The Town that Wouldn't Die

by Jean Wayt


About a hundred miles east of Denver on the great plains of Eastern Colorado, rich beyond belief in Western history, sits the town of Limon. To many people, hearing the name "Limon" conjures up memories of being stranded by a winter blizzard or the latest disaster, being hit by a tornado in June 1990. Traveling right through the main business section, it rendered Limon completely helpless.

The early history of Limon, which is in Lincoln Country, states that it was a direct route to the Pikes Peak region and used by early gold seekers and hunters traveling the Smokey Hill Trail. Just west of Limon, the trail splits, the north going to Denver by way of Agate and Deertrail and the south going through Kiowa and Parker. They converge at a spot at the corner of Colfax and Broadway in front of the State Capital in Denver, where a statue marks this fact. Cattlemen came in the late 1860's followed by sheep ranchers. The homestead era came in the 1880's and from that time on, the Texas Longhorn Cattle were replaced with purebred stock.


But Limon did not become a place on the map until the Chicago Railroad and Rock Island Railroad and the Kansas and Pacific were built and crisscrossed, right along side the Smokey Hill Trail. The land was platted and the Post Office established on April 5,1889, and the town of Limon, first called "Limon Station", then changed to Limon Junction, then finally to Limon, and named after a railroad building crew foreman, was then on the map.


Texas cattle started to be trailed from Texas to Montana, the first cattle drive being conducted by trailblazers Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. In 1866 they drove 2,000 head of Longhorn cattle from the Brazos River country in north central Texas to Colorado, crossing the Purgatoire River near Trinidad, the Arkansas River east of Pueblo, the Big Sandy Creek about 6 miles west of where Limon would later established, and on to the end of the trail at the South Platt River between Denver and Sterling where John Wesley Iliff bought the herd for $12,000. Many of the cattle drives ended at the railway that passed through Limon and several neighboring cowtowns were established from this. Hugo, about 10 miles east, and River Bend, about 6 miles west, being only two of many. It was said that River Bend was pretty wild when the trail herders and a cemetery that sits on a hill to the north of where the town used to be boasts of many cowboys that died "with their boots on"! Yes, it’s named "Boot Hill"!


Cattle business became a permanent part of the industry in the Limon area with the Holt Ranch being one of the first ranches established. It was located southwest of Limon and built in 1872. It was a very large ranch, as were all the other ranches in the area, as it was said that in order to "make a go" of it you had to have 5,000 head of cattle. One of the biggest ranches in the area was the Thurlow Livestock Company. They carried thousands of sheep and cattle and by 1900, they had 85,000 acres under 75 miles of fence.


Rich in Indian Lore, early in the 19th Century, the Arapaho Indians came to the plains as the frontier pushed west and they lost their homeland. The Cheyenne tribes came south from the Dakotas and the two tribes became friends. They roamed the land traveling back and forth from Kansas by way of the Smokey Hill Trail and the Big Sandy Creek that runs along the south edge of Limon, and from this area was found one of the largest collections of arrowheads that is known. Druggist Dan Houtz spent many years finding these relics and put together the collection that was donated to the Limon Historical Society Museum. The collection surpasses many of the larger museums' collections in the country and can be seen at the Limon Museum that is housed in the old Railroad Depot sitting along the tracks behind the brand new Town Hall.


There was talk of just bulldozing what was left of the town but the hearty citizens wanted to save their history-filled city and rebuilt it. Now it stands bigger and better than it was before the tornado in 1990 literally ripped it apart. It stands proudly on the plains and has a standing invitation that the next time you are driving on Interstate I-70, pull in at the exits on each end of Limon and drive through a page of history as you go to the museum, where you can see how it used to be.