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Passing the post office

LA VETA PASS — On June 15, 1889, a post office named Veta Pass was established in Huerfano County. On Oct. 16, 1890, it was discontinued. Veta Pass is what people know as La Veta Pass, but then, so is North Veta Pass. The La Veta name is used interchangeably between three separate routes. When Denver and Rio Grande Railroad officials announced in 1872 the line would cross the mountains at this location, it was most often called Abeyta Pass. Other names were Sangre de Cristo (because it follows Sangre de Cristo Creek on the west side) and Abaja, meaning low. The railroad decided to call it Veta, or vein. The company also established the nearby town of La Veta, the vein. There are so many theories as to what exact vein is referred to that a person might just as well make up his or her version and be done with it. My personal version is that La Veta is a corruption of Abeyta, since the Spanish pronunciation might well be La Beyta. Another option is the facetious (?) explanation that La Veta translates to The Wind, and indeed, railroad construction was

said to have been hampered by that very phenomenon. Abeyta creeks (north and south) and Veta Mountain (now Mount Mestas) were all called “Beatty” by local residents. Be that as it may, the establishment of a post office indicates a place was a population center for at least 50 people. So we presume there were some 50 folks living near Veta Pass post office, or, at least, living there for 16 months in 1889 and ’90. Did they all move away? Not hardly. It’s difficult to say what happened here, but on April 13, 1911, Veta Pass post office was re-established. This time, however, it was located in Costilla County, and it had just changed its name from La Veta Pass. The La Veta Pass post office had opened in January 1904. As Veta Pass, it lasted until April 30, 1935. The original Veta Pass of the D&RG was reached by construction gangs in the winter of 1876-77. A depot, some housing and other company structures were built while the grading crews continued westward, downhill into the San Luis Valley. The first named point in the valley was Placer. Placer was the site of ancient gold mining operations of early Spanish adventurers, later lured soldiers and officers men from Forts Massachusetts and Garland, and even later prospectors from pioneer days through the 20th century. Placer was an eating station (as was La Veta, demonstrating just how long it took a narrow gauge train to travel a mere 21 miles) and had a post office. Wouldn’t you know it – the post office was named Russell. While Veta and La Veta post offices juggled names, Placer/Russell’s changed locations. The Russell post office occupied four separate sites through the years, wandering alongside the old narrow gauge right of way which is, basically, now US Highway 160. Russell’s farthest west location was at the mouth of Wagon Creek, now the site of an entrance into Forbes Park development. In 1899, the D&RG had completed and opened its new standard gauge route west of La Veta. Instead of following the old Sangre de Cristo/Abeyta route, it followed the Middle Creek drainage into the mountains and diverged to Wagon Creek on the western side. It rejoined the original right of way at Wagon Creek Junction, aka, New Russell, or Russell No. 4. Meanwhile, the old right of way over Veta Pass, rails removed, was changed into a county wagon road. From there it evolved into a state, then federal, highway. In 1964, the route was again changed and now crosses North Veta Pass (though the state wanted to call it Sangre de Cristo Pass). Back in 1899, D&RG officials did not want the traveling public to know they were not on the old Veta Pass route. At the time of its construction, this pass was the highest in Colorado by some 1,000 feet, so many of the passengers were not so much travelers as excursionists wanting to experience the high altitude and beautiful views, because, like Mt. Everest, “it was there”. So, Wagon Creek Pass was dubbed La Veta Pass. The summit was just 10 miles from New Russell. Now, the old Russell post office was operational, at its different sites, from May 1876 until 1904 when the mail was diverted to La Veta Pass (aka Wagon Creek). Because Russell still had a healthy population, the ensuing uproar caused the post office to be re-established later the same year. New Russell farther west, operating for a while as the Margaret post office, disappeared except for some stock loading pens and platforms. Old Russell post office closed for six years in 1930, reopened, and then closed for perpetuity July 31, 1956 when its longtime postmaster, Marguerite Sutton, retired. We won’t even tell you about the Bernice post office that replaced Margaret. It seems odd today that these post offices ever operated at all, because so few dare to live along the higher reaches of the railroad. But, back in the day, the area was very lively. The reason for the activity was trees. The railroad company had, since it reached the summit of Veta Pass back in 1877, operated timber camps on both sides of the mountains. Lumberjacks were clear cutting the pines to convert into railroad and mine ties and props, and to supply the railroad’s box factory in Pueblo. They were so busy, in fact, that down in the Town of La Veta, the newspaper editor was complaining about the amount of smoke obscuring his western view. Other residents bemoaned the denuding of the forests because of damage to the water drainages and still others declared the noise and loss of forest caused the game to leave. The lumberjacks were numerous enough to field a baseball team, the Choppers, that faced off with other timber men and local communities. In 1912, the Trinchera Estate began its own timbering projects. Relying on its own little narrow gauge railroad, several camps, sawmills and a box factory were connected. Harrell was the name for the mill location, Carr, just south, was where some warehouses, employee housing and box factory were built, and Simms was the name for the loading dock area. There were in addition at least three timber camps in the high mountains (cleverly named Nos. 1, 2 and 3). Lumbering continued in the area until the 1950s, thus keeping Russell and La Veta Pass busy. In other news, there was no Veta Pass anymore, or at least, not on Wagon Creek. That post office closed in 1935. In 1932, the D&RG changed Veta Pass’s official site name to Fir. Despite there being all those people living in the lumber camps and a smaller population serving the needs of the railroad, there was no Fir post office. Thankfully.