The Town of Aguilar, Colorado was first settled in 1861, and was known as “San Antonio Plaza.” The settlement was mainly a trading post for Native and Spanish Americans that farmed and ranched in the surrounding area. In 1878 the railroad came through the town opening the area to coal mining and expanding opportunities for the ranches, farms and encouraging other businesses to move into the area.
The owner of the land on where the town now stands was state legislator J. Ramon Aguilar. The town was named for him in 1888 and in 1894 the Town of Aguilar was incorporated. Situated in the Apishapa River Valley in south central Colorado midway between Trinidad and Walsenburg on the I-25 corridor, the community enjoys a dry climate making for a healthy lifestyle. With warm, sunny days and cool nights, the climate makes Aguilar a wonderful place to live.
This was a hard and nasty pill for the owners to sallow and for years they had fought every attempt at union organization with harsh and sometimes, bloody tactics in an attempt to make the mines toe the company line. Union miners were fired, tarred and feathered, beaten, and threatened, or rounded up and deported across state lines and abandoned in remote areas of the prairie. When the union movement began to gain enough strength to call a strike, the companies retaliated by importing laborers. They sent recruitment ads to foreign countries boasting of the United States as a “land of milk and honey where the streets are paved with gold.
Many of these workers lived in company housing and were paid in company scrip (which could only be used in the company store). To the immigrant workers, Aguilar offered freedom and a civilized warmth next to the living and working conditions in the coal camps: Aguilar itself wasn’t directly under the thumb of the coal companies.
Aguilar was a prosperous town until the coal mines began shutting down in the 1940′s and 1950′s. As the mines closed, the market for foodstuffs provided by farmers along the Apishapa River Valley dried up and many of those farmers moved on. Now, the population of Aguilar is around 600, the lights are still on… and new businesses are opening on Main Street. Things are starting to look up again.
In the 1920′s prohibition came to the United States, and with it the rise of the gangsters began. One of the most notorious was Al Capone, also known as Scar Face by the Feds and some brave newspaper men. He discover southeast Colorado and at first began to sent his hitmen to the area to cool off when they were being hunted by the law in Chicago.
Later, he visited and was rumored to have purchased a home in Walsenburg and had a home in Aguilar in another name that he could use as a safe-house if needed.
There is a local rumor that a tunnel was constructed for Capone by out of work coal miners that ran from the basement of the old drug store on Main street in Aguilar, 16 miles north to the south side of Walsenburg. This was not only Al’s way of traveling without being detected, but was a means of transporting moonshine from one community to another.
Is was said that the tunnel was large enough to allow the gangsters to use a model T pickup to transport booze and people between the two towns. It was also humored that another tunnel was constructed between Aguilar and Trinidad that would allow the gangsters to move over 30 miles without detection by the revenuers or local lawmen.
There is speculation about is a story about a wedding that took place in Aguilar in the 1920′s, and that two of the celebrated guests were Al Capone and Joe Bananas.
Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947), commonly nicknamed Scarface, was an Italian American gangster who led a crime syndicate dedicated to the smuggling and bootlegging of liquor and other illegal activities during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and 1930s.
Giuseppe “Joe Bananas” Bonanno (January 18, 1905 – May 12, 2002) was a Sicilian-born American Mafioso who became the boss of the Bonanno crime family. He was nicknamed “Joe Bananas,” a name he despised because it made him sound crazy
You can get more information on the history of Aguilar from the Apishapa Valley Heritage Center at www.aguilarhistory.com or call 719-941-4678.