Huerfano County, Colorado
More Huerfano County History

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Walsenburg, Colorado
May 7, 1998
Part of The Story; More Huerfano County History by Nancy Christofferson
Contributed by Louise Adams


It is accepted that Walsenburg began as Plaza de los Leones, but that is only part of the story.

Historians have recorded the existence of several other plazas along this section of the Cucharas River in the mid 1860s, including Tesquequite, Rito del Oso (Bear Creek) and Hermanes, all west or south of Plaza de los Leones, which was on South Main Street in the present city.

Plaza de los Leones was nicely located on an old Indian trail which became a major north-south "road" called the Colorado-Gulf. This evidently followed Main Street through Walsenburg, at least roughly.

John Albert, an old trapper and mountain man, settled at this plaza in the early 1860s. He is said to have built a fort to shelter 40 people, just off South Main near the river. Despite the county seat being located at that time in Badito, the future city drew enough settlers for a post office to be established in 1868. Albert was postmaster and he chose the name Carson in honor of his old compatriot Kit Carson.

To add to the settlement's identity crisis, the Leon families may have come to the area later and the plaza might better have been called Plaza de los Atencios. It is believed this large family settled the site in 1859.

In 1870 Fred Walsen arrived to open a trading post along side the trail. He had previously been employed, 1864-1867, by Ferdinand Meyer and Company at Fort Garland and acted as Meyer's business partner from 1867 to 1870.

As seen before, Walsenburg was voted county seat in 1872 and county offices were moved the next year. An old adobe building of one room was selected for the courthouse.

In 1873 Walsen, Captain Cornelius D. Hendren, Evaristo Gonzales, John Albert and Joseph Bourcey organized the town of Walsenburgh (notice the "h") on 320 acres. It was incorporated in April.

Walsenburgh was the official name and post office designation from 1870 to 1887.

With the county seat, post office and growing population, Walsenburg was assured its future when Walsen leased some land west of the settlement and convinced Colorado Coal and Iron Company to open a coal mine in 1877, the year after the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built tracks through Walsenburg to La Veta and on to La Veta Pass.

Dr. T.F. Martin arrived in the community around 1880 and settled on land west of town. He is credited with building the first frame dwelling with a shingle roof, planting the first crop of alfalfa in the Cuchara Valley and building the first reservoir to supply the town with water. This is now Martin Lake.

The good doctor also started a newspaper, The Cactus, in 1885, had a drugstore, developed a resort and real estate addition known as Tourist City in 1887, and opened the Twin Lakes Hotel in 1889. When he found time for doctoring is unknown.

Tourist City not only became part of the Town of Walsenburg, it became the post office name for a little better than a month in the fall of 1887. Sanity reigned, thankfully, and the name reverted to Walsenburgh. In 1892 the "h" was dropped.

The size of the town was physically increased with the addition of three platted towns. They were Loma Park, platted in 1908 by Tom Sproull; Roybal, platted in 1940 by Celestino Guerro; and Rosedale, platted in 1887. And, of course, there are various other annexations, plus the proximity of several coal mines, adding to the economy and population.

Although Walsenburg got electricity in 1889, the town had water problems for several decades. Martin's reservoir and ditch often failed to meet demands. His successors often cut off the supply entirely and, well into this century, town officials bemoaned the poor water situation.

Walsenburg evidently liked being a town. Twice it was decreed a city of the second class but Town Board refused to allow reorganization. About 1920 the state supreme court ordered elected town officials out of office to make way for new city council members. Right up until that time, Walsenburg remained staunchly Republican.

With the opening of new mines and camps, Walsenburg nicknamed herself "The Hub" and "The City Built on Coal." The population of 1900, about 1,000, doubled by 1910, grew to 3,142 in 1920, reached 5,500 by 1930 and stayed at about that number until after 1960.

Walsenburg was School District No. 4. The first public school is said to have been built on West Sixth Street, about where the Department of Social Services is now located. About 1879 a four-room brick school was erected on East Fifth, which was torn down and rebuilt as the present Washington School in 1936. Enrollment was 130 under the direction of four teachers. A high school was started in 1896 and the first class of seven students was graduated in 1899.

