Thomas Hezekiah Holybee was seldom seen without his well-worn ten-gallon hat that his descendants remember it seemed to be stuck on his head. And while his height was fairly average, some pictured Holybee as a “long, tall Texan.” His light-brown hair and blue eyes accented a rugged, good-looking frame that served him well throughout his life.
A native of Brownwood, Brown County, Tex., Tom was born April 29, 1885 – the first of Hezekiah (Buck) Washington Holybee, Jr. and Augusta Lou Mayes’ large family. His first name honored Augusta’s father, Thomas Jefferson Mayes. His middle name was from his father, Hezekiah Washington Jr. as well as from his paternal grandfather, Hezekiah Washington Holybee.
Tom’s parents married in Burlington, Tex.; their reason for going from there to Brownwood is unclear, though Buck is said to have had a “will-o-the-wisp” wanderlust.
Brownwood, located on Pecan Bayou, was originally settled by farmers and ranchers. Brown County was organized in 1857 and Brownwood Hamlet was chosen as the county seat. By 1872 the Hamlet consisted of two stores, a log courthouse, and about five dwellings. In 1885, the year of Tom’s birth, Brownwood lay on a feeder line of the Western Trail. Stores and saloons had sprung to life to serve drifting settlers and cowboys who drove their herds through mid-town. Brownwood’s population had grown to about 120 inhabitants.
Their brief stay in Brownwood mirrored Buck and Augusta’s coming life, much of which was spent on the trail from town to town.
At age 2, Tom traveled with his parents to Callahan, Tex.; at age 5, from Callahan to Allen, Okla.; at age 11, back to Maxwell, briefly, and by age 13, back in Allen.
The 1900 census found Tom at age 15 in Indian Territory (later known as Oklahoma, Choctaw Nation County). He was listed with his grandfather and grandmother, Hezekiah, Sr. and Verbeline Holybee, as well as his father and mother, Hezekiah, Jr. and Augusta Lou Holybee, and three younger siblings – William, Della and Sabina.
A short time later, the family drifted to Springcreek, Tex. At each town, Tom acquired one or more siblings, two of whom were left behind in small graves.
In spring 1902, Buck and Augusta loaded their belongings and their children into a covered wagon and pitched in with a wagon train bound for Colorado Territory. The Hunt, Wilemon, Jones, Griffin, and Whitely families traveled in the same wagon train.
September 21, 1902 – A Historic Day for Paonia
Tom was 17 when the Holybee family’s wagon rolled triumphantly into Paonia, Colo., on September 21, 1902 – the same day the first railroad train chugged into town.
The family stayed with Tom’s uncle, Charles Frances, until settling in on their own, leaving Paonia 1904, when they moved to Hotchkiss.
Meanwhile, a wagon train from South Dakota and Indiana delivered the Stoddard family to Berkley, Colo., carrying Susanah Jane (Susie); in 1892 or 1893, the Stoddards moved to Hotchkiss, where Tom and Susie would meet.
Susie was lovely and spirited. She was born July 12, 1885, in Grant County, South Dakota, to Zetto Barnes and Clara Amelia (Wright) Stoddard. The only girl in a family of nine children, so was skilled in the art of self-defense. Her dark-brown hair was highlighted by a hint of her father’s robust red color. She usually wore it swept away from her face in a loose roll with a bun in back. Susie’s eyes were striking. Sky-blue and a bit inset, they could at times be piercing and intense.
Tom and Susie seemed made for each other; they married in Delta, Colo., on October 28, 1906; both at age 21. They settled into farm life near Hotchkiss.
Their first child, Clara Augusta, was born in Hotchkiss on July 7, 1907. The name Clara was in honor of Susie’s mother, and Augusta was in honor of Tom’s mother. She inherited brown wavy hair from Susie’s mother who, in her younger days, had brown hair hanging in waves to her waist.
On January 1, 1909, a second daughter, Nellie Marie, was born in Crawford. In contrast to Clara, Nellie’s hair was almost black and extremely straight and coarse.
The family later moved to the Disappointment Valley, where they lived until Tom applied for their first homestead, where they established residence in March 1911, two months after Richard Cecil’s birth.
In Tom’s own words regarding that first homestead, as recorded in a second homestead application, “I visited the land and made a personal examination of it, and considered it at the time suitable for my purpose of making a home.
“I established residence on the land in March, 1911, and lived there about a year. I built a log house, 14 x 16, one room, fenced with poles and brush about 80 acres, and plowed and planted to crops 13 acres. Total value of all improvements, about $200.
