This story is dedicated to the late Berniece King McClanahan who passed away in Montrose on May 27, 2019, just months before what would have been her 100th birthday in December. The daughter of John and Grace King, she experienced growing up on their Horsefly farm. When many were experiencing hunger and being homeless during the Great Depression, this family never suffered.
The Horsefly region is rich with history, beginning with the Ute Indians; in fact, it was told that the area known as Howard Flats derived its name from Chief Howard and his band who had a race track at that location.
Horsefly supported many herds of both sheep and cattle, the 1910 Last Chance Ranger Station, stagecoach stops, schools and a number of homesteaders in the early 1900s.
Various scenes of the original True Grit movie were filmed at Howard Flats, using original buildings on the Haskill homestead. Local painter, Bob DeJulio, recreated the old Haskill house to portray the McAllister Store in the movie.
For many years, W. F. Wilcox wrote a popular column entitled “Coxey’s Column” in the Daily Press. One of his headlines during the days of the Great Depression, August 1931, read “100 Families Needed for Rich ‘Sky’ Farm Area on Horsefly; King Grows Fine Vegetables.”
He stated that land could be purchased for $2 to $10 an acre, no water to pay for, taxes were 15 cents an acre on grazing land and 30 cents on farm land. Crops were perfect, people had plenty to eat, “but for some reason people have been slow to go into this virtual paradise,” said Wilcox.
Horsefly is broken up into several sections; Horsefly Park, Howard Flats, Sanborn Park and Hanks Valley. John King lived in the Howard Flats area, about 35 miles from Montrose. One day he walked into Wilcox’s office, carrying an armful of brilliant colors of sweet peas, to invite him and his wife up for Sunday dinner.
“Leaving the valley Sunday morning it was clear and hot.” wrote the reporter, “and we journeyed via the old Dave Wood Road over which I had been a couple of times with the sheriff...a very pleasing drive, with the view of Montrose and the valley at your back all the way until you get into the longleaf pine, quaking aspens and spruce.”
“The air grows cooler and cooler as you pass over the divide at nearly 10,000 feet, then you drop down into the big open flat. We got into the ditch once and had to put on a chain to get out. The Kings had just about given up on our coming when we pulled in, but we had not forgotten the promise of dinner and it was soon on the table and if that table didn’t groan it should have. A great platter of fried chicken...a great many vegetables that are produced right on this high altitude farm...Mrs. King is one fine cook.”
“Mr. King drove out thru his fields and showed us his crops...There is no plan for irrigation and during the nine years Mr. King has farmed in this place, there has been but one year when crops were really cut down by lack of rain.”
Wilcox described the land as rich black soil, great for oats and barley, stating that August Nicolas had several thousand sheep grazing throughout the Horsefly region.
“King had 30 acres of the most beautiful potatoes you ever saw...not mushy because they are dry land spuds. Then you should see the cauliflower...cabbage, crisp and brittle..peas, a very profitable crop for King who sells them to Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction grocers in large quantities,” wrote Wilcox.
King also raised lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, turnips and rutabagas. The beautiful garden of sweet peas in a variety of colors revealed from where the bouquet for Wilcox was picked.
“Mr. King’s folks are very comfortably housed in a fine house with hot and cold water and many other comforts. They have a radio, so are in constant touch with the outside world,” said Wilcox.
He wrote of the hardships so many were having in the cities where they had been drawn by big wages, but now out of work, losing their houses, cars and everything.
“If they had gone to a region such as Horsefly they would have a nice home, productive farm and be independent...Americans today have lost sight of the pioneering idea...a great many ‘looking?’ for work are afraid they might find it,” wrote Wilcox.
John and Grace King came here from Cheyenne Wells, Colorado. They had four children; Berniece, Mable, Marie and Bob who rode their horses several miles to the little one-room Mountain View schoolhouse. Once the kids reached high school age, they attended Montrose High.
Marilyn Cox, a native of Montrose County, grew up on a farm and was always surrounded by countless family members who instilled the love of family and history. She retired from the Montrose County School District and, for 21 years, served as curator of the Montrose County Historical Museum.