Hispanic settlers from the Taos Valley established several small villages along the Rio Culebra in the San Luis Valley and officially took possession of this portion of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant on April 5, 1851. Settlers built a church in the central village of La Plaza Medio and dedicated it on the Feast of Saint Louis, June 21, 1851. The village was renamed San Luis de la Culebra in honor of its patron saint. San Luis remained part of the Territory of New Mexico until 1861 when the Territory of Colorado was established. Today, San Luis is the oldest continuously inhabited town in the state of Colorado.
The Villages of the Culebra River: Chama, San Pedro, Los Fuertes, Garcia, Jaroso, San Francisco, San Acacio, and Mesita are quiet and full of culture that has been passed down over centuries. Here the native and the sacred are one and folklore, stories and old wisdom are alive. This is not a big-time tourist route, but rather a land of mission churches, long winters and patience. This is the home of the penitente religious brotherhood, with roots in sixteenth century Spain. People farm, raise children and celebrate fiestas, baptisms, and quinceaneras (young girls right of passage) and other old time traditions like Las Posadas and Mis Crismas.
Costilla County is also home to Fort Garland Museum, which is a historic adobe fort that was once commanded by Kit Carson. Just west of Fort Garland is the town of Blanca, once a railroad stop for shipping trainloads of produce out of the San Luis Valley, is now a quaint town with incredible views of Mount Blanca, standing 14, 345 feet tall.
The People’s Ditch is Colorado’s oldest water right and flows through the town of San Luis, just down the road from Colorado’s longest continuously running business, R&R Market. Near the center of town is the start of an incredible religious walk. The Stations of the Cross Shrine, a series of bronze sculptures, dedicated in 1990, winds up the Mesa de la Piedad y la Misericordia (Hill of Piety and Mercy), which oversee the town of San Luis. View the stations created by Huberto Maestas as your steps wind up to the La Capilla de Todos los Santos, a Catholic Chapel that sits atop San Pedro Mesa. The summit overlooks the farms of the Culebra River villages. The farms were laid out in narrow strips from 55 to 1000 feet long, measured in varas. Fields of wheat and pinto beans, carefully irrigated apple orchards, long narrow plots of potatoes, corn and high altitude crops like habas or fava beans are well tended.
Explore three isolated State Wildlife Areas and four reservoirs for hiking, fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing along with Colorado’s southernmost 14er, Culebra Peak.
The Vega – Uncultivated wetlands located at the southeast part of town. This is the common land that all members of the community continually agree not to cultivate. It has both the Rito Seco Creek and Rio Culebra running through, providing the land with water.
The San Luis Peoples Ditch – This man made ditch has the oldest water rights in Colorado. It is the heart of San Luis, providing all 270+ families with water. Located on the west side of 159 on the south part of 1st street.
Nasario Gallegos Home – It began as a stage coach station and also sold merchandise. In 1977 it became part of the National Register of Historic Places. It is located at the corner of 159 and Gasper Street on the south side of the road.
R&R Market – This market is the oldest continuously open business in the state of Colorado. It has remained in the same family for its entire existence. It is located at the corner of Main and Archie Street.
Sangre de Cristo Parish – It was established in 1881 and was assigned to pastor Father J.V. Montano. In 1889 the church was entered into the Colorado directory of churches and was officially recognized with the name Sangre de Cristo. Located on 511 Church Place.
Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center – The heritage center displays murals and varying works of art. The majority of the art comes on loan from local artists. There is a theatre in the northern wing and a replica of a morada. It is located at the southern corner of West Church Place and South Church Place.
The Stations of the Cross Shrine – The shrine is located on a mesa in the center of San Luis. It is formally recongnized as “La Mesa de la Piedad y de la Misericordia”, the Hill of Pity and Mercy. The stations are graphic recreations of Chirsts last few hours of life, when he was judged, his suffering, his death and his resurrection.
Plaza de San Luis de la Culebra Historic District – A collection of the town’s most important buildings. It contains the court house which was built in 1883. Located on 304 Main Street.
Rito Seco Creek Culvert – The bridge is comprised of two 18 foot spans that forms an arch culvert. It is faced with locally sourced volcanic fieldstone. It was established in 1936 and was funded by the Works Progress Administration. It connects Highway 142 with Main Street at the northern part of San Luis.
