Oliver Toussaint (O.T. Jackson was born to Caroline and Hezekiah Jackson on April 6, 1862. His parents were former slaves, who named him Toussaint L’Ouverture, the maroon slave who in 1804 overthrew the French in Haiti.
The below photo, per Denver Public Library, is of Oliver Toussaint (O.T.) Jackson.
O.T. was a very ambitious business man. In 1887, he moved to Denver, becoming a caterer, and in 1889 he married Sarah (Sadie) Cook, the aunt of a famous composer, Will Marion Cook. In 1894, he purchased a farm outside of Boulder. In addition to the farm, he owned and operated a restaurant with a reputation for its seafood, operated an Ice Cream Parlor, the Stillman Café/Hotel, and managed the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Some articles state he divorced Sadie, and others say she passed away. I found newspaper articles that correlate a divorce due to desertion on her part. O.T. remarried a schoolteacher, Minerva Matlock, on July 14, 1905. They moved back to Denver in 1908, and he became a messenger for Colorado governors.
Inspired by the book, Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington, O.T. felt African Americans in Colorado would benefit if they owned their own land, and farmed their own fields. He attempted to begin an all-black agricultural community, however, the state ignored his requests due to his race. Eventually, he recruited the help of Governor John F. Shafroth, who he worked for as a messenger, and he found 320 acres in Weld County. He filed a homestead claim in 1910, promoting the concept of a community of African Americans, promoting self-reliance. Dr. J.H.P. Westbrook, from Denver, named it Dearfield, because it was dear to the new settlers. The first resident was an elderly man, J.M. Thomas. Seven families moved to Dearfield in 1911, with only two-frame houses, they survived winter on the plains together. The others lived in tents and trenches. During loud storms, they would all sit in the two small houses, singing as loud as they could to drown out the howling wind. Jackson said they used sagebrush and buffalo chips as their primary fuel that first year. Three of their horses died, and three others were too weak to pull the bare wagon. They slept in caves dug into the hills, and ate mostly potatoes one winter.
By 1920, Dearfield had between 200-300 residents. I found conflicting information in this. One source stated 200-300 residents by 1920 and one stated 700 (referring to Dearfield and another nearby community together). The farming town had two churches, a restaurant, a filling station, a post office, a doctor’s office, a grocery store, and a boarding house. Families used a new dry-farming technique, growing alfalfa and corn. Dry-farming is the non-irrigated cultivation of crops. They are also associated with arid conditions, areas prone to drought and those having scarce water resources (which describes the land of Dearfield).
Residents of Dearfield grew corn, strawberries, cantaloupes, beets, oats, barley, Mexican beans, potatoes, barley, hay, and alfalfa. They raised chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, horses, cattle, and hogs.
The two photos below are of the Dearfield Lunchroom, what is left of the restaurant.
Several of Dearfield’s residents worked in Denver on the weekdays and farmed their land on the weekends, meaning the men’s families took care of the farms during the week.
J.M. Thomas, the first resident of Dearfield, is pictured below. Photo per Denver Public Library
Rev. Joseph Adolphus Thomas-Hazell, from Denver, was the pastor of the Union Presbyterian Church (one of two chrches), and a huge part of the community. Another shot of the Lunchroom below.
Multiple preservation organizations, including Denver’s Black American West Museum, are working to preserve the site’s site’s remaining buildings, and develop Dearfield into an interpretive site. However, a company called Clayton Homes planned to encroach on this historic African American settlement. Part of the land was purchased for only $100,00, due to a shortage of affordable housing. A place can still be in jeopardy if there is no government funding. It can also be modified at will.
They can reduce the historic value to nothing. Most of the buildings are protected because they are owned by Black American West & Heritage Center. Many of the people who lived in Dearfield, and other similar towns went from being property to owning property. When we think about it, really think about it, this didn’t happen that long ago. We need to see places like this with our own eyes, and our children need to see them. Clayton Homes are attempting to work with Denver’s Black American West Museum to try and work around the buildings to preserve all they can. I really hope this historic site is saved. I always thought if a place was put on the National Register of Historic Places, it would be protected, but this is not correct.
I believe the below photo was once a service station.
More of the Jackson house/Dearfield Lodge above and below.
Unfortunately, Dearfield is a place most people have never even heard of, and if they bulldoze the few remaining buildings, the memories of Harvey Page, Squire Brockman, Rev. Thomas-Hazell, Edith Goodall, and all of the other brave people who ventured out West to start new lives in a brand new community of their own will go right along with the piles of rubble. These old buildings are so much more than decaying structures. They hold the laughter, the tears, and the lives that once were.
Dearfield Preservation: Preservation Link
The Black American West Museum: Museum Link
Trish Eklund’s first book, Abandoned Nebraska: Echoes of Our Past, was released in November of 2018. Her second photography book, Abandoned Farmhouses and Homesteads: Decaying in the Heartland is due out in 2020, and a third due out in 2021. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, Raw Abandoned, ListVerse, Nature Takes Over, Grime Scene Investigators, and Pocket Abandoned. She is the owner and creator of the photography website, Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed. Trish has an essay in the anthology: Voices From the Plains Volume III by Julie Haase, and the anthology: Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz. Her writing has been featured on The Mighty, Huffington Post Plus, Making Midlife Matter, and Her View From Home. She has written four young adult novels and is hard at work on her first adult novel.