Huerfano County, Colorado
Looking Back To 1889
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Huerfano World - January 12, 1989
Writer Hopes History Will Repeat Itself After 100 Years
by Nancy Christofferson
Contributed by Louise Adams
As we look back at the year of 1988 with its many unfortunate events and too
few happy ones, it seems appropriate to look farther back, back to a time of
progress, innocence and optimism.
History has a way of "repeating itself," as the old saying goes. Whether it's
actually repetitious or not, history does seem to go in circles, with certain
trends following one another time after time. Thus, after a period of
stagnancy will come a time of great activity (or vice versa!)
If history were to repeat itself, it would be appropriate, and welcome, to
recreate the year of 1889, exactly 100 years ago, for this was a time of
affluence and rapid growth for Huerfano County and especially for Walsenburg. Let's
take a look back.
One hundred years ago, in 1889, the Walsenburg World was founded with G.M.
Magill editor and proprietor. It was a four page shoot published every Friday
with local, state and world news, handset on an old fashioned press. There were
1,000 copies printed of the first issue on Mar. 1.
Three men worked the press and were capable of producing 500 copies per hour.
Subscribers paid $2 a year and some of the first were Fred 0. Roof, L.A.
Parkhurst, Harry A. Gross, Sheriff Walter O'Malley, Mayor Charles Unfug, County
Treasurer Allen McLean, A. Levy, Dr. D.W. Mathews, Fred Walsen, H.E. Wheeler,
Henry Klein, T.F. Martin and Dr. T.D. Baird.
The World was not Walsenburg's first newspaper. As early as 1877, the,
Huerfano Independent was printed here, though the editor soon pushed on to Garland
City, the new railroad terminus east of the present Ft. Garland.
When the Cactus was first started is not clear, but it is known Dr. T. F.
Martin was its owner/editor by August of 1885. Colonel C.B. Bowman and George B.
Wick were in charge during the late 1880's and Wick took over in the mid
1890's. In 1898 he sold to W.B. and Walter Brice, but, possibly because of the
death of Walter soon after, W. B. sold the paper the next year to the Huerfano
Printing Company. William Butler was editor. At this time, September 1899, the
Cactus became the Yucca. Editor Wick made several unsuccessful attempts to start
newspapers in the area and gave up in favor of joining the Alaska gold rush.
The Cactus and the World obviously were friendly competitors, at least at
first. Editors Magill and Martin were both involved in the Tourist City Addition
and the pages of both were full of promotions for the new development. Dr.
Martin was also owner of the Tourist City Hotel, renamed Twin Lakes for its
previous location near Martin and Horseshoe Lakes but later moved into town. The
Addition lots were ready for sale in March 1889, and the hotel opened in May.
The town was experiencing its first "boom" and perhaps that called for a second
Whatever the reason, the World began its 100-year existence. Advertisers were
numerous and included: Huerfano County Bank, T.F. Martin, cashier (Dr. Martin
was a busy man!); Unfug Brothers' Huerfano County Big Bargain House; Dr. W.L.
Doyle; Attorneys R.R. Ross and Homer A. Cole; Potter's Crystal Ice House;
Charles Meyer's German Bakery; Drs. Baird and Mathews; Henry Sturm's liquor and
cigar store and soda water factory; Drs. F.B. Crocker and J.M. Sleicher; John
Lowenbruck's U.S. Meat Market; Bernstein and Becker's The Great New York
Clothing House; Burns Mercantile; Elrod and Barnes farm equipment; Meinhardt's dry
goods; F.W. Miller and John Guy, tailors; M.L. Swift and Company hardware and
grocery; Jellison's Grocery; G.G. Martin, music instructor; John P. Kearns,
abstractor of titles; George McLaren, contractor and builder; George E. Ayers
and H. Blickhahn's new Harness and Saddle Shop; photographer O.T. Davis's Home
Gallery; Peter Krier's Shoe Shop; Walsen and Wheeler Bank; Thomas Grantham
Drugs and Apothecary; Wycoff Brothers drugstore; A. Levy's general mercantile;
W.J. Standley's hardware; Walsenburg Feed and Livery Stable of George D.
Anderson; James LeClarf's Jewelry; Farr Brothers' City Feed and Livery Stable; John
Mohr's Blacksmith; Hughes Brothers' Lumber and Building Supply: Mrs. Peterson's
boardinghouse; Walsenburg Building and Loan; Cowing and Canon's grocery and
feed store; Mrs. McCaskill's "Bazar" of Fashion; Freshwater's Confectionery;
Mazzone's "Opra" House; Mrs. Delia Anderson's City Restaurant; Caldwell and
Marvin's post office book store, Farr's Metropolitan Meat Market; John Brown's
store; and Leisenburg and Hummer, tailors.
