This past week, I attended a screening at the Colorado Historical Society of Dearfield: The Road Less Traveled, with commentary by producer, donnie l. betts. The video, which was outstanding, was especially meaningful to me as I had visited the ghost town of Dearfield a few weeks earlier. Located thirty miles east of Greeley, Colorado, Dearfield was a colony settled by African American pioneers between 1910 and 1940. At one time, the community, founded by businessman O.T. Jackson, contained about 700 residents. The land was so dear to them that they named the town “Dearfield”.
Life was not easy in Dearfield. Weather was harsh, and growing conditions difficult for farming. World War I took away young men who did not return, and the Depression took a further economic toll. Although residents tried valiantly to maintain the town, hard times depleted it. By the 1940s, only twelve people remained. As betts pointed out, one reason the colony endured as long as it did, with a successful dining room and gas station, was due to the courage and tenacity of the female residents.
Fortunately, circumstances have led the Black American West museum to become owners and custodians of the property. Restoration as a historical landmark and for an interpretive center require much time, effort and funding. Much work has been done, and more is on the horizon. Hopefully, those things will all come together to keep the story and the dream alive.
Joyce B. Lohse, 9/6/09