Seeking the elusive orange apple

One of the first orchards in Montezuma County that I came to have a history with belonged to A.G. Dunning. His granddaughter told me about it, that her grandfather Dunning had an orchard. Several years passed before I would know enough to go to that orchard. Quickly I realized that even for Montezuma County this orchard was unusual.

Through years of glancing at county fair records I have come to know varieties of fruits and names of orchardists: the person, the place, the plant. The loop of these factors spreads through microfilm and cemeteries, in texts of forgotten fruits, and in descendents’ memories. It can be tasted dangling from a limb, ripe for the picking.

It will be quite the project to list all of the fruit varieties grown in Montezuma County. Imagine actually trying to find the trees. Sometimes I do manage to collide with a tree once read about. Such was the case of the Colorado Orange Apple.

Once while I was looking through county fair records an apple caught my eye, the Colorado Orange, submitted from the orchard of Mr. A.G. Dunning. In a land of the forgotten genetics of rare apples this was another, quite possibly extinct, but perhaps a tree lived.

This last winter we were loaned some old fruit books, including early Colorado State Board of Horticulture reports. While reading through one of these, Addie came across the Colorado Orange, listed as a winter apple coming from Fremont County.

I knew that Jasper Hall, the fruit wizard of Montezuma County, had gone to Cañon City, Fremont County, for stock for his orchards. This past winter I also learned that Hall and his brother Norman lived in Cañon City for a couple of years before migrating to the Western Slope.

At this point I felt certain as to where the tree had come from and where the tree had been, though I knew not whether any of the trees still existed alive anywhere.

One day in early March I was at the Dunning Orchard grafting apple trees with a couple of other people. Again I mentioned the Colorado Orange Apple. A few days later I got a call from fellow grafter Ken Amling. Ken called the Fremont County Extension Office to inquire about the Colorado Orange. Though initially not finding someone that could help him, he called back later and was able to find someone who could help.

Yes, Ken was told, there was a tree remaining.

About a week later Ken and I made our way down the Arkansas River in the dark and the rain. In the morning we had a cup of coffee with Paul Telck, who told us what he knew of his orchard and the Colorado Orange; that it was a seedling found in the orchard of Jessie Frazier. Growing close enough in the orchard row to where a tree should be, and having unusual vigor, it was allowed to grow and bear fruit.

“Uncle Jessie” was knowledgeable about fruit, having planted what may have been the first orchard ever in Colorado, from trees that he brought from Missouri in an ox-pulled wagon across the plains in 1856. After we finished exchanging information about our respective growing areas, we went into Mr. Telck’s orchard and collected scion wood. In his garage, protected from the cold March wind, we grafted away: Black Ben, Black Twig, Gano, Ben Davis — and the Colorado Orange Apple.

Jude Schuenemeyer is co-owner of Let It Grow Garden Café and Nursery in Cortez, Colo.

From Jude Schuenemeyer.