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The 20th Century
Recalling the 20th Century in Huerfano County - by Nancy Christofferson - Huerfano World - January 6, 2000
"The 20th Century was ushered in with a blizzard and the thermometer reached 15 below zero" the Walsenburg World reported on Jan. 3,1901.
Despite the weather, however, Huerfanos were enthusiastic about the new century and its prospects.
Ninety-nine years later, as we begin the year 2000, popularly known as Y2K, and a new millennium. Although officially centuries begin with "01", the use of computers makes the year 2000 our big turning point.
The past century has brought changes unthinkable to an average person of 100 years ago. Cars, planes, men walking on the moon; radios, televisions, VCRs, computers, voice mail; deep freezers, dishwashers, electric blankets, microwaves; contact lenses; laundromats, malls or 24-hour discount stores; king-sized beds, futons, recliners; interstate highways, road rage - these concepts were as alien to a 19th century person as a trip to Pluto is to us.
In 1900, people looked at prosperity as simply a better life, the opportunity to make a decent living, to afford a few amenities and to enjoy a comfortable and amiable existence.
Huerfano County in 1900 was anticipating just such a future.
In the year 1900 Huerfano County boasted 18 post offices, 19 coal mines and 37 school districts.
The post offices were Apache, Badito, Capps, Cucharas, Gardner, La Veta, Maitland, Malachite, McMillan,
Pictou, Pryor, Rouse, St. Mary's, Seguro, Sharpsdale, Talpa, Ute (which became Huerfano in 1900) and Walsenburg. Of these, Seguro and McMillan were silver and gold mining camps, Malachite a copper town and Maitland, Pictou, Pryor and Rouse were coal camps. Cucharas, La Veta, Ute/Huerfano and Walsenburg were centers of railroad activity. The other post offices served rural farming communities.
The 19 coal mines produced 898,108 tons in 1900. The annual payroll of these totaled $1,575,000. The mines were Adamson, Bright, Bunker Hill, Cameron, Champion, Loma, Maitland, Midway, Nichols, Occidental, Pictou, Primrose, Pryor, Robinson, Rouse, Rugby, Solar, Sunshine and Toltec.
Besides mining, farming and stockraising were the most important economic forces for Huerfanos. Two thousand of the 8395 people counted in the 1900 census were involved in agriculture. The hay and corn crops of that year were said to be the best ever. Cattle shipments from the county earned $525,000 and that of sheep and lambs, $126,300. Sales of wool brought in another $35,600.
The railroads, Denver and Rio and Grande and the Colorado and Southern, together had an annual payroll of $100,000 a year. They, along with Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, were the county's largest taxpayers.
And taxpayers were the sole support of the schools. Those 37 school districts had a total enrollment of 3,006; two years later this reached 3,242. Only nine districts had enrollments of over 100. They were Walsenburg with 541; Pictou, 268; Rouse, 179; La Veta, 173; Talpa (later Farisita), 144; Cucharas, 136; Walsen Mines, 127; Malachite, 117 and North Veta, 104. Sharpsdale, in the foothills at the far western end of the county, was the smallest with 10 students.
The people of Walsenburg, 1,033 in number, were the most confident in terms of their present situations and future aspirations. Walsenburg was, after all, county seat and the largest commercial center in the county. It was situated on two railroads and was the geographic center of the coal camps to the north and south. That year residents saw the construction of three large brick business houses, a $10,000 hotel (the Klein), 24 residences and one and a half miles of sidewalk. Homes were blessed with electricity and, occasionally, water service. There were street lights and a free lending library, a bottling plant and a brick factory. The county high school was here, though it did not yet have its own building.
La Veta had just emerged from a year of success and sadness. In 1899 the D&RG changed from narrow to standard gauge along a new route west from town across the new Veta Pass (the former Wagon Creek toll road). Railroad graders flooded the town, spending their paychecks lavishly (especially in the nine saloons) and making merchants happy. Unfortunately, they also shared a most dreaded disease, smallpox, which killed a dozen or more before it had run its course. Many more were quarantined in a special hospital. About half of the victims were transient graders and in 1900 the town and county were still struggling to cay expenses for their care and burial So La Vetans were definitely looking forward to better days.
