One looking at the ruins of Badito today would never imagine its long and important history. Nowadays a derelict home, once an inn or hotel, and crumbling adobe foundations merely hint at its former life.
Badito had the first post office in what is now Huerfano County. When the county was originally organized in 1861, it took in most of southeastern Colorado, including parts of the later Pueblo and Las Animas counties where there were older settlements. In fact, Huerfano’s first county seat was Autobees Plaza, just south of the Arkansas River in Pueblo County. But when Huerfano was cut down in size in 1863, Badito became its new county seat per special election on Sept. 1. The county officials ordered the courthouse to be built “at the Fort Union crossing of the Huerfano”, which was on the military road to connect with Fort Massachusetts and later Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley.
Evidently the community was known as Little Orphan before the post office was commissioned as Badito September 12, 1865. The word Badito is a corruption of vado, the Spanish word for ford, so it means Little Ford. It was at this site early travelers along the Taos or Trappers Trail crossed the Huerfano River to begin the ascent up Sangre de Cristo Pass. Here, too, was the natural crossing for the cattle herds trailed up from Texas in the 1860s bound for the railroad construction far to the north in Wyoming.
Like Choocara, Herfaino and La Vida, Badito often has been mispronounced [personal favorite = Bandito], but since the former name of Little Orphan was phased out 145 years ago, the community has been Badito and folks should be getting used to it.
An exact year of settlement is unknown, or who takes the honors for first settler. Local lore tells us the first settlers of the 1850s lived in the immediate area, and they were farmers and herders from New Mexico. This was, after all, the northern part of Mora County, NM, before 1861 and the creation of Colorado Territory.
Colorado historian and author Perry Eberhart supposed the earliest resident was F.W. Poshhoff (also seen as Posthoff) who opened a store here in the 1850s. Considering the traffic along the Taos Trail, this is possible. The general route also was used by the Utes as they passed from summer to winter camping grounds. Poshhoff went on to establish branch stores in the San Luis Valley and disappeared from local history, but not before attracting other settlers.
One of these pioneers was S.D.P. Baxter, a native of Massachusetts, who was included in the 1870 census as a farmer. When he died at age 92 in 1902, his obituary claimed he had been the Badito postmaster for 50 years. This could be possible only if he started at Little Orphan. His son Edwin W. founded and operated Baxter Hardware store, later O’Byrnes, in Walsenburg.
Another was a Bonageres R. Boyce, who was on site in 1863 when a traveling bishop visited in his home. Boyce was elected county commissioner in 1863 but in 1861 his property was the official voting place for Precinct #3.
Eberhart credited Badito with a population of 500 in the 1860s. There was a Literary Society, stores, “the commodious Johnson’s Hotel”, an orchestra, livery and feed barn, the county courthouse, a church and school. Later there were two Badito schools, Lower, in the vicinity of the Sotelo Pino ranch on the Huerfano (where Pino operated a grocery store in 1863), and Upper, closer to the ford. This indicates the community of Badito was spread out and those 500 people did not live next door to the ford and hotel. In fact, they couldn’t, due to topography.
Daniel Hayden moved to the area in the early 1860s and opened a grist mill “at Badito”. This was actually about two miles down the river from the ford. Daniel’s son Charles was born there in 1872 and went on to be a successful attorney in Walsenburg and later, state senator.
An 1880 guidebook tells us Badito was “a small place occupied principally by stockraisers and a few agriculturists” which had a population of 90. From rags to riches to rags in 25 years!
Possibly Badito’s most well known resident was Tom Sproull. Before moving to Walsenburg and earning a street and a town addition, he homesteaded at Badito where he had a farm and orchard, and he raised cattle. Sproull was from Ohio, had resettled in Bleeding Kansas, fled the Civil War to Iowa, went on to California and made his way back to Texas via Mexico, thereby missing service in the Civil War. He lived in various places in southern Colorado until he settled in Huerfano County before 1870. In 1871 he was elected county sheriff, and again in 1877. He also served as assessor and county commissioner, despite being a Republican. During the smallpox epidemic of the late 1880s, he was district health officer and had the job of ordering quarantines on his neighbors’ homes. In 1902 he sold his ranch to J.B. Thorne and his son Taylor, and bought several ranches on Bear Creek. In 1910 he died in his former ranch home “at the entrance to Huerfano Cañon”, but not before building a large brick home on West 7th Street near the Walsen and Robinson mines.
In 1870 the county commissioners noted that the county seat was located at “an isolated point” where officials could not live, so the different office holders worked at their homes. In October 1871 and September 1872, elections were held to relocate the seat and at the second it was voted to move it to Walsenburg.
Poor old Badito, past its prime even in the 1870s, became Huerfano’s first ghost town.