The year was 1912 and conditions were critical at the Neglected Mine, high in the LaPlata Mountains of Southwest Colorado. Eighteen miners were stranded without food in freezing temperatures with ten feet of snow on the ground. The angel who came to save them was 5’4” tall and weighed about 130 pounds. She was the only woman in the entire Rocky Mountains who had a burro string to haul supplies into the mines and the ore out.
Olga Schaaf Little and her family had immigrated from Germany where she was born in 1883. They first moved to the plains of Colorado, later to Chama, New Mexico and in 1895 she arrived in Durango on a burro with her brothers. Her first job was breaking horses, but she soon moved on to be a Jackpacker, carrying supplies to the mines. When she found the miners near starvation at the Neglected Mine, she roped them together, each between a burro, and set out to Transfer, which was seven miles away. It took from 7 in the morning until 11 that night to make the trip and with her encouragement, all the miners survived the trip.
One of her family’s favorite stories, according to Dr. Andrew Guilliford, history professor at Fort Lewis College, was about a burro that slipped off the trail and broke his guideline. He had two heavy timbers on his back that worked like a sled and took him to the bottom of the gulch. Olga climbed down the gulch and shoveled the snow around the base of a tall tree and for the rest of the winter, she brought a half-bale of hay to the burro every few days until he could climb out.
My grandmother, Marguerite, remembered Olga. The packer used to pick up supplies at the Jackson Hardware Store in Durango, owned by our great-grandfather. According to her, “Olga would come to the store to pick up boxes of dynamite, kegs of nails and other supplies. The men would offer to help her load the burros, but she always refused. It had to be done just right for the narrow trails.”
Once she fell off her horse and broke her leg. Re-mounting she made it to the Neglected Mine where a doctor set the leg and, by chance, she met her husband, Scottish miner William Little.
She was tough as nails, but never said a swear word. The miners treated her as a lady and anyone that did otherwise was quickly put in his place. Olga was a Jackpacker from 1909 until the 1940s.
In 1958 we got a black and white television. One of the first shows I remember watching was called This Is Your Life, with Ralph Edwards. He would pull an unsuspecting person from his audience and tell their life story. My grandmother and several other people had come to the house to watch the show that was to feature Olga Little. We had one of the only televisions in town. The show was broadcast from the Denver Coliseum in front of 10,000 people. It was the 100th anniversary celebration of the discovery of gold in Colorado. Olga thought she was going to watch the show being filmed. I remember all the adults cheering when they brought Olga out of the stands and told her story. They gave her a new car!
Today, in the La Plata Mountains, Olga Little Peak stands proudly amongst the surrounding summits. It’s a little shorter, but pretty imposing and not the easiest one to climb. Olga died in 1970 at 87 years of age.
Why is this story in our blog?
Well, it happened that in 1932, a new lawyer, Franklin McKelvey, moved to Durango. Olga hired him to do some legal work. In payment, she gave him a beautiful Teec Nos Pos weaving. The story was that she had traded it from someone in the early 1900s.
The weaving is 55” x 99”, which is longer and narrower than most pieces from this time period. It is very intricate, with a beautiful border and central geometric designs with feathers, mountains and corn stalks. The weaving was woven in the late teens or early twenties and is a fine example of an early Teec Nos Pos. It has been well cared for and we had some minor restoration done by the master restorer, Ben Leroux.
It would be a great addition to any collection, and it comes with a history!