Also in 1899 an "annex" school, Beeville, opened southeast of town. From an enrollment of around 300 that year, the district ballooned to 601 the spring of 1900. Until Hill School was built in 1906-1907, the school board was forced to rent rooms in various stores, fraternal lodge buildings and the armory. Later Seventh Street School was added to the district.

Walsenburg wanted to have a county high school. An election was held in 1900 and the proposal was approved, much to La Veta's chagrin. However, funding was a problem so classes were held in Odd Fellows Hall in 1906, with 42 enrolled. After Hill School was opened, two rooms; were used in it for the upper grades. The first Huerfano County High School graduation was in 1908. HCHS finally got its own building about 1917.

St. Mary School was meantime growing. It was built in 1912 and opened in 1913 when Fr. John B. Liciotti was pastor and the Benedictine sisters arrived to teach. The school grew in physical size and enrollment until it was Colorado's largest parochial school. The first high school class graduated about 1919.

Walsenburg has always had a number of churches. Besides having Spanish Presbyterian and African Methodist, there were also Jewish and Greek Orthodox services, though the latter had no church buildings, along with various Protestant sects and the Catholic.

1880 -1900

In 1880 Huerfano County had a population of 4,124 and in 1890, 6,882. Much of this population was in rural areas just beginning to recognize themselves as communities. Several of these were mining related, some agricultural and some owed their existences to being on major byways. There were a dozen of these settlements, to wit, Malachite, Redwing, Sharpsdale, Bradford, Williams Creek, Turkey/Maes Creek, Yellowstone, Ute, Laguna, 0jo, Nunda and Seguro/McMillan.


In 1868 three travelers on the old government trail were attacked by Apaches near Badito. They were rescued by a band of Utes who took them up the Huerfano Valley to shelter. One of these travelers, Tom Sharp of Missouri, returned in 1870 to build a trading post on the Ute Trail over Pass Creek Pass. His home and post, housed originally in one large adobe and log building, were called Buzzard Roost. Later he built his big brick home that still stands, known as the Malachite School and Small Farm. Sharp's great friend Chief Ouray visited often, camping south of the buildings along the creek.

Sharp staked out 160 acres of his ranch for a town after copper ore was found on Pass Creek. He called it Malachite, after the ore. A stamp mill was erected but the mining boom never materialized as no one could find a traceable vein, just pieces of copper and fragments of veins. Nevertheless the Copper Bull mine farther south kept operating and searching until a lot more money was spent than earned.

Malachite the town was about one mile north of Sharp's house. There were a store, dance and meeting hall and post office established in 1880. The school is still standing south of the foundation of the old store building at the junction of County Roads 550 and 570.

Possibly Malachite's finest home is in ruins. Charles Deus, a Prussian by birth, built a ten-room adobe mansion in 1888. Later additions expanded it, but have since crumbled. Also gone are the picket fences, orchards and vegetables gardens which once surrounded the home. Just south, along Pass Creek, rotting timbers mark the site of Deus' grist mill.

Deus and Sharp were both cattlemen, but while Deus made his fortune by digging up buried cash, Sharp made his on horses brought from Missouri and on registered cattle. After Deus died, Tom bought the big house for his son Bill.

The Malachite post office was discontinued in 1915.


The community known as Redwing is relatively new, but this was originally a part of Chama-Crestones just southwest.

Stores were operated here before the turn of the century as the settlement straddled the old wagon road from the Huerfano Valley over Mosca Pass into the San Luis Valley. Mail was carried along the route but the community had no post office.

School District No. 45, Redwing, was organized in 1920. Previously, students had attended Chama or Malachite district schools.

Though it started as an agricultural area centering around its few stores, Redwing became somewhat of a resort during the 1930s when the Hacienda del Monte was operational. The ranch offered rooms, meals and outdoor recreation in this beautiful section of the upper Huerfano Valley.

The town was named for a popular song of the 1910s. Since it was part of the Chama-Crestones area, these names were requested for the name of the post office established in 1914. However, the postal authorities rejected Chama and Crestones because of other communities by the same name in Colorado and New Mexico.

One of Redwing's stores was destroyed by fire in 1939.

