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by Nancy Christofferson

FARISITA- We read in the Huerfano World Journal recently about the renovation project in the historic settlement of Farisita, and, indeed, it is hard to get any more historic than Farisita in this neck of the woods.

    The community began its official life as Huerfano Cañon when its post office was commissioned April 15, 1878.  By this time there were many families living in the general neighborhood, not least of whom were the Harmeses, William L. Harmes, a native of Prussia, claimed to be the first postmaster and he probably was.  He was, at age 46, included in the 1880 census with his wife Camila, 35, and children Luis N., 19, Emelia, 17, Matilda, 16, Lucinda, 13, Isabel, 11, Charles August, 8, William Herman, 3 and August Robert, 1.  By the 1885 census another child, Fritz C., had been born.  The two older children were born in New Mexico, and the rest in Colorado, suggesting Harmes had been in the state since 1864.  He was listed as the postmaster in 1880, and remained in that position for many years.  He also was a merchant, one-time county commissioner and longtime president of the local school board.  One of his sons-in-law, Henry Doeffler, who married Matilda, was the teacher.

    The oldest daughter, Emelie, married Joseph W. Sears in 1884 and they lived near her parents.  Tragically, a diphtheria epidemic in 1893 killed all four of the Sears children, and several of the younger Harmeses as well.  These were the grandchildren of William, who told the Walsenburg newspaper the epidemic was killing many children along Turkey Creek that spring.  The Harmes family overcame the sickness and deaths, alas fairly normal in those frontier times, and many descendents remain today, especially in the upper Huerfano Valley.

    That the area was indeed full of people, and especially children, can be seen by enrollment figures in the local school, District #8.  In 1893 it was 65, and in 1898, 165!  There were 150 in 1901, under one teacher, Henry Doeffler.  The term ended in April after six months.  No wonder!  He must have been exhausted.

    William Harmes met his own tragedy in December 1898, when he was shot and killed by his son August in the store.  The family had experienced several burglaries that fall, and these no doubt precipitated the shooting, which evidently occurred in darkness.  After Harmes’ death, his widow took over as postmaster.

    There were several post offices in Huerfano and Pueblo counties back then named or started with the word Huerfano, so it was changed to Talpa in October 1890.  According to the Works Progress Administration’s history of the county, this was to commemorate Fort Talpa and explains this was, “an adobe outpost established by the Spaniards about 1820 [that] still stands next to the general store.”  The old Spanish fort of 1820 supposedly was built some three or four miles southwest of Farisita, so the reference to Fort Talpa is ambiguous.  It could have been that there was a fortified plaza used by the Harmes family and neighbors during the Ute troubles of the late 1860s and early ‘70s, fulfilling the same role as other civilian forts, Francisco’s in La Veta and John Albert’s in Plaza de los Leones.

    Talpa got its mail via “hack and saddle” in 1880, on a route that left Walsenburg and traveled up the Huerfano River and over Mosca Pass to the San Luis Valley.  Before this time, a stagecoach carried the mail – and passengers- via Sangre de Cristo Pass through Huerfano Cañon.

    Mrs. Harmes may have sold the store to Victor Montoya.  The late Jeannette Faris Thach wrote in 1952 Montoya’s store contained the post office until 1908 when he sold the premises to Asperidon Faris. It was then known as Faris Mercantile until 1933. Asperidon, usually known as “A. Faris” to the newspapers, died in 1923 but his wife and family maintained the business and ranch.  Mrs. Faris was postmaster, as was her daughter Jeannette from 1931-34.  Both “A” and his wife, the former Louise John, were from Syria, and his funeral was said to be conducted in English, Spanish and Syrian.

    After Faris bought the store the post office authorities informed him the name was being confused with Talpa, New Mexico.  So in 1912 the official name became Farisita, for the little Faris girl, Jeannette.  The Farisita post office was operational from April 24, 1923 to about 1980.

    Jeannette spent the early1930s teaching in District #8, with her own siblings as students.  Her brother Jim was an eighth grade graduate of 1931. Many years there were two teachers though the enrollment never equaled the 165 of 1898.  It was usually less than 25.

    When Talpa/ Farisita was in its prime it boasted a hotel, livery, blacksmith shop and a Presbyterian church.  A Penitente morada was said to be just across the river.  In June 1947 the Farisita Hall was built, which was 2,000 square feet, for community events.  It was opened with a dance with the Johnny Krist orchestra.  There are two cemeteries nearby, and many more in the general vicinity.

    Farisita’s was one of the last rural schools to close in the 1950s, and it was torn down in 1978.  The old general store and post office building remains as witness to the community’s long and colorful history.