The organizers of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering had a wonderful idea when they decided to make this year’s theme “The Ranch Woman.”
There will be female poets, female musicians and ranch women on panels. And two special women will be honored.
Frances Hotter, 93, will be the grand marshal of today’s Motorless Parade. (It starts at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Main Avenue and College Drive.) I don’t always mention a lady’s age, but since she will be escorted by her “little” brother Lawrence Huntington, who is 91, it seems relevant here. Plus, it demonstrates how long Hotter has been a ranch woman.
She was one of four children raised in the remote Hay Gulch area of the Dryside (in Southwest La Plata County). In good weather, she and her brothers walked to the one-room Rockvale School, but they got to ride horses when it was cold and snowy.
As was common for many rural kids at the time, she had to board in Durango to go to high school. In Hotter’s case, that meant the Ochsner Hospital (now the Gable House), where she worked off room and board by doing afternoon chores. Summers were spent back at the family ranch on horseback, putting up hay.
Then she married Joe Hotter, and the couple spent summers on a ranch that had been in his family since the 1800s. It’s the beautiful spread on the west side of U.S. Highway 550 a few miles south of Durango Mountain Resort.
Until she was 85, Hotter rode the grasslands an average of three days a week from spring to the end of October.
“It was big country,” she told Jeff Mannix when he was interviewing her in preparation for the gathering, “and we had no fences on two sides, so we had to find cows and push them away from wandering off the property ... I loved those days in the saddle.”
The couple were known for their purebred Hereford cattle and the beautiful quarter horses they raised.
“Cattle, horses, many a dawn in the saddle and the trust of a horse picking its way out of the forest in the dark,” Mannix wrote about Hotter. “Good friends, family meals, bad wrecks, dead animals, torrential rains and death-defying snow, lightning, cattle running from fire, newborn colts and calves – Frances Hotter is a Western ranch woman; she’s seen and done it all.”
Amen, and doesn’t that make us townies feel a little, uh, what’s the word? Lazy?
Before I move on to the other honoree, a few words about the parade. Pam Jacobs, whom Linda Mannix wrangled (see, I can talk that lingo) into being the new coordinator, tells me she wanted more music – lots more music. Starting at 9:30 a.m., the Durango Narrowgauge Barbershop Chorus, Chokecherry Jam, Running Out of Road, Will Cooter Band and Slim McWilliams, who is also the parade announcer, will be performing at various venues along the route.
Performers will be interspersed with other parade entries, too, including Southern Ute Heritage Dancers and Yellow Drum Corps, Ballet Folklórico de Durango and popular musician Tim Sullivan. Jacobs said there will be some surprises in store, too.
The other woman being honored is Mary Jane Clark, for her efforts in preserving the history and culture of the Southwest. Clark is an active and accomplished woman I’ve known most of my life, but I learned so much about her while reading about this honor.
She grew up at Blanco Mercantile, in Blanco, New Mexico, which her father, Ed Black, had bought after coming west to die, because he had tuberculosis. Luckily, the climate changed that prognosis, and he bought the mercantile. (It’s a great juxtaposition of cultures to have someone named Black owning a business that translates as white.) Black learned to speak Spanish and Navajo, sometimes even herding sheep with the Navajo.
Fast forward, Clark became a nurse after studying in Omaha, Nebraska, and returned to the Southwest, marrying Durango native Jackson Clark Sr. He worked for the local Pepsi distributor collecting accounts on the Navajo Reservation. When they couldn’t pay cash, he accepted beautiful rugs instead. Which his boss so did not appreciate.
So Mary Jane Clark threw a dinner party, where guests had the opportunity to purchase the rugs, and the boss got his cash after all.
It was the beginning of what has become Toh-Atin Gallery, where Clark has maintained long friendships with many weavers, nurturing in particular the famous Five Sisters, who created the Burnham-style rugs. More than 50 years later, she still goes to work every morning, always keeping in mind the goal of supporting weavers and keeping the tradition going.
One of the great achievements of the Clarks, in collaboration with Toadlena Trading Post owner Mark Winter, was creating the Durango Collection of weavings, which is now the centerpiece of the Center of Southwest Studies’ collection. Coincidentally, or maybe not, the center will hold the opening of a new exhibit: Masterpieces of the Durango Collection at 5 p.m. Thursday if I’ve piqued your curiosity.
Clark will be honored from 5 to 7 p.m. today at Toh-Atin, 145 W. Ninth St., for her contributions. Stop by, congratulate her, and learn more about the matriarch of a clan that is now up to their fourth generation (if you count her father, and I do) in this cross-cultural enterprise.
Enjoying brisk, beautiful fall days for their birthdays are Marilyn Swanson, Richard Nobman, Jonah Michael Unterreiner, Ashley Miller, Tim Orlowski, John Welcher, Carroll Groeger, Claudia Luthy, Mary Southworth, Dave Mitzlaff, Ella Peterson, Kenny Bassett, Denna Bowles, Ella Rolph, Jill Wright, Chris Calwell, Linda Schwinghammer, Renee Rodriguez and Bill Volz.
When the Reading Club of Durango held its fall potluck at the Electra Lake cabin of Sandra Mapel on Sept. 25, members hit the high point of the fall colors on an absolutely gorgeous day.
Mapel changed it up from everyone bringing a dish to everyone bringing a salad ingredient, and she said, “If everyone brings zucchini, we eat zucchini!” Everybody didn’t bring zucchini – in fact, I don’t think anyone brought zucchini – but there was fruit, every vegetable imaginable, including cherry tomatoes of all colors from Sharon Abshagen’s garden, and a few other goodies. (I know tomatoes are considered a fruit – I just can’t wrap my head around it.)
Mapel put the capper on the repast with the best peach cobbler ever, then threw in a pile of free books cleaned out of her library.
Playing in the leaves for their fall anniversaries are Miles and Holly Newby, Richard and Bonnie Jung, John and Etoile Hening, Rege and Nancy Leach and Chris and Lynda Berger.
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