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Our Stories

The Dust Bowl Era - Dirty 30s

Baca County, Colorado was one of the areas hardest hit by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. While the Dust Bowl days may be long gone, remnants of that epic time in American history survive today in the beautiful stone structures, the vast grasslands, and in the memories of those amazing people that never gave up on their land and still call Baca County home. "During the Dirty 30s as we called it, we used to cut thistles and put up for cow feed because you couldn’t raise any feed for them. And my dad and I used to go up to the creek and cut silk weeds and get the good part out of it and the cows liked it, just like it was cake. They really did eat it good. But that was a lot of work, getting enough to feed very many," James Gourley. In October and November of 2009, three interviews were conducted of people who lived through the Dust Bowl in Baca County. Click here to read the full interview with James Gourley, read the Mary May Gourley Interview, the Mildred Stolebarger Interview, or click here to watch the podcast that was created out of the three interviews.

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Little Coyote - Commanche Cheif

"There are two images you could find with Charles “Charlie” Little Coyote. The first is the one of an Indian man in full ceremonial regalia with feathered bonnet, beads around his neck, fringed buckskins and moccasins and holding sacred eagle feathers as a scepter of office. A figure head to his people and to visitors at Medicine Lodge, Kansas during their triennial celebration of the 1867 treaty. The second image is that of a humble, smiling man, soft-spoken, with a face of years, experiences and service, donning a baseball cap that silently proclaims his service as a man, as a Native American Veteran of the Marines or of the United States Navy. Chief Charles Little Coyote of the Cheyenne chiefs’ Council of Forty-Four, U. S. Navy veteran of World War II and Marine Corps veteran of Korea, horse breaker, wild west show rider and pitcher, has served as a chief for about fourteen years" (Jeff C. Campbell). In April of 2008, Chief Little Coyote met with Jeff Campbell and spoke about his life experiences, becoming a chief, and the Cheyenne future.

Little Coyote's Obituary

Little Coyote's Full Interview (pdf)

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History of our area

We Are Built on Our History

“The Arkansas River valley, and much of southeastern Colorado, is an historical frontier in both the American and European sense. In the American lexicon a frontier represents an unsettled or sparsely settled zone, or the edge of “civilization.” On the other hand, Europeans view frontiers as boundaries or borders between nations, provinces or ethnic groups. Historically, in southeastern Colorado the way people viewed their frontiers varied according to their cultural perspective. Hispanic settlers moved into the area from New Mexico as part of their slow, measured northern expansion of settlement. Anglo Americans, pursuing different goals, crossed the area, built outposts and then, by the late nineteenth century, came to the area in large numbers. When the two civilizations met, both conflict and cooperation resulted. Hispanics, Anglo Americans and Native Americans coexisted with each other and the local natural environment. The region became something of a microcosm of the American experience."

Richard F. Carrillo, Historical Archaeologist and Principal, had been conducting historic preservation consulting as an independent contractor since 1987 in Colorado. The above is an excerpt from his piece, An In-Depth Review of Southeastern Colorado History (2008). To read the full article, please click below.

An In-Depth Review of Southeastern Colorado History (pdf)

Santa Fe Trail

Independence, Missouri, was the westernmost American river-port town in the 1820s. The nearest large settlement in Mexican territory was Santa Fe. In between lay 800 miles of prairie and desert country. Following Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Santa Fe trail blossomed as commerce route that supported a multimillion dollar trade business within a decade. Bent’s Fort provided the only significant stopping point between Independence and Santa Fe and dominated the growing trade empire. Its success rested largely on the strong relations that the Fort’s founders fostered with the Native American and Hispano cultures in the area. The Fort was the launching point for the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846, which extended U.S. territory to the California coast. The emerging settlement of Boggsville became the next important stopping point along the trail as use of the trail began to evolve. Boggsville was a tight-knit community with twenty structures and a mix of Anglo, Hispano, and Native American residents. An Ellis Island of the West, it was a place people came to and dispersed from, a refuge of cultural tolerance during times of increasingly tensions between Native Americans and new arrivals. Boggsville’s importance waned when the railroad bypassed it in 1873. With the railroad’s arrival in Santa in 1880, travel along the Santa Fe Trail all but ended.

Koshare Indian Museum

Inspiration for the Koshare Indian Museum came from a local Boy Scout following a visit to the Great Kiva at Aztec, New Mexico. The museum was named after the troop—the Koshares—and quickly evolved into one of Colorado’s great repositories of southwest art and Native American artifacts. The antiquities collection contains various wares from local tribes; pottery collections from the great prehistoric cultures of the desert Southwest—the Ancient Pueblo, Hohokam, and Mogollon; and textiles that include rare coastal Alute basketry, Navajo rugs from the Roe Emery and Jean Lindsley collections, and beadwork from various plains tribes. Also on display are the works of famous Pueblo potters Margaret Tafoya of Santa Clara Pueblo, Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, and Hopi potter, Nampeyo. The works of Tesuque wood carver, Andy Anderson, and renowned Taos painter, Joseph Imhof, can be seen here, as can works by western legends Frederick Remington and Thomas Mails. One of the most prominent collections is that of sculptor and painter, Ernesto Zepeda; the museum houses the largest collection of Zepeda works to be found anywhere in the world.

