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An outdoor girl at heart

April E. ClarkGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kelley Cox
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NEW CASTLE When Betty Dawson was growing up on her family’s western Colorado farm in the 1930s and ’40s, there was only one meal that could bring her indoors.Tomato soup and cornbread.”When I was younger, I wanted to stay outside,” said Dawson, from the living room of her New Castle log home. “I’d get busy outside and wouldn’t want to eat. I wouldn’t cook. I wouldn’t sew.”Back then, Betty Dawson was Betty Stayton. She was one of four farmer’s daughters who helped out on the ranch by milking cows, feeding chickens and horses, and tending to the family’s sustainable garden.”We had lots to do – there were always chores,” she said. “We had cows, hay and grain, horses. We had a big garden and an orchard, and thousands of chickens.”Now almost 77, Dawson recalls the Great Depression, a time when people counted on help from neighbors to survive.

“I tell people we would’ve picked apricots for anybody who needed them,” she said. “We’d share potatoes, milk, eggs – my parents helped a lot of people out.”Dawson’s parents came to Colorado from Missouri and Oklahoma to homestead. In the ’30s, the Depression forced the Stayton family to abandon their home in the Rocky Mountains for work in California.”We had to leave the ranch. Mother and Daddy worked in the lettuce fields – they did anything they could,” she said. “When we had to leave the ranch, that tore us up. I was just homesick. I missed the mesa and the river, the horses, and the swing in my yard.”The Stayton family eventually returned to the New Castle area. Dawson graduated from the New Castle School in 1948, and a month after graduation, she married Monk Dawson.”Monk worked for my family – his family worked at our orchard,” Betty said. “I was 1812 and Monk was 26 when we got married. Monk was going to taxidermy school in Denver.”Taxidermy and hunting have been a recurring theme in the Dawsons’ nearly 59-year marriage. For decades, the couple ran a taxidermy shop and hunting outfitter business in New Castle. They also ran the Alpenhorn Ice Cream shop in downtown New Castle.

“I don’t know anybody who had a marriage like ours,” Betty said. “I was so in love with Monk, I’d do anything he wanted.”Betty Dawson has many memories of buying all the groceries for Monk’s hunting camps. And there’s the preparation of animals for display.Taxidermy’s hardly work for the squeamish.”When I was pregnant, this man said he wanted the [elk] tongue, he said he wanted some wax paper for the tongue,” she recalled. “I went inside to get it and I said to my mother, ‘I think I’m going to be sick’ and she said, ‘No you’re not.’ I didn’t get sick.”She also remembered having to skin a bear with her sister Jean.”We had to take it to the locker plant,” Betty Dawson said. “It was greasy. We were young and giggly – we had to lift it up on the truck. We got it up, then dropped it in the dirt. We picked it up and cleaned it off and took it to this man who was cracking up.”

A mother of three, grandmother of 14 and great-grandmother of seven, Betty Dawson has led a busy life. She said her three children – Mark, Becky and Marla – learned to become self-sufficient at the Okanela Lodge on Canyon Creek when she was working at the taxidermy shop.”Our church has a saying … that says, ‘You teach the people what is right and let them govern themselves.’ That’s how our children were raised,” she said. “They took care of the horses at the lodge, worked in the kitchen. Our daughter was cooking up at the ranch at 16. They pretty well governed themselves.”These days, Betty spends her time with family, babysitting her great-grandson or making quilts. One finished quilt that hangs on a bedroom wall is made entirely of men’s ties glued together.”I told all the children if they do something bad, they have to take it,” she joked. “You can’t wash it, you can’t clean it.”She also enjoys researching her family’s history, writing stories for her great-grandchildren, working at the New Castle Historical Museum, and being outdoors.”As you can see, I’m a family, home person,” Betty said, showing a wall of her home covered in family photos. “I’m not too much for fancy things. I just like to work in the yard, with the flowers and the trees … I’m learning to rest more.”


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