La Veta's official population in 1900 was 254, but with 173 enrolled in school, this figure seems low. The five-year old newspaper, the Advertiser, crowed, "the future of La Veta has never been so bright - no man cannot find work, coal and copper mines are promising and the cattle and hay crops are bringing top prices." There were also miners seeking gold and silver on the West Spanish Peak while copper was mined in the La Veta Pass area, and many more were employed by the railroad where "business was rushing."
Another form of employment loomed after 1907 when the Las Animas Forest Preserve was formed. Although this took many homesteads it brought the promise of tourism to the unsettled mountains, A few years later the name was changed to San Isabel National Forest.
Before 1910, 16 more coal mines opened, notably Gordon, Hezron, Ideal, Big Four, Ravenwood, Sunnyside and Oakdale. Twelve more post offices were established.
Big events of the decade were the building of the county courthouse in 1904 and the coal miners strike of 1903-1904
The census of 1910 showed Walsenburg had a population of 2,323, La Veta, 691 and Huerfano County, 13,320. Both municipalities had more than doubled, and the additional 5,000 county residents were mostly in coal camps.
Rouse alone counted 1,000 citizens with another 250 in nearby Pryor. The two communities listed a bakery, boardinghouses, three large mercantile companies, several hotels, a photographer, blacksmiths, a dressmaker, barbers, liveries, shoemakers, hotel, two doctors and numerous saloons and pool halls. There were post offices and schools in both camps and Rouse had three churches.
Talpa (Farisita) and Malachite in the Huerfano Valley both claimed populations of 150. Talpa had a school, two churches, a store and post office. Malachite had two stores, a school, grist mill and blacksmith.
La Veta had two newspapers, two hotels and several rooming houses, four churches, the school, two saloons, five general mercantiles, a flour mill, two hardware stores, several meat markets, three doctors and a dentist, two liveries, a blacksmith, drugstore, clearer, undertaker, bank and a cement block factory, along with other services. It had gotten a water system in 1904 and electricity in 1907.
Walsenburg was busy with two newspapers, schools, at least 15 saloons, nine hotels, 24 wholesale and retail grocery, meat and merchandise businesses, 10 physicians and two dentists, two undertakers, three drugstores, three furniture and hardware businesses, six churches, a dairy, two banks, several feed and livery stables, blacksmiths, three confectionery/bakery shops, two lumber yards, numerous restaurants and cafes and all kinds of services.
Pictou mine was operating only part time, making a population pf 180 who relied on two company stores, two saloons and a livery, besides the school and post office.
Gardner's population was not listed, but probably included about 100 living inside the community which was served by two general stores, a doctor, church, school, post office, several blacksmiths and sawmills and an ice house.
Some of the new post offices were rural. Clover opened in 1912 north of Gardner, Yellowstone Creek in 1915 southeast of Gardner. Rattlesnake Buttes east of Walsenburg opened in 1918 as did Lascar far north, near the Pueblo County line. Each of these rural settlements were served by schools. The Mustang post office and store replaced an earlier community named Larimer, where a colony of Scandanavians settled. Redwing post office opened in 1914.
The Cuchara Camps post office was established in 1916 where seasonal services were a hotel and restaurant, commissary and campgrounds. A one-room log school was open for local ranch families. The other nine post offices opening in that decade were in coal camps.
Because of the new camps and settlements, the voting precincts were changed. From 20 in 1897, the count went to 23 in 1903, 26 in 1907, to 46 in 1916. By this time La Veta had two and Walsenburg, four.
By far the most memorable event of the 1910s was the coal strike of 1913-1914. Lasting over a year, the strike affected not just miners and their families but everyone in Huerfano County, from bankers and merchants right down to the little old lady who sold eggs to the coal camps. By strike's end, at least 15 people in Huerfano County had lost their lives.
