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La Veta’s birthday conundrum

by Nancy Christofferson

LA VETA — The Transcript, August 16, 1876. The La Veta town company has filed its articles of incorporation with the secretary of the Territory. Capital stock is $50,000, and trustees are William J. Palmer, William A. Bell, H.A. Risley, Alexander Cameron Hunt, and E.P. Stephen. La Veta is already a lively place and boasts of some 30 or 40 houses and lots more building.

If these men sound very much familiar as the head honchos of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, there is a good reason. Palmer was the founder and president of the D&RG, Dr. Bell was his good friend, an Englishman who recruited European investors to the railroad’s construction. Risley was the attorney for the D&RG land department, and Hunt was the head of locating the railroad right of way and developing towns along it. The identity of Stephen, who was actually Ernest P. Stephenson, is a mystery.

So it was, from the very beginning 140 years ago, La Veta was a company town. D&RG officials predicted the town would be the terminus of the railroad for at least a year while the tracks were built over the pass and into the San Luis Valley. This would give speculators of all stripes ample time to settle in, make money, and plan their next moves. A population boom of track laying crews would provide that money. In later years, the company would have a roundhouse here as well as the section point where crews would be headquartered. And of course, all these folks would first have to buy property from the town company.

The incorporators had acquired the land from its owner, John M. Francisco, who had settled on it in 1862 by request of the then owner, Cerán St. Vrain, who was encouraging settlement on his huge Mexican land grant. Francisco had started a trading post which attracted settlers to the area. The immediate vicinity around the post was retained by Francisco, and when D&RG surveyors appeared interested in building to the site, Francisco, on July 31, gave over or sold the land to Robert B. Willis who in turn sold it to the town company on August 21, 1876. Meanwhile, on August 9, the town was platted.

A.C. Hunt, territorial governor from 1867 to 1869 but involved with Palmer and his railroad since 1870, was especially enthused about the prospects of Francisco’s land. Not only did he invest, he named the town (he is also credited with naming Alamosa and Durango). Formerly, since 1871, Francisco’s “Ranche,” as folks spelled it then, had been home to the Spanish Peaks post office. When the right of way was built into Spanish Peaks, Francisco’s commodious fortified plaza became home to the depot. No doubt knowing the depot would be relocated, Hunt bought himself property near what would become La Veta’s busiest intersection.

And no, Hunt did not leave us the information of why he named the town La Veta. There are many theories even yet.

The Spanish Peak post office closed Aug. 17, 1876, and the La Veta post office opened the same day.

Following the formation of the town company, the county commissioners ordered the incorporation of the Town of La Veta on Oct. 9, 1876. Voila, it was a town, and the first meeting of the appointed town board was that very evening.

Colorado had just become a state Aug. 1, 1876. From the list of incorporated towns in the state, La Veta was the first to become one after statehood.

But wait. That same list shows La Veta being incorporated June 16, 1886. What happened?

Well, it’s hard to say. Various machinations had occurred since Francisco and his partner Henry Daigre had received patents for their shared 1,720 acres of their original portion of the land grant. Federal lawsuits and other problems had arisen over ownership and scope of the grant, so Congress had stepped in and approved some of them in February 1874. One of these was Francisco’s ranch, until recently co-owned by Daigre. Contention over the grant continued, however, in Pueblo, Huerfano and Las Animas counties. Perhaps the state legislature was leery of these and other land titles in the state being challenged, so were requiring re-incorporations as a form of double checking ownership?

The town company itself seems to have languished, and perhaps was dead. In fact, the Southwestern Land Company was the owner of record of many lots (the newspaper said 400), but was demanding such exorbitant prices the lots weren’t selling. Both Bell and Palmer were a part of Southwestern.

So when the citizens presented to town board a petition to “reorganize under new Colorado law,” a special election was set for Tuesday, March 14, 1882. Fifty-one votes were for the reorganization of the town and two were against. The new boundaries took the original 37 blocks of the La Veta Town Company and annexed more, including the McComb Addition north of the tracks, where there was a building boom going on. All the newspaper of the day had to add to this information was that the population had increased to 500. This may have been caused by the announcement of Robert Todd Lincoln’s family’s plan to spend the summer in La Veta appearing in the same issue. Lincoln, the son of old Honest Abe, was Secretary of War at the time.

When Southwestern Land Company sold 12 lots in August, the paper noted this was the first sale of company land in two years, or since 1880. So the railroad wasn’t so much promoting sales of town lots as it was impeding them.

June 16, 1886, the date of La Veta’s “official” incorporation, seems to have passed without incident, certainly in La Veta anyway. Nothing about a change was mentioned at the June 7 minutes of the regular meeting of Town Board, or at the next on July 6. Seems like the town fathers would be the first to know about any change in status, and would be inclined to discuss it at their meeting. But no mention was made.

So if La Veta wasn’t formally incorporated in 1876 and thus is 140 years old, or in 1886 to make it 130 years old, when the Sam Hill was it officially placed on the map as an incorporated municipality?

Along comes August 1877, when the board met no fewer than five times. On August 20, members approved an ordinance accepting Martin’s Addition, on the far northwest, to the town.

Two days later, at another meeting, the trustees set aside any business but discussion of a pending resolution to consider a plat filed by the La Veta Town and Improvement Company to vacate certain original blocks. The board approved the vacation.

A second resolution was introduced. This concerned the LVT&I’s addition to the town, which was also approved. The board spent the next few sessions removing trustees who did not live in town limits, and adding new ones who did.

Nothing was said about re-incorporation. However, D.D. Ryus, pioneer resident, provided in 1941 an original copy of the Certificate of Incorporation of the Town of La Veta, dated September 12, 1887. It had been signed by 18 men, including Ryus, Francisco and Daigre, along with Attorney Daniel McCaskill. The document was to be framed and presented to the town for preservation.

So does this make La Veta 129 years old?

Personally, I date the origin of the town to the first incorporation that coincided with its new name and new post office, plus the arrival of the railroad, in 1876. So, happy 140th, La Veta.

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