Roughly 50 miles from Denver on the eastern plains of Colorado lies the tiny town of Deer Trail. Boasting a population of just under 600, towns don’t get much smaller than this. But while Deer Trail may have fewer people than the average American high school, it does have a rich history and a distinct local flair that marks it as unique.
The town boasts that they are home of the world’s first rodeo, initially held on July 4, 1869. While there are a few other towns around the nation who make this claim, by most accounts Deer Trail’s was the first to have most of the events associated with the rodeo in their mostly current form. Each year they keep up the tradition with a rodeo each summer, drawing cowboys and cowgirls from all over the continent.
Deer Trail also gained notoriety in 2013 for issuing drone hunting licenses. A tongue-in-cheek attempt at both making a political statement about the prevalence of the devices as well as a publicity stunt — they managed to make a couple bucks off of selling the licenses as a novelty gift. But many of the residents were more chagrined by the incident, feeling that it made the town look like a backwater full of goofy hicks.
But while they celebrate their past, the modern era has crept into the city as well. Colorado has seen unprecedented growth over the past few years and, while most of it has been centered on the Denver Metro Area and the Front Range, the rural areas have seen their share of newcomers as well.
Deer Trail is no exception, with a new housing development on the western side of town adding dozens of new homes. More local businesses have also dotted the previously rundown 1st Street, known locally as the Old Highway, previously having been devastated twice; once during the Great Depression and once by a massive flood in 1965.
But the real economic drivers here are the farms and ranches dotting the landscape around the town. Many of the town’s residents help out with the livestock, either in a hands-on manner or in support industries, such as butchering and storage. Others work in transportation, with the railroads or as truck drivers. Still others commute to work in Denver or other nearby towns and cities that have bigger job markets and more opportunities.
Through and through, Deer Trail is a heavily blue-collar town, and many of the residents embrace the redneck label. In fact, many of them carry the term as a badge of pride, equating it as indicating their old school values and, in the case of the men, their rugged masculinity.
And the town is indeed male dominated. There are dozens more men than women in the town, and the ratio is even more skewed among those under the age of 40. Men also make half again on average what the women do, as most of the higher paying jobs available are in male-dominated fields.
Deer Trail is also heavily white — more than 96 percent of the population is caucasian — and nearly half of the adult population is over the age of 45. As you can probably imagine by the demographics, this area leans heavily Republican with almost 80 percent of the precinct containing the town having voted for Donald Trump in 2016, with only about 13 percent having gone for Hillary Clinton.
Deer Trail is within Arapahoe County, the eastern half of which is heavily rural, while the western part extends well into the Denver Metro Area and leans much more Democratic in elections. This mirrors the state as a whole, as eastern Colorado as a whole is much more conservative than the more populous Front Range, which in turn mirrors the nation as a whole.
It’s this political juxtaposition that has led to increasing dissatisfaction in many parts of the state, and 11 counties in Colorado even featured a secession question on the 2013 ballot. While Arapahoe County wasn’t among those considering the initiative, there were many in Deer Trail and its vicinity who felt that separating not only from Colorado but also their county in order to join the new state was a viable alternative.
Like many rural and small town Americans, they feel that their voice is being drowned out by those in the more populous cities that dominate the state. In Deer Trail, this feeling is compounded not only by being overwhelmed by Denver and the Front Range, but also by being in the minority within their own county. Add in the fact that high-paying jobs are scarce — median income hovers just above $30,000 for men and $20,000 for women — unless denizens are willing to relocate away from their homes and friends and families, and the insular nature of rural life, and you have a recipe for dissatisfaction.
For the time being, Deer Trail residents feel vindicate by the election. Even if their own state didn’t go for their candidate, the fact that he won has led to no small amount of relief, even rejoicing, for those who feel ignored by the system. And while many supported Trump hesitantly, even going so far as to only vote for him simply because he was not Clinton, many of his supporters in Deer Trail and Eastern Arapahoe County did so wholeheartedly. His bravado and outspoken nature was not a liability here, it was an asset.
Perhaps it was due to his notorious style of speaking without softening his statement, or perhaps it was due to genuine belief in his stances, either way, the rednecks in the area loved the dude. During the election, it was impossible to walk down the dirt roads of Deer Trail without seeing dozens of Trump/Pence signs and bumper stickers on pickup trucks. And on election night, the mood in the town was jubilant, as locals considered that, for now, their guy was in power, and he was sure to Make Deer Trail Great Again.
Thank you! we’re happy to see DeerTrail in the news. – A number of years ago we lived east of there in Cope. Even after we moved up to Lovland, we went to Deer Trail just for ice cream. We actually tried to buy the old farm across the highway (with that fab old barn) because we wanted to make it a house. I now live in ND and speak to rural and small communities on such subjects as hidden assets, what businesses can work there, cooperation and collaboration, etc. and occasionally cite Deer Trail as an example. Why? Because for me, back then- even though DT didn’t really have ‘anything’ it appealed to me for it’s photo-ops, history and ‘main street’. -(hidden assets)
Thanks for talking about them!
Glad to hear you enjoyed it! We are trying to draw attention to areas that are sometimes overlooked
Very interesting read. My grandfather Irving A. Roach (aka Owen I.A. Roche) was raised in Deer Trail (lived there from 1910-1928) and went on to become an intelligence agent, journalist, ran a PR firm called “DRAG” and wrote a couple books. He spoke 7 languages fluently and was the real James Bond, in my view.