This story transcribed by Shalane Sheley-Cruz. Sub-titles added and minor corrections made to spelling & organization.

The Questa,
New Mexico Story


F. Stanley

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Limited to 500 Copies

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October, 1962

P.O. Drawer 128, Pantex, TX


Know from the very start that it will be useless to look up the word in any Spanish or Mexican dictionary. Not under Questa. But if you look under Cuesta, the proper spelling, you will find that it means a slope, hill, mount, or any ground rising with a slope. In Mexico a cuesteno is "un habitante de las cuestas o partes altas, como laderas de la serrania." The town is on a ridge of gravel on the north side of the Red river and west of Cabrestro creek 7,469 feet above sea level. It is about nineteen miles south of Costilla and about twenty-six miles north of Taos on State Highway 3 in Taos county. It is the third largest town in the county with a population of 1,250. The name is of more recent vintage. It is one of the few timeless towns like Cordova, Trampas, Pilar, Chimayo, Dolores still untouched and despoiled of its antiquity by the modern pace in living. But for the dress of the people, electricity, TV sets one could well imagine himself back in the days when New Mexico was under the thumb of Mexico.

Land of the Utes

Long before herders from Taos began to graze sheep here this was the land of the Utes. When these divided into two bands, one section remaining in Colorado, the Mouache band united in a permanent friendship with the Jicarillas and together they roamed the area in quest of game. Time out of mind, from the days of the encomenderos, Spaniards hunted here and grazed their flocks. The Arapahoes, enemies of the Utes, often came by to trade at the Taos Pueblo Fair. Mountain trapped here in the Rio Colorado and other streams. Some remained permanently. All spoke in glowing terms of the beauty of the country, the feeling of freedom and independence, the zest for living, the wonderful climate, the severely cold winters, the kindness of the native New Mexicans, and the enchantment of the quaint village so remote from civilization, so exposed to Indian arrows, and the sheep-stealing expeditions of the various tribes that surrounded it.

Questa would have been settled earlier than it was had it not been for those roving bands of Indians. The people of Questa celebrated their centennial in 1935. Officially that was not the date of recognition. A few families banded together in 1835, coming up from Taos to start a community. No sooner were they located than the Utes and Jicarillas swooped down on them and drove them off. They called the placita San Antonio. Later another attempt was made. Again the Indians drove them off. Nevertheless extensive farming was carried on during the summer months.

Early Notes on Rio Colorado

A few left notes giving us a picture of Questa as it was in those days. That the area had early settlement is noted in Jacob Fowler’s Journal of 1822 when he noted: "On this creek there is a small Spanish settlement but abandoned by the inhabitants for fear of the Indians now at war with them."

Donaciano Vigil himself testified: "In the year 1829, a military command of about two hundred men, I being one of them as sergeant, on our way home to have a council and to make a treaty of peace with the northern Indians, who had re-commenced hostilities recently, passed by the place mentioned, the town of Rio Colorado. It was abandoned in consequence of the depredations of the Indians, and was a square of houses of about fifty varas (a vara equaled 32.91 inches) on each side, the walls of the houses being all standing. The place stands on the north bank of the Rio Colorado, about five or six leagues north of Don Fernando de Taos. In 1828, late in the year, Don Francisco La Forett and a party came to live in the town, and La Forett built a home down in the bottoms near the river but was forced to leave soon and join the others on the ridge. . ."

Earlier Settlement and Settlers

By 1842 a number of these people decided they wished to live there permanently, and petitioned the government for a grant. They said they would colonize the town of San Antonio del Rio Colorado. This, then, was the official name of the town of Questa. St. Anthony of the Red River.

