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La Veta Pass
La Veta



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trinidad town view pc.jpg (83530 bytes)
Town View c1910


trinidad commercial street c1890 pc.jpg (66411 bytes)
Commercial Street c1890


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Trinidad, CO
Elevation 5,994 feet.
Denver 216 miles.

Located east of the Sangre de Cristo range ("Blood of Christ" in Spanish), and about 20 miles north of the border with New Mexico, Trinidad is a happy town with strong Spanish heritage. 

Once part of the Territory of New Mexico, the original old world settlers moved north into the area from towns like Santa Fe, Taos, and Las Vegas in New Mexico. Native American Indians used the land for hunting and ceremonial grounds prior to the arrival of the Spanish settlers. The Utes, Apaches and other groups were not the first in the region, prehistoric people lived in caves and crude structures in the nearby hills.

Trinidad was the last stop on the Santa Fe trail before going over Raton Pass to the south. Therefore settlers from both the north and south began to wander into town and settle down. In 1867, coal was discovered in the Trinidad area and three years later the railroads began to build tracks into town. The town was officially incorporated in 1876, just a few months before Colorado became a state. It was evolving from a small adobe village into a Victorian uptown city. 

That year about 15,000 tons of freight passed over what was known as "Uncle Dick's" toll road across Raton Pass. On any given day, up to 500 head of wagon train oxen would be staked out around town, grazing and resting for the journey over the pass. 10,000 sheep (and their shepherds) would spend the day crossing the Purgatoire River in the middle of town. The red light district did a booming business with all the cowboys and freight men passing through. Bat Masterson and other lawmen slowly brought civilization and relative peace to Trinidad.

Even though Trinidad is a travel center for the major routes in the region, it is also a coal mining town with strong local labor relations.  Trinidad and El Moro to the north had numerous coal mines and coke ovens and it all helped feed the steel mills and railroads in the region. 

The Colorado Coal and Iron had 350 coke ovens in the 1880's. In the 1900's there were 125 men working the ovens and they lived in 31 company cottages with their families. These poor conditions lead the United Mine Workers Union into town in 1914. A war over labor rights eventually erupted between the mine owners and the local miners that is still commemorated by the Union today. 



The Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) railroad, under the guidance of General Palmer, constructed railroad tracks south from Pueblo to a location a little north of Trinidad near the newly discovered coal mines. In its usual way, the railroad decided to build the depot north of Trinidad on easily acquired land, and started a new town named El Morro. The railroad was assuming that, as had happened in the past, the town of Trinidad would be forced to move to the location of the depot. But, this time the plan backfired, and the town of Trinidad decided to go to the ball with the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) railroad.

"On February 26, 1878, two crews of railroad construction engineers arrived in the boom town of El Morro, the Denver Rio Grande Railroad's rail head and the Santa Fe crew. The D&RG crew headed to their hotel to sleep. The other crew, from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, hurried to Raton Pass to work. By the next morning, the race was over! The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe had won. They purchased the right-of-way to the toll road over Raton Pass from Wootton. Before dawn, the busy crew even scratched out a little "roadbed" in proof of their claim. The crew received help from Trinidad citizens, angry with D&RG for building the rival town of El Moro, robbing them of much needed commerce. Hence the phrase you snooze, you loose pertained!"

From: "SANTA FE, The Railroad that Built an Empire

Since the ATSF surveyors staked out Raton Pass first, the D&RG had to back off and find a different route south to complete the General's dream, a railroad to Mexico. In a famous "Treaty" with the ATSF, the D&RG had to give up any claim to Raton Pass and in return received the rights to the Royal Gorge

El Moro was the terminus of the D&RG railroad for six years following the Raton Pass dispute. Then, the D&RG built the last few miles south into Trinidad. 

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Trinidad in 1878. The next year the train reached Raton and finished the stretch south to Santa Fe in 1880. Another competing railroad line in the region was the Colorado and Southern. They built tracks south from Pueblo along a route similar to the D&RG. 




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