by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — It was exactly 130 years ago today, Dec. 19, the first issue of the Huerfano Cactus was published. The paper went through several metamorphoses before merging with the younger Walsenburg World and eventually become part of the Huerfano World Journal family.
Its first change was to become the Walsenburg Cactus in 1889. It seems rather coincidental that the first issue was published just 11 days after J.B. King announced in the Nov. 8, 1883 issue of his Huerfano Herald, “With this issue the Herald ceasespublication in La Veta. The press and material will be moved to Walsenburg where the paper will be continued in the future.” He added that the office would be in Mazzone Hall, and placed an ad reading, “We would like to contract for a half dozen teams to haul the Herald to its new home in Walsenburg.” So it is entirely possible the Huerfano Cactus was the new name for the old Huerfano Herald, which was first published on Nov. 4, 1880. Then again, who knows?
Reminiscing about the Cactus 30 years later, in 1913, it was recalled one Grant Pugh (or Depew) was owner and editor. What became of Pugh is unknown (maybe he moved to Pue-town?), but by 1885 Dr. Thomas Francis Martin had replaced him as owner. Dr. T.F. Martin was a frontier entrepreneur. He arrived in Walsenburg in 1881 and bought a drugstore. He had recently graduated from medical school so was practicing in the city; he was also official surgeon for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. In August he married one Louie Sugar Livingston, a teacher and amateur photographer. Shortly after his marriage, Dr. Martin was named Walsenburg postmaster. Louie became his assistant. The post office moved into his drugstore and medical office. About 1884 he bought a piece of property west of Walsenburg called, at the time, Lake Meriam. This became Lake Miriam, then Martin Lake, and we know it as a part of Lathrop State Park. He served on Town Board and was elected chairman, which is like being mayor, built a canal from his lake to the town in order to furnish water service, and was hired by Walsen camp miners as their physician of choice (at $1,200 per annum). Martin turned his vacant land around the lake into Twin Lakes subdivision (also called Tourist City), built a large hotel and a rustic resort.
While he was owner of Cactus, it reported Martin had planted 500 apple trees and 300 grape vines and small trees at his resort. The good doctor then added yet another job to his resume – he became a real estate agent, selling his own land in the Twin Lakes Addition, which had its own water system in the days when Walsenburg had none, as well and buying and selling real estate in the town.
The resort and subdivision endeavor must not have been a total success, for next, we hear he has moved the hotel into town, where it was placed on Main Street between the railroad tracks. It was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1905.
Ever busy, about 1888 Martin bought or started the Huerfano County Bank, for which he acted as cashier.
He was elected mayor in 1889 and in such capacity he tried to shut down all gambling.
In 1889 Mayor Dr. Martin became one of the seven men who started the Walsenburg Electric Light and Power Company.
Then he developed some “coking coal mines” about 12 miles south of town.
He also had the Huerfano Water Company which secured a contract to furnish water for Walsenburg for 25 years.
The family disappeared from town around 1892. He probably moved someplace where he could rest.
Meanwhile, he’d hired several editors to take care of the Cactus. One of these was the controversial Major C.B. Bowman, miner, veteran, teacher. The paper was sold in the mid-1890s to George B. Wick, another restless soul. Bowman stayed on board as part-time editor. Wick caught some flak from the World in 1893 with the comment he “deserves the very best wife he can get for his hearty advocacy of Equal Suffrage.” Instead of throwing himself into various enterprises like Dr. Martin, G.B. stuck with newspapers, purchasing an interest in the Trinidad Daily Advertiser in 1897. He left Mark Danford, (Mark is famous for being the man shot by a jealous woman on his wedding day. It was his second or third marriage, however) in charge of the Cactus. Wick sold the papers before he caught “Nome fever” and headed for the gold fields in Alaska in 1900.
Upon his return the next year he was associated with newspapers in the San Luis Valley before he moved to Las Animas and edited the Bent County Democrat for 30 years.
The Brice brothers of La Veta bought the paper from Wick in 1898. One of the brothers promptly died, and the other hired, then sold to William Butler of La Veta in late 1899. Butler did business as Huerfano Printing Company. But, by 1902 he was in Farmington, NM, running another publication. Butler is credited with changing the name to the Yucca in October 1899, but it was still called the Cactus as well.
In 1901 James R. Killian was editor, Harvey Shroades, writer, and William Horton was in charge of production. Killian was a practicing lawyer, and besides being editor, he was appointed county attorney and served as the Worshipful Master of Huerfano Masonic Lodge No. 27. After he left Walsenburg, he was the Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge in Denver in 1903, and in 1916 he was the chief clerk of the Colorado Supreme Court.
With the departure of Killian, the paper was termed as “ailing” by the World, and went through several more editors trying to revive it. One of these editors was Victor Jackson, who purchased the Yucca with his father Rev. W.J. Jackson of Pueblo in July 1902. Jackson the younger was a staunch Democratic not shy about sharing his opinions, which put him in the sights of the ultra-Republican World. Somehow the two papers, and their editors, co-existed for more than two years before W.C. Hunt, owner/editor of the World, bought out Jackson and consolidated the two papers in October 1904. To his credit, Hunt hired Jackson to manage the Walsenburg World.
Evidently, Victor got his fill of Republicans and their politics because in December 1908, he sold his ranch to Hunt, his home on Capitol Hill to Attorney Charles Hayden, and moved to Seattle.
There are very few copies of the Cactus or Yucca still around. In 1889 the paper had been housed in the “new Jellison building” on upper Main Street, but moved around 1900 to Sixth and Main streets. In September 1903 a fire started in the back of the office and burned its way through four more businesses and one home before it was extinguished. Victor Jackson lost everything except for his desk. His records, equipment and, most importantly, all the old issues, were lost. The fire was estimated to have caused $1,500 worth of damages, though he had $1,000 in insurance to recoup some of his loss.
Our loss, however, is greater, because 20 years worth of newspapers went up in smoke.