Thirty-five families represented by Rafael Archuleta, Antonio Elias Armenta and Miguel Montoya asked to be placed in possession. One notes here that Las Vegas and other towns were also settled by thirty-five families. This was called for by the colonization laws of 1824 and 1829. Juan Antonio Martinez, justice of the peace of the Rio Arriba country, placed them in possession. It was a rather indifferently worded piece of goods and caused headaches that continue to this day. The boundaries on the north mentioned a spring of the spruce pines -- ojito de los pinobetes -- and the point of the Guadalupe Hill (punto del cerro de Guadalupe); on the south of the ridge or brow of the Rio Colorado; on the east, the mountain (sierra); on the west the canoncito where the said Guadalupe Hill joins the Rio Colorado. Thus Questa was officially founded on January 19, 1842. The families lost no time in building and planting and the Indians lost no time in trying to unplant and destroy. They wanted no township on their hunting grounds. This was the situation when General Kearny took over New Mexico and the inhabitants of Questa became American citizens.

Official Establishment of San Antonio del Rio Colorado

Because the wording of the grant was so indefinite, the U.S. Land Office hesitated to confirm San Antonio del Rio Colorado Tract No. 76. During the years the townspeople sought to establish their right to the grant from 1854 to 1887 no attempt was made to oust them from their land. Surveyor General W. Julian , on June 23, 1886 wrote:

"Under instructions of the honorable Commissioner of the General Land Office of August 24, 1854 to this office, especially that portion thereof relating to established villages, and believing that it is proved that this village of San Antonio del Rio Colorado since its foundation in 1842, holding the lands as claimed without question, I am of the opinion the lands as claimed without question, I am of the opinion that a good prima facie case is made by claimants, whether all original proceedings were regular or not. I do not believe that the instructions of the Land Office referred to by Mr. Proudfit are applicable to the case now under consideration, or give it any legal support. The instructions upon this point are as follows:

In the case of any town lot, farm lot, or pasture lots, held under a grant from any corporation or town to which lands may be granted for the establishment of a town by the Spanish or Mexican government, or the lawful authorities thereof, or in the case of any town, city, or village lot, was taken of New Mexico by the authorities of the United States, the claim to the same may be presented by the corporate authorities; or where the land on which the said city, town or village was originally granted to an individual, the claim may be presented by or in the name of such individual; and the fact being proved to you of the existence of such city, town or village at the period when the United States took possession, may be considered by you as prima facie evidence of a grant to such a corporation, or to the individuals under whom the lot-holders claim; and where any city, town, or village shall be in existence at the passage of the act of July 22, 1854, the claim for the land embraced within the limits of the same may be made and proved up before you by the corporate authority of the said city, town, or village . . . Justice would seem to demand that these people should have the right to select and retain the land that they have actually occupied and improved under the proceedings by which they were placed in possession in 1842 and within the boundaries there specified, the quantity thereof and its precise location to be determined and fixed by evidence to be hereafter taken, and a survey to be made in the field. To this extent I recommend a confirmation of the claim to the legal representatives of those who were placed in possess of the land on January 19, 1842 . . . "
Rio Colorado Militia

When Kearny took over New Mexico he promised to protect the natives against marauding tribes. Since he marched off to California it remained for his successors to alleviate the situation in the Taos area. Troops were stationed in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Taos, Rio Colorado and Antonchico. Later Raynado, Socorro, Polvadera and Belen were added. It was then decided to construct forts and many of the troops were taken away from the towns. To help the towns thus made destitute of protection, it was the intention of the military to build up the militia. The man named for this task was Captain Lloyd Beall, a native of Washington, D.C., who graduated from West Point in 1818. He was a man of experience, having been in many campaigns against the Seminole Indians. It was his idea to staff Rio Colorado with the militia. He had undertaken several campaigns to clear the area of marauders but his efforts were unavailing. As soon as he returned to Taos the Indians would raid the village again. He decided to go to Santa Fe to recruit men from among the crews coming in with the wagon trains. The Santa Fe Trail was in its heyday then and the city had more men than could actually be employed. Many others of foreign birth also came to Santa Fe to try their luck away from the fatherland. The captain had no difficulty in signing up men for the militia.

