|Contributed by Marlin Aker Jr.|
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The San Luis Valley of Colorado
A short partial History
By Marlin Aker Jr.
The Spanish had ventured into the area we know as the San Luis Valley as early as 1596 when Juan de Zaldívar explored the areas in preparation for the Oñate settlement at San Gabriel, Nuevo Mexico, that arrived on August 18, 1598. Diego de Vargas likely entered the southern part on the valley during his campaigns of reconquest in 1692. Juan Bautista de Anza, governor of Nuevo Mexico (1778-1788), had taken a large force of 645 soldiers to the valley in 1799 in pursuit of the Comanches led by their chief Cuerno Verde. That several Spaniards had previously been to the valley was demonstrated by the reports from the de Anza expedition that mentioned the already named streams, Las Nutrias, San Antonio, Conejos, Las Jarras, Los Tumbres and San Lorenzo. Most of the travel to and from the valley to Santa Fe seems to have followed the route now used by U.S. hiway 285. The ambitions of the growing U.S. government sent several expeditions into the area, one of which was Zebulon Pike in 1807. Pike and his men were captured by a Spanish force of 50 dragoons and 50 mounted militiamen. In spite of the several visits by the Spanish, the Utes had successfully discouraged settlement of this region until the 1830s. Soon after their successful revolution, the Mexican government was justifiably anxious about the interest displayed by the U.S. and soon encouraged the settlement of regions on the borders of Nuevo Mexico by making several very large land grants.
The Conejos Land Grant
Charles (Carlos) Hippolito Trotier de Beaubien and Antonio Lovato had authority from Governor Don Santiago Abreu of Nuevo Mexico to attempt settlement of the valley by some form of a grant dated February 8, 1833 on behalf of a group of families. Consummation of the grant does not seem to have been executed and the matter became moot when the Navajos drove horses across the newly planted land and the settlers fled south. Several documents relating to the Beaubien and Lovato effort were later submitted, apparently by the same claimants, but now in the name of Jose María Martinez, Antonio Martinez, Julian Gallegos and Seledon Valdéz. They made application to Juan Andres Archuleta (my 4g-grand father), Prefecto del leer Districto de Taos, for the Conejos Grant on February 21, 1842. Archuleta wasted no time and decreed:
"Rio Arriba, February 23rd 1842, According to the representation of those who petition in regard to the donation made to them on the Conejos river, and which they did not cultivate at that time on account of the barbarous tribes depredating then at the place petitioned for, these petitioners had certainly lost their right under the law, having abandoned the land granted them, although they set forth the motive they had for not cultivating it. But as said tract has not been denounced by any other individual or individuals, the Justice of the Peace to whome the section pertains will proceed to place the grantees in possession of the overplus, providing the donation does not interfere with third parties – presuming that the Justice who executed the act of possession may have the same in his hands, retained for the purpose of preventing disputes between the grantees."
Cornelio Vigil, Jues Primero de Paz del Partido de Taos, (Justice of the Peace in Taos) went with the heads of, or attorneys for, 84 settler families to possess the land on October 11, 1842. He made a lengthy statement giving the conditions for possession of the land. Among other things, the settlers had to move on to the land, build a house, maintain arms (guns and bows and arrows) and wall their cities. The people walked their land, then ceremoniously plucked grass and threw stones. The land was now theirs to profit from and possess, but the possession was by feudal tenure but not in fee. This meant that the title remained with the crown. This was the old feudal system that had been practiced in Europe. This difference of the concept of land ownership from that of the English system inherited by the United States has and does cloud the land grant issue to this day. The U.S. government, specifically those men responsible for recognizing the validity of the grants, refused to acknowledge the fact that communal land was for the use and benefit of the local land grantees and not for the population of the nation at large. The Conejos Land Grant was over 3600 square miles, 2.5 million acres. Its boundaries were the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande) on the east, the San Juan Mountains on the west, the Rito La Garita on the north and a line from the Rio San Antonio to Ute Mountain on the south.
The United States had taken the whole region of Nuevo Mexico from the Republic of Mexico in the Mexican war in 1846. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo called for the U.S. to verify land holdings in good standing with the Mexican Government. The families then occupying the grant must have sensed impending problems with the formal status of their claim to the grant. They made a petition signed by Julian Gallegos, Manuel Manazanares and Fernando Montoya, which they submitted to Charles Bent, New Mexico Territorial Governor, on October 5, 1846. They asked for recognition as owners of the grant. Bent replied on November 2, 1846 from Santa Fe that he did not have jurisdiction in the matter. The U.S. government declined at that time and also later to verify the Conejos Grant and placed most of the land into the Rio Grande National Forest.
