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History Detective: The weather is snow joke

by Carolyn Newman

SOUTHERN COLORADO — As shocking as last week’s snow was following six weeks of mild weather, the locals had a far greater shock in May of 1955.

Between three and four feet of snow, plus six to eight or more inches of rain, fell over 48 hours. The streams and soils could not cope.

The four feet of snow in Cuchara literally crushed cabins, including Artist Clayton Staples’ studio, where he conducted summer art classes. The studio was completely flattened by the weight of the wet heavy snow. Five feet of snow fell south of La Veta. Albert Jamieson’s cattleshed was crushed, trapping and killing three milch cows.

The assessment two days later turned up a loss of 30 head of cattle in the area, six Cuchara cabins totally destroyed and 18 heavily damaged, and a 30-foot ditch washed out the road, stopping traffic. The state highway department was praised for the day and night work attempting to keep roads open, including a speedy rockfill in the deep ditch. To prevent a greater surge of water heading to Cuchara, a beaver dam on Dodston Creek (probably Dodgeton) above Cuchara was dynamited when water began overflowing. The greatest fear was that rain or warm temperatures would cause sudden melting of the snow.

Trinidad had its own stories. The most tragic was the death of 18 year old Anthony Roy Espinoza, who onto the Trinidad Linden bridge, which the Purgatoire River had washed out. That river flooded four feet deep in places in the city, virtually isolating it. Railroad workers had to abandon the railroad station when water poured in. National Guard members and police evacuated thousands.

Moisture totals were astounding. Raton had nearly nine inches, La Veta had 9.1 inches. All of this after the 1950s drought, causing some to rejoice for the rain and snow while others were suffering.

Highway Patrolman Harold Popish and Huerfano County Sheriff Anthony Velarde closed La Veta pass. Unfortunately for the Gil Gray circus, half of it was stuck on each side of the pass.

The average person might not understand what large amounts of moisture does to an area. The graves sunk at Walsenburg’s Masonic cemetery. The city suffered from a break in the Fourth Street ditch, sending water down to Seventh Street. Trains stopped running and the schools closed.

Information is from the Walsenburg World-Independent newspapers of May 19, 20, 25 and 27, 1955. The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society 719-738-2840.