Editor’s note: The following article by former Chronicle news editor Jo Bynum originally appeared in the Nov. 25, 1999 issue of The Chronicle. Emma Rosso died Jan. 17, 2009, and Lento Rosso died March 20, 2009.
Long after the villages of their youth tumbled to the ground from neglect, Lawrence “Lento” and Emma Rosso continue to grow and nourish those around them.
The couple’s story is a lifetime of coincidence, threads woven together to create a beautiful tapestry of destiny.
Rossos and Federicis come to America
U.S. immigration was at its heyday in the early 1900s with more than 8 million Europeans passing through Ellis Island during the first ten years of the century. Lento’s father, Lorenzo Rosso, and Emma’s father, Narciso Federici, were two of many who followed their hearts to the new land from Italy.
Lorenzo Rosso made his trek to the Florence, Colo. coal mines around 1903, about the same time Narciso Federici and brother Guido came to the mines near Raton.
Around 1906, Lorenzo brought wife Orsola to America. Narciso and brother Guido sent word for their girlfriends to join them in Raton around the same time, and on Sept. 14, 1906 during a double wedding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Raton, Divina Mazzoni became Mrs. Narciso Federici.
The Federicis settle in
The Federicis began settling into the area soon after their wedding, moving to Dawson in 1906 where Narciso, a stone mason by trade, did rock work around the mines and built coke ovens. By 1907 they were homesteading in an area beyond Sweetwater below the Charette Lakes near Miami. The homestead was later bought by Waite Phillips.
Traveling 18 miles by horse and buggy each day between the homestead and Cimarron, the Federicis maintained their homestead and gained a foothold in Cimarron.
“To keep the homestead, Mom and Dad had to build a house, which was actually a shack, and work the land,” said Emma.
“On the weekends, Dad built the single-story freight warehouse in Cimarron that later became the Methodist Church.
“My brothers and sisters were all born in the Methodist Church.”
As the baby of the Federici family, Emma’s older siblings “born in the Methodist Church” included Fred, Benezia (who died at age 3), Ann and Bill.
At the request of several Cimarron residents, Narciso later added a second story to the warehouse for an “athletic hall.”
The hall was used for social events, skating, dances and even silent movies for many years. Narciso and Divina put in the first movie theater in Cimarron with Narciso running the movie machine and Divina selling tickets.
“Mom couldn’t speak English, but she knew how to count money,” Emma said.
Lento remembers seeing his first silent movie at the Federici’s. Sitting in the front row with some friends he raced out of the theatre when a train came bearing down on him from the big screen.
Narciso built many of the stone buildings around Cimarron including Brooks Mercantile (now the Buffalo Nickel) and Casa del Gavilan.
He also built several buildings in Colfax, N.M., east of Cimarron on the north side of U.S. Highway 64. Today a ghost town, until World War II Colfax was a crossroads for two railroad lines — the El Paso and Southwestern running from Dawson to Tucumcari and the St. Louis Rocky Mountain and Pacific from Raton to Ute Park. More than 200 people, primarily railroad employees, called Colfax home.
In 1922, Narciso and Guido built a general store near the Colfax school, hotel and railroad depot where Emma was born on Aug. 3, 1924. Today, looking north as you cross the railroad tracks just before reaching the Colfax Tavern on Highway 64, you can still see the back wall of the business/home where Emma was born. The Colfax Hotel was to the right and the school once stood at the top of the hill.
In 1929, Narciso built the Colfax Pavilion, a 200 by 200-foot dance hall, gas station and grocery store. Today’s Colfax Tavern sits over the cellar of the old Pavilion, says tavern owner Roger Smith.
Emma’s oldest brother Fred was in high school when the Federici’s moved to Colfax and walked to Dawson to attend school, unless lucky enough to catch a ride with someone hauling goods into the mining town. He graduated from the high school in Dawson.
