An early resident of La Plaza de los Leones where he established an ever-expanding mercantile store (1870), Fred Walsen was an initial trustee (1873) and postmaster of the newly incorporated Town of Walsenburg, which took its name “in honor of the energetic businessman,” as its first “head trustee” or mayor. Before moving to Denver following his election as Colorado State Treasurer (1882). Walsen became successful Huerfano County merchant, banker, stockman, mine owner, and philanthropist. Walsen significantly contributed to the early development of Huerfano County in the areas of business, agriculture, mining, and government.
Prussian by birth, in 1859 Walsen emigrated to the United States as a teenager ending up in St. Louis where he worked for a cigar marker. Caught by the excitement of the 1860 Presidential election, Walsen became a “ide Awake” supporting Abraham Lincoln. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he initially enlisted in the 1st Missouri Volunteers and eventually was honorably discharged as a sergeant from the West End Rangers. In 1864, he headed West working as a driver and drover in an ox team train headed to Fort Garland. There he initially became a clerk and then a partner in a general store. In 1867, two years after receiving his U.S. citizenship, he returned to St, Louis to marry the daughter of hotelier August Sporleder, Emilie. Before she died 19 years later, she bore Walsen four children, Frieda, Emilie, Fred Jr., and Cora.
In 1870, then living at Badito Walsen moved to La Plaza de los Leones to establish an ever-growing general store or mercantile (initially a room in the Sporleder Hotel). Within a couple years, Walsen spearheaded the successful effort to move the county seat to Walsenburg from Badito – a change which undoubtedly benefitted his new business.
Walsen was a prominent stockman who, rather than running his own herds, leased out his stock on shares. For sheep, he took an annual rental payment of a couple pounds of wool per head, the lessee kept the entire increase in the herd. For cattle, the annual payment was half the increase in the herd and half the proceeds of any sale. At one time it is estimated that he owned up to 20,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle. He carefully used those assets to help others succeed.
Not surprisingly, Walsen was a philanthropist. Although a Unitarian, he donated the bell for Walsenburg’s newly constructed Roman Catholic church in 1875, the ground for the football field behind the present library, and the block on which the United Church stands. Seeing the potential of coal as an industry for the county, he later leased the land for the Walsen mine to former Territorial Governor Hunt and others.
In addition to his Vicil War service, in 1879 Walsen was commissioned Brigadier General of the Colorado militia by Governor Pitkin, thereafter being referred to as “General Walsen.” By 1882, he was involved in building toll roads in southwestern Colorado with Otto Mears, along with railroads, including the Rio Grande Southern Walsen was an owner of various companies which furnished ties for the construction of railroads in Southern Colorado and New Mexico. In 1889, he began the Walsen Banking Company which was eventually purchased by the First National Bank of Walsenburg.
I the archives of the Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library Walsen was a “major force in developing Southern Colorado:”. Although a fervent Republican, he was non-partisan in business matters. Indeed his oft-time partner and brother-in-law, Alexander Levy, was a passionate Democrat. In the May 1894 issue of the Denver based Solid Muldoon newspaper columnist Dave Day opined, “Fred Walsen is the best and safest State Treasurer Colorado has ever had. There is no Sunday school hypocrisy about Fred.”