Thursday, November 25, 2021

Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail - Tecolote

In the words of Marion Sloan Russell...

We did not stay much longer in Fort Bascom for Richard was ordered to report to Fort Union for further orders. I think of For Bascom tenderly, for a little grave is there where Hattie Eliza is sleeping.

We now waited in Fort Union for Richard to be mustered out of the army. He and Mr. DeHague had planned a new business venture.... At last there came a day when we left Fort Union forever; Fort Union that had sheltered and protected me since I was seven. I tried not to look back, for a new life was beginning for me, and it is better to walk with our eyes before us than with them cast behind.

Richard and Mr. DeHague decided in 1866 to go to Tecolote, New Mexico and establish a trading post there. Tecolote was simply a watering place west of Las Vegan on the Santa Fe Trail. Tecolote, like all New Mexico town, was just a collection of low adobe houses and narrow crooked streets. It was thriving and prosperous and we felt we would do well there.

Tecolote - the Indian name means "owl" - had a romantic and mysterious origin. Old mine shafts, crumbling and long unused were there. There were old ovens, hunks of slag and bits of half-melted ore. Even the oldest Mexican inhabitant could not recall ever having heard his grandfather tell the story of the old mines.

We bought a site for our trading post in 1866 and immediately erected the great stone building that was to be both store and dwelling. The store was wide and spacious. Its low ceiling was crossed by massive beams. The long shelves were piled high with everything under the sun. There were implements, feed, food, household furnishings, clothing, saddles, bridles, harness and Navajo blankets. There were strings of red peppers and jars of azule or Indian corn. There were jars of Mexican beans and piles of golden pumpkins.

We bought everything the Mexicans or Indians had for sale or trade. Early each morning they would come wandering in from the red, rolling hills. Some would come on foot driving before them a goat or a sheep. Some would come in carts or wagons bringing cheese, peppers, a coop of red chickens or a sack of white Spanish onions. Some would come in leading burros loaded down with firewood. Both the Indians and the Mexicans raised corn and we bought it from them for 8 cents a pound. A hind quarter of mutton or goat meat could be had for about 50 cents a pound.

Our records show that in the month of October, when we opened our little trading post, we bought of C.H. Moor at Fort Union a bill of goods amounting to $3,257.

We bought pottery, blankets and beadwork from the Mexicans and Indians, and we were usually able to trade these things to wagoners eastward bound. We traded corn for Indian blankets and turquoise and silver jewelry. When we traded corn for an Indian blanket, two Indians would hold the blanket by its four corners. The amount of shelled corn the blanket would hold bought the blanket. Our corn measure we called a "fanega". It was made from a buffalo hide. The purchaser held the hide and was permitted to shake it down three times. The amount of shelled corn the old hide measure would hold was about 2-1/2 bushels. Our yard measure was the Spanish "vara" - 33-1/3 inches in length.

Our trading post at Tecolote was a meeting place for all the nomads of that desert land: Indian men wrapped in gaudy blankets, Mexican women in black-fringed shawls; cowboys in red shirts and big hats; brown babies in nothing at all, sat, leaned, stood and squatted all over the place.

It was very exciting when the freight trains pulled in. Then the nomads gathered from far and near, and the bartering would go on for days. Once I bartered two cows and a bull for material enough to make me two dresses. One was a heavy moiré silk - blue and black silk brocade. The two patterns cost me the equivalent of $125.00. The material was good. Daughters, then unborn, had to help me wear out those two dresses.

Richard always wanted me to look well, so I dressed as well and as becomingly as I could. I never permitted myself to wear a soiled dress or apron. I never went with my hair uncombed. Each afternoon I bathed and dressed clean and fresh. Personal cleanliness has never been one of life's necessities for me.

