Huerfano County, Colorado

Contributed by Louise Adams

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Black Diamond Jubilee

Huerfano World - June 1, 1989 Fiesta Returns to Walsenburg After An Absence of 20 Years by Nancy Christofferson

The Spanish Peaks Fiesta is Back!

After a hiatus of over 20 years, the popular event will reappear this weekend, June 3-4, with a baseball tournament, barbecue, breakfast, carnival, games and booths.

The Fiesta wasn't always a Fiesta; it began as a Jubilee and ended up a rodeo.

Emerging from the dark years of the Depression and Dust Bowl, the young men of Walsenburg sought a means to honor those who had made "The City Built on Coal," the community which not only endured the lean times but which was thriving that year of 1939.

Thus the Black Diamond Jubilee was born.

Preparation for the Jubilee included an announcement in early April of a beard-growing contest. Anyone entering had first to be checked by a local barber (and there were many) as clean shaven. For encouragement, the World Independent ran such articles as "Men With Beards Rule Their Home," according to the headline, and continuing to include "This earth became a woman's world when men started shaving."

Meanwhile, WPA workers were "rushing work" on the fairgrounds. A new softball field with lights, another grandstand and a half-mile track were constructed.

The noted rodeo champion, Leonard Stroud agreed to supervise the rodeo. He also oversaw construction of the rodeo arena and four chutes. The three-day rodeo would include not only "bucking broncos" but also "fancy and trick riding," since Stroud was known to be the only person able to rope four galloping horses while standing on his head.

A highlight of the rodeo would be the miners' event, when one miner would be crowned champion cowboy.

Besides the rodeo, the Log Cabin Airways of St. Francis, Kansas, would provide six planes to perform an air show and provide rides for the more daring.

The Silver States Show was the carnival attraction, featuring 12 shows, nine rides, and "a thrilling aerial acrobatic act by the Four Queens, 150 feet in the air."

If that weren't enough, there was Wild Bill Cawthorn and His Circus of Death, with "ten rides" of motorcycles and automobiles crashing into one another, driving through fires and over jumps and causing their vehicles to roll over.

For the fainthearted, some 30 demonstrations and exhibitions were scheduled inside the fairground buildings. One such was the miniature steel plant, a replica of the Pueblo works, which CF&I was sending. The US Forest Service pitched in with a two-ton sawmill. The County Commissioners cooperated by installing a new floor in the exposition building to make it suitable as a dance pavilion. Striking miners helped with the various building projects.

Both the coal companies and union locals donated cash and time to the preparations, beards were getting longer and the excitement was building.

But what's this? The city's barbers are suing the Junior Chamber of Commerce, organizers of the Jubilee, for $5,000 for loss of business. No less than 400 beards are registered - 400 good customers lost. The Jaycees counter with a $25,000 suit, charging slander. A jury is selected (all men - six bearded and six clean shaven) but, now that everyone's attention is caught, the affair is settled out of court.

Other publicity was garnered through the motorcades. Eight to 10 vehicles packed with dignitaries, and sometimes even miners, dressed in their best coal mining outfits, advertised all over southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, attracting attention to the upcoming event with their outlandish costumes and pithy speeches. Even Governor Ralph C. Carr agreed to attend.

The miners themselves organized a contest for their first aid teams. Competing were two teams from Calumet, one each from Tioga, Major, Morning Glory, Toltec, Cameron, Pryor, Rouse and Bon Carbo, two from Fremont County and one local team of independents. The contest judge was Tom Allen, the state mine inspector.

Even the schools cooperated. The high school yearbook was called the Black Diamond. A poetry contest among grade school students produced this gem:


In celebration of our coal industry.

Men grow whiskers as in days of old
When the land was filled with bandits bold
But these whiskered men aren't bad at all
They only did it to obey the call.

Huerfano County can't boast of gold
But we'll take off our hats to Old King Coal
It means our future as it did in the past
So, we hope, our people will use it instead of oil and gas.

So come one and all and celebrate
Our Black Diamond Jubilee
Help boost the industry
That helps you and me.

This certainly captures the idea and was written by Barbara Gene Dancy, only 11-years-old.

