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Frederick E. Cowing:  businessman, stockraiser, and Mason

by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — Frederick E. Cowing died 62 years ago this week. Besides being an early county official, Cowing was a successful businessman, stockraiser and loyal member of the Masonic Lodge.
Cowing was born in 1856 in New York, and in 1883 was married to Susan Evans in Ohio. There is some discrepancy about just when the Cowing family arrived in Walsenburg. A biography of F.E. in 1948 says it was 1879, so we will accept that date. This biography also says that, after returning to Ohio for his wedding, he moved to the Gardner area and took up raising sheep and opened a store. His partner in this enterprise was Louis C. DeCamp, county clerk and recorder of the time. Cowing became deputy clerk in 1882.
It appears Cowing stayed in the upper Huerfano Valley until 1889, when he returned to Walsenburg and went into the feed and grocery business with J.R. Canon. What relation, if any, J.R. was to pioneer Benton Canon is unknown.
The 1885 census shows F.E., 29, ranchman, and S.J., 27, wife, living west of Gardner near the Watkins clan.
Cowing was back in Walsenburg by July 1889 busily building a feed store “in the Captain Hendren block.” It was on Fifth Street, and the store measured 25 by 60 feet – large for the time. That 1948 biography states the site was where Unfug and Peet had their mortuary at the time, which was 115 East Fifth. Later in August he and Canon added the grocery department.
Cowing and Canon soon moved to a new location on Main Street, in what was called the Walsen block. Fred Walsen had started a new bank and built four stores alongside in 1889, an expenditure of $8,000. The bank was on the corner of Main and Fifth streets, and the stores, lined up to its south, were initially occupied by Peter Krier’s shoe shop, J.B. Johnson the jeweler, Cowing and Canon and the post office.
Cowing is credited with beginning the store that became known as the Star Grocery, so his store was at 507 Main. Competitors in 1889 included M.L. Swift, the Unfug brothers and the Jellisons. The town also had several meat markets, bakeries and confectioneries.
In 1890 there is a mention of the Cowing store on Capitol Hill being the agent for La Veta flour, so he may have had another outlet farther north. That year he’d built a “picturesque” home at 418 Kansas Avenue.
Cowing converted his and Canon’s first store, on East Fifth, into a grain warehouse. They placed the doorway along the alley so that patrons could drive their wagons inside without blocking the street.
In 1898 Cowing enlarged his Main Street store when he moved into the neighboring building by having an archway cut out between the two store spaces.
Whether Cowing was reticent or merely did not need the business, he consistently managed to stay out of the Walsenburg business directories until 1901, when his listing claimed he was serving as mayor. Actually, he had been mayor in 1894-96, and was a town trustee in 1901, having been first elected in 1899. He held this position until 1905. Another business listing in 1901 was for “S.E. Cowing, hay, grain, feed and groceries.” The only S.E. was Mrs. Cowing, Susan.
Cowing, in addition, was elected to the Walsenburg School District No. 4 Board of Education in 1897.
F.E. and Susan had five children. Their sons were Maurice E., born in 1887, and Frederick E. Jr., born in 1903. The latter died at age 18, while Maurice, instead of following his father into the grocery business, went to work for the First National Bank where he worked his way up to head cashier by 1930. He was also a director of the institution from around 1909 until his death in 1950.
The couple’s daughters were Clara, Ruth and Eleanor. Clara married Ward Thornton in 1916 and died in 1967 in California. Ruth married Welling A. Sumner in 1910 when he was a lowly clerk for a coal mine. He improved his fortunes and became part owner of the Caliente Fuel Company which owned the Ravenwood and Maitland mines. Welling died in 1935 and Ruth in 1978. The couple had had two children who had both predeceased them.
Eleanor married Ford Frick in 1916. He, too, was a clerk for a coal mine, Cameron, but was also a coach at Huerfano County High School. From Walsenburg he ascended a career ladder that included radio sportscasts and sports writing that attracted the attention of William Randolph Hearst. From the newspaper business he moved to being a public relations director for baseball’s National League, and later the same year, 1934, he became league president and served as such until 1951. From 1965-68, he was Major League Baseball Commissioner. After helping to establish the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was named to it in 1970. The Ford Frick Award goes annually to “major contributions to baseball.” He died in 1978. He so overshadowed his wife she is never mentioned in his biographies. From the Walsenburg newspapers, however, it is known the couple returned almost annually to visit Eleanor’s family.
In 1919 Cowing sold his grocery business to John Foley and William McPhail, who renamed it Star Grocery. They also remodeled the premises by installing new windows on the front. McPhail soon sold out his interest and, after a disastrous fire several remodelings inside and out, Foley sold Star Grocery to Nick Magnone and Paul Riccatone in 1940. Riccatone dropped out and Nick was joined by his son Charles Magnone until they sold to Darwin Smallwood in 1966. The grocery closed soon after that.
Maurice E. Cowing Jr., son of M.E. Sr. and May, died in 1964 and his widow Millie sold their home in Walsenburg and moved away. And that ended the Cowing influence and activity in Walsenburg, after three quarters of a century.