by Nancy Christofferson
LA VETA — Seems as though someone once claimed there was no such thing as bad publicity. Evidently the theory of being mentioned by the media is always a good thing. I wonder.
As a resident of La Veta for, well, a while, I have read some really questionable remarks about the town and environs, its people and habits. No one apparently has had any nasty comments about the scenery, so far, but I have to wonder how a little town that started out so strong and appealing could become “Colorado’s best kept secret”.
Back in July 1876, certain newspapers were quite enthusiastic about the birth of a new small town in southern Colorado. Whether these items came from the fertile brains of early ad men working for the Denver and Rio Grande railroad is unknown, but such terms as “new and thriving little town” must have been music to the ears of local realtors. “The liveliest camp in Colorado” said the Colorado Chieftain of Pueblo. Residential lots, it continued, cost $150 for a 25 by 100 foot piece of land, and already 50 buildings had been erected. It was so busy, according to the Chieftain, a “want” of lumber and other building supplies had caused many people to live in tents and wagons “waiting for their turn of sawed plank (like paupers at a soup kitchen)”.
The situation had caused two sawmills to spring up like weeds adjacent to the community, and two hotels to spontaneously appear. There was one “handsome” building but many more under construction. The place also had four blacksmith and wagon shops, three meat markets, one paint shop, a saddle and shoe shop, several grocery stores, general stores and plenty of saloons. And this wasn’t even an official municipality – it was just a town-in-waiting.
By August, our reporter continued to share his enthusiasm, writing about the many dances occurring, new businesses moving in, and by October, heralding the completion of a third hotel, and a flour mill.
Business begins booming
La Veta was first incorporated October 9, 1876, and the paper reminds its readers “building still progresses”, there was a new church (well, an old one was moved) and one saloon was “nightly crowded”. One Puebloan was so eager to cash in on the mini-boom he started his own town, Stokesville, five miles west of La Veta.
Well, the paper admits there had been a tragic murder as well as an even more tragic double murder and some fellow hung himself in the town’s new jail, but otherwise all was rosy.
As early as April of ’76, two attorneys had already arrived (a third showed up in August) and two doctors were ministering to the community’s needs. By the bye, while the local correspondent was selling La Veta, another showcased the advantages of Trinidad, “the Pittsburgh of the West.”
It didn’t hurt the fledgling town one bit when gold was discovered on the West Spanish Peak.
Christmas was well publicized, with its many dances, concerts, charades etc.
Keep the kudos coming
With the beginning of 1877, the Denver Daily Tribune stepped in with some praise as to the new town “at the foot of the famous Spanish Peaks,” which, it claimed, had consisted of just one building – Francisco’s plaza – until the previous July. This sheet included the fact that “building was brisk” and many more businesses had opened, but also expounds on the excellent fishing and “purest of water,” “finest pasture,” and the huge amount of freight being transferred from the railroad to ox teams for the journey west. All of these added up to a need for employees. Its catalog of business included all types of services and goods being offered, and “saloons and billiard rooms, 10” in number. The article ends, oddly enough, with conjectures about who will be the new warden of the state penitentiary.
By 1880 the town was still accepting kudos. By now, the papers claimed, La Veta boasted some 17 businesses, 50 residences and the D&RG division offices and roundhouse. Some 3,350,000 feet of lumber had been delivered in nine months that year, destined for ties, props and bridges for the railroad, and still, “great ox teams arrive daily with ties and lumber” from the hills surrounding town. The estimated population was around 300 to 400. In 1882, La Veta would become the “only full-fledged town in the county” after it reorganized under new state laws, and the population had swelled to 500. Or so the newspapers gushed.
George Crofutt, author of an “Encyclopedia of the State of Colorado”, wrote in the early 1880s that La Veta was a “small town of 400 population, nestling in just at the northwestern base of the Spanish peaks, in as picturesque a locality as can be found in the state.”
Chief industries were mining and cattle raising. After extolling the town’s best buildings (the post office and grist mill), he decides to share some history. “The first settler in this region was Col. Franciscus, a Spanish gentleman, who came to La Veta in 1855”. Oh well.
It’s nice to be included in a tourist guide, but it would be nicer if the description was correct.
A touch of confusion
A newspaper called The Individual was quoted in a later La Veta Advertiser. The paper insisted it had sent its first representative to La Veta in 1875 when “just the Francisco ranch was there”, and evidently returned the next Fourth of July to find a completely different landscape. By the summer of 1876, the town had a hotel ($2 a night) which was clean and pretty. Cottages could be rented for less than $5 per month, and buggies and horses could be hired. Day fishing trips cost about $3 a day with driver and vehicle. Further, there were “good stores, a good newspaper and a handsome doctor who is ‘all right’”.
The Individual concludes its coverage with “The declining sun of last Tuesday dusted La Veta peak with gold and brought the titanic carvings of Wajatoya (Kiowa for Saddle Mountain) into wondrous relief.” Uh oh.
When one of the Hayden survey parties passed through in 1880, La Veta was “a cozy little village lying at the foot of the Spanish Peaks.”
The state historical society used to put out a periodical called the Colorado Magazine. In 1941, an article entitled “Place Names in Colorado, we hear from the state’s most foremost historians when they wrote, La Veta “was formerly known as Francisco Plaza or Francisco Ranch. Colonel John M. Francisco selected this site for his home while on a prospecting tour in 1834”. (You know, Francisco was 14 years old in ’34, and this is the first ever mention of his prospecting). The article includes “La Veta means “the vein”, and probably refers here to the numerous dykes radiating in all directions from the West Spanish Peaks”. Yes, peaks.
Not even the locals could quite get the story correct. In 1921, a La Veta native of a certain age gave a history of the area for the celebration surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Baptist Church. She shared the fact that Pike had been here in 1606-1607. Oops.
In our own neighbor and county seat, the Walsenburg World listed the “virtues” of La Veta in 1902, including having “The best climate in Colorado except Cañon City, four churches and two saloons, fine hay, cattle and horses, a roller flouring mill”, flourishing ice business. Sure, then it just had to add, “and some monumental liars.” Thanks.
Keeping on the map
For some reason, La Veta’s own newspaper, the Advertiser, felt our town had to compete with Colorado Springs, name wise. In 1928 it suggested the Cuchara Butte, in competition with the Springs’ dramatic names, should be named the Devil’s Tooth. As if having the Devil’s Stairsteps wasn’t enough. In 1921 the paper had printed an idea proposed by a Denver man to rename the Spanish Peaks Mount Harding and Mount Roosevelt.
Of course, the old issues of the Advertiser are informative, and, well, prone to local concerns (like the “news” story that the fifth grade play was postponed because “the king and queen have the measles”). The Advertiser may have poked fun at itself and its readers, but it did not perpetuate what we know today as “fake news” as printed in other places.
The Advertiser kept La Veta on the map, sort of, and it was a Denver paper that called La Veta “Colorado’s Best Kept Secret.” We knew it was here all along. We’re just not sharing.