Category Archives: Place Names of the Four Corners

The Denver And Rio Grande Railroad-General Palmer’ “Baby Road”

Dever and Rio Grande, steam locomotive,narrow gauge
Baldwin 2-4-0

The railroad was instrumental in the settling of the American West. With the railroads came prosperity to the towns and territories it serviced.
Railroad building was complicated and incredibly confusing. Companies merged, were taken over by larger roads, went bankruptcy, went into receivership or were abandoned. Some tracks were removed. Owners simply walked away from others.
One of the more important lines was the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. It filled the needs of the mountain communities of Colorado. It went “Thru the Rockies. Not Around Them”

General Palmer and his “Baby Road”

General William Palmer, a Civil War veteran, Medal of Honor recipient and civil engineer. He founded the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1870 with the purpose of tapping the perceived lucrative markets in New Mexico. Palmer’s first-hand knowledge of the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales led him to choose the, never before used in the United States, narrow gauge rails due to lower cost of construction and equipment. Palmer aggressively promoted his idea and it turned out to be a major selling point for his funding efforts.
The “Rio Grande’s” original plan was to push south to Pueblo then up the Arkansas River to its confluence with the Rio Grande River. From there the route would follow the Rio Grande River to Albuquerque and on to El Paso, Chihuahua, Mexico. There he hoped to connect with the Mexican Central Railway and open a trade link with Mexico.
His plan “B” was to expand south from Pueblo over Raton Pass, through Santa Fe and on to El Paso. Due to aggressive competition, particularly from the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, he was forced to adopt this alternate plan.

The First Spike

The first spike for the fledgling Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was driven at the bottom of 15th Street in Denver on July 28, 1871. Construction progressed as far as Colorado Springs by October 25, 1871.
The new railroad planned to tap into the rich agricultural, lumber and mining resources of the new Colorado Territory, as well as passenger traffic. Palmer planned to connect the mineral-rich territory of Colorado with the Rio Grande Valley which was described as” a garden only to be benefited by the presence of rail service”.

Financing the Railroad

Palmer was plagued throughout his empire building by a lack of funds. He was, however, a master of fundraising. He would sell stock in the railroad, holding controlling shares. He would then sell bonds for construction and Palmer’s own construction company would build the lines.

1886 Map of the Denver and Rio Grande Western rail system

One of his other techniques was to offer subscriptions to pools that formed land companies up and down the railroad. These land companies offered predesignated townsites to subscribers and conveyed in railroad stock. Thus, towns were formed in locations decided upon by the railroad from lands granted to the railroad by the federal government for the right of way. If a neighboring town was in the way they were merely bypassed. Towns would then be built by Palmer’s construction company.

Palmer Builds His Empire

The Rio Grande railroad reached Pueblo, which had been established by General Palmer’s Central Colorado Improvement Company, in 1872. The Central Colorado Improvement Company established the first steel mill in the area in 1881. The Colorado Coal & Iron Company would become the largest employer in Colorado. Palmer built the facility to produce the rails for his railroads. It utilized local resources; coal from Trinidad, iron from the San Luis Valley, limestone from Pueblo and water from the Arkansas River.
From Pueblo, the Rio Grande extended its line up the Arkansas River. It arrived in Canon City on July 6, 1874. Canon City became the staging point for all shipments of goods going south and west. Palmer’s Central Colorado Improvement Company now had control of the lucrative high-quality coal deposits and was operating at full capacity.
From Pueblo, Palmer extended his line to El Mora, just north of Trinidad in 1876. The Santa Fe Railroad’s terminus was only as far west as Las Animas, Colorado, 80 miles to the northeast. Palmer wanted to take advantage of the lack of freight service available to the coal fields around Chucharas and El Mora and the goods coming north out of New Mexico. Trinidad would serve both purposes.
The Panic of 1873 slowed expansion of the railroad and all of Colorado’s economy for the next three years. However, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe did push on reaching Pueblo in 1876. The fight was now on!
Palmer proceeded west arriving in Chuchara in February of 1876 and onto El Mora in October of that year. From Chuchara, he began to push west toward La Veta Pass and Alamosa in the San Luis Valley, arriving in July of 1878 as per his original plan.

Palmer Loses the Race to Raton Pass

Meanwhile, the Santa Fe headed for Raton from Las Animas to tap the coal deposit between there and Trinidad. In 1878, they beat the Rio Grande crew to the pass by only hours and laid claim to the right of way.
A great deal of legal maneuvering ensued. There were acts of sabotage and threats of further violence. Finally, the Santa Fe hired local gunmen to protect their interests.
Faced with financial difficulties and armed resistance, the Rio Grande gave up its fight for Raton Pass. The dispute appeared to be over, but the battle heated up the following year.