The Jubilee was scheduled to begin with a parade, led by Gov. Carr, on Thursday afternoon, May 25. Special trains were to run from Pueblo and a caravan was arranged to bring in l00 young men from the CCC Camp at Gardner.

Well, guess what? It rained. And it rained and it rained. Gov. Carr gave speeches at the schools and left, slightly dampened. The rodeo and Circus of Death were not held that night.

But Friday and Saturday turned out clear and beautiful. The parade, minus the governor, featured 50 floats and a marching band from Pueblo, along with the high schools. One hundred and twenty contestants competed in the rodeo, with A.J. Pettigrew of Grady, NM, winning the top prize, a $90 saddle from Frazier Leather Company in Pueblo. Tioga, Valdez, and Sopris (late entries) won the first aid contest. Only one broken pelvis was reported from the Circus of Death. Thousands attended.

The first Black Diamond Jubilee was therefore deemed highly successful and plans began immediately for the 1940 Jubilee. The Jaycees actually won the state Achievement Award from their organization for their efforts.

A queen contest was added the following year. Rosann Dissler, sponsored by the Lions Club, became the first Jubilee Queen and was duly crowned by Mayor A.C. Schafer at a coronation ball attended by 200 couples.

A ninth building was added at the fairgrounds to accommodate the Jubilee. 4-H members and stockmen were encouraged to show their animals in the exposition building. Stone barns were built for the rodeo stock.

The Alamo Exposition Shows provided 12 rides, 30 shows (including freaks, dogs, monkeys and the Four Flying Millers) and concessions, two ferris wheels, etc. The Cowboy Turtle Association, the rodeo union, was to send 200 riders for the rodeo. The Koshare Indian Dancers and a Motor-cycle Circus would be added attractions.

Admission remained the same 10 cents. Those wanting grandstand or bleacher seats paid 35 cents, plus tax.

Once again, Gov. Carr came to appear in the opening parade, and this time he did! The parade marshal was Louis Zanon. The parade itself was one mile long and attended by huge crowds. Judges Leo Stacy, Fritz Unfug, Herbert Kaltenbach, Fred Sabon and Lucille Saliba had a difficult time selecting a winner from the three parades - one each day - but chose Trinidad Electric's float and named the Corsentino brothers' ox team and cart the most unique entry.

Five thousand people attended the first day's events, and by the end of the three days, 14,700 admissions had been sold.

One hundred men had entered the beard growing contest. Winners received an electric razor! They were: William Crump, best colored beard; Pete Atencio, best trimmed; A.M. St. Vrain, longest; Fred Mattivi, curliest; Fred Armijo, best fizzle and Ben Archuleta, bushiest. Cameron beat seven other teams in the first aid contest.

For this year's Jubilee, the Jaycees won their NATIONAL Achievement Award.

Stroud did not return for the 1941 rodeo and L.U. "Shorty" Creede took on directorship. That year, the event was held a bit later, June 12-14, Thursday, June 12, businesses closed at noon. A lunch for Gov. Carr, who gamely returned, was followed by the opening parade, the first aid contest, rodeo, circus and the coronation ball. Clarabelle Haines was crowned queen.

Alamo Exposition Shows returned with their rides and shows, this time featuring Mazie, the 400 pound Fat Lady.

A highlight of the parades was the Tivoli-Union beer wagon drawn by four matching buckskin Percherons. One hundred and fifty horsemen also appeared in the parades, as well as bands from La Veta, Trinidad, Canon City and Walsenburg. The entire event again drew thousands and earned sizable profits, but war intervened and the Jubilee was cancelled for 1942.

By the end of World War II, the coal industry no longer ruled Huerfano County, so it was, in 1946, that the Spanish Peaks Fiesta was born.

The Fiesta was basically a scaled-down Jubilee, honoring "cowboys" instead of miners. Participants were told to wear pioneer, Spanish or cowboyish outfits rather than the miners' or ridiculous clothes of former events.

The rodeo, held July 5-7, again included trick and fancy riding, this time by Nancy Bragg of Tulsa, OK; Jean Allen from Larkspur; and the rodeo clowns, Harold and Howard O'Neill and their trained mules Skim Milk and Sweet Pea. Gate admission was raised to $1, and seats cost an extra 50 cents. Rapps Rides and Amusements provided the carnival.

