This undisturbed Wright’s Mesa hamlet, approximately halfway between Norwood and Naturita on Colorado State Highway 145, began life as a stopping point for natives, trappers, cowboys and miners. Geographically it is lined by fertile Maverick Draw to the north and Naturita Canyon to the south, both with running water almost year-round; the San Miguel River is a few miles north. Early pioneers worked hard to channel water down from San Juans and up from nearby canyons to the plains to grow food for their families; ranching sheep and cattle grazed the lush grasses on Wright’s Mesa by the hundreds.
Roger Williams, who became the first permanent settler west of Norwood in 1888, was “drawn to the region and struck by its beauty,” noting “the quality of the soil as well as the mountains in the distance with their promise of irrigating water.” *
At the time, land acquisition on Wright’s Mesa near Redvale was mostly by pre-emption, and settlers could file a claim for parcels of 160 acres each. After six months of continuous residence on a property, they could then purchase the land for $1.25 per acre; after five years of continuous residence on the land, they could buy the land for the meager sum of $26.
In 1883, county lines were drawn for Ouray, San Miguel and Montrose counties – and the future towns of Redvale, Coventry and Shenandoah were now in Montrose County. In 1907, the Redlands Townsite Company platted the town of Redlands, and began the process of incorporation. Redlands was re-named Redvale in 1909, after residents discovered that a Redlands, Colo., already existed.
By the time Redvale was incorporated, many settlers already lived on or close by the townsite. Of the three neighboring communities, Redvale is the only town that survives today.
Many families whose predecessors settled in or near Redvale almost a century ago continue to reside in or near the town today, choosing to enjoy an uninterrupted ranch life. These families include the Barretts, Brays, Jacobs, Priestleys and Williamses, among others. The town grew up with ranching, and it is no wonder its residents remain. Inspiring dawns and serene sunsets complement miles-wide views. Fertile grasslands are still home to cattle and horses. Redvale boasts a longer growing season than Norwood, its eastern neighbor and greener pastures than its western, desert-landscaped neighbor, Naturita. And the adventure of Naturita Canyon continues to beckon youngsters who grow up on its edge.
Marilyn Allen, a relative “newcomer” who has lived in Redvale for 17 years and raised three children there, gave some reasons why she stays. “My kids have always loved exploring the nearby canyon,” she said. “The climate is warm. You can grow tomatoes and corn. The sunsets are fantastic. Nothing, of course, obstructs the views. It’s peaceful and quiet. You can hunt out your back door. It’s the country life.”
Norwood schoolteacher Sheri Hardman has lived in Redvale for most of her adult days, and although there are some drawbacks for modern dwellers, she still prefers the town to anywhere else. “You can’t get cell service below Coventry Hill,” she laughed. “But it’s a nice, quiet, rural place. You know what I like best? We’re right on Naturita Canyon. The canyon is a very drawing, spectacular place to visit.”
Oldtimers who lived in Redvale before modern gadgets such as cell phones and computers became commonplace have fond memories of growing up. Jean Leonard (nee Chestor), now 83, went on childhood adventures of her own, usually accompanied by her brother. “If we walked across our fields, straight south to the woods and on to the rim of Naturita Canyon, we came to an old Indian lookout. We could gather arrowheads there and could dig around their old campfires. Straight on down, then, into the canyon, we’d come to Naturita Creek and an old cabin. We made up all kinds of stories about the old cabin, to the point we became afraid to enter it.”
Leonard recalls how her folks had a wide circle of friends in the Redvale-Coventry area, “their social base.” Children accompanied their parents to bridge games and dinner; she remembers one meeting at the Priestley home.
“My brother and I were put to bed, but the two Priestley children kept us awake by pretending to be bears or other animals ready to pounce, and we were terrified. From that day on, both of us slept with our heads under the covers – we knew awful things were going to come at us from the shadows.”
To honor the 100th anniversary of the Town of Redvale, community members have set up a gala celebration for Sunday, Sept. 2, at the Redvale Community Center and Town Park, beginning at noon. The Brays, the ranching family, will provide lunch for attendees, and live music will be performed by several local musicians, including Debbie Leopold, the Spor family and the Hunt sisters. There is no admission fee, but donations are appreciated and will go to the Redvale Community Center, upgrades to the park and toward the musicians’ travel expenses.
Like the town it is commemorating, Redvale’s birthday party will be historic and a friendly neighborly gathering for all to enjoy.
(The writer thanks Redvale historians Mildred Jacobs Porter and Jean Chestor Leonard for their contributions to this story.)