How Our Town Started, Lamar Colorado

Once upon a time, in 1886, there were a lot of people who wanted the American Dream. In other words, they wanted to make big pots of money, and/or own a nice piece of land. Strangely enough, one way certain entrepreneurs made money at the end of that century was in making towns. Air towns, they were sometimes called. It was a form of land speculation that could pay off big for certain men who had the right connections.

This was the wild west, you see, out on the prairie, a few days travel from the Rocky Mountains. Mostly what was here was flat land and grass, and the grass was doing pretty well due to an un-typical run of wet years. Homesteading was going on, but most of the land was open range and supported cattle.

There was in this area a rancher named Mr. Black who had a big spread along the river. On his land was a railroad station, very handy for sending his cattle to market, and he could charge others to use the facilities. A group of entrepreneurs asked Mr. Black to sell them some of the land around the station to make a town. Mr. Black could not see the advantage of having a town smack dab in the middle of his cattle range, and declined to sell it to them.

There was collusion and there were meetings in back rooms. A Clever Plan was hatched. On a Saturday in May, Mr. Black was sent a telegram which demanded his presence in a town 100 miles to the west, and he rushed off. In another version of the story, he hurried off to get an injunction, since he knew they were up to something. Anyway, he was lured away. At midnight, the railroad sent a train with a flatbed car and a crew of men. These men were cowboys and drifters who had been promised ten bucks and a rip roaring party with a banquet and all the booze they could drink if they helped with this little job.

The men jacked up the railroad station on Mr. Black’s land. The station seems to have belonged to the railroad and they had been authorized to take it, albeit secretly, but it was on Mr. Black’s land, and all the items inside were not railroad property, so things were a little murky on the legal front. The men worked fast. They got it onto the flat car and brought it three miles west to a quarter section of homestead land previously purchased by our entrepreneurs. The men put the station down and went back for the foundation stones and outbuildings. Other men began building a siding near the new station location, even though it was Sunday. On Monday, a train full of speculators from the Midwest showed up, and the auction of town lots began. By the end of the day, tents were going up and there was a town, at least on paper. The entrepreneurs were very happy.

Mr. Black returned to find his station was not where he left it. He was not happy. The people who may have been even less happy were the family of his foreman, who had been living upstairs in the station at the time it was hijacked. Some versions of the story have them, and their belongings, tossed out at midnight before the station was moved, and some versions have them being hauled along, willy nilly, to the new location.

The town was named Lamar after the Secretary of the Interior, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, with the laudable goal of influencing the man to give the town a land office. It worked.

An author named Mary Peace Finley has written a children’s book about this story, which came out in May. It is called The Midnight Ride of Blackwell Station
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Most of this is relevant later. Really.

This is Part 6 of Caro and Susan’s foray into the land of bookselling. Here are the earlier segments:

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  • I love this story. While reading it I was reminded of Blazing Saddles by Mel Brooks. I’m prepared to bet he knew your story while he was writing his script as he built a whole town overnight and the bad guy was called Lamar.

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    • ooooh! What a marvelous possibility!

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  • How interesting…I’ve been reading your blogs and had no idea you were located in Lamar…I have several friends who grew up in Lamar.

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    • And most of them are “from” Lamar, as it is one of those towns losing population. Sigh.

  • […] the post where I told you the town history and the Blackwell Station heist?  Well, we thought Bookwell Station would be clever and amusing.  Nobody else did.  No one at […]

  • […] a month down at the art center. It is the intention of the group to attract shoppers to downtown Lamar and to promote local businesses. To do this they need a budget, and the big money-maker each year […]

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  • My mother was born in Lamar, Colorado in 1918. Grandpa was homesteading there. Grandmother stayed with him in the summer but returned each Fall to Stafford, Ks. to teach school. I have heard that during the terrible flu epid. my Grandpa, George Jones delivered supplies and mail on snowshoes with the doctor on a sled behind him. They would stop at each cabin while the doctor checked on the sick and then he slept in the sled until they reached the next cabin. They lived in a sodhouse. Grandmother sent canned peaches etc. with Grandpa to give to the people who were sick. My grandmother wrote a story for our family about these days. Becky McMillen

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    • Good story Becky! Do you suppose we could have a copy of your grandmother’s story for Big Timbers Museum? (P.O. Box 362, Lamar, CO 81052)

      There are still a lot of McMillan/McMillen families in the county!

      Caro

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      • My Mom who is 92 has the only hard bound copy and she is living in a Presbyterian Manor in Lawrence, Kansas. I still read parts of it to her each week when I visit. My aunt may have an unbound copy that I could make a copy of for the museum. I will check. My aunt is 90.Grandmother used fictious names in her story which was disappointing to us but we know who in the family she was talking about. She wrote it for a class assignment at Kansas University when she was in her 60’s. When I read it to mom I use the actual names of Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Maggie etc.

        Another interesting fact is that my husband’s grandparents also went to Lamar to live for a short time about 5-8 years later. They did not know my grandparents but were all from rural Douglas County in Kansas. I would like to know more about the reason they each moved there. I would guess it was for the land. My husband’s grandparents also moved there for his grandmother’s health. She died in the hospital in Lamar shortly after arriving there.

        I so wish I had asked more questions of my grandmother when she was alive. We were very close but I didn’t know actual dates etc. of when events happened in her life. Thank you for your interest. I want to read more that you have written. Would there be a census of the rural area at that time? Becky McMillen

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