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William R. Phelps of Washington County Virginia
Homesteads in Baca County, Colorado near Vilas in 1887

Sequence of Events:

1861:  Colorado Territory formed

1872:  Territorial Board of Immigration created with the objective to “present facts concerning Colorado as an attractive and desirable locality for those seeking homes in the Great West; to supply immigrants with full and authoritative information, as well as to aid and facilitate their journey hither”.

The official booklet printed by the Board of Immigration lists the average annual rainfall in Colorado at just over 12 inches.

1876:  Colorado achieves statehood

Summer of 1886:  Congress created the new Bent land district, comprising over six million acres of Southeast Colorado, and at the same time established a land office at Lamar, near the center of this district.  The land was subject to entry under the “Pre-emption Homestead and Tree Culture Laws”.

August 20, 1886:  John Phelps died in Moccasin Gap, Washington County, Virginia at the age of 86.  His will specifies the division of his land between his children including William R. Phelps, Lou Mann, and Ida F. Branch.

This area of Virginia is rich and green with an average annual rainfall of 44 to 47 inches.

January 3, 1887:  New Land Office at Lamar opened for business.  “Never in the history of the wonderful West has there been such a rush of settlers and people into a new territory.”

April 8, 1887:  William R. Phelps dug holes for the corners of his house on his homestead.  He settled on the Northwest quarter section of Section 11, Township 30S, Range 45W, near Vilas CO.

April 11, 1887 to May 21, 1887:  William R. Phelps built a sod house on the land while his wife Lou Kestner Phelps and their five children lived in Hartland, Kansas while waiting for the house to be finished.  They moved into his first house on May 21.

Summer 1887:  He planted one acre in corn and garden vegetables.  The corn did not mature due to the late start.

July 1887:  William went to work near Vilas for a month and visited his home on weekends.  He worked for J. M. Smith doing general work.

August 25, 1887:  A glowing article appears in the Neosho County Journal (Kansas) telling how wonderful the new Land Office in Lamar is and how great the homesteading opportunities are in Southeast Colorado.

October 14, 1887:  William went to Trinidad to work to get means of supporting his family and stayed there until February 12, 1888.  In Trinidad he worked on the Railroad and in a sawmill.  He also worked for Mr. Scoggs 20 days in a sawmill near Powell.

January 1888:  Charles McFarland built the second home for the family, according to the testimony of William R. Phelps.  This was a 14x16 ft dugout.  Walls were six feet of dugout and 4 feet of sod.  Had a board roof and sodded dirt floor.  One door, one window single sash with four panes 12x14".

April 1, 1888:  William went to Coolidge to get freight and was gone 8 days.

April 5 to May 10, 1888:  The VILAS DEMOCRAT runs the required notice that William R. Phelps has filed notice of his intention to make final proof in support of his claim on May 29th. 

Spring 1888:  He plants five acres of corn and ½ acre in garden.  He has seven acres broken and prepared for cropping.  He has also set out 100 cottonwood cuttings (probably to meet the Tree Culture aspect of the homestead act).

May 29, 1888:  William R. Phelps is accompanied by Bernard North and Joshua McFarland to Trinidad to file the necessary Testimony documents for the homestead.

Bernard North and Joshua McFarland testify that they know William R. Phelps has been on his land for the stated time and has met the requirements.  They both testify that Joseph Mann lives closer to William Phelps than they do.  Joshua McFarland testifies that a Mr. Brant (actually was Oscar Bryant) also lives closer to William Phelps than he does. 

Note:  Joseph Mann was married to William Phelps’ sister Lousana or Lucy.  In 1889, William Phelps' sister Ida Phelps Branch also started a homestead near him.  However, Alfred and Ida Branch only stayed one year before moving to Marion County, MO

William Phelps testifies that he also has a “Tree Claim” in Section 32, Township 30S, Range 45W.  This appears to be some sort of claim on the trees but not the land.  Trees would have been a valuable item.  Especially since he testifies that the land he is homesteading has no timber on it.

He testifies that he has one cow and the only farm implement he lists is a hoe, which he has had for two weeks.

