Dust to Dust: a History of Dearfield, Colorado

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Vincent M Gladu
History 1110
Professor Rucker

Dust to Dust: A History of Dearfield, Colorado;
and Future Considerations for Historical Discovery

Dearfield is now known today as a ghost town, however, in the early twentieth century it was a major black community in Weld County, Colorado. The town was established by O.T. Jackson who wanted to establish a settlement for African Americans. In 1910, Jackson, a thriving entrepreneur from Boulder, filed a claim on 320 acres, which sealed the deal launching the township of Dearfield into existence and started to publicize advertisements to recruit settlers. Dearfield was one of about 15 black settlements in Colorado and among dozens across the United States (Chandler, 2008). The name Dearfield was proposed by one of the township's settlers, Dr. J.H.P. Westbrook, a former resident of Denver. The word dear was selected as the basis for the settlement's name because of the loved value of the land and area to the town's immigrants (Taylor, 2010). The first migrants to Dearfield experienced many difficulties farming the nearby fields as the soil was very sandy. Thus at first they experienced many seasons of sparse yields. According to Jackson, during the first winter in Dearfield only two of the seven families “had wooden houses and the suffering was intense.” He said “buffalo chips and sagebrush was our chief fuel. Three of our horses died from starvation and the other three were too weak to pull the empty wagon”(Hill, 2011).They ate mostly potatoes one early winter, and slept in caves dug into the hills; but by employing dry-land farming techniques, they began producing bountiful crops (Chandler, 2008). Nevertheless, by 1921, hundreds of people lived in Dearfield and the township's net worth was estimated at $1,075,000 (Chandler, 2008). Following several thriving years, the Great Depression hit the township and agricultural business considerably decreased. Immigrants started to leave Dearfield with the aim of finding better prospects. By 1940, the population of Dearfield had dropped to only 12, which comprised only 2% of the township's 1921 population. Creator O.T. Jackson frantically tried to motivate interest in the town, even presenting it for sale (Chandler, 2008). Nevertheless, there was little interest in Dearfield. A few abandoned buildings are all that remain of the once bustling town of Dearfield: a gas station, a restaurant and the Jackson's home. In 1998, Black American West Museum in Denver started to make endeavors to maintain the township. The town’s founder, O.T. Jackson died on February 18th,1948, and with him, any hopes of reviving Dearfield. During the early 20th Century, Dearfield, Colorado, was the most well known black township in Colorado. Dearfield reached a population of approximately 700 people in 1921, however was for all intent and purpose was abandoned by 1945. The people of Dearfield were poor black farmers trying to eke out subsistence living from the arid land in that region of Colorado. While there were other black towns all over the West, Dearfield was the most important one in Colorado. It was only inhabited for few decades, between 1910 and 1940, and do to various events such as famine, economic recession and racial tensions in rural Colorado, many of its inhabitants move back to Denver, or somewhere with economic prospects (Orse, 2007). The establishment of Dearfield, by O. T. Jackson--who had been a herald for the democratic governor of Denver--was motivated by principles of self-rule and independence delineated by Booker T. Washington. Washington thought that it was only through working their own land that blacks could increase their position and become free in Post Civil War America in the “Jim Crow“ oriented reconstruction south. He stated in his book, Up From Slavery, that he greatly desired that “as if by some power of magic” he might instigate a great...
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