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The Little Orphan

 BADITO — On September 12, 1865 – almost exactly 150 years ago – a settlement in Huerfano County had its identity changed. The new name chosen was Badito, meaning little ford in Spanish. Its old name, as designated only four months earlier for the post office, was Little Orphan. Before that, folks just called it “the Badita”. It was widely known as the easiest place to cross the Huerfano River south of Greenhorn. The Little Orphan title may be derived from Badito Cone that guided travelers to the foot of the trail over the mountains. There is ample evidence the first permanent settlements in what is now Huerfano County were in the vicinity of Badito, which is about 20 miles northwest of Walsenburg on Highway 69. Native American, French and Spanish travelers and explorers used the little ford, followed by Americans from eastern states. The first cattle herds from Texas heading for the railroad farther north crossed there. It is said that many trails converged at the ford. It would be natural for settlers to find this location attractive because of its water, resources, and ready market for those travelers. Badito marked the spot where the ancient trail across Sangre de Cristo Pass left the Huerfano valley to ascend South Oak Creek to the summit of the mountains to the southwest. The path, originally part of the Ute Trail, became known as the Trappers or Taos Trail, and was heavily utilized after Juan Bautista de Anza revealed its existence as a more convenient crossing from the

settlements of the lower Rio Grande to the plains to the east. That was in 1779. One hundred years later, Badito was said to be the most important settlement in Huerfano County. It had become the county seat in 1866 when Huerfano was reduced to its present size. The former seat had been Autobees plaza at the junction of the Huerfano and Arkansas rivers. George S. Simpson had evidently moved to the Badito area around 1865. When Territorial Governor Alexander C. Hunt named Simpson county clerk, he also deemed Badito to be county seat. Or more correctly, the county seat would be the “Fort Union crossing of the Huerfano from Greenhorn”. In 1865, Huerfano County had an estimated 35 English speaking and 336 Spanish speaking voters. This was the old Huerfano that encompassed most of southeast Colorado, so settlement was sparse. Badito claimed many of these citizens as residents. By 1867, the Little Orphan had the county’s earliest public school. There was also a flour mill, a “hotel”, trading post, the post office, a livery, blacksmith and other amenities. There was no doubt a saloon or other outlet for the sale alcohol as well. On the other hand, Father Luis Merles of St. Mary Parish made monthly visits to celebrate mass and perform weddings or christenings. In 1862 and ’63, area residents Rufino Wilkins and Antonio Sotelo Pino also received licenses to sell groceries, so a square meal was guaranteed in this community. Possibly the most notable of the merchants was F.W. Poshhoff, who allegedly opened a trading post near the ford as early as the 1850s. He met with such success he went on to found as many as six stores in the San Luis Valley and is considered the first “chain” store owner in southern Colorado. Another interesting character of Badito was one Bonageres R. Boice or Boyce. That he dominated the scene is seen by the use of the name Boyce’s in place of Badito in early records. He was generally called Bo, and occasionally his name is seen as Bo Boise. Bo was referred to as an “agent” to Cerán St. Vrain, who retained much of the acreage on his vast Mexican Land Grant which encompassed Huerfano and parts of Pueblo and Las Animas counties. Bo also had a cabin on St. Vrain’s land near the Huerfano Butte. One wonders if it were not Bo Boise whose name was, as usual in southeastern Colorado, corrupted to Beaubois, and therefore could be the owner of the mysterious Beaubois Fort. The only person known to occupy the “fort” in early days was Felix St. Vrain, wayward son of Cerán. Be that as it may, Bo was elected county commissioner in 1863, and his home, called St. Vrain’s ranch, was the polling place. In 1864, a company known as the Sangre de Cristo Waggon Road Company applied for a charter to operate a toll road in the county. The road was to run from about three miles south of Hicklin’s ranch on Greenhorn Creek and would utilize the old military road along the base of the mountains. Once it reached a point “two miles above the Pueblo to Fort Garland road” where it crossed the Huerfano, it would diverge along the “most practicable” route to the Taos Trail. Whether this was ever completed is not recorded, but in 1866 another group proposed to extend said “waggon” road north all the way to the Smoky Hill River. The estimated population of Badito in 1865 had risen to about 300. The town now boasted a literary society as well as an orchestra. The accommodations were obviously not worth writing home about by those visiting the county seat. Bishop Talbott wrote in his diary that “the bedbugs were terrible here”. Old Bo must have moved on, because his home was replaced by the store of “Seabring and More at the Badita” as a polling place. A.F. Seabring, in fact, also replaced Bo as county commissioner. In the 1870s, the community was served by the Barlow and Sanderson stage line over Sangre de Cristo Pass. To get there from Walsenburg, one went to old Cucharas east of town, paid $3.00 to board, then headed west to Badito. An adobe building was constructed in Badito for the county officials and their records, and it was said to be a “first-rate” structure when completed in 1872. Still, county clerk John H. Brown refused to use it and conducted his own official business from his home at Huerfano Butte. As early as 1870, some agitation was begun (by merchants of Walsenburg) to move the county seat from its “isolated point in the county” where officials could not live, or so it was claimed. Perhaps they were run off by those bedbugs. On September 10, 1872, a special election was finally held to learn the voters’ choice – Badito or Walsenburg? The last county commissioners’ meeting was held in Badito July 6, 1872, and the first in Walsenburg October 7. The loss of the county offices and courthouse, along with the removal of movers and shakers like Bo Boice and Poshhoff, spelled the end for Badito. One sign of the past there, however, then and now, was the number of small family cemeteries on the hilltops overlooking the river. By 1880, the population was said to be 90, and that may be generous. It was described as being as “a small place occupied principally by stockraisers and a few agriculturists”. On November 15, 1910, the Badito post office closed its doors. It had been stated to have had the same postmaster – S.D.P. Baxter – for 50 years. The community stayed on the map for a number of years, even in 1940, when the population was 12. Today it is 0.