James Nix wrote, “We started out from Placerville to Hastings Mesa, east of Dollar Mountain on Smeck’s Toll Road when we learned of President Garfield’s assassination.” James A. Garfield was shot July 2, 1881 and lived until September 19, 1881. On the La Plata River assignment, the Uncompaghre Ute Indians went through on their move to the Uinta Reservation. The Indian Chief, Ouray, died while the Indians were at the La Plata.
By August 1881 they were surveying the Gurley Reservoir area and Wright’s Spring. The areas they surveyed had only Indian trails and pinyon, cedar and sage flats. It was the “wild west” of broad unexplored, unsettled spaces.
It was about November, 1881 when James and his Uncle Bill Souther went to Disappointment Valley to locate claims they were making. The Disappointment Valley of Colorado, near Norwood, was to play an important role in the Nix and Souther settlements and for others who had migrated there from Choestoe in Union County, Georgia.
Then the uncle and his nephew tried their luck at trapping. They caught bear and other animals and sold the pelts. Winters were severe. Survival skills were in high gear all the time. At one time someone burned Bill Souther’s cabin and all their equipment and supplies for winter were lost.
James Nix’s sisters and mother married, thus relieving James somewhat of their care. His sister Martha Jane Nix married November 2, 1882 to Thomas H. Sullivan. He was another of the Choestoe men who migrated to Colorado. James’s sister Nancy Ann Nix married Alfred Lafayette Sullivan in 1883. James’s widowed mother married William John Bankston at Norwood, Colorado on March 11, 1884. She had been a widow for over nineteen years, having buried her first husband, James’s father, William Nix, who died at Choestoe on March 17, 1864.
James married Ione May Copp, niece of Mr. Henry Copp, on January 2, 1890. James and Ione met when she was visiting her uncle who founded the Norwood, Colorado post office and store. Ione May was from Missouri. They first met in April, 1888. It was love at first sight. James tells how he found many reasons to go to the store and post office after Miss Copp went to Colorado to live with her uncle and aunt. James writes about how he and Miss Copp and nine other young men and ladies took a ride up Baldy to Lone Cone for an outing and picnic. While there, a thunderstorm formed along Naturita Creek far below them. James Nix said it was the second time in his life he had been above a storm to view it. The previous time was before he left Union County in 1873. He and some young men had climbed to the top of Bald Mountain, and far below them, in Choestoe Valley, lightning flashed, thunder rolled and rain pelted, but on the mountain the sun was still shining.
James Nix built a two-room cabin for his bride at Norwood. It had a dirt roof and sod floor. Through the sagebrush, he dug down twenty feet into the soil to find water for a well. He worked for the Naturita Canal and Reservoir Company. James wrote that as their means increased, they built onto the original two-room cabin, made it into a large two story house, and added two rooms on the west. There nine children were born to them. Five lived to adulthood, but four died in infancy.
When James Nix died at the age of 88 on March 2, 1947, the Norwood Star wrote of him:
“Mr. Nix was one of the few remaining pioneers of Wright’s Mesa. He helped to settle a wonderful section of the west. His life, spent mostly in Colorado in the early days of struggle for survival of the fittest, stands as a monument to the ‘Carving of the West."Those who read James Nix’s memoirs are inspired by the courage of a Georgia mountain woman who had a vision of a better life for her children, and especially of a son in his early teens when they left Union County who shouldered responsibilities for himself, his mother and his two sisters in a strange and daunting land.
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 22, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.