WALSENBURG — The accompanying photograph of 12 men apparently enjoying their cigars and liquid refreshment is occasionally called “The 12 Apostles”. Today the shot might be mistaken for a bachelor party or possibly even an ad for either the cigars or the bottled beverages. Whatever, this photo shows the leading businessmen of the young town of Walsenburg about 1875. These upstanding pioneers did not constitute the entire business community by any means. Nor were they all Walsenburg businessmen in the usual sense, because several were local ranchers and did not live in the community at all. What they all shared was a belief in the future of Walsenburg and some capital to back up their beliefs.
Captain (James?) Thompson worked for the Central Colorado Improvement Company, or CCI. This was an early affiliate of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad that obtained and developed land along the planned routes. As a member of the CCI, he would have been involved with buying the land and establishing South Pueblo, and in 1877, he went on record supporting a move to bring Pennsylvanian steel companies to start a Bessemer-style rolling mill there. His presence in Walsenburg points to the company’s involvement with railroad building, opening coal mines and purchase of water rights for future
John Chappell was a native of England, born about 1830. He was a contractor and builder credited with building the first jail in Walsenburg, an old, small stone structure, in 1878. The 1880 census lists him as a “dobe mason”. A few years later he moved to Trinidad and went into the sawmill and lumber business in addition to his profession of stone mason.
John Albert was one of the earliest settlers of the area. His personal recollection was of trapping along the Cucharas as early as 1834. He later built a home and fort near the river that straddled an old Indian trail that is now Main Street. He touted himself as the “only survivor of the Taos Massacre”, which he was not but he was certainly one of them. In 1868, a post office called Carson was established at Plaza de los Leones. Albert was postmaster.
Fred Walsen needs no explanation. Since the town was named for him, he was obviously a leading light. He owned one of the first stores and was responsible not only for getting the county seat moved to town but also platting and incorporating it. He is called the first mayor in 1873 but actually was chairman of the town trustees, which was essentially the same except for terminology.
Truman Loomis Creesy was born in Ohio and moved to Pueblo in 1872 and to Walsenburg in 1875. He was a sheep raiser. He had a large feed and livery stable, worked as manager for the Hughes lumber company, was postmaster and served as town treasurer and mayor. His wife helped establish the Presbyterian church and was elected county school superintendent in 1895, the first woman to hold public office in Huerfano County.
Alexander R. Campbell was from Canada. After moving to Illinois he enlisted in the Union Army. He came to Huerfano County delivering sheep in 1872 to the Doyle ranch and then at “Leon plaza”. When the town was incorporated in 1873, Campbell, along with Walsen and Albert, served on the first board of trustees. He also built Walsen’s house at Fifth and Main streets. During construction of the second St. Mary Church in 1882, he was overseer of construction. In 1881 he had won a $400 contract to rebuild the county jail after a fire. He was an undertaker (with an “elegant “ hearse), builder and furniture maker. He served as postmaster for four years in the late 1880s. He retired from his furniture business about 1892 and took up beekeeping before moving to California.
Charles Mazzone came to Walsenburg in 1874 and opened a saloon. He returned to his home in Cincinnati to marry and after returning built several more commercial buildings along Main Street, including his imposing opera house in 1889. He was on town council for 16 years and was county treasurer. It is said he was the first Republican to be elected to office in Huerfano County.
Isaac Dailey was born about 1850 in Virginia. His homestead was on Capitol Hill. He was a stockraiser. In 1881, he ran for county commissioner, unsuccessfully. He was still in Walsenburg in 1884 but then disappears from the records. In 1900, his wife, or widow, Emma Arnold, went into the dressmaking business, indicating she had to make a living for herself without a husband.
Henry Jabez Strange, a native of England, settled around the Huerfano Butte, then a stage station, in 1868. In 1877, he moved into Walsenburg. He established a store in the present site of Aguilar before 1883 when he returned to Walsenburg. He was credited with building the first stone business building still in use. Perhaps his main contribution to Huerfano history was being the grandfather of Evalyn, Sam, Harry and Claude Capps.
Frank Duhme and his brothers may be considered the first “trust fund” kids to settle here. Their father was a German native who moved to Ohio and opened a very successful silversmithing company, sometimes called the “Tiffany of Cincinnati” and “the most exclusive jeweler in the West”. Frank raised thoroughbred horses and goats on his ranch on the Santa Clara. His brother Herman married a sister of Charles Mazzone, founded the Huerfano Independent in Walsenburg in 1875 and served in the Colorado legislature during the ‘70s.
John H. Brown was another Ohio native, born in 1836 and coming west about 1862. When the first Huerfano county clerk resigned, Brown took over his duties. He was re-elected several times in the 1860s and early ‘70s, and maintained his office, stubbornly, at his home at the Huerfano Butte despite the county seat moving. In 1876, he moved to Walsenburg and went into the mercantile business with Benton Canon, then bought him out and continued on his own for more than 20 years. He died in 1909 at his home on Fifth Street.
August Sporleder was born in Germany in 1818. He opened Walsenburg’s first hotel after arriving in 1873 from St. Louis. It was located on Main Street near the river, and hosted many of the early dignitaries and officials from Helen Hunt Jackson to governors and legislators. Built of adobe, the hotel was a central meeting point for pioneers and a favorite lounging spot of John Albert who liked to sit and spin his stories of his trapping days. Sporleder and his wife were cultured and musical, forming the popular Sporleder Orchestra of the ‘70s and ‘80s. They may be best known for their family ties, since their nephew was Louis B. Sporleder and daughters became Mrs. Alex Levy and Mrs. Fred Walsen.
These sober citizens of the ‘70s may be considered the backbone of the development of the City of Walsenburg, though why they chose to be photographed in the midst of such a scene as the above will probably always be a mystery.