Orville D. Pyle left his mark on the region
Orville D. Pyle was born in Ohio in 1853. He married Flora Wilkinson, daughter of George Wilkinson, who was agent to the Indians at Fort Union, Nebraska. She was born in Nebraska of the old type pioneer stock, which lived the life of the old West in its original violence. Her parents sent her east to school. She was a good musician and very refined. But she had no fear of pioneering at it rawest, for her people were hunters and trappers and fighters.
It was on account of this marriage that Mr. Pyle came west, in all probability the sort of advance frontier life, which the Wilkinsons preferred would not have attracted him alone. He was a pioneer educator and much interested in community affairs and the upholding of a measure of law and order. He came first to Canon City in 1875 and served as a guard at the penitentiary for a year or two. He came to Pagosa Springs in 1878 and that fall he moved to Farmington, New Mexico, where he helped to organize and taught the first school. But he did not teach it long, for the Indians ran him out of it.
A cowboy named Frank Meyers shot a Navajo, and the Indians got on the warpath and came to the settlement. The white people put tubs of water in their houses and loaded their guns and kept watch to see when they would have to begin fighting. A few cool-handed men met the Indians and asked for twenty-four hours in which to get Frank Meyers and turn him over to the Indians to kill for revenge. They sent to Fort Lewis at once for aid, and General Lawton, who was later killed in the Philippines, came with a troop of cavalry. The wounded Navajo recovered, and nothing happened. Frank Meyers was never caught. But that ended the school.
The Pyle family went next to Rockwood below Electra Lake and remained there all winter. O. D. Pyle organized the first school at Rockwood, and his children attended it. A Miss Gaffney was the teacher. A bad man named Can Young, a red-headed Irishman, came to the little school house one day during the term and asked Miss Gaffney where a certain man was. Scarcely waiting for a reply, he whipped out his six-shooter and a bullet hit the floor and another bullet hit the ceiling. The two Pyle boys fell out of the schoolhouse door. The children all ran, and Miss Gaffney ran outside and fainted over the bars of the corral nearby. The children thought she was dead and were more frightened than ever.
The stage from Alamosa came to Animas City, and a line ran from there on to Silverton, passing by the stage station of Cascade near Rockwood. Durango began to be active in 1879 or 1880. One of the Pyle children remembers being on the platform when the first train pulled into Durango in August of '81 or '82.
All the little boys of those days thought of was “guns and shooting and hanging people”. Some children were hanging a boy named Robert one time, and they found they could not get him down again. He would have died had not the mail carrier come along in time and rescued him.
After a while, O. D. Pyle came over into Montezuma Valley and took up a farm in Lost Canon above the Walker place, north. He helped to organize the first school district at Big Bend and the first school there was held in a dugout with Lulu Swenk as teacher. She was a lovely lady.
Mr. Pyle brought one of the first herds of good cattle to the Dolores country. He brought them first from the San Luis Valley to Farmington and then over to Lost Canon, 3 miles north of the Walker ranch.
The Indians got on the warpath after the Beaver Affair. The Pyle family was isolated over in Lost Canon with no neighbors with whom they could group for greater safety as the settlers down the Dolores River from Big Bend did. So when they got the warning after Mr. Genthner was killed, they went out and lived in the brush for a week. It was June and moonlight. Mrs. Pyle made beds down for the family in the willows and herded the frightened children like quail. A light or a fire was dangerous. But the Indians did not come to their refuge, and then a troop of soldiers from Fort Lewis came and stayed with them nearly all summer.
The children enjoyed having the soldiers about. One of the boys earned his first money doing the captain's washing. They would sneak down with cream for a drunken mess sergeant, and the soldiers would feed them twisted doughnuts to reward them for favors.
Eleven Indians had been killed at Beaver, and it was another party which attacked the settlers. To an Indian, any white man will do to kill in return for the killing of an Indian by some other white man. It is not necessary to kill the one who was to blame for the original killing.
The entire family enjoyed outdoor life. Sometimes the boys would go off and stay a week hunting and fishing and the parents would not know where they were. The boys read the life of Daniel Boone and the works of Cooper and drew inspiration from those. Daniel Boone's years among the Indians impressed them, so one of Mrs. Pyle's brothers and her son, aged fifteen and ten respectively, took a gun, a frying pan, a pound of butter, and a blanket and were gone for a week on Lost Canon Creek.
There was much game in those days. Mr. Pyle could kill wild turkeys almost from his own door. There were grouse and deer everywhere, and in winter the family would have several deer and wild turkeys dressed and hung up in the shed where it was cold. There were wild cattle, too. When in spring the game came about the place, it was such a sight as is not seen anymore. There were lions, too. At night they could be heard howling near by, and the doors were kept barred.
The Pyles would lay in the groceries in the fall and “hole up for the winter”. They were isolated but they enjoyed it. One time Mr. Pyle left his youthful brother-in-law and one of his sons alone on the Lost Canon ranch for three weeks. He had not intended to be gone so long, and the boys had very little to eat, for the grub was nearly all gone before his return. It was an interesting life, and the young Pyles did not like to see civilization come with the building of the (irrigation) tunnel. That spoiled the fishing in the Dolores for years.
The Pyle children attended the first school in Cortez for a time. The family lived there for a short time.
O. D. Pyle was much interested in community affairs and education always. He took active part in anything that promised better things for the country. At Big Bend and at Dolores, its successor, he was justice of the peace for twenty years or more. And as such he was interested in law and order in a community, which was law-abiding only in frontier fashion. He was of Quaker parentage and preserved his native tendencies in a country where such were the exception. And he is remembered in Dolores as a pioneer educator and administrator of the law. His death occurred in 1907.
Anna Florence Robison, interview on March 16, 1934 with Harry Pyle, son of O. D. Pyle.
Published in The Dolores Star, Friday, April 23, 1982.
Permission to reprint article by Frank Pyle, great grandson of O. D. Pyle, July 2011.
Our Pioneer History.” Many of the articles found in these four volumes look back on local history. Volumes I, II, III, and IV may be purchased at “Books” or “ Let It Grow” stores in Cortez