A Description of Early Rio Colorado

In 1845, just one year before the Kearny Entrada, Governor Armijo sent troops of soldiers and some militia to Rio Colorado in quest of wandering Cheyennes who made a foray on the town, killing some herders in the region and made off with stock. The soldier who kept a journal of this campaign made note of the fact that most of the homes were of adobe and logs, having looped-holed battlements placed there for the defense of fighting hostile Indians. By 1849 the town had one hundred families. It was on the old Taos Trail and visited by travelers to and from Taos. Indian troubles diminished after the Sagauache Campaign of 1854. There was a small Indian tribe that inhabited the flat topped low hill to the east of the present highway as it enters the Red River canyon. Whenever a hostile tribe invaded Rio Colorado the Indians of this long forgotten village came into help the settlers. In order to assure themselves of better security against the hostiles, the settlers built an adobe wall, about seven feet high, around the town, giving the place the appearance of an old fashioned hacienda. One gate was cut through this wall. At night goats and sheep were driving through this gate and bedded in the plaza. Their bleating may have caused some very sleepless nights. La Forett was not one to give up easily. He was back again planting, building and laying the foundation of a family heritage.

The German Emigrants and their Contribution

At the time Beall came to Santa Fe in quest of recruits there were a number of Germans in town looking for work. The Minks later figured prominently in the Civil War and after the conflict made Anton Chico their home. Viereck and Schlesinger roamed together. Later they were joined by William Kronig. Viereck’s sister was the most celebrated actress of her day in Berlin. Viereck, who actually painted stage scene for a living, set up a barber shop in Santa Fe. Kronig made and sold cigars; Schlesinger was a jack of all trades. They tired of life in Santa Fe, so they signed up for two months with the militia in Rio Colorado. While in Rio Colorado Kronig sought out La Forett and the two became life long friends.

Kronig was made Orderly Sergeant for the troop in Rio Colorado and often devised ingenious methods for supplying the men with fresh meat. It was while these troops were stationed in Rio Colorado that Indians staged a raid on the White party near Wagonmound. The troops were ordered to Taos; Major Greer came in with his contingent on the Rayado and accompanied by Kit Carson tracked down the party said to have taken Mrs. White prisoner. The story is well known. Mrs. White was killed in sight of the troops coming to her rescue. Captain Jose Maria Valdez, in charge of the militia at Rio Colorado, gave a good account of himself. It was while returning form this expedition that Kronig first saw the sight of his future home, La Juncta, the junction of the Sapello and Mora rivers. The name of this little settlement was later changed to Watrous. He was to be intimately associated with the Watrous family.

La Forett and Kronig

After the term of his enlistment was up, Kronig cast about for something to do. He thought of his friend La Forett and went back to Rio Colorado where [he was] given a royal welcome by his host and the two La Forett boys. La Forett also had a married daughter. She and her husband lived in Rio Colorado. The men of the family decided to go out on a turkey shoot because they decided they wanted turkey for their Christmas dinner. It was while eating turkey that Christmas day that Kronig decided to become a professional hunter. He killed a deer and sold it in Taos for four dollars. It was while he was in Taos that he again met Colonel Beall who hired him for five dollars a day to ascertain whether or not the White baby was still alive. Kronig offered Schlesinger a dollar a day of this if he would accompany him. Their first stop was at the La Forett home. The old French-Canadian trapper begged them not to carry out the mission for the Apaches and Utes would kill them. Kronig continued on up to the Greenhorn country of Colorado in response to a tip that perhaps Chief Velezquez camped there might have the baby. After an unfruitful trip the party returned to La Forett’s house and wrote out a report for Col. Beall. The baby was never recovered.

Looking for a Traitor

Kronig was no sooner paid off for the job when Beall told him to make himself ready for another. At Rio Colorado there was a native New Mexican woman married to an Indian of the Jicarilla Apache tribe. The Indian had been wounded in the knee, was unable to ride a horse, nor was he useful anymore as a warrior. The colonel was convinced that this Indian relayed news to his tribesmen and the Utes when the town was unprotected, for the hostiles always seem to know when to make their raids. Kronig rented a cabin near the Indian’s house and spied on the place for a month. Convinced that the Indian was not the source of information, Kronig went back to Taos with his report.