And of course World War I, known as the Great War and the War to End All Wars, affected county residents as well. Several hundred of "the boys" marched off and some lost their lives. But far more deadly was the flu epidemic that ran its course from 1918-1919, claiming dozens of Huerfanos, especially the infants and elderly. Makeshift hospitals were set up in many of the coal camps but the rural people had to nurse their own.
The 1910s brought many new immigrants to Huerfano County. The bulk of them hailed from Eastern Europe where the CF&I advertised the good wages and living in the United States. Another segment came from eastern states to take up the 160 acre homesteads offered to American veterans of the Civil, Spanish and World wars. Most of these homesteads were east of Walsenburg.
Possibly the most embarrassing moment of the 1910s for Walsenburg was in 1918, when the district court declared it a first class city. The elections of April had filled town offices, and these town officials refused to give way for city officials later elected until the state supreme court stepped in and ousted those elected in the spring.
The decade brought an ever growing number of motorists and the county was dismally unprepared. For instance, there was no bridge over the Huerfano River, so reaching Pueblo was often impossible during high water. La Veta Pass, along the old narrow gauge grade, was becoming more widely used, but not during snow or mud months. The most reliable form of transportation remained the railroad.
The roaring 20s was a time of complacency around our county. The coal industry, raising crops and livestock, and tourism gave employment and living wages to nearly everyone.
The population had grown to 16,879 by the time of the 1920 census, with 737 in La Veta and 3,565 in Walsenburg. Rouse/Lester, Farr/Ravenwood and Pictou/Toltec were the largest camps.
Tourism was becoming more and more an economic mainstay for Huerfano County and the emphasis for better roads was widely felt. Still, the primary state highways were gravel, at best, and bridges were few.
For tourists who wanted to stick around for a while, Cuchara Camps was growing and a few cabins were built on the George Young ranch on the upper Wahatoya. Sulphur Springs, west of La Veta, had a hotel, dance hall, cottages and a bath house, along with camping facilities. Many people, including those from Walsenburg and La Veta, drove their wagons as far as they could into the mountains and camped during the hot weeks of the summer.
Work was one thing but play was another. Where once monthly dances were a treat, weekly dances became a must. Young people discovered more independence than their parents, and were more mobile. Anyone with a car or wagon piled his or her buddies in and all drove miles to attend dances in Cuchara Camps, Sulphur Springs, the towns and camps. Every holiday and every Saturday night was marked with at least one dance. In rural areas, the schoolhouses doubled as dance halls.
Ten more mines opened with the largest being Alamo #1 and #2, also called Barbour. Others closed. Five post offices opened, with North Veta and Pauley the only non-coal camp ones. Talpa was renamed Farisita.
Business boomed in Walsenburg. A Clerk's Association of salespeople had a membership of over 100. There were eight car dealers. Two theaters were operating with very good crowds. Traveling shows and
circuses were regular visitors.
Every community of any size had a baseball team; some even had juniors and women's teams. Walsenburg alone had some eight to ten teams sponsored by merchants. Every Sunday afternoon the diamonds were jammed with spectators. Scores into the 20s and even 30s were fairly common such as in August 1922 when Ideal beat Mayne 23-7 and Walsenburg beat Mayne 33-14. Mayne may not have had much of a team, of course, since it was just a wide spot on the railroad. Boxing was also popular.
1927 brought disastrous floods. Crops were destroyed when the Huerfano rose in the Gardner and Lascar areas. Some miners were flooded. Railroad and highway bridges disappeared, including a 90 foot span near Gordon, five miles northwest of Walsenburg. The city's worst deluge had come four years earlier when "Seventh to Tenth Streets" were underwater.
Prohibition was on and federal officers preyed upon the so-called soft drink parlors throughout the county. Busts were made often on Walsenburg's pool halls, cafes and confectioneries on the lower side of town. Even elderly people were arrested for having stocks of homemade wine. Bootleggers proliferated in the hills.
