The Seledon Valdez Family
JOSE SELEDON VALDEZ AND THE CONEJOS LAND GRANT
Compiled 2001-2002 by Amy F. Naranjo.
"This is a story of my Great Great Grandfather that was one of the original settlers in the Conejos Colorado.
A condensed form was published in the La Herencia magazine here in New Mexico. A picture of Seledon hangs in the museum in Antonito, Co."
Jose Seledon Valdez, one of the settlers of the Conejos area in Southern Colorado was my great, great-grandfather. Several spellings for Seledon's name were found and created some confusion. There is Jose Seledon as listed in the baptismal records, Seledon Baldez as listed in the Conejos census records, Saladonio in Land Patent records and several reference books as Celedon.
Seledon was born in La Joya, New Mexico on February 2, 1814, to Francisco Antonio Valdez (1778-) and Maria Rafaela Varela (1785- ). He was baptized at San Juan de los Caballeros Catholic Church and was the fourth child born, having nine siblings. His father was also from La Joya and his mother was from Abiquiu. Maria Rafaela Varela's parents are Felipe Varela (1737-) and Maria Trujillo (1747-) listed in the 1790 Spanish and Mexican Colonial census compiled by Virginia Olmsted as living in the Plaza of San Rafael. Felipe is titled "Lieutenant of Jurisdiction." Seledon was married to Juana Nepomocena Chavez and they had five children, Jesusita, Cresencio, Francisco, Teofilo, and Agapita Chacon who was adopted. The 1870 census for Conejos County also shows Gertrudis and Pablo, Indians living in the household. Juana Nepomocena died prior to 1870 and Seledon married Guadalupe Valdez as she is listed in the census as his wife. No known children came from this union. Cresencio, his son, was married to Elena Salazar and they had three children, Nepomocena, my grandmother, Epifanio and Miquela. Nepomocena married Demetrio Valdez and their children were Elena, my mother, Cresencio and Ramona.
In 1833 Seledon along with Jose Maria Martinez, Antonio Martinez, and Julian Gallegos petitioned the Mexican government for the lands along the Conejos River for the purpose of a settlement. This petition was granted by Francisco Sarracino, governor of the Territory of New Mexico, the authority being the Mexican Republic. This first attempts to settle the area was met with resistence from the Indians living in the area who chased them back to New Mexico.
In 1842 when a second petition was made, and granted, a new list of settlers was submitted along with the new petition. In this list are included Antonio Valdez, Seledon's father and Jose Maria Valdez, Seledon's brother. Unfortunately around 1846 war between Mexico and the United States broke out. The United States being victorious claimed the Territory of New Mexico which at that time included the Conejos Land Grant.
In 1854 the United States government established the office of The Surveyor General to act on Mexican Land Grant Claims. In 1861 a claim for the Conejos Land Grant was again filed with the Surveyor General office but was never acted on.
In 1900, Seledon's son, Cresencio Valdez again petitioned the Court of Private Land Claims providing documentation and witnesses but again the claim was denied. Cresencio testified that the petitioner's copy of the Grant had been given to A.C. Hunt who was the territorial Governor of Colorado at that time as well as the land agent for the Denver Rio Grande Railroad, to deposit with the Surveyor General's office, but the document mysteriously disappeared.
In 1859 Seledon is listed as one of the parishioners of the Guadalupe parish and is on a church committee along with several others to draw up rules for parishioners to help support the parish.
In 1861 the first Territorial Election was taken in the State of Colorado and Seledon is listed in the Huerfano County rolls. At that time almost all of Southern Colorado was considered Huerfano County. Seledