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
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation is searching for a driven and creative leader to build a movement, conserving and restoring America's rivers by helping customers find...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...