I gather information about the past, I am amazed that today’s towns and communities
often had different names in the past. |
It seems each generation dubbed
the sites with names they preferred over the old names. Here are a few samples
of such changes about an area we pass through each time we go towards Denver and
Today’s Huerfano County, (Spanish for ‘orphan’) located in southern
Colorado, contains the towns of Walsenburg, San Isabel, Westcliffe, La Veta and
Rye. It dates to the 1700s and has a fascinating history. The Huerfano River that
dominates the county originates in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, eventually
emptying into the Arkansas River below Pueblo. The area was a fur trapper’s paradise
in its early days with sky-high mountains and fast rushing streams teeming with
beaver and other fur-bearing animals.
Even the river had many different
names before it received its present moniker. Seems each explorer who saw the
beautiful valley wanted it to carry his own name.
Actually, the final
name comes from a volcanic hill by the same name located halfway between Colorado
city and Walsenburg. The hill can be seen while traveling Interstate 25 north.
History tells us that the first Americans passed through the area in 1739,
over an old Indian trail across the Sangre de Cristo mountains to Taos to conduct
trade. The trail became known as Trapper’s Trail, and was used by the mountain
men to sell their winter’s cache of furs each spring.
Numerous forts were
built over time by both the Spanish and Americans to protect travelers. After
1840, the fur trade declined and the trail began to serve other types of commerce.
The area eventually favored the South during the Civil War, but managed to do
business with both sides by selling much-needed beef for the various military
detachments passing through.
Among the many early settlements once located
in the area were Butte Valley, Huerfano Canyon, Huerfano Crossing later changed
to Badito in 1865.
In the next one hundred years, dozens of settlements
popped up in the area. Some still exist today, like Walsenburg, Cucharis, La Veta
and Gardiner. Other settlements went through a series of changes, usually trying
to find a name acceptable for a U.S. Post Office, before finally becoming abandoned
Reasons for original settlement were furs, gold strikes,
opening for homesteading and finally the coming of farmers and ranchers. Of course,
the beauty was always an attraction.
Among those settlements that perished
or were absorbed by more modern towns were Spanish Peak, Fort Francisco, Malachite,
Tom Sharp’s Trading Post, Farisita, Quebeck, Scissors, Capps, Rouse, Apache, Santa
Clara, Maitland, Pryor, Munel, Orlando, Winchell, Mayne, McGuire, Larimer and
many others that boomed and busted for many reasons.
The area experienced
a drastic decline in population in the 1950s. However, the past is well documented
with several museums and no less than 20-plus cemeteries and burial grounds.
an amazing history — and right at our Panhandle doorstep!
Trew - September
6 , 2011 column
Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164,
by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by email at trewblue@centra media.net.
For books see delberttrew.com. His column appears weekly.
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