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Trinidad's History...along the Santa Fe Trail Find Lodging
When Trinidad was founded in 1842 by Mexican traders anxious to take advantage of the trade opportunities offered by the Santa Fe Trail, the area was still a part of Mexico. A river called “El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio” (the river of lost souls in Purgatory) or the Purgatoire River, drained this grassland area. A grove of cottonwood trees along the river made a welcome resting-place for travelers along the trail. The difficult trek over Raton Pass was ahead of them.
Mexico had won their independence from Spain in 1821. Before that time, no trade was allowed with the United States. Record of a Kentuckian who arrived in Santa Fe with trade goods in 1805, shows he was immediately jailed as was a Frenchman who arrived in 1804 with items to trade. But with the opening of the Santa Fe Trail as an international route in 1821, trade between Mexico and the US was legalized by treaty. A Missouri Frenchman, William Becknell, was the first to make the trip to Santa Fe with trade goods and returned to Missouri with tales of great opportunities for wealth. That was 1822.
In 1824, a Chihuahua merchant, Jose Escudero, led a group of Santa Fe businessmen on a trip up the Santa Fe Trail to various parts of the Mississippi Valley in an effort to encourage trade with Nuevo Mexico and Chihuahua. In this group were members of the prominent families of Baca and Romero. It was Felipe Baca who was one of the entrepreneurs to open the city of Trinidad for business in 1842.
Only four years from this time, the US army marched through Trinidad while still a part of Mexico. That same year, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago gave this land to the US. William Bent, one of the brothers who ran Bent’s Fort, selected a site along the Purgatoirre River about twenty miles downstream from Trinidad to create one of Colorado’s first farming and ranching ventures. He hired John Hatcher, a mountain man, and fifteen laborers from Taos to build the ranch buildings, plant crops, and dig the first irrigation ditch in what would soon become the Colorado Territory
Fifteen years after becoming a part of US territory, Hispanic and American pioneers settled near Raton Pass. Many of the Hispanic pioneers from Northern New Mexico brought sheep. At the same time, merchants began arriving from back East and the next year, 1862, coal was discovered. A call went out to Europe for a trained labor force of miners. Those who responded came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, Hispanic, Greek, Italian, Polish, Irish, Lebanese, Slavic, and Northern European.
Three years later, the trail was improved by Richens Lacy “Uncle Dick” Wootton, a former mountain man. He widened the steep trail through the Raton Mountains and then set up Wootton’s Tollgate to collect a fee from all wagons coming over this part of the trail.
In 1866, Bishop Lamy of the Archdioceses of Santa Fe, sent a Jesuit priest from Holland, Fr. Peter Munnecom, to Trinidad. He was unpopular with many of the parishioners of Trinidad because of his scandalous lifestyle of gambling and unethical business deals. He was even suspected in the death of another priest in the area. In addition, he spoke no Spanish though most of his parishioners were Spanish speaking. He was, however, not recalled for ten years.
At the same time, the first mail delivery firm office was set up in Trinidad. It was the Barlow, Sanderson, and Company. The following year, Marrice Wise opened a store on Main Street. He was one of the German born Jewish settlers who relocated to Trinidad from the East. Another general store was opened by John Thatcher of Pueblo. By 1869, there were 1,200 residents of Trinidad and it was becoming a commercial and agricultural center. Log and adobe buildings lined Main and Commercial Streets
More stores opened in 1870 along with a Catholic Academy supported by Felipe Baca and Maurice Wise who donated the land. Felipe Baca became a representative from the area to the Colorado Legislature. In 1873, the Baca family bought a hacienda, a three story adobe house in Trinidad, purchased with a load of cotton. The Baca House is now a part of the Trinidad History Museum.
In 1876, Trinidad was incorporated and two years later, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway was built over Raton Pass. When the railway reached Santa Fe in 1880, the Weekly New Mexican printed, “And the Old Santa Fe Trail passes into oblivion.”
Cattle Baron, banker, and merchant Frank G. Bloom and his wife Sarah (Thatcher) Bloom, built a house in Trinidad in 1882 which has also been preserved by the Colorado Historical Society as a part of the Trinidad History Museum. A daughter of the Blooms married into the Iliff family of Denver.
More building followed including the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, oldest in the area, built in 1886, and the Jaffa Opera House built in 1888. Many of these sandstone and brick buildings spoke of the wealth of the area The Carnegie library and the city hall were constructed of stone quarried locally.
Famous men of the era spent time in Trinidad including Billy the Kid, Kit Carson, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson who was the marshall in the 1880s.
With the passing of the Santa Fe Trail, mining and cattle companies became chief industries for the area.. By 1908, Morley Camp south of Trinidad was the most active mine in southern Colorado. During 1913 and 1914, the area experienced the great Coalfield Wars during which Mother Jones, the famous union organizer, led a parade. . A memorial to the Coal Miners has been built downtown along that route she took.
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Trinidad is now a city displaying the evidence of its prosperous past, the cobblestone streets, the restored commercial district, restored historic homes such as the Bloom’s and the Baca’s now part of the Trinidad History Museum.
During the summer, a trolley offers free tours of historic Trinidad between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. every day starting from the Welcome Center.
Historic homes located along the old cobblestone roads can be seen by walking up the hill from the downtown area called the Corazon de Trinidad , to the second street. Some have been transformed into B&Bs.
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The Baca Family
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