I haven’t spent a great deal of time in Eastern Colorado, but after an early summer trip to Fort Morgan, I will remedy that situation. The towns scattered across the Easter Plains may be small, but they are bursting with Americana and good old fashion charm.
We spent just one night in Fort Morgan; we were in town for Glenn Miller SwingFest, a celebration of the town’s most famous son.
As we traveled back towards the mountains I couldn’t help but notice the splashes of color on the side of the highway. I mentioned it so frequently that my husband took the hint and brought the car to a screeching halt near a particular big bunch of wildflowers.
Wearing flip flops, I picked my way cautiously through the prickly brush to where the white flowers were fluttering like paper in the wind. If you’ve driven in Colorado, you’ve probably seen these before. I had to look up the name and I’m fairly certain they are prickly poppies.
There were also these brilliant yellow cactus flowers.
After I had my fill of snapping wildflower photos on the side of I76 we drove on, exiting on Hwy 34 towards Greeley. About 12 miles west, Ryan suddenly made another unscheduled stopped. He’d spotted an historical marker and wanted to check it out. We were in a moseying sort of mood after all.
The marker stood before a dilapidated building surrounded by fencing. The sign indicated that we were in Dearfield, Colorado, a ghost town with just a few buildings still standing, albeit crookedly.
Dearfield was a planned community established in 1910 as an agricultural colony of African Americans. The first settlers moved to town in 1911, and by 1920 there were 200 residents. There were also two churches, a school and a restaurant and plans to build a canning factory and college. Those plans, however, were never realized. Unfortunately, Eastern Colorado was part of the Dust Bowl.
Slowly the citizens began to leave in search of greener pastures. By 1946 Dearfield’s population had fallen to just one hearty soul. Despite the sad story, the town is still a symbol of western pride and empowerment for many African Americans and today the site is the property of the Black American West Museum.
This is what’s left of Dearfield, Colorado today. While the buildings are in bad shape, they are still home to things like old wash machines and chairs. I got the odd sense that folks had simply gotten up one day and walked away.