“Nearly everything lives in a hole in the ground; the rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, owls, ground-squirrels, and even the people.”
-Letter from Joy Coy Colorado, 1916
Pritchett, Colorado lies in the extreme Southeast part of Colorado. There is not a lot of activity there these days. There is a school, a bar, a hotel for providing astrotourism adventures in the best dark skies in the United States, and a few houses. The empty storefronts on main street provide a few clues of a busier time when this portion of Colorado was the “Broomcorn Capital of the World.”
As you drive south through Pritchett you see a couple of towering grain elevators and railroad track. The railroad is a key part of this story but we will save that for later in this post.
A couple miles west of Pritchett, Colorado State Highway 160 turns south as it takes a path toward Trinidad Colorado. As you turn south there sits in a pasture, on the right hand side of the highway, a few piles of ruble signifying as many such locations do on the prairie that there was once life and activity in former days. This location and this ruble was what was known as Joy Coy, Colorado. The reference in the quote above about living underground refers to a “dugout” which is a shelter that is dug in the ground and roofed over.
The first news from Joy Coy was in 1915, so it is likely that is when folks came and set up the town. They came because this was one of the last places in the United States with free land available to homesteaders.
The first I learned about the settlement of Joy Coy was in the book, Bear Tracks and Cactus Tree’s by Iris Powell Colwell. Iris lived in Balko, Oklahoma,the hometown of my wife and she actually attended our wedding. It was only a few years ago that we discovered that when Iris was a child her family homesteaded west of Joy Coy. They apparently ran the store there for a time (See Below).
Additional information about the settlement of Joy Coy follows:
O. F and Jeffie Gray of Bruno returned a few days ago from Joy Coy, Colorado, where they had been Visiting their brother, W. O. Gray, who went to that country last spring and homesteaded 320 acres of fine land. They said that the entire 320 acres can be cultivated and that it is very rich and productive. They also stated that while there is a great deal of land in that country subject to homestead entry, it is being taken up very rapidly, and in a short time it I will all have been taken off the market. The young men stated that they would return to that country in a very short time and file a homestead on 320 acres each. We regret to see these young men leave Marion county but hope they will do well in Colorado
JoyCoy was described in the 1980 Baca County History Book as follows:
Jacob Gelvin wife Myrtle, sons Walter Ray daughters Flossie and Margaret, bought the whole east side of town. It consisted of a three room house, a filling station, garage, blacksmith shop between this building and the general store was machinery. The general store carried everything from thread to cookies. Crackers, cookies and candy came in a 12x12x12 inch box with lids
Well Mr. Editor of the Globe, we received copies of the Globe yesterday and it seemed like a letter from home. We were sure glad to hear of plenty of rain back there. Rain is our greatest need in this country. It is very dry at present. We have only had one real good rain since we got out here, and that has been six weeks had – several sprinkles. We planted corn, maize, and cane and it is all up, but it is so dry that it don’t grow very fast and our garden is late and can’t make much to eat if we don’t get rain soon. But we are not alone in the drought. It has been dry in Western Kansas and Oklahoma.
Well we like the climate it sure is a good place to eat and sleep; the nights are cool and we sleep under cover every night and fire feels good in the mornings.
Can say to inquiring friends that all the land is taken up but there are some relinquishments that can be bought rom $60 to $500. The country is pretty level and the soil is loose and good and deep enough to raise any thing if it gets to raining and they say it will.
Nearly everything lives in a hole in the ground; the rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, owls, ground-squirrels, and even the people. We have a nice dugout 16×20; and a house on top of the ground 14×14 in which we cook and eat, but we sleep in the dugout.
We are getting lonesome, for nearly all our neighbors have gone off to harvest. We were over close to the cedar mountains 3 weeks ago and there are thousands of head of the J. J. company over there and as many sheep. They are a good bit of trouble to the settlers and will be worse when the crops get larger. There are none of the cattle or sheep in this part of the country because this is more thickly settled. Every thing is high out here cows are $75 to $100 a head. Our neighbor paid $90 for one and they are scarce at that. If any of you Wellsville people want to get brown just come out here.
Mrs. J. R. Smith.
Dear Sir; The enclosed check will bring to us away out here in Baca County, the news from home for another year.
We are rejoicing in the assurance of a good crop, as we have had many very heavy rains over our county in the past two weeks. The ground here is thoroughly soaked up and every pool is full of water. My crop of forty acres is in fine shape. Corn just about in roasting ears; sudan grass higher than my head and ready to cut; twenty acres in feed, cane and maize, is looking good and we have a Little patch of Mexican and tapir beans, which are “the settler’s” stand-by.
We are now using besides them, potatoes and turnips of our own raising.
My family is well. Mother has just returned from a three weeks visit with her sister in Rocky Ford. My children are looking forward to school duties. I expect to try wheat this fall, with what success I cannot foretell. Your friend, Mrs. T. R. BARNETT.
Editor Gray County Record. Dear Sir: I will drop you a line, as I did not receive your last two papers. But it is not your fault.
We sure have been having some winter here. It started snowing about 5:00 o’clock, December 17, and never stopped snowing and blowing until about 10:00 o’clock December 24. It sure was some storm, and we have not had the mail from Lamar but once since the 20th of December, so that accounts for our not receiving your paper.
The weather man started the new year here by dropping the mercury to twenty below zero, and that makes one feel like staying close to the fire.