Emma’s sister Ann and brother Bill (who became a New Mexico Supreme Court Justice) attended school in Colfax for 5 years until the family moved back to Cimarron for two years. When the Federici’s returned to Colfax, Ann and Bill graduated from high school at Dawson and Emma spent her first nine school years traveling to Dawson.
“We rode Paul Dickman’s bus from Colfax to Dawson,” said Emma. “He bought a chassis and built his own bus with wooden benches and a back-gate door. After I left the Dawson school in 1938, he bought a school bus and they paved the roads.”
After Narciso sold the Colfax Pavilion in 1938, the family moved back to Cimarron. Lento said the train depot was torn down during World War II and most Colfax inhabitants moved on.
The Rossos find home
While the Federicis moved from Dawson to Cimarron to Colfax and back to Cimarron, the Rosso family journeyed from the coal mines of southern Colorado to help start vineyards in Corrales. Lorenzo, a farmer and vineyard grower in Italy, then moved his family to Dawson where he raised vegetables for the mining camp.
“Mr. Rosso raised beautiful flowers,” Emma said. “He did a lot of gardening, raising vegetables, grapes and a big orchard of apples. He and my father also made good homemade wine.”
Around 1915, Lorenzo, Orsola and their three small children Joe, Charlie and Mary returned to Villarbasse, Italy to sell some property. The Rossos ended up stuck in World War I. Lawrence Rosso and older brother John were born in Italy while awaiting war’s end.
When the war ended with the signing of the armistice Nov. 11, 1918, Lawrence, the fifth of the six Rosso children, was already on the way, entering the world June 26, 1919. The family waited until Lawrence, nicknamed “Lento” by sister Mary, was nine months old before returning to Dawson and their new American home. Lento’s younger brother Dino was born after the family’s return.
Around 1922, Lorenzo opened his first grocery store where the Cimarron Headstart building is today on Collinson Street. The store moved across the street from the St. James Hotel later that year.
Although he opened his grocery store in Cimarron, Lorenzo didn’t leave Dawson out of the loop. With the help of his oldest son Joe, he ran a grocery delivery truck out to the coal company town for many years.
All the Rossos worked in the store until World War II broke out. With the exception of Joe, the oldest son, all the boys were drafted. Joe was left home to help run the store because of his knowledge in repairing magnetos (the machine used to generate the electric current providing a spark for ignition on internal combustion engines) which kept the tractors running on the farms and ranches in the area.
“The Rossos and the Federicis became friends sometime after 1922,” said Emma.
The two families played cards together and before long ended up as neighbors in Cimarron.
The girl next door
“I’ve known Emma a long time,” Lento told The Chronicle. “We’ve always been friends.”
“We’d g to dances together at the Pavilion. They had some big bands come to play during that time. People came from all over to hear them. We danced all night.”
“No,” Emma interrupted, “just part of the night.”
Raised at the Pavilion, Emma learned to dance early. She and Lento enjoyed swing dancing to the big bands.
“We still do,” said Lento picking up the strands of conversation. “We love to dance and dance every chance we can.”
But Lento doesn’t understand the dances of the younger generations. “We used to hold our women in those days. Now they dance alone.”
Lento graduated from Cimarron High School in 1938.
“There were 8 students in my graduating class,” Lento said.
“That was during the Depression and most of the 15 and 16 year olds were out working at Philmont or other ranches and farms instead of going to school.”
Lento continued to work at the store for his parents until entering the U.S. Army during World War II. He served in the signal corps in the South Pacific.
Meanwhile, Emma graduated from Cimarron High in 1941, attended business college in Albuquerque and began working at the University of New Mexico.
On Feb. 5, 1946 Lento married Emma at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Springer.
During the war, Lorenzo bought the Brooks Mercantile building for his sons. In June 1946, Lento and Dino started D & L Mercantile in the Brooks Building.
With Dick Weaver, Lento also started the Cimarron Volunteer Fire Department when he returned from the service. Starting out, volunteers had to pull hose carts around to all the fires, but under Lento’s guidance as fire chief for 25 years, a firehouse was built and a fire truck purchased.
