"There really is a Place Called Baca County;
I think she's mighty fine;
She was good enough for my dad's kids;
Likewise she'll do for mine;
Her sunrises are all colors;
Her sunsets are all the same;
The only thing she needs more of;
Is a four letter word spelled R-A-I-N."
The JJ Cattle Company established itself in the region as a "Cattle Empire" from the late 1860's to 1917. Over 30,000 head of cattle, sheep and horses grazed on the 16,000 acres of land they owned between Campo and the Arkansas River. They ruled the open plains until homesteaders—or nesters, as cattlemen called them—migrated into the area.
For many years, the farmers and the cattlemen feuded, but eventually the prairies were fenced in, ending the days of the large cattle drives and open range.
The 1880's saw the first homesteaders in Baca County. At first they experienced good crops and a land boom followed with more than 6,000 settlers moving into the area. Thirteen new towns were established by 1888.
In 1889 drought struck and by 1893 only 700 people remained. The only remaining towns were Springfield, Stonington and Vilas.
During the period 1900-1920, new settlers
came to Baca County with years of better rainfall and rising crop prices because of WWI.
The early 1900's was a time of re-settlement for Southeast Colorado. Camp was founded in 1909. (Campo means field in Spanish).
Part of the reason for re-settlement was broomcorn. It was introduced in 1887. Baca County became known as the "Broomcorn Capital of the World." It lasted as the cash crop of Baca County for nearly a century. The last of it was raised in the late 1970's.
The 1930's found Baca County in the heart of the Great Dust Bowl. With the onset of the Depression, the wind began to blow and took the topsoil with it.
J. Fred Brown recalls,
"Old Sol, the Sun, was doing his stuff; just minutes before a wall of dust without warning, rolled in from the north dark as night. At 3:00 p.m. lights turned on but to no avail...dust sickness, blackened lungs, red eyes, dry cheeks, shattered windmills, tanks full of sand, cattle wandering blindly in search of protection and care."
Farmlands to Grasslands
The people still living on the land in the dust bowl areas through the 1930's petitioned the Federal Government for relief. A Federal Land Purchase Program was started. Thousands of severely damaged farms were purchased and retired
from cultivation. This helped farm families find new opportunities in other areas. From 1938 to 1954, 11.3 million acres were returned to grassland. Today a portion of this is the Comanche National Grassland.
7500 B.C. Indian bison hunters roam High Plains of Southern Colorado.
AD 0-1350 Indians of Archaic and Ceramic Cultures (Apishipa) inhabit local canyons.
1700-1800's Comanche move north from the Canadian River to the plains of Colorado/Western Kansas & gain control of Southern High Plains from other Indian groups (1739).
1800-1820 European traders begin travel & trade with Comanche (1805). Pike Expedition (1806). Cheyenne & Arapaho migrate to Southeast Colorado plains around 1800.
1821 Opening of the Santa Fe Trail. Mexico declares Independence. S.E. Colorado part of Republic of Texas.
1836-1864 Bent's Fort established. Kansas Territory founded (1854). Congress passes Homestead Act (1862). Sand Creek Massacre (1864).
1876-1880 Colorado becomes a state (1876). Railroad reaches Santa Fe; end of Santa Fe Trail (1880).
1889 Baca County formed.
1934-1939 Dust Bowl. Federal Land Purchase Program began for Dust Bowl relief (1938-1942).
1950-1990 Land Utilization
Programs continue to stabilize the soil. Soil Bank established (1954). 4.14 million acres designated as National Grasslands (1960's). Conservation Reserve Program (1986). The future remains hopeful in the 1990's; the land continues to change hands providing diverse ownerships and landscapes.