Explore Black History on the Western Frontier

This Black History Month, travel back in time to learn about the trials faced by African Americans in Colorado during the western settlement and discover the untold stories of those who overcame adversity to shape the future of the Centennial State.

Dearfield founder O.T. Jackson's abandoned wood frame home in Dearfield ghost town
Dearfield founder O.T. Jackson's home in Dearfield ghost town
Former head of the Black American West Museum LaWanna Larson in O.T. Jackson's Dearfield home
Former head of the Black American West Museum LaWanna Larson in O.T. Jackson's Dearfield home

Learn about legendary Black cowboys and influential voices of the Western settlement or become immersed in a bygone Black colony along the eastern plains. Wherever your journey takes you, the stories that unfold will honor past generations and inspire new ones.

Black American West Museum & Heritage Center

Located in Denver's historic Five Points district — once known as the “Harlem of the West” — culture abounds in this Denver neighborhood. Get a feel for the significance of the area by taking part in the self guided Five Points Historic Walking Tour before heading over to the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center for a look at life as a Black cowboy in the days of the wild west frontier.

Housed in the former 19th-century home of Dr. Justina L. Ford, the first Black female physician in the state of Colorado, the structure itself is a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and has served as the museum since it took root over 50 years ago. 

The Black American West Museum & Heritage Center was founded by storyteller Paul Stewart in 1971 as a way to defy the whitewashing of cowboy culture. Stewart’s own collection of artifacts make up the museum’s many exhibits and tell the stories of the early African Americans who played an instrumental part in helping settle and develop the West. 

As you work your way through the two-story house, you’ll learn about the lives of Black miners, soldiers, homesteaders, ranchers, lawmen and other professions of the time, while also paying tribute to the life and career of Ford. You’ll also have the opportunity to watch a short video about Dearfield ghost town, the last remaining example of a 20th-century Black western settlement in Colorado.

Pro tip: The Black American West Museum & Heritage Center is open Saturdays by appointment only. Make your reservation online ahead of time.

Dearfield Ghost Town

Just a stone’s throw from Greeley and north of Denver, are the remains of the historic Dearfield Colony, now known as Dearfield ghost town.

The settlement was one of 14 Black colonies established in the West as part of the colonization movement inspired by Booker T. Washington to provide Americans of African descent with the opportunity to own and work their own land. Founded in 1910 by Oliver Toussaint Jackson, a Boulder entrepreneur, Dearfield was formed as a means for Black Coloradans to take control of their livelihoods and forge their own pathway to success in the West. 

Bordering on the arid eastern plains, the first few years were challenging for the farming community, but once the area took root, the colony thrived during its short time and grew to become the largest of these colonies in Colorado. By 1917, the colony had amassed up to 60 families who worked to develop the colony’s 15,000 acres. The town eventually boasted a boarding house, numerous stores, a concrete block factory, a blacksmith shop, a restaurant, two churches and its own telephone service. At its peak during World War I, 300 residents called the settlement home, but the Dust Bowl coupled with the Great Depression of the 1930s brought an end to the colony’s success and many were forced to leave to find work elsewhere.

Today, the area is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places and features a marker outside of Jackson’s homestead, while the remains of a gas station and a diner are among the few structures left standing. 

Want More?

Read Colorado in Color: Explore the State's Black History, Culture & More >>

Photo credits: Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News / Ellen Jaskol.