by Nancy Christofferson
BUTTE VALLEY — In mid-May 1931, a true pioneer of Huerfano County died at the age of 81. His name was William Speed and he had lived in Huerfano County for nearly 60 years.
Speed was a native of England, born in 1849, who immigrated to Kansas in 1871. In 1872 he moved to Huerfano County and became a sheep raiser. He married Mary Frances Profitt on June 24, 1877 in Badito. Mary Frances is often referred to as Mary Ann, and in the marriage records she is Frances Mary. The 1880 census lists her as Fanny. Ah well.
Mary Frances herself was the member of a pioneering family. Her father was William Profitt, who was said to have been a “Pony Express” rider on the Santa Fe Trail. We take this to mean he had a contract to carry mail from some point to another, since the real Pony Express traveled some 1,900 miles between St. Joseph, MO and Sacramento, CA for just 18 months in 1860-1861, when Speed was only 10 and 11 years old [the term Pony Express was expanded sometime in history to include mail carriers of the frontier and, in fact, you can read about Pony Express riders working in Huerfano County. This has nothing to do with the authentic service of that name]. Another account says William “Uncle Billy” was a freighter along the Santa Fe Trail, and he may well have been both.
Be that as it may, Profitt fought in the Mexican War and must have liked the West better than his native Missouri because he married Mary Nestora Gould in Taos about 1855. Mary Nestora’s father was a Scotsman and evidently a trapper or trader who married a Taos woman and settled in New Mexico. The couple had at least seven children with Mary Frances being the oldest girl. Several of their children and grandchildren became coal miners, centered around Pictou.
William and Mary Nestora settled near Fort Garland in 1861. He continued freighting and trapping, and was a friend of the famous Kit Carson and infamous Tom Tobin. The family moved into Huerfano County in 1868 and took up land in the vicinity of the Huerfano Butte. They were accompanied by William’s father, John.
William Profitt, as a farmer, often sold crops and animals in Walsenburg, such as corn, chickens and turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday back in the 1880s and ‘90s. His son David ran a store in Badito, and also raised crops. In her reminiscences, Mary Frances told of the early days when there was but one store in Walsenburg, an adobe building belonging to Fred Walsen. She no doubt accompanied her father to the town in her youth.
After their marriage, William and Mary Frances Speed lived near Gardner before taking up a homestead north of the Huerfano Butte near Apache Creek, but still in the general environs of the old community of Butte Valley. He became a farmer and rancher.
Butte Valley in the 1860s and ‘70s was a thriving place. It had been settled around 1862, supposedly by 10 Frenchmen working as teamsters for the Bent family, and was a stopping place on the stage line running between Denver and Santa Fe. Thus, there were lodging, stables and an eating establishment available to travelers. Several stores, albeit small ones, were in business. The Butte Valley post office was operational between 1869 and 1878.
Another pioneer of the neighborhood was John H. Brown who was elected county clerk in 1866, refused to work in Badito or later in Walsenburg and maintained his office in his home into the 1870s. In addition, Brown insisted even the county commissioners meet there. He could do this, because he was not only county clerk, but also a commissioner. The Butte Valley school district was #2, having been formed in the early days of the Colorado Territory.
William and Mary Frances had numerous children. These included sons Sidney H. and Fred J. Sidney was born in 1888 on the homestead and married a woman named Kate. They moved to Delta where he died in 1952. The couple evidently had no children. Fred, born in 1894, moved up valley to Redwing, where he was a farmer. He married Mary Josephine Lindley and they had at least one child, Alice Ann, born in 1928.
The Speeds also had five daughters. The oldest was Sarah, born in 1878, who married John McMahon in 1898. Sarah died at age 31 in 1906, leaving three small children. After Sarah, the twins Della and Maria Speed were born in April 1885. Maria must have died young. Della married J.A. McMahon, a section foreman for the railroad, in 1903. Then there was Margaret who married a Beeler and Alice who married Frank L. Dancy.
William Speed died in 1931 and Mary Frances carried on into her 93rd year, dying in 1952. William Profitt died “of extreme old age” in 1908 (at age 84). Mary Nestora had died in 1903 at 64 years.
The closeness of the two families may be seen in the fact that in the Speed Cemetery at Butte Valley, five of the nine marked gravesites belong to Profitts. There are also two McMahons and two Lewis infants. The E.A. Lewis family were neighbors. The McMahons were Fred, 1902-1930, no doubt the child of Sarah, and Helen Matilda, 1909-1931. Helen had been married to Fred McMahon. The Profitts in the graveyard are children of William and Mary Nestora, including a son with no name who died at almost 24 years in 1885, Martha who died in 1873 at one year, Clara, the wife of John Profitt, who died in 1905 and their child, Rosa, who died in 1895 at five. There is also a stone engraved “A.P.”, who may be Alfred.
Ironically, William and Mary Frances Speed are buried in Walsenburg’s Masonic Cemetery.
Della McMahon’s obituary said she was buried in the Speed Cemetery. She died of the Spanish Influenza in November 1918. The Speed burying ground is occasionally called the Butte Valley Cemetery, which causes some confusion.
William and Mary Nestora also, according to their obituaries, were buried in the Speed, as is a son of John and Clara who died in 1896, but there are no records or tombstones to show this. There are many others, perhaps 20-25, said to be interred at Butte Valley, but they are probably in the cemetery west of the Speed and north of the Huerfano River.