For many, many years the Graves Benson family operated a store and their son Homer was postmaster. The last store in Redwing burned in the 1980s.


Sharpsdale was a wide spot in the road where a toll gate for Mosca Pass was located. The settlement is said to have been named for two brothers of Tom Sharp, but their first names have been forgotten. Technically, the community should have been named for the McIntyres, or McIntires, one of whom later operated a furniture store in Walsenburg.

Situated in the foothills, Sharpsdale was potato farming country.

With Mosca Pass road passing through, for travelers and the post road, a store was maintained with the post office. The post office was in operation from 1883 until 1934, despite the fact the Mosca Pass road was washed out around 1906. From 1887-1900 this pass was said to carry 75 percent of the horseback traffic between Huerfano County and Creede, so Sharpsdale must have seen a lot of activity.

In District No. 6, Sharpsdale School was alternately called McIntire's. When the school building was repaired in 1902 it was said to be 25 years old, indicating it was built in 1877; but it must have been popular, a new floor was "tested with a dance and oyster supper" in 1905. The school term began in April and ceased in the fall.


Here is another spread out community. First known as Dickson (occasionally spelled Dixon), this was stockraising and farming country.

The location is along Highway 69 on Muddy Creek, about five miles south of the Custer County line. This was a well traveled road in the late 1800s and early 1900s. An old stone schoolhouse is about all there is to see nowadays. The South Bradford School was about four miles south of the other, on Bruff Creek and the approach to Medano Pass.

The school district, No. 24, was organized as the Upper Muddy. In early days, the north schoolhouse was the only one, a little frame with 30 some students in the 1890s.

Dickson post office was established in 1879 and changed to Bradford in 1889. It closed in 1895, though the schools remained into the 1940s. The post office was said to have been located in a ranch house.

The most exciting thing to have happened at the site of Bradford was long before its settlement. One Private Menaugh was abandoned here by Zebulon Pike's party in January 1807. The group was starving, nearly lost and very hungry. The private suffered with frozen feet and was left with shelter, firewood and provisions. One can imagine his desperation until his rescue in late February.

Despite being a virtual nonentity, Bradford appeared on state maps right through the 1980s, which undoubtedly caused tourists much consternation if they figured on gassing up between Westcliffe and Gardner.


There were several settlements along Williams Creek in the 1880s.

Although not actually on Williams Creek, Houck was a flash-in-the-pan boom town north of Gardner. There was a post office from February to May 1883. Since this was a "gold" camp, of temporary nature, it is probable everything in it was simply packed up and moved to nearby Birmingham on Williams Creek.

Birmingham seems to have been located on the homestead of Heber Turner, who hailed from, yup, Birmingham, England. A tent city basically, it attracted some 500 miners from the Silver Cliff area in 1882, who were said to be sinking holes "all over" for iron strikes.

Birmingham post office was established in July 1883 and while the boom was short- lived for the area, it was not discontinued until 1894.

Now we run into trouble. School District No. 23 was begun as Willburn's for the local, prominent ranching family, but changed to Birmingham. The school was said to have been moved to Turkey creek but probably wasn't since the latter was in District No. 18. There were several schools in several locations through the years. Then, too, the Birmingham post office was reincarnated as Clover, now called, unfortunately, Glover by the County assessor's office. Clover post office was operational from 1912 to 1922.

The Williams Creek area got a shot in the arm in March 1898 when the White Ash Gold Mining Company incorporated to mine and smelt ore on the creek. Evidently a mill was quickly built and other prospectors rushed in to make claims in the same area. By November the best assay was said to be $653 in gold. Much of the mining was by tunnel, but the cyanide mill also tested the "white sands" of Williams Creek itself.

Apparently the tests did not go well and the Birmingham district slipped back into obscurity.

Besides Heber Turner, mining engineer and older brother of Chris Turner, the longtime publisher of La Veta's Advertiser, Birmingham's most stable residents were undoubtedly the Kleins. Henry and Eliza Klein arrived there in 1884, had a son there (named Birm for guess what) and moved on to Walsenburg 1889 where they were builders and operators of the Klein Hotel and other enterprises.

Williams Creek is reached by County Road 630 north of Gardner Butte.

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