The one-person town of Bonanza

Colorado has a one-man Bonanza

Secretary of state leaves town as incorporated, for now

by Allen Best

BONANZA, Colo. – When does a town cease to be a town? That’s been the question this year for Bonanza, which is located in south-central Colorado, 13 miles of gravel road from the nearest highway, post office, or business in the San Luis Valley. It has just one full-time resident.

The town was launched as a formal municipality in 1881. This was during Colorado’s mining boom. Bonanza had seven dance halls, four smelters, two hotels, and one newspaper along with 1,000 residents.

Mining petered out and a fire in 1937 destroyed much of what remained. In the early 1970s, a commune was formed near Bonanza, but it was abandoned.

As the 21st century arrived, only a handful of people remained.

“It’s more like a town inhabited by hermits, which would seem oxymoronic, yet rumor has it—and personal experience has borne this out—that these people do not socialize with one another,” wrote non-resident property owner Antonya Nelson in a 2010 essay in the New York Times. She disguised the town with the name “Eureka.”

“Feuding might be too strong a word for what they do, but there are only 12 of them (officially), and you never see two together. Ever. For all I know, it’s one guy with a lot of costumes.”

Bonanza now has just one resident, as reporters for The Denver Post, Al Jazeera, and other media have discovered on journeys this year to Bonanza. The others had died or left.

The reporter for Al Jazeera apparently got desperate for an interview.

“To someone standing by a car at the crossroads, honking the horn in a futile hope of rousing any sign of life, Bonanza can feel like the setting of a Stephen King novel,” wrote correspondent Greg Campbell.

Evidence to the contrary

Commissioners in Saguache County, where Bonanza is located, in 2013 petitioned the state to disincorporate the town. State law says that an incorporated town must have an elected or at least appointed board and hold regular meetings within the previous five years.It had appeared that none of this had occurred since the 1990s. In fact, the former mayor didn’t even live in the town.

See location: Bonanza, CO 81155 – Google Maps

But there was strong pushback from nearby residents and others who wanted to keep the town going, despite it having just one full-time resident. In October,  evidence arrived via the Pueblo  Chieftain that, in fact, municipal affairs had been conducted. In 2007, trustees had been appointed to the town board with four-year terms.

Then, in 2010, another election was held, this time about whether to incorporate. It failed, even though 11 votes were cast in favor and 10 against, because a two-thirds majority was required.

Pointing to these actions, Suzanne Staeiert, deputy secretary of state, ruled in late November that clearly some municipal activity had occurred within the previous five years. As such, Saguache County’s petition was denied.

“I applaud the passion and civic engagement of individuals on both sides of this issue,” Staiert said. “While the evidence supports preserving the town, the future of Bonanza lies with its only resident.”

That resident, Mark Perkovich, moved from Denver to Bonanza 20 years ago simply because of his desire for isolation.

“I wanted to be at the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere,” he told The Denver Post in March.

Perkovich sees no real change if Bonanza loses its status as a town. Saguache County already maintains the roads, and there is no water or sewer service, no post office, or police force. All it has is a name, and that really won’t go away.

Combing through state records, Colorado Public Radio last year found that 43 towns have formally been abolished in the last decade. Most of them were merely pieces of paper, and 30 of them were in Summit County, eliminated in one simple action in 2005.

Always more to the story…

An earlier version of this article ran in the December issue of Colorado Central Magazine. In response to that article, this letter was sent to Colroado Central and forwarded to me.

Dear Mr. Best.

I enjoyed your Dec. 2014 article about our little community of Bonanza. Although the official population is one (I understand that a couple has recently moved in) many of us in the area have far more connection to Bonanza than to Ville Grove, where the Post Office resides, and hence my reference to the “community.”

While stories abound suggesting otherwise, we are just plain country folk and are proud to have Mark (Perky) be our representative to offer a a realistic observation.

Some years ago a film crew from the Netherlands created a documentary on the town titled “Bonanza, don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.” Perky was featured in the film and even attended the premier in Amsterdam.

However, I feel it is unfortunate that you mention the NY Times article by Ms. Nelson. This offering upset many of the community as being crass and demeaning, offered by an outsider with no long-term connection to the area. Her article was full of rumor, half-truths and outright fiction. Her source was, in fact, the Hermit that, among other things, absconded with the Town’s funds, not once, but twice. Or so rumor has it.

I offered a rebuttal to the article in the NYT but heard nothing. I’m not even aware of Ms. Nelson received a copy or is aware of the negative sentiment that the article caused to those in the area. I an enclosing a copy of that rebuttal for your personal reading, hoping that you will see that there is always “more to the story.”

Bruce Bunker

Bonanza (Villa Grove) CO

And finally, one selection from that 2011 letter to the New York Times: “We are NOT hermits. We might sometimes disagree but DO NOT feud.”

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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One Response to The one-person town of Bonanza

  1. Claudia Worth says:

    My grandmother Edyth E Lutz Spriggs wrote a book “Legacy of Love” about her life in Bonanza in the 1890’s and her trip from Bonanza Co. to Irrigon Or. in the 1900’s she drove a covered wagon. Though this is a very good book, the original manuscript is much better and describes the town in much greater detail. The book was edited by the publisher and many important historic facts were left out. Thank you for the article. My daughter and I spent many hours in Bonanza researching where my the cabin Will Jones built and about the town in the Saguache County Court house. We also visited with the resident artist and spent many hours chatting about the town. We purchased a lovely picture of the cabin, my grandfather built along Kirby Creek.

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