“I abandoned the claim in April 1912 because I found that I could not acquire the water and reservoir rights I had expected to get, and without them I thought the claim worthless. I relinquished the claim August 21, 1912, and delivered the papers to Lou Osborne.”
Tom sold his improvements to Mr. Osborne for exactly what he had paid for them, and received no compensation for the relinquishment itself. Not long after abandoning that first claim, Tom and Susie had a new son, Olen Lee, born September 12, 1912. The family continued to live in Cedar where, on October 7, 1914, Alice Amerilla was born; two years later, on October 25, 1916, they had another son, Zetto Thomas.
Although Tom signed up for the WW1 Civilian Draft Registration in 1917 as a resident of Cedar, he wasn’t called to service.
On June 1, 1918, Tom and Susie took up their second homestead in the lower Disappointment, living in a tent until they had built their 16 x 14 foot home – finished in April 1919, during a snowstorm. Tom’s homestead papers make no mention that the home was constructed of logs, but pictures confirm it was. On August 18, 1919, Mable Ione was welcomed into the burgeoning Holybee family.
Snow severely impacted the Disappointment during winter months, and many residents, including the Holybee family, moved to a lower elevation until the snow had subsided. Their main concern was the possibility of illness during the long winter; it was essential to live in an area where a doctor was accessible. As the children matured there was school to consider – held from May to Thanksgiving, at the lower elevation. Another primary consideration was keeping their livestock alive and fed.
Disappointment Homestead Flourishes
In addition to their house, Tom and Susie busily constructed livestock corrals, a hay corral, chicken house and root cellar, water cisterns, and fencing for 100 acres. Their claim, on regular mountain land, was more adapted to grazing than to cultivation. Rocky and uneven, it was filled with gulches. Scrubby pines, unfit for timber, grew on a few areas.
The growing season was short in the Disappointment Valley, so Tom cultivated several acres into barley, timothy and alfalfa for hay, also planting about two acres of potatoes and a garden on another half-acre.
May 30, 1921, brought Violet Loretta into the family circle. Violet was possibly the most outspoken of all her siblings, but her heart was golden.
Though homesteading was demanding and difficult for everyone, Tom and Susie stuck with it. The Valley had become their home. They were happy and satisfied.
Estella Adelaide, their last child, born September 15, 1923, was called Stella. A pretty child with dark, maybe black hair, her disposition was mild, easygoing, and she was extremely likeable.
In 1925, Tom’s father, Hezekiah Washington Holybee, Jr. (Buck) passed away from the effects of diabetes, cutting his leg while chopping wood, sustaining a wound that never healed. Buck was buried in Norwood Cemetery.
The Holybee homestead was a stopping-off place for family members and friends who would stay for varying stints of time, and then travel on. Their visitors were a pleasant relief from everyday routines for Tom and Susie. News came with them of other family members and of the outside world in general.
In about 1927 or 1928, Susie became postmistress in Gladel, a Disappointment area. She traveled to Gladel in a horse-drawn wagon, with Tom frequently taking her there, and leaving the homestead in charge of the children.
By then, Clara and Nellie had married and were living in their own homes. Cecil and Olen, who tended sheep, were often gone for long periods, leaving Zetto, Alice and the three younger girls at home.
Once, Zetto became quite ill and was taken to Norwood for treatment, where Susie and Tom stayed with him. According to Ione, during their parents’ absences, the older kids frequently “escaped,” leaving the three younger girls at home alone. Ione, the oldest of these three, was about 10.
On their own, life on the homestead was a scary place for three young girls. Many chores had to be done, not the least of which was preparing meals. There were goats to be milked (goat milk was a special commodity for youngsters allergic to dairy products); horses and cows had to be fed, chickens tended and eggs gathered. Older siblings helped with the more difficult chores before securing their brief freedom.
Violet later related one day, when Ione, Violet, and Stella were left alone, Susie had done an early clothes-wash. The clothes were hung on the outside clothes line – except for the “tee-towels” which were brought inside and carefully hung to dry in front of the open oven door on wooden chairs. Heat came out of the oven and usually did a good drying job.
Before Susie and Tom left for Gladel, Susie gave the girls instructions as to how and when to turn the towels, emphasizing that they not be placed too close to the oven.
Everything was fine; the girls careful tended to the towels. Mama would be so proud! Lost in their play world, they soon forgot everything else – including the towels.