The Sangre de Cristo Land Grant
José Narciso Beaubien, 13-year-old son of Carlos Beaubien, and a citizen of Taos by the name of Stephen Luis Lee made application for the 1,038,195 acre Sangre de Cristo Grant. Lee was U.S. born and ran a distillery in Taos. Lee was also married to the half sister of Carlos' wife, María Paula Lovato. The Governor of Nuevo Mexico, Manuel Armijo, awarded the grant on December 30, 1843. The boundaries were described as starting on the east side of the Rio Grande one league (2.6 miles) south of its junction with the Rio Costilla. This is in the vicinity of Ute Mountain. The boundary runs north along the Rio Grande to one league above its junction with the Trinchera River. Thus, the western boundary of Sangre de Cristo Grant was the eastern boundary of the Conejos Grant. The Sangre de Cristo boundary proceeded to the northeast, up the rio Trinchera, to the summit of the mountains to the lands of Beaubien and Miranda and then south along the boundary of said land to a point opposite (east of) the starting point, and then west to the starting point. For some reason, the final eastern boundary seems to have been later extended further south than this verbal description and thus had to run in a west by northwest direction to the starting point. In spite of, or perhaps because of the curious identity of the Sangre de Cristo applicants, this grant was approved by the U.S. congress, but for the slightly smaller size of 998,780.46 acres with a patent date of 1879.
The Baca Locations
The Town of Las Vegas Grant was ratified to Luis María Baca and his 19 sons in 1825. He had applied for the grant and the provincial deputation of Durango awarded him the land in 1821. The grant was ratified by the departmental assembly of Nuevo Mexico in 1825. In 1835, the same tract of land was awarded to Juan de Dios Maiese and 27 others because it was believed that the land was unclaimed. This caused a dispute during the adjudication of land grant claims under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by Surveyor General William Pelham, after the U.S. took control of the area in 1846. The conflicting claims to 496,447 acres was settled when the Baca heirs agreed to take an equivalent amount of land in five other parcels. Title to the five parcels was filed for claim with the surveyor general of New Mexico Territory in 1860 and was finally patented by the US government in 1903. Of these "Baca locations" two are located in New Mexico. The Baca Location #1 is in the Jemez, mostly in Sandoval and a bit in Rio Arriba Counties. Baca Location #2 is north of Tucumcari in San Miguel County. Location #4 is adjacent to the north east corner of the Conejos Grant in Alamosa County of Colorado The locations #3 and #5 are in what is now Arizona.
Baca location #1 stayed in the family until 1899 when it was sold to the Valle Land Co. It was then sold to the Redondo Development Co. in 1909 who sold it to Frank Bond in 1926. Bond sold it to James P. Dunigan in 1962. Dunigan sold it to the U.S. government in 2000 for $101 million. Baca location #2 later became part of the Bell Ranch (800,000 acres) by way of purchase of the Baca and the Pablo Montoya Grant in 1870. The Baca Location #4 was deeded by the Baca family to the Lawyer John Watts to pay a $3,000 legal fee. It then went to Colorado Governor Alexander C. Hunt in 1870, then to William Gilpin. George Adams bought it for $25,000 to obtain the Independence Mine, which had been worked some long time in the past by the Spanish as evidenced by the presence of old grinding apparatus, known as arrastres. The next owner was an investment group known as the Philadelphians. They worked the mines until 1905, producing over $50 million in gold. The location was purchased in 1930 by Alfred M. Collins of the San Luis Land and Cattle Company and then in 1950 by the Newhall Land and Farming Company. In 1962, the Arizona-Colorado Land and Cattle Company purchased the property. In 1971 Maurice and Hanna Strong purchased it and thereby formed the Baca Grand Corporation. They operate it as a contemporary community of 5 ancient religions.
The previously mentioned Town of Las Vegas grant also conflicted with the Tecolote Grant and was finally awarded 431,621 acres by the General Land office in 1903 but was drastically reduced by additional court actions.
Back in The San Luis Valley
Soon after the U.S. took control of Nuevo Mexico, people from the Taos, Abiquiú and other parts of the Rio Arriba of Nuevo Mexico moved to the San Luis Valley in ever increasing numbers. Uncertainty as to what would become of the huge Conejos and Sangre de Cristo grants under the new government did not seem to visibly concern them. Anastasio "Tata" Trujillo and his son moved from El Rito to Los Rincones in 1847 to plant and harvest crops. They returned in 1849 with their families. Costilla, a settlement on the Culebra River near San Luis, San Pedro and San Acadio were soon settled.
Fort Massachusetts was established in the summer of 1852 for two reasons, to provide the protection of the citizens from marauding Indian as called for by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and perhaps more significantly to make a military presence for the new government. The fort was built near the base to Mt. Blanca by a unit of the United States 7th Dragoons. It was permanently abandoned in 1857 upon the construction of Fort Garland about 7 miles to the south. On the west side of the Rio Grande and on the north bank of the Rio Conejos, Guadalupita (Guadalupe) was settled in August of 1854 by José María Jaquez and Vicente Velasquez from Llanito and Jesus Velasquez, José Manuel Vigil, San Pedro Manchego and Juan de Dios Martinez from La Cueva. Joining them were José Francisco Lucero, Juan Nicolas Martinez and Antonio José Chávez from La Servilleta. From Ojo Caliente came Juan Antonio Chávez, Hilario Atencio and Juan de la Cruz Espinosa. Then came Major Lafayette Head, known as Rafael Cabeza, from La Servilleta. He later became Lieutenant governor of Colorado. They built a large rectangular jacal fortress. Other settlers from the region found protection in the jacal during times of danger such as when the Indians took advantage of a temporary abandonment of Fort Massachusetts during 1853-1855. Many other villages were soon established. In 1855, Conejos grew up on the opposite bank of the river because of the flooding at Guadalupe. The jacal fortress became a barracks with a jail and lookout tower on the northwest corner. This corner became a town hall. E. J. P. Valdéz later lived in a house that replaced that corner sometime after 1890.