In addition to these businesses, but not advertisers, were numerous saloons.
Those purchasing the $300 annual liquor licenses were Charles Mazzons, J.B.
Dick, T.F. Martin, D. Brown, J.P. Atencio and Company, Dr. Rey and Lopic and
1889 was a year of important growth for Walsenburg. Editor Magill estimated
that $150,000 worth of improvements had been made during the year.
The most important of these was the ''Complete Edison Electrical System,"
costing $35,000. New buildings, such as Twin Lakes Hotel, were immediately hooked
up to the system. The court house got electricity in October. Town Council
even held a special meeting with the electric company to contract for 30 street
lights, of 16 candle-power each, for a rental rate of $2.25 per month for two
The town also built three miles of sidewalk, at a cost of $7,000, and looked
north to expand. At this time, the railroad tracks were practically the end of
Main Street - all the commercial buildings were down towards the river. But
in late 1889, with plans for bridging, fluming and grading on North Main,
Editor Magill predicted that Fourth and Main "may soon be the business center.''
By then, Walsenburg had a water system which was improved and extended to a
$15,000 bill that year, no mean sum in 1889. Another $15,000 built the Twin
Lakes Hotel, and yet another, the new Mazzone Opera House.
The Walsen and Wheeler Bank, owned by former state treasurer Fred Walsen and
H.E. Wheeler, was prospering along with the town. Walsen even built a
four-room brick building just south of his bank at Fifth and Main for rental purposes.
This cost him a quick $8,000.
Henry Snedden also built in brick, constructing a $2,500 business block.
Others were not so generous, New frame buildings sprang up, including Jellison's
two story grocery store ($2,000); John Lowenbruck's two store buildings
($2,000); A. Levy's ice house, shop and residence addition ($2,500); Unfug brothers'
two stores and two offices ($1,500); Cowing and Canon's ($1,000); O.T. Davis'
photograph gallery ($1,000); D. Rey's saloon ($1,000); Robert Burns'
mercantile ($800); and Henry Petmecky's ($600) and H. Blickhahn's ($500) more modest
In addition, 1889 saw the construction of 11 new houses "in town," 18 in
Tourist City Addition, and 14 on Capitol Hill. The Knights of Pythias built their
temple for $5,000 and the Methodists their church for $3,500.
The major reason for Walsenburg's growth was, of course, the growth of the
nearby coal mines. Walsen mines had been in operation for a dozen years and were
producing well. The Sulphur Springs mine (later Pictou) was just beginning,
despite strikes. These camps had few facilities or businesses so most of the
miners and their families relied on Walsenburg stores, doctors and banks for
The town was also situated on several major routes. The D&RG was still
carrying the hopeful westward to the San Juans and bringing gold back, along with
the bountiful crops and loads of livestock from the San Luis Valley. Although
the north- south tracks passed through Cuchara Junction to the east, foot and
wagon traffic came through town. And, of course, as county seat, Walsenburg
hosted the local residents for all types of errands and duties.
The county officers at the time were B.N. Whitman, J.B. Hudson and A.J.
Sanchez, commissioners; J.A.J. Valdez, clerk; C.B. Bowman, coroner; Allen McLean,
treasurer; Candido Garcia, assessor; Henry Daigre, judge; A.A. Burtch,
surveyor; and Dr. T.D. Baird, superintendent of schools. A. Read was the official
interpreter. Walter O'Malley was sheriff and Ira Williams and Ed Farr his
Dr. Baird was also mayor of Walsenburg, aided by trustees Creesy, Lowenbruck,
Dick and Farr. W.A. Smith was marshal, earning a basic $85 per month plus a
fee for each summons he served. The town fathers met in the old town jail on
North Main next to the D&RG tracks, which indignity probably kept them honest it
nothing else did.
Up in La Veta, things were quieter. The town was between railroad booms and
was slumbering along with a steady economy fed by agriculture and its being the
section point on the D&RG, There were several general stores, saloons, two
hotels, two churches, fraternal organizations and the flour mill. Sawmills were
busy furnishing both the railroad and the growing mines with props, timbers
Administering the town's business were George S. Thompson, mayor; John Otson,
John M. Francisco, John S. Barnes, John Cozad, Alex Lindsay and A.A. Foote,
trustees; Oliver Bemen, recorder; and William Krier, treasurer. Laren Dye
served two months as "road commissioner" and gave up. The La Veta Times, which
supplanted the old Huerfano Herald (1880-1884), was the official news dispenser
under Editor Fred L. Herbin.
