Early settlements of Mancos – (Big Bend) Dolores - Cortez
Montezuma County was created out of the west end of La Plata County in 1889. Mancos was the first settlement. In the fall of 1874 came H. M. Smith and Peter Lindstrom from Denver, James Ratcliff, A.L. Root, Dick Giles, Harry Lee, Ed Merrick, John Brewer and Fred Franks from California. They thought well of the Mancos Valley and decided to remain. In 1875 more settlers arrived and began clearing land and improving their homesteads. Cattle were coming into the valley in 1876. The summer of ’77 brought more people in to make their homes there.
In 1877 Mr. McGrew traded a cow to Mrs. Newmire, who lived near Silverton, for a cat. He carried his cat to Mancos on horseback and sent a friend back with the cow. Another family brought a cat with them from Nevada and the cats were loaned to the neighbors to exterminate the mice.
Life in this new settlement of Mancos was difficult. The summers were short and the winters long and snow very deep which caused many hardships sometimes in securing necessary supplements. Seven of the men who had settled in the Mancos Valley went to Parrot City for a time but for some reason they returned to Cherry Creek for winter, making their camp on a little creek which now in memory of their suffering during the winter and spring was named “Starvation Creek.” Buds and berries were eaten when needed.
In 1878 there were already a number of children of school age in the new community. A building was erected for school use and as a public meeting place. In 1885 the Town of Mancos saw businesses established.
In 1877, William, Dick and George May settled on the Dolores River. In 1880 a post office was established on the May ranch with Billy May as postmaster. By this date a number of settlers were located on the Dolores and others were rapidly coming in. Charles Johnson had established his ranch in the area by 1881. The first school district was organized in the fall of 1883 at Big Bend. In 1891 it became certain that a railroad would be built into the Dolores Valley by way of Lost Canon. Businesses’ were then moved from Big Bend to the new town site of Dolores which was platted during the winter of 1891-2.
Cortez had its beginning with that of the irrigation system platted in 1886. The engineer also laid out the plans for Cortez. Matt Hammond brought in the first load of lumber on Christmas Day 1886. Goodykoontz’ tent restaurant at Main and Market Streets was the first building in Cortez in January 1887. The restaurant was a 12’ x 14’ tent and served as high as ninety meals a day. The employees of the Montezuma Valley Water Supply Company patiently stood in line at meal time and waited their turn at the limited table capacity. By then there were hundreds of teams at work on the new ditch system. There was a lot of business for restaurants and livery barns. At first there was no water in Cortez except what was hauled from Mitchell Springs by wagon and teams in barrels. One report said it sold for a quarter a barrel and water for drinking was selling for a nickel per glass. In 1889, the “Stone Block” was built. The county courthouse was completed in 1890 and located at the corner of First and South Chestnut Streets. From that time Cortez continued to grow with people, new business and schools.