Huerfano County, Colorado
La Veta Celebrates 125 years

NOTICE All data and photos on this website are Copyrighted by Karen Mitchell. Duplication of this data or photos is strictly forbidden without legal written permission by the Copyright holder.
La Veta Celebrates 125 years by Nancy Christofferson
Huerfano World - July 26, 2001
Contributed by Louise Adams

On Feb. 28, 1861, 140 years ago, Colorado Territory was formed. Statehood was achieved on Aug. 1, 1876. Since the United States was observing its 100th anniversary, Colorado was dubbed the Centennial State.

The Town of La Veta was incorporated on Oct. 9, 1876 when the settlement was about 14 years old. The town was centered around Francisco Plaza, now Francisco Fort Museum.

Col. John M. Francisco and his partner, Henry Daigre, purchased the land in the Cucharas Valley from the Vigil-St. Vrain Land Grant. Originally, the partners claimed an area from the summit of the Sangre de Cristos east to North Veta, and from the top of the West Spanish Peak north about 10 miles.

Francisco, sutler at Fort Garland, sent Daigre and other workers to the Cucharas to begin farming. The men, augmented by early settlers from the Cucharas and Wahatoya valleys, planted crops and herded cattle, horses and mules, which were destined to be sold to the Army and to the mining camps of the Front Range.

The men settled into four log cabins they built in a sweeping curve of the Cucharas. As their numbers rose, more room was necessary, and the adobe fort was begun. It was probably started in 1862 and was completed by 1864

Workers, of course, started with nothing. They dug the dirt, shaped and dried the adobe bricks, and built the walls. Wood for the buildings was whipsawed on the old McDonald, later Bauer, ranch south of town and hauled to town.

Along with the fort, the men dug a ditch from the Cucharas north. The ditch fed a grist mill that was located at what is now the south end of Main Street. Hiram Vasquez arrived in time to grist the first crops in 1863.

The early settlers received their seed and equipment from Francisco and Daigre for a share of their crops. These crops included beans, squash, oats, wheat, corn and many types of vegetables. Much of the bounty was sold in the mining camps up north, but, of course, enough had to be saved for the settlers' personal consumption and for seed for the following season.

One of the buildings in the plaza was a large granary, 40 by 60 feet, on the southeast side. Here were stored the crops as well as other foodstuffs and supplies.

The plaza maintained its agrarian lifestyle until 1870, when more settlers began populating the area. Francisco and Daigre lost much of their land to squatters, and much more to Congress, which forfeited their claim to their original purchase. The partners were allowed just 1,720 acres of their former lands, and homesteaders filed on the rest. Many of the settlers came from Mora County, New Mexico, most of which is now Colfax County. Others, called, the Georgia Colony, came from the Old South.

With the arrival of the newcomers, the Plaza began to be the business center for its section of the valley.

Francisco Plaza became a polling place in 1863, drawing voters from as far as 20 miles away. Huerfano County was one of the original 17 counties of Colorado and stretched from the New Mexico line to the Arkansas, and from the mountains east to the Kansas border. There were only six or seven polling places in the entire county.

In 1871 La Veta got a post office, called Spanish Peaks. The office was located in the plaza and W.B. "Uncle Billy" Hamilton was postmaster.

Rumors of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway grade across Abaja or Abeyta Pass, later called La Veta Pass, caused a boom in early 1876.

Entrepreneurs of all types, from graders to lawyers, merchants, gamblers, doctors, barbers, saloon keepers, blacksmiths and every one else seeking "a quick buck" flooded into the settlement.

Anticipating the boom, former Territorial Governor A.C. Hunt, an associate of W.J. Palmer of the D. & R.G., organized the La Veta Town Company to plat the land and sell lots to the newcomers.

The business people vied for the best location. However, since the railroad company had not announced where it would build the depot, buildings were erected here and there. While the depot was in the plaza in 1876-1877, many business houses were opened along west Francisco Street. Another line of buildings was built along Front Street, later Ryus Avenue. Only a few were built along today's Main Street.

The first train pulled into Spanish Peaks on July 4, 1876. As soon as it arrived, business, especially the saloon trade, was booming.

The grading of the line across the Sangre de Cristos continued throughout the winter of 1876-1877. As long as La Veta was the terminus, commerce was brisk.

Stagecoaches bound for the San Juans thundered into the plaza each week. Long, heavily laden freight wagons arrived regularly during good weather, bearing ore from the west. It was said hundreds of wagons and thousands of horses and mules could be found at one time resting in the valley.

With the railroad present, the town company urged incorporation. The county commissioners approved it Oct. 9 and that evening the first board, appointed by the commissioners, sat for its first meeting.

Initially, there were five trustees, of whom one was named chairman. The first chairman was Col. Francisco.

After adopting ordinances, the trustees decided to sell business licenses. In October and November, most of the licenses were to sell and dispense liquor. This was the only money the Town collected, except for fines levied for such crimes as "fast driving" or carrying concealed weapons.

The first expenditure was for a "calaboose" or jail. It proved to be a popular place for the graders sampling all those saloons and liquor stores.

