Story Courtesy La Voz, By Joshua Pilkington
The west was never won. It was scavenged, explored, fought over and founded, but it was never won. Perhaps one of the better illustrations to that point comes from the historical biography “The Life & Times of Charles Autobees 1812-1882.” Covering an array of historical events alongside cleverly placed and poignant anecdotal evidence, the book reads not only as a biography of one of Colorado’s more innovative leaders, but also as an homage to the first, true Coloradoans.
Lecompte lends her voice throughout “The Life & Times of Charles Autobees 1812-1882” guiding the narrative from one incident to another with seamless segues; it’s the additional voices, however, that give the biography life.
It reads much like a Ken Burns documentary, with Lecompte’s narrative pulling the pieces together while actual accounts from the time – compiled from newspaper and magazine clippings as well as historical texts – provide of vivid portrayal of the events unfolding.
When describing the settlement of Huerfano, for example, Lecompte writes:
“On February 20, 1853, Charles Autobees and “as many settlers he could take with him” arrived at the mouth of the Huerfano to claim the land Ceran St Vrain had promised him. … Charley picked out a mile-wide bottom on the west side of the Huerfano River extending from the river’s junction with the Arkansas to three miles above its mouth. … In the summer of 1853 G.H. Heap described a location two or three miles upstream from Charley’s farm but of the same aspect:
Descending the buttes to the Huerfano, we encamped on about five miles above its mouth. A bold and rapid stream, its waters were turbid, but sweet and cool; the river-bottom was broad and thickly wooded with willows and cottonwoods, interlaced with the wild rose and grape-vine, and carpeted soft grass – a sylvan paradise. This stream was about twenty-five yards in breadth, and five feet deep close to the banks.”
Perhaps the most relevant and riveting factor of “The Life & Times of Charles Autobees 1812-1882” is its historical values.
When providing historical background to Autobees, Lecompte cites her previous work Trappers of the Far West stating that Autobees was born in St. Louis in 1812 to a French-Canadian father and an English; however one look at an Autobees portrait – with his stern, weathered face, long hair and dark eyes, makes it very clear that above all nationalities Autobees was Coloradoan. And anyone wanting to dig further into the history of Colorado, and more specifically southern Colorado and New Mexico, would find Autobees’ story and excellent place to start.
The book highlights both major and minor events in the history of the Centennial State – or better stated the territory that made up what is now Colorado and New Mexico. The Taos Rebellion of 1847, the Fort El Pueblo Massacre of 1854 and the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 are all represented in the book as Autobees – omnipresent as he was – was tied to all three.
The book also provides anecdotal historical facts unique to Autobees and very emblematic of his character. When describing Autobees’ stabbing at Fort Union in 1856, Lecompte writes:
“One of Charley’s business interests at this time was a forage contract with the quartermaster at Fort Union. On July 20, 1856, while Charley was at Fort Union, he was stabbed in the back by the Mexican named Juan Pineda, the blade entering near his heart. The post doctor examined him and said, “ You won’t live a minute.” Charley drew his gun and shouted, “If I wont live a minute you won’t live half a minute, you —-!” The doctor bolted out the door and would not return without a body guard.”
“The Life & Times of Charles Autobees 1812-1882”: Fur Trapper, Trader, Interpreter, Military Scout, Frontiersman, Justice of the Peace, County Commissioner and Leader of one of the First Mexican settlements in Colorado was written by Janet Lecompte and edited by George Autobee Cpt. Ret.