c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article were first published in Backwoodsman Magazine May, 1997
The area known as Greenhorn Valley, located about twenty five miles south of Pueblo, is rich in history. Those familiar to the valley will recognize the towns of Rye and Colorado City, both of which serve as comfortable bedroom communities today. Formerly, Greenhorn Valley and the surrounding areas were also home to several other towns such as Crow, Graneros, Mustang, Lascar and Greenhorn. Of these, Greenhorn is the oldest, and by far the most interesting.
As early as 1824, travelers on the Santa Fe Trail rested in the little arroyo where the remains of Greenhorn exist today. There area was shady and sheltered, and Greenhorn Creek yielded fresh drinking water and sizable trout. As the area grew in popularity, fur trappers began using the camp regularly while Mexican farmers settled nearby.
In 1841, ex-fur trapper and “Medium of the Rockies” John Brown settled at the camp and ran a successful trading post there. The area quickly became known to travelers and settlers as Brown’s Camp. Largely due to Indian attacks which were occurring in New Mexico and Colorado Territories, Brown moved his family to California in 1849.
Following Brown’s departure, upwards of forty people still lived at Brown’s Camp. By the following year, mail coaches were passing through on a regular basis. This symbol of modernization was considered a wonderful asset by farmers, ranchers and trappers who spent months isolated from the outside world. To the Ute and Arapahoe Indians who had inhabited the area for generations, however, the coaches and Anglos were seen as an intrusion. The Natives reacted by accosting travelers and attacking settlers. In 1851 a man was killed by Indians at Brown’s Camp, and in 1852 some cattle were killed and horses stolen.
In 1854, conflicts between settlers and the Indians came to a peak. A Mexican trader was killed on nearby Apache Creek by Utes. Then an outbreak of chicken pox occurred among the Utes, who immediately suspected that goods traded to them at Fort Pueblo were purposely tainted. On Christmas day, the Utes attacked Fort Pueblo, killing several and taking hostages. Several refugees from the battle took shelter at Brown’s Camp. Two years later, the village was nearly abandoned except for the occasional traveler and explorers such as Kit Carson.
No one seemed interested in taking up where John Brown left off until 1866, when Alexander “Zan” Hicklin began a post office at the camp. The name of Brown’s Camp was changed to Greenhorn, an Anglo translation of Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde’s name. In 1779, Cuerno Verde had been killed by New Mexico Governor Juan Bautista de Anza near the camp. The new name was also given to a nearby mountain towering above the area.
By establishing a post office at Greenhorn, Alexander Hicklin hoped to claim ownership to Brown’s old camp. In actuality, Greenhorn was situated nearly a mile from Hicklin’s Ranch and was ultimately found to be outside of Hicklin’s property. More settlers came, and 35 families settled near Greenhorn during 1871 alone. The following year, George Sears came to Greenhorn Valley from Kansas. He began ranching Texas Longhorns and eventually opened a new store and hotel at Greenhorn. He called the hotel 30 Mile House, since it was 30 miles from Walsenburg, Pueblo and Gardner, respectively.
Sears’ Mercantile quickly became a social center. The second story of the 30 Mile House was home to an Odd Fellows Hall, which treated patrons to oyster suppers and dancing. The supper cost $2.50 and included dancing until sunrise. Some nights the crowds were so large that dancers had to take numbers.
Downstairs, Sears’ store offered a variety of provisions, including coffee, beans, rice, sugar, tea, peanuts, candy, cigars and chewing tobacco. Ranchers traded potatoes, bacon and lard for merchandise. Rope was kept in the basement and pulled through the holes in the floor as it was sold. Not only was the rope kept out of the way, it also retained moisture – important to Sears since he sold it by the pound.
In 1874, George Sears became postmaster of Greenhorn, a title he was to hold for the next twenty years. Following his appointment, Sears dug a well at Greenhorn. Its cold water served as a refreshing sight to weary travelers passing through Greenhorn. Folks as far away as Pueblo knew about the well and recommended it to their friends. Even after the larger town of Rye was established a few miles to the west, people still continued visiting Greenhorn and patronizing Sears’ Mercantile.
During the 1880’s, a drugstore appeared in Greenhorn, followed by a saloon, blacksmith, grain mill, lumber yard and wagonsmith. Greenhorn continued serving as an ideal rest area for the next three decades. George Sears retired as postmaster in 1894. In 1897 Sears’ son Robert became postmaster until 1901, and again from 1908 to 1911 when the Greenhorn post office closed for good.
All was not lost on this determined little town, however. In 1916 Rafael Fossceco and his family moved to Greenhorn Valley and purchased the land on which Greenhorn sat. The Fosscecos sought to restore Greenhorn to the pleasant stop it had formerly been. Sears’ store, which closed in 1904, was reopened. A garage and tourist cabins were built. Alven Fossceco, one of Rafael’s six sons, opened a zoo.
The Fossceco family lived upstairs in the 30 Mile House and changed its name to the Greenhorn Inn. Single rooms rented for $1.75 during the 1920’s. In 1934, a restaurant was built and called the Shady Greenhorn Cafe. Forty five cents bought a full dinner with all the fixings, including dessert. Throughout the early 1940’s, a favorite Sunday drive for residents from Pueblo to Trinidad often included Greenhorn.
In the mid-1940’s, Interstate 25 was built a mile east of Greenhorn. As fewer travelers stopped at Greenhorn, business slumped and cafe closed. By 1950, the community was used only as a quiet residence for the large Fossceco family. Two years later the Greenhorn Inn was torn down.
Today, most of the buildings of Greenhorn can still be seen just off Highway 165 near Colorado City. When last seen, worn billboards pointing the way to Walsenburg and Trinidad could still be seen above the high weeds on the dirt road running through town. The Fosscecos and their descendants continue to live on the land, which is private and requires permission to inspect the buildings. Use respect, and a visit to historic Greenhorn can be both pleasant and interesting.
The Shady Greenhorn Cafe in 1987.