“Let’s Talk Clovis” – Ken “Festus” Curtis and wife Torrie

By Peg Bos | Clovis Museum

Ken (1916-1991) and Torrie (1929-1997) Curtis moved here in 1980. He was born in Lamar, Colorado and served in the infantry (1942-1945) during WWII. After appearing in movies and TV series, he portrayed Fetus Haggen of the “Gunsmoke” TV series (1962-1975).

Ken reflected on his early life in the Ace Reid Cowpokes Cookbook: “This pie of my Mother’s always tasted good to us kids. We were a happy bunch of kids and had no idea we were so poor.” His Mom had created a “dry land white potato pie” since they were poor and seldom had fruit. This recipe and Ken’s favorite recipes are available at the Clovis Museum.

Torrie was born in Salt Lake City. She was a Gold Card member of PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). She had two children (William and Danny) from her marriage to Lex Connelly. She is buried at the historic Academy Cemetery (12 miles east of Clovis).

The Curtis’ were active in the Clovis Rodeo Association. They rode in the 1991 Clovis Day Parade with Grand Marshall Martin Mouliot. Ken died the next day. We are sharing their personal words and words of their friends to provide an intimate view of their lives.

A letter (November 6, 1969) written by C.E. Lowry (President of KTHV-11 TV, Little Rock Arkansas) responded to a thank you letter that Ken had sent after receiving a copy of the treasured “Sentinel of Freedom” (artist Adrian Brewer) picture that displays the American Flag.

That picture became an important national symbol during WWII. It was placed in the White House after President Kennedy’s death was relocated and remains at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Ken’s step-son Bill (son of Lex Connelly) wanted a personal copy of the picture. Lowry responded: “I think it is good for the youngsters of today to see the flag or a picture of it in their homes at every opportunity.”

Ken’s picture of “Sentinel of Freedom” has a place of honor at the Clovis Museum.

Local artist Samantha “Sam” Cowen sculpted (steel and concrete, 900 pounds) statue of Festus and donated it to the City of Clovis in 1991 (dedicated 1992). The statue is located at the Educational Employees Credit Union at 430 Pollasky in Old Town Clovis.

Ken wrote: “So many simply pass it by unnoticed. Life’s hectic, it’s going no place so seldom do we see or realize the who that is about us. A statue seems I am here … I was as you are now and as you someday will be.

“Pause and think, sit and remember it seems people only gain value when they are gone … in memories in significant becomes monumental and all heroes of sorts. No statue in stone or cement will be erected to me. This is not my style but in a heart my thought becomes a tear, then great indeed was I.”

Ken’s philosophy of life was: “If there are to be prayers said for me, let them be said in the hearts of my friends and those whose lives I may have touched during my lifetime … by all means let these be no sadness or grief … I want my family and friends to remember only the happy times we were together, my attributes (if any) and try to overlook all of my faults … (that should keep you busy until the time we all meet up again).”

Torrie’s 1992 correspondent to a friend Mikki read: “Ken was a very loving, considerate man with a wonderful sense of humor. I feel blessed to have shared the past 25 years with him. We did share everything daily and I miss him terribly. I am being thankful for him that he did not suffer, he was not ill (heart attack) and he left so peacefully.”

On February 2, 1990, Ken sent the following letter: “Dear friend Bill, a friend of yours, Michelle Sundin, wrote me about your recent operation, and I join the ranks of your many other friends in wishing you a speedy and complete recovery!  As an original pioneer (my dad) used to say, “Stay in the Buggy!”  I’m sure that’s much more effective than the mod. “Hang in There!”

Ken and Torrie remain an important part of our rich heritage.