Screen-wide bar of mountains


During the first 180 million years, the earth went through many changes. Much of the area was totally or partially covered by water at various times. Evidence of fossils of oysters, shellfish, and crustacious fish have been discovered in the sandstone in the bluffs. Petroglyphs carved into rocks or pictographs painted on rocks have been discovered indicating the early presence of humans prior to 800 A.D. Southeastern Colorado is one of the most prolific sites for petroglyphs in the United States.

It wasn't until the 1600's when Spain sent out expeditions. Northwest of Prowers County major Indian settlements were discovered. One settlement, the Spanish named El Cuartelyo because the adobe huts reminded the Spanish of barracks. There were also a number of smaller villages that surround El Cuartelyo. It was apparent that these Indians farmed, picked wild fruits, and hunted buffalo. The Spanish named the Indians collectively as Apache. Vasquez Coronado's search for gold at this time led them through southeastern Colorado, but experts dispute the actual route taken.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the French, Spanish and British all claimed overlapping portions of land in North America. Each believed that whoever settled the land and provided military protection for the settlers, would control the land. Information about the area was lost forever with the successful uprising of the Pueblo Indians in 1860, when they destroyed the archives of the Spanish government in New Mexico. Even though Spain had a brief renewed interest in the area near the end of the eighteenth century, there are very few records.

The first recorded French explorers were the Mallet brothers, Pierre and Paul, one of who may have been a Jesuit priest. In 1739, near the present site of Lamar in the Big Timbers area, they encountered Indians. Because of the confusion of some European references to Indians, it is not sure of which nation they belonged to. French influence on the area grew as several French expeditions were made using the route that was to become the Santa Fe Trail.

After the French and Indian War of 1754 broke out, France bribed Spain with the Louisiana Territory to ally herself with France against England and all of Colorado became Spanish territory. Even though in 1792, Pedro (Pierre) Vial, a French explorer under the New Spain government, set out to establish a trade route between St. Louis and Santa Fe, Spain re-ceded the Territory to France in a secret treaty of San Il de Fonso in 1800. France retained ownership for three years before it was sold to the United States.

Robert Livingston and James Monroe had been in France bargaining for the port of New Orleans when Napoleon offered to sell the whole territory for $15 million. Although unauthorized by Congress, they grabbed it. When they asked what the territorial boundaries were, Napoleon's reponse amounted to "whatever you can hold." The land bordering the Arkansas River from the Mississippi River west became contested territory between the Spanish and the Americans. Spain attempted to protect its' claim when the government heard about explorers and trappers making their way through Spanish-claimed land. Spain had agents or spies in St. Louis from where many of these expeditions began.

Captain Zebulon Pike was one of those expeditions that began in St. Louis, during the summer of 1806. He set out to explore the new territory and mapped his travels along the Arkansas River making three camps within the boundaries of what would later become Prowers County. He was also acting as a spy on this famous expedition searching for evidence of Spanish colonization and military strength, and to what extent.

Fur trade was flourishing on the Mississippi at the time, so much so that trappers expanded out to the Platte and Arkansas Rivers in search of beaver. More and more "white men" ventured further and further west. It became a struggle between the white man and the Indians. Trappers were fine as long as they stayed on the north side of the Arkansas but the south bank the Spanish considered theirs.

After Mexico gained its' independence from Spain, Mexico and the United States established friendly relations and Mexico was eager for trade. The Americans were glad to oblige.

It is believed that William Becknell was the first to make the trip in 1821 with trade goods, earning the name "Father of the Santa Fe Trail". In Spring, 1822, he made another trip, this time using wagons and also heading south at the Cimarron (Cimarron Cut-off Route).

The next several years was to show an increased use of the Santa Fe Trail. One of the more notable travelers was Charles Bent. Visit Bent's Forts & Trading Posts. He and his brother William led wagon trains along the Arkansas River west past the Cimarron cutoff to the future Old Bent's Fort near present day La Junta, becoming known as the mountain branch.

