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Huerfano County 4-H Fair a local tradition

by Nancy Christofferson

    The 4-H Fair competition follows a long tradition in Huerfano County, having been established in 1937, or 73 years ago.

    Before there was a 4-H organization here, Waldo Kidder, the first Huerfano County Agricultural Agent, began the Boy and Girl Club work in 1917.  The participants joined into the regular county Harvest Festival that fall, with 3,500 attending the two-day event.

    By 1923 most of Boy and Girl work involved beef cattle, and Calf Clubs were started in the communities of Bear Creek, Pauley, Butte Valley and Apache.  On April 17, one was begun in La Veta. These clubs challenged the members to raise and show their animals, with the best animals and members excelling in showmanship continuing to State Fair competition.  After a few years, pig clubs as well as girls’ calf clubs, canning and sewing clubs were started.

    The calf club members had an annual fair and that it was popular is shown by the 2,500 people counted at the 1926 event, the eighth annual.

    In 1925 the club’s name officially was changed to 4-H.  La Veta’s Snowy Range was organized in 1938 with eight members, and remains as the county’s oldest 4-H Club.

    Huerfano’s first 4-H Fair was held in 1937 when 14 boys and 14 girls entered their exhibits.  From the beginning it was seen there was no real show barn or large arena for display of projects and showing of animals.  Thus the fair jumped from hay barns to empty lots and back again.  By the late 1930s the 4-H fair combined with an event open to individuals of the county, and these exhibits were often placed in club rooms such as Odd Fellows Hall.

    Phil Miles became county agent in 1933, and remained in that job until his retirement in 1956.  Of all the county and home demonstration agents, he was the one most associated with the growth and popularity of the 4-H organization.

    By the time of his retirement, for instance, there were more than 20 clubs in the county, with each having a different specialty.  These ranged from cooking, sewing, forestry, electricity, dog training, woodworking, wildlife, automotive, tractors, knitting, guns, child care and music to the original livestock clubs.  These clubs ranged in membership from six to 30-40, as with Snowy Range, and included as many girls as boys.

    The 1940s saw the fairs as two-day events, opened with a parade along Main Street, and closed with a “traditional cowboy ball” in the old pavilion in Cuchara Camps.

    The 1946 fair was poorly attended by either members or spectators because of the polio epidemic and the resulting ban on public gatherings. But, by 1947, 134 members entered projects in 46 categories.  Two years later the county 4-H boasted 230 members in 17 clubs.  In 1952, the 14th fair attracted 138 members having 198 exhibits.  With many girls clubs organizing for domestic education in the ‘50s, the 1957 fair drew 444 entries, 110 in clothing and 82 in foods.

    In 1952 there was even a square dance team. The Carnation Set, in fact, won the state title, and went on to compete and win third in the National 4-H Square Dance Jamboree in Texas.

    Membership has fluctuated but interest among members and their families has never flagged.

    The local cattleman’s association in 1948 built a large exhibition show barn in which to have their registered Hereford shows and sales, and for the 4-H to have its annual fair.  This building, north of La Veta, unfortunately blew down in a windstorm in 1950, but by December the association was in its new, better barn, a 150 by 160 foot structure containing 9,000 square feet.  Less than 10 years later, the Hereford industry had collapsed and the organization sold the building.

    The fair was once again without a home. Private owners then offered a hay barn and an old iron warehouse, both located in the 100 block of south Main Street, for the display of county and 4-H projects.  The rodeo, which had started in 1949, was held in Harry Willis’s large barn and arena several miles east of town.

    Thus it was decided to build a 4-H “home” that could be relied on.  In 1973 the organization announced it would erect a steel Butler building, 60 by 260 feet, for $45,000 in northeast La Veta.  Construction was begun in the spring with the hope the building would be completed in time for the fair in August.  It was not, and only the arena and livestock areas were done, so the exhibits once again were forced to find other space.  Thus they went back to the old show barn, now named the Cow Shed by its owner who ran a dance hall and lounge there.

    The new 4-H Barn was officially inaugurated with an Open House on Sunday, May 4, 1975.  It was said the steel building and arena had been built at a cost of $55,000.  Many alterations and additions have improved the premises since that time.