by Charles W. Bowman
The first Commissioners
of Bent County were John W. Prowers, Philip Lander and Theodore Gaussion. They
met at Las Animas City March 12, 1870, and organized by electing J.W. Prowers
Chairman. They appointed the following persons as county officers: R.M. Moore,
County Superintendent of Common Schools; Moses R. Tate, Assessor; Harry Whigham,
Clerk; the Governor appointed Thomas O. Boggs, Sheriff; Mark B. Price,
Treasurer; R.M. Moore, Probate Judge.
The county was attached to Pueblo for judicial purposes till 1872, when one term of District Court a year was provided by the Legislature.
At the fall election, September 13, 1870, L.A. Allen was elected Sheriff; M.B. Price, Treasurer; R.M. Moore, Probate Judge and County Superintendent of Schools; M.R. Tate, Assessor; George Hunter, County Clerk; Charles M. Burr, Coroner. A vote was also taken on the county seat question, resulting in its removal to Boggsville. By vote taken again in 1872, the county seat was returned to Las Animas City, where it remained till October, 1875, when it was removed to West Las Animas.
The County of Greenwood having become so reduced in population by the year 1874 as to be unable to sustain a court or maintain its organization, it was by act, approved February 6, broken up. At the same time a new county was formed out of a portion of Greenwood and Douglas, to be known as Elbert. The remainder of Greenwood, or about half, was added to Bent County.
In March, 1875, a proposition to subscribe to $150,000 worth of stock of the Pueblo & Arkansas Valley Railroad was submitted to the voters of the county and carried by a large majority. The bonds of the county for this amount were accordingly issued, payable in thirty years, with interest at the rate of 8 per cent per annum. In the winter of 1879-80, the stock commanding a good price, it was by consent of the people sold, returning the sum of $86,000, which was at once applied in reducing the bonded indebtedness.
A private or subscription school was opened at Boggsville in the fall of 1869, by Miss Mattie Smith, and the next year a school district was organized with R.M. Moore as President, C.L. Rite as Secretary, and J.W. Prowers as Treasurer. The next teacher for two terms was Peter G. Scott, present Cashier Bent County Bank. Upon the accession of Moore as County Superintendent, new districts were formed at Las Animas and Nine Mile Bottom. Other districts were formed as the population justified till the number reached nine. At West Las Animas, a bonded indebtedness of $5,000 was assumed in 1876, for building a schoolhouse, and a neat two-story building completed the same year.
On the subject of church work there is but little to record. The scattered situation of the people has been unfavorable to the organization of churches as well as schools, but the establishment of permanent railroad stations and post office promises a better state of things in the near future. Ranchmen, as they find their families growing up, begin to cast about for educational and church privileges, and to this end many have moved to the railroad stations, thus rendering organization for social and religious purposes possible. As early as 1872-73, Rev. John Stocks, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, traveled and preached in the county, and from that time till the present there has been almost a continuous succession of itinerant preachers of that church in the county. In 1874-75, the Presbyterians, Methodist Episcopals, Baptists, Southern Methodists and Roman Catholics were represented at West Las Animas by ministers, and church buildings were erected by the last four named. Since then, however, the field has been abandoned by all except the Catholics and Presbyterians. Sunday schools and occasional preaching services have been held within the last year at Granada, Nine Mile, La Junta and Catlin, and one or more Sunday schools have been maintained continuously at West Las Animas from the beginning. As a whole the people are liberal toward the churches, though if we are to regard external evidences, the converts made in the last decade have been few. This may be attributed rather to the unsettled condition of the people than to the lack of ability or zeal on the part of the messengers of Christ.
The principal industries of Bent County at this writing are cattle, sheep and hay. The former two have heretofore taken precedence, but the latter within the last few years has steadily grown in importance. The hay meadows are being inclosed with fences, and machinery for cutting and bailing has been generally introduced. Farming is not carried on as extensively as in the early days. Many of the small farmers and stock-owners have sold out to the more wealthy, so that the business of the county, though aggregating vastly more in value, is probably in fewer hands than eight years ago. Considering, however, the unequaled facilities for irrigation, the fertility of the soil, and the growing demand of the adjacent mining regions, it is not improbable that the farming industry will grow. Already a number of cattle men have turned their attention to raising alfalfa as feed, and the success they have met warrants the belief that it will in the future be largely produced. Fruit-growing has also proved successful, and the same causes which shall encourage a return to farming will induce the cultivation of the grape, plum, currant, apple, cherry and strawberry.