African Americans in Colorado faced the same reoccurring dilemma as their brethren in other states. Was it humanly possible to live in harmony with the Caucasian race? Two primary approaches to this dilemma, each requiring great fortitude and resilience on the part of African people, were forged in Colorado. There were those who believed that the schism between the races could ultimately be closed if whites could be shown the true industry and worthiness that black people possessed.
With hearts filled with the “self-help” philosophy of Booker T. Washington, these individuals pooled their meager resources and formed associations such as the Negro Townsite and Land Company, which would later establish the town of Dearfield near Boulder. Still others, for whom the generations of pain and degradation were synonymous with proximity to the Caucasian race, the only logical option was a return to African soil. Offering safe passage to Liberia for as little as $50, the Colorado Colonization Company was a staunch proponent of this repatriation movement.
In 1886 residents of Boulder and Denver petitioned the Register and Receiver of the Land Office in Denver for the right to homestead Colorado lands. Several individuals acquired sizable plots of land over the next ten years; however, it was the forming of the Negro Townsite and Land Company in 1909, that lead to the establishment of the agricultural colony of Dearfield. To encourage development in the area, 100,000 shares in the company were offered at a cost of $1.00 each. The initial townsite covered 480 acres and included forty nearby farms of 160 acres each.
During the first winter, which was extremely harsh, only two families had wood houses; others barely survived in tents or crudely made dugouts. What little wood there was, mostly driftwood, had to be carried three to seven miles from the Platte River. Families utilized buffalo chips and sage brush as their primary source of fuel. Fortunately, Dearfield was strategically situated on the Union Pacific railway so that as crops were raised, they could easily be shipped to nearby Boulder. In 1914, with nearly 1000 thousand acres of land under cultivation, the colony raised a significant amount of livestock and successfully produced crops of oats, corn, potatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, squash and sugar beets.
O.T. Jackson, one of the founders of the town, held the position of state messenger during the administration of several Colorado governors. He gave much credit to his wife Minerva for the eventual success of the settlement. While Jackson was often called to state business in Denver, Minerva promoted community affairs and maintained several businesses in the town, including a filling station, grocery store and lunch room.
Dearfield, located about twenty-five miles east of Greeley, reached its peak in 1921. With a population of nearly 700 residents owning 20,000 acres, this desert town worth nothing just a few years earlier, had a net value of $750,000. The Depression, however, signaled the demise of the Dearfield settlement as well as many other small towns throughout the United States. O.T. Jackson, the founder of what is now a ghost town on the western prairie, died in 1948 as the sole survivor of the colony he envisioned.