, the Wetherill family left Missouri and moved to Colorado and then Utah and back to Colorado to settle in Mancos. A few years later the Masons also decided to move to Colorado and eventually stopped in Mancos sometime around 1883. Charlie was 24 at this time and he decided to stay in Mancos and work with the Wetherill's on their ranch that they had started to build in 1882. True to Anna's statement in Joplin that she would marry Charlie It became a fact on December 27, 1885 in her 20th year.
As with most Quakers, Anna had a good education that her father helped her with even as he lay on his deathbed. The education was useful through out her life even though her work was hard and difficult. She helped with the guests that came to the ranch, which required large meals, and house keeping and the normal work that went along with pioneer women.
In those days there were no electric to run the modern appliance of today. Lighting was by kerosene lamps, water had to be packed into the house, heat was by wood stove, food preserving was by canning, smoking meat and if you could get ice then a ice box, bread was to be made and butter churned. Just think of washday with a washboard, washtub and hoping to weather would cooperate enough to dry the clothes after hanging them on the line.
First you carried in wood and got a fire going in the cook stove, then you had to carry water to fill the boiler on the stove, and set up tubs for washing, wash all the clothes on a washboard and then rinse them, and you had to boil the white clothes on the stove. After all that, the clothes went on the line. In the winter they froze instantly and had to be left for a couple of days before bringing them into the house, the sun and wind did dry them a little. When the clothes were dry, women ironed them. This meant heating up the stove again, because the only way to heat up the iron was to put it on the stove. Washing clothes was a chore, which few women looked forward to.
It was a monumental job with a house full of cowboys and children, not to mention the mountain of dirty dishes that came after the large meals. Most of the clothes were handmade which required much time and the good old floor sacks. In the spare time there was always the garden and chickens to be attended to, sometimes cows to be milked and the kids to be educated.
When her father's health started to deteriorate then Anna had to take on the chore of being a nurse which was always the case on the ranch and after her marriage to Charlie and the birth of children the work load became more yet.
A small log cabin was built between the ranch house and large barn for Charlie and Anna where they lived until 1890. Anna gave birth to five daughters: Alice, July 8, 1886; Deborah, March 31, 1888; Marion, Dec.28, 1890; Olive, May 5, 1892; and Luella, Feb. 5, 1895. All the girls were born in the Mancos area and all but Olive was born at the Alamo Ranch. Olive was born in her Uncle John Wetherill's homestead cabin near Mancos.
The Charlie Mason family lived in the Mancos area, most of the time at the Alamo Ranch, from 1885 to 1899. At times they lived at a homestead taken by Clayton Tompkins, Anna's uncle, on McElmo Creek, Clayton was a brother of Marion (Tompkins) Wetherill. During his time in the Mancos area Charlie worked at a number of different jobs, sometimes for $1.00 a day. He acquired a good team of horses, Prince and Frank, which was as essential at that time as an automobile is today.
After a try at farming in the MCncos area without much success around 1890, because of his interest in fish culture, Charley started looking for a place where he could build a dam and create a suitable lake. A the time the government didnt allow homesteading a natural lake so he found a site about seventy-five or eighty miles (as the crow flies) northeast of Mancos, across the Continental Divide near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, in the beautiful mountain valley where South Clear Creek originates. In this valley, which had an elevation of about ten thousand feet above sea level, Charley took up a homestead.
Charlie traveled through the high mountains across the continental divide on the Weminuche Trail back and forth to the Alamo Ranch from his homestead he called Hermit Lakes, because he felt like a hermit during the time he was making the place livable for his family.
In the spring of 1899 Charlie and Clayton had finished a couple of log cabins on the homestead. One was built of peeled round logs, the other a much larger one, 16x20' was of larger hewn logs with a roof of small peeled logs placed together which gave the ceiling a pleasing appearance. Over this layer of logs a thick layer of swamp grass was laid and a sod layer was put on top of that. The cracks between the logs were chinked with pieces of wood and daubed with mud. Anna lined the walls with muslin and kalsomined it making a warm attractive room. This room was later divided into two rooms. The smaller cabin was the kitchen and dining room; it underwent the same treatment as the bigger room. There was a breezeway separating the two cabins.
In 1899 Charlie took his family over the mountains to the homestead he had taken up in the beautiful valley, that was to be there home for the next 20 years.
On their last trip from Mancos, the family took turns walking and riding because they didnt have enough horses for all the family and the pack goods they were carrying to their new home. As they approached Weminuche Pass, the weather turned quite cold, and snow seemed possible so Charley decided to go on over the pass with the pack animals and make a quick return with the horses for his family so they could all ride.
Snow began to fall as Anna and the children plodded along the trail. Because she didn't want children to get wet with snow, Anna, who was wearing a very long and full coat, crawled under the branches of a large spruce tree and gathered her children under her coat as a mother hen would chicks. The snow continued to fall, and it covered them like a blanket. After a while, Anna spied her husband coming toward them with his hat pulled down and his head bent as if he were following tracks.
She called to him and asked him what he was following.
'An old' she-bear and her cubs.' (Was his reply].
She was furious until he explained that down the trail he had found tracks. The bears had passed close by [the figures huddled under the tree] but because of the snow, she hadnt seen them. Crossing this high altitude pass with three small children, ages four, seven, nine and thirteen which took days, was a great accomplishment and it took tough pioneer stock to do it. Life was very tough at 10,000 ft high Hermit Ranch for the first few years as is always the case on a new homestead.
