by Edi Sheldon
HUERFANO- For centuries visitors to this region have used the lone butte on the bank of the river bearing the same name, Huerfano, as a landmark. Certainly, the name is a challenge to wrap one’s mouth around if you are not familiar with the Spanish language, but what better reason to keep and be proud of this name.
The first documented explorers into this region were the Spanish Conquistadors in the early 1700’s. This is not to say that hardy French trappers had not already been here. And, of course the Ute, Comanche, and a little later the Apache & the Navajo, lived here for generations. All of them treated the little outcropping as a guidepost, but the Spanish honored it with a name, Huerfano, in the first written recordings that we know about. The river had a couple of names prior to being changed to Huerfano. At one point it was called San Pedro and then San Antonio. Fremont referred to it as the third branch of the Arkansas. But Huerfano also became the name of the river & it stuck.
Huerfano County is surrounded by several other counties, but as a territory, it encompassed nearly one-third of the Colorado Territory. It was one of the original 17 counties in 1876 when Colorado achieved statehood. I am proud to be a Huerfano County native because it denotes individuality and because the county is positioned in the geography of the state so that many thousands of visitors pass through here each year. I was mildly intrigued a few years ago when I had to drive to San Francisco, to find myself driving back through Gardner on Highway 69 to my home. When growing up here, I would never have considered that travelers through our county come from far corners of the globe. But it is true on a daily basis. The unique name of Huerfano almost always elicits a question or two. It makes perfect sense to be named something remarkable because we are fortunate enough to have a remarkable history that involves a tremendous number of events, people and a unique environment to wrap it all in.
Our little corner of the globe is not the average corner. I have been to the mid-west and to the east coast as well as the west coast. Every area I have traveled through has some of the same elements as its neighbors. But we have unique features like the Spanish Peaks and Huerfano Butte. Folks remember us because we are different. So being the “orphan” is a good thing. We have a great home and we should take care to see that it is preserved and survives for future generations. It is, after all, interesting and fun to be able to state that we come from the Huerfano. No one else from anywhere else can say that.