2,000 lbs of beans, and a barrel of whiskey go a long way

by Carolyn Newman

WALSENBURG — One day in 1964 Archie Levy dropped off a ledger book for Jeannette Thach and the Huerfano Historical Society. Day by day the ledger book had recorded the individual transactions for the Levy and Walsen Store.

The book held a record of not only the twenty or thirty store transactions per day in 1881, but also the supplies (wholesale) sent to the stores in Huerfano Cañon (Farisita) and the Coal Mine Store (Walsen).

It was the coal mine store that the thirsty miners patronized – a barrel of whiskey (42 gallons) cost $119.70 and a barrel of beer $16. Of course since the miners needed something substantial to eat too, $700 lbs of flour and 64 lbs of cheese went along.

The store partners, Fred Walsen and Alexander Levy, had won a contract for railroad work in New Mexico. Two thousand pounds of beans went to Glorieta, presumably for the workers. There must have been lots of workers!

You can tell a lot about people from the records of what they bought. At the Walsenburg store, John Albert came in; presumably an older (and poorer) gentleman. Albert would buy the minimum: 25 cents for candles, coffee 50 cents, cheese 25 cents, maybe a bit of tobacco. And he liked canned peaches – 20 to 40 cents each can. Reading between the lines, anyone examining the entries could determine Albert was charged less than other patrons, perhaps because the owners knew it was all he could afford.

The daily individual purchases are carefully recorded by customer name, with a detailed list, and the price of items. Thus we learned the women favored needles, thread 25 cents, calico or gingham. For the kitchen, baking powder was essential, spices, a wash pan for 50 cents. The gentlemen picked up horse collars, axle grease, and wagon springs. Maybe a cuff to protect the shirt sleeves. These were the days when miners were often paid in scrip, coal company money. Levy accepted it for a 5% discount – giving $46.48 for $48.93 in scrip.

Levy knew what he was doing; although just 32 years old, he had 10 years of Walsenburg store business behind him. Even before landing in Walsenburg he had already had store clerk and manager experience. He went on during his lifetime to contract for other construction work and to hold civic offices.

The ledger book is now in the Huerfano Heritage Center, 114 W. Sixth, Walsenburg, open Wednesdays and Fridays 2 to 5 pm, and Thursdays 11 am to 3 pm. Call 719-738-2346 or email huerfanoheritagecenter@outlook.com for more info.

Information is also from the Nov. 16, 2017, article by Nancy Christofferson in the World Journal, and from the internet.