In 1922 there was a serious coal miners' strike in Huerfano County but it was in 1927 when another major strike occurred. This was the nationwide strike called in protest of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, allegedly anarchists. Over 1,500 county unionists went out. Things came to a head in October when 1,100 of the county's 2,500 miners walked out after the International Workers of the World, or "Wobblies" called a nationwide strike. Seven mines were closed because they had no workers. Nearly 50 picketers were thrown in jail. About 600 miners from the northern coal fields drove down and paraded the streets in support of the local strikers. When other mines started closing, Gov. Adams sent in the Colorado National Guard. Slowly, saner minds prevailed and the violence ended.
In September 1927, 65 public schools in 47 districts opened for the term. These included high schools in La Veta, Gardner and Walsenburg. There were also the parochial schools, St. Mary in Walsenburg and Sacred Heart in Gardner. In 1929, with an enrollment of 550, St. Mary was the largest parochial school in Colorado.
The 1930s entered on a high note as the economy stayed steady. Coal production was high, crops were good. The county population increased a bit, to 17,062, of whom 782 lived in La Veta and 5,503 in Walsenburg.
But the Great Depression set in gradually, and drouth followed. Huerfano County was named one of Colorado's drouth areas and farmers received small stipends from the federal government. Huge clouds of dust and sand obscured the courthouse from those standing at Main and Sixth. Entire herds of cattle were slaughtered because there was no feed produced and no money to buy it. Many of the homesteads taken in the late 1910s and early 1920s were abandoned.
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in November 1932, the government devised a number of entities to help America recover from its spreading poverty.
In 1933 the Civil Works Administration was organized to employ men in rural areas in various public improvement projects. By January 1934, over 750 were employed by the CWA in this county, earning a payroll of $12,360 per month.
The CWA was replaced by the Works Progress Administration, or WPA. Throughout the mid-1930s until 1942, the WPA employed thousands of men in building and repairing roads, bridges, buildings. In 1935 they made adobe and built four buildings at what was then the American Legion Park on East Tenth in Walsenburg. Eventually they would build nine structures there, including grandstands, some of which survive.
In 1937 the WPA began serving hot lunches in rural schools. They remodeled the courthouse. They worked on bridges on Highways 10 and 69. Pay was limited to $10 per man per month. For women, the WPA had sewing rooms, canning projects and mattress factories, from which the finished products were given to the needy.
In 1938 the WPA men riprapped the Cucharas to avoid flooding through Walsenburg. They built and remodeled rural schools. That year, Huerfano County had the highest percentage of WPA workers of any county in Colorado, 9/7 percent of its total population.
By the time projects shut down in 1942, Walsenburg had new tennis courts, a water filtration plant, curbs and gutters, a sled run, skating pond, new streets and even entertainment and recreation programs such as free band concerts. Several of their major projects were completing Highway 10 and building Washington School.
For young men, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established. In 1934 a CCC camp was built at Gardner to work in the national forest. The youth built roads, trails, fences, picnic facilities and ranger stations and residences in La Veta and Gardner. By 1941 enrollees were primarily involved with soil conservation.
Nineteen coal mines opened in the 1930s but outside of Butte Valley (the former Alamo #2 or Barbour), these were small operations catering to the local trade. About two dozen mines closed, including Oakdale and the mighty Robinson at Walsen, two of the county's major producers.
Also closed were the post offices at Alamo, Gordon, Maitland, North Veta, Oakview, Pictou, Rattlesnake Buttes, Ravenwood, Sharpsdale and Walsen.
Forty-six rural schools kept operating. Some of these had fewer than 10 students. New school houses were built by the WPA at Chama, Cuchara Junction, Maes Creek and Sandy.
Near the end of the '30s new roads were completed. A bridge was built over the Huerfano! The CWA and WPA built the Apishapa scenic drive. Highway 10 was opened to La Junta. Highway 85-87 connected Walsenburg with the north and south and Highway 160 to the east and west. Highway 69 was improved to cut out curves and hills. A road connected Highway 69 to La Veta, Highway 111 took travelers on to Trinidad via Cucharas Pass. La Veta Pass was improved and efforts were made to keep it open during the winter months. Some of these roads were even paved.
