Ghost Towns of the old west are generally relics of the mining industry, but Old La Sal in San Juan County is a now-deserted cow town.
Situated in the northeast corner of San Juan County at the foot of the La Sal Mountains, old La Sal was once a thriving cow town. First settled in 1877, more than twenty families arrived within the first year to take advantage of the exceptional grazing in the nearby mountain range. Cabins were built and the town of La Sal came into existence.
During the next few years, the valleys of the region filled with more settlers and their cattle. Steers sold for $10 per head in Utah, but brought in more than three times that amount just over the line in Colorado. Profits began to pour into the pockets of the La Sal ranchers.
During the 1880s and 1890s, however, conflicts arose between the ranchers and Ute Indians accessing their ancestral lands. Outlaws also moved in to prey upon the district, sometimes rustling whole herds of cattle. To make matters worse, the ranchers then faced several years of drought and falling cattle markets. These economic troubles ushered in an era of sheep raising that displaced cattle as the region's primary industry.
The final straw for the town of La Sal was the annual threat of extinction by floods down Main Street. By the late 1920s, La Sal residents went looking for a safer, less isolated, site. They packed up everything and moved some miles west to Coyote. The town was stripped of its houses, stores, barns, and corrals. They even took its name, and the town of Coyote was renamed La Sal.
Today, old La Sal is a ghost town lacking even ghosts. The old site is marked only by gaping cellars to show that people once lived there. The thousands of cattle that once passed through to Colorado markets are seen no more, and only an occasional flock of sheep visits the deserted site.
Image: La Sal, South flank of the La Sal Mountains near the ghost town of Old La Sal. Courtesy Megan van Frank.
See Miriam Murphy, “Old LaSal,” History Blazer, November 1995, accessed at http://historytogo.utah.gov; and "Tales of Utah, 1941-1942," Utah Writer's Project, Work Projects Administration, copy in Utah State Historical Society collections.