Salazar House – It was completed in 1906, comprised of ornamental concrete block that made it quite unique. The house’s design was inspired by Queen Anne, which is possibly the most ornate design from the Victorian Era in Colorado. Located on Main Street between 7th and 6th Street.
Historic Bridge – Spans 57 feet over the Culebra Creek. It was completed in May of 1911. The bridge originally cost Costilla county $2,860 in 1911. Located on the east side of 159 on the southern end of town on Road 19.
Costilla County Catholic Mission Churches
Towns in Costilla County
1908 – The Costilla Estates Land Development Company, in a land development scheme offered a lottery for 5 acre lots, and those purchasing lots would become eligible to win larger tracts of land. The town was named “Blanca” because it is at the foot of Sierra Blanca.
1858 – The US Army built Fort Garland to replace Fort Massachusetts, which is eight miles north. This new fort location was easier to defend and has a parade ground. The new fort was named in honor of General John Garland, General of the New Mexico Department of the Army. Fort Garland consisted of a group of adobe structures set in a rectangular form, similar to what you can view now that the State Museum at Fort Garland. There was a post office and sulter’s store and many farmers settled nearby and they grew crops to sell to the army. Among early settlers were Antonio Baca, Charles Newton and is wife Maria de Los Reyes, Tom Tobin and his wife Pasquela Bernal, although their main house was in Costilla. In the mid 1860s Kit Carson and his wife Maria Josepha Jaramillo of Taos commanded the fort for one year. An adobe church was built and is north of the present day Catholic church. The arrival of the Rio Grande Railway in 1878 grew the town but the fort was abondoned by military in 1883.
1909 – The village was named Jaroso because of the willows growing along the irrigation ditches. Jaroso was established by the Costilla Estate Development Company to attract farmers to this part of Costilla County.
There were no settlers in the Jaroso area until 1890 when a group of Mormons built a little town called Eastdale a couple of miles northwest of present day Jaroso. The town plat was filed in 1914. The Shedd Investment Company in Omaha worked in association with the Costilla Estates Development Company to bring a settlement of Seventh Day Adventists to Jaroso. By the spring of 1915, twenty-five to thirty families had settled. It became a commercial center for a vast area of northern New Mexico. Field peas, potatoes and hogs were plentiful. Just as the town was peaking, the boom came crashing down. The Merchants Bank and the Mesita State Bank failed in 1919. Welker’s General Store burned to the ground and the San Luis Southern Railroad went bankrupt. There was a small upswing when George T. Kearns of the Kearns Timber Co. purchased the San Luis Southern Railway. They started a bus service from Jaroso to Taos, which was actually a 1924, V-63 Cadillac Suburban and a truck for freight that couldn’t fit in the Cadillac and brought service only when the weather was fair. The depression of the 1930’s ended this service and brought more hardship. Then in 1932 a blizzard buried the daily train and it was two weeks before the rails were open again. More snow drifts closed train service for weeks and food and supplies were gone.
The population decreased in the 1930s, but Jaroso continued to survive. The passenger train shut down in 1946 and freight trains stopped in 1958. The stores in Jaroso are all closed now, as well as the hotel. The larger farms still operate growing barley and potatoes. The views of the isolated landscape and wild horses truly bring you back to the wild west roots that were put down here a century ago.
1909 – The Costilla Estate Development Company offered tracts of land to settlers to attract farmers and sell land. Village named for the nearby small mesa. It is located north of Jaroso. Many of the settlers were Anglo although the Mondragon family ran a store there.
1854 – Established by settlers from Chama, New Mexico
Four miles southeast of San Luis and located on the Culebra River, this town was sometimes called Culebra. The feast day of Santiago(St. James) was a major celebration drawing people from the entire region. Prominent families included the Lobatos, Sanchezes, Ortegas, Jacqueses and Villapandos. The baseball team was renowned and was also home to a post office, school, morada, catholic chaple, two cemeteries(Catholic and Pentacostal). The SPMDTU lodge hall still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
1854 – Founded by several families from Amalia, New Mexico. Named in honor of San Francisco de Asís, the patron saint of animals. Although the stream is called San Fransico Creek, it was orginally called El Rito Gregorio and when the post office opened in 1903 is was called La Valley. The first chapel was built in 1856. The penitente morada here was the most active and largest in Costilla County. The population had strong Pueblo Indian representation.