Despite the Depression and hard times, Huerfanos kept their spirits up. Although times were lean and money scarce, most people saved enough for a good set of clothes and a sturdy pair of shoes - to go dancing in, or, in less frivolous families, to attend church services festivities.
Huerfano County's 29 precincts in 1940 contained 16,088 people. Walsenburg's four precincts accounted for over 5,000, and the official census figure for the city was 5,855, the highest ever. La Veta checked in with 891, though its two precincts included about 1,500 people. Numerous precincts, especially around defunct coal mines, had depopulated and been merged with others.
As a result of the hard days of the Depression and Dust Bowl, many miners and farmers drifted away. Rural areas on the prairies around Pauley, Turkey Ridge and Rattlesnake Buttes emptied and the homesteads were incorporated into large cattle and sheep ranches. During the 1940s the sheep population dwindled while the cattle industry prospered.
Many of the people of the coal camps moved into Walsenburg. Many of their houses were moved into town as well. The city was filled to capacity, as were its neighboring communities.
In September 1940, 515 students registered in Huerfano County High School, compared to 463 in 1939. Gardner graduated its first class of four-year high school students in April 1940, a class of eight.
Although two rural schools, La Veta Pass and Rutledge, reopened their doors, the '40s spelled the end of others. By the end of the decade, St. Mary's, Butte Valley, Sharpsdale, Cucharas, Dand, Barbour, Ravenwood, Ideal, Fairview, Apache, Bear Creek, Maitland, Pacheco, Laguna, Sandy and Sunnyside schools were closed. Open were Lower Badito, Chama, Farisita, Sand Arroyo, Gardner, Sunrise, Bradford, Pictou, Yellowstone, Pass Creek, Delcarbon, Tioga, Badito, Rahn, Turkey Ridge, Mustang, North Veta, Rattlesnake Buttes, Buena Vista and Redwing. Gardner's high school closed.
Most of the closed districts sent their students to Walsenburg via bus. In 1948 Walsenburg public schools registered 873, with 553 of those in the elementary grades. At St. Mary, 141 were enrolled in the high and 343 in the grade school, plus 73 in the kindergarten, for a total of 1,430 children in city public and parochial schools. This was a 10 percent increase over the previous year for the public schools.
Obviously, the biggest impact of the 1940s was caused by World War II. Huerfanos shared the extreme patriotism, especially in the coal camps, and the scarcity of goods with all Americans.
Rationing of tires made travel difficult; the rationing of other items such as sugar, coffee, butter, some toiletries, gasoline, nylon and certain other items caused inconvenience. The impossibility of obtaining cheese from the Mediterranean area resulted in the reopening of La Veta's cheese factory which shipped goat cheese throughout the nation.
Bond drives brought in thousands of dollars for national defense through the purchase of savings bonds. School classes and clubs vied to buy the most bonds. School children also assisted in scrap drives, collecting metal, paper and rubber for the war effort.
Walsenburg, being on two railroads, even had a USO Club to entertain traveling soldiers.
As the servicemen began arriving home in the mid-1940s, Huerfano County must have looked safe and welcoming. Home at last! But things had changed, not only here but all over the world. Jobs were scarce and the emphasis on life had turned from simple survival to "making it big." Women had become accustomed to having more independence. Men returning from the war had experiences which made them aspire to succeed financially and emotionally.
On the other hand, many did not return. Wartime jobs in big cities drew many, and the opportunities on the West Coast brought a deluge to that area. In fact, the 1940s saw the largest decrease in population ever in Huerfano County, as nearly one-quarter of its people moved on.
Several of the larger mines ended their careers during the decade - Robinson, Toltec, Pictou, though the latter would reopen in 1946. Cameron, after working sporadically, finally closed completely in 1945. From a home for 1,000 in 120 homes and numerous boardinghouses, in 1946 only 12 houses were occupied and the camp was dismantled.
