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Apache: from riches to rags

by Nancy Christofferson
APACHE — Apache: Huerfano county, a small place, is situated on the Huerfano river, near Huerfano station, on the Denver and Rio Grande railway, 36 miles south from Pueblo, via rail; fare, $8.60.  Stock-raising occupies the attention of the settlers.  So wrote George Crofutt in his guide to Colorado in 1880.
Apache was so much more than a small station on the Rio Grande railroad.  The valley was one of the first to be named in Huerfano County, and it was not only the destination for waves of pioneers from the deep south, but also the home of William “Green” Russell, one of the original discovers of gold in the Denver area.
There are several explanations of why the community was so named.  The most general is that Apaches were living in the area when the first Spanish explorers found them, and they were still there as late as the 1840s.  The community was on or near the famous Taos or Trappers Trail, a major route from the plains across the Sangre de Cristo mountains to Taos and environs.
A more romantic version has it that it was named when a young pioneer woman, riding horseback with her infant strapped to her back, papoose-style, raced her mount across the plains to escape the Indians chasing her and leapt the horse across a deep arroyo successfully.  It left quite an impression on spectators.
Whichever you prefer, Apache became the preferred name for the creek, the canyon, the waterfall, a railroad station, the entire district, and, in more modern times, a service station and restaurant.
Apache became the home of famous gold miner Green Russell in September 1869.  He was first attracted by the area and its prospects in the early ‘60s when he and his traveling companions visited with old Zan Hicklin on the Greenhorn (the next drainage north of the Apache).  Hicklin was a fellow Southerner, with Confederate leanings, and thereby a friend to Georgians.
The land nearby was the breadbasket of Huerfano and Pueblo counties.  Crops were bounteous.
The Apache with the 1880 post office was in the northeast section of the county, encompassing ravines and foothills.  The station was slightly north of the confluence of the Apache and Huerfano, about five miles south of the Pueblo County line and east of the interstate.  Today’s Lascar road exit off Interstate 25 was to its southwest.
That Apache welcomed that post office on May 31, 1878.  It was discontinued in 1882 and reappeared at Huerfano Station about three miles southeast.  When the D&RG and Colorado and Southern combined to run a joint track between Pueblo and Walsenburg, Huerfano Station was left alone on the prairie several miles east of the new tracks.
The post office closed in 1884, and began hop-scotching across the plains until in 1925 it was closed permanently when mail began going to Rye.
There were almost as many schools for Apache as there were post offices.  The first school was in District #13, known as Apache West; later it was included in District #26, Apache East or Apache-Ute.  Evidently both schools were in operation at the same time in early days.  Hamilton Pope of Ute was president of the school board for Apache East beginning about 1873 and served continuously practically up to the time of his death in 1898.
As with many small and spread out settlements, the schoolhouse doubled as a community center.  It was here the ladies would serve pie and coffee as fundraisers, the Farm Union would have meetings, harvest fairs and picnics, the Friendly Club hosted benefit dinners for drought victims in the “Dirty ‘30s” and the Friendly Home Demonstration Club centered their activities.  The Apache Friendly Club was the first HDC organized in Huerfano County in 1935 and one of the most active.
Because Apache never had a church, worship services were held in the schoolhouse.
In 1893 District #13 had 21 students enrolled and #26, 17.  By 1899 these numbers had increased to 33 and 30, respectively.  From there, enrollment decreased until around 1920 District #13 was dissolved.
The District #26 school, on the other hand, flourished.  The district even fielded a boys’ baseball team.  In the 1920s some higher classes had been added and in 1931 the four-year Apache High School came to be as a branch of the county high.  It lasted for a short while, and when the fine brick building of about 25 years old was destroyed by fire in February 1945, it was again an eight-grade school.
In 1947 the district was known as Lascar, and the next year a civil suit was filed to consolidate the Rye and Apache schools.  This did not work out but when September 1949 rolled around, the local students were bused to Walsenburg.  Mrs. Edna Bowles Cox, who with 43 years of teaching experience was earning a paltry $1,800 a year to teach eight grades, had been the last instructor. District #26 was legally dissolved and annexed into #4, Walsenburg, in 1952.
The old frame schoolhouse still stands and can be seen from the interstate to the west, at the foot of Greenhorn Mountain.
Apache’s most well known resident in early days was Briggs Whitman.  He’d come to the area about 1871 from New Hampshire and with a bad case of consumption, or tuberculosis.  He was a sheep raiser who planted fruit orchards which by the 1890s were flourishing.  He, with Christ Karst and Joseph Russell, owned and operated a cheese factory.  In 1883 he ran for county commissioner.  In 1894 he became postmaster though the post office moved briefly to Greenhorn in 1898. His only offspring, Sarah, was the Apache school marm in 1893.
When Whitman died in March 1898, his obituary said he’d succumbed because of “the accumulation of fatty matter around his heart”, and that at his last weigh-in he was 325 pounds.  This was to demonstrate how tuberculars could, and did, thrive in the Huerfano County climate.
During the 1890s mining on the slopes of Greenhorn was a principal line of work for Apache residents.  In 1897 the newspaper said the tin and gold taken from the Apache mines assayed at $25 to $30 per ton.  One of these miners was Joseph Russell who was a stock raiser, partner in the cheese factory and became postmaster (when it was called Ute) in 1898.  After his death in 1914, his son William B. stayed on the ranch for many years.
In 1932 the only business in the vicinity was the Mountain View store and garage belonging to Guy Schlink.  By 1936 the Fossceco brothers owned the former Sears ranch and commercial properties nearby at Greenhorn, though occasionally they were the Fosscecos of Apache.
On January 11, 1950 the newspaper announced, “At Greenhorn Junction, 17 miles north of Walsenburg, Guy B. Myers is completing a motorist’s center to be known as “Apache City”.  The complex soon included a café, liquor store, gas station and bar/dance hall. The café introduced its “Walsenburger” in 1951.  It closed in 1968.
Apache City, extensively remodeled and a new cinder block café, painted white with huge picture windows, reopened in 1975.  It closed and opened again in ’77 with new management.
This was not your gourmet restaurant.  It was a simple café enjoying a modest trade, but in January 1977 when two masked men held up the business, they hauled in a reported $6,000.  Two years later robbers tied and chained up the filling station attendant and walked away with $300.
Apache City could be considered an early victim of the interstate highway system.  While traffic volume picked up, drivers were less liable to pull over if he had to leave the highway to find food and “comfort” stations.
Like the once-popular Stuckey’s farther south toward Trinidad, the facilities saw less and less revenue and eventually, succumbed.
Apache City slowly crumbled away until the last vestiges were removed.  Today all that remains is a large hunk of flat concrete and a few scraggly trees.   Poor old Apache.