The History of Bent County

by Charles W. Bowman

Chapter VIII

New Towns and Railroads

   After the establishment of the present Fort Lyon, a town was soon begun on the opposite side of the Arkansas, three-fourths of a mile distant. In February, 1869, Capt. William Craig, previously Post Quartermaster at Fort Union, had the site surveyed and platted, and named it Las Animas City. Craig had large possessions of lands under the title derived from Vigil and St. Vrain, and it was under this title that he laid claim to the site of Las Animas City. By the next winter, the place had a store, by Richard Simpson; a livery stable, by J.B. Smith; a hotel, by John Coplin; a restaurant, by H.S. Gilman; and saloons, by Bob Brown, Tim Ballou, O.M. Mason and Charley Rawles. A toll bridge was built across the Arkansas during the summer, connecting the town with the Fort. R.M. McMurray, from Cheyenne, and A.E. Reynolds & Co., from Fort Lyon, opened stocks of goods in 1870. From this time forward for four years, the town continued to grow and prosper, enjoying a large and valuable trade.
   An immense freighting business between the termini of the railroads and New Mexico was carried on from 1867 forward. Wagons were constantly in sight during the summer. The entire bottom around West Las Animas was at times covered with camping trains.
   In 1873, a printing press was taken to Las Animas City, by C.W. Bowman, and on May 23 the first number of the Las Animas Leader issued. The paper met with a generous reception, and has since come to be regarded as one of the permanent institutions of the county.
   Upon the organization of Bent County by legislative enactment in February, 1870, Las Animas was designated as the county seat. The territory had previously been included in Las Animas and Pueblo Counties. The establishment was due in considerable measure to the efforts of Capt. Craig. At the first general election, however, the county seat was removed to Boggsville.

The Town of Kit Carson

   Field & Hill put up a small building on the site of Kit Carson late in the fall of 1869, and opened a store there. They came with the grading outfits of the Kansas Pacific Railway, which were scattered along the line in camp that winter. Joe Perry built a hotel that winter, and William Connor followed with another in the spring. During the winter, also, James Dagner started a wholesale liquor house, Frank Fageley, of Denver, a livery stable and Luke Whitney a dance hall. The Kansas Pacific track reached the spot on the 4th day of April, 1870, and within ten days thereafter Carson had a population of 1,500. Immediately upon the arrival of the railroad, large commission houses were established by the firms of Otero, Sellar & Co., W.H. Chick & Co., and Webster, Music & Cuniffe. A stage line to Denver was established by the Kansas Stage Company; another to Pueblo via Antelope Springs, of which Sam Carpenter was a proprietor; and the Barlow & Sanderson line to Santa Fé moved up from Sheridan and connected at Carson. Among the more prominent business men of Carson, not already mentioned were Marcus Bidell, merchant; Abram Rhoads, railroad beef contractor and builder; John H. Jay, blacksmith and repairer; H.R. Johnson, merchant; J.A. Soward, Postmaster; Buttles & Logan and Pat Shanley, grading contractors.
   Kit Carson and the grading camps to the west were raided by the Indians June 24, 1870, and fourteen men killed. Two Mexican herders were killed within half a mile of the town. The Indians drove two teams out of Billy Patterson's grading camp at Wild Horse, with the scraper attached. A man name Aleck Irwin was run down and received three spear wounds in the head, but still succeeded in knocking his pursuer from his horse with the butt of his whip and making his escape.
   Greenwood County was erected in February, 1870, by legislative act, the same bill which established Bent County. It was named in honor of Col. Greenwood, engineer in charge of the construction of the Kansas Pacific Railway. Kit Carson was designated as county seat, and remained as such till the abolishment of the county in February, 1874, when the town with a large portion of the territory was included in Bent County. The first Commissioners of Greenwood County were John F. Buttles, John J. Bush and A.C. Clements.

West Las Animas

   In 1873, the Kansas Pacific Company built a branch road from Kit Carson to the south side of the Arkansas, reaching the site of West Las Animas October 18. The town was platted and lots offered for sale by the West Las Animas Company, consisting of Robert E. Carr, of the Kansas Pacific, and D.H. Moffatt, Jr., of Denver. There was at the same time a popular distrust about titles, inasmuch as the land on which the town was laid out, as well as a large body adjacent had been fraudulently pre-empted, and patents issued therefor in the names of person entirely unknown in the county, while actual settlers on the same tracts were ignored by the land department. The first actual settler on the town site was George A. Brown, who took it up as a pre-emption, before it was known that a town would be located there. Among the first builders in the town were Hunt, a saloon keeper; William Connor, who moved the American House over from Carson; Hughes Brothers, lumber dealers; Shoemaker & Earheart, merchants. Commission houses were very shortly established by Kihlberg & Bartels Bros., and Prowers & Hough.


   In the meantime the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé was extended twelve miles westward from the State line to the site of Granada, where it arrived July 4, 1873. A town had already been laid out there by the commission firm of Chick, Browne & Co. Upon the completion of the road, the two prominent commission firms of Chick, Browne & Co., and Otero, Sellar & Co., moved from Kit Carson to Granada, transferring at the same time their influence and business to the new road instead of the Kansas Pacific. This fact and the extension of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé no doubt prompted the building of the Carson branch by the Kansas Pacific.
   Within two weeks from the time the cars reached Granada the place had three restaurants, a hotel and about a dozen other business places. The hotel was by Mr. Winram; a complete hardware store by Mitchell & Smith.

La Junta

   In the fall of 1873, Granada and West Las Animas became competing points for the New Mexico trade, or rather freight business, and this relation continued until the extension of the competing railroads to La Junta, in December, 1875. During that winter a lively commission business was done at La Junta by both roads. On the 26th of February, 1876, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé road reached Pueblo, from which point the extension of the Denver & Rio Grande road to El Moro was then well under way. The completion of the Denver & Rio Grande to that point, April 15, finally removed the southern commission business from Bent County. La Junta, enjoying this trade, had a population of from 300 to 500, and cast a vote in 1876, of 109. After the railroad extensions, it gradually declined, and within a year its buildings had been mostly moved away. In June, 1878, the Kansas Pacific track was taken up from La Junta to Kit Carson, and about the same time the Santa Fé began its extension southward from La Junta. This gave the point a new interest, and since that date it has regained somewhat of its original importance. The railroad company has erected a handsome two-story depot, an engine house, repair shops, and several cottages for employes, and the Superintendent of the Colorado division has his headquarters there. In the spring of 1881, La Junta became an incorporated town under the laws of Colorado, and elected a Mayor and Board of Trustees. To J.C. Denny, the station agent, belongs the honor of being the first Mayor of the place.

Rocky Ford

   About the time Las Animas City was laid out in 1870, a village was begun at Rocky Ford, a point forty-five miles further up the river. A large store was opened by Russell & Swink, at which a post office was kept. The settlers were more numerous along the Arkansas in the next three or four years succeeding than at present, and Rocky Ford received a liberal ranch trade. Upon the completion of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé road to Pueblo, the post office was removed from the river to the railroad, where a town was laid out by Messrs. Denness & Swink, retaining the old name. Surrounding this point is a community engaged largely in farming, rendering it perhaps the most homelike neighborhood in the county.
   Other stations in the county of growing importance are Catlin, ten miles west of Rocky Ford; Caddoa, near Caddo Creek, and Prowers, about midway between Granada and West Las Animas.

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