The Royal Gorge Railroad War

With the discovery of silver in Leadville, both railroads made a dash for the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas, the Royal Gorge, in the spring of 1878. The Rio Grande already had a track into Canon City, two miles east of the mouth of the gorge. The Santa Fe rushed to the same spot.Royal Gorge-1892 Both railroads began grading west of Canyon City. The Santa FE crew actually arrived at the mouth of the gorge, once again, before the Rio Grande crews and laid claim to the right of way.
Court orders were issued, gunfighters were hired by both sides. Acts of sabotage destroyed equipment and track. Threats were made, but there was little violence and little bloodshed.
Over the next two years, through injunctions and restraining orders, possession of the gorge went back and forth no less than four times. During this period, the Rio Grande had possession but no funds to operate or build. So the rights to operate and build in the gorge were leased to the Santa Fe. The Santa Fe continued to make improvements.

Royal Gorge-1892

Finally, on March 27, 1880, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Rio Grande making the lease null and void. Unwilling to continue the battle, the Santa Fe agreed to relinquish rights to the Royal Gorge and a settlement was reached.
The Tripartite Agreement, known as the “Treaty of Boston” awarded the right to the Royal Gorge to the Rio Grande. The D&RG would pay $1.4 million to the Santa Fe for work completed plus “court costs”. The Rio Grande could not build east of its current north-south lines or south of the 36th parallel and east of the Spanish Range (Sangre de Cristo Range) in New Mexico or to Trinidad. The Santa Fe could not build, in Colorado, west of the Rio Grande’s existing north-south line or north of the 36th parallel west of the Spanish Range except for their line already to CanonCity. New Mexico was open west of the Spanish Range. Both sides were banned for a period of 10 years.
Thus ended the Colorado Railroad War. It opened up the way for the Rio Grande to move into the mining districts and the territory west of the front range.

Over La Veta Pass

La Veta Pass c.1877

Anticipating competition, Palmer had planned the route following the Arkansas River from the very beginning of his push to El Paso. In 1876, fearing pressure from the Santa Fe railroad at Raton Pass, he started his expansion over La Veta Pass and on into the San Luis Valley. He planned not only to tap into that region’s rich mineral and agricultural markets but this was his backup plan. If his plans to reach El Paso via Raton Pass failed he would simply head west to Alamosa and follow the Rio Grande River south through Albuquerque.
With the failed attempt, in 1878, to reach Raton Pass ahead of the Santa Fe, Palmer was deprived of the lucrative New Mexico traffic. Pressured by competition from the standard gauge competitors Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe and the Kansas Pacific, Palmer knew he couldn’t stand still. He pushed west out of Chuchara Junction, Colorado arriving in Garland, Colorado on July 1, 1877, and in Alamosa, Colorado July 10, 1878.
The original narrow gauge line over La Veta Pass crossed the Sangre de Cristo Range at an elevation of 9,380 feet above sea level. At the time, it reached the highest elevation of any railroad built in the United States at that time. It was an engineering marvel, steep and winding. The Rio Grande railroad billed it as “The Scenic Line of the World”.
Between the years of 1890 and 1899, the line was converted to dual gauge and then to standard gauge and was moved south 9 miles to better accommodate the larger heavier equipment and to better work with the standard gauge lines servicing the territory.
The years from early 1878 to early 1880 saw little expansion on the Rio Grande. All of Palmer’s funds were going to fight the “Royal Gorge War”.

Santa Fe or Bust?

Chili Line

Prior to the Treaty of Boston, the Rio Grande had laid track as far as Antonito, 29 miles south, with plans of going to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and El Paso. With the agreement not to build south of Espanola, NM, Palmer switched his attention westward to the mining districts in the San Juan Mountains. He would continue his Chili Line on to Espanola arriving there on December 30, 1880.
Now that Palmer had lost his bid for the New Mexico trade he turned his focus to the mineral wealth of the central and the southern Rocky Mountains. Alamosa Colorado became the hub of this expansion. He went west to Del Norte, Colorado, through Wagon Wheel Gap and into Creede, Colorado in 1891. He headed north to connect with his Royal Gorge branch in Salida, Colorado. His main focus became the line west from Antonito, Colorado to Durango and Silverton in the San Juan Mountains.On to the San Juans