Kronig’s Store and Home in Rio Colorado

While in Taos Kronig met James H. Quinn who had contracted to sell beef to the army. This Quinn lived in Taos and had a store at Arroyo Hondo. He had sought to bribe Kronig when he was Orderly Sergeant, but Kronig would not bite. Feeling that there was bad blood between them, Kronig by-passed the meat contractor. He heard his name called and found that Quinn wished to speak to him. Quinn told him that he was looking for an honest man to start a store in Rio Colorado. Quinn would provide all the salable goods if Kronig would provide himself with a store and sell them on a percentage basis. Thus it was that Kronig became a storekeeper in Rio Colorado. Meantime he made the acquaintance of S. B. Watrous, who also employed him.

At the time Kronig bought his store he decided on a home. He asked the owner what he thought the house was worth. It is interesting to note how they evaluated houses those days in Rio Colorado. If the vigas were of split cedar, those were counted at two dollars a viga. That was the value of the house. The ground on which it stood was thrown in for good measure. If the vigas were of pine or any other wood they were counted at a dollar a viga. Don’t try to buy a home by that method in Questa today. Times have changed. The people of Questa value the dollar as well as the next.

The Traitor Revealed

Juan Benito Valdez, who had a small mill and a distillery at Rio Colorado, decided to build a chapel. The padre had been coming in from Taos saying Mass in the various homes. He would now have a place of worship to come to. Indians came in one night and drained the hoppers of the grain, ran off goats and robbed the mill of everything not tied down. They also ran off the cattle and horses. Beaubien came in from Taos and asked La Forett and his sons to help track down the Indians that made off with a dozen head of his cattle None of any of these things were ever recovered. One day Kronig almost killed the son of Juan Vigil who was with a raiding party attacking the La Forett farm opposite the town of Rio Colorado. This Vigil dressed and painted himself like an Indian and often accompanied them on their forays against his own people. Kronig was prevented form killing him because he was the son of "el rico" Juan Vigil. These Vigils were of the northern branch of the family stemming form Taos and only remotely connected with the Donaciano Vigil branch of the family.


After this incident, with the help of LaForett, Quinn and Watrous, Kronig went into farming along with his other interest. At this time Watrous was nosing about for gold, silver or any other mineral that would help make a Midas of him. He did some prospecting in the area whenever there were no Indians about to scalp him. The gold fever infected Kronig to the end of his days. It was because of his quest for gold that prospectors entered Willow Creek and eventually founded Elizabethtown and other towns.

The Monte Game

Kronig certainly had numerous experiences during his days in Rio Colorado. "One day," he wrote, "a well-dressed (New) Mexican came into my store and asked whether I would rent it from sundown to midnight. I assumed he was a juggler who wanted to give a show that evening. I agreed so that the villagers would have some sort of entertainment. After sundown instead of juggling he opened a gaming table and started a Monte game. The men of the town had been around long before sundown. They all seemed to know exactly what was to take place and came prepared. Before midnight they not only lost all their money, but the sheep, horses, cattle, goats and houses they gave notes for. When midnight came I insisted on closing as per agreement. The gambler gave me an argument but I succeeded in closing the place. The next day the accounts had to be squared, stock of all kinds became cheap, and even houses changed hands below their accustomed value."

