by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO- Back in the olden days, small town editors considered themselves one-man chambers of commerce. Their goal in life was to boast of their towns’ prosperity and golden future in order to, perhaps, convince others to settle nearby and thus provide more subscribers and advertisers.
The New Year was a perfect time for these fellows to “boom” recent advancements. In a form of “year-end wrap-up”, they would list the achievements of the past 12 months.
The Huerfano Herald is the oldest newspaper extant for us. It was published in La Veta from Nov. 4, 1880 to Nov. 8, 1883, when it was moved to Walsenburg and from there to obscurity. J.B. King was new to La Veta when he started his paper, and two months later, with the New Year, he didn’t have much to crow about because of being a virtual stranger to his new surroundings. But in the next new year, he started off January with “The present year, 1882, will probably bring to La Veta and Huerfano County its long looked for prosperity and fully verify the predictions made in the past five years”. He did not, alas, expand on the subject and tell just how he came up with his theory.
G.M. Magill did not share King’s reticence of being a newcomer and commenting on progress. It may come as no surprise Magill’s main employment was as a realtor, so whatever business he could drum up in that vein was all to the good. He first brought out the Walsenburg World on March 1, 1889. The following January he proudly enumerated the year’s advancements in Walsenburg – the $35,000 electrical system, a $15,000 water works improvement and expansion project, new $15,000 hotel and $15,000 opera house, three miles of sidewalks costing $7,000 plus another $5,000 in street improvements, a new $3,500 Methodist Church, six brick business houses and various frame ones plus new residences, all totaling up, he said, to more than $150,000 worth of improvements in just 12 months. Further, he listed all the businesses opened in 1889, which came to 22, from three saloons, the newspaper, a soft drink bottling works, book bindery and shooting gallery to all sorts of food and clothing stores. So, yes, Mr. Magill, it was a very good year.
Magill took on W.C. Hunt shortly thereafter, and Hunt remained the editor of the World for many years. Perhaps he was not quite the optimist Magill was, for he started 1896 by noting the county now had six operating coal mines, producing a total of 1,000 tons daily, and the previous year had brought the telephone system, the Union Pacific Denver and Gulf Railroad (which duly became the Colorado & Southern) and $11,775 worth of new buildings in the city. He reported the county valuation was up to $1,604,267, but, he lamented, a new courthouse and jail were badly needed.
In 1898 Hunt was a bit cheerier when he found a population of 8,000 living in the county’s 2,400 square miles. Four large Colorado Fuel and Iron mines were in production and five other companies were operating, to produce some 2,500 tons that were being shipped daily, or 140 railroad cars worth. On the other hand, a holiday shooting in a saloon in a coal camp left two men dead.
1901 started off nicely in La Veta, and C.E. Turner, owner and editor of the town’s newspaper, The Advertiser, gushed, “The future of La Veta has never been so bright – no man cannot find work, coal and copper mines are promising and cattle and hay are bringing top prices.” The population had grown by 20 percent, and the year’s bountiful harvests pleased the farmers, and the merchants who served them.
Hunt gushed even more that same year. In the few years since 1898, the county had seen more coal mines open, until now there were 19, producing 4,000 tons a day. This resulted in a total payroll of $1,575,000 a year, he figured, and much of that was spent with Walsenburg’s merchants. The coal itself was sold for some $2 million a year, or over $5,000 per day. Hunt said more than 2,000 people were involved with agriculture, and the 1900 hay crop had been the best ever with over 40,000 tons grown and bringing in about $360,000. Corn that year had been a great success, yielding 40 bushels to the acre. The county assessor had found 28,700 cattle worth $862,800, 84,216 head of sheep at $168,432 (plus the wool crop of 268,000 pounds had been valued at $525,000), and many thousands of horses, mules and goats. In Walsenburg itself were three more brick commercial buildings, a new hotel, street lights and a library. Oh, another good year.
The next year, 1902, Turner listed the numerous businesses in town, being five in dry goods and groceries, a drug store, two furniture stores (run by the town’s two morticians), the flour mill, two sawmills, two building contractors, a harness maker, two meat markets, two hotels, a watch repairer, four doctors, a bakery, a restaurant, two “good liveries”, three blacksmiths, a real estate and insurance firm, four churches and much more. Everything was up to date in La Veta! Much of the town’s population was supported by the railroad, with section hands renting rooms and houses, the roundhouse employing about 15 fulltime residents, four passenger trains hauling tourists and visitors through and enough freight trains to drive a depot agent to drink. Long caravans of railroad cars toted tons of livestock and produce from the San Luis Valley, and then the myriad men of the crews had to maintain the rails, bridges, cars and yards. There was even gold mining again on the West Spanish Peak!