Colorado's largest county ranges from broken prairie in the east to the high mountains of the Culebra Range in the west. Settled in the 1860s by agrarians, it proved to have some of the richest coal pockets in the Rockies. Las Animas became Colorado's fourth most populous county by 1910, but labor wars and the switch to natural gas as heating fuel ended the bonanza days of “black gold.” The county is haunted by about one hundred dead coal camps, including the remains of Cokedale, a company town, and spooky Ludlow, with its sad monument to the slain wives and children of striking miners.
Many communities had predecessor Hispanic settlements whose history lingers in adobe ruins and cemeteries. Typical of these towns is Aguilar. Platted as a D& RG coal town in 1892, it replaced what had been the tiny mission and trading post of San Antonio Plaza (1867). Today Aguilar, with its many abandoned old buildings and a ghostly main street, epitomizes the fading towns of Las Animas County.
Agriculture has replaced coal as the lead industry. More than 2.5 million acres are classified as range land, while another 100,000 acres are farmed in this high and dry county. The federal government has preserved picturesque San Isabel National Forest in the northwestern corner of the county, and, in the east, the Comanche National Grasslands.
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