Dust to Dust: a History of Dearfield, Colorado
Vincent M Gladu History 1110 Professor Rucker 08/01/2011 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.
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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 migration of his people “into the country boroughs and place them upon the soil, upon the solid and never misleading base of Mother Nature, where all countries and ethnic groups that have ever been successful have gotten their beginning, a beginning that at first may be slow and laborious, however one that is true” (Washington, 61).
With the end of the American Civil War, and the resulting emancipation of America’s slave population, white Americans quickly thought they had a new problem: “The Negro Problem” (Smith, xiii). The problem of where all of the ex-slaves were going to reside became one of great significance. Many people thought that the ex-slaves should return to Africa, others believed that there should be a different country arrangement for them. A lot of white people, on the other hand, thought that black people could be settled in the West (Smith, 1993).
Thus, many former slaves and freedmen moved west in search of land and a new beginning. Yet another historically significant feature leading to the establishment of Dearfield and the migration west (and north) of black Americans was a short-lived sense of hope that their lot in life was improving. The conclusion of the century had brought with it some incidents that made it an optimistic time for American blacks. President Roosevelt had invited Booker T. Washington to the White House, and chose another famous black, William D.
Crum to public office. While Roosevelt was unsuccessful to go nearly far enough to prevent the ethnic bias, their acts and behaviors were considered as positive actions in that direction and gave black Americans optimism (Holley, 51). The West was quite expansive place, and the black inhabitants of Colorado rose from 456 in 1870 to more than 10,000 in 1930 (Moore, 1993:16). The whites in Colorado were friendlier to the blacks than in other areas in the USA; however, their recognition of the black immigrants was still connected with discrimination.
In discussions, which comprised some of the most affluent and influential men of Denver, the general sentiment was that while these blacks could only engage in some vocations they should not be brought in arbitrarily. They could be made valuable in several other ways (Denver Daily Tribune, May 11, 1879). Others believed that, while some blacks might be helpful and do well, the bulk would not willingly adjust themselves to the great labor jobs of Colorado (Denver Daily Tribune, May 11, 1879). These beliefs were not limited to Denver either.
All over the state, blacks were usually employed only for the most tedious and intensive manual labor (Holley, 77). It is not remarkable that the blacks who migrated to Dearfield would want to getaway from this kind of behavior. The first couple of years at Dearfield were very difficult, particularly since the majority of the migrants were not farmers. The land that they were attempting to make a livelihood had no water system. The majority of the people who came to inhabit at Dearfield were exceptionally poor. A few could not even afford the full train fare to the township and would walk the rest of the way.
Only two houses were constructed the first year, though there were many families, and the majority of the people were residing in trenches and tents (Dearfield, 1995). In 1917 though, Dearfield had 60 households on some 20,000 acres (Massey et al, 2). Jackson discontinued hiring people to settle in Dearfield at this time as all of the farmlands had been purchased (Taylor, 154). The township continued to develop, and in 1921 reached its climax of 700 inhabitants. The township had a school, two churches, a fuel station and a lunchroom.
The emigrants produced various crops such as corn, oats, barley, alfalfa, hay and sugar beets by means dry farming, and had nurtured many animals (Massey et al, 2). There was no irrigation system at the place, and only one inland waterway, which was downwards from the town (Norris 1980:141). The harvests and animals were generally sold at markets in Denver. In any case, some of migrants of the Dearfield were only living there temporarily, and the majority of their extended households resided in Denver (Moore, 1978). Dearfield had no graveyard, and any person who died there was taken to Denver or to the close by city of Greeley to be buried.
Some children may have been born in Dearfield, however there was no physician there full-time (Norris, 1978). The 1930s brought the dust bowl, famine, and economic downturn of the “Great Depression” and during the years from 1931-1939 the township was critically impacted by these occurrences as people began to move back to Denver and other places to find jobs and subsistence. WWI, the dust bowl, famine, recession and the fact that the majority of the people of Dearfield were older all added to Dearfield’s problem of sustainability (Moore, 1978).
In 1940, only 12 people were left in Dearfield. By this time, O. T. Jackson could not even give the land away, and despite a vigorous attempt at saving the town, all his efforts would prove futile. Jackson resided there until his demise in 1948, after which the only inhabitant was his niece. At her death in 1961, the place had in essence been abandoned for two decades (Massey et al, 1985). In 1978 Paul Stewart, the organizer of the Black American West Museum, carried out a sequence of oral interviews. He interviewed 4 people who had resided or spent time in Dearfield.
