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Groundbreaker Part II

COLORADO/NEW MEXICO — Alexander Barclay and other former trappers and traders were living at Hardscrabble on the Arkansas River when they learned war had been declared by the United States on Mexico in May 1846. Since they had settled within the confines of the Mexican Republic, they were understandably concerned. This in no way affected their social lives. The settlers all along the Arkansas between Hardscrabble and Bent’s Fort spent a great deal of time visiting back and forth, despite the distances and, often, the weather. The Barclays hosted all types of men and women, respectable or lawbreakers. They also thought nothing of throwing some things together to go the 20 or so miles downstream to Fort Pueblo for a fandango or other celebration, and stay for days. Barclay had a clientele built up for his hand sewn buckskin garments. His old corset-making days evidently left him with sewing skills not shared by many on the frontier outside of the Indian villages. He completed a number of coats and shirts while waiting for goods to arrive from Taos to sell in his store. He also “imported” domestic cats from New Mexico to cope with the rat population in the corncribs. How the cats fared with the resident wildlife is unknown. Barclay could ride his horse a short distance to find game – he brought home mountain goats, deer and bear for the larder. Also ranging free and wild along the Arkansas and far onto the plains were wolves that were a constant threat to the livestock. July found Barclay at Bent’s Fort. He had completed fabricating grindstones, ox bows, wagon axles and mule harness, and had gone to fetch a gun possibly sent from St. Louis for him. While there, he noted the absence of William Bent who was at the time on

the “Picatwa”, his spelling for Picketwire or Purgatoire River, waiting to meet the dragoons marching across the Santa Fe Trail to make war in New Mexico. Barclay was happy to have troops nearby because the Army bought many of his spare mules and plenty of corn. His business got another boost when in August 500 or so Mormons arrived to camp near Fort Pueblo for the winter. Their settlement was called Mormontown by the older inhabitants, who were happy to attend the Mormons’ fandango in September. Then he was off to the San Luis Valley and a visit in “Souwatch”. Nevertheless, Barclay decided to abandon his growing prospects of farm and store in Hardscrabble, and left “for good and aye” to live in Pueblo in October. Another new house was built, more outbuildings were added and work continued into January when word arrived of the Taos Rebellion and murder of Charles Bent. Shortly after this he fashioned a dirt roof for his store and was in business. After a trip to Westport and St. Louis that summer, Barclay returned to Hardscrabble a year after he’d left for “good and aye”. He and others were living there when a huge battle between the Utes (he called them Eutaus) and Arapahos was clearly heard by the community, even though the fight was several miles away. Shortly after Barclay sent wagons to “the Platte”, presumably to Fort St. Vrain to pick up furs and pelts, he took to his bed with his various ailments, including spitting blood, head “aichs” and gout. In November 1847 the settlers heard Mexico City had fallen to the Americans, and the war was over. About the same time, Apaches in northeastern New Mexico went on a rampage of murder, theft and cattle stealing. These news items arrived with a wagon train from Taos, which also brought a load of fresh whiskey. Late that month Barclay sold out his property in Pueblo. Living on the Hardscrabble he heard many stories of the Ute presence along the Huerfano, which was the tribe’s superhighway between the plains and the San Luis Valley. To avoid them on the plains, Barclay and his party in February 1848 used the old Sangre de Cristo trail into the valley and onto Taos. On this trip he continued on to La Junta and Las Vegas where U.S. soldiers were still camped. He had a new plan. Back in Hardscrabble that April, he spent less than 10 days there before packing numerous wagons and pack animals with everything he and his “old lady” owned and heading south on April 23. With the inclusion of the furnishings, women and children in the vehicles, and the men driving pigs, cows and what have you, the group traveled slowly to the Huerfano River, between two buttes and to the “Big Cucharas” in five days. There they got snowed in for three days before moving on to the Apishapa, the Purgatoire where they received “an alarm” of Indians in the vicinity. Proceeding cautiously, they crossed Raton Pass, the Red or Canadian River, the Vermejo, the “Simerone” and Rayado and arrived in Ocate May 8. Here Barclay left his fellow travelers and headed for Taos to transact business. Returning, he and the party continued on until reaching their final destination near La Junta and Mora. Immediately, work began making adobes, plowing a garden and planting corn, “California pumpkins” and wheat. This was Barclay’s third effort in pioneering a new settlement. Supplies were easier to obtain here than in Colorado. Whiskey and flour came from Mora, extra hands were hired as they passed by on the Santa Fe Trail. Every day travelers, from one to a company, went by – quite a change from Hardscrabble. The first news they received from their old home was of Apache depredations. While Barclay kept a record of construction, houses and later “the east block” of buildings, a blacksmith, corrals, dams, only once does he mention a fort in the first months there. On July 3, 1848, he wrote, “About this time Fort began in earnest”. A few days later he noted the passing of a train of 240 wagons heading east. Heavy rains in August undermined the new walls and several collapsed. Many of the group moved in anyway. Once they were settled, visitors began arriving to stay over. A number of log cabins were built within the walls to accommodate the growing number of inhabitants. Barclay had begun trading almost immediately. Transporting goods from Taos and other points, he sold to local storekeepers, landowners and travelers alike, supplying them with everything from whiskey to dairy cows. A small tragedy occurred when the bell cow was killed by wolves. It is difficult to say when the fort was completed, since construction continued for months, but it included the trading post (selling Barclay’s homemade wine), two circular bastions on a 64-foot square with a water well in the center, had two stories, and was built on a limestone foundation. It was located near the junction of Sapello Creek and the Mora River. While it was strong and defensible, the interior proved damp and uncomfortable to many. So when Barclay offered his fort to the U.S. Army for $15,000, there was no sale. Fort Union nearby was built instead. Alexander Barclay died in December 1855 at his fort, at the age of 45.