Lorenzo died in 1952. Between 1952 and 1961, Lento and his brothers moved Cimarron Mercantile to the Brooks Building and continued selling groceries, dry goods and hardware.
In 1961, Charlie moved the dry goods portion of the business down the street where Cimarron Antiques is now located. Joe went back to the old Cimarron Mercantile location across from the St. James with the hardware business. Lento and Emma ran the Rosso Supermarket in the old Brooks Mercantile Building from 1961-71.
Just as Lento had worked in his father’s store, Lento and Emma’s children, Mike and Jannette, grew up working in the family business.
Lento also served on the Cimarron Municipal School District Board of Education for eight years, 1962 – 1971.
Emma and Lento went out of the grocery business in 1971 and for the next 10 years operated Rosso Dry Goods.
In 1981 they sold that business and retired.
“We did a lot of traveling after we retired,” said Emma.
“We even went back to Italy to see where Lento was born and where my family was from.”
The Rossos continue to participate in the Cimarron Historical Society, the Maverick Club and the Elks Club.
The Rosso family hasn’t strayed far from its roots. Lento’s brother Joe continued to operate Cimarron Mercantile until his death in 1997.
Lento and Emma’s children also remained close to home. Mike Rosso, wife Margie and daughter Divina still live in Cimarron. Jannette “Netta” Walker, husband Ron and daughters Mistica and Deja live just over the mountain in Eagle Nest.
Cimarron, early 1900s
Asked to describe Cimarron in the early- to mid-1900s, Lento said, “Entertainment was for the weekends, so we didn’t have a lot to do. We’d dance to the music of Jim Whited’s band or the Cimarron Nighthawks, go roller skating, play bocce (an Italian version of lawn bowling usually played on a long clay court) or have Sunday turkey shoots at the Colfax Pavilion.
“The only car at school belonged to the superintendent. We walked everywhere we needed to go. I used to try to catch one of the wild burros hanging around town to ride to school.”
Lento said he played pool at the pool hall where Cimarron Antiques is now located. The pool hall was situated on Main Street with the Matkin Building, the bank and Peg Leg Lambert’s drugstore on one side and the Brooks Building and blacksmith shop on the other. Across the street was Lail Supply and Crockett Groceries.
In 1935, Emma’s dad bought the Lail Supply building and remodeled it for the Cimarron Theater.
“We were the only entertainment in town,” said Emma. “We showed movies four nights a week during the winter and six nights a week throughout the summer.”
Emma was Narciso’s cashier and helped him select the movies for the theater. When she married Lento in 1946, Narciso “lost his little helper,” Emma said, and began leasing the business.
“Many of the beautiful old buildings burned down in the early years,” said Lento.
Besides the historic St. James Hotel, Cimarron also sported three others, the Oxford, Grand and Swastika. The Swastika, on 8th Street, is now the home of Cimarron’s Bea Swartz.
During the early 1900s, the railroad roundhouse was a prominent feature in the Cimarron landscape, where the Kit Carson Inn sits now. The line ran through Cimarron on its way up to Ute Park to pick up gold mined on Baldy Peak.
However, when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to allow the railroad company to monopolize the property through Cimarron Canyon on its way through to Eagle Nest, the railroad pulled out of both Ute Park and Cimarron, leaving barely a trace.
The Dawson mine closed in 1950. The railroad section crew of around 200 people left Colfax even earlier. Little is left standing to remind us of these once thriving communities, but they live on in the hearts and memories of Emma and Lento.
Paintings and photographs of once regal buildings of Dawson, Colfax and Cimarron sit in honored display beside the family photo gallery.
“Times have changed,” said Emma as she looked from one painting to the next. “Sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst.”
Lento turned 80 this June while Emma saw 75 in August. Many of the buildings of their youth are gone, but the Rossos keep the stories circulating, passing them on in words and pictures to the next generation. Theirs is a priceless first-hand history lesson.