On to the San Juans

Cumbres Pass


In November of 1879 contracts were let for the grading of the new San Juan Extension of the Rio Grande. Work on the line began in early 1880 and pushed west towards Cumbres Pass and Ogier, Colorado. The new line was to run from Antonito, Colorado, through Chama, New Mexico and onward to the Animas River near the town of Animas City, Colorado.
The line snaked along the New Mexico /Colorado border on the north side of the Los Pinos River. The line followed the natural drainage of the Los Pinos River through narrow canyons and valleys and through the Toltec gorge where the line clung to the side of the canyon 600 feet above the river. It continued on through two tunnels and over the 400 foot long Cascade Creek trestle to Cumbres pass at 10,015 feet. From that point, the line followed an old wagon toll road downhill following the Wolf Creek drainage. Where Wolf Creek joined the Rio Chama, the line crossed the deep drainage on the 300 foot long Lobato trestle.Durango and Smelter Mountain

Next Stop, Durango

Denver & Rio Grande depot-Durango, CO

The railroad reached Chama, New Mexico on December 30,1880 and established a division headquarters. Chama was the midway point between Antonito and Animas City making it an ideal service point. Here they constructed a roundhouse, oil house, sand house, coal tipple, water tank, and bunkhouse. The line now proceeded west from Chama, through the high desert of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Elevation changes between, and the Animas River and Chama are relatively minor so construction proceeded rapidly. The line arrived in what was to become Durango, Colorado on July 27, 1881.
As a side note, the small town of Animas City was the original destination of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, San Juan Extension. As excited as the residence of Animas City were to have a rail connection to the outside world, they were unwilling to meet Palmer’s demands for free land for the new town. So, in typical Palmer fashion, he simply built a new town 3 miles south of Animas City naming it Durango, after Durango Mexico and Durango, Spain.
In its early days, the line crossed numerous timber bridges over nameless creeks and rivers. Over the years many of the smallerSurviving timber bridge at Hermosa bridges were replaced by fills and culverts. A few of the timber bridges survived. The rest were replaced with steel girder construction to facilitate heavier engines and rolling stock.

The Riches of the San Juans

Shalona Crossing north of Durango

The rail line between, New Mexico and Durango Colorado was rich in natural resources. The ore mined around Red Mountain and Silverton was shipped by rail to smelters in Denver and Pueblo. Coal mined near Hesperus was used to fire the locomotives, for the coke mills in Silverton and for home and business heating.Pagosa Junction 2014 Timber was another valuable commodity shipped on the rail lines. Logging spurs sprouted off the mainline at Gato(Pagosa Junction) and Chama. Other spurs branched off at Lumberton and around Taos.

Denver & Rio Grande-Gato Junction pump house #2

Oil also became a factor. In 1935 oil was discovered 13 miles west of Chama in the “Gramp’s” oil field. Oil was piped to Chama and sent by tanker car to the Oriental Refinery in Alamosa. Oil was discovered near Farmington ad oil field freight kept the road open into the 1960s.

The Farmington Branch was opened in 1905 to haul produce and livestock to the miners and eastern markets. It was also built to prevent the Santa Fe from building a line north from Gallup.

On to Farmington


A great deal has been written about the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. My focus, going forward will be on the abandoned rail spurs that split from the Rio Grande mainline.
I hope you have enjoyed the article and I hope that you will come back for future articles on the small but very important abandoned spurs and branches.
This narrative is but a brief overview of the history of the Denver and Rio Grande in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico. I have tried to be as accurate as possible in my portrayal of the events of the time. Please leave any comments in the comment section. Any suggestions or any additions are greatly appreciated.

Hermosa-The Beautiful Place

Hermosa Cliffs

Standing at the Hermosa Creek Bridge, one has only to slowly turn a full circle to know why Hermosa is called “the  Beautiful Place”. Across the Valley are the majestic Red Cliffs. Behind you, Hermosa Peak silently watches over it’s the fertile valley filled with orchards, farms, and ranches. A quiet, peaceful, “beautiful place”. It has been so since it was settled in 1873.

The Gold Rush

San Juan Mountains, fallcolors, SilvertonColorado, snow
San Juan majesty

With the discovery of gold,  near Denver in 1859, the rush to the Rockies was on. Captain Charles Baker led a group of prospectors west and south through the Gunnison River valley and over Cinnamon Pass into a high mountain valley. This would become Baker’s Park and the site of the mining boomtown of Silverton.

The party searched for placer gold through the summer with limited success. Baker and 15 members of his party worked their way south down the Animas River valley and wintered at the north end of the lower Animas Valley. There they set up what they hoped to be a permanent town.They constructed the first bridge in the area. It was named Baker’s Bridge.