Their most momentous decision during the entire year may have been their
ordinances concerning lighting and water works. This would go into the "Plan
Ahead" column since they wouldn't get a water system for 15 years and electricity
The population of La Veta was estimated at 500, and one teacher, Miss Ella
Weir of Madison, IL, held sway over the local scholars. Construction news
centered around the building of the two story stone W.T. Lake drugstore by the
Dotsons, sitting isolated between Cozad and Ryus' store and the Ryus home on the
north and a frame store on the next corner south. Across Main Street were a
saloon and two stores. F.A. Moore was postmaster but quit in October and was
replaced by M.T. Hills. Hills, incidentally, was the originator of the name Nunda,
the post office at later Cuchara Camps (and for whom Hills Branch of the
Cucharas was named).
La Veta, too, was enjoying some prosperity from nearby mining, though not of
coal. Copper, silver and gold were coming in dribbles from mines to the south,
north and west. Alas, even the dribbles dried up instead of becoming
torrents, but the town still was visited by various "mining experts" and investors to
keep up interest. Truck mines were also operating in coal veins along the
Wahatoya, Cuchara and Middle Creek.
Down in Old Rouse, then new, things were jumping. The mine was the leading
producer in the county and once sent out 2,500 tons in a 10-hour stretch! The
town had several groceries, dry goods, a livery, hotel and school. Twenty-four
more houses were constructed late in the year.
To the west, Gardner had some 100 residents, a store, church, and sawmill.
There were probably a hotel and livery as well to serve travelers along the
Mosca and Pass Creek trails. Tom Sharp was operating his trading post at Malachite
on Pass Creek and L.T. Santy his marble quarry at Seguro on the Huerfano.
Though the Sulphur Springs mine was progressing, it was attached by Sheriff
O'Malley for the First National Bank of Denver for $25,000. The mine continued
operations, however, and a camp, including saloons, two groceries and a
school, began to expand.
Other communities around the county were Apache, Badito, Birmingham, Bradford
(previously Dickson), Ute, Huerfano Canon (later Farisita,) St. Marys, Santa
Clara, Scissors (later Capps) and Sharpsdale. Most of the later settlements on
the plains were still the open range of cattle and sheep raisers.
In 1889, Huerfano County's population was about 6,800, about a third of which
lived in Walsenburg. With some 4,000 people scattered throughout the county,
it was assumed at least 1,50O were children. Children need education so the
school districts, first organized at the time of statehood in 1876, were
re-organized to offer the benefits of schooling to the farthest away. The school
districts of 1889 were: No. 1 St. Marys; No. 2 Butte Valley; No. 3 Badito; No. 4
Walsenburg; No. 5 Crestones (Chama); No. 6 Vacant; No. 7 Alexander (Sager);
No. 8 Talpa; No. 9 La Veta; No. 10 North Veta; No. 11 Gardner; No. 12 Cucharas;
No. 13 Apache; No. 14 Scissors; No. 15 Wahatoya; No. 16 Kincaid (Ritter); No.
17 Chauvez Plaza (later Rocky Mountain); No. 18 Turkey Creek; No. 19 Walsen
mine; No. 20 Malachite; No. 21 Upper Cuchara; No. 22 Sharpsdale; No. 23
Birmingham; No. 24 Bradford. (Ultimately there would be 55 districts in the county.)
Each district varied in enrollment, from seven students in the far-flung
schools to hundreds in the larger camps and Walsenburg. Crestones/Chama also had a
large enrollment In those days, averaging about 100 students, often with just
In the fall of 1889, Walsenburg had 130 students and four teachers. Prof.
G.N. McKay was principal, his wife taught the "second intermediate department,"
Miss Minnie Guy first intermediate, and Miss Katie Gantz was in charge of the
To support the county school system and other expenditures, tax levies were
set at: State two plus 13/30 mills plus 1.7 "other"; county 25.5 mills; and
special school tax, military and poll tax, $2. Seems fair enough, doesn't it?
A dollar went a lot farther back then and most of the county's dollars went
for schools and roads. Don't assume the road system was anything to brag about,
though. Every rainstorm turned thoroughfares (including Walsenburg's Main
Street) into minor rivers and then into quagmires. Bridges and culverts were
practically unknown and during spring runoff, fords across creeks and rivers were
impassible. In dry times, the dust engulfed everyone from pedestrian to large
wagons (much like today!) and kept housewives busy exterminating the grit in
And speaking of dollars, just one would buy 18 quarts of milk from John
Well, in 1989 our money has a bit different value but we save and spend it
just as thriftily, or, at least, try to! We can't build a store for $800 but
wouldn't it be nice to have a building boom in 1989. C'mom history, repeat
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