A solitary black volcanic butte on the east side of I-25 known as Huerfano (Spanish for orphan) gave its name to the county, established in 1861. The Spanish Peaks, known to the Utes as Huajatolla, or “Breasts of the Earth,” are the county's other landmarks. The Wet Mountains on the north and the Sangre de Cristo and Culebra ranges on the west guard this scenic county, which includes much San Isabel National Forest land.
A misty history has left little except adobe ruins and the graveyards of more than fifty vanished towns, including Badito, the original county seat. The old Spanish fort 7 miles south of Badito on Oak Creek was an outpost of New Spain, abandoned after the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 established the Arkansas River as the boundary between the United States and Mexico.
The Cucharas (Spanish for spoon) River nourishes the only two incorporated towns: Walsenburg and La Veta. Redwing, with its post office in a silvery Airstream trailer, and Gardner are tiny but living hamlets on the Huerfano River. Cuchara, a Hispanic community founded in the 1860s on the upper Cucharas River, is becoming a resort town.
During the coal mining boom of the early 1900s, Huerfano County's population climbed as high as 17,000. After natural gas and fuel oil began to replace coal heating during the 1930s, the coal industry declined. All that remains are abandoned coal camps with concrete foundations and steps that lead nowhere. With the mines closed, the county has returned to the agricultural pursuits that first sustained settlers. Huerfano County has shrunk to 6,000 residents, of whom roughly half are Spanish surnamed.
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