After the death of Annas father in 1898, Charlie and Anna's daughter Debbie stayed at the Alamo helping her grandmother Marion. During the spring of 1899 Debbie and her grandmother Marion moved to live with Charlie and Anna and her sisters at Hermit. Marion lived with Charlie and Anna for the next 24 years, helping and being helped until her death in 1923 in Olympia WA.
Charlie with the help of his brother-in-law, Clayton Wetherill, constructed a dam across South Clear Creek to form a good-sized lake. This was the first "Hermit Lake," later Charley bought a homestead having a natural lake and adjoining his property from Fred Burrows. The name of the ranch was now Hermit Lakes. Later a hatchery and a second cabin were built so Charley could accommodate his sizeable family.
Anna said she never wanted to return to Mancos again, the toil and heartache had been too much, though she did go back later and visited the old friends who still lived there.
Anna and the girls worked long hours on this hatchery project, keeping trout eggs free from the dead ones, which caused fungus to grow and kill them all. Charlie and another man (Bert Hosselkus a fellow trout farmer) introduced eastern brook trout into the mountain lakes, they sent to Massachusetts for the first eggs. The principle product of the ranch was trout although some, cattle, sheep and horses were raised, primarily for family use
Life on the ranch at Hermit Lakes involved considerable hard work and as soon as any child became able to perform useful activities, he or she was expected to share in the family effort. Among the tasks that needed to be done were feeding of animals, milking cows, cutting and storing hay, bringing wood from the forest, cut-ting the wood for burning in the various types of stoves that were used, harvesting trout in the summer, cleaning and packing the trout for shipment, taking spawn (fish eggs) from the trout in the fall, operating the fish hatchery, making repairs on machines and building, looking after tourists in the summer, washing dishes, washing clothes, changing baby diapers, and a variety of other activities.
Winters were severe and the snow was deep. Roads for automobile travel usually closed sometime in November and did not reopen until May. Trips to Creede or Lake City were made by team and sled, horse-back or on skis. Most of the travel was to Creede because that was the Post Office serving the area.
Early in 1910, when Charley and Annas youngest daughter was 15 they received two boys, Eugene Duff Sims and Leonard McCampbell from Anna Burgess of the Pueblo orphanage. Eugene kept his first name but Leonard's was changed to Johnny, later John. The following spring, Miss Burgress persuaded Anna to take a third child, a very sick little baby, so small he could be placed in the crown of Charlies hat. After Anna had nursed this baby back to health, she could not stand to part with him. His name, Maurice Standish, was changed to David Alfred. All the boys were legally adopted under the name of Mason.
Their business grew, and not only the fish raising business but also a sideline developed. The Hermit Lakes became a popular fishing hideaways by 1910, Charlie was regularly meeting the train in Creede to pick up fishing groups that would stay a week or more before returning home to tell about the fabulous fishing on the upper Rio Grande River. These fishermen created more work for the women of Hermit Lakes but it was took in stride and all worked together.
As time passed, changes came to Hermit Lakes. The commercial fish business began to decline because of competition from trout farmers nearer the markets. Furthermore, Anna nearing fifty, was feeling the effects of the high altitude on her heart, and Charley wanted to take her to a lower climate. He asked Bert and Debbie Bent to return from California to help with the operation of the ranch and they were able to do this in June 1913. Five years later, Charley took Anna to the Olympia Washington area to see if it would be a suitable place to make their home. They were delighted with the area, spending their winters there and eventually buying property on Hunter's Point West of Olympia in 1923. Annas 85 year old mother and 75 year old Uncle Jut came with Charlie and Anna to Olympia where they were cared for by Anna until their death.
Charlie and Annas daughter Marion, took over the family business in the 1920's when Charlie retired; she eventually dropped the dressed fish operation and converted the business into a sportsmans club.
Charlie made many trips back and forth to Colorado to work on the ranch and oversee the sportsman club and sell shares in it for the next 10 years. Anna kept things going at home while taking care of her mother and her Uncle Jut. Her daughter Luella married Harold Dunkelberger in 1921 and they all worked together to make the farm at Hunter's Point a success.
Charlie and Anna's first home had burned down so they built a log home overlooking oyster bay and a log cabin for Uncle Jut . Later Charlie built another home on the property for Anna and himself leaving the log home to Harold and Luella.
While Charlie was away on his summer trips to Colorado my sister Bertha, who was a teenager at the time, use to come and stay with our grandmother to keep her company and help out. We lived about 10 miles away on a 40-acre farm overlooking Frye Cove that Charlie had bought.
Bertha described our grandmother as "short, stocky feisty lady who always wore her hair in a bun on the back of her head, never went to town with out a hat and you better not have your leg showing much higher then above your ankle." When Christmas time came Anna made sure everyone in the family had a present of some sort and she always made her famous Christmas plum pudding. The fourth of July was another big holiday on Oyster Bay when relatives and friends gathered down by the water and had big clambakes and shot off fireworks and had a great time.
Anna developed a small business of raising pigeons and selling the meat at the market and that along with her large garden kept her busy doing the summer months that Charlie was in Colorado.
In March 1923 Marion Tompkins Wetherill passed away at the age of 85 and her brother Justus Tompkins lived to the ripe old age of 91, passed away in 1936 the same year and month of Charlie. Anna after 17 years living on the West Coast passed away in 1937. All are buried at the Tumwater cemetery.
Anna and Charlie Marriage License courtesy of Ricky Brown Creede, Colorado