Considering the fact that it is home to the intersection of two of the most famous trails in United States history, it is only appropriate that Trinidad and Las Animas County have a colorful background. Filled with some of the most well-known national figures on both sides of the law and steeped with legend, folklore and that uniquely American brand of bold, brash expansionism, Trinidad and Las Animas County tell the story of America as much as any city in the country.
On display at Trinidad State Junior College are artifacts of the Native American communities that made their home in the area long before European settlers arrived. Further evidence of native habitation can be found throughout the surrounding terrain: drawings are frequently found in caves and on canyon walls, while artifacts from Native American communities continue to be unearthed as Trinidad and other communities in Las Animas County develop.
Prior to the American revolution, French and Spanish traders, scouts and trappers passed through the area. Drawn by the idyllic setting and availability of water, game and fertile soil, several settled and became the first Las Animas County residents of Spanish descent. (Las Animas County’s roots are evidenced by the proliferation of European surnames while the names of many surrounding landmarks such as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains bear further witness to a European heritage.)
In the Wild West era, Trinidad was prototypical of the rough-and-tumble, somewhat lawless cities that attracted characters of dubious legal standing. Considered a relatively safe haven for fugitives, Trinidad was, from time to time, home to the likes of Billy the Kid. The notorious gunslinger was known to visit the city when hiding from the law or wounded. Local legend has it that he finally left the city forever only when a nun, Sister Blandina, agreed to treat The Kid’s wounds on the condition that he and his gang never return. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, both sides of the deal were upheld.
Trinidad has also been home to other famous figures from the Old West whose names are etched into American lore thanks to their adventures. Gunfighter-turned-sheriff Bat Masterson was briefly Trinidad’s town marshal after being voted out of office in Dodge City, Kansas. Famous Old West lawman Wyatt Earp made Trinidad his home for a short time after his legendary showdown in the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
Around the same time, in the 1880s, Trinidad’s economy was boosted by the completion of the Santa Fe Railroad — an event that also gave the county its next big population boom. The coal-rich Las Animas County area suddenly became a regular stop for trains seeking to supply both the railroad industry and the regional steel mills of the day. The mine owners found workers by moving Irish, Welsh, German, Italian and English immigrants into the area.
With population spiraling up and plenty of jobs to go around, Las Animas County entered a golden era. By then a modern, wealthy and well-structured community, Trinidad reaped the benefits. With the city’s borders swelling outward and its buildings ballooning upward, the late 1800s are considered the years most influential in making Trinidad the city it is today.
Presently, there are over 2,000 methane gas wells in Las Animas County generating income to the city and county in several forms. For example, the energy impact grants awarded to the county in the last few years equate to millions of dollars and the economic impact for citizens of Las Animas County is over 500 jobs related to the gas and oil industry. Gas industry experts estimate that the combined economic benefits to the Las Animas County area from the coal-bed methane industry is over $20.5 million, which is currently the largest payroll factor in the county.
As the local economy continues to grow, investments in building industries such as tourism, methane gas, retail and commerce have paid dividends and continue to give Las Animas County its biggest economic upturn in 80 years. Responsible, progressive city planning has helped capitalize on the momentum generated in the past half-century, generating a consensus that the next several decades will be Las Animas County’s best yet.