The Reboza Theft

Kronig made a profit from the gamblers because he sold them drinks. Money and drinks flowed freely. When the storekeeper was about to close for the day he noticed that a silk reboza was missing. It was the only one of that type he had in stock and he valued it at twenty-five dollars. Kronig remembered a certain gambler standing near the spot. He went in search of him and came upon him just as he was putting the reboza on the shoulder of one of the town ladies She might have sent her reputation down the drain but Kronig was forced to admit that she kept her looks. No doubt the Don Juan thought the shawl would bestow certain favors. Kronig gathered a few friends and arrested the gambler. He took him before the alcalde and asked that justice be done. The alcalde and said he had no written laws in his office covering the incident, nor did he know how to sentence the thief. He asked Kronig what he should do. The storekeeper told him that the culprit should be taken to the town square and publicly flogged, then ordered out of town. The gambler pleaded not to be flogged. He had money; he would pay the fine. The town constable was ordered to take the prisoner to the town square and apply the whip. He was then to escort him to the edge of town and warn him not to return. The whole town came out for the whipping. It is customary for villagers in mountain towns in New Mexico to attend church, baptisms, weddings, funerals, political rallies and things like public whippings. It seems strange that despite the whipping none of the skin was broken. The whipper was a penitente. He knew how to apply the lash from experience. He knew how to draw blood. Evidently he was not very enthusiastic about his job. But it did stop any further stealing int he Kronig store for the balance of the time he was in Rio Colorado.

Chapel Paintings

Before long Viereck followed Kronig to Rio Colorado. He stayed with Kronig as cook and sort of housekeeper until he could find something to do. After some time he approached La Forett, easily recognized as Rio Colorado’s first citizen, to gather together the townspeople for he had a proposition to make to them. He had noted that the chapel was unadorned and had no paintings. He told them, in Spanish, that he would paint a picture of the twelve apostles for one hundred and sixty dollars. Beaubien, who was in town that day visiting La Forett, headed the list with five dollars. La Forett also gave five; Kronig put in five. By nightfall Viereck had his hundred and sixty dollars. He painted a tolerable twelve apostles, considering he was a scenerio painter for stage scenery, but he was afraid of the comments of the padre when he came in from Taos. Evidently the painting gained the favor of the padre as well as well as the townspeople for it retained its honored position over the high-altar for many years. Viereck returned to Taos where he was commissioned to do many more paintings for the various churches and much of the work found in Guadalupe, San Miguel, the Cathedral is attributed to him. No doubt he was also responsible for some paintings in Pecos, La Questa (the present village of Villanueva), Ranchos de Taos, Taos, the Pueblo, San Miguel del Bado, San Isidro, Tecolotenes, Rociada and other mountain towns.

Other Interests in Rio Colorado

Beaubien seemed to have a store in Rio Colorado also for he is often mentioned by Kronig as if he had residence in Rio Colorado. Since he had diversified interests at Mora, Santa Fe, Rayado, Ranchos de Taos, Taos, San Luis and El Prado, it is not unlikely that he also had business interests in Rio Colorado. Charles Autobee, who later moved to the Huerfano in Colorado, also had interests in Rio Colorado

The Rich Indians

About this time over a hundred Utes and Jicarillas came into Rio Colorado for a peace treaty. One Indian came in and noticed a sack of wheat meal in the Kronig store. It was a sack weighing about twenty pounds. The Indian offered a gold dollar. Koenig offered no change. After a time more Indians came in. Before the day was over they bought up the entire stock. Kronig had a ride over to Arroyo Hondo to Quinn’s store for a fresh supply if he wanted to open the next morning. Quinn persuaded Kronig to stay for the night. It was ascertained that the Indians, claiming to be the poorest of the poor, left twelve hundred dollars in Rio Colorado. Three days later five hundred New Mexico volunteers rode into Rio Colorado looking for the Indians. They followed the trail of the Indians and attacked the camp. When they returned Kronig saw many articles he sold to the Indians. The leader of the troops gave Kronig a special dressing down for dealing with Indians at war with the United States. Kronig retaliated that they had come in peace.

Ganster Jack Connley and the Murder of Charlie Purdy

When mining opened in La Belle, Red River and Twinning, Questa became an important shipping point. Questa itself was the scene of a mining boom. There were placer mines near Questa around Box Canyon. Jack Connley, said to be a member of the Soapy Smith gang that operated out of Alaska, Leadville and Creede in Colorado, came to Questa. He hired Charlie Purdy to help with the mine in the canyon. One day Charlie went to see his employer and involved himself in an argument with the boss. He even went on his knees to plead with him, evidently for better equipment or possibly for his salary. He shot Charlie as he knelt there. Just as he shot him a boy came in to ask for something. Connley shot him also because he was a witness. Leaving the two bodies there, jack mounted his horse and rode to Red River, a mining camp about eighteen miles away. He had a cabin by the river. He hoped it would be a good hideout.

