Township 13 South, Range 92 West, Section 35

A home of mysteries and restless souls

  • The high desert mesa above Paonia, once home to the Foote family.

    JT Thomas
  • An abandoned present-day house at Foote Fields.

    JT Thomas
  • An abandoned present-day house at Foote Fields.

    JT Thomas
  • An abandoned present-day house at Foote Fields.

    JT Thomas
  • Elizabeth Foote (marked with an asterisk) in a Paonia High School class picture.

    JT Thomas
  • Elizabeth's tombstone in the Bethlehem Cemetery.

    JT Thomas
  • The author and her daughter, Sylvia.

    JT Thomas
 

Elizabeth Foote was a homebody, and her home was on a high-desert mesa in western Colorado. Her house had a wide-angle view of the West Elk Mountains and overlooked a river valley and the raw, ambitious small town of Paonia. The mesa was sun-baked in summer, alternately snowy and muddy in winter, and windy all year round.

Elizabeth's father, George Foote, bought the land in 1907, when Elizabeth was 8 years old. The government had broken its treaty with the Utes a quarter-century earlier, opening most of their Colorado reservation to eager settlers. The choicest parcels of land in the river valley were already claimed, but cheap, promising acreage remained.

George registered a claim to 200 acres and cleared the scrubby juniper trees and sagebrush from the mesa top. He pried a small mountain of rocks from the hard ground, dug irrigation ditches to water his crops, and planted hay. He also championed the local fruit industry -- the valley became known for its cherries and peaches -- and dealt energetically in real estate, earning a reputation as an aggressive businessman. Before long, his homestead became known to its neighbors as Foote Fields.

The valley was remote -- the nearest sizable city was 70 miles away, and in 1910, there were only nine cars in town -- but life was busy. Elizabeth and her three younger sisters could go to sledding and skating parties in the winter, to ice-cream socials and baseball games and the marble-topped soda fountain in summer. The circus came to town, and the Kit Carson Wild West show; the annual chautauqua brought mind-readers and magicians, violinists and organists. But people said that Elizabeth was happiest home on the ranch. With her mother, Mary, and her sisters Barbara, Antoinette and Susan, she helped irrigate the fields and raise the cows. Sometimes, one of the girls would ride a Shetland pony around the mesa, their baby brother Dan propped in front of her on the saddle.

With the rest of the valley, the Footes likely battled measles, bedbugs, spring freezes and hailstorms. Following a run of disastrous fruit crops in the teens, so many people left town for better prospects in California that 30 former neighbors gathered for a picnic in Long Beach. But the Footes stayed on the mesa, perhaps buoyed by canny land deals, hard work, stubbornness, or a dose of each.

Elizabeth had her bold moments; in 1918, her senior year in high school, she played a bit part in a Civil War drama at the local opera house. She and Barbara both graduated later that spring, and their class pictures show girls with light, wide-set eyes and wavy, softly gathered hair. Barbara, a year younger, looks directly at the camera, a half smile on her face. Elizabeth looks slightly away from the lens, her face serious. It was a sad year; dozens of young men in town had volunteered or been drafted for the war in Europe, and the Spanish flu would soon burn through the valley, killing many.

Some graduating seniors left for college, some for teaching positions. Some signed on for the last months of the war. Some got married. But Elizabeth simply went home to the mesa and resumed her chores.
Six years later, on a nearly moonless night in late July, she disappeared.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a full-time grassroots leadership director to oversee all aspects of the Grassroots Leadership Program. This includes ongoing development of...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • RIVER GUIDE AND EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • POLICY AND RESEARCH ASSOCIATE
    The Center for Western Priorities (CWP) is a nonpartisan communications and policy center that serves as a source of accurate information, promotes responsible policies and...