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The Saguache County Museum
By Margaret B. Finnerty and Yvonne Halburian

The historic building site at the corner of San Juan and Highway 285 has probably had more visitors than any other building in Saguache. In the early days they went to the jail, today they visit the Museum.

Since this has mainly been a county building we have no record of any abstract. From what historians tell us we will assume the house was built around 1870. Many people tell us it was an original school room, also used as a courtroom and also has been used as a community building. The jail which sits beside the house was built in 1908, nor-mally a sheriff or undersheriff lived in this house to oversee the jail.

In 1908 the house consisted of a large kitchen, living room and dining room, three bedrooms and a den which had a large wood and coal burning stove. A small bathroom was added by Mt Bill Werner, who was a plumber as well as a sheriff.

(Interview from Ruth Sewell)

The two older Werner children never lived in this house.  Mr. Werner, his wife and four children lived in this house from 1908 until 1915 - they left this house for two years and returned to occupy the house again until 1938.  Two of their daughters were born in this house, Florence Werner Ickes and Ruth Werner Sewell. Mr. Werner was undersheriff and also sheriff during the time they lived in this residence. Many happy memories occurred in this house along with some frightening ones

One time Ruth and her father were, held up by a man who wanted his brother released from jail. The key for the cell that the prisoner was in was always kept in the courthouse. After holding them at gunpoint for a considerable amount of time, they finally convinced the man the key was unavailable, so he locked Mr. Werner, Ruth and four prisoners in another cell. When the jail was not full or only someone they knew was spending time, Ruth and her sisters used to rollerskate in the jail all around the cells. Excellent floor for rollerskating. At times they had people who had problems and could possibly hurt themselves in the front cell (which today we call the ladies cell) so mats were put all over the walls. When this cell was not occupied the children also played in this one bouncing off the walls.

Mrs. Werner was an excellent cook and prepared meals for all prisoners. Breakfast would be hotcakes, sausage, eggs, toast and fruit. Dinners and suppers consisted of meat, potatoes, vegetables and pie or cake for dessert. Many of the vegetables came from a large garden in the backyard.  For preparing these meals, Mrs. Werner was reimbursed $1.00 per day per prisoner.  Mr. Werner delivered the meals, but if he were out on business, the girls would deliver them through the partition door in the jail. Mrs. Werner also kept chickens on the south side of their yard. Skunks are quite prevalent in this area and one night Mrs. Werner called her husband saying there was a skunk in the chicken coop. She took the flashlight, he, the gun and once inside the chicken coop, she said, “There it is”, went out and locked him in with the skunk. After going back in the house she realized what she had done and went back to release her husband.

Looking over old papers we found the various entries for prisoners during this era: Drunk, Disturbance and Fighting, Bootlegging or Stills, Larceny, Non-Support, Wife Beating, Rape, Resisting Arrest, Destroying Property, Mental Observation, Addict, Bad Checks, Vagrancy, Torture for Money, Auto Theft and Cattle Rustling.

If you tour the Saguache County Museum to-day you will find many authentic signatures, dates and drawings. The majority of the graffiti is still there, some had to be painted over as it wasn’t family orientated.
 
 

Old Adobe Museum Building
Notes by Helen Kempner

During the early day migration from Costilla and Conejos counties, the splendid San Luis Valley ran north in clean-cut vistas between the majestic Sangre de Cristo Range and the misty blue  mountains to the west. The good earth waited with an abundance of fertile land for strong men who dreamed.

Nathan Russell was one of these men and in the year 1866 he and Prudencia Garcia rode up the valley with a number of Mexican workers to land they considered was a good place to stop. Nathan had been a partner with Fred Walson and C. F. Stollsteimer and when he reached the soil of his destination to stake out a homestead, he also took up land for his former partners.

The land Nathan took up for himself had an unobstructed view as far as he could see in every direction. What a feeling of exultation he must have felt as he thought of the future and pondered the first cabin! How proud he would be to know that the enlarged structure still fills a place in the present scheme of
things!

Otto Mears, J. B. Woodson, W. J. Godfrey, John Evert and R. Harris came into the area then known as Sa-gua-gua-chi-pa in 1867. John Lawrence followed a little later with a number of Mexican workers. They settled along Saguache Creek. The Samuel Ashley family came up in the summer of the same year. The community was starting to grow.

Governor Cummings appointed the first commissioners on Feb. 11, 1876. The men were Nathan Russell, Prudencia Garcia and Captain Kerber of Villa Grove.

John Lawrence was in Denver and he didn’t get back to Saguache with the appointments until the following June when the first board was held on Russell property. Captain Kerber declined and Nathan and Prudencia were present. Garcia administered the office to Russell and Russell administered the office to Garcia while Lawrence stood by.

The Saguache Town Company was organized in 1874. Land was donated by A. W Settle, E. R. Harris, Otto Mears, Prudencia Garcia, Enos Hotchkiss, R. H. Jones, Samuel Ashley and Nathan Russell.

The new school was considered June 15, 1874 and in the same year the first term of the district court was held in the Russell corral just west of the old jail, at the present Museum site.

Nathan Russell donated the old adobe house and site to the town on Feb. 7, 1874. Here the first
county meetings were held in the cabin and here the first school was held in 1872.

The town of Saguache turned the building and site over to the county, still the owners.

The years brought different families to live in the old building, but so far as we can learn, there were only the three owners: Nathan Russell, The Saguache Town Company and Saguache County.

The Werner family made their home in the building while Mr. Werner served as Deputy Sheriff and during the years before the Saguache Museum was given the privilege of its use. The Jack Gray family lived in the old adobe when he served the county as Undersheriff.

The four rooms to the back of the building were probably the first rooms built and the two large front rooms were added at a later date. A solid wall of thick adobe encases the entire building now under one roof.

A great deal of work repairing and restoring took place on the building before the Museum collection could be put on display in June of 1959. Flooring had to be replaced in some of   the rooms and old foundations improved.

A Memorial room was built at the back of the building and the entrance porch remodeled in 1972.

The old adobe is a fit place for displaying a valuable collection depicting pioneer life and the Saguache Museum enhances the worth of a place honored as a National Historic Site earned by a grand old past and a hopeful future.

from The Saguache Crescent, February 14, 1980

other info re: the museum at:
http://museumtrail.org/SaguacheCountyMuseum.asp

 

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