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Colorado visit finds colorful museum

 Francisco Fort is an interesting museum from an interesting time.

Francisco Fort is an interesting museum from an interesting time.

By Henry Hettger

Colonel John May Francisco (Kentucky Colonel) from Virginia who moved to La Veta, Colo., in 1859, planned and built a fort as protection for the townspeople against the Indians, basically the Ute tribe.

A beige adobe structure was built, and white colored on the interior. It dates from 1862, Fort Garland to the west, is a U.S. Army Fort, built in 1858. If a military fort, the word fort precedes the name. As this is a civilian fort, the word Francisco precedes the word fort.

Curiously, a U.S. Army stove is inside to provide heat. According to Bob Kennemer, director, Francisco Fort, an eight-foot fence or stockade was erected around the fort building. In the event of hostilities, the town’s settlers could safely seek refuge within.

Col. Francisco was a married man who had no children. He had a slave with whom he had a child. It is not known when the she learned of her freedom. She stayed on at the fort and passed away in 1957. For many years the fort served as a general store. An early schoolhouse from 1876 is within the museum and has large wall maps of Europe and Africa that are dated to 1892. At the front of the classroom are two shields with stars at the top on a field and vertical red and white stripes below. A portrait of President Lincoln is on the left side and President Washington is on the right.

Regarding the coin and currency exhibition, a selection of coins and currency of the USA and Mexico are in a case. They are gifts from various collectors in the town. Earliest are an 1804 half cent, 1844 cent and 1829 half dollar. Currency includes some Confederate notes, including a $500 note. Individuals searched the grounds of the fort with a detector, but only a small button was turned in. It appears to have an eagle with wings spread outward on one side, and a legend indicating Philadelphia on the other side with a name starting with House as well.

One room contains an old saloon with a very large and thick wooden bar. It is stated that the famous Bob Ford was almost killed by a gunman and a grazing line is visible on the bar to this day. The gunman shot three times, lived and claimed what happened was his fault and no charges were filed against Bob Ford. This room is a great curiosity of the times.

Col. John M. Francisco was appointed as a Sutler (civilian merchant) for the Confederacy to assist Confederate troops in the area of the Francisco Fort. He served Fort Massachusetts and Fort Garland also. Its troop strength had climbed from 100 to 200 at the outbreak of the Civil War. The small town of Fairplay, somewhat to the north of La Veta also leaned towards support of the Confederacy, according to local merchant-historians whose ancestors came from the original settlers. They came to get rich. Failing that objective, they just stayed on.

An editor of the local newspaper was arrested for his pro-Confederate views, but was then allowed to escape. The State of Colorado was obviously split in its support of North and South and the old Palmer Hotel still stands in Durango and is still used by guests. Gen. Palmer was a close friend and supporter of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and has helped to make Colorado an important state after the Civil War. It was admitted to the Union in 1876. A colorful, although problematic era, had come to a close.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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