LS: History Here and Now Column February 20, 2009

Cowboy Charlie Glass thundered down Grand Junction’s dirt roads

JOSEPHINE DICKEY’S FAMILY at their home on Kimball Avenue. Standing left to right are Helen, Josephine and her father, Wes. Middle row, left to right: Marjorie, her mother, Helen, and Dorothy. Front row, William Wesley III, Theodor, on mother’s lap, and Myrtle Irene.

Second in a four-part series about Josephine Dickey’s family history in Grand Junction.

In the early to mid-1900s, the Mesa County sheriff would meet every black that came to town, ask them how long they were going to be in town, why they were here, where they were going, if they had any people here, or any means to make a living.

If the person told the sheriff that he didn’t have any money, the sheriff would tell that person to go to Handy Chapel. They would be taken in, even if they had to sleep on the floor. No one was ever turned away and no one was ever charged a penny.

I was born in the family home in the 1100 block of Rood Avenue. We didn’t stay there long because local Ku Klux Klan members threw a rock through a window. The rock had a threatening note attached, telling my family to move. We moved to the 800 block of Kimball Avenue.

On Kimball we had chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs, horses and a cow. When my father slaughtered a pig, the neighbors would all come over and take some because we didn’t have ice for the icebox to store the meat. We put a lot of the meat in salt to keep it. In the winter we would hang a carcass up on the porch and then carve off what would be used for a meal.

Everyone shared with everyone else so that the meat would not be wasted.

In the winter, most meals consisted of a piece of beef, potatoes and onions. We had a lot of potatoes because they would keep for a long time. Sometimes we had squash, but it was not grown in abundance then as it is now.

Other vegetables were not available once the carrots and cabbage had been eaten.

We always had a large garden and canned as much as possible. If someone would come into town with peaches, my father would buy six bushels. The house would be so hot, with the wood-burning stove. Down in that part of town we had no electricity, no air conditioning, not even an electric fan. We would be washing the jars and peeling the peaches, all the time watching the little babies who of course would be teething. You would have to have a net over their buggy to keep the flies off, shaking the buggy — of course the baby would wake up and cry.

And then you would look up and there my father would be with another six bushes of peaches or six bushels of tomatoes.

Back then all the streets in that part of town were dirt. Struthers was used as part of the cattle drive trail that cowboys used to herd the cattle to the livestock yard, which was located in the area where the old sugar beet factory is now.

Charlie Glass — the famous African-American cowboy — was a frequent visitor to our home down on Kimball. We had a large front yard, the house set back close to the alley. We could hear Glass coming up the street, the thunder of his horse’s hooves pounding on the dirt street.

Glass would ride into the yard, rein his horse so that it would rear up and all you could see was the belly of the horse, and the soles of Charlie’s boots, and he would shoot his gun off into the sky. This would scare us to death. Glass would get down off his horse, roaring with laughter and hand each child a silver dollar. We loved to see Glass come to town. For weeks after we would watch for Charlie, and just when we were thinking we would never see him again, here he would come thundering back into the yard.

At Christmas time everybody came home to be with family. Daddy would take no excuses. This was home because this was where great-grandpa Austin lived. We were a real tight family.

We would all gather around the piano and sing. My uncle could play the clarinet. Several of my other family members could play the piano and sing. It was all gospel music and songs. My family all sang so beautifully and I just sat there and admired them.

It was such a blessing and I didn’t even realize it.

My father was the only one of the family who couldn’t sing. He did, however, string several songs together: “Little Brown Jug,” “I Love Thee” or “The Wolf is on the Hill.” I can hear him howling still: “I wish I was out in the wilderness of my old Kentucky home.”

As he sang he would do a little marching thing like when he was in school.

Jim Harris had been in the U.S. Calvary. He was tall and stately with a goatee, always walked with his hands clasped behind his back. Both Mr. Harris and his wife, Eva, were well-educated people. They got the Pittsburgh Currier, a black newspaper, and had a great selection of books and invited me and my family to their house to read the books.

After Mr. Harris died, Mrs. Harris remained at the Harris home on Pitkin, and my children continued to go to the Harris house to read.

The Newmans, another black family that were early-day residents of Grand Junction, lived in the 800 block of Chipeta. Mr. Newman was a very fair-skinned man. People thought that he was caucasian. He had a horse named Charlie that pulled the surrey around town. Both of the
Newmans were well educated. Mr. Newman built several of the homes in Grand Junction and my great-grandfather Austin worked for him.

Black people could not rent houses in Grand Junction. A lot of people lived down by the river in tents. This went on well into the 1940s.

Black people were not allowed to eat in restaurants or stay in hotels. A black person could go to the Alpine Restaurant (next door to The Daily Sentinel in the 600 block of Main) or Copeland Drug (at the northeast corner of Fifth and Main) and sit on a stool all day long and not get served, You could go in the kitchen at the Alpine and eat, but you would pay the same price as if you were eating in the dining room.

When a black person went to the Avalon or Mesa Theater for a picture show, you would have to sit “in Heaven,” the balcony. You couldn’t sit down below. Black people were not allowed to swim in Moyer Pool or the YMCA. If black kids wanted to swim, they went in the canals or the river.

We would go out to the river with the kids, play baseball, just any kind of game, and have picnics. Everybody would bring what food they could and we’d all share. Miss Ione would take all of us back and forth in her car. She was one of the few black people in Grand Junction that had a car. She’d make as many trips as necessary to get us all out there. We didn’t care who joined in, they didn’t have to be black for us to share with them.

Kathy Jordan conducted extensive interviews with Josephine Dickey. Jordan recorded, transcribed and ordered those interviews for this series of columns.

Josephine Elizabeth Taylor Dickey’s family has cared for and ministered at the Handy Chapel, 202 White St., since it was built in 1893. Handy Chapel always has served as a spiritual and communal center for Grand Junction’s black community.

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