Huerfano County, Colorado
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The City of Walsenburg traces its history back about 150 years. The settlement was first established as La Plaza de los Leones which was named after the Leon family on the north side of the Cuchara River by Don Miguel Antonio Leon and a family named Atencio. In 1870, Fred Walsen settled nearby and opened up his large mercantile, making the town an attractive location for German settlers. After Fred assisted in the incorporation of the town's 320-acre site, it was suggested that he be honored by formally naming the new town "Walsenburg". In 1876, Walsen also opened the area's first coal mine, and the development of the town was influenced for a century by coal mining in the region. An estimated 500 million tons of coal was mined until a combination of corporate mergers, environmental regulations, and enforcement of mine safety regulations led to the closure of virtually all mining in the area.
Robert Ford, the assassin of outlaw Jesse James, operated a combination saloon and gambling house in Walsenburg; his home at 320 West 7th Street still stands.
Huerfano World - March 29, 1990
From the Colorado Exchange Journal
by Nancy Christofferson
Contributed by Louise Adams
The above title comes from the featured front page story from a 101-year-old
newspaper brought to the Huerfano World office by Bernie Romero.
The newspaper, dated May 15, 1889, is the Colorado Exchange Journal,
subtitled "A Journal of Real Estate, Mining and Manufacturing Interests." F.L. Dana
was editor of the weekly paper, published in Denver.
The story begins, "Wonderful Walsenburg! the county seat of Huerfano County,
located southwest of Pueblo and south of Fremont County, in one of the richest
agricultural mining and coal-producing districts in Colorado is attracting
unusual attention this year. Heretofore this portion of the State had been
practically or almost wholly ignored, as but little was known of the vast area of
agricultural lands capable of giving sustenance to thousands of additional
families. Why it is so much attention has been given to the northern portion of
the State in this branch of industry while Southern Colorado has been considered
almost useless as a grain-producing country baffles all understanding."
(Hmmm, shall we guess?)
After several hundred words lauding the area for its "large rivers... broad
valleys...constant supply of water...precious metals" etc., the author writes,
"Perhaps no city or town in the State today displays more visible signs of
developments in the way of buildings and public improvements than this thriving
town, so justly termed 'Wonderful' by its pushing and enterprising newspapers.
The following, from the Walsenburg World, is an accurate description of
Walsenburg and Huerfano County:
"Along the eastern base of the Rocky mountains there are five cities which
are bound to be the largest cities in the State of Colorado for all time to
come. They are Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Walsenburg and Trinidad..."
(Well, three out of five ain't bad)
"With the exception of Denver, perhaps, there is not a city along the line
that has a brighter future than Walsenburg, in Huerfano County. 'Ah, indeed,'
says one, 'if your city of Walsenburg has such a bright future, why have we not
heard more of it than we have heard? Why has it been slumbering in
obscurity?' I will tell you, my friend. It is in the heart of the finest coal region in
the State, and five large railroad and coal companies have long known this,
but have kept this information to themselves until they could complete
arrangements for mining and transportation facilities. As two of these companies have
already reached here and three others will be here with their roads inside of a
year from date, they are now willing that all the world should know what they
are coming for."
Right. Our writer continues with some basic "facts"(?) "This county is about
75 miles in length by 50 broad, and of course contains over two million acres.
Of these there are nearly 900,000 acres of government lands awaiting entry.
Nearly one-half of the county is susceptible to a high degree of cultivation,
which would give employment to not less than 100,000 people. It has been
demonstrated that grapes, apples, plums, peaches and pears can be raised here
successfully. So much for agricultural resources. As a grazing country it is already
a success, for there are in the county not less than 76,000 head of sheep,
40,000 head of cattle and several thousand horses, all of which are doing well.
Of course, there are not one-tenth what the country could graze, and will
"The boundary lines of the county are the Spanish Peak mountains and Mount
Sierra Blanco, both of which are covered with perpetual snow, and the Greenhorn
range. Along this latter range are forests of pine, cedar and spruce, where
sawmills are established and are sending out lumber at $16 per thousand feet.
From this source sufficient lumber for building purposes can be obtained. In
addition to the coal resources of the county, of which I will speak fully further
on, enough deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead, iron, silica, fire-clay,
plumbago, manganese, mineral clay, building stone, consisting of gray and pink
granite and gray sandstone, brick clay, etc., have been discovered in paying
quantities sufficient to give employment to 100,000 laborers.
"Although but partially explored, 30,000 square miles of as fine bituminous
coal as can be found in Colorado have been discovered in Huerfano County. These
beds are so rich it is estimated that they will yield 150,000 tons to the
acre. This, of course, renders them limitless. As yet but four mines have been
worked, but these can give employment to 20,000 men and turn out 7,000 tons of
coal daily. It is safe to say that 100,000 men will yet be found working in
Huerfano's coal mines..."