But then Ione sniffed and a familiar odor invaded her nostrils. Smoke! She remembered the towels and ran to the kitchen only to find it engulfed in fire. Towels, chairs, curtains – the room was ablaze. The panicked girls found their way to a neighbor’s for help, but the nearest neighbor was a long way up the road. By the time help did arrive, the house was engulfed in flames. Black smoke pillared into the sky, spewing angry red sparks everywhere.
The neighbor rode his horse to Gladel to inform Susie and Tom what had happened, while the girls stayed behind, with his family. Thoughts of the fire terrified them, but the idea of facing Mama and Papa sent the girls fleeing to a far corner of the property, where they were found, huddling together behind the barn.
As disheartened as they were, Susie and Tom were thankful that the girls were unharmed. The tearful girls got nothing more serious than a big hug. Poking through remnants, the family gathered everything possible from their charred home and moved temporarily into a cabin in lower country. Neighbors helped with household goods, clothing and other necessities.
And so it was that Tom and Susie cleared away the mess on their homestead and began anew.
In 1928, Alice met and married Floyd Burris; their baby boy, Freddie, was born in late 1931; the family appears to have lived on the homestead with Tom and Susie. Photos show a tent with a tall stovepipe alongside the log house believed to be where Alice and Floyd slept. There’s a picture of an automobile, with Floyd cranking it.
On September 21, 1932, Floyd, Alice and Freddie, along with Alice’s brother, Olen, piled into the Burris auto and headed for Redvale to attend a dance. Alcohol flowed freely at most dances, and Floyd downed his share. It was late and dark when they began their trek home. As Jane Royer, Alice Burris’s good friend and longtime resident of the Disappointment/Norwood area, would later recall: “Floyd decided to take the back way home. He drove the road behind Redvale and through the canyon. An extremely narrow dirt road, it wound treacherously up through the canyon and then down toward Dry Creek Basin and into Cedar.”
On a curve just before the summit, a tire went off the side of the road and Floyd lost control of the vehicle. It slid further, finally rolling six times before it jounced to the canyon floor beside the Creek. All occupants were thrown free of the vehicle. Baby Freddie’s head landed on a rock, killing him instantly. Alice and Olen died on impact; their bodies were found floating in the water. Floyd was the only survivor. He was taken to the Hotel in Norwood where he lived six days before his death.”
Cecil Holybee, Olen and Alice’s brother, had also attended the Redvale dance and was returning home along the same route a bit later. He came upon the wreckage, stopped and rushed down the hill. Horrified, overwhelmed and panic-stricken, he climbed back up the hill and sped to get Papa; summoning help, they drove back to the site of the accident, where, unwillingly, they climbed down the hillside.
Both were so distraught and grief-stricken that it was difficult for Cecil to recount exactly what happened after that. He did recall Papa yelling, “Why the hell didn’t you get these kids out of the water?”
In stunned silence, they gathered their loved ones and transported them to Norwood.
Floyd, Alice and Olen were buried side-by-side in the Coventry Cemetery in Redvale, with baby Freddie buried with his mother, in darkest, most bitter time that Tom and his family ever experienced.
Years later, Ione and her oldest daughter, Susan, had three gravestones made and placed over the graves. Until recently, on Memorial Day they would travel together to clean and decorate family graves in scattered cemeteries, where, each time they entered Coventry Cemetery, three lonely side-by-side graves awaited them.
In 1934, at age 15, Ione stayed with a family in Telluride to attend school, and spent her next school year in Norwood. Meanwhile, Tom and Susie gave up their Disappointment homestead and moved into a small home in Placerville.
With their children for the most part married and beginning families of their own, Tom and Susie went visiting.
In 1944, they visited Tom’s mother, Augusta Lou, in California, where Tom gathered with his brothers and sisters gathered to see Augusta one last time. Confined to her wheelchair after a severe stroke, she passed on later that year.
Susie became ill, and, in an attempt to save her failing health, Tom moved them to Mesa, Ariz., where she would have warm, dry air to breathe. They were in Mesa only a few months.
In January, 1948, Susie died. Tom hand-carved the inscription for the stone that marks her gravesite in the Mesa Cemetery, which reads simply, “Susie Holybee, B. July 12, 1885, D. Jan l, 1948.” Sadly, Tom moved on, alone.
He returned to California, and, in 1949, met Caroline Brown, a widow. They married and lived together in Santa Rosa until Tom’s death, just a few days before his 93rd birthday. Caroline lived to age 98. They are both buried in Santa Rosa.
One in a series of histories of the early white settlement of the furthest reaches of southwestern Colorado. © Alice Jane Watson