Promise Land

Untitled by Del Green

It was the early1900’s in Boulder, Colorado. African American entrepreneur Oliver Toussaint Jackson had a vision. A dream of an agricultural colony for his people. A place where negros could escape the oppression of “Jim Crow” laws. A community of equality for all that settled there. He needed enough land for two hundred families. Jackson was able to procure land on the arid plains southeast of Greeley.

Jackson put an ad out calling settlers to his new colony. People came from Denver and as far away as Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and the deep south. He was unable to get financial funding for his project. So on May 5th, 1910 Jackson and a handful of families decided to go it alone. The founding members proclaimed, ” This land will always be precious and dear to all of us” With that the community of Dearfield was born.

The first winter was brutal. Of the twelve families, only three managed to build wooden structures to live in. The others survived in tents and dug out caves. It was said that the work animals almost starved and were so weak that they could barely pull a plow. Few had any knowledge of dry farming and the land proved unforgiving. It would take more than that to break the sons and daughters of slaves.

By 1920 Dearfield had a population of well over two hundred residents. They had built two churches, a school, and a restaurant. By 1921 the population had swelled to seven hundred with improved lands worth over $750,000. There were also plans in the works for a college and a canning factory.

Fate had other plans for the hard-working colony. A dark ominous cloud hundreds of feet high and miles wide raced along the ground toward them. Precious Dearfield had become part of the “Dust Bowl.” With the Great Depression that followed, it was more than the colony could endure. Dearfield began a slow painful death. By1940 the population was twelve. In 1946 only one resident remained.

What you see is all that remains of a proud community. As I walked through the ruins I imagined I heard the hiss and moan of a forgotten people. A whisper riding on the winds that whip across the high plains. The same winds that swept them all away.