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Kilroy was here

LAS ANIMAS COUNTY — “Kilroy was here” was a popular phrase back in the olden days, especially during the 1940’s, when the words had a tendency to show up drawn onto buildings and board fences, rather like early nonsensical graffiti. Kilroy as an entity was kind of the Where’s Waldo of his generation – you had to be there to understand the back story. The fact is, Kilroy really was in Las Animas County, if nowhere else. Not for long, mind you, but recorded there. Kilroy was authorized as a post office on Nov. 15, 1917. The authorization was rescinded on Nov. 15, 1917. This makes Kilroy one of the shortest-lived post offices of all time – a feat in itself. And, like Waldo, where exactly Kilroy was located is today a bit of a mystery. Or rather, where it should have been. Kilroy was one of many communities to earn postal service in the mid nineteen-teens. At that time, weather conditions on the Colorado plains had never been better – or at least, since records had been kept. The precipitation levels averaged from four to six inches more each year than ever before, or after. Wheat prices, too, were up, and farmers all over the United States were land hungry. The original Homestead Act of 1862 had been tweaked several times, but at no time was it more attractive for settlers heading for the western plains than the ‘teens. The government published booklets describing each township and its contours, precipitation, water resources and possibilities for stock raising or crop growing. The wide open spaces of eastern Las Animas County were especially appealing. The county had not

only the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and the Denver and Rio Grande railroads, but the Denver Texas and Gulf, later known as the Denver Texas and Fort Worth which became the Colorado and Southern Railway, crossing the prairies. This gave easy access to many shipping points for agricultural products. The country also had a network of old trails or rudimentary roads, military and civilian, following or adjacent to the Santa Fe Trail. In fact, the population of the county climbed from about 32,000 in 1900 to its peak of 38,975 in 1920. It was the largest of the 63 counties in the state with 4,773 square miles, and fourth in number of residents. A total of 21 post offices were established between January 1915 and December 1917. All but one, Boncarbo, were out on the plains. Most of them lasted a lot longer than Kilroy. For instance, one named Ninaview opened Sept. 20, 1915. It existed for more than a year, until 1916. Ninaview, through no fault of its own, was then relocated to Bent County. In fact, it shifted back and forth across the border several times before finally giving up and shutting its doors in 1965. The first postmaster was a woman named Nina, and maybe she moved to Baca County and took the post office stuff with her. Or maybe not. Instead, Laub post office, located at Nina siding on the Colorado and Southern, opened Dec. 15, 1916. It operated until 1923. It was common for rural post offices to move frequently, as they were usually situated in the postmaster’s home, or a store, or even a filling station. As one postmaster passed the duties onto the next, the post office was liable to relocate, and sometimes this took it a few miles into the next county. Consider Buster. This post office opened July 28, 1916 northeast of Kim in Las Animas County, but when it was terminated July 30, 1927, it was in Baca. Buster was almost due north of Druce. Druce had a post office from Aug. 31, 1916 to May 2, 1922, and it never flopped over into Baca County. North-northeast of Buster was a place called Flues that had postal service from Aug. 26, 1915 until July 15, 1933. Atwell was another post office that opened in 1915, on Jan. 29, and kept on until Aug. 31, 1920. It was only about 11 miles east of Trinidad. The only other post office dating from 1915 was Coloflats. Although the post office closed in 1918, it regenerated itself the same day, July 31, as Branson. The community had also been known as Wilson’s Switch. 1916 was a better year for new post offices. Alcreek, eight miles southeast of Tobe, did not discontinue until 1935. Tobe itself, interestingly, was a platted town named for local rancher Tobe Benavidez that got a post office in 1910 and kept it for 50 years. Dalerose opened June 21, 1916 seven miles southwest of Kim, and operated until February 1943. Vega Ranch, a spot on the south side of the Apishapa River, opened Sept. 21, 1916 and closed June 14, 1924. Yachita was a rural office opening Oct. 6, 1916 and closing July 31, 1918. Despite being just 12 miles southwest of Tobe, its brief two year existence may be due to spellings. It appears on old maps as Vachita, Wachita and Yachita, all within a short time span. Folks were just confused and moved on. Then there was Edwest, which was named for Ed West. The post office was authorized Nov. 14, 1916, but discontinued Dec. 26, 1919. Edwest had a bit of a split personality. Its railroad station had been known as Houghton, but when its post office closed, it reopened nearby where the Santa Fe Railroad had platted the town of Delhi, so the names changed too, in 1919. Another changeable community was Gotera, where the post office opened Aug. 17, 1916. Now, Gotera was not so much a homesteader town, because it had been named Duncan since 1901. The Gotera post office was east of Branson and hard upon the New Mexico border, where it stayed, but took on a new personality as Lone Oak from 1922 until 1928. Oh, and poor Yetta, not to be confused with a Yeti. The post office opened Aug. 5, 1916 and was discontinued 13 years later on Aug. 1. It too was on the Santa Fe line. Its station was known as Tyrone, and had been since the 1880s. Sometimes it was called Tyrone Yetta Post Office, or Yetta (Tyrone Station). More confusion. Possibly the problem with these post offices is that they had stupid names. Druce? Flues? Besides the ill fated Kilroy, Officer, 1917-1938, way up at the head of Smith Canyon and 20 miles northwest of Kim, and Carsonhart, which suffered the same fate as Kilroy, opening and closing the same day, 1917 was a pretty good year for establishing post offices. Kim’s post office was established Jan. 30, 1917, and look how well it turned out. Postal facilities were located in the store of a homesteader, and by 1920 crops had been so good the town was under construction. Even the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce turned out to celebrate its good fortune. The Dust Bowl put a swift end to the prosperity, and the Works Progress Administration built a community building there as well as a school. Villegreen also got its post office in 1917 northwest of Kim and it hung on until 1985. Two others, Plum Valley, yet another settlement northwest of Kim, and Patches, out in the middle of nowhere southeast of the Rattlesnake Buttes, were not so lucky. Plum Valley closed in 1935 and Patches in 1928.