Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Blanche Unfug

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Sherry Cook


This is Rosalyn McCain and I am at Gretchen Summers home. This is a paper that her sister, Blanche Unfug wrote.

“There being no definite topic assigned this year I thought as a beginning I would give a little of the very early history of the county as the boundaries existed in the years 1861 to 1867, this comprising all of the Southeastern part of the territory of Colorado.

It was believed that only at one time did Coronado ever come into our state at all, and that was in the year 1541, when returning to New Mexico after failing to find the wealth for which he was searching. And then he crossed through the extreme Southeastern part of the state.

In 1706, the first Spanish expedition of the eighteenth century was led by Juan de Ulibarri, conducting a party of Spaniards and Mexicans to recover subject Indians who had fled from New Mexico pueblos. From a legendary map Ulibarri crossed the divide of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, just west of the Spanish Peaks on what is now Cuchara Pass, coming down the Cuchara Valley to the site of the present town of La Veta, there crossing over and skirting the foothills of the Greenhorn. The perhaps was the first visit of white men to this part of the country.

In 1719 Governor Valverde of New Mexico himself led an expedition over Colorado soil in an effort to punish the Ute and Comanche Indians. The first part of his route was in the footsteps of Ulibarri, but crossing the divide at the head waters of the Purgatory, Las Animas River. Camp was made near the present site of Trinidad, then continued north along the foothills and reached the Arkansas River above Pueblo.

The Don Pedro de Villasur Command against the French left Santa Fe in June 1720, also transversing just about the same route as the two former leaders. He, too, coming over Cucharas Pass and down Cucharas Valley, pitching camp at the site of the town of La Veta. It is said that he constructed a crude supply depot here, which was no doubt the first building erected by white men in what is now the state of Colorado. Among Villasur's personal effects were silver cups and saucers, forks and spoons, a candlestick, and an ink stand, which revealed somewhat the temper of the Spanish Don.

In 1739, the Mallett Brothers, French traders, led a party from the Missouri river to Santa Fe. They came southward from the Platte River to the Republican River then through the southeastern part of the county in the vicinity of the Arkansas and Purgatory Rivers. The success of this expedition encouraged others to attempt the trip. In 1746 through 1747, the Arkansas route was made safe for travelers by a treaty between the Comanche's and their eastern enemies.

On November 13, 1806, Zebulon Pike crossed the present state line into Colorado territory. Three years later the first view of the Rocky Mountains was had a little below the mouth of the Purgatory River and one of his camps was made at the present site of Pueblo. Then, during the latter part of January 1807, after many months of wandering and hardship, he (Zebulon Pike) crossed from Canon City to the headwaters of the Huerfano River. Going over in the San Luis Valley he crossed the Sangre de Cristo Range at what history calls, “Sand Hill Pass” know to us as Medano Pass, no doubt call Sand Hill Pass because of the dunes. It also was called “Music Pass” by Hayden and “Williams Pass” by Gunnison and Buckwith. Captain Pike's interpreter was A.F. Vasques, ancestor of the later H. Vasques of La Veta and Mrs. Coleman, formerly of Walsenburg.

In July 1820, Captain Bell, Doctor James and two others which were an attachment of Major Song's expedition were passing through this part of Colorado on their search for the Red River. They crossed at the mouth of the Huerfano Creek. The Spanish guide informed them that the Spanish called it “Wharf” Creek. Dr. James concluded that it was so named because of it precipitous banks about the height of a wharf. This is one of the interesting corruptions of place names in Colorado, which fortunately has not persisted. Enough for the explorers.

Now for the fur traders and the most interesting were the Bent Brothers. There are so many more interesting stories of expeditions and other explorers, fur traders, etc. Freemont, Gunnison and the Bents all came into our part of the territory of Colorado before it became part of the United States. In February 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. Mexican claims were forever renounced and this, our state, became part of the United States.

Huerfano County was a part of the state that had passed under the jurisdiction of Spain, France, Mexico and Texas. Before Huerfano County became a county in 1861 it was the Las Animas Grant and was known as the Vigil-St. Vrain and Vigil Grant. Upon application made by Cerau St. Vrain and Cornelius Vigil, the grant was made in December 1843 by Manuel Armijo, Governor and Commanding General of the Province or Territory of New Mexico.

On September 17th, 1857 the grant was confirmed to Vigil-St. Vrain by the United States Surveyor General of New Mexico. Vigil was a native citizen and St. Vrain a French naturalized citizen of Mexico. St. Vrain was an outstanding figure in Huerfano County in the olden days. The area of this grant which was four million acres embraced all the waters of the Huerfano and its tributaries to Cucharas, Santa Clara, Apishapa, and the Las Animas Rivers, the Purgatory, and fifty or sixty miles in length of the Napesta or Arkansas River. In this grant was situated the famous Hermosillo Ranch which was a hundred miles square but which I must not take time to tell you about. Very interesting, especially as to its great quantities of grain and hay.

Just a little about the organization of Huerfano County. In 1860 the population of the Territory of Colorado was enough to warrant the establishment by congress of a territorial government. The First Territorial Legislature which assembled on November 9, 1861 divided the territory into seventeen counties, Huerfano being one of the counties, its boundaries being the same as the boundaries of the Vigil-St. Vrain Grant.

About Indian reservations, the Colorado Mugapme in an article on the history of the creation of the counties of Colorado has this to say: “As regards to the relation of Colorado boundaries to Indian reservations, the legislature was not entirely consistent. As is shown on the map here the Arapahoe and Cheyenne reservations in southeastern Colorado were excluded from county boundaries while neither western part of the state the counties extended over the Ute lands embracing the whole of the western slope. The name chosen for this county was El Huerfano, the Spanish for orphan, and was given by the very early Spanish and Mexican explorers to the Butte, or mountain really, of black rock formation which stands so high and alone, entirely away from any mountain range and is truly an orphan. Quite naturally the stream flowing near should be called El Rio de Huerfano or Huerfano River and then, just as naturally the name for the county embracing the Huerfano Mountain and river was deemed the appropriate name for the county.

I could not find anything in regards to our first county government, but I imagine that from what I have read of the first county government of Pueblo County, and no doubt it was the same in all counties; that a temporary government was set up by the territorial legislature to be in force until the next election. The governor of the territory, who was Governor William Gilpin, appointed the first officers. There are no records of that. The county seat was Autobee's Plaza.

In 1866 the size of Huerfano County was greatly reduced by the erection of Las Animas County the year following. Huerfano County was reorganized, the following men being the officers: John M. Brown, county clerk; John Bernard, sheriff; Benton Canon, treasurer and accessor; commissioner, John W. Brown, Burdens, H. Sealing; the county seat being Badito. I have seen records that were made during the time when the county seat was Badito. This has been a sort of hit or miss history covering many years. I am sorry that I am not capable of condensing it so that you may hear it all, for it is truly interesting and something hard to leave after you become interested in it at all.

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