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M.O. meets a chilly demise

(Continued from last week)

When M.O. Archuleta failed to show for work on a cold February day in 1933, his worried companions rode up to his Blue Mountain cabin. After failing to find M.O. in the cabin, one glance into the well located some 100 yards from the cabin provided a gruesome answer justifying their concern.,

There, protruding above the waterline in the well, were what appeared to be a pair of boots and blue jeans covering the lower extremities of M.O. Archuleta. A little struggling and splashing provided proof of M.O.’s demise. The frozen body once pulled from the well and perched right side up, proved to belong to M.O.

His discoverers, nearby ranchers Mark Amyx and Louie Teeson, set about notifying the country coroner as soon as they could. Transportation and communication being what they were during the winter of 1933, another day passed before Coroner L.C. Jackisch and Sheriff John H. Lattin reached the site of M.O.’s demise. Apparently, the lawmen had ridden horseback from Pagosa Springs and exchanged their worn horses for fresh mounts at the ranch of Jule Macht on Sheep Cabin Creek before ascending Blue Mountain to the hermit’s cabin.

In any case, Jackisch and Lattin gathered all of the evidence they could, returned to town, and summoned a coroner’s jury composed of Jule Macht, B.T. Smith, Ray Chambers, J.P. Sisson, Tom Teeson, and J. Elmo Dunn.

The jury concluded that M.O. had died on that February day, just as he had lived, cold and alone. They ruled his death resulted from an accident. They believed, needing some water in the cabin, M.O. had grabbed the teakettle, rushed down the path to the well and slipped, plunged headfirst into the icy death trap, and lay there helpless, unable to move, his life slipping away. A bad pun, taken from an idiom of today’s generation, would claim he “chilled out.”

A windless with a rope and a wooden bucket were the normal means of extracting water from this particular well. The lawmen discovered that, in order to dip the bucket into water, they had to lie flat on their stomachs and stretch. Even then the bucket barely reached the water.

The story I have just told you is contained in a 1933 Pagosa Springs SUN. In fact, this is not the only version of M.O.’s death. The other version requires some care in the telling because some of the actors involved or their relatives may still be living in the area.

According to the coffee pot version of the story, M.O. had, for a long time, been in a bitter confrontation with certain of his neighbors over certain water rights. Tiring of the dispute, the neighbors settled on a final solution, mounted their horses, and on that icy February night rode to the cabin housing M.O. Archuleta. After everyone covered their faces with bandanas, the leader knocked on M.O.’s door. As soon as M.O. opened the door, a blanket was thrown over his head, M.O. was unceremoniously lifted up and stretched across strong shoulders, and with little fanfare or hesitation dumped headfirst into his own well, several of the more cautious onlookers making sure he didn’t raise his head above the water for the appropriate length of time.

When I heard this story, I also heard names, but the names were of well-known local citizens, some famous and some who carried out civic duties such as serving jury duty. It was also strongly recommended that I not use names if I repeated the story, and, well, ever since I have obeyed that recommendation.