Carlos Beaubien had gained control of the Sangre de Cristo Grant, not surprising, since his 13-year-old son was the first name on the application. About this time, Carlos' health was failing and he was deep in debt. He sold 1/6 interest in 1862 and 4/5 interest in 1863 to William Gilpin. Gilpin knew he did not have the cash to pay taxes or develop the property so he put the property on the market in such a way as to keep a hand on its future. He divided the grant into the Trinchera and the Costilla estates. He brought in William Blackmore to promote the property in Europe. English investors were skeptical so the Dutch firm of Wertheim and Gompertz purchased over a million dollars of stock. Gilpin became the manager of the Costilla estate. The Conejos Grant failed to be approved by the U.S. Congress but in the meantime, some of the claimants sold their interests through, you guessed it, William Blackmore. Upon the failure to approve the grant, most of the Conejos Grant ended up in the Rio Grande National Forest.
In the meantime the San Luis Valley, over the protest most of its citizens (about 7,000) and the officials of Nuevo Mexico, became part of the Colorado Territory by Act of Congress on February 25, 1861. The argument was made that the history of the land, the language, culture and heritage of the area demanded that the valley be part of Nuevo Mexico, especially since the people should not be forced to change there customs since they were now part of the United States not by voluntary action but by the fortunes of war. But congress felt that "grace and beauty of the boundary" and more importantly as much land area as possible should be north of the slave/free dividing line. The issue continued to be debated as late as 1865, but the valley stayed in Colorado. José Girard and María Vitalia Salazar, my 2g-grand parents, moved their family from Ranchitos (just south of San Juan Pueblo), New Mexico Territory to the San Luis Valley early in 1870.
The Latter Day Saints migrated to the valley when 72 new converts to that faith from Georgia and Alabama were boarded on Memphis and Charleston Railroad cars in Scottsboro on November 21, 1877 under the leadership of Elder Morgan. At Corinth, Mississippi they switched to the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad for the ride to Columbus, Kentucky where they crossed the Mississippi River riding in the railcars on barges. They then rode the Iron Mountain Railroad to St. Louis, Missouri. Then on the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad they arrived in Pueblo, Colorado on November 24. The fare for the trip was $29.80 for adults and half the amount for children. They decided to stay in Pueblo for the winter and await the building of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad into the valley. They pooled their resources in a communal organization known as a "United Order." Daniel Sellers was President and Morgan was the treasurer of the order. They collected a little over $400. They erected barracks to live in by December 1. A scouting party went to the valley in March to arrange for the move to the valley. They bought two farms, 160 acres and a house for $85. They bought a yoke of oxen and a plow. They arranged to borrow wagons and other tools and planted a crop of wheat, potatoes and vegetables. One of the men was A. B. "Tob" Bagwell. Most of the group left Pueblo for Los Cerrritos on May 19,1878. Also under an agreement to live under a United Order, a large number of families moved from Chattooga, Georgia to join the young Mormon colony in Colorado during 1880. The first group form Chattooga County left in the spring. Thomas Lawrence, his daughter, Mary Angeline, and her three children, Thomas Jefferson, age 18; Dora (Dallas), age 10 and Flora age 4 left in the fall. Another daughter, Margaret Zillis, her husband William Henry Bagwell with their baby and Thomas' youngest daughter, Sinai, who was single, traveled at the same time. They chartered a rail car in Rome, Georgia to carry their goods. Dora later married Santa Fe businessman and Territorial Treasurer, Simon Nusbaum and Flora married Emilio Girard, son of José and María. Emilio and Flora were my g-grand parents.
Don Juan de Oñate, Colonizer of New Mexico 1595-1682 by George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey
Durango, The end of the Trail by Fred Girard
Historical Atlas of New Mexico by Warren A Beck and Inez D. Haase
Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico by Malcolm Elbright
Land, Water and Culture, New Perspective on Hispanic Land Grants by Charles L. Briggs and John R. Van Ness
Mercedes Reales, Hispanic Land Grants of the Upper Rio Grande Region by Victor Westphall
New Mexico Place Names, A Geographical Dictionary by T. M. Pearce
New Mexico, a Brief Multi-History by Rubén Sálaz Márquez
The People of El Valle, A History of the Spanish Colonials of the San Luis Valley, by Olibama López Tushar.
The Mormons, by Bagwell
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© Karen Mitchell