Colorado History

Jim Cook's Museum Preserves the Past at the Colorado State Fair

The Colorado State Fair, now under way through Labor Day in Pueblo, is full of many marvels: incredibly composed 4H kids showing their animals at yesterday's Junior Livestock Sale (last year's raised $534,650 for the youthful exhibitors; click here for updates); parading pigs; musical acts big and small; a display where visitors can milk Bessie, a real cow; and vendors serving up funnel cakes, fried anything and the famous Pass Key sausage sandwich

But one of the most marvelous has to be the Colorado State Fair Museum, operated by Jim Cook. This one-man labor of love is only open during the fair, but longtime collector Cook finds items to add all year long, and in unlikely places. During a stop at a liquor store on the plains, for example, he learned that a rodeo clown lived nearby — and the result was the acquisition of an old-time rodeo barrel, made out of tires, that dates from before the days those clown barrels had newfangled floors. 

There are programs from fairs and rodeos through the years that offer lessons on changing styles in both design and cultural acceptance, the phone that the governor would use from the grandstand (when Governor John Hickenlooper greeted the crowd at the Junior Livestock Sale yesterday, he just used a mic), and even a copy of the very first Rocky Mountain News that Cook found in an old leather trunk; it dates from April 23, 1859.

Most of the items on display date from the fair itself, though, which was first held in Pueblo back in 1872 and remains an institution in that city. And to remind you just how long ago that was, Cook — a Pueblo native who says he grew up at the fair — provides a flier with this information:

Think About It: When Pueblo Had Its First Fair in 1872...

Colorado was not yet a state

It was just the beginning of the Indian Wars

It was four years before the Custer Battle

It was nine years before the gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona

It was ten years before "Doc" Holliday was arrested in Pueblo on charges connected with the gunfight in Tombstone.

Bat Masterson was marshal in Triniidad

The great cattle baron Charles Goodnight had a ranch west of Pueblo

Jesse James and the Youngers were very busy robbing banks.

It was ten years before Judge Roy Bean became justice of the peace and the law west of the Pecos.

It was nine years before, as a Denver newspaper put it, Leadville had its first legal hanging.

It was five years before Billy the Kid killed his first man.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

Latest Stories