ORAL HISTORY STORY BY STEVEN G. BAKER
Tri-County Water/Dallas Creek Project
For many years all the forest service timber sales contracts went to a company in New Orleans or somewhere down there owned by a black man. We always thought well, we can always get these cheap forest service contracts and keep feeding ourselves. I haven’t seen a forest service timber sale for 40 years because they all went to minority sole source.
I was interested in bidding on that. I could do them as cheap as anybody because I’m right here. And I would only do stuff around here. Two crews in the timber looking for archeological sites. And then every timber sale that’s done has an archeological study. Right now a lot of them are done by the Forest Service personnel themselves.
Anyway, back to Dallas Creek. We were also about that same time bidding on the Dolores Project. It was the biggest project in the nation and I was bidding on it for both - for the two competing entities; the University of Colorado and the University of Utah. The same bid for everybody because I was the only historical archeologist in the region.
And I got it with the University of Colorado who won it. The same players were involved, same Bureau of Reclamation guys. One of them was my old boss back when I was about 19, 20 years old. Well, I started raising hell about Dallas because I couldn’t bid it. It’s a minority sole source. I couldn’t bid it. I told Buckles, I said: “I wouldn’t cave into those people - they’re just a bunch a thugs. I wouldn’t bid it, Bill. Make ‘em go back to the drawing board if nobody’ll bid it”.
Well, Bill took it - he went to work for Eska Tech and that’s how he got involved here. By then he was a professor over at over at Pueblo. He did his graduate work in this region and wrote a three volume dissertation, the biggest dissertation in American history. I swear to God. It’s kind of a joke in a way, it’s so big.
Bill was an obsessive compulsive to the point of almost incapacitation. He could never quit writing. His wife Nancy was his stabilizing force. She edited it for him and helped him - she was his real help mate. They were both pretty good friends of mine.
So Bill went to work for them and he had a big team up there - it was like $600,000 or $700,000. I forget what the numbers were. That was about 1978, ’79 – I forget what year, but in the late seventies.
Out of that came a report titled: “Old Dallas Historical Archaeological Project”. Bill was never able to touch the Dallas Town Site. It was the biggest ado about little or nothing that I have ever seen. Because they got it they had to do something to make it look good.
I can’t, I won’t fault his archeology. But those old farmsteads and homesteads were not much - nothing much came out of it. You can’t move enough dirt within budget to get the results that you need out of those kinds of sites.
He turned in a great big manuscript. The Bureau of Reclamation then took that and edited it down to what it is now. It really irritated Bill. He was very angry. He like to never got paid by Eska Tech. I forget how much they got to him for, and his last word to me on the thing was: “I should have listened to you, Steve - I should never have taken the contract.”
It nearly killed him because he was so obsessive compulsive. He was so determined to do a good job. He had his wife out there and his own kids and all those young archeologists helping him. But the report is not really usable - few archeologists ever really use it for anything.
He couldn’t touch the Dallas Town Site like everybody hoped he would because it was not going to be impacted. It was within the area of undertaking, but it was not within the area of direct impact. It was still just sitting up there in the hay fields, and that ended the archeology program.
Bill finally got out with a bitter taste in his mouth. Eska Tech ran off with the money. I wasn’t really involved. I was so damned mad over the whole thing, but that’s how that went down. I’ve got copies of this report and I’ve never hardly found it useful for anything.
I know the Historical Society up in Ouray promised to take care of the artifacts from this study in perpetuity. They’ve got a basement full of junk. It’s not of much value scientifically - most of it. But they had to have a repository and the Ouray Historical Society agreed to take the stuff. So it’s still sitting up there. As far as I’m concerned, it could get lost any day and I don’t think science would be any the worse for it. In the 20, 30, 35 years since this was done, I don’t think anybody’s probably ever gone in and wanted to look at those collections.
The Buckles report is awkward to go through - it’s very difficult to isolate the information. Most of the usefulness of it is in the oral histories that he assembled on the various ranches. But it does not tell you what he dug up and what he studied. It just wasn’t that important.
A lot of the sites by the time I got up there had already been torn apart. They were tearing down buildings. The Bureau of Reclamation was moving, and I can remember buildings were torn down and were being moved. To really get good sites you’ve got to pick and choose, and unfortunately, the best ones sometimes are not the ones where the funding is.
Bill Buckles was paid to dig up a bunch of sites that had been occupied for a long time and had been mixed up, gone over and damaged. However the history and oral histories were good.
I imagine that during the years when it was homesteaded people were digging it up and finding things that they kept for themselves. The cost of opening enough ground to get good results is so vast on these late sites. It’s one thing to go dig a small Indian site. It’s quite another to attack a ranch.