Life in Los Sauces
Written by Olivama Salazar de Valdez
and Dolores Valdez de Pong
Adobe Village Press in Monte Vista, CO, 2005
Here is a small village that I bet not too many people have heard of- Los Sauces, Colorado. Reading the book, Life in Los Sauces was enlightening, in the 10 year period between the 1920’s and 30’s.
The people in this tiny village in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado knew how to take care of themselves and relied on many original remedies, therefore it was a rare day when a doctor was summoned into Los Sauces. One of the folk medicine practices used to relieve indigestion is called the “cupping glass.” According to the author, a midwife lights a candle under an inverted glass to create a vacuum. The cup is then placed quickly over the area to be treated and left in place for awhile. As the skin sucks up into the glass, local stagnation dislodges and brings relief. I tried this remedy when I had a stomach and helped!
The author, Olivama Salazar de Valdez has written this story about the time when she was only 10 years old, living with her family in this small community of Los Sauces. Los Sauces, which translates to The Willows, presides near the confluence of the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, families were large, self-sufficient and therefore water nearby made life more tolerable. Most couples had from 4 to 12 children. Boys were expected to help with the farm work while the older daughters helped with the preparation of food, washing clothes and taking care of the little ones. There was no pension or social security income for anyone and the sick or elderly were cared for by other family members. Although no one was “well off”, neither was there any abject poverty.
This was a time just before electricity, running water or cars. Stories of their strife and song is evident. Everyone worked hard, however, time was spent on fun things too.
A fun activity was churning ice cream in the winter when the river froze. Blocks of ice were cut and used for ice cream just in time for the holidays.
At night, kids watched lights dancing around Witches Hill, which was only 1/2 mile away. The myth still holds true today that aliens visit there.
Or the boys constantly entertained themselves by chasing wild horses, playing baseball and roping calves.
The Los Sauces community managed to live peacefully with no form of civic government or any type of mayor or town council. Their commitment to community cooperation and family values is evident. Can that seed be planted elsewhere?
What I found most interesting in this book, is that the author mentions several times that her family and the Los Sauces community never felt any abject poverty. Yet my perception of the San Luis Valley’s mentality today seems submersed with a poverty consciousness. Could it be our societies dependence on so many gadgets from the Industrial Age has created more poverty in maintaining certain lifestyles? The San Luis Valley is so isolated and the only way to survive here, even in modern times is to still be self-sufficient. Even though technology has brought us closer in some ways, we seem to have lost an inner sense of what makes our hearts sing.
Today, driving the mile and half narrow dirt road through this almost empty village, it is hard to believe that at one time, 50 families called this place home. Olivama’s nephew describes Los Sauces this way, “ Los Sauces is a unique place…. other than the vegetation along the riverbanks, the landscape surrounding the village could be more associated with moonscape rather than what one might expect to find in Colorado. For the most part the area is barren and arid. The rock mesas and hills nearby are devoid of vegetation other than for sagebrush. Further, it is remotely located from any other town. No one passes through Los Sauces going somewhere else. Going there is a matter of choice.”
This part of the country hasn’t changed much in over 100 years. Families moved out looking for better work to support their lifestyle. However, much of their common sense and remedies are still useful today. If you are a history buff, this book is an enjoyable read. You can find a copy of Life in Los Sauces at the Narrow Gauge Bookstore in Alamosa, Colorado or www.lifeinlossauces.com