Baca County Colorado is an expanse of prairie in Southeast Colorado that has at various times in its history has been known as the heart of the 1930’s Dust Bowl and a little later the Broomcorn Capital of the World. However, like most places, there are stories of people who brought something to a place and left a legacy. The legacy in this story is that of homesteader David Lay who came to Baca County and filed a homestead claim south and west of Vilas. Baca County was one of the last places in America where the government was giving away free land if the homesteader could complete a few tasks and survive long enough to make that land their own.
We have many stories about how the area developed and how it was a destination for all kinds of shady characters and criminals who showed up through the late 1800s and early 1900s. Those characters truly made towns such as Carrizo/ Carriso Colorado and Boston Colorado some of the wildest little cow towns in the waning days of America’s wild west. However, many other stories describe efforts to bring civilization, order, and faith to the prairie.
The photo below of the Friends Church South of Vilas provides evidence that churches began to pop up in Baca County around 1915.
However, January 8, 1915, Salida Record just a few month prior describes a Mammoth County with no church buildings. The headline read as follows:
The article continues as follows,
Baca County, Colorado, is almost twice the size of the state of Rhode Island. Its area is 58 by 48 miles or 2,531 square miles, but it has not one church building within its borders. This county is in the extreme southeast corner of the state. It contains a population of over 8,000 souls, which number is rapidly increasing by reason of births and by reason of incoming settlers attracted by the scientific progress in dry farming, the discovery and use of artesian wells, and the recent building of a colossal dam for the irrigation of a large section near Two Buttes.
It’s not that some didn’t try. The April 4, 1889, Edition of the Aspen Chronicle tells us,
The religious editor who runs the Boston (Colorado) Banner, says ‘For five consecutive times we have been disappointed by the preacher who was announced for services. Some better arrangements are sorely needed.’
Note: We have mentioned Sam Konkel, the editor of Boston’s Western World many times, but the Boston Banner editor George Daniels is the person mentioned above and probably played a larger role in the final siege of Old Boston than has been discussed…but that story is for another time and another place.
Southwest of Vilas Colorado a couple years prior to the “Mammoth County” article another pioneer showed up in Baca County. George Lay filed a homestead claim Southwest of Vilas Colorado in the 1913 timeframe. The July 1927 Democrat Herald article below is about the passing of Grandpa Lay who built Lay’s Chapel.
Below is the general location of Lay’s Chapel between Vilas and Springfield.
Linda Gibson tells us,
My Great Grandfather was David Lay a/k/a Grandpa Lay mentioned in the newspaper clipping above. The photo below is a drawing of Lay’s Chapel. My father showed me where it was located before he died in 1996. My Father Horace Parker and Evalee Meltabarger Myers Forpahl were cousins. Their mothers were sisters. I don’t remember now what year it was, but Evalee was the only living person I knew of at the time who would know what Lay’s Chapel looked like and she was in the nursing home. I asked Andrea Baxter to go with me to chat with Evalee and have her describe Lay’s Chapel to us so Andrea could sketch it for me. After Andrea made some changes Evalee wanted, she declared the sketch perfect. Said it looked exactly like Lay’s Chapel.
Image courtesy of Linda Gibson.
Linda also gives us a little more detail about the actual location. She says, go east on Highway 160 from Hwy 287 and 160 Junction to Co. Rd. 29.8. Go south on CR 29.8. until you go over hill. Dad (Linda’s Dad) said his grandparents, David and Lizzy Lay’s homestead was on the east side of the road and Lay’s Chapel was on the west side. It is all farm ground now.
It has been a pleasure to learn a little more about more our Baca Pioneers and their heritage. Thank you Grandpa Lay for being a “fine model for any young man to follow after” and the legacy you left for your family and Baca County.
Final Note: Although I have enjoyed putting together all of them, some of these Baca County Stories are a closer connection than others. This one includes my ol’ Springfield buddy Joel Thompson’s Grandma Evalee. Many a fine morsel was placed before us when we stepped into Grandma Evalee’s door. I appreciate those meals and memories even more now.