Olga Schaaf Little - burro packer
Olga was born in 1883 in Germany, and her family immigrated to America in 1885. In November 1893 she ended up with her family in Chama. She attended school there, and the only language spoken was Spanish. That was the only education she received.
When Olga was 13 she and her brother rode from Chama to Durango and back. Her father built a home in Durango and the family moved there. The next year Olga started breaking horses for local ranchers and was paid $5 a week. (Twenty bucks a month was a lot of money back then.)
A few years later the road washed out to the Neglected Mine, and because of her background, Olga was asked to pack in equipment and supplies. She was five feet four inches tall, and after some basic training in knots and packing, she packed a string of burros into the mine.
A few years later on one of her trips to the Neglected Mine her saddle horse fell on an icy trail breaking Olga's leg. She managed to make it to the mine. A doctor was sent for and he set her leg. She was brought back to Durango on a homemade sled.
She met a young miner by the name of William Little on her previous trip to the mine and he accompanied her back to Durango. He had recently immigrated to America from Glasgow, England. They were married the next year and moved to a home at the mouth of La Plata Canyon about five miles north of Hesperus.
Olga stayed busy packing in to mines and it wasn't long until she had a string of 30 burros. Some of the mines she packed in to were the Mayday, Jumbo, Bessie G, Gold King and Tomahawk.
She had many dangerous incidents but survived them all. Once she lost three burros, each carrying three cases of dynamite, off Kennebec Pass. They fell several hundred feet and were all killed but none of the dynamite exploded.
In the winter of 1912, she was snowed in at the Neglected Mine with 18 miners. Olga and her eight burros accompanied the men as she and they broke trail for eight miles from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Some of the miners suffered frostbite and many of them later said they would probably have died had it not been for Olga.
Olga packed and freighted with teams and wagon or bobsled into the mid 1940s, when all the mines closed down.
Olga was honored many times by people in the mining industry. In 1958, she was the subject of Ralph Edwards' "This is Your Life" program. Olga passed away in September 1970 and is buried in Durango.
Once when my parents went to see Olga and Bill, I got to tag along. Olga shined a fluorescent light on some of her rock collection. They shined and sparkled and years later I wondered how radioactive some of those rocks must have been.
Local historian Darrel Ellis can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.