The new town, Animas City, was located on land owned by the Ute Indians. The Ute land reached west from, roughly where the hot springs at Pagosa are located. This land was legally off limits to mining and homesteading. Not trusting the whites, the Utes were not happy with the incursion on their land and tensions mounted.

With the outbreak of the Civil War and fearing for their lives, the Baker party abruptly abandoned the settlement in July 1861, leaving everything behind.

Effect of the Brunot Treaty

The end of the Civil War brought a renewed interest in the San Juan mountains and the lure of quick wealth. In 1872, the rush to the southwest Colorado mountains began. The army was sent to keep the trespassers out, but little effort was made to stop the rush. The need for a treaty was evident.

The Utes seldom hunted the higher reaches of the San Juan mountains so were willing to trade land for an annual cash payment and hunting rights. The Brunot Treaty was negotiated in September 1873. It provided for the Utes to cede land in the “mountaintops, not the valleys”. They would retain hunting rights “as long as the game lasted”. The whites were to stay off of Ute land. The Brunot  Treaty was ratified in April 1874.

Brunot Treaty, map
Map of 1873 Brunot Treaty

This treaty opened the doors to settlement in the San Juans. Quickly the mining districts opened up. Miners flooded into the mountains. This created the need for supplies.

Hermosa was probably the first permanent “town” settled in the Animas Valley. There are references to a “Hermosa Townsite” but no known plats exits. Hermosa was located at the confluence of the Animas River and Hermosa Creek, 12 miles north of what would be Durango.

The mouth of the Hermosa Canyon provided a sheltered “pocket” with a warmer climate ideal for growing fruit. Orchards would grow marvelously in this part of the valley.

The new community

By 1873, some farmers and ranchers were already beginning to settle the Animas Valley, in advance of the ratification of the Brunot Treaty. In 1874 crops were already planted and by fall food was being harvested.

Two members of the Baker party returned in 1874. Seth Sackett and John Turner homesteaded near the site of the original Animas City. Early deeds refer to some of the early settlers John Dunn, Andrew Richardson and Billy Quinn.James Pinkerton acquired 160 acres of land straddling the river south of Baker’s Bridge and including the hot springs. He purchased dairy cattle and began producing dairy products for the mines. Pinkerton built a bathhouse at the hot spring for his family and friends. It would later become the Pinkerton in the Pines Resort.

Hermosa House, Trimble Hot Springs, Hermosa Colorado, healing waters, spa
Hermosa House

Frank Trimble moved into the Animas Valley in 1875 and settled at the hot springs there. These waters were renowned for their healing powers. Trimble suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and injuries received during the Indian Wars in Oregon. He used the hot springs to soothe his wounds. He swore that they cured his ailments in the first month of living at the hot springs. In 1882, he built the Trimble Hotel, a two-story hotel with fourteen guest rooms.

In 1875, goods began to arrive in the Animas Valley from the T. D. Burns stores in New Mexico. Burn’s daughter Rufina was married to Frank Trimble, so it is thought that Trimble’s homestead was used as a distribution point for these goods.

Also, in 1875 C.A. Trippe opened a general store in the “township” of Hermosa. In 1876, the first post office was opened in Trippe’s general store, with Andrew Fuller as the first postmaster. The post office would be in operation until 1929.

The agricultural community

Alfalfa was nutrient rich and helped improve the soil. Alfalfa was rotated with other important crops, such as potatoes, oats, barley, corn and garden vegetables. Orchards become the major crop of the area. “Bee yards” located throughout the alfalfa and clover fields kept the crops in the area pollinated and local honey was as popular as the fruit.

In 1875, produce and supplies began flowing out of Hermosa to the mines via the Animas Canyon Toll Road and to the Army at Fort Lewis, near Hesperus.

T.A. Kerr established the first grist mill in Hermosa in 1876. He was followed by C.E. Dudley with a mill on his property near Hermosa by 1877.

The first grange in the county was established in Hermosa on April 1, 1911. The grange was one of the country’s oldest agricultural organizations. They were designed to help with loans, insurance and other economic problems of farmers.

Animas Valley Grange #194, grange building, valley agriculture, rural, farmers, ranchers
Animas Valley Grange #194
Feller Orchard

Hermosa’s Orchards

Because of its location at the mouth of Hermosa Canyon, the area provided a warmer climate ideal for growing fruit. In 1876, Charles Dudley planted the first orchard in Hermosa. He produced apples and cider for the mines and the local market.