Visit the     Preserve America Website     with a description of our six Preserve America designated communities, or read through the following county histories which were delivered at the Preserve America Community designation ceremony on April 28, 2007 in Eads.

Baca County History

Baca County (population 4,121) was created by the Colorado legislature on April 16, 1889, out of the eastern portions of Las Animas County. Home of Native American Nations of the Plains, Baca County has been mainly an agricultural area since its settlement by Europeans. The main industries in Baca County remain farming and cattle production, along with some small-scale hog and feedlot producers. The Depression and the Dust Bowl both had a devastating impact on this area. In response, Congress passed Public Law 46 in 1935, declaring soil and water conservation and wise land use a national policy. In an effort to stabilize the land, the federal government purchased large tracts that would become the Comanche National Grasslands, a landscape full of wildlife and historic resources that today forms the basis of Baca County’s ecological and heritage tourism.

Today, Baca County celebrates several interesting archaeological sites through events such as the Spring and Fall Equinox Festivals in Springfield. The festivals are promoted by the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and other sponsors. Since 2005, with the advent of the Southeast Colorado Birding Trail, the county has reinvigorated its efforts to expand the program and increase participation in the festivals.

With support from the State Historical Fund and Colorado Preservation, Inc. Baca County has recently begun an assessment of historic properties throughout the county and completed an inventrory of 64 New Deal-era resources in 2005. Dedicated local volunteers also mobilized to raise matching funds for a Colorado Historical Society grant to repair the roof of the county courthouse.

The county has partnered with five neighboring counties to form the Arkansas Valley Area Marketing Coalition, now known as the Southeast Colorado Regional Tourism Group, in order to develop as a regional heritage tourism destination. The Southeastern Plains have many historic assets telling the story of the evolution and development of America’s southwest. The Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway passe through the county and ties together many of these sites.

Bent County History

Bent County (population 6,000) was formed in 1870, and Las Animas was platted in 1873, becoming the center of business and the county seat by 1875. Beginning in Boggsville in 1866, farming and ranching enterprises have been the largest sources of employment. Today half of the county population lives in Las Animas.

Bent County Commissioners adopted a historic preservation ordinance, granting the Las Animas Urban Renewal Authority power to designate properties within the downtown area. Together with the Pioneer Historical Society of Bent County, two proposed historic districts have been surveyed, including the downtown and courthouse areas of Las Animas.

With substantial support from the State Historical Fund, the society is also spearheading the rehabilitation of the 1898 Odd Fellows Lodge, a central landmark in the business district, to become the John W. Rawling Museum. When completed in 2009, it will house artifacts from the Kit Carson Museum, educate the public about local history, and serve as an art gallery and event venue.

Las Animas High School sponsors the annual Santa Fe Trail Day, the longest running student sponsored event in the state.

Bent County supports the historical society, which actively promotes restoration activities and educational programs at the Boggsville Historic Site, by providing designated funding generated by sales and use taxes. Since 1985, the Boggsville Historic Site has seen extensive archaeological investigations and restoration of the 1865 Boggs House and the 1866 Prowers House. Supervised field excavations and field schools take place each summer.

The year 2006 marked the 100th anniversary of Zebulon Pike’s expedition to Colorado and was observed through several events. Using the annicersary as a marketing tool, Boggsville was able to win selection as a “site of the week” on the Denver NBC television affiliate as part of the “Explore Colorado” series. Increased interest in the heritage of Bent County is bringing new people from around the region and the country to enjoy a look into the past.

Crowley County History

Crowley County (population 5,500) is located in the high plains of southeastern Colorado. Before 1876, the prairie that is now Crowley County was used for winter encampments by Cheyenne tribes. When the state of Colorado was accepted into the Union in 1876, the entire area was known as Bent County. The western section later became Otero County, and Crowley County was formed in 1911 from the northern part of Otero County, when local residents grew tired of the two-day commute to its county seat, La Junta. Ordway now serves as the Crowley County seat.

Crowley’s residents are employed as ranchers, farmers, in government, education, and the correctional industry. A prominent local resource is the 1918 Crowley County High School, the second oldest school building in the state still in use. The 1914 Crowley grade school, the only county building listed on both the national and state historic registers, has been restored with the help of state grants and the Crowley County Heritage Society. It is now the home of the Crowley Heritage Center and Museum. The building also serves as the town hall, municipal court, and as a community center.

The annual “History in our Country” program focuses on themes such as towns within the county, farming, ranching, county schools, and ethnicity. Each year this program includes a temporary exhibit that remains open to the public throughout the summer season.

The county is also exploring the heritage tourism potential of a 1953 Imperial Pullman railroad sleeper car. Located on a side rail for many years, it was acquired by the county in 2006 through a partnership with V&S Railway, Inc. The county commissioners and chamber of commerce are studying the feasibility and costs of restoration, interpretation, and possible use as a bed and breakfast.

