Granada, Colorado was actually two separate towns located on the old Santa Fe Trail in southeastern Colorado. The first town, now called “Old Granada,” was located south of the Arkansas River about three miles east of the present-day town of Granada.
Located about 12 miles west of the Kansas–Colorado border, this site was on the eastern side of the Big Timbers area, a heavily wooded expanse of giant cottonwood trees that ran about 40 miles along the Arkansas River between Granada and Lamar, Colorado.
The Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Apache who frequented the Arkansas River Valley at the time of Euro-American contact were nomadic hunters who depended heavily on bison. Some members of these tribes wintered in the “Big Timbers” of the Arkansas River floodplain near Granada and Lamar. The area was described by a visitor:
“Buffalo were plentiful and Indians gathered there in force. A big camp of Cheyenne had pitched their lodges near the log houses of the traders; two miles below, on the north side of the river, was the Arapaho village; on the south bank, opposite the trading houses, were the camps of the Kiowa and Prairie Apache, while farther down on the south side the northern bands of Comanche had gone into winter camp. At night, when the soldier societies were giving dances the drums could be heard beating in the camps all night long. In the daytime, the trading houses were crowded with Indians bringing in their robes to trade. The Cheyenne and Arapaho women brought their robes on their own backs, but the women from the camps on the other side of the river brought theirs on the backs of mules and horses.”
Explorer, Zebulon Pike passed through the area in 1806 and described the dense forest of cottonwood along the Arkansas River. Part of Stephen Long’s expedition of 1820 passed through the Arkansas River Valley as did John C. Fremont in 1844, 1845 and 1853, John Albert in 1845, and John Gunnison in 1854.
In the early days of the Santa Fe Trail, there were two trading posts in the Big Timbers area, one operated by William Bent in 1844, and another by William Tharp in 1846. Other fur traders who worked in the area included Alexander Barclay, Blackfoot John Smith, and Lewis Garrard. The Old Granada site was a favorite campground of travelers along the trail.
Between 1864-1895, this area became “cattle country” when an estimated over 10 million head of Texas Longhorns were driven through the area by over 40,000 cowboys.
The Southern Overland Mail and Express Company stage line began operating through the Arkansas River Valley in 1866 and continued until being replaced by the railroads.
In 1871 when Colonel R. I. Dodge of Fort Dodge, Kansas rode through the area, he reported that he saw some 500,000 buffalo.
In 1872, in anticipation of the coming of the railroad, a man by the name of T.B. Nolan opened a general store and commissary on the site of Old Granada and the Chick, Brown & Co. of Kit Carson, a mercantile firm, began laying out a town.
In December 1872, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached the Colorado border and in May 1873, reached the town. At that time, Granada became an end-of-track town for two years, and most of the traffic along the Santa Fe Trail was diverted to the Granada-Fort Union Wagon Road, through Prowers, Baca and Las Animas Counties of Colorado to Fort Union, New Mexico, where it joined the Santa Fe Trail.
Within two weeks of the railroad’s arrival, the town boasted three restaurants and a hotel. The town was platted in June 1873 and a post office was established in August 1873, taking its name from nearby Granada Creek. Another large mercantile also moved from Kit Carson to Granada — that of the Otero, Sellars & Co. The two large mercantile companies moved tons of freight to Santa Fe by ox teams.
Over the next two years, Granada entered into competition with West Las Animas, where the Kansas Pacific Railroad had laid its tracks, for the commission and freighting business with Santa Fe and other points in New Mexico. The town would grow dramatically to some 1,500 residents and would support a public school, two hotels, three grocery stores, a drug store, Wright & Rath’s Hide Buyers, two mercantile companies, four saloons, three dance halls, one gambling hall, and several restaurants. It also boasted an irrigation canal and its streets were lighted by coal oil lamps. Despite the fact that it was the second largest town in Bent County (Prowers County wasn’t created until 1889) and one of the largest in the state by 1876, Granada was never incorporated, had no legislative body or law enforcement, and supported no newspapers or churches.
During these early days, the town was populated mostly by railroad employees, gamblers, buffalo hunters, freight handlers and cowboys who worked the nearby ranches. A number of Old West characters were in and out of the town during this time. Some of these included Mysterious Dave Mather, Charles White, Doc Holiday, “Chalk” Beeson, Frank Boggs, George Corry, Clay Allison, Jack Allen, Charles Bassett, Ben Thompson, and Ed Masterson. Calamity Jane was a resident of Granada in 1874-1876.
The coming of the railroad brought buffalo hunters by the dozens and at times, numerous freight wagons could be seen camped at or near Granada, from which, the hides were shipped eastward. By 1880, the buffalo were gone from the area.
In 1876, the New Goodnight Trail, which began at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, made its way to Granada. In December 1875, the terminus of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad moved west to La Junta, Colorado and Granada’s glory days ended. By the next year, Granada began to decline as settlers and businessmen moved away. However, It continued to support a post office, the railroad station, a school, a hotel, a store, saloons, and number of houses for another decade.
In 1882, two back-to-back train robberies occurred near Granada. On September 30th the westbound passenger train on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad, was stopped by the danger signal just after it had left the town. It was then boarded by a large party of armed and masked men, some of whom went directly to the express car and others who robbed the passengers. About $2,000 was taken from the express car and an unknown amount from the passengers. The desperados were immediately tracked by a posse, but the criminals escaped.
Just a few weeks later, another train robbery occurred in October, again on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The masked men were waiting for the eastern bound train on the side track, and this time made off with $5,500 from the express car but were stopped of robbing the passengers by two sheriffs from Raton and Las Vegas, New Mexico. The robbers, however, missed a safe in the smoking car that contained $10,000.
In 1886, the town was surrounded by lands owned by the Chick, Brown and Company and various ranches. At that time, entrepreneur, Frederick H. Harvey, who owned the famous Harvey House restaurants and hotels, purchased 100,000 acres of Colorado grazing lands for his large herd of cattle. These cattle not only fed the customers of his restaurants, but Harvey also had the contract to feed the passengers along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Called the XY Ranch, the land surrounded Old Granada.