Thursday, November 19, 2015

Consequences of Hard Times

Las Animas Courthouse
Isaac's closest neighbors in 1888 were the Bentleys, whose claim was directly east of his own homestead. Harry Bentley and his son-in-law, Fred Weeks, often exchanged work with Isaac. His close relationship with the family is apparent from his journal entries of February 6-11 of 1888 when Isaac developed a serious health problem with the swelling and festering of one finger which spread to his hand.  When poulticing and wearing the hand in a sling did not resolve the problem, he began staying with the Bentley's, the only time mentioned in his journal that he sought the care of a neighbor prior to his final illness.  With such a close relationship with the Bentleys, Isaac was particularly distressed when a financial crisis in their family occurred.

Times were getting harder and most settlers had mortgages they were struggling to pay, most of the time only able to pay the interest and renew the original notes.  Their debts worsened as interest rates rose, and for many of them the interest they had paid significantly exceeded the original principal of their loans.

Las Animas Railway Station 
On March 26, 1888, the month following Isaac's stay with the family, son-in-law Fred Weeks was arrested for having disposed of mortgaged property.  After being released from custody for what was supposed to be the opportunity to secure bail, Fred "skipped," according to Isaac journal entry.

In those hard times it was not unusual for lenders to require someone to co-sign notes, in case the borrower was unable to pay.  Unfortunately for the Bentleys, they apparently had co-signed or they assumed their son-in-law's obligation.  Isaac's journal entry of April 4, 1888 read, "Fred Weeks came sneaking home to Bentley's from his skeedadle trip and arrested."  The journal entry of the following day explained the impact on his friends:  "The Weeks financial difficulties somewhat compromised with his creditors over at Carnahan's, with the Bentley family mostly divested of their property--save what trusted in their hands by creditors."  Whether they had co-signed or agreed to assume their son-in-law's debts after his arrest, the financial impact on the Bentleys was devastating.  (Carnahan was the community's Justice of the Peace, and apparently this legal matter was handled locally rather than in St. John.)

Las Animas Jail on Courthouse Square
On April 27, 1888, Isaac's journal records Mrs. Bentley's decision to rent their place to "old Hacker." Isaac talked with the Bentleys about renting their land, and he stored their share of the crop, as well as keeping an eye on Hacker for them.  The Bentleys had not been able to take all of their belongings, and Isaac was watchful of the furniture and other possessions stored in the upstairs of their home.

The Bentleys settled in the town of Las Animas, Colorado, the county seat of Bent County.  This is not the same place as the County of Las Animas, whose county seat is Trinidad.  (See "Isaac's Neighbors Leave Their Homestead" at 4-4-2013 in the Blog Archives.)

Las Animas Courthouse, Bent County, Colorado
On August 21, 1888 Isaac recorded in his journal that "Mrs. Ross and old Hacker packing the Bentley goods to ship to Las Animas" and on August 24, 1888 Isaac recorded having taken those goods to the St. John depot for shipment.  As a post script to the Bentley's story, they hoped to return to their claim, and Harry returned for several days the following year, with the intention to re-establish their home there.  Instead, the land was sold and the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Because the Bentley story was such a part of Isaac's life in 1888, I was eager to see Las Animas, Colorado when we passed through recently.  All of the photographs included in this blog were taken there.  I attempted to research the Bentley family further, but I could not learn what their livelihood became after selling their homestead nor whether Salt Lake City became their permanent home.  All I know is that Mrs. Bentley came one more time to get the last of their things, and although Isaac enjoyed friendships with subsequent occupants of the Bentley homestead, he regretted having lost the Bentley's as his neighbors.

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