The increase in travelers brought the need for trading posts and stockades. Although there were popular camping areas along the Trail, such as Pretty Encampment and Big Timbers, the Indians such as the Comanche, decided they were tired of the wagon trains moving through their hunting grounds and started attacking the pioneers. The trading posts and stockades not only offered replenishment of supplies but also offered safety, at least more than what they would have had in their wagons and the wagon train. After several skirmishes with the cavalry and settlers, and the eventual massacre at Sand Creek just north of old Fort Lyon, the Indian was rarely seen in Prowers County.

Until 1848 when the United States annexed the land, the southern plains, the Rockies, and the plateau country of Colorado were in Spanish and Mexican hands. The remainder of the Colorado plains and the Front Range belonged to the U.S. On February 28, 1861, Colorado became a territory, but not with the boundary lines it has today. Much of the eastern plains was Kansas Territory, while the southern plains were New Mexico Territory. On September 9, 1861, laws were enacted creating the seventeen original counties of Colorado. At that point, the county now known as Prowers was a part of Huerfano County until 1870 when Huerfano was split up and Greenwood County was established. The name of Greenwood was changed to Bent in 1874.

The U.S. population needed to expand and so it continued to claim land--Manifest Destiny. As the land was claimed and in an effort to get this new land populated, several acts were passed by Congress.

In 1841, a Preemption Act was passed to tempt homesteaders onto the newly acquired land. The homesteader could live on his or her choice of 160 acres for six months and buy it for $1.25 an acre. By the start of the Civil War, the colonization process under this act had reached eastern Kansas.

The Homestead Act was passed in 1862 (several amendments would be made in the future). This required a maximum filing fee of $16 on 160 acres of land, live on the land and make substantial improvements for a minimum of five years.

Another addition to the Preemption Claim and the Homestead Claim was the Timber Claim. With it, a homesteader agreed to plow no less than five acres of new land each year in addition to his previously cultivated land. During the third year, the land that was cultivated the first year, had to be planted with timber trees, seeds, or cuttings; the fourth year, the land cultivated the second year. An average of 675 trees per acre was to grow and be maintained. Timber Claims were not a popular option in Prowers County due to the difficult growing conditions.

Town developers, taking advantage of the Homestead Act quickly developed and promoted platted towns and railroads on maps. Many of these were to become nothing more than a post office/general store and maybe a school or two.

Around 1868, the trading era was at its end and a new era known as the "Wild West" was beginning. Ranches, cowboys and cattle replaced the Indians and the buffalo. Wagon trains were being replaced by a new form of transportation, the train.

With the coming of the railroad several towns sprang up along the route. One of the first was Grenada, which developed about the same time as the Achison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in 1873. As the railroad continued west, much of Grenada's population went with it. Several large ranches were settled and some of those grew into towns. Other towns were platted and developed because of the railroad.

A new land office was to be established in eastern Colorado (the closest land office was in Pueblo) to process the flood of homestead applications and Grenada was the logical site. However, promoters who were not part of the Grenada boom formed plans with the officials of the Santa Fe Railroad in search for a new site. The results of the search became the City of Lamar, which was established and incorporated in 1886 and the post office opened August 14 the same year. Colorado became a state in 1876.

In 1889, Bent was broken up into several counties creating Prowers, among several others, as well as creating a much smaller Bent. A new county needed a county seat and with it came a race to be "the chosen". This was a very interesting race but it will be included under a separate title. Lamar was voted to become the county seat.

In 1909, an enlarged Homestead Act was passed, which allotted 320 acres in the dryland or partly dryland areas. However, by 1916, claims were allowed for 640 acres in stock range country. The time limits, however, were changed from five years to three years.

With the second wave of homesteaders, new towns towns sprang up, and with them came the era of modern technology and agri-business. The county has grown, but it is still primarily farming and ranching. At various points in time, it has been home to a flour mill, a beet factory, a Pet Milk Plant, Aspen Ski Wear, and Ranch Manufacturing. In 1978, the welcome addition of the German-based bus plant Neoplan, USA added 600 jobs to the economy.

With the growth the county has seen in the past 100 years, it will be interesting to see what's in store for her the next 100 years.

Prowers County, Colorado-A Prowers County History, by Ava Betz, Published by The Prowers County Historical Society, Big Timbers Museum, Lamar, Colorado 1986


Passage of Time
Updated January 4, 2001
Copyright 1998-2005
Web Pages by Kathy Leigh, Webmaster