T.A. Kerr purchased land in 1883 and planted apples, pears, plums and sweet cherries. Between 1900 and 1903 Ole Lee, Andrew and Edgar Buchanan, Ervin Mead and Charles Dudley became fruit growers. The orchards became renowned throughout the region and earned numerous awards for quality and varieties.

A shocking development

The quiet little community of Hermosa was shocked in April of 1876 a water dispute broke out between neighbors Hugh Lambert and John Lamb. Lambert accused Lamb of diverting water from his land. Lambert threatened Lamb and a warrant was issued for Lambert’s arrest. While Deputy Edward Harris and his posse attempted to serve the warrant, gunfire broke out. Deputy Harris was shot and killed.

Lambert was arrested, charged and convicted in a courtroom in Lake City. He was sentenced to prison in the State Penitentiary in Canon City. He was pardoned shortly thereafter by governor Routt. He did not return to the Animas Valley and his family sold their Waterfall ranch to Thomas Wigglesworth, the surveyor for the Denver &Rio Grande.

Hermosa Water Stop

 The coming of the railroad

In November of 1881, the Denver&Rio Grande railroad arrived in Hermosa. For the next year, Hermosa became a full-fledged section camp. It included a 50,000-gallon water tank, a siding, a wye, coal house, bunkhouse and a depot.

Hermosa Creek Bridge

The lumber for the railroad was provided by T.C. Graden’s sawmill located on the west side of the Animas River near Baker’s Bridge. The lumber for the original Hermosa Creek Bridge most likely came from Graden’s mill.

Hermosa boasted three schools during its history. The first school was a log building built at Trimble in 1879. In 1882, a one-room school was established in an abandoned railroad building. In 1890, Richard Gaines donated land for a one-room school built on his ranch for grades one through eight. In 1925, a second room was added for grades nine and ten. The school was open until 1948 when it was consolidated into the Durango school system.

Hermosa Cemetery

The Hermosa cemetery is located about a mile north of the Hermosa settlement ( today it is located about a mile passed the  Hwy550/railroad crossing) It was officially established in 1906 on land purchased from and located on part of the Richard Gaines Ranch. Although this is the official date of the cemetery, the graves of several settlers from as early as 1888 are found at this location.

Hermosa today

The old railroad yard still exists as a maintenance yard for the Durango and Silverton Railroad. The water tank still stands but is not in use, It has been replaced with a storage tank made from an old tanker car. There is an old mail car (numberX66), a maintenance shed containing a speed car and other repair equipment. The work yard replaces the other buildings, the siding, and the wye.

Immediately south of the work yard is the Hermosa Creek Bridge that crosses Hermosa Creek. It is a Howe pony truss bridge built in 1914 to replace the original bridge.

Pioneer Homestead

Today the north part of the Animas Valley is showing the signs of rapid growth. There are mobile home parks and subdivisions with both spec and custom homes.  Along the west side of the highway and among these subdivisions, pioneer homes, and a few small orchards still, exist. Many of the large farms and ranches in the Valley have been subdivided over the year. Some like the James ranch still exist. Some original pioneer families still live in the area.

In 1993, the Dalton Ranch Golf Club opened. It is now a 4-star golf course resurrected from alfalfa fields. The club includes a restaurant and pro golf shop.

Just west of the Hermosa Creek Bridge is the small community established by Albert and Jennie Cometti in 1960’s. They purchased the strip of land along Meade Ln in Hermosa. The property grew from a gas station/convenience store to a gas station convenience store, liquor store, and restaurant.

At Trimble Springs, a “shopping center ” was built in 2009. It includes a gourmet grocery store, a liquor store, and a hardware store.

The Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs is still in operation. It is open year around. Today it offers soaking pools and a single room and a two-bedroom guesthouse.

The Culhane’s family owned the Honeyville bee farm has been in operation since 1918. It is located about a mile north of the Hwy 550 and railroad crossing north of Hermosa.

The James Ranch located just up the road from Honeyville is a two-generation 425 acre fully functional ranch. It features grass-fed beef, artisan cheeses,  pork, chickens, and eggs.  Organic vegetables are available in the summer. The Harvest Grill features a menu prepared with goods from the ranch.

James Ranch

I hope you enjoyed my article. I strive for accuracy of content. If you have any suggestions or comments please leave them in the comment section. If you would like updates sent to you as they are published you can subscribe with the form in the right sidebar.

The author of this article was a resident of Hermosa from 1981-2009. The current photos are from my collection. These and others are available for viewing