Frontier La Veta must have been every bit as wild and dirty as any town seen in movies about the Old West. The early settlers saw a lot of murders, one in the plaza itself, and crimes were punished swiftly and harshly.

While most of the old buildings have been pulled down, remaining steadfast is Francisco Plaza, now nearly 140 years old. Although part of the fort was demolished in 1999, the two wings containing today's museum are original.

The Huerfano County Historical Society Board, with the assistance of grant monies, is renovating the buildings to their original appearance, both inside and out.

Within the old plaza, the alley has been removed and the area leveled. The old settlers would be surprised to see the grass within, where stagecoaches used to pull up in clouds of dust.

Also within the walls was the first well to be dug in the present town. It was commemorated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1926 and their stone monument on the site remains.

The plaza and its environs will be honored July 28-29 with appropriate activities. La Vetans have always enjoyed parades and music, baseball and games. All these will be offered during the anniversary observance.

The commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the first incorporation of La Veta will take place this weekend, July 28-29, in La Veta Town Park and on the grounds of Francisco Fort Museum.

Sponsored by Francisco Fort Museum and Town of La Veta personnel as well as volunteers, there will be many activities for both young and old during the two-day event.

Pete Giadone of the Farmer's Market will begin each day's schedule with a pancake breakfast to be served on the museum grounds. Cost is $5 with the proceeds earmarked for the La Veta Chamber of Commerce as well as the museum. Assisting Giadone in sponsorship are the La Veta Sports Pub and Grub and Martin's Wholesale Greenhouse of Pueblo.

An 1876 parade will take place along Main Street beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday. It will be led by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regimental Headquarters Troop from Fort Carson which includes bagpipe players.

Charles Masinton, longtime resident and merchant, accompanied by his sister, Mary Urkulik, will be grand marshal.

The parade will also include floats, costumed marchers, a vintage baseball team, antique wagons, the old fire hose cart, automobiles and a presentation of the flags crafted by the fourth grade class to honor the event.

First, second and third prizes will be awarded for the best "1876" entries. Anyone wishing to participate may join the line-up in front of the La Veta High School at 9 a.m. Saturday.

At 11:30 a.m. Saturday will be the rededication of Francisco Plaza. Mayor Doug Brgoch will host the program at the museum which will include proclamations and acknowledgement of recent grants received to renovate the old fort buildings of 1862-1863.

At this time also will be the announcement of parade winners and the name of the flag art contest winner.

At 1:30 p.m. there will be a rematch of the Colorado Territorial All-Stars and the La Veta Rough and Readys in a vintage baseball game at the ballpark just north of Town Park. The game is to be co-sponsored by the Colorado Council of the Arts and Trinidad State junior college, Folk Arts Program.

From 1-6 p.m., booths of foods, crafts and exhibits will offer varied fare at both the museum and Town Park. Food will include everything from buffalo burgers and other "frontier" foods to watermelons.

Demonstrations also will be given, to include spinning and weaving, quilting, camp cooking and baking in the hornos at the museum.

At 1:30 and 3 p.m. each day there will be a storytelling session for children of all ages. The topics are "Huerfano - The Little Orphan" and "The Big Bearhug." The tales will be given at the old Ritter log schoolhouse on the museum grounds.

The Spanish Peaks Players will present a 30-minute melodrama, "Harold Hardluck and His Lucky Strike" at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in the Francisco Center for the Performing Arts. The Center is located adjacent to the museum on west Francisco Street. Cost is $5 per person and advance tickets are available at True Value Hardware in La Veta.

Music will be presented throughout each day, both in the park and at the museum. There also will be music during the parade.

Jacqi Gipson, guitarist, will play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Francisco Fort. Betsy and Izzi will play at 3 p.m. at the museum and David Enki and Company at 5 p.m.

At 2 p.m. Saturday the La Veta jazz Ensemble will play in Town Park They will be followed by David Enki and Company at 4 p.m. Raymond Red Feather will play at 5 p.m. in the park and Betsy and Izzi at 6 p.m.

On Sunday, music at Francisco Fort will include Betsy and Izzi at 1 p.m., David Enki and Company at 3 p.m. and Raymond Red Feather at 5 p.m.

In the park, Jon Chandler will perform at 1.30 p.m. Sunday, Betsy and Izzi at 4 p.m. and Dave Enki and Company at 5 p.m.

For children ages 12 and under only will be games, a buried coin hunt and face painting. Llama rides will be available. Games begin at 2 p.m. in Town Park Saturday and Sunday in the park.

A local authors' table will be set up in Town Park from 1-6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The number of local authors, offering both fiction and fact, grows annually.

Other events to be enjoyed along with Francisco Fort Day activities will be the La Veta Library Book Sale from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, and the United Methodist Church Bazaar from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday in the church basement. The church is located in the 400 block on Main Street.

At 12:30 p.m. Sunday will be a dedication of the Chamber of Commerce kiosk at the northeast corner of Main Street and Ryus Avenue.

Return to the Huerfano County Home Page
© Karen Mitchell