This is the story of the Huffington Family show were newcomers to Delta in 1881 – the same year the Indians were removed to Utah.
We begin with Sylvester Huffington and his wife, Sarah Harrison, Huffington, who met and married in Cherokee, Kansas. Sylvester was a surveyor and shortly after they were married they joined many others with their covered wagons. All were going west toward Indian Territory- you had to be nearby to get in on the best land as soon as the Territory was opened for settlement. By this time the railroad was completed only as far as Gunnison, the last town on the East side of Indian Territory. The Huffington’s camped there and Sylvester found employment with the railroad using his team to help with the construction of the rail bed. Before it was legal, Sylvester, managing to avoid the authorities, came to the spot that would one day be Delta, and staked his claim in the area. He then returned to Gunnison where he waited until the Indians were removed. He again loaded up his family and headed to Uncompahgre, later known as Delta.
One little son, Oscar, was only 4 years old. In later years all he could remember about that trip was riding in the wagon on a pile of blankets and looking eye to eye with the milk cow that was tied to the back of the wagon with a short rope. Oscar grew up in Delta and remembers his mother picking the sour little squawberries to make jelly, sauce, and sometimes even pie and artificial lemonade.
The first white child born in Delta was born to Sylvester and Sarah. They named her Della. Sylvester learned he was only one of four local surveyors, so of an added income, he would survey for others. He set up a dairy where people come with their pails and get fresh warm milk straight from the cow. Sylvester and Sarah had 9 children, but due to space limitations, we will only trace the one family member, Oscar.
Now we will fast forward a few years. In his teens, Oscar began working for different ranchers wherever he could find employment. Because he was not of age, Oscar could not use his homestead rights, but his father had traded his own squatter’s rights for the property at the mouth of Boyce Gulch in Escalante Canyon, and Oscar bought that property from his father. He rode or built fence for others, but come winter, he had to build camps, dig ditches, and grub the brush off his own holdings. Because of hard times, Oscar worked many long hard hours as a hired man, but still he managed to buy additional property. As soon as the mortgage was paid off on one place, he bought another.
According to Oscar’s diary, in January 1903, he visited the Burtons up the canyon (on what is now known as the Lowe Place). Ten days later, he and Mary Emma Burton were married in Delta at his parent’s home. The next day they went to the canyon by horse and wagon –this was their honeymoon trip. Whenever possible, May Emma rode with Oscar, and after a long day in the saddle, she cooked their supper, frying meat and potatoes on a tin camp stove. When his work changed places, she went along from Love Mesa to a cabin in the Roubideau or up to 25 Mesa, always making do with what they had. However, it was not always convenient for her to go with Oscar so she spent many lonely days and nights alone.
Their first child, Nelson, was born mid-January, 1905, in Delta at the home of Mary Emma’s mother. After a few days the little family of three were living on the lower ranch in the Escalante. It had a log cabin with a dirt roof, nothing very fancy, and none of the things we think are absolute necessities today – such things as running water and washing machines. After Nelson was about 2 months old, Oscar and Mary Emma bundled Nelson up and took him with them to feed the cattle.
Another child, Rosa, was born in 1907. It was some time after the birth of Rosa that Oscar came home from the upper canyon; his wife and the two children were there in the rock house that Cap Smith had built. The house is still standing and it is in good condition. Oscar built a two story, city style house hoping to make life easier for Mary Emma, but for some reason, she never lived in that house and soon began divorce proceedings. Rosa went with her mother, but Nelson stayed and worked for his father during vacations and full time after he finished high school. They “batched” in the little rock house and the big house was rented to the Rogers family.
In 1925, Oscar noted in his diary, “Nelson is busy watching one of the Rudolph girls at the Roubideau.” Nelson married Annie Rudolph, and they moved into the big house, renting the Lower Ranch from his father. (This house is still in use today.) The two of them worked together producing vegetables, cream, eggs, chickens, turkeys, and fruit. Unlike cowboying, this allowed them to work together and live together.
Oscar owned the old Tom Brent Place, and in 1930, it was planted to peaches. People said it was crazy because peaches bruise too easily, and they had to be hauled all the way to Delta –down past the lower place, bounce across the creek twice and up the Big Hill that was never smooth. A trip, that was at least 19 miles, over never good roads. Late they planted the lower ranch into peaches, and the Huffingtons became well known in Delta Count for their peaches.
Finally, in 1940, a bride was built across the Gunnison River so that people from the canyon no longer had to climb the Big Hill and cross the many gullies to town. A siding called Huff was built just north of the bridge next to the railroad tracks. Now the peaches could be hauled down the canyon about 4 miles and loaded into refrigerated cars. That night the railroad hauled them on to their destination. Even though this was somewhat easier, it still required untold hard hours of work to raise the lovely peaches. They had to pruned, thinned, irrigated and harvest all at exactly the right time. All boxes were made by hand, and there were crew for thinning, picking and packing. Annie not only helped pack the fruit, she cooked the meals for the workers at the packing shed. There was not a telephone so many trips to Delta were required to arrange for workmen and truckers. Beside the long hours spent harvest the fruit, they still had chickens to feed, eggs to gather, cows to milk and produce to be looked after in the truck garden.
In 1947, at age 71, Oscar sold his cattle and ranches to Nelson. His holdings had grown to 500 head of cattle and many acres in the Escalante Canyon and along the Roubideau Canyon.
Sometime after Oscar had retired, all the packing operation was handled at the lower ranch, in a new and much larger packing shed. Close by was the new combination cook house and bunk house. The fruit was sold directly to truckers who picked it up at the ranch and hauled it to its destination. The tracks for “Huff Siding” were taken up by the railroad, and there is no indication that during harvest, it was once a busy place.
Beside raising fruit, Nelson and Annie continued to have a few cattle, but eventually had only what could be raised on the ranches and didn’t require that either partner had to spend days up on the range putting in the many hours of constant work either fixing fence, moving the cattle between pastures, gathering cattle off the range, feeding them or shipping them to market.
Nelson wanted to stay on the ranch his whole life. And he got his wish, in 1988 he passed away on the ranch that he loved; the ranch was sold, then Annie moved to Delta. She enjoyed several pleasant years, but she still missed the ranch. She never entirely gave up the ranching life and always had a garden and a few chickens so she could have fresh eggs and vegetables. She passed away in Delta at the age of 90.
Annie and Nelson had one son, Bonsall, who went to the same rural schoolhouse his father had attended a generation before. Bonsall was married in 1952 to Verla Tucker. They lived in the canyon for about two years. Their old two-room house had wood vies growing through the exterior walls, and they used a kerosene lamp, cooked on a wood range, and had no refrigeration. They soon realized that, like the two generations before, they wanted to out on their own. They farmed in Roubideau Canyon for a short time before moving to Delta. Bonsall worked for Meadow Gold, did carpentry work and, in August 1955, they started the Dairy King Drive-in on Highway 50 in North Delta.
Director, Delta County Historical Society and Museum