Skipping over several paragraphs enumerating the prodigious flow of water
through the county's two rivers, the numerable springs and deep lakes, the author
tries his hand on a description of Walsenburg, no longer quoting the World so
evidently writing from personal experience.
"This beautiful little town, with its 1,500 inhabitants, is situated on the
Cuchara river, seven miles from Cuchara Junction, on the Denver, Texas & Fort
Worth railroad ... The town site is a delightful one, as those who prefer
hillsides for residences can here be accommodated. The business houses are in the
valley where the decline is very gradual. During the past two or three years
the improvements in this town have been quite rapid. There are now many elegant
buildings here and business houses, and residences are going up in all
directions. Adjoining the town limits, on the west, are the Robinson, Cameron and
Walsen coal mines and a large cluster of houses for the miners. Walsenburg has a
gravitation system of water works, the water being brought in iron pipes from
the chain of lakes, three miles from the town, with a fall of 250 feet. This
system cost $35,000. The water is very pure and in great abundance. On the
first of July next the town will have electric lights, also at a cost of $35,000.
Being on a sandy foundation and readily drained the town is not afflicted with
mud during a rainy season and an air of comfort prevails throughout the town.
The 200 children while going to and coming from public school present a very
neat appearance, so much so as to attract the special attention of strangers.
There are three Protestant and one catholic church here.
"There is probably no more healthy town among the Rockies than Walsenburg.
Its elevation renders it delightful for those afflicted with pulmonary diseases.
It has several medicinal springs of great value near the city limits.
"The most notable buildings in the town are the court house and jail, the
two-story brick Public school house, the churches, Walsen & Wheeler bank
building, Huerfano bank building, Unfug Bros.' general merchandise building, Mazzone's
opera house and Odd Fellows' hall.
The benevolent associations are the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias
and Good Templars.
"Walsenburg has a board of trade, numbering 50 members, and a building and
The last legislature made an appropriation of $12,500 for a bridge at the
foot of Main Street and for improving the banks of the river within the city's
Water is obtained anywhere in the valley by digging from 15 to 20 feet."
"Among the leading firms are the following: Unfug Bros. wholesale and retail
merchants who carry a stock of general merchandise equal to some of our large
firms in Denver. This firm has been established since 1882 during which time
the most signal success has attended the efforts of the Messrs. Unfug, and so
extensive has their business become that they found it necessary to open a
branch store at the Walsen mines.
"A. Levy, who is also engaged in the mercantile business, is a gentleman des
erving of more than passing notice for the splendid success he has achieved
during his business career in Walsenburg. Over 17 years ago Mr. Levy took up his
residence at that city and by strict attention to business, careful economy,
and shrewd business tact has succeeded in building up a mercantile business
second to none in the State.
"The hardware store of W.J. Standley is a credit to Walsenburg, being of
mammoth proportions and filled to overflowing with a full line of hardware,
stoves, queensware, wagons and all kinds of agricultural implements necessary for
the requirements of the citizens and farmers throughout the county. Mr. Standley
has been a resident of Walsenburg the past 15 years, proving himself a
desirable citizen and thoroughly reliable business man.
"Mr. Charles Mazzone, wine and liquor merchant, has shown more than ordinary
business enterprise by the erection of a magnificent brick block in the
business center of the town, which combines his liquor store and a large opera house
very artistically arranged, the stage
settings are excellent, the scenery varied and quite attractive, there are
large anterooms in the rear and every modern convenience is attached necessary
to assure the comfort of its patrons. Mr. Mazzone is deserving of the highest
appreciation of his fellow citizens in providing such a suitable building for
theatrical and other recreative amusements so necessary for a city the size of
"There are two flourishing banks at this point, the Huerfano County bank,
owned by Dr. T. F. Martin, and the Walsen Bank, owned by Walsen and Wheeler, the
former of which has been established a number of years... Coming to Walsenburg
eight years ago, comparatively a poor man ... the energetic Dr. Martin being
a man of more than ordinary business ability, possessing a conception that
marks his extraordinary success, farseeing and practical, he soon grasped the
idea that Walsenburg was the coming southern metropolis, requiring only an effort
on the part of the business men to bring about the fulfillment of his, well,
almost a prophecy, and to prove he was not wrong in his conception requires
only a visit to Walsenburg, where the following public improvements have been
"A good system of water works; a fine graded school; four church
organizations; a free public library; an active board of trade and an electric light plant
just completed. There are also two live newspapers published in the town;
the Cactus, owned and published by Messrs. Bowman and Wicks and the Walsenburg
World, published by G. M. McGill, neither of which are excelled by any local
weekly in the State.
"Taking everything into consideration it is no vain boast to say that in the
course of the next 10 years Walsenburg will be known as the commercial,
railroad, agricultural and coal mining center of Southern Colorado.
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