Founded in 1866 near the confluence of the Arkansas and Purgatoire Rivers, Boggsville became the first permanent settlement in southeastern Colorado. Its residents pioneered irrigation and large-scale farming and ranching in the Arkansas Valley. The town flourished for a few years. In the 1870s, Boggsville declined when the railroad arrived a few miles away in Las Animas, which became the county seat. After a restoration effort in the 1990s, Boggsville now operates seasonally as an interpretive museum and has been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
About two miles southeast of present-day Las Animas, Boggsville was established in 1866 by Thomas O. Boggs (1824–94) on land he acquired through his well-connected wife, Rumalda Luna Bent. Boggs was the son of Missouri’s fifth governor, Lilburn W. Boggs. Thomas first arrived in the Arkansas Valley in 1844 to work for William Bent at Bent’s Old Fort. Two years later, Thomas married into the Bent family. His wife was the stepdaughter of William Bent’s older brother, Charles, who served as the first territorial governor of New Mexico. She was also related by marriage to the mountain man Kit Carson, and the Boggs and Carson families soon established ranches together east of Taos, New Mexico.
After several years in California and Taos, Boggs started working with the large landowner Lucien Maxwell in the mid-1850s. Maxwell controlled a land grant of 1.7 million acres on the border between New Mexico and Colorado. They jointly owned some herds of cattle and sheep, which Boggs brought north to the Arkansas Valley for pasture in the summers.
Boggs thought the Arkansas valley had a good location and climate for settlement. Through his wife, in the early 1860s he secured a 2,040-acre land grant from the much larger Vigil and St. Vrain Land Grant. His property lay about three miles south of the confluence of the Arkansas and Purgatoire Rivers, with the Purgatoire running through the middle of the plot. In 1866, along with L. A. Allen, Charles Rite, and some Hispano laborers, Boggs built a large adobe house on his land and moved there with his family.
New residents arrived at Boggsville in 1867, when Fort Lyon moved to a new site just a few miles northeast of town. The opening of Fort Lyon promised a major market for agricultural produce and livestock, and as a result Boggsville soon developed the first large-scale farming and ranching operations in southeastern Colorado.
The most influential arrival was the merchant and rancher John W. Prowers (1838–84). Born in Missouri, Prowers had moved to Colorado in 1856. He married a Cheyenne woman named Amache in 1861. They lived at Bent’s New Fort and then in Caddoa, a small town east of Boggsville, where Prowers and Amache managed the stagecoach station. Prowers moved to Boggsville in 1867 to do business with the relocated Fort Lyon.
Prowers built a huge two-story, U-shaped house that eventually served as the town center in Boggsville. It provided the Prowers family with living quarters, but it also served at various times as stagecoach station, school, and political office. In addition, Prowers opened a general store in the house after his brother-in-law, John Hough, arrived with merchandise later in 1867.
Perhaps Boggsville’s most famous resident was Kit Carson, who settled there in December 1867. Carson had a long-standing friendship with the Boggs family. Carson’s family settled into a small house near Boggs’s barn. In early 1868 Carson traveled to Washington, DC, to help negotiate a treaty with the Ute Indians. By April, when he returned to Boggsville, he was seriously ill. He was moved to Fort Lyon, where he died in May 1868. His body was brought back to Boggsville and buried next to his wife, who had died a month earlier. The Carsons were later relocated to Taos for permanent burial. Boggs was named the executor of Carson’s will, and the Carson children became part of Boggs’s extended family.
Agricultural Center and County Seat
Already in 1867 Boggsville began to develop irrigation and large-scale agriculture and ranching operations. That year residents dug an irrigation canal called the Tarbox Ditch, which was seven miles long and irrigated more than 1,000 acres, including the farms of Boggs, Prowers, and Robert Bent (son of William). This successful project led to the first large-scale commercial agriculture in southeastern Colorado. Fort Lyon would buy nearly everything the farmers at Boggsville could produce.
Boggs and Prowers also pioneered large-scale ranching in southeastern Colorado. They raised horses, cattle, and sheep. Prowers even crossbred his cattle to produce stock that could survive harsh climates. His herd started small in the 1860s, but eventually grew to about 10,000 head of cattle by the 1880s. The area’s sheep numbered about 17,000 in the mid-1870s.
Boggsville became more important after 1870, as it developed into a center of civil society. Boggs became the town’s first sheriff in 1870, and he was elected to the territorial legislature the following year. When Bent County was established in 1870, Boggsville became the county seat, serving as the local administrative center for a vast area about six times as large as present-day Bent County. The county offices were located in the Prowers House. A public school district was organized the same year, and the first public school in southeast Colorado opened just north of the Prowers House.
From Town to Ranch
The railroad came to the Arkansas Valley in the early 1870s, but it did not come to Boggsville. The coming of the railroad meant easier access to eastern markets for shipping cattle and buying goods, but it also meant the end of Boggsville as a town of its own. In 1873 the Kansas Pacific Railroad established the town of West Las Animas (present-day Las Animas), where the railroad crossed the Arkansas River a few miles northwest of Boggsville. Bent County residents voted to move the county seat from Boggsville to Las Animas. That year John Prowers also relocated to Las Animas, where he built a new house and opened a general store. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Las Animas two years later.
Thomas Boggs remained in Boggsville until 1877, when he moved to New Mexico because his title to the land around the town was being contested. After his ownership was confirmed in 1883, he sold the ranch to John Lee for $1,200. Four years later, John Lee sold the land to James Lee, a bachelor and gentleman farmer from Boston, for $13,000. James Lee enlarged the farm to about 3,000 acres, on which he raised 800 cattle and 1,000 horses. Lee called his farm San Patricio Ranch and often held social gatherings there for friends from Las Animas.
After Lee returned to Boston in 1898, the Boggsville site began to pass through many hands. Lee’s family leased it out to local farmers until 1926, when Lee’s widow died and the land was sold. In 1946 Boggsville received a monument along Highway 101 south of Las Animas, but the land and surviving structures remained privately owned by Ernest and Alta Page. Various renters occupied the Boggsville buildings over the years. The Prowers House remained occupied until the 1950s, the Boggs House until the 1970s.
By the 1980s, the original Boggs and Prowers Houses were the main structures still standing at the Boggsville site. They stood in the middle of the Page family’s 569-acre farm, with the area around them used for grazing and farming. Both houses were deteriorating. The Prowers House was in danger of crumbling. Only one section of the original U-shaped building remained, and many walls were leaning or already collapsed. The Boggs House was in better condition but still needed reinforcement and restoration in order to survive.
In 1985 the Pages donated 110 acres encompassing the Boggsville site to the Pioneer Historical Society of Bent County. Using a grant from the State Historical Fund, the Pioneer Historical Society restored the Boggs and Prowers Houses over the next decade and opened them to the public as an interpretive museum.
Boggsville operated seasonally in the early 2000s but faced budget shortfalls. In the fall of 2014, the National Trust for Historical Preservation named Boggsville a National Treasure and committed to helping the Pioneer Historical Society find an operating model that would make the site sustainable into the future. In 2015 Boggsville received a Partners in the Outdoors grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to add new signs and landscape improvements. The site was also the subject of an episode of Colorado Experience that premiered on Rocky