We had five living rooms behind the store. They were cool and pleasant. The thick stone walls resisted both heat and cold. The windows were long and narrow running from the ceiling to the floor. I draped them with a gay silken print. The floor I had covered with Navajo rugs, which I never really wanted. I remember how I longed for a flowered Brussels carpet. The beds were four-posters. Richard made them for me on his new turning lathe. I was so proud of those four-posters, and kept the spreads and the valances white as snow. Pictures in great, gilt frames I hung on my walls. A lamp with a red shade sat on the claw-footed center table. There were the inevitable red geraniums. I had several pieces of red plush furniture brought by wagon train from Leavenworth. Our chairs were split-bottomed. Over the kitchen door on deer antlers was Richard's array of rifles.

In my kitchen was a nice step-stove. It, also, had come from Leavenworth and had cost Richard a pretty penny. That stove was the light of my eyes and the joy of my heart. It was made like two stair-steps. Each step was used for cooking. The oven heated nicely and many a savory roast did I bake in it. That stove was the envy of all my neighbors. One woman offered me $50 for it. 'Most everyone in Tecolote baked in outdoor, bee-hive ovens.

Near Tecolote was a salt-sink and Richard would go there with freight wagons and a number of laborers for salt. The barefooted Mexicans wade out into the sink and shovel the salt up into windrows. The waves lapping over the windrows would clean it nicely. Then it was loaded into the wagons and hauled away. A cleaner, whiter grade of salt might be procured at another sink farther down in Texas, but because of hostility, the government had forbidden the men going there.

In May of 1867 little Katie Elmira came to us. Another cradle swayed on the hearth rug and I now sang as I worked, the grave at Fort Bascom was only a sad memory.

In 1869 Mr. DeHague was appointed Forage Agent at Tecolote and we made some money furnishing feed to the freight teams. Every extra penny we could lay hands on we spent buying Texas long-horns. The entire profit of the post was so invested. Richard had never forgotten his dream of being a cattle rancher.

In the fall of 1869 another child was born to Richard and me. It was fun to watch Katie Elmira fold her dimpled hands behind her and stand watching the interloper in her small cradle.

Richard now began thinking of selling the post and hunting a ranch where we might drive our herd of cattle. In January of 1870, however, his brother, John, came to us from Chicago. John was ill with tuberculosis and we laid our own plans aside that we might give him the care that he needed. The clean, warm air of New Mexico healed him as it had so many before him, and, in June of that year, he and Richard began planning a pack-horse to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I was appalled when they told me, for Cheyenne lay many miles northward. John was not only still weak and ailing, but he was a tenderfoot. He had scarcely been on a horse in his life. John and Richard were determined they would go, looking as they went for a new ranch location, and when they reached Cheyenne they would sell their pack animals and go back to Chicago on that new Union Pacific train. By this time Mr. DeHague had absconded with much of our money and Richard was beginning to be discouraged.

Long days of waiting followed Richard's and John's departure.... They reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, in good time and bought tickets on the first train to leave Cheyenne going eastward. Everyone turned out to see the departure.

Richard visited awhile with his relatives in Chicago.  They tried hard to get him to go into the mercantile business there.  He had not been in Chicago long, however, until he knew definitely that he would never be happy anywhere but in the West.  It was over his sister's tearful protests that he returned to New Mexico.  He came home by way of the Overland Stage.  New Mexico had no railroad.  Traveling by stage, Richard said, was a most wholesome social experience, for nowhere else does one meet so many agreeable people.

He had been gone altogether about three months, the longest period of time we had ever been separated.  He returned a bit unexpectedly.  Even at that I was watching for him at the kitchen window ever since he and John had faded out of sight with their pack horses.  Now I saw the Overland State swing into sight around the bend in the red dirt road.  The four horses were loping easily, the canopied stage swaying.  A moment later he was standing in front of the trading post surrounded by Indians and loafers.  His eyes were on mine as I stood by the window.  I heard his laughing voice.  I heard him open the door and cross the floor to come and stand beside me.  I simply stood there transfixed with joy.  I could not move nor could I speak to him.  Neither did Richard speak.  He simply took me in his arms and held me while the troubled world rolled onward and left us.

Looking back on my life at Tecolote I find that the big things seem little and the little things seem big.  Someway I have managed to push the grief DeHague's dishonesty caused us into the back of my mind, until at last it is only a shadow.  

