La Junta's Exciting Past
In the early 1800s, the area that would someday become La Junta was the staging ground for some of the most exciting events in American history. These were their favored buffalo hunting grounds of the Arapaho and Cheyenne. Because of this the Bent Brothers, William and Charles, established a fort along the river in 1833. Originally established as a trading post for the Native Americans, Bent’s Fort became the Southwest’s most important outpost and a stopping place along the Santa Fe Trail for travelers, trappers and explorers.
Prior to 1846 and the war with Mexico, the fort was the last outpost of the United States along the Santa Fe Trail before crossing the Arkansas River into Mexico.
In late 1875, as the railroad pushed further west along the Old Santa Fe Trail, a small settlement was established along the south bank of the Arkansas River, once the international boundary between Mexico and the United States. What would someday become La Junta began as a construction camp for the Santa Fe Railroad. The town, if it could be called as such, was a motley collection of tents and hastily built clap board structures. As with many of these "end of the line" railroad encampments of that time, the camp was quite lively, with no lack of "watering holes" and entertainment emporiums. The town was nearly forsaken after the railroad moved on in 1877; however, the Santa Fe Railroad recognized the value of the location and built a depot and roundhouse there and by 1879 the Santa Fe RR shops had been established. This once rowdy town became the headquarters for the Santa Fe Railroad's Colorado Division.
On May 15, 1881, the residents of this small railroad supply town incorporated and formed "The City of La Junta." The name "La Junta" is Spanish for junction or meeting place, and is pronounced "La Hunta". La Junta was truly the place where the rails and roads met and diverged to the mountain passes or the wide plains. Legend maintains that a herd of pronghorn antelope ran down what passed for Main Street back then, prompting the city fathers to use pronghorn antelopes on the city seal - where they can still be seen today. The legendary Bat Masterson was one of the first marshals of La Junta in 1884
By the turn of the 20th century, La Junta was a town of substance with brick and stone buildings replacing the old wooden clap board structures. It was obvious, even back then; La Junta was here to stay.
Today, La Junta may be considered a small town but it has amenities that are missing in much larger towns. La Junta is located on historic U.S. Highway 50, the "Coast to Coast Highway," in the heart of Southeast Colorado's farming and ranching country.
Some of the finest melons in the world are grown in Otero County - the Rocky Ford cantaloupes. During the summer months, the Farm Markets in the La Junta area offer fresh produce from their stands along Highway 50.
Between the La Junta Livestock Commission and Winter Livestock, La Junta is the second largest market for feeder cattle and calves in the country behind Oklahoma City. Take in a live cattle auction while you are here. It is a once in a lifetime experience to some, but a weekly way of life for a great number of ranchers in the Arkansas Valley.
Today you can easily travel and explore the Old Santa Fe trail by car. History is evident all throughout the area. Faint traces of the old wagon ruts can still be seen just outside of La Junta and along Highway 350 to Trinidad at various locations.