Besides the Farr post office at Cameron mine, the Lascar and Mustang post offices closed.
Big events for Walsenburg during the '40s included the construction of the water filtration plant and the purchase of Martin and Horseshoe Lakes from the Coler Ditch and Reservoir Company.
Purchase of the lakes resulted in the establishment of Huajatolla Park, a city and county project to build and maintain a recreational area with supervised swimming, fishing, picnicking and special events.
In 1945, Walsenburg's popular Black Diamond Jubilee became the Spanish Peaks Fiesta.
In 1946 the polio epidemic kept schools from opening on time. At least six cases were reported in the county.
And, in 1946, seven manufacturing plants had opened in the city. They required 130 steady or seasonal employees.
For some people, the most important event of the 1940s was the introduction of television in 1949 in Walsenburg. Reception on the one channel was lousy.
The 1950s brought the annexation of Loma Park and later, the Spargo-Winters Addition. Johnson Field's airstrip got an administration building and Walsenburg was on the modern map.
The decade began with dry conditions causing water restrictions all year in Walsenburg.
The census of 1950 tallied but 10,549 county residents. Much of the decrease could be attributed to the closing of the big mines and subsequent depopulating of the camps. Also, agriculture was changing. Small farms were being swallowed up by large ranches. The wave of optimism following the end of the war had vanished as returning veterans learned they could not raise a family on small town salaries so relocated to the cities.
In 1950 a local miner earned about $2,500-3,000 per annum. The same year, Huerfano County High School set its salaries at $2,400 for a beginning teacher, with $50 increments for every four years of teaching.
An auto mechanic in Walsenburg earned $45-65 monthly in 1951, compared to $25-35 10 years earlier. A "full" basket of food" cost him $23.75. There wasn't much money, but it went a long way.
On the other hand, land prices were going up. Farm lands in the county tripled in six years; an "average" farm of 1,652 acres selling for $7,659 in 1945 sold for $19,639 in 1951. A million acres of Huerfano County real estate was occupied by 459 farms (212 of which had electricity and 98, phones).
For the 1950 general election, there were 6,836 registered voters in Huerfano County, down from some 7,500 two years before. Over 3,000 of these lived in Walsenburg where the census showed 5,596 people to be living. La Veta had 696 residents.
In 1951, the D&RG ceased night passenger train service over La Veta Pass after 50 years, and began daylight service. In May 1953 passenger trains stopped crossing La Veta Pass altogether, causing the end of some jobs.
The drought continued and Walsenburg residents were said to be using 743 gallons per person per day, causing the lower lake to drop a half inch daily in July. The drought was interrupted briefly in August when the town flooded. Hail and flash floods ruined crops in many rural areas.
Come autumn of 1951, 1,462 enrolled in Walsenburg schools, 835 in public and 579 at St. Mary. HCHS had 235 students, compared to 547 in 1930.
Rural schools open were Farisita, Pass Creek, Redwing, Bradford, Upper Badito, Delcarbon, Chama, Sand Arroyo, Gardner, Gordon, Maes Creek, Rattlesnake Buttes, Dand, Malachite, Tioga, Yellowstone, Rouse-Lester and Birmingham. In addition, Sharpsdale, Butte Valley and St. Mary's had reopened. Laguna, Ideal, Pictou and Apache had just closed and were sending kids to school in Walsenburg. In 1953 Tioga school closed and was moved bodily to town for use by HCHS.
By 1956 only Chama, Farisita, Gardner, Gordon (Rocky Mountain), Malachite, Birmingham, Rouse-Lester, Pass Creek, Redwing and Badito rural schools remained open. One hundred and 50 were enrolled in these districts where 300 had been in 1952. No wonder some closed - as late as 1953 Bradford, Yellowstone and Rattlesnake Buttes had no electricity.
