This Post was published originally on 1/22/2020
For Unknown reasons it failed to appear on my Blog page
If you read it previously, I apologize for my confusion.
Riding the Picketwire
In my last post, I spoke about the Vermejo Park Ranch. The sprawling 400,000+ acre ranch has 2 entrances, north and south. The north entrance is off County Hwy 13 south from Stonewall. CO.
I first visited this area in 1960, when traveling to the ranch. I remember Trinidad, because in the days before interstates, it became the first sign of civilization after crossing the vast grasslands southwest of La Junta CO after following US 350 west to Trinidad. As a lad from the Missouri-Kansas flatlands, the spectacular snow-capped Culebra Range of the Sange de Christo Mountains left me gawking, open-mouthed. It was the first time a saw wild elk grazing in the meadows.
This area had a rich history as Spanish and Mexican pioneers traveled through the area often, only to be replaced by French fur trappers and eventual Zebulon Pike, and Kit Carson. Despite the trail of visitors, the town itself wasn’t established until 1862 and the boom didn’t begin until the post-Civil war period. In its Cowtown heyday(1870-1890), desperadoes such as Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, and Black Jack Ketchum and his gang partied and gambled in the local saloons.
Trinidad’s claim to fame is two-fold. It was the place in the mid-1800’s where the Santa Fe Trail turned south to cross Raton pass. In the late 1800’s, it became the western Cowtown serving the vast grasslands beside the Purgatorie (French for Purgatory) as is crossed the prairie to join the Arkansas River. The unschooled cowboys of the era found the French name hard to pronounce and settled on calling it the Picketwire. If one cowboy asked another, “Where ya workin’?” and the other responded, “The Picketwire.” The first might not know which ranch but knew the general area. The southeastern Colorado prairie didn’t become cattle ranching country until the Comanche, Kiowa, and Southern Cheyenne were driven onto reservations and the buffalo slaughtered by buffalo hunters like Bat Masterton and his brother.
Legend has it, Bat had carried a wagon load of buffalo hides to a hunter rendezvous at the old ruins of the long-abandoned Bent’s Fort Adobe, which became known as Adobe Walls, all that remained of the adobe trading post. Quanah Parker, the Comanche leader, attacked, planning to rid the area of buffalo hunters, and preserve the herds for Comanche. (I’ll save that tale for another post about Fort Adobe.) From there, Bat traveled to Dodge City, where Wyatt Earp worked as City Marshal. The two became friends when Bat was hired to work alongside Earp. After city politics forced Wyatt and Bat out of Dodge City in 1879, Bat moved to Trinidad CO, and began a fondness for Colorado.
In early 1883, Wyatt and Doc approached Bat in Trinidad, asking him to help prevent Doc being extradited to Tombstone for his part in the OK Corral shooting (in 1882). Bat spoke to Governor Fredrick Pitkin, convincing the man that Doc was fighting alongside Wyatt, and charged because Doc was not a duly authorized lawman. Governor Pitkin denied the request for extradition. Doc remained in Colorado and died at the Glenwood Springs Hotel in 1887. Bad news befell Bat Masterson for the local folks tired of his faro table winnings and skirt-chasing, and Bat lost re-election in 1884.
One last note about Trinidad. A coal seam nears the surface from Vermejo Park Ranch north through Trinidad and continues north to Pueblo and Colorado City. When the railroads moved west to the front-range, the need for local coal arose and led to coal wars and union violence through the early 1900s. For a period, coal miners and cowboys stood shoulder to shoulder in the saloons of Trinidad until the late 1890s as the Cowtown faded, and another industry took root. Coal mine disasters, mine fires, and Union Wars played havoc with Trinidad from the turn of the Century for the next 20-years.
The rolling green mountains of the upper “Picketwire” valley pass through Trinidad, which is a pleasant western town full of history and charm. Consider a visit if you pass nearbyby on I-25 when traveling in the area.
Thanks for riding along.