Frances Killion was crowned queen, attended by Lenore Corsentino and Mariann Schafer.

Rodeo events were expanded. They were bronc riding, steer bulldogging, calf roping, bull riding, county calf roping, county wild cow milking contest and assorted horse races.

A featured event was the Marine Corps display of captured Japanese weapons in the exposition building.

Over 5,000 watched the rodeo, 3,500 inside the gates and 2,000 from Chico Hill!

The Fiesta was moved back to June in 1947. Added events were a children's pet parade on opening day, Thursday, June 5, a Kangaroo Kourt under Judge Frank Furphy, an old time costume contest for "ladies," and a merchants' auction of all types of goods from radios to blankets.

By this time, the Spanish Peaks Fiesta Association had been formed. Officers were Harry J. Capps, president; F.B. Umphress, vice president; Star Caywood, secretary and Emma Bellotti, treasurer. The board of directors consisted of C. E. "Bud" Davis, John Weston, Lewis Edmundson, Bob Weston, Jim Willburn, Ellis Smith, Joe Benedetti, Alex "Babe" Shosky, August Musso, Paul Krier, Felo Martinez, Mrs. A.R. Benine, Mrs. Sam T. Taylor and Frank Repola.

A new grandstand seating 500 was built, probably to lure in all those watching from Chico Hill.

Entertainment was provided by "the youngest square dancers in Colorado," made up of second graders from Seventh Street School, a Brahma, named Scotty, which jumped over cars and Hank the Wonder Horse. There was a much smaller carnival.

George Kelloff and his band played for the coronation ball at the Pavilion, where Joan Sample was crowned queen.

The Walsenburg barbers judged the beard contest, which included such categories as "tried hardest to produce the least" (Charles Haines Jr.) and "the beard you love to touch" (M.H. Mickey).

Three dances were held after the rodeo performances Friday and Saturday nights, at Eagles Hall, the Pavilion and Elks Home.

"Fiesta Bucks" were invented for the 1947 celebration. These were available from city merchants after May 15 and were good only for the merchants' auction.

The most memorable happening that year was the disappearance of the "Wonder Horse." Hank turned up missing sometime after carrying Queen Sample through the parades and his rodeo performances. Several days later the buckskin was found wandering on the prairie near Earl Rogers' ranch and returned to his owner.

By the time of the 1948 Fiesta, June 4-6, the Association had 250 members and was highly organized. Robert Weston was chairman of the parade committee so was marshal as well. Only two parades were scheduled, the Friday evening one, now mostly for children, and the Saturday morning parade for floats and horsemen. The Huerfano County Automotive Dealers won first place, followed by Walsenburg Rotary, Catholic Daughters of America and the Alpine Rose/Shosky Cafe entries.

Harriet Smith of La Veta was queen, with her attendants being Floy Wellborn, Walsenburg and Betty Moore, La Veta. Imogene Sample gave an exhibition of bronc riding at the rodeo, which also featured Clown Pinkey Gist, Virgil Baker and "his high schooled horse Rusty," and Frank and Bernice Dean in a trick riding and bullwhip act. A cutting horse event was added and horse races dropped. There was no carnival.

The 1949 Jubilee, Aug. 6-7, was again rodeo oriented. Participants appeared in their boots, hats, cowboy skirts and fringes. Even the dance went western - Dusty Rhodes played.

Lt. Gov. Walter W. Johnson attended in place of the scheduled Gov. Lee Knous, who had a family emergency.

A new feature was the "catch it and keep it contest," in which 4-H members tried to capture calves. Kids from all over the county tried their luck.

Johnson, then governor in August 1950, came to the Jubilee's events on Saturday, when Unfug Hardware won for best float in the parade.

The Forsythe-Dowis Show provided the carnival with attractions like Spencers Wall of Death, the Fighting Lion Circus and nine rides.

Also appearing was Pal the Wonder Horse belonging to Felix Bustos of Cucharas.

