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Johan ‘John’ H. and Sarah Emaline Maxwell Williams were married sometime before 1856 when their oldest and only son was born in Arkansas. In 1858, the small Williams family started out from Fayetteville Arkansas with baby, Lycurgus to “escape fighting against their country and friends in the Civil War.” Their daughter, Lucretia was born in Joplin, Missouri before they joined a group of 35 oxen pulled covered wagons heading west.
Sarah brought only a few provisions, but she did bring the sunburst patterned quilt handmade with carded cotton and wove-cloth lining by her mother and two sisters in 1838. Laura Williams Halsey remembers some of the stories of “having loved ones die on the way and having to bury them along the trail, knowing that they would never pass that way again.”
“A long and tedious journey brought them past Bent’s Fort and the Greenhorn crossing of the Trappers’ Trail, where John and Sara Williams reportedly paused, before moving on across Sangre de Cristo Pass to Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley.” John worked to supply the fort with hay and beef.
While the Williams were living at Fort Garland the army hired Tom ‘Autobees’ Tobin to track down and kill the “notorious Felipe Espinosa and his brother.” It turned out Espinosa’s brother was already dead, but had been replaced by a cousin. Tom Tobin set out on his own without the help of the men the army provided as “they made too much noise,” and tracked the Espinosas to a camp and shot them. To prove it, and in order to collect the reward, he cut off their heads, stuffed them in a burlap bag and rolled them across the floor when he returned to Fort Garland. According to the legend he then proceeded to shake everyone’s hand. John Williams shook his hand, but Sarah refused until he washed his hands. “Sarah was always delicate.”
After the Civil War ended and the Homestead Act was signed into law in 1862, it became advantageous to claim undeveloped land. In 1864, the Williams family moved near present day Gardner to homestead on Williams Creek which is named for them. A second daughter, Sarah Jane was born there the same year. They lived “in apparent harmony with the Indians as Sarah was frequently asked to help the squaws when their babies came.” They stayed for four years.
In early 1868, John sold his 180-acre homestead for a few sacks of wheat and moved his family to the Greenhorn Valley. The Alexander Hicklin family had settled in the valley nine years earlier and the John Frink family arrived soon after. The Hicklins had a Spanish Land Grant to most of the Greenhorn Valley and settling on their claimed land was risky—families who did so were considered squatters until the Hicklins claim was finally defined by the US Government in 1874 and confirmed in 1877. There is no record of John Williams filing a homestead application in Pueblo County.