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What happened to M.O. Archuleta?

Some stories are fun to tell and others, well, you have to be careful with the telling. I say careful if you expect to go on living in your neighborhood of choice.

I first heard about M.O. Archuleta, the subject of one of those careful stories, some 30 or so years ago while hunched over a table at the Elkhorn Cafe slurping coffee with a passel of old-timers.

When one of the old-timers slowly cleared his throat and said something like, “Well, what about M.O.?,” all talking stopped, all slurping stopped and the speaker shut up as if someone had turned off a switch. Squinty eyes shifted back and forth, slyly searching the room.

After more throat-clearing, accompanied by elbows bending and coffee cups returning to sipping positions, the speaker opened up. Heads nodded as he spoke, indicating that the well-known story was being properly told. The only thing was, when the names of folks involved in the story were mentioned, his voice got quiet, almost down to a whisper. As his voice level dropped, listening ears leaned forward, straining to hear better.

It was a good story, one I recognized some years later while scanning an old Pagosa Springs SUN.

Now 1933 was not a good year for a lot of folks, what with the Depression and the lack of rain drying up the Midwest. I heard of one enterprising farmer who, when his well went dry, dug it up and sawed it into six-foot sections which he sold as post holes.

Anyway, 1933 was a bad year for M.O. In fact, for M.O., 1933 was terminal. It all happened in February at M.O.’s one-room log cabin perched among Aspen trees up on Blue Mountain not too far from the Blanco River.

According to the newspaper account provided by the coroner’s jury, M.O. had been doing some cooking, maybe making a pot of beans. Not having any water in the cabin, he grabbed a pan and headed for the well some 100 yards distant from the house. That’s where the tragedy began, and that is where it ended.

It seems about a week earlier, M.O. had been helping Mark Amyx and Louie Teason build a barn. Both were neighborhood ranchers. A heavy snow made work impossible and so everybody went home to wait for better weather.

A week passed, the sky glistened clear and blue, and no sign of M.O. Mark and Louie saddled up and splashed through a couple of feet of snow to M.O’s cabin to see if everything was okay. Only echoes answered a throaty halloo near the cabin. They soon discovered a wide-open front door and an empty house.

They looked around, but M.O. was nowhere to be seen, not even at the scarred up chopping block standing in a pile of chips and splinters behind the cabin, a rusty, double-bitted axe buried in its side.

One of the horses whinnied as the puzzled men zig-zagged down the path leading to the well. It was a peculiar well, six feet across the top but tapering down to a foot and a half as it dipped into the ground. And there above the icy water, protruded a pair of scruffy boots and denim-covered limbs. Had they found M.O.?

More next week on the true story of what happened to M.O. Archuleta.