Religion played a vital role in the lives of early settlers in the area, most of whom were devout Catholics. It was often customary to name their towns after their favorite saint. In this case, the town was named after a legendary story and miracle that happened in the town. It is said that a band of Native Americans attacked the settlement in 1853. The women and children began to pray to Saint Agathius (Santo Acacio), when the Ute attackers suddenly halted and the settlers’ lives were spared. In prayer they had promised to build San Acacio a church if they were saved from the attack. Later that fall, the settlement began working on the church as promised in their prayer. The women in the village would often take care of the children and would work on plastering the adobe homes. The men would go to work in the fields and sow the land. The village was built in a line of joined houses, similar to a fort, for defensive purposes. The Utes often passed by the village and in some cases, would drop off the old Ute men and women. The history on why they would abandon members of their tribe is unclear. However, many of these older Utes would be brought into the village as servants. It is known that the Muache Utes appreciated the San Luis Valley, and would often have Bear Dances near San Acacio into the late 1860s.
Seven miles west of San Luis on CO Hwy 142, this town was built when the San Luis Southern Railway built south from Blanca to Jaroso in 1910-11. It was an active center for agriculture and shipping produce.
San Pablo is about three miles southeast of San Luis on the south side of Culebra Creek and San Pedro is in the same location but on the north side. The whole area is sometimes called San Pablo. Settlement was first attempted in 1849 by they were driven out by Native Americans.
San Pedro was sometimes called Plaza Arriba or Upper Culebra and San Luis was called Plaza de Medio or Middle Culebra. The San Pedro ditch dates from 1852. It is said that San Pablo was home to the main church of the area before it moved to San Luis. Priests came from Taos and later Costilla. The first school was built in 1890 and then two others. The second school was also used for community dances before it burned down in 1936.
1852 – Juan Salazar, Benacio Jáquez, Antonio José Valdez establish the town of San Pedro in honor of Saint Peter, holder of the keys to heaven.
1852 – San Pablo founded by José Antonio Vallejos in honor of Saint Paul.
1852 – Carlos Beaubien invites settlers to settle area by giving land. Juan Manuel Salazar, Julián Gallegos, and other settlers establish the town on June 21, 1852 on the feast day of San Luis (Saint Louis). San Luis is the oldest town in Colorado, has the longest continuously run business(R&R Market) and the People’s Ditch is the first water right in the state of Colorado.
The first attempt at a settlement in the area of San Luis was broken up by hostile Utes in 1850 but in 1851 the settlement attempt was successful. Early setterlers included Manuel Salazar, Dario Gallegos, Diego Gallegos and others. The San Luis Peoples Ditch was begun in 1851 and the decree is dated 1852 and is the first water decree in the state of Colorado. The Montez Ditch on Rito Seco is dated 1853. The orginal plaza was called San Luis de Culebra or Plaza de Medio(Middle Village). The Gallegos store, now on the list of Colorado’s most endagered places list, opened in 1857 and has been operated by Salazars and decendants related to Dario Gallegos. H. E. Easterday opending the first flour mill in 1860 and a post office followed in 1862. In 1863 a vega on the east side of town was deeded as a communally owned pasture and is still under shared use today. A community building, built by the WPA in the 1930s operated as a branch of Adams State College in the 1940s and now serves as the Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center.
Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center
Colonial and post-colonial artifacts of Hispanic cultural tradition and history are housed here. Santos, a unique Hispano religious art form, include paintings on wood (retablos), and primitive carved figures(bultos). The morada room is a fascinating replica of the adobe chapel of the penitentes religious brotherhood, dateing from sixteenth century Spain.
1849 – Manuel Manzanares and his brother are encouraged by Luis Beaubien to settle the land grant. The plaza is known as La Plaza de los Manzanares.
Several years later Guillermo and Agapito García petition for a Post Office and is named in honor of their last name. They were one of the first colonists of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. The Manzanarez Ditch, taking water from the Costilla River wa decreed in 1854 and Pedro Manzanarez operated the flour mill. Catholic familiies in the plaza attended church in Costilla but had a chapel in Garcia too. There was a Penitente morada at the plaza, and missions were operated by Presbyterian, Methodist and pentacostal churches as well.