When Jennie Miller came to the Mancos Valley

June 15, 1859, was a beautiful, clear day in the Scotland County of Missouri. Barbara Shacklett Miller was unaware of the weather as she screamed out from the pain of a difficult birth. Harriet, the midwife, winced but kept on with the preparations for the arrival of a large baby.

"Make yourself useful, William," Harriet said. "Stand over here and hold Barbara's hands above her head."

Ten minutes later, Mahala Jennie Miller cried as she started her tour of duty here on planet Earth. The years passed by quickly on the farm, and soon Jennie was a student in the elementary school in Wyanconda. Jennie devoured books and had an insatiable appetite for learning new things.

Sadly, in her teenage years, Jennie developed a bad case of hay fever. It made for difficulties but she managed to graduate from a yearlong teacher's training course. After graduating as a teacher in the spring of 1890, Jennie moved back in with her parents, all the while knowing she had to find a place to live where she would be free of her hay fever affliction.

Jennie sent her résumé to a number of places out west and heard back from three of them. Two of them were in the San Luis Valley and the third was from a western small town by the name of Mancos.

Barbara looked at the Mancos school's acceptance letter and said, "Jennie, I have no idea what Mancos has for schools, and I do hate to have you leave but at the same time know you have to find a place where you will not be hounded by hay fever."

A month later, William took Jennie in the family buggy to where she could board a railway car on the Hutchinson Topeka Railroad.

By the time she ended up in Durango, Jennie felt she must be nearing the end of the white man's country and would be entering an Indian reservation if she went any farther west.

Nonetheless, Jennie boarded a car on the Denver & Rio Grande Southern that afternoon and ended up in Mancos. A tall man with a curious moustache beckoned to her and offered to take her in his buggy to wherever she was headed.

"I've accepted a teaching position in Mancos, but have no idea where I can stay."

"I can take you to Mary Hyde's rooming house and restaurant. That will give you a chance to find something more suitable before school starts next week. You can room and board for 35 cents."

Jennie taught for two years before marrying the man with the buggy, Charles B. Kelly, on Jan. 31, 1892.

Darrel Ellis is a longtime historian of the Mancos Valley. Email him at dnrls@q.com.