About this time a sheepherder came by to look in on Jack. The moment he saw the two bodies he went to Questa and reported to the deputy sheriff of Taos County, Francisco Burrillo, known to be a rather strict and unfearing law enforcement officer. Six deputies surrounded the cabin and called out to Connley to give himself up. Connley agreed to surrender if Joe Phipps would handle the case and take him to Taos rather than Questa. He knew that Burrillo would restrain his liberty where as by going to Taos he could come and go as he pleased. That is the way it turned out. This angered the father of the boy who was killed. He bluntly told the sheriff that if he did not lock up the murder he would silence him for good. He made it his job to see that the sheriff kept Connley in line. The murderer was eventually tried and sentenced to be hanged.

Juan de Dios Roybal and Melquiades Real were partners in the ownership of a saloon in Questa. Things did not work out too well so Melquaides ran for the office of county assessor, and won. On Sunday morning, while he lay asleep in his home in Questa, Roybal came in and shot him, killing him instantly. The family immediately called Sheriff Sinecio Cisneros, a resident of Prado, near Taos. The sheriff collected a posse and tried to head off Roybal who had saddled his horse and, instead of taking the road to Costilla, went through the fields over the New Mexico line into Colorado. Cisneros died about three months later (November 12, 1913) at his ranch home at El Prado. Mounted Policeman Frank Lambert kept on the alert. He found out that Roybal was headed bacdk into New Mexico after a few stay in Colorado, hoping to get to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Two miles north of Maxwell, Lambert came up to Roybal and told him he was under arrest. He took him to the pen in Santa Fe. Sinecio Cisneros had a particular interest in the place because his grandfather and granduncle Sinecio Cisneros and Francisco Cisneros were the leaders of the families that migrated from Arroyo Hondo in 1846 to Rio Colorado to help the settlers of 1842 get settled. They were repulsed by Indians and returned to Arroyo Hondo until 1848 when they returned to Rio Colorado for a permanent settlement.

Early Homes in Rio Colorado

In the early days one of the houses had glass for obvious reasons. The few that had transom like windows placed them high, close to the vigas, and used them for observation or defense. Cupboards and shelves were of adobe and built into the walls. Adobe benches lined the walls near the fagon de campana. This was a bell-shaped fire place which had a smokehole but no chimney. Jars, bowls, blankets, baskets could be had any time the Indians came to town for trading purposes.

Most home owners had a makeshift loom to weave cloth, blankets, rugs and serapes. Rio Colorado or Questa never had santeros but bultos and santitos were brought in from Chimado in trade for hand-made curtains, hand-made shoes of cowhide and buckskin. The molino and metate were always in use where people had little or no contact with the outside world, especially during the long, hard winter months. Winter nights were often so cold that a degree of warmth could be had by sleeping with a mattress and several blankets under you and a mattress and a number of blankets above you. Thirty below zero is not rare some February nights in Questa.

Early Cuisine

The early settlers of Questa raised maize, oats, onions, chili, alfalfa, sugar cane and tobacco. When the United States took over New Mexico and sugar cane as well as tobacco were no longer black market products, their cultivation was discontinued. In the early fall the men of Questa formed hunting parties as well as trading parties as comancheros. They went to the plains east of the site of Tucumcari for buffalo, then they followed the Canadian to the Palo Duro to trade with the Indians. The buffalo meat was stripped, cut in pieces and set out to dry in the sun. Usually pieces of apple or peach were also set with the string of meat. This dried buffalo meat with the mixed flavors was known as jerkin. It is very tasty. A handful eaten on horseback will satisfy the hunger for a day. Later goat meat, beef, sheep meat was dried in the same fashion. People of Valdez, Arroyo Hondo, Arroyo Seco still dry meat in the sun. It is quite tasty. There was a big round oven [in each home] in which bread was baked every day although tortillas and chili also became part of the daily lifeline. Beans were also enjoyed at each meal. Later when other commodities were brought to town baloney and friend potatoes made a nice breakfast.

