|The first European settlers in the Trinidad area came from Mora, New Mexico in the early 1860’s. Several of the families that traveled north with Felipe and Dolores Baca in 1862 made their way up the Purgatoire River and homesteaded different plazas along the way.Richard Russell and his wife Marion settled in the Stonewall Valley about 1865 while Uncle Dick Wootton began his toll road over Raton Pass shortly thereafter.Tom Tobin made a name for himself by killing a couple of Mexican serial killers just over La Veta Pass and delivering their heads to the commander at Fort Garland. The government only ever did pay him half the reward they promised.
There’s even stories of Jesse James having his horse shod by John Goemmer in La Veta in those days. La Veta was first settled in 1862 by John Francisco and Henry Daigle, on land they bought from the Vigil-St. Vrain Land Grant. Francisco is reported to have said, “This is paradise enough for me,” on his arrival in the Valley.
Walsenburg was first settled as La Plaza de los Leones on the north side of the Cuchara River by Don Miguel Antonio Leon and a family named Atencio. Fred Walsen settled nearby and opened up his large mercantile in1870. After Fred assisted in the incorporation of the town’s 320-acre site it was suggested that he be honored. The US Post office agreed and the town became Walsenburg.
Las Animas County was known as a wilder-than-normal place for many years. On the occasion of statehood in 1876 the Governor was speaking in Denver, saying: “Colorado has become very civilized, except for that area around Trinidad.”
After Bob Ford shot his cousin Jesse James in the back and killed him for the reward, he came through the area. Bob was run out of Trinidad on general principles but he lived with his wife in Walsenburg for several years before moving on to South Fork and Creede (where he was killed by the Sheriff, grandson of a woman Bob had tortured and robbed back in Missouri).
The early 1870’s brought the discovery of coal in the area. People began coming in from all over the world but the population didn’t peak until the coal camps really came into their own in the early 1900’s. Between 1876 and 1878 over 50 gold mines were staked out in the Spanish Peaks area with more around Silver Mountain, but the veins played out quickly and the hard rock miners moved on.
1882 saw Bat Masterson as Marshall in Trinidad. When the Earps and Doc Holliday left Tombstone after the Gunfight at the OK Corral, they headed straight for Trinidad.
When Madame Lilly left her brothel business in Trinidad for the last time (early 1920’s), she moved to a log cabin in the spruce above Cuchara Pass. She was tired of all the hassle and felt she might at least get some privacy there most of the year.