by Brian Orr
HUERFANO- Nine Colorado state legislators came down to Huerfano County last weekend to tour Tim Williams’ ranch, which is at risk of being gobbled up by the proposed Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site expansion. The Williams family homesteaded their ranch in 1914, and four generations still live on the property.
The expedition was organized by State Rep. Wes McKinley (D-Walsh), and the lawmakers attending were Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), Ellen Roberts (R-Durango), Terrence Caroll (D-Denver), Rep. Ken Sommers (R-Lakewood), Sen. Lois Tochtrop (D-Thornton), Rafael Gallegos (D-Antonito), Don Marostica (R-Loveland) and John Soper (D-Thornton).
The legislators began their time in Huerfano County by having cocktails at La Plaza Inn, hosted by owner Martie Henderson, who is running for county commissioner. Business owners and local politicians swarmed the open bar and roast beef sandwiches, shaking hands, slapping backs and generally feeling the power.
The party moved on to Andy’s Smokehouse BBQ for a full sit down dinner. After that, several of the congressman went out to camp in tents on the Williams ranch. The less hardy found hotel rooms.
By 10 am on Saturday morning, the legislators, as well as friends, family, neighbors and cowboys; over 70 all told, were saddled up and ready to see just what was at stake.
The trail meandered across the short grass prairie, past two historic stage coach stops,
down into canyons where Indian petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks are plainly visible, and past lots of curious cattle. Always to the west, the mountains arched into the sky, with the Spanish Peaks glowing white with a new dusting of snow. At stops along the way, local history and descriptions of the abundant wildlife were told.
The last stragglers made it back to the ranch house by 3:30, to dive into a lunch catered by Andy’s Smokehouse BBQ. After everyone were (mostly) done eating, local ranchers got up to tell how they felt about the threatened expansion and what it meant to them. It was emotional to say the least.
Tough old cowboys would choke up when describing their love for the land, and the special bonds felt between neighbors. “This land makes my heart sing,” said Tim Roberts, whose ranch sits next to the Williams’.
Heritage, family values, a way of life and having a future for their children were talked about by rancher after rancher. Lat Williams, son of Tim Williams, held up his cowboy hat and said, “This isn’t just a hat- it’s a symbol of our lifestyle; the Cowboy Way. We will be the last ones to go outta here- we’ll go out screaming.”
Connie Hass stood up and told of her son Matthew, who just received his selective service notification a few days before his 18th birthday. “He told me he would be proud to serve his country, but what is his country doing to him? He asked how he could possibly fight for freedom when it is being denied right in his own home? He said, ‘I’m supposed to live the American Dream.’ We should be able to pass OUR American Dream on to our children.”
The legislators were duly impressed. Several of them were visibly choked up when they stood to address the crowd.
Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling was stridently opposed to the expansion. “It’s a horrible idea. The federal government has enough land. This is a ranching, agricultural community, built on ranching. This is simply unacceptable; to use eminent domain is out of the question.” When asked if the state government could completely stop the federal government, he answered, “No. But we can make it so difficult, and raise such a stink, that it hopefully isn’t worth it.” Then he added, “Y’know, they still haven’t shown us a real need for this land- they just want it.”
Perhaps the most persuasive speaker was Tim Williams’ granddaughter, Niquole Knapp. The interview with her went like this: “Hi; what’s your name?- Niquole. How old are you?- Six. Do you live here?- Yes; this is our land; it’s not for sale.”