From Conquistadors to Cougar Canyon

Downtown Trinidad More Than 100 Years Ago

The History of Trinidad

The Heart of Trinidad

The old west comes alive amid opulent 100-year-old buildings and 6.5 miles of winding brick streets of the town of Trinidad.

You still may hear the roar of guns, the gallop of horses in pursuit, the shouts of men and the screams of the women and children riding in their covered wagons on the Santa Fe Trail. Trinidad was a major trading center along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail, which converged in downtown Trinidad at the corner of Main and Commercial Streets. Doc Holiday gambled here, Billy the Kid and Black Jack Ketchum's Gangs visited here far too often. Batt Masterson was even Town Marshall for a while. Stay and enjoy the western hospitality at the quaint restaurants, shops, galleries, Inns, and many museums.

Very few towns in the American West can even approach the exciting past and rich cultural tapestry that wraps the beautiful little town of Trinidad in unexpected contrasts and fascinating details. Walk with me through some of that richness which makes Trinidad so unique and singularly charming. First let us consider the locale. How many towns sit in so beautiful and varied a setting? We nestle in a pleasant, cottonwood-lined valley with a mountain stream tumbling its way down from the snows of 14,000 foot Mount Culebra and her sister mountains of the dramatic Culebra range of the fabled Sangre de Cristo mountains. Many towns of the West sit in pleasant valleys with snow capped mountains looming above them but do they also have a towering, stair-stepped mesa marking the entrance to a major pass that has been used by men and animals since time immemorial? Are those other towns cuddled on two sides by a rock plateau that provides a magnificent cliff-ringed overlook of the town? Do they have five lakes within easy reach? Completing the picture, blue mesas stretch through distant haze and golden prairies roll away to the skyline.

In this lovely setting let us step back in time. A great variety of stone structures and stone and bone artifacts tell us that for at least 10 or 12 thousand years there has been extensive use of this valley and the Raton Pass to the south. As early as 1594 Spanish explorers such as Humano and Bonilla may or may not have struggled down our little stream but the legacy of their dissension and murder and death without benefit of a priest, whenever it happened, have given our stream a very big name: El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio. This Spanish name, with its assuredly garbled theology, translates into The River of Lost Souls in Purgatory. The French got involved somewhere along the line and the Spanish Purgatorio became the French Purgatoire in both spelling and pronunciation. However, many English speakers couldn't deal with the French pronunciation and it came out "Picketwire" to many of them, so we still have the latter two versions of the name.

By early 1700s Spanish military expeditions led by Valverde and Villasur were riding through our valley, as did the French Mallet brothers in 1739. By the early 1800s American explorers such as Pike, Long and Jacob Fowler were poking around the area and, downstream a ways, the latter had a member of his party killed by a grizzly bear. In 1821 a young entrepreneur named William Becknell made the first trip on what was to become the great highway of commerce we know as the Santa Fe Trail. The Mountain Branch of the trail traveled parallel to the Purgatoire and forded it in this area to start its arduous route across Raton Pass.

Many famous Western characters were a big part of Trinidad's history. Kit Carson: Scout, military commander and Indian agent, knew Trinidad well. A magnificent, world-famous statue commemorates him in Kit Carson Park. Uncle Dick Wooton: Mountain man, entrepreneur, founder of the Raton Pass toll station, raconteur extra-ordinaire. Casamiro Barela: Member of the Colorado legislature, one of the authors of Colorado's constitution. Felipe Baca: One of Trinidad's founders and long-time community leaders. "Red" Bransford: Sister of Red Cloud, aunt of Crazy Horse, who operated one of Trinidad's first lodging establishments on the site of the present Columbian Hotel. Bat Masterson: Legendary lawman who was town marshal in the 1880s (visiting him occasionally was his tubercular friend and gambling buddy, Doc Holiday). Frank Bloom, early merchant who established the first commercial coal mining operation in the West and whose home is now the centerpiece of the Trinidad History Museum. Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, who established the Goodnight Trail and were the first to trail tens of thousands of cattle through the area from Texas to hungry miners throughout the Rocky Mountains.

The coming of two railroads to Trinidad ended the commerce on the Santa Fe Trail and the trailing of cattle through the area. However, soon thereafter Trinidad became the specific nerve center for ranching operations which reached from far up in Canada, Montana and the Dakotas, clear into Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The same Frank Bloom became a cattle baron with huge holdings. Also headquartered in Trinidad was the Scotch/English-owned Prairie Land and Cattle Company which controlled an estimated sixteen million acres between Pueblo and Amarillo. The Scotsman Murdo McKenzie is generally considered the greatest land and cattle manager of all time. From Trinidad, he managed the Prairie Land and Cattle Company, and later the awesome Matador Cattle Company- perhaps the greatest ranching operation in North America. During those same years, the railroad created demand for fuel and gave significance to Trinidad's immense coal resources.

To those exuberant decades and flourishing industries we owe our superb collection of eclectic Victorian buildings and grand array of brick streets. Additionally, they created a small town as ethnically and culturally diverse as most major cities. This diversity of cultures has produced, not fragmentation, but a blending of traditions and attitudes which, together with rich history and a nearly ideal geographical setting, gives Trinidad its unique charm and spirit. Enjoy your stay here - whether it's for a day or a lifetime.

Please visit to read this entire rich and exciting overview of Trinidad's incredible heritage.

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