|Huerfano County, Colorado|
Contributed by Virginia Sanchez
Cucharas, Huerfano County, Colorado
By Virginia Sanchez
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Cucharas, Huerfano County, Colorado
Cucharas, Spanish for spoons, was a settlement located eight miles northeast of Walsenburg off Highway 10. Many Hispano families settled this area along the Cuchara River in the Lower Cuchara Valley about 1866. They were strongly influenced by their relationships with neighboring Native Americans and later with Anglo-Americans and European immigrants. The old settlement of Cucharas is often confused with Cucharas Camp located near La Veta, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway railyard located at Cuchara Junction, and the railroad town of Cucharas City.
The history of Cucharas was influenced by the presence and interaction of several cultures. The Cuchareños, Hispanos in Cucharas, encountered Native Americans from the Muache Ute, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Nations who arrived at Cucharas each fall when wild plums and grapes ripened in the "thickly wooded bottoms" of the Cucharas River. Documented instances of captivity in southern Colorado, record an interesting and essential account of co-existence in the western frontier. Several Cuchareños spoke the Ute language, traded with various Indian tribes, and had Indian captives. For the most part, their encounters with each other were peaceful. White settlers' animosities over the loss of their livestock were pitted against Indians' resistance of their loss of rights. These problems resulted in continued unrest as more and more Utes were militarily escorted from the land they had roamed for centuries and were forced onto sage-filled reservations in Utah and southwestern Colorado. In May of 1881, five D&RG trains loaded with United States soldiers passed through Cucharas, Walsenburg, and La Veta on their way to the Ute reservation. Their mission was to move the Indians from the reservation in southern Colorado to a reservation in Utah. By 1882, the Ute was the last Nation confined to reservations. Disease continued to plague the Indians; and the loss of hunting and gathering grounds and the lack of and quality of food and provisions provided by the United States Government reduced many to starvation.
The Denver and Santa Fe Road ran through land settled by Jose Alejo Bustos, one of the first families of Cucharas, where the stage company set up a relay station. The Bustos family ran the relay stage station and worked as stocktenders caring for stage horses and performing minor maintenance on coaches. By 1870, stage fare from Denver to Trinidad, which ran through Cucharas, was $30. In 1874, Samuel Todd managed the Cucharas stage station and preparations were being made to move the stage station to Cucharas City located about three miles from the old townsite. When the tracks of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway reached Cucharas City in 1876, the Barlow and Sanderson stage company opened its first major line into the San Juan Mountain mining region of southwestern Colorado. Mail that arrived by stage from Trinidad was pickup up at Cucharas City and delivered north by rail. Before the D&RG rails were constructed east from the railyard, Barlow and Sanderson ran a line of coaches from Cucharas City west over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into Del Norte and the San Luis Valley.
Denver & Rio Grande Railway
Word of the coming arrival of the railroad led to an influx of Anglo settlers, land speculators, and cattlemen into the predominantly Hispano sheep raising area. In 1872, the D&RG acquired land in Cucharas and established the railroad town of Cucharas City west across the tracks from its passenger depot and railyard. The town was under the supervision of and was jointly owned by the D&RG and the Southern Colorado Improvement Company, which owned much of the agricultural land surrounding the town site. In 1873, pioneers from Kansas settled at Cucharas City. They became known as the Kansas Colony as 16 of the 19 inhabitants were from Johnson and Miama Counties. Cucharas City became an Anglo community complete with buildings and homes constructed of milled lumber.
The railroad station called Cucharas Station was finally open for business on March 1, 1876. The following year, when the D&RG rails reached El Moro to the south and La Veta to the west, the station stop became known as Cuchara Junction. In 1885, the cost of a train ticket south from Denver to Cuchara Junction was nine dollars, four dollars north from Pueblo to Cuchara Juction. An extra fifty-five cents was added to the ticket price for travelers going west about eight miles to Walsenburg. Cucharas City and Cuchara Junction were short lived as La Veta became the railway hot spot. Many of the wooden buildings at Cucharas City were transported west by train to other railroad towns such as La Veta and Alamosa. The railroad depot was torn down in 1924, and by 1937 rail service to the junction had stopped altogether.