Around 1957 school district reorganization was hotly debated. Three districts were proposed but Gardner voters declined to support a one. In 1959 county voters finally approved two districts, Re-1 in Walsenburg and Re-2 in La Veta. These replaced 26 former districts though schools at Rocky Mountain, Farisita, Maes Creek-Birmingham, Rouse-Lester, Malachite, Pass Creek, Redwing and Chama rural schools joined Gardner and Walsenburg in Re-1.
In 1959, 1,251 were enrolled in Re-1 schools in Walsenburg, Chama, Maes Creek, Pass Creek, Rouse, Gardner and Walsenburg. Of these 358 were in high school, now called Walsenburg instead of Huerfano County. La Veta's entire system included 191 students.
The long-anticipated Huerfano County Public Library was built and opened in 1952, about the same time the first "hot lunch program" got underway at Walsenburg High. Otherwise building was very slow throughout the county except in Cuchara Camps, where construction was booming during the '50s.
The largest payroll in Huerfano County in 1955 was that paid to old age pensioners and welfare recipients.
Perhaps for that reason, the City of Walsenburg entered negotiations with a chemical plant called Cotarco, which proposed to build a plant on city-owned property near La Veta. The company promised to employ between 200 and 500 people. Special arrangements were made for the company to begin building, but the more the city and county gave, the more the company wanted. Eventually, the dust and the law suits settled and Cotarco had moved on to greener, or dumber, pastures. Alas, this was not the last company to try to put one over on us naive small-towners.
In 1955 Walsenburg tried to get a state prison facility built nearby. Canon City got it.
In 1950, Huerfano County had 600 coal miners. In 1952, there were 332 and in 1954, 79. That latter year saw the closing of Pictou and Big Four at Tioga, with the transfer of the CF&I miners to the new Allen mine in Las Animas County. Calumet No. 2, Morning Glory, Sunnyside, Gordon, Black Beauty, Leader No. 2, Major No. 2 and Rugby No. 6 were still producing. Sunnyside, Black Beauty, and Major closed by 1959 but Maitland No. 2 reopened.
When in March 1956 an eight-inch snowfall blanketed Walsenburg, it was said to be the deepest in two years. Three years earlier the county had been declared by Gov. Thornton a disaster area, caused by drought and a grasshopper plague. Ranches were selling at from $15 to $80 per acre.
In 1954 a drop in county valuation was blamed on the drought and the ensuing drop in cattle sales, along with a reduction of assessment on public utilities (including the railroads) and the decline of the coal mines.
The 1956 drought conditions were the worst, it was said, since the period from 1934 to 1939, or Dust Bowl days. The Cuchara River was the lowest it had been since 1902.
Occasional heavy rains and hailstorms destroyed what crops and pasturage there were, causing the entire decade to be one of poor conditions and yields. While the cattle industry would recoup, agriculture was basically through in the area.
In 1955 Walsenburg bought the local Frontier Power Company to be operated by a Walsenburg Utilities Board. Frontier had owned the electric company for 35 years, having purchased it from Trinidad Power.
In La Veta, San Isabel Electric had bought out the 45-year old La Veta Light, Heat and Power Company.
Both electric companies were extending lines through Rural Electrification projects and lights appeared all over the county for the first time.
But progress could not stop the decline in population.
Indicative of the decline is the end of the daily newspaper. In 1951, Consolidated Publishing, owners of the 62-year-old World-Independent, bought the Huerfano County News, La Veta Advertiser and El Clarin. The next year it started a short-lived paper in Aguilar. La Veta's paper folded in 1957. On May 29, 1958, the last daily was printed. The following week the first weekly Huerfano World appeared.
In 1959 the first woman mayor, Ethel Stacy, was elected in Walsenburg.
That same year, in January, Top O'LaVeta opened a ski run on the summit of La Veta Pass. And, Highway 10 was paved.
Another form of recreation received a boost when on July 4, 1957, the Walsenburg municipal swimming pool was opened.
And, in 1958, the first rooms of Francisco Fort Museum opened in La Veta.