June 7, 1888:  The Receiver’s Office at Lamar Colorado records the receipt of $200.00 from William R. Phelps for 160 acres at $1.25/acre.  The Cash Entry number of 1782 is given to the claim.

No further record of the activities of William R. Phelps until the Land Patent was approved Jan 30, 1891 and granted April 15, 1891.  It must have been a hard existence but they held on long enough to get their claim on the land.

Other known facts:

April 2, 1889:  Alfred and Ida Branch sell the land Ida inherited from her father John Phelps in Moccasin Gap, Holston Virginia to Ida’s sister Pallie Scott for $325.00.  They leave immediately for Vilas Colorado on the train.  Alfred builds a sod house upon arrival and plants corn but the corn burns up in the hot summer winds.  Like William Phelps, he has to leave his family to find work and support.  He is said to have worked in New Mexico in the broomcorn and also in copper mines. 

The families from Washington County Virginia surely were not prepared for a land with barely 25% of the rainfall they knew in Virginia.

At least one other family from Moccasin Gap leaves at the same time.  Hardy and Sarah Emeline Kestner Lilly went with them.  Sarah was a sister to Lou Kestner Phelps who had already been in Colorado for two years.

December 5, 1889:  Fairy Branch was born in Vilas.

Spring of 1890:  Alfred and Ida Branch take their family by train to Marion County, Missouri.  Not sure why they chose that destination but believe that Ed Branch may have already been living in the area, having worked on bridges across the Mississippi.

April 15, 1891:  William R. Phelps receives his Land Patent for his land.

Do not know when William R Phelps left Colorado.  May be able to find the deeds where they sold the land on a future visit to Baca County courthouse.  By 1900, his children were living in Marion County, MO near his sister Ida Phelps Branch.  

WRPhelps_01.gif (127650 bytes)
bulletThe official homestead papers for William R. Phelps obtained from the National Archives.  The information necessary to order these documents was found on the Government Land Office Records, Bureau of Land Management website.
WRPhelps_02.gif (225358 bytes) Page 2 of Testimony of Claimant, this form gives the details of the arrival of William R Phelps in Colorado and his actions to initiate his homestead claim.
WRPhelps_03.gif (119357 bytes) Page 3 of Testimony of Claimant
WRPhelps_04.gif (357732 bytes) Page 4 of Testimony of Claimant.  Signed by William R Phelps on May 29, 1888
WRPhelps_05.gif (205883 bytes) Testimony of Witness, Bernard North.  Only first page was received from the National Archives.  He states that Joshua McFarland and Joseph Mann live close to WR Phelps.
WRPhelps_06.gif (134671 bytes) Testimony of Witness, Joshua McFarland.  States that Mr. Brant [Oscar Bryant] and Joseph Mann, both of Washington County VA are neighbors of William R Phelps
WRPhelps_07.gif (168538 bytes) Testimony of Witness, page 2
WRPhelps_08.gif (137598 bytes) Testimony of Witness, page 3
WRPhelps_09.gif (166663 bytes) Testimony of Witness page 4
WRPhelps_10.gif (286802 bytes) Non-Mineral Affidavit, signed by William R Phelps on May 29, 1888
WRPhelps_11.gif (123280 bytes) United States Land Office form registering the claim of William R Phelps on June 7, 1888
WRPhelps_12.gif (155762 bytes) Proof of publication of the intent to prove homestead published in the VILAS DEMOCRAT 
WRPhelps_13.gif (68786 bytes) Certificate that Posting of Notice was done
WRPhelps_14.gif (157510 bytes) Cash Entry Number 1782 approved January 30, 1891 and Patented April 15, 1891
WRPhelps_15.gif (80545 bytes) Official Land Patent Number 1782.  He got the NW1/4 of Section 11, Township 30S of Range 45W.
WRPhelps_16.gif (120168 bytes) Second page of Land Patent
WRPhelps_17.gif (122699 bytes) Pre-Emption Proof, has William R Phelps actual signature
WRPhelps_18.gif (103645 bytes) Receipt for $200 paid by William R Phelps for his cash entry.  June 7th 1888.  This was at the standard homestead rate of $1.25 per acre for 160 acres.
WRPhelps_19.gif (153805 bytes) Cover page for cash entry.




  Transcription by Alice Bell Gander

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