The German Colony
Custer County, Colorado

Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Colfax was at the eastern foot of Humboldt Peak, which is just right of center in this photo
Hope Lutheran Church in Westcliffe, Colorado
Hope Lutheran Church in Westcliffe

In 1870, an ambitious group of Germans left the factories and slums of Chicago and followed Carl Wulsten to Custer County, Colorado. They took the train to the end of the tracks and then continued on in wagons with mule teams and a military escort, from Fort Lyons in eastern Colorado to their townsite of Colfax, about 15 miles southwest of where Westcliffe now stands (Westcliffe wasn't built until the Denver & Rio Grande arrived in 1881).

1870 also saw the arrival of the first of the big cattle herds with Edwin Beckwith, John Lapham and Brann & Co. The first pioneers to actually settle in the valley (Elisha P. Horn, John Taylor and William Vorhis) had only arrived the year before. Colfax Colony (named for Vice President Schuyler Colfax, the official who obtained the government sponsorship that made this venture possible) was located in the southwestern part of the county, right below Humboldt Peak and the Crestones. Colfax Colony was an experiment in filing for homestead rights as a group instead of as individuals. When a proposed amendment allowing such group filings was voted down in Congress in the summer of 1870, the Colonization Company collapsed.

Colfax Colony was the first effort of this kind organized in the United States and the colonists had been welcomed with much ceremony. However, as these colonists were making an almost impossible switch from factory work to alpine farming, mistakes were to be expected. Crops failed, money was mismanaged, and the colony was torn apart by internal politics and feuding. By the fall of 1870, the original 100 families disbanded and Colfax Colony disappeared. Some individuals and families did stay in the valley, claiming their own homesteads and finding their own success over time. logo
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