Early Health Care

Curanderos learned early the use of herbs. Herb-brewers had eliminated the need for doctors in Rio Colorado. Nowadays those who need operations and medical care come to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos or go to another hospital in Colorado. Some even come as far as St. Vincent’s in Santa Fe. They all look healthy enough for the most part, and a doctor would probably starve to death.

Guarding the Town

All the men of Questa had their appointed time for guard duty. A sentinel was maintained day and night on the heights of an overhanging mountains. Even then attackers would slip by and pick up sheep, horses and cattle and sometimes carry off women and children.

Religious Life

The people were called to mass by two bells christened Santa Maria and San Antonio. Both these bells contained much of the gold and precious jewelry of the townspeople. This gave them a delightful ring. When traders came by and learned how much gold was in the bells they persuaded the townspeople to exchange the bells for two they said ring better. Naturally the two new ones would contain no gold.

The French padres from Costilla brought in some images but they never matched the old home-made affairs of the people. Three of the images were made in Questa. These woodcarvings had real hair cut off of senoritas in fulfillment of vows, and were often used in the processions for the blessings of the fields and the function of San Antonio, the patron saint of the town.

When a parish was erected in Costilla, the priest there was placed in charge of Questa. Like Mora and most mountain towns, Questa had its quota of Penitentes. It had a morada and the Brotherhood was quite prominent in the political life of the town.

A new church was built in 1873. It was fashioned in the shape of a cross 100 by 28 feet, with two side cruceros of 20 feet each. It was 25 feet high and had six windows, the side walls being four feet thick. The roof was originally flat but was replaced by a pitched roof in order to keep as much snow off as possible.

The Fiesta of San Antonio

On the eve of the fiesta of San Antonio, June 12, there was a procession, fires, vespers, a baile. The next day there was a Mass, procession, dinner in the house of the mayordomo. Everybody contributed something. During these years the parishioners paid diezmos and primicias, usually in a ristra of chili, eggs, corn, alfalfa, maize which the padre sold either in Taos or Santa Fe.

Entertainment in Rio Colorado

The matachinos and pastores -- old miracle and morality plays -- were as annual as the meetings in the morada each lent. Cockfights were not unusual in Questa and on certain days of the year there was the curre gallo or cock race. A game played here but not seen in many places in New Mexico was pelota, somewhat like our game of hockey. Actually our modern game of football is tame compared to it. As many as fifty members to the side. The ball was made of wool, with stones inside. It was hit with a curved stick called chueco. Sometimes the town would divide into two sides. The losing side would give a baile. Sometimes on Sunday afternoon they would challenge Costilla or Garcia or Cerra or any town close by with a sufficient amount of players and consume the rest of the day in the game. The losing team always gave a dance. The last game was played in 1898.


School in the early days was taught in the home of a man qualified for the purpose. He was usually paid about quatro reales a month by the parents of each child, or given chickens, eggs, and other things in exchange for the education. In the [18]80s the government began its system of rural school; later Questa was able to have a school of its own.

Getting Mail

The U.S. post office was established in 1884 and the name changed from Rio Colorado to Questa. The mail came in from Costilla and Fort Garland. Sometimes the mail came in by horseback due to the deep snows. Now trucks bring in the mail twice a day over good roads.

