Local community celebrates Santa Fe Trail Day


jessica.jpgWhen coming to visit Las Animas, Colo., on Santa Fe Trail Day, all that can be said is “Welcome to hick town.”

The Santa Fe Trail started in 1821. William Becknell was the first trader to use this route. After Becknell went across this path, the website www.vlib.us says the trail itself became used as a trade route to haul freight from Kansas City, Mo. to Santa Fe, N.M. The trail was also used to trade with the Spanish.

According to www.eviltwin.velvetsofa.com Santa Fe Trail Day is a remembrance of the Santa Fe Trail that only Las Animas, Colo., celebrates. It was started by Curtis Wain Gates who was born on July 2, 1916, and died on April 28, 1991.

“Curtis Gates grew up on the Brown family ranch,” Alta Mae Brown stated.

Brown was born in La Junta, Colorado. Her family lives in Las Animas. Brown has been a Las Animas resident all her life. She is currently the Bent County Treasurer at the Bent County Courthouse. Brown and her three sons own a ranch between Las Animas and Hasty, Colo. She has participated in Santa Fe Trail Day events when she was a child and she still goes to see the parade.

The first Santa Fe Trail Day was in 1934. The celebration of Santa Fe Trail Day is the longest running high school event in the whole country.

“Curtis Gates was an actor who starred in ‘Gun Smoke’ and he played Festus Haggen in the movie,” Brown said.

Gates was also a singer in a group called Sons of Pioneers.

Gates founded Santa Fe Trail Day as a way for students to get what they always wanted a day off from school. The students had to either participate in the activities or go to class.

Santa Fe Trail Day is always on the last Friday in April. This year it fell on April 25. It will be the 74th Santa Fe Trail Day to take place in Las Animas, Colo.

Santa Fe Trail Day has many activities for students and the community, including a parade, a float contest, a costume contest, a queen contest, square dancing, a demolition derby and a variety show. The community can also purchase items from vendors.

The parade can involve a lot of people, whether they are just watching the parade, riding on a float, riding on a horse as a parade marshal or playing music in a band. The parade usually starts at about 10 a.m. and runs for about an hour.

Along with the parade is a float contest. Students, faculty and citizens can decorate their own floats and show them off in front of the judges during the parade.

The costume contest allows people to dress up as different characters from the 1800s such as a cowboy, cowgirl, pioneer, Native American or a mountain man.

Another annual event on Santa Fe Trail Day is the queen contest. The first Santa Fe Trail Day Queen was Jewel Myers. Two other participants were Alta Mae Brown and Rachel Stroh. Stroh was the candidate for 2005.

“Being a queen candidate was fun because I like history,” Stroh said.

“Wearing a dress was great, but you could not put it on by yourself because there are too many layers. It made you feel like a part of history.”

Stroh has been a resident in Las Animas for seven years. She was the senior class queen candidate. She wore a green cotton dress from the 1800s.

“The hardest part was answering the judges’ questions. I knew the answers, but I’m not a good public speaker and I stuttered a lot,” Stroh said.

“I didn’t like standing in front of the judges and answer all the questions.”

Speaking in front of the judges is a task that all queen candidates must perform. This event allows the judges to determine who would be a good person to be selected Santa Fe Trail Day Queen.

“I enjoyed learning all the history and trying to find answers to all the questions. I went to Bent’s Old Fort to get some of the answers.”

Bent’s Old Fort is a historical site that provides tours for people who want to know about its history. The site has a lot of information about people who crossed the Santa Fe Trail to settle in the west.

“I didn’t realize what people went through traveling on the trail. The women had the hardest time,” Stroh stated.

Square dancing seems to draw the biggest crowd during Santa Fe Trail Day. Each high school class practices several routines that they perform on Santa Fe Trail day. The females dress up in a skirt and shirt and the males wear pants and a shirt that match the other members’ outfits. The high school square dance members put on their outfits on Santa Fe Trail Day and compete in a contest for prizes.

After the square dancing contest, the winner is announced along with the other winners of the float contest, costume contest and of course the Santa Fe Trail Day Queen.

The demolition is usually held at night. About half of the 3,000 citizens in Las Animas go to watch the derby because old cars get smashed.

The variety show is usually put on the day after Santa Fe Trail Day. Students and community members get to sing, dance, play an instrument, twirl a baton and show off many other talents. The show is usually rehearsed throughout the day and performed at 7 p.m.

One variety show act featured Garrett Torrez, Levi Gruber and Ryan Eck. These three Las Animas High School students played “Pinkerton”, by Weezer in the 2004 talent show. Eck swung his guitar around his neck in a full circle and Torrez bailed into Gruber’s drum set after the show. Torrez is the only student that is now attending Colorado State University-Pueblo.

Another high school student who performed at Santa Fe Trail Day was Elizabeth Montejano. She has won at least two first place prizes for her singing. She is now attending college at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo.