Early Settlers Day is celebrated downtown in La Junta each September on the second Saturday. This day is set aside to honor the early settlers of the Arkansas Valley, but is filled with festivities that will entertain young and old alike. The courthouse square is transformed into a carnival-like atmosphere with craft booths, food vendors, games, contests and entertainment tents. This all day festival provides plenty of fun and entertainment for the kid in everyone.
Each year local citizens register their birth dates with the organizers to determine who is the oldest resident of the community and the longest inhabitants are crowned king and queen of the festival. They serve as parade marshals for the annual parade, which always features over a hundred entrants.
The entertainment gets underway with an early morning pancake breakfast in the courthouse square. Mounds of hot sausage, fluffy pancakes and gallons of syrup are served up to the early risers. Then the first competition of the day gets underway with bed races down Santa Fe Avenue. Brave competitors charge down the avenue in their pajamas while pushing hospital beds along the course. The vendor booths open early and hours can be spent browsing the hand-made crafts and shopping for unique gifts and trinkets in the courthouse square. Over 100 booths line the square and everything from quilts, silk flower arrangements, wood crafts, food, face painting and more can be found.
The annual parade starts at 10 a.m. and attracts entrants and visitors from around the state. There isn't an empty spot along the route, as everyone stops to view the parade and the younger ones eagerly await the floats that pass out candy to come by. Throughout the day live entertainment can be enjoyed on the main stage on Santa Fe Avenue. Local entertainers provide an old-fashioned variety show with performances by dancers, singers, poets and karaoke artists. Contests are held during the day including pie eating and fiddling. Each year a local sponsor provides a free luncheon for registered senior citizens in the courthouse square. For a nominal fee everyone can satisfy their taste buds with roast beef, potato salad, baked beans, rolls and iced tea and dine with the seniors. If you prefer, you can grab a delectable treat from any of the food booths and eat family style on the lawn at the square.
The fun and entertainment continues all afternoon and the celebration comes to a close with a street dance beginning at 8 p.m. on Santa Fe Avenue.