History and Heritage

La Junta Colorado has a rich and culturally unique heritage for both visitors and residents to explore. It all begins with the Santa Fe Trail history story and the importance of that trail connecting people to this special spot in Southern Colorado.

In the early 1800s, the area that would someday become La Junta was the staging ground for some of the most exciting events in American history. At that time the plains around the Arkansas Valley ran with vast herds of buffalo and were home to the Comanche, Arapaho and Cheyenne. These were their favored buffalo hunting grounds. Because of this the Bent Brothers, William and Charles, established a fort along the river in 1833. Bent’s Fort became the Southwest’s most important outpost and a stopping place along the Santa Fe Trail for travelers, trappers, and explorers, including such western notables as John C. Fremont and Kit Carson.

La Junta CO on the Santa Fe History Trail

Old Town La Junta

The Santa Fe Trail continued in importance until the 1880s when the railroads arrived. Following the route of the Santa Fe Trail the arrival of the rails effectively made the old trail obsolete. In late 1875, a small settlement was established along the tracks and what would someday become La Junta Co began as a construction camp for the Santa Fe Railroad. The town, if it could be called as such, was a motley collection of tents and hastily built clap board structures.

As with many of these “end of the line” railroad encampments of that time, the camp was quite lively, with no lack of “watering holes” and entertainment emporiums. The town was nearly forsaken after the railroad moved on in 1877; however, the Santa Fe Railroad recognized the value of the location, and built a depot and roundhouse there and by 1879 the Santa Fe RR shops had been established. This once rowdy town became the headquarters for the Santa Fe Railroad’s Colorado Division.

On May 15, 1881 the residents of this small railroad supply town along the south bank of the Arkansas River incorporated and formed “The City of La Junta.” The name “La Junta” is Spanish for junction or meeting place, and is pronounced “La Hunta”. This special meeting ground was truly the place where the rails and roads met and diverged to the mountain passes or the wide plains. Legend maintains that a herd of antelope ran down what passed for Main Street back then, prompting the city fathers to use antelopes on the city seal – where they can still be seen today.

By the turn of the 20th century La Junta was a town of substance with brick and stone buildings replacing the old wooden clap board structures. It was obvious, even back then; La Junta was here to stay. Today, La Junta may be considered a small town but it has amenities that are missing in much larger towns. The city boasts the Koshare Indian Museum, Kiva and the Koshare Dancers, the Picketwire Players and Theater, and Otero Museum.

La Junta CO is located on historic U.S. Highway 50, the “Coast to Coast Highway,” in the heart of Southeast Colorado’s farming and ranching country. Some of the finest melons in the world are grown in Otero County – the Rocky Ford cantaloupes. During the summer months the Farmer’s Markets in the La Junta area offer fresh produce from their stands along Highway 50.

Growth of Industry

La Junta – the place where the trails meet – has always played a major role in the Arkansas Valley economy.”

La Junta and Santa Fe Trail History

The community was founded along the banks of the Arkansas River, once the international boundary between Mexico and the United States, not far from the site of Old Bent’s Fort. Prior to 1846 and the war with Mexico, the fort was the last outpost of the United States along the Santa Fe Trail before crossing the Arkansas River into Mexico.

Bent’s Fort was originally established as a trading post for the Native Americans but its location along the Santa Fe Trail soon turned the fort into a supply center for merchants, trappers, explorers, and the U.S. Army. The area around La Junta has always been important from an economic standpoint – and this tradition continues today. With the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s La Junta’s importance as an economic center was assured. The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad still continue to be a mainstay of La Junta and the Arkansas Valley.

La Junta CO Mill

Once the rails were laid the Arkansas Valley was poised for a population explosion. The land around La Junta was opened for settlement. With the influx of new settlers, agriculture – both farming and ranching – became the major industry in the Arkansas Valley. Today agriculture still plays an important part in the city’s economic base. Businesses catering to farming and ranching abound.

La Junta’s Winter Livestock and the La Junta Livestock Commission combined make up the second largest market for feeder cattle and calves in the country behind Oklahoma City. The Ag Journal, established in 1949, is headquartered in La Junta, CO. The journal covers agricultural issues in a 10-state region.


If you are interested in starting, relocating, or growing your business in La Junta, Colorado, please contact us today.