Homesteaders and Settlers
Free Land to the West" was the call in the 1860’s. After the Homesteaders Act of 1862 was passed many settlers hitched up their wagons and headed west. It was this very drive that brought the first settlers to the Florissant Valley. The Act stated that:
"...any citizen, or person with intention of becoming a citizen, who was the head of a family and over twenty-one years of age, could become possessed of 160 acres of the surveyed public domain after five years of continuous residence on his tract and the payment of a small registration fee..."
Not only was the land to be lived on for five consecutive years but also worked. The family had to build a home to live in. The home needed to be equipped with a door and at least one window. Then for five years the family had to work the land and make improvements on it, with crops and livestock. If this criteria was completed the U.S. Government gave you the land, as long as it was properly surveyed.
Judge James Castello was the first of the settlers to inhabit the Florissant Valley. He originally came from Florissant, Missouri to make his travels to what is now known as Fairplay, CO in the mid 1860’s. Gold was the original reason for his interest in Colorado, as the land was not yet surveyed to take advantage of the Homestead Act. There he was quickly appointed to county judge, he became a member of the first Senate of the Colorado Territory, and also an agent for the Colorado Superintendency of Indian Affairs. He was well known throughout the region as an honest man and trusted by many. Not only was he friends to the early settlers, but also to the Ute People. Eventually, gold was harder to come by in the Fairplay gold camp, so miners left by the dozens. The newly becoming ghost town was no longer of interest to Judge Castello and decided to make his future somewhere else, the Florissant Valley. He built his new home and a hotel at the intersection of Oil Creek Trail and Ute Trail in June 1870. As this area was just 35 miles west of Colorado Springs, supplies were only a few days away. Slowly, more and more settlers from Fairplay followed the Castello’s to the Florissant Valley. Two years later Judge Castello built a trading post, general store, and a post office. He named the newly established town, Florissant after his hometown in Missouri, which means “flowering” in French. People of all different trades came to Florissant to make their claims for free land.
In 1873, Reverend David P. Long came to the Florissant Valley and was the first settler to make his claim in the Petrified Forest, today known as the Florissant Fossil Beds N.M. In addition to his newly built home he built an extra room off the side of his home for a school, to be taught by his wife, for his and the neighboring children. As he was the only preacher for miles he conducted many marriage ceremonies for the growing community.
It wasn’t long before Florissant became a very profitable town bringing in blacksmiths, livestock, a sawmill, and of course the doctoring services of Nancy Ann Roberts. Nancy Ann Roberts was known as “Dirty Woman” for her harsh demeanor and foul mouth. She wore a dirt-crusted dress, smoked a corncob pipe and swore like a man. She would offer her services as midwife and herbalist whenever they were needed. In addition to her doctoring services she built, owned, and operated the local sawmill on her land, Dirty Woman Ranch.
Homesteading was difficult in the Florissant Valley, as 160 acres just wasn’t enough land to really make a good living. The soil was less fertile and the climate very dry bringing less rains. Many homesteaders didn’t succeed in such harsh conditions and left for literal greener pastures. Not only did this reason make the story of Adeline Hornbek’s success so unique, but that she was successful on her ranch as a single parent. She came to the Valley in 1878 quickly becoming popular with the locals. She was the secretary of the school board, held many socials in her home, and ran the Mercantile (Castello’s General Store). Mostly, the people in this community were very friendly and helpful to each other as it was important they all succeed together.
Did You Know?
More than 220 national park units preserve fossils! However, only 9 units were specifically set aside to protect fossils and Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is one of those!