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Other Wise a man of many talents

by Nancy Christofferson

Henry B Wise’s ad in the Walsenburg World, Wednesday April 14 1897. www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org

HUERFANO — It’s probably a well known fact that Huerfano County has seen its share of odd ducks, but one of the oddest just may be one Henry Beauregard Wise.

Wise’s redeeming features were his ability to teach children and his brief biographic accounts of his contemporaries. Most of these appear in 1902 editions of the Walsenburg World.

He liked to be called Major Wise, but folks mostly referred to him as H.B. or Beauregard, and sometimes just Henry. He was in Huerfano County as early as 1880 as a resident of La Veta. He was still there for the 1885 census, when, as Beauregard, he claimed to have been born in Louisiana and to be 28 years old. He listed no occupation and was living in the home of Joseph Hendricks, a widower raising six children. Hendricks had operated his own sawmill for some years before that, but listed himself as a clerk in 1885, the same year as he campaigned for county treasurer.

It is possible that Wise was living in the Hendricks’ home while tutoring the children. He certainly was not teaching in the public school. In fact, the only mention of him in the newspaper of the time was in January 1881 when he was suffering with a severe case of pneumonia and under doctor’s care.

He next appears in the 1890s as he accepted positions in various bilingual school districts, including old St. Mary’s on the Huerfano River, Oak Grove in the Bear Creek area, and North Veta west of Walsenburg. These schools had terms lasting from four to five months, but one thing that tells us about Wise is that several of the school boards extended the regular term because Wise was having such success with teaching the students.

About 1893, he purchased a small ranch near the North Veta school. His only account of physical labor was chronicled when he fenced it. Well, he had to work hard in North Veta school, too, because he had 50 students in 1894.

Wise preferred to call himself a surveyor, and was listed in the Walsenburg business directories as such, with an office somewhere. In 1894, he was appointed county surveyor when the elected official moved to South America. Occasionally he took jobs to survey for ditches, boundaries and the like. He also practiced law, though evidently not locally.

In 1898, he hitched a ride into Walsenburg with a neighbor in North Veta. When the neighbor told him how much he owed for the ride, Wise shot him.

Not much else is known about Wise, except that he married a woman named Appolonia at some point, somewhere, and that she divorced him in 1899. In 1900, he began demanding a pension on the basis of his military history and when apparently it was not forthcoming, he claimed to have been struck blind. In 1901, he had married again, in California, to a woman who had relatives in La Veta. That was the only mention of her, and when he entered the soldiers’ home in Monte Vista and died in 1907, there were no survivors included in the notice of his passing.

The obituary tells it all. Wise, it developed, was indeed a military man. Or, at least he was until his court martial after he struck a superior officer. He had led a “colored regiment”, thus the Major title. He was known to be “proficient in several languages” and considered to be a “brilliant scholar.” It was only after his death his real name of Bisch was revealed. He had “changed his name on account of some trouble in the east”, said the obit, and was “addicted to the use of whiskey”. It even included the information that he was a “versatile newspaper man”.

We have little proof of that except for his personal sketches of local luminaries. One presumes that by the time of their writing in 1902 his bout of total blindness had passed.

Here’s some of what he had to say.

He started his short series of biographies with an account of John H. Brown, one of Huerfano’s oldest citizens in terms of residence. Brown, he wrote, had been here for more than 40 years and in business in Walsenburg for 26. He was born in Ohio in 1836, then moved on to Illinois in the ‘50s, where he was running a hotel when struck in 1860 by “Pike’s Peak Fever”. He settled later in Huerfano County, and after Colorado became a territory, was elected county clerk after the resignation of George Simpson (also the original county clerk in Las Animas County).

From John H. he moved onto the subject of John W. Brown. This Brown had served as one of Huerfano’s first county commissioners. He had a farm near the Huerfano Butte he actively worked from 1862 until 1876, when he moved into Walsenburg and went into the mercantile business in partnership with Benton Canon.

Next Wise interviewed Benjamin Arnold, who at the time of writing was a justice of the peace and Walsenburg’s judge. Wise lamented that Ben was a Republican in a Democratic county who had actually fled to Mexico to avoid serving as county assessor. He’d been born in Canada in 1834, but moved to Jackson County, Missouri, where he had known the entire James family. He arrived in La Plaza de los Leones in March 1874, and worked as a carpenter. His children were Walter Arnold of the Santa Clara and Mrs. Adolph Unfug of Walsenburg.

Now he was getting wound up. His next bio was a lengthy one about Thomas Sproull, yes, the Sproull of Sproul Avenue in Walsenburg.

Sproull was another native of Ohio who’d arrived in Kansas in 1850. Perhaps because the state became known as Bleeding Kansas soon after his arrival, he went on to Iowa until 1851 and then to California. After stopping a while there, he went on to Mexico, then Texas. In 1865, his travels took him to Fort Garland. In the spring of 1867, he moved to Badito, then Huerfano county seat. There he worked for Seabring and Moore in their large mercantile business before returning to Fort Garland. He took up a claim in the Red Rocks region of Las Animas County, but had to flee due to problems with the Utes. So he went back to Badito and took up some land nearby. The county commissioners appointed him assessor for two years and, about 1871 according to Wise, he was elected sheriff and served one four-year term. After that he was county commissioner for three years before turning his full attention to his farm, where he raised crops, fruit and cattle.

Luz Zubia was Wise’s next subject. At the time of collecting his personal information, Zubia was living along the Wahatoya east of the Ritter ranch near La Veta. He’d been born in Mexico and started college there. Finding it was not to his taste, he quit school and became a tailor. He moved into Texas in 1844, then to Las Cruces, New Mexico, until 1847. During the Mexican War he served in Company C, which was composed of volunteers and commanded by Kit Carson for a while during Zubia’s tour of duty. After working for Colonel John M. Francisco’s farm and ranch at La Veta, he relocated to what he called “Texacita”, a plaza south of the Cucharas just west of today’s Walsenburg. He bounced around southern Colorado, settling for a while in Pueblo until moving to a farm on Turkey Creek, where he stayed for nine years. Then he went to North Veta where he may have been one of H.B. Wise’s neighbors. At the time of his interview, Zubia was nearly blind and collecting a $12 a month pension for his military service in New Mexico.

The feedback Wise was receiving apparently gave him the courage to continue, and to pen longer bios. Perhaps he was imbibing in some “liquid courage” as well, but his accounts, written during the lifetimes of his subjects, are valuable pieces of local history. Continued next week

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