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Lost communities of Huerfano: North Veta

by Nancy Christofferson
NORTH VETA — North Veta is one of Huerfano County’s lost communities, although it is still right where it started way back when. Perhaps the problem with the location is that it never had a real “downtown,” and it has had an identity crisis.
The name North Veta probably refers to the fact the community is around the junction of North Abeyta Creek (aka, North Veta, or Beatty) and the Cucharas River. What made up the settlement was a long strip of land running along the banks of the Cucharas, and eventually, extending up the hills on both sides of the river. The area has also been referred to as Sand Arroyo throughout its long life.
Nowadays, if a person asks where North Veta is, the answer is no doubt a breezy “Oh, it’s out by Navajo,” accompanied by a vague hand wave.
Though its original name is unclear, back in the 1870s and ‘80s the area was called Wahatoya by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Two passenger and two freight trains passed through daily, one of each heading each way. The area was known for goats, sheep, vegetables and grain. Not long after the railroad built through the community, corrals were built for the convenience of those shipping livestock. It was used sufficiently to need a double track and platforms for loading locally grown produce and hay.
While the D&RG referred to its station (cost to ride to it from Pueblo in 1885, $5.11 for the 63-mile trip) as Wahatoya, most of the locals were calling the area Norte Veta. Many of the settlers there had arrived around 1870 and claimed the fertile land along the river. Some of their descendants are still on that land.
One of the earliest to farm the area may have been Juan B. Charlifue, as he is known locally, or Jean Baptiste Charlefoux, a French fur trapper and friend of Ceran St. Vrain and Carlos Beaubien, land grant holders. Charlifue was said to have arrived with his family in 1858; he died in 1861. He may have been farther downstream and closer to the present day site of Walsenburg, but some historians have placed him in the North Veta area a few years earlier when, it is said, he planted crops, harvested them, and retreated to the safer environs of Taos, NM, for the winter. Then again, some people have called him Charlie Fue, so not enough is known about him to pin down actual facts. His contribution to Huerfano County will remain an enigma.
Some of the other early settlers were Felipe Santiago Cruz and Juan Vigil, who came in 1867, Manuel Maldonado, 1868, Albino and Miguel Cordova, 1869, and Ignacio, Juan B. and Francisco Pacheco, 1870, among many others. These pioneers, mainly from New Mexico and the San Luis Valley, brought vast herds of sheep with them, and when Francisco Pacheco was robbed of some $5,000, we see that the occupation was profitable. With so much of the surrounding land unoccupied, these sheep raisers grazed their animals wherever they could, including the slopes of Silver Mountain and west, and south to the Spanish Peaks.
When Maria del Refugio Romero de Cruz, widow of Felipe Santiago, told her story when she was 92 years old, she told of these early families and the way the men changed the course of the river from the center of the valley south to the side of the hills. This made more room for raising crops. When she died the next year, in 1930, she left 134 descendants. A relative of hers claimed the family arrived as early as 1860.
No populations are listed for North Veta. However, in the 1885 census, there are 370 names listed of those living, roughly, between Sand Arroyo and Valley Road.
A good way to measure population is by school. North Veta was District #10, and enrollment in 1893 was 70. By 1898 this number had swelled to 147, with one teacher, J.R. Valdez. It is no surprise the new District #36 was formed in 1900 for “lower North Veta”, or the eastern end of the district. Ella Ayer of Walsenburg was the first teacher. The school was named Pacheco and it was located in a former private home near the Solar mine, whose miners’ families had no doubt caused the overflow in the old district. Pacheco was south of the Cucharas. In its first year, enrollment was 65, while District #10 had 104.
The identity crisis of North Veta also may be seen through its schools. District #10 became known as Sand Arroyo in 1933, and as Roybal in 1939, when Henry Nardine was teaching. In 1942 it was again North Veta, but in 1945 it was Mesa.
Some confusion may be attributed to the creation of District #54 in 1939, which became known as North Veta. One of these schools may have been Chavez. District #54 was closed by 1932 and reopened by 1942. Its teacher for some years in the ‘40s was Eulalia Bustos Britt.
District #36 was closed in 1927, and reopened by 1933 as Sand Arroyo. By 1945 it was back to being Pacheco and had to employ two teachers for the crowd. However, in 1932 District #10 was closed. District #10 was resurrected by 1945 as Sand Arroyo, and in 1948 District #36 was closed. It did not reopen and its students began to attend school in Walsen camp. Interestingly, the school that started in a home ended up being converted into another home.
In 1949 District #10, Sand Arroyo, had just nine students enrolled, and District #56, 22. The latter was closed by 1952, and the other after the 1952-53 school year.
North Veta finally got its own post office in 1920, on Jan. 13. This was discontinued Feb. 28, 1923, but North Veta never went down without a fight, so the post office was reestablished Feb. 18, 1927 and lasted until August 1934. Catherine F. George was postmaster and the office was in her store. The post office may have closed when she left; she opened a grocery store in Walsenburg in 1935. However, she obviously retained property in North Veta because she owned what she called the Huajatolla Club, aka Halfway House, until it was destroyed by fire in 1948.
The railroad did not help North Veta with its identity crisis. For some obscure reason, the D&RGW changed the name of the Wahatoya station to Adel in the 1930s. The name didn’t catch on, outside of railroad circles.
Nowadays, the most common reason a person goes looking for North Veta is to attend a funeral at the North Veta Cemetery. It’s easy to find, being on Highway 160 “out by Navajo”.