The Black Sheep of El Paso County, Colorado

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Historian magazine, 1997, and in Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930.

Upon founding Colorado Springs, Queen, the wife of General William Palmer, encouraged her husband to ban liquor, saloons and dance halls from the new town. Palmer obliged Queen, and liquor laws within the city limits were strongly upheld. Those citizens of sporting nature in turn transferred their idea of fun to Colorado City, conveniently close but out of Palmer’s reach.

For many years, Colorado City upheld its right to drink and sin—an arrangement that worked well for those who wished to live in the Springs but still have a nip and a dance with a pretty girl. By 1906, however, the decent folks of Colorado City had decided that “Oldtown” had had its fun. A surge of do-gooders popped up in an attempt to close the saloons and sweep Colorado City clean of its soiled doves.

The sinners and boozers were not to be outdone. They managed to migrate slowly north of Colorado City, where just beyond the city limits they could once again partake in their usual habits. Saloon keepers gathered and bought $20,000 worth of land from Frank Wolff along 24th Street, a few blocks north of Colorado Avenue. They called the new city “Ramona”, after Helen Hunt Jackson’s romantic character from the book of the same name. The town lay somewhat in the vicinity of Thorndale Park, located on Uintah Street.

The citizens of Colorado City were instantly enraged! The Colorado City Iris had something to say in the May 23rd issue of 1913: “There is no secret that the purpose of the starting of the new town is to have a town given over wholly to the perpetuation of the liquor traffic and all its attendant evils, in the Pikes Peak region.” The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon Club called an immediate joint session to discuss alleviating the foreseen problems. The result was a committee, consisting of A.W. Clark, Percy Dunn, F.W. Kistler, and Mrs.A.K. Shantz. The committee’s first and foremost goal was to circulate a written petition. The Colorado City Iris lost no time in publishing the petition, which read in part:

“Whereareas, the city of Colorado City, after struggling with saloons for forty years, has recently by a vote of her people banished the saloons and wholesale liquor dealers from her midst, a feat accomplished only after a long struggle…Wherareas, there is a movement on foot by certain liquor dealers to establish and incorporate a town on our very border, for the sole purpose of selling liquors with all the accompanying evils that those words mean…”

Few in Ramona listened to the accusation. On July 17, 1913, the incorporation papers were filed for Ramona, and one night in November of that year the annex opened its doors “in a blaze of glory.” Robert McReynolds was named City Clerk, City Treasurer and Police Magistrate at $24 per month. L.C. Moats was hired as Chief of Police, City Marshal, City Detective and Jailer. His salary was $65 per month. Despite these official titles, the first jail was really only a small tent. It matched the rest of the town.

Allegedly, patrons to the new town were entering the annex via Fourth Street (24th Street today). This was the first cause of major concern, since respectable citizens lived on that street and were no doubt unhappy with the nightly proceedings. Indeed, it was not long before complaints, like Ramona, ran amuck. As a counter attack in general, the city council at Colorado City firmly upheld the decision in their petition not to supply water to the new town. As of January 1913, city employees had been instructed not to supply water to anyone running a saloon, even though Ramona only boasted two at the time. The Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph highly condoned the decision, commenting that Ramona had “turned out to be just what was predicted before the first shack was built – a degraded, besotted little sinkhole…”

A month later, saloon partners Henry Abbey, Harold C. Thompson and Marion Nickel filed suit for their rights to water. The judge ruled against them, saying Colorado Springs was under no obligation to supply water outside the city limits. Still, “Whiskeytown” was not to be outdone. Colorado Springs fire hydrants were mysteriously tapped at night and water piped through a fire hose to a Ramona water tank. Finally, although he decision not to supply water was clearly stated in the resolutions of the petition, it was revoked when a man named Jordan challenged his right to water for a grocery store and barber shop he was building in Ramona.

The Colorado City Iris voiced its discontent at the city’s failure to follow through. A few days after Ramona’s debut, the paper published a sarcastic editorial about the water decision and the ruckus on Fourth Street. This article was followed by a comment in the Gazette which read, “The press reports of the opening of Ramona were deficient in that they failed to specify the number of drunks manufactured in the new town. or tell of the noise, confusion and presence of women on that occasion.” The accusation was emphasized by the arrest of Mayor George Geiger in March of 1914 for allowing liquor to be sold to a 16 year old girl at his saloon, The Heidelberg (in spite of his crime, Geiger was re-elected as Mayor of Ramona in April).

By October of 1914, Ramona was going strong. Not only were dance halls and saloons in blooming business, but prize fights were taking place as well. Tents were being used for many of the festivities in lieu of buildings – probably because they could be taken down in a hurry and moved in case of trouble. Sheriff Birdsall of Colorado City and his deputies were somewhat at a loss with the crazy proceedings.

Colorado City was not pleased with the slow reactions of the authorities, especially after the sheriff and seven deputies were literally pinned down by spectators while a small riot broke out at the fights one night. “The sheriff and the District Attorney know or should know that liquor is being sold to minors and women, that bawdy houses have been run there right along,” the Colorado City Independent reported in disgust. “Drunks by the dozen swarm down here [in Colorado City] and…nine tenths of it comes from Ramona.”

This time, to show some backbone, officers of Colorado City raided the red light district in Ramona and apprehended a number of women. Arrests were made and fines were assessed. Another raid was made a year later. Sheriff Birdsall accompanied a few of his deputies on a robbery complaint this time. A man named Dayton from Illinois alleged he’d been robbed of approximately $400 in Ramona. While investigating the robbery, Sheriff Birdsall arrested one George F. Zeigler for running a gambling hall. The $400 mysteriously reappeared almost instantly, but Zeigler was taken to jail on $2,000 bond. Accompanying him were prostitute Eula Hames, Josie Parker, Bill English and Lon Parker, “alleged frequenters of resorts of this kind.”

Three months after the raid, Ramona’s saloons closed their doors as quickly as they had swung them open. Pressure from Colorado City and Prohibition in 1916 hastened their demise. Although the main source of Ramona’s livelihood was lost, the town somehow managed to hang on for a number of years. In 1922, a $25 tax on bachelors was proposed to boost the economy. The town treasury contained $100 and police protection, among other necessities, was lacking.

Finally in 1947 Ramona voted to revert to El Paso County’s jurisdiction. Colorado City welcomed the downfall of the town with open arms, and professed a desire to renovate and reintroduce the beautiful assets of the area, which included building Thorndale Park. In accordance, Ramona was molded into just another neighborhood on the Westside in the 1950’s. Today, no storefronts or evidence of evil doing can be seen, but the Ramona annex remains an historic and picturesque area.

2 thoughts on “The Black Sheep of El Paso County, Colorado

  1. Debra

    I can picture this town and its lively activity and colorful characters. I loved the “tax” on bachelorhood! That’s a new one to me. Quite fascinating!

    Reply

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