There are some few cases of flu in this neighborhood yet. The Baca County paper states that one man lost 35 head of cattle in one night since the storm. As this is all the news I think of at present, I will close, wishing you all a happy and prosperous new year.
Chas. E. Ryder.
Joy Coy Colorado, around 1920
Capper’s Weekly (Topeka, Kansas, United States of America) · 27 Mar 1920
Joy Coy, Colorado like many towns looked forward to the coming of the railroad. The news of the day anticipated that the rail would reach Joy Coy.
The proposed extension of the railroad to Joy Coy never came to pass. The railroad stopped approximately two miles short of Joy Coy. A new town, Pritchett. Please Note in the clipping below they refer to Vilas as Wheeler, presumably in reference to long time Vilas merchant CF Wheeler.
By a Staff Correspondent. Springfield Colo., Feb. 1 — All Baca county expectantly awaits today the fulfillment of a dream born a halt century ago when the first rugged plainsmen began homesteading the rich prairies, the sight of a train puffing its way over the prairie. This long awaited sight will be given residents of Baca county tomorrow when the first scheduled train will operate over the new Santa Fe line extended out of Manter to Pritchett Colo., a new town near the western edge of Baca County.
The Santa Fe operating department today formally look over the 56.1 mile stretch of of splendid railroad from the construction company. Regular service will be inaugurated tomorrow. For the time service will be tri-weekly, trains running west from Dodge City on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and returning form Pritchett on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No trains will run on Sundays. The first train leaving Dodge City, Kan., at 7 o’clock in the morning and reaching Springfield late in the afternoon.
Railroad officials have assured local shippers that daily service will be accorded Baca county just as soon as business warrants. It was pointed out that it would be far better to start with tri-weekly service and increase the trains than to give daily service on the start and then reduce the trains.
A Splendid Railroad.
No finer piece of new railroad was ever turned over to an operating company than that extending form Manter Kan., to Pritchett, Colo. Nothing but heavy steel was used in the construction and the roadbed in splendid shape at present. Lack of rain in more than six months has prevented any grade settlement. This means the Santa Fe will have considerable filling to do later, but for the time at least riding over the new line is as comfortable as the Santa Fe Main Line. Special trains carrying officials making final inspection of the line before acceptance by the operating Department have been zipping along at a speed of 10 to 50 miles an hour which is nothing short of remarkable for a new road.
The opening of the new Manter line of the Santa Fe leaves one railroadless County in Colorado that is real Blanco in northwest corner of the state.
Great Development to Come.
The importance of the railroad to Baca County cannot be overestimated. Here is a great expanse of rich land barely tapped by the handful of hardy pioneers who have stayed against the day of the railroads coming, hauling their products 30 to 50 miles for shipping. It opens the way for a great many agricultural developments on the land which will grow wheat corn broom corn and numerous row crops. It is said of the sandy section of the southern part of the county that there never has been a complete failure except where hail has taken its toll. Rainfall comes during the growing season due to the melting snows in the mountains to the west.
Grain Awaits Shipment.
A considerable tonnage of freight awaits commencement of a regular train service. The Santa Fe will operate in a mixed train carrying both freight and passengers. Nearly a train load of wheat is already loaded with the three principal stations, Pritchett, Walsh and Springfield, and a large amount of broom corn and grain is piled on the ground at Walsh waiting cars. The construction trains have previously carried out some grain and have brought some inbound Freight. Most inbound Freight has been trucked across from Lamar, however, immense service over the construction company train was too uncertain.
Springfield and other Baca County towns will continue to get their mail Lamar station for the time because of the lack of daily service on the railroad. Daily truck service out of Lamar has been supplying mail in the past.
Ends Long Wait.
“We have been waiting for this train service for 40 years.” Commented Mayor H.. E. Homsher, of Springfield today. It should bring us many new settlers in the launching of service and undoubtedly marks the beginning of an era of prosperity for our country. The railroad means the thousands of acres of sod will be broken this spring.
Extensive building programs in Walsh, Springfield, and Pritchett will now be possible with materials available via Freight. Efforts to build especially in the new towns that have sprung up from the Prairie on both sides of Springfield have been particularly handicapped by the lack of materials.
End to Two Towns.
Opening of the railroad memes the passing of two Pioneer towns Joy Koy and Stonington. Joy has been moved about two miles into Pritchett, western terminus of the road and and Walsh is replacing Stonington. Since the railroad has not come to these pioneer settlements they moved to the railroad.
The opening of the railroad brings this Colorado County closer to Kansas Distributing points than those in Colorado, actually closer by measuring miles. Vacuum County will be a big buyer in Hutchinson markets. Dodge City is also bound to reap a great deal of benefit from the tapping of this new country.
Three agency stations.
The Santa Fe will maintain agents of each of the three principal points on the new Railroad. H.S. Hazel is the Agent of Springfield; R. A. Spellman at Walsh and A. E. Menefee at Pritchett. The railroad has built homes for the agents at Walsh and Pritchett and it looks like the same thing would be necessary in Springfield for there isn’t a vacant building in this town.
Grain elevators are already beginning to rear skyward along the new railroad and others will soon be under construction. Places for elevators have been provided several sightings as well as in the three towns. Stations and sidings on the new 56.1 mile extension starting at manter and extending West or as follows:
Bartlett, Colo., siding.
Walsh, Colo. agency station.
Vilas, Colo. siding.
Springfield, Colorado agency station.
McCall, Colo siding.
Pritchett, Colo. Agency station terminal.
Saunders, Kas., siding.