A new twist came when Bob Meyer, riding on the hood of a jeep, challenged Lewis Edmundson on horseback to a calf roping contest. Then C.E. Potts on his trusty steed, Johnny Geronimo challenged any jeep driver to an eight mile race. Alas, the outcome of these contests is not recorded.

"Little Ray Faris" made his debut riding his pet steer in the kids parade, but Jocelyn McAlpine won first place.

For some reason the 1951 Fiesta was cancelled, but in 1952 it was held on Aug. 2-3. The first ever "mounted quadrille contest in Colorado," with the Napesta Saddle Club of Avondale, the Vaquero Club of Lamar, and the 4-H from La Veta, was held. National Caller Marvin Shilling of La Veta had a square dance jamboree drawing some 200 dancers.

Celebrities of the event were Queen Evelyn Nogare, her attendants Josephine Mondragon and Teresa Fernandez, and Sammy and His Sandovalettes, a musical quartet ranging from eight to 13-years-old.

Polo and a fiddlers contest were introduced in 1953, when Queen Georgina Grgich and Princesses Rose Vigil and Shirley Gregory reigned (and reined).

In 1954, the "Gallo Race" was revived. (Johnny Rodriquez won.) El Fandango, then in its 14th season, was another highlight. Also added was a Fiesta fashion show of old-timey wear called "Yesterways."

Several hundred people attended the coronation ball, when Rose Marie Ramirez was crowned queen and Don Haney's orchestra played. An outdoor dance at the tennis courts proved popular as did Shilling's square dance.

Three parades, July 29-31, preceded the evening's rodeo, where barrel races were added.

The opening parade Friday afternoon was one of the longest ever, led by the Tired Businessmen's Band, walking in the rain.

Moses Pacheco won the fiddlers' contest, as he had the previous year.

The combination of events and large attendance led Star Caywood to pronounce the 1954 Fiesta "the best ever."

The first annual Fiesta Art Show was in 1955, when 12 Walsenburg artists showed their works. Other highlights or innovations were to be the polo game between Spanish Peaks and Lamesa, TX, doll buggy races for little girls on opening day (now known as Children's Day), kids contests (200 kids!), El Fandango, Gallo race, rodeo with riding classes added and the visit of Gov. Edwin C. Johnson.

Everything started well Friday but Saturday, well, another governor got drenched. Torrential rains fell all weekend and the event was summed up by Henry Summers, Fiesta manager, who stated, "we took a beating on this one."

Perhaps because of weather, the 1956 Fiesta was moved from early August to mid-month. Introduced were horseshoe and boccie tournaments and a melodrama, "Curse You, Jack Dalton," by the Orphan Players. Twenty-one kilted members of the 179th Army Pipers marched in the parade. The Lions Club appeared as wild Indians in a canoe.

The Fiesta was a great success, though the kids might have disagreed. The judges were so befuddled by the 400 entrants in the children's parade they were unable to choose a winner.

The last Spanish Peaks Fiesta was June 20-22, 1957. Shirley Just of Del Carbon was queen and princesses were Phyllis Corsentino, Walsenburg, and Val Marie Strovas, La Veta. There were parades, a melodrama entitled "Egad, What a Cad" and olio, fashion show, polo, gymkhana, kids races, art show, rodeo and dances.

After 1957, an annual rodeo, first called the Walsenburg Rodeo and later the Jim Like after its originator and director, appeared. The 1961 event's main topic was the horseback wedding of Reta Smith and Jim Dale. After Like left the county in 1962, the rodeo returned to the auspices of the Spanish Peaks Fiesta Association and the queen contest revived. Barbara Willis, 17, La Veta, Cindy Kimbrel, 14, Walsenburg, and Gloria Jean Rodriquez, 14, Gardner, reigned over festivities. The parade, just as previous and future ones, was led by Marshal Bob Weston.

The last rodeo was in June 1966, though the Fiesta Association continued to be instrumental in organizing other events, such as the Plaza de los Leones celebrations held in the late 1950's - '60's in conjunction with the rodeos. "Bravo" for the new Fiesta organizers and, in the words of Barbara Gene Dancy, 11, in 1939, ". . come one and all and celebrate. . ."

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