Richard sold part of his cattle and managed to pay all outstanding debts.  Then one morning when things were beginning to look more hopeful, 10,000 pounds of shelled corn in the storage room caught fire from spontaneous combustion.  We tried to safe it, but when the fire was extinguished, great piles of blackened corn smoldered behind the trading post for weeks.  Richard bought eighty head of hogs and fattened them on the damaged corn.  Then he hauled them to Fort Sumner, and sold them, receiving $1,000 for them.  I remember how he handed me that money saying, "Marion, you are the only partner I shall ever again have."

In the fall of 1871 Richard sold the trading post and we made preparations to leave Tecolote.

Tecolote - the Indian name means "owl" and the reason I chose this block... the original construction of this block had mitered seams around the center block giving the look of an owl (as shown in the diagram to here).  I made the pattern to be beginner friendly by eliminating those Y-seams.

Richard's and Marion's lives could nearly be a Hallmark movie!  Their love for each other was deep and evident to those around them.  

Their love for each other was all that was needed. And it stayed with her for years, even after Richard's death.  As she said, "I find that the big things seem little and the little things seem big."  

With the Holidays upon us, many are reflecting about what brings true joy to our lives.  And I agree with Marion... 

What "little things" are really the big things in your life?

I'd love to hear from you!  Leave a comment...

Now is the time to get your pattern, make your block and then share it!  Don't forget to use the hashtags #PiecesoftheSantaFeTrail #PiecesoftheTrail #PiecesoftheTrailSewAlong and tag me on instagram @MelvaLovesScraps or share to my fb page Melva Loves Scraps.  

Be sure to come back and link up your block for a chance to win a fat quarter!

Since this is the last block for the quilt top, here is a reminder of the Fabric Requirements that had been provided back in June:

*12 fat quarters, plus a yard of unbleached muslin to piece the blocks for piecing the blocks
*1 additional FQ for cornerstones
*1 yard for sashing strips
*1/3 yard unbleached muslin – I had enough from my original 1 yard 
*1/2 yard blue border
*Scrappy border – I used the remnants of the 12 FQ or the blocks
*Binding – 1/2 yard for a 1 color binding

In summary, I worked with 12 FQ, 1 yard unbleached muslin, a total of 3 yards of a neutral print fabric for the sashing strips and backing and 2 yards of a bright blue for a border and backing.  I pieced the backing to make it work.

Cutting and assembly instructions will be released very soon!

Be Thankful & Keep Piecing,


Linking with:

Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter
Off The Wall Friday with Nina Marie
Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More
Friday Foto Fun at Powered by Quilting


  1. Good morning, Melva! Another lovely block and the last one already!! Happy Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. {{Hugs}} ~smile~ Roseanne

  2. I've mixed feelings about this last block - this has been such a fun sew along. Thank you, Melva, for hosting this one. I'll post my Owl Block soon! What little things are big things? My little family, all of us together. :-) Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  3. What a wonderful historical treasure this journal is. I'm so grateful she kept it.

  4. Yes, thank you for sharing her story. I love this kind of history. I hope you have found another story to share with us here.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing! I will be catching up and creating two very special quilts. Your patterns have been easy to create via your wonderful instructions. The little things? A smile from my husband, the falling leaves, God's quiet soothing voice, and bloggers like you who inspire me to work out of my comfort zone and give me the tools to succeed! Blessings to you!

  6. Melva, I love your series quilts! A few weeks back you were thinking about your next one. I would be thrilled if you developed your Anne of Green Gables theme. I have been a fan of Anne from the moment I met her.

  7. What a sweet story! I love seeing the blocks that go along with this.

  8. Lovely story! Great choice of block. Thanks for sharing on Wednesday Wait Loss.

  9. Thank you, Melva! I'm running late to the party, but I have so enjoyed the excerpts you've shared from the book and patterns. Thanks so much. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  10. Thanks for the reminder to link up my post! Fun block!