The Twentieth Century

E. S. Redding, for many years a resident of Questa, kept the only hotel in the town. He was well liked and always anxious to help the people. He died in Questa in January, 1908. Victor Espinoza owned the Questa Garage. Joe Vigil had a truck garden farm; Clavis Cortez carried the mail. Bailes were now held in the lodge room behind the post office. Questa boasted four general merchandise stores, three saloons, two garages, several denominational churches, but the faith of the majority is Catholic. Msgr. Glen Patrick Smith, pastor of Cristo Rey in Santa Fe, was sent to Questa as first resident pastor, shortly before World War II. During the war he set up a broadcasting system for the villagers, giving them all the war news in their native tongue. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois. Each night at 9:30 the people waited for the broadcast which came from the padre’s living room. His call letters were P.S.A. (i.e. Parroquia de San Antonio). His theme song was Quatro Milpas, and the broadcast carried for two miles. People still talk about those broadcasts. They made history in that remote mountain town, mostly because the good padre found that he soon had competition. Others decided that they could broadcast also. One sound tried to drown out the other and the result was lots of noise not too good for the ear drum. But the townspeople got to wondering who would eventually have to give in. It took their mind off the war and their sons overseas -- for Questa gave a good quota to the service. In the end the smiling padre, blond haired and blue eyes, proved his Spanish was more acceptable. Even a Spaniard will admit his Spanish is flawless. He was missed when he was transferred.

Description of Contempt by Bennett

James A. Bennett is not reliable in his DRAGOON IN NEW MEXICO for he quotes the population of Rio Colorado as three thousand. Fifteen hundred was the highest Questa ever attained. It may be more now with the shift in population after World War II. Bennett said, "Camped at Rio Colorado forty miles from Taos. Three thousand inhabitants live here and are the same as all others I have seen, indolent, dirty, and immoral. Passed a restful night." Why is it that all these fellows speak of dirt, immorality, indolence, yet seem to love New Mexico? If they wrote about their own home places the way they ran down the inoffensive New Mexican tilling his fields and trying hard to make a living for his family with much less encouragement than those who reviled him, they would have been sued for every last penny they owned.

The New Mexico Guide

The New Mexico Guide, old and new editions, tell very little that will help the historian, although it does have sufficient information for the tourist an casual reader.

"Unadorned by anything modern," (both editions say the same thing - Tour 9, page 285) "and with a large majority of its residents of Spanish and (New) Mexican stock. Questa is still an authentic picture of life as it was during the Mexican regime. Agriculture is the main pursuit. Sheep are raised in considerable numbers, crops are watered from the Red (Rio Colorado) and Cabrestro (Rope) streams, and some placer mining is carried on in near-by mountains. Questa had several beginnings and sudden endings because the Ute and Apache discouraged adventurous settlers who wished to work for the fertile river bottoms. In 1829 Don Francisco Laforet (La Forett -- as late as 1939 a grandson was still fighting for the land grant rights of the La Foret family), but was forced to move to the ridge the better to watch for the marauders. These settlers held out and in 1872 (probably a misprint, should be 1842) obtained a grant containing 115,000 acres. Old documents show that in 1849 one hundred families were living in Rio Colorado and eagerly greeted the mountain men (?---period of the mountain men was about over by 1849) and traders who came in covered wagons on the old Taos Trail. Indians attacked again in 1854 and during the campaign and six-foot wall with only one entrance was built around the town. The church, erected in 1873, is Questa’s oldest building. In 1884, when the town acquired a post office, the name was changed to Questa."
The Future

More and more people were discovering Questa as a tourist haven. In time it will become as popular as Red River because it is on highways less difficult on the wear and tear of a car. The scenery is just about as spectacular and some business men will find a way to erect ski lifts for winter sports. More and more churches and organizations will find good summer camp spots here. The nights are always cool in the summer. There is never a night when at least one blanket is not necessary. The Questa are is fast becoming a changing world because it is in the center of the tourist belt that brings visitors to the area. Many will return; all wish to remain. Questa will have its day and New Mexico will continue to expand as a wonderland, a place of enchantment, of cool summer evenings. Questa’s future lies ahead.


Putnam’s Contemporary Spanish Dictionary, Berkeley Publishing Corp, 1970.

VIAGA: beam, girder, or joist

DIEZMOS: tithes

PRIMICIAS: first fruits

MOLINO: mill

© 1997 - 2012 inclusive Karen Mitchell - Colorado City, Colorado