Celebrating the New Year is about improving your life through positive change, but it is also about new life. Out with the old and in with the new is a cliche often used.
Newborn babies are always a highlight of the New Year and this week we honor a Colorado woman, Georgiana West, who delivered over 1,500 babies in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico over several decades. Georgiana West, now deceased, will forever remain in our hearts.
Jaroso is the last Colorado town before the New Mexico border. Near other Costilla County towns like Garcia and Mesita, Jaroso and Northern New Mex., towns like Costilla, Amalia, Cerro, Questa, (in Taos County) epitomize a blue collar work ethic, natural resources rich and family oriented. Over the course of decades in Jaroso, one woman was responsible for delivering more than 1,500 children. Georgiana West left a legacy of healthy children and successful midwifery in a region of the state where her services were most needed.
Because West never learned to drive and never owned a car, her arrival at the homes of expectant mothers was dependent on their family’s ability to pick her up in their own cars or send for her in a taxi. Pauline Rivera, Owner and Editor of La Voz Colorado encountered Georgiana West when West arrived to bathe and dress her shortly after birth. West didn’t arrive in time to deliver Rivera, so Rivera’s grandmother, Lina Padilla, delivered her and waited until West arrived to take over. For most of Rivera’s siblings and hundreds of other Northern New Mexico/San Luis Valley births, West made it on time and did whatever the family needed from dressing, bathing and feeding the new child to helping the family adjust to a newborn. Other times, West welcomed expectant mothers into her own home, giving up her own bed to allow ample time for recovery.
Hundreds of current and former residents of the San Luis Valley – families from Jaroso, Costilla and Amalia - have signed up on a private invitation only Facebook page, sharing their ancestry and telling their stories and giving thanks for delivery by the woman known as La West or Ma West. The story of life in the San Luis Valley is the story of midwife heroine, Georgiana West.
West’s grandson, Dave, fondly remembers his grandmother as coming from the generation of women, “That always wore a dress.” He tells of a family coming for Georgiana in a tractor, only to break down miles later, leaving miles of commute which she completed in freezing weather, in a dress, of course. West usually earned $25 for delivery which included a home visit, staying for at least a day to ensure the baby and mother were ok, and bringing with her clothes if the family didn’t have any for the newborn.
During West’s most active days of delivering children in Northern New Mexico/San Luis Valley, Jaroso was a three-hotel town replete with competing k-12 schools, one founded by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and one public school – both hosting about 75 students. By the time West’s grandson, Dave, was in school, that number of students had dwindled to 30. Now, neither school exists, gone just like the general store and railroad depot. The only original residents left in town are Dave West and Harold Anderson and their families. Dave runs the Ute Mountain Ranch producing hay but also grass-fed beef. The ranch is also home to his wife, Kelly’s baking business, Heaven Scent Bread.
Georgiana West’s grandfather was an original founder of the city in the days “When the 7th Day Adventist Church marketed settlement land to midwestern populations in Minnesota and Iowa,” according to Dave West. An avowed Seventh-Day Adventist, West looked for every opportunity to help others, earning a reputation as a pioneer woman, willing to farm, look after animals and take care of a household, and on call for baby delivery all the while. In 1917 when her own son was a baby, West went to Alamosa to work for the throngs infected with Spanish Influenza because the city couldn’t find enough nurses.
West always had a big garden and several lambs to care for. Her grandson Dave was careful not to leave toys around the house because, “She might give our toys to the neighbor kids.” West had a special spot for neighboring Navajo communities, helping to deliver children but also offering homemade quilts and rugs. According to grandson, Dave, she was always busy because she strongly believed in her mantra, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Her brothers also answered the call to community service based on religious belief, one the first brain surgeon at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Minnesota and another a nurse at Colorado’s state mental hospital in Pueblo.
These days, Jaroso is experiencing a revival as the town has been discovered by artists. Every fall, the town hosts the Annual Rio Costilla Studio Tour featuring artists from Amalia and Costilla in New Mexico and Garcia and Jaroso in Colorado. One set of musical artists, Bittersweet Highway, is comprised of singer-songwriters Rene’ Janiece and Wayne McKinzie. On their web site they proclaim, “They hail from a thriving metropolis of 13 that scratches the border of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Living and traveling along the edges of America… making music that rises from the fringes...”
Jaroso was founded in 1910 when the Southern San Luis Valley Railroad offered a connection between Jaroso and Blanca, Colorado where it was connected to the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroads. Commerce from Jaroso included animals, produce and molybdenum from the mine in nearby Questa, New Mex. The 31-mile railroad operated fully until the late 1950s and all operations stopped in 1996.
Jaroso is an unincorporated town in Costilla County with a population of 42. The average age of residents is nearing 60. The Jaroso post office first opened its doors in 1911 and is one of the few buildings that is still in operation. The name, Jaroso, has been translated from Spanish as “a place with many willows”.
A handmade memorial in town proclaims, “Mormon pioneers settled here in 1890. They built two reservoirs, homes, school and church. By 1900 there were 120 population and a post office. A water dispute led to the demise of the town and sale of lands to Costilla Estate Development Co. in 1909.”