February 07, 2023

Hartman, Colorado, and the 'Ecology' of High Plains Hamlets

The last commercial structure on Main Street, Hartman, Colorado.

Some years back my friend Galen and I went to a "hunters' breakfast" in Hartman, a fundraiser for a local service club or something. Bacon, eggs, pancakes for a reasonable price, in a little place in Prowers County, southeastern-most Colorado, where there are more people in the cemetery than on the street.

If we were in the brick 1930s gymnasium — it fits my memories — then it is crumbling now.

Hartman's population in 1920: 175. In 1930: 269. [Insert Dust Bowl here.] In 2020: 56. That's a story of the High Plains right there.

There was still a tiny, moribund Main Street then. Now it's just this brick building (a former bank?) and a modern modular little post office. I hope that they do not lose that.

Hartman clearly is a "hamlet." 

Former Colorado writer Merrill Gilfillan (b. 1945) defined hamlets this way in Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains, which just happens to be my favorite contemporary "travel" book about the High Plains.

Hamlets are utterly disctinct entities. Detached and austere, they occupy an ecological nice between the town and the isolate self-sufficient ranch. Hamlets have negligible commerce and none of the awkward communal success or desperate self-esteem of larger farm towns, yet they are socially more varied than the extended family ranch clusters within their windbreaks.

Hamlets are gratifyingly in-scale and honest. They represent a pure and elemental High Plains culture, as in Petri dish. Hamlets have few visible means of support; no schools; no class plays; no historical museums; little public enterprise save the occasional gas station/grocery combination.

There is more. It's worth a read. 

When I first read Magpie Rising, I got the same chills that I did when I found Barry Lopez' Winter Count in the old Chinook Bookshop in Colorado Springs. Just sucked me right in. 

I have often thought of taking certain essays from his newer Chokecherry Places: Essays from the High Plains and just writing a couple of my own with his as a template. Steal from the best, I always say.

If you like interviews with authors, here is one with Gilfillan.

Now I have done it — started out with a lonely hamlet, ended up with "the prose of a lifelong poet." That's what happens when you spend a lot of time observing.


Darrell said...

I visited Karval, CO a few times years ago, while doing a dark sky site search for the local astronomy club. The Karval Kalf-A was open at the time, a sort of general store and cafe. I stopped there for a bite to eat before heading for the local reservoir/state wildlife area. I got a burger and fries for dinner. The beef was very fresh, nearly mooing, maybe a reflection of the local ranching. Several locals dropped in while I was there. Everybody put their purchases on their running tabs. I paid cash when I left, for which the store operator seemed very grateful.

Karval does have a school, of which they're very proud. Biggest thing going in town, no doubt.

Unknown said...

Often I wonder, whatever was it that went on in Elbert, which is not the plains and is not the mountains.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Elbert started with ranching and dryland farming, but to some extent it's an exurban bedroom suburb of Colorado Springs, from what I havce seen.

Darrell said...

PS I still have a "Readin' Rots The Mind" T shirt from the Chinook Bookshop.

Juanna said...

Hi! I am the current owner, what history might you have on the bank?

Chas S. Clifton said...

Juanna -- That's good to know. Are you using the building as a residence or commercial structure, may I ask?

My suggestion is to hit any museum and library in Lamar--public, the community college, whatever. See if they have a Local History archive that would have info on Hartman. I am sure there is someone who would love to share that information with you.