by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — The Rev. Asbury Hull Quillian and his family came to Huerfano County in 1870 with Green Russell as a part of what we know as the Georgia Colony. Far from being a static “colony”, these Georgians made their way west over the course of several decades after the Civil War to make new lives for themselves on the advice of Russell and his fellow gold miners of 1858-59. Some of these miners had learned the necessary skills from their fathers who had participated in America’s first gold rush, that of 1828 in Georgia, and then had joined the rush to the California gold fields in 1848 before heading to the Rockies as the vanguard of the 1859 gold rush.
A.H., according to his daughter Emma, had gone to California in 1851. He had taken a ship to Panama, walked across the isthmus, boarded another ship and ended up in San Francisco. He stayed three years. Upon returning to Georgia he became a merchant, but then got his calling and was ordained as a Methodist minister, as his father had been before him, in Memphis, TN. His assignment from the church was to be a missionary in the Territory of Colorado.
A.H. was born in 1830. He does not seem to have served in the Civil War. His brother, Robert A., did, and was badly injured. There also was a sister, Sarah. These siblings, along with A.H.’s five children, joined a wagon train of immigrants in the spring of 1870 to follow Green Russell to Huerfano County. They left their homes May 1.
A.H.’s children were Alice, Thomas James, Estella, Ida, and Frances “Fannie.” A.H. had married Agnes Lilly in Georgia in 1858.
Tom Quillian was eight years old during this journey west. He recalled the travelers passing through Arkansas into Indian Territory and the lush and wildlife-packed prairies there, of crossing Kansas and following the old Santa Fe Trail into Colorado. They forded the Arkansas River at the site of Rocky Ford in September.
In October – after nearly six months on the journey – they reached Apache Creek where it empties into the Huerfano River, and this proved to be their destination. Green Russell had decided to settle at that very spot, and suggested the Quillians go on to the home of John W. Brown near the Huerfano Butte. There A.H. found work for one dollar a day, and his wife began teaching school.
After spending the winter in Butte Valley, the family evidently moved closer to Pueblo. The reverend had been called to preach at Beulah (then Mace’s Hole), Pueblo, Rye, and Butte Valley.
About 1873 A.H. was busy as a circuit rider, delivering sermons at camp meetings, marrying and burying people. He was then assigned to Gardner, where many of his fellow Georgians were settling. He still had his pastorate in Rye, however, so covered a lot of miles each week.
The place the Quillians settled was on Williams Creek north of Gardner, near the site of the later Birmingham. His church was an old adobe building on the Josh Hudson ranch and soon a schoolhouse was sharing quarters.
After the Quillians arrived in Colorado, five more children were born – Hattie, Elizabeth, Emma, Annie and Mary. Four of the daughters never married, three becoming teachers and one, a nurse.
Robert A. Quillian had meanwhile put up his shingle as an attorney in Walsenburg. He was a member of the constitutional convention when Colorado became a state in 1876. On Thanksgiving Day, 1875, he married Isabelle “Bell” Campbell, a native of Canada who had come to Walsenburg with her brother, Alex, a carpenter, undertaker and later postmaster. R.A. and Bell had four children, George C., Robert W. “Robbie”, Mabel and Helen. R.A. had been partially paralyzed in the Civil War and died in 1892 at the age of 50. His wife died in 1899, aged 45. The son George had a stable, feed store and wholesale flour business on West 6th Street. The family’s home was on Main Street, situated between the railroad tracks on the east side at the corner of Kansas Avenue. The tracks were later relocated to be side by side. George sold the business to L.B. Sporleder in 1904, but the family evidently retained their home at the same site for several more years. In 1906 they sold the property to the Town of Walsenburg for a public park and the buildings were razed.
A.H. expanded his horizons far beyond his pulpit. He served on the Gardner school board, and was elected county school superintendent in 1880 and 1882. In 1884 he was replaced by his brother R.A. as superintendent, and in 1898, his daughter Fannie was elected.
Rev. Quillian in 1885 took over as editor of Dr. T.F. Martin’s Huerfano Cactus.
Tom, the only son of A.H., ran a sawmill in Poison Canyon and raised horses. He married a woman named Frances “Frankie” about 1902, who had come to Walsenburg in 1901 as a telegraph operator. They had no children.
Tom is credited with helping to build the present Gardner Methodist Church in 1901. He had vivid memories of the family’s long trip from Georgia to Colorado, and claimed he’d walked at least halfway. Tom died in 1923 and his wife in 1936.
Perhaps from his marathon horseback riding in all kinds of weather, A.H. retired from preaching in 1889. He and his wife and several of the spinster daughters moved to Fort Worth, TX and he died there in 1899. Agnes died in 1915. Emma, one of the teaching daughters, remained in Huerfano County until 1904 when she quit her job at Walsen School and moved to Idaho. The extended Quillian family’s legacy in Huerfano County is not only their influence on education (with teachers spanning three generations) and religion, but on their progeny. The Quillians who married affiliated with the Hudsons, the Alexanders and the Willburns, families that left a lasting impression on Gardner and La Veta in livestock, government, farming and business ventures from banking to publishing. Some of their descendents remain in Huerfano County.