Kiowa County History

Kiowa County (population 1,585) was created in 1889 and named for the Kiowa Indians who lived in the region before Europeans arrived. Throughout the 20th century Kiowa County grew in population and reached its peak population in the 1950s when there were a number of large schools, large towns, and plenty of commerce moving along the train lines and highways of the county. The closure of the locally-owned bank in 1983 began a decline, which continues today.

But in 2000, the county purchased the historic Nipps-Bransgrove Building in Eads’ central business district. Following a rehabilitation funded by state and local partners, the building once again contributes to the economic vitality of the area. Occupancy on Maine Street has increased, as have business and employment opportunities and services, with the building now home of a day care center, the county department of social services, and the county economic development foundation. The success of this project has served as a model and led to strong interest in taking on other preservation efforts in the area.

Kiowa County adopted a historic preservation ordinance and established a county historic preservation commission in March 2005. Since then, Kiowa County has qualified as a Certified Local Government and has listed seven properties as local historic landmarks.

Currently a large, recently-formed non-profit group is trying to save three historical buildings on Maine Street to create the Crow-Luther Cultural Events Center. Across the street there are plans to develop an interpretive center and a base for tours for the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

Many creative projects connect youth with local history. Eads High School offers an elective in community development, increasing awareness of heritage resources and local planning issues.

The community has been awarded a grant form the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trail, and Conservation Assistance Program to develop recreational trails along various heritage and historic resources to promote community and public appreciation of these treasures. This linkage of cultural and natural resources should also help draw visitors to the area and benefit the local economy.

Otero County History

Otero County (population 21,000), established in 1889, has a rich historic heritage. Eighteenth century French trappers, Spanish missionaries, early Mexican homesteaders, Southeastern Plains tribes, Mountain Branch traders, those on the Santa Fe Trail, and the military have all contributed t0 the local story.

Agriculture and railroad-related industries dominated the economy. An Army Air Force pilot training base helped sustain the economy during World War II. More recently, renewable energy bio-diesel companies and other manufacturers have been recruited, and tourism related to natural and cultural assets has become a major economic focus.

Otero County has 11 properties on the National Register of Historic Places and nine on the state register. In addition, the Comanche National Grassland, recently named one of Colorado’s most endangered places, has at least 540 sites eligible for listing.

The historic 1935 Grand Theater in Rocky Ford is being restored through funding from the Colorado State Historical Fund, matched by the Grand Friends, a non-profit civic association. Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site attracted 28,000 visitors in 2005, contributing over $2 million to the local economy.

The National Park Service has partnered with Otero Junior College, the non-profit community theater, students, and community members to produce “Voices Under the Wind,” using dramatized primary sources to interpret local history.

Other interesting local heritage tourism programs include a Santa Fe Trail Caravan re-creation which took a freight wagon and oxen out on the Trail, and an Explorer’s Encampment featuring re-created camps of Pike, Long, and Fremont, attracting over 1,000 visitors. The local Koshare Indian Museum features a world-renowned collection of Plains and Southwest art and artifacts. It trains a youth dance group which performs in its “kiva” and on tour to large audiences. Other museums with archives and interpretive programs include the Otero County Museum, the Rocky Ford Museum, and the Fowler Historical Society and Museum.

Prowers County History

During the last four centuries, the land that now makes up Prowers County (population 13,974) has been claimed twice each by France and Spain, once each by Mexico and Texas, was part of the United States Territory, and has been part of the state of Colorado since 1876. The Kiowa, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Arapahoe Plains Indian tribes migrated through the area, and many wintered along the Arkansas River.

Prowers County was formed in 1889 and named after the first rancher in the area, John Wesley Prowers. His wife was a Cheyenne princess, Amache Ochinee, after whom a World War II era Japanese internment camp was later named.

Prowers County is home to the Big Timbers Museum, with a collection of artifacts from early settlement days and the Dust Bowl era. It features a collection of artifacts from early settlement days and the Dust Bowl era. It features a collection of extremely rare World War II posters and items relating to the Fleagle Gang bank robbery in 1928, a case notable for resulting in the first conviction solely based on a fingerprint of one of the accused.

The county has recently focused its citizen volunteer efforts on Camp Amache, the Granada Relocation Center that was one of 10 relocation camps authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, Colorado’s newest National Historic Landmark. The Amache Preservation Society, comprised of students at Granada High School who are enrolled in a special class that focuses on the preservation and interpretation of the site, maintain the cemetery grounds, provide guided tours, give presentations to other groups, work on restoration, and volunteer in the museum.

The camp is open to the public, and visitation has increased between 5 and 10 percent annually, with the largest boost coming in 2006 with the National Historic Landmark designation.

Prowers County has also surveyed its numerous New Deal-era historic resources including Pike’s Tower in Lamar, and a vintage locomotive adjacent to the Colorado Welcome Center in Lamar is another local attraction.

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More Stories

Comanche National Grasslands

Bent's New Fort

On Storied Ground

Historic Theatres

Camp Amache


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