At one time, there were four schools that served the Cucharas community; they were the Fairview School, Cucharas School, Cuchara Junction School, and the New Cucharas (Bustos) School. Due to the county's change in population, school districts were periodically reassigned. Cucharas was assigned to District 4 and later to Districts 5, 12, and 25. School District 12 was located in Cucharas from about 1874 to 1913. About 1914, the Cucharas schools were assigned to District 25. (Cucharas had been erroneously associated with District 42, in Sandy Arroyo, established about 1917. Sandy was located north of Walsenburg.)
In 1871, Jose Anastacio J. Valdez (J.A.J. Valdez), a prominent attorney, organized School District 4 in Cucharas and taught its first class in the county's first public school. Some teachers who taught school in District 4 included a Miss Scott, Mrs. Mockmore, and Callie Kerlee. By 1874, Huerfano County had eight school districts. Cucharas School District 5 was established in 1893. Known teachers who taught in District 5 at Cucharas School between 1893 and 1913 were Virginia Hendren, Mary Henderson, and Anna Hebden.
Fairview School in District 25 was located northeast of the town of Cucharas. It was built by J. S. McHarg in 1896 on land donated by prominent sheep raiser and Cucharas benefactor Jose Leonides Valdez. Valdez served as president of the Fairview District School Board. Some teachers who taught at Fairview School were Manuel Martinez, James Fagan, Dave Humphrey, and the Manzanares sisters Fidelia and Ann. Frances Marie Nelson also taught at Fairview and later served for over 26 years as Huerfano County Superintendent of Schools. Fairview's last teacher was Mabel McKinley. The school was demolished about 1950.
An adobe house on the east side of the D&RG railroad track served as a temporary school after the Cuchara Junction School was destroyed by fire in 1927. The floor had wooden-slats and the blackboard was located on the south wall. Tina Martinez, Frances Nelson, and Frances Reed taught grades one through eight at the Cuchara Junction School.
The Cucharas School was built east of the Cucharas plaza around 1920. This frame school house was painted white and had a shingle roof and bell tower. The Cucharas School was in use until about 1953. The building still stands today and is used as a private residence. Although the school building is surrounded by a fence, travelers can see its green roof and empty bell tower from Highway 10 east of Walsenburg.
By the late 1930s, the Cucharas community decided another school was needed as it was becoming more dangerous for students to cross the wooden bridge over the Cucharas River. Until the new school was built, Alberto Romero and Ruben Barela arranged for a teacher to teach in a little pink house on the Teofilo Bustos property. Murl Atha taught in the "little pink house" in 1938 and Clementine Overand taught there from 1938 to 1940. Construction of the New Cucharas School began November 7, 1938 on property donated by Teofilo Bustos. The school, later known as the Bustos School, was built as a Works Progress Administration project. It had hardwood floors, a built-in blackboard on the west wall, and "modern" lighting. Vigas (wooden, pole beam supports) appeared to protrude from the roof of the building. Rather than supporting the roof, however, these vigas were simply meant to imitate southwestern architecture. Its adobe walls were 18" thick, and the school's interior was 24' x 24'. Known teachers at the New Cucharas School were Ernestina Salazar, Rose Ortega, Murl Atha, and the Cisneros sisters Victoria Ernestina Cisneros Yribia and Helen Cisneros Vigil. In 1952, the Bustos family converted the school into a home. Unfortunately today the building has fallen into much disrepair and will soon be demolished.
The Cucharas area had a rich history as a Native American hunting and gathering area, an early stage stop, and later as a railroad town. Its fertile ground once fed abundant crops of corn, wheat, barley, potatoes, beets, cucumbers, onion, pumpkins, squashes, watermelons, and tomatoes – all grown with water from acequias (irrigation ditches). The Dust Bowl of the 1930s caused the demise of many farms in southeastern Colorado, including Cucharas. By 1937 rail service to Cuchara Junction stopped altogether. Today, you can drive on Highway 10, eight miles northeast of Walsenburg and not know that nearly 150 years ago, a thriving community was there. With the decline of the coal industry and economic growth, the population of the area dwindled and today, it serves as a farming and stock-raising area. The few farmers left today grow alfalfa and use the land to pasture cattle. Of the many adobe and wooden structures that once dotted Cucharas, only a few partially remain
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