On the high, windy plains of northeastern Colorado, all that remains of one of the most productive farming areas in this state is a few worn-out buildings and a stone marker. But it holds the distinction of being the largest homesteading settlements of African-Americans in the state. As with nearly 50 other small towns in Weld County, Dearfield is now a ghost town.

Oliver Toussaint Jackson was born in 1862 in Oxford, Ohio to former slaves. O.T, as he was known, moved west in 1887 and was a messenger for a number of Colorado governors, and managed several restaurants and catering businesses in Denver and Boulder, including the historic Chautauqua Dining Hall.

O.T. had a vision. He wanted African-Americans to be able to control their own livelihoods, run their own businesses, and own their own homes and property. Moving out of Denver to an agricultural area could be the answer for them.

In 1909 the Homestead Act was amended to grant double acreage to land claims filed in marginal areas. O.T. filed for a homestead east of Greeley and advertised for others to follow suit. He also recruited black families from Kansas and his home state of Ohio to join him in realizing the Dearfield project.

Just 50 years after the Civil War, the town of Dearfield was established. It was named Dearfield most likely because of the peace the residents felt in owning their own land.

However, the town’s founding coincided with the creation of the Denver chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. A quote from AtlasObscura.com, “Despite this, Dearfield and the agricultural communities around it served for a time as a rare example of racial integration, with people relying on each other to survive the harsh seasons of the plains.”

In 1915 the community had 40 farms and a 140-acre townsite and, by the 1920s, it had grown to 700 people and an increasing number of farms. There were two churches, a school, blacksmith shop, dance hall, filling station, and a restaurant. O.T. planned to build a cannery and a soap factory to sustain the town.

The farms produced cantaloupe, corn, barley, alfalfa, oats, potatoes, and strawberries, which were shipped to Denver and other areas. Demands for produce during WWI escalated the town’s income.

Archeologist Robert Brunswig stated, “When it was settled, this part of the country went through one of the best climate periods that we’ve had in a long time. We had a lot more rainfall than we do today ...”

Like so many farming communities in the Great Plains, Dearfield began to die. The Dust Bowl and Great Depression ate away at the land and the economy and by 1940 Dearfield’s population was 12.

O.T. died in 1948. Dearfield’s lone resident, his caregiver-niece, died in 1973, leaving it a ghost town.

Historical groups work to save what they can of the town and in 1995 it was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.

“Learning history can put our ancestors in a time and place.”

Becky McCreary is a member of Southern Arizona Genealogy Society and teaches “Storytellers: Writing family stories.” Genealogy Today articles are archived at www.azsags.org. The column may not be reprinted without the written consent of the author. rebeccamccreary764@gmail.com

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