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The Adventures of Uncle Billy Hamilton

W.B. “Uncle Billy” Hamilton led a long and adventurous life. Perhaps one of the highlights of his life was his 90th birthday on March 30, 1935 which was attended by many relatives, friends, fellow businessmen and politicians, as well as his neighbors in La Veta. William Bernard Hamilton was born in 1845 in Missouri. His father, James Gillespie Hamilton Sr., soon took the family to Westport, within the limits of greater Kansas City of today, where he entered the Santa Fe Trail trade. The elder Hamilton ran a mercantile establishment with Albert Gallatin Boone, a grandson of the famous Dan’l, who was related by marriage. W.B. grew up so close to the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail he could probably hear the squealing of the wagon wheels as the muleskinners lined up to cross the Missouri River into Kansas and commence their long crossings of the prairies. There were enormous profits to be made in this trade, depending on the Indian situation, weather and luck. Besides selling enough merchandise to fill hundreds of wagons bound for Santa Fe, Hamilton and Boone were licensed to trade with the Indians consigned to numerous reserves in the Kansas City area. James Sr. accompanied John L. Hatcher driving 1,000 cattle overland to California via New Mexico and Arizona in 1857-58. It was a rugged trip, and they lost about a quarter of

the herd. With the prohibitive cost of beef in California, however, the endeavor was a most profitable one. In 1863, James took his entire family to California, a trip taking four months by wagon train. He may have intended to settle there permanently, but they stayed just 14 months before making their way home by way of ship through the Panama Canal to New York, then by rail back to Missouri. After the beginning of the Civil War, W.B. was drafted into the Confederate Army. He served about six months before, in his own words, he took “French leave” and left with a caravan for New Mexico. He spent two years there clerking in a mercantile store. Returning to Kansas City by stagecoach, he found employment in a bank until one of his bosses bankrolled him to freight 20 wagons, each pulled by six yokes of oxen, to Santa Fe. He continued freighting until 1868. His first experience in Colorado was in 1867, when he wintered his 240 oxen south of Fort Lyon, most likely in the Manzanola area. The pasturage proved so beneficial he decided to raise beef cattle in the area. In January 1869 he married Louisa Yager, the daughter of Circuit Judge James Yager, another supplier of goods for the Santa Fe Trail. [Judge Yager had lost his home at 75th and Troost in Kansas City to Jayhawkers, which caused his son Dick, Louisa’s brother, to join the infamous Quantrill’s raiders, with whom he was killed in action in 1864.] That year W.B. and his younger brother, J.G. Jr., drove a large herd of cattle to Colorado, ending up at Francisco’s Fort just in time for Christmas dinner. W.B. went back east and brought his bride to the fort in 1870. They lived in what is now called the east wing, which had been prepared for a young lady with the “modernization” of wood floors and a pitched roof to replace the dirt. On June 15, 1871, the Spanish Peaks post office was established and W.B. was appointed postmaster. At the time, the mail was carried weekly from Cucharas, east of Walsenburg, on horseback by John Albert. Also that year, W.B. was on the board of directors of the newly organized Southern Colorado Agricultural Society which planned to start an annual fair as well as promote livestock raising. On Oct. 17, 1874, W.B., with his old classmate from Missouri, Hiram Vasquez, joined Walsenburg Masonic Lodge No. 27 as a charter member. With statehood Aug. 1, 1876, W.B. was elected first state senator from Huerfano County, defeating, it is said, Fred Walsen. He served one term. W.B. and J.G. had taken up by homestead entry some 640 acres north of the settlement and raised cattle, sheep and horses. They are credited with many “firsts” in registered cattle, alfalfa, barbed wire, etc. The 1870 census listed each brother with property valued at $10,000. In 1880 W.B. sold his interests in La Veta to his brother and moved to Pueblo. He opened a transfer and livery business. In the 1886 and 1889 business directories, his livery was located at 509 Main Street. In 1891 he was elected mayor of Pueblo and oversaw the formal openings of several bridges spanning the Arkansas River in his official capacity. W.B. also bought several homesteads along the St. Charles River near Burnt Mill in the Beulah region. A school in the Rye district built in 1897 was given and carried his name for decades. W.B. and his wife stayed on the farm while splitting their time living in Pueblo. The couple had at least four children, but only one survived to adulthood. He was James Yager Hamilton, born in Kansas City in February 1872. Yager joined his father in ranching but went into the Army to serve in the Spanish American War, after which he went into civil service. He was chief inspector for the Internal Revenue in 1899 in the Philippines, overseeing the conversion of those islands from a Spanish territory to an American one. In 1907, after suffering with a tropical disease, he returned stateside and began working with the Indian Bureau. In 1917 he returned to the Army as a volunteer, serving with the quartermaster’s department during the First World War. Afterward he went back to the Indian Bureau. About 1932 Yager likely inherited his uncle John Hamilton’s home in La Veta. John had built and lived in the house adjoining the old Francisco Plaza. Yager’s parents had finally retired and moved back to La Veta, the site of their earliest married years, in 1929. W.B. and Louisa occupied the house as next door neighbors to his sister, Ann Reid Hamilton Francisco, who lived in the plaza. Perhaps the saddest part of Uncle Billy’s 90th birthday party was the absence of his life partner for nearly 65 years, Louisa, who had died in 1933. According to the Pueblo Chieftain of April 3, 1935, W.B. shared the festivities with 64 guests and “blew out enough candles to foreshadow many more years of life…” Alas, he died the following November. He and Louisa were buried in Roselawn Cemetery in Pueblo. They were joined by Yager who died July 27, 1951 and was buried with full military honors.