These were then used in a film regarding Dearfield called “Dearfield: The Road Less Traveled,” and are maintained at the Denver Public Library. Paul Stewart inquired about where their households had originated from, why they settled in Dearfield, and what the life there was. These interviews stress the optimistic feelings that these migrants had for Dearfield, however also show some incongruity about life at Dearfield ( Dearfield, 1995). In 1985, the Colorado Historical Society carried out a study of Dearfield.
At that time there were 6 buildings still standing, and the authors of the report suggested measures to be taken to protect them (Massey et al, 7-8). This recommendation was in fact overlooked since in 2003, when Brad Noisat went to carry out archaeological work on Dearfield, only 3 buildings were there (Chandler, 2008). Noisat excavated 50 test pits around the location of Dearfield. The test pits around the few existing buildings generated work of arts, however ones in other locations where one would be expecting buildings to be, as there is confirmation that the lots had been sold produced no significant finds.
Noisat thinks that there could be two possible explanations that nothing was found in these test pits. The first is the lots were sold, but never built on. One probable clarification is that the inhabitants of Dearfield were more transitory than earlier believed (Noisat, 40). Noisat recognizes that this is neither a good nor a comprehensive clarification (Noisat, 40). The other rationale why nothing was seen in the test pits is, quite basically, they are in the wrong spot. This claim is made stronger by the reality that test pits placed in locations that the records show as not being constructed upon, generated important archaeological data.
Noisat states that there appeared to be some great inconsistency between modern and historical accounts of the town design, in which lots and roads may be as much as 30 feet away from where they were originally thought to be located (Noisat, 40). Archaeology is an effective means to learn and understand the existence, culture, and life styles of a people a given location and historical period The archaeological relics found at Dearfield can tell us something regarding the racial discrimination the people of Dearfield were facing and how they fought to overcome it (Orser, 66)..
In his research of a black neighborhood in Annapolis Maryland, Paul Mullins found that the people challenged white supremacy by their shopping options. They selected brand name as an efficient method to prevent local marketers’ discrimination (Mullins, 74). Mullins also noted that, while the African Americans thought it was significant to buy some items, other items, for example earthenware were most probably obtained through more familiar methods such as bartering (Mullins, 181-182). The developments and patterns of the objects found at Dearfield could perhaps disclose similar data.
Identity, on the other hand, is not found so easily (Diaz-Andreu et al, 6). “Black” was not the only manner in which the people of Dearfield recognized themselves as. Dearfield was inhabited in an era when there were more small farms than ever in the USA, and when there were technological developments and new conveniences such as a more widespread use of electrical energy and mechanical farming (Groover, 97). Archaeologists could utilize the relics at Dearfield to make them understand the other rural locations from similar periods, in addition to compare Dearfield to other early 20th century farming locations.
This would assist in determining how the residents at Dearfield adjusted to their new way of life. By pre-planning outlines for land use and construction, farmers integrate advanced ideas concerning decreasing labor intensity and optimize production effectively (Groover, 24). This implies that farmers who had plotted out their farms put less more time and labor into their lands, to get the same amount of production and therefore their dedication to the their would have been greater.
Spatial studies on other kinds of sites have proved that site and building design can be attached to social organization, among other things (See Foster 1989:40-50). While these studies may not have been directly applied to Dearfield, these methods could be used to discover the town’s design and just how migratory the inhabitants of Dearfield actually were. The design of places can also point out the farming traditions of those residents (Groover, 24). The majority of rural study has concentrated on antebellum southern agricultural estates, and there is an inconsistency in the knowledge of rural life after the American Civil War.
Dearfield can narrate much about a way of life that is soon going to be extinct; the family farm. The number of farmlands has dropped considerably since the 1930s, being replaced by giant, corporate agribusinesses. As stated earlier, the early 20th Century was a time of advancement in farming. Farmers were endeavoring to automate their operations to make their farmlands more lucrative; doing things such as substituting animal pulled tilling with tractors (Groover, 96-99). Farmland was being consolidated into ever expanding holdings of agribusiness.
At present, the mass of profit in the agriculture business goes to the largest farmlands (Hoppe et al, 1). Since Dearfield was inhabited for such a short period could imply, that a contributor to its demise may well have been this agricultural trend in the United States at the time. Dearfield has significance because it represents the national Black American colonization movement established for promoting self-sufficiency and land ownership. It also records the contributions in the settlement of the West and records the efforts of a leader and entrepreneur in Colorado Black history at the beginning of the last century.
In 2007, the Black American West Museum in Denver got 19 parcels of Dearfield land (Chandler, 2008). They have by now evened out O T Jackson’s house and are in the process of getting the lunchroom restored to its original state of existence, however much work is still required to restore the town. Today the Black American West Museum proudly owns the majority of the town’s lots and along with the Colorado Historical Society is working to preserve, protect and restore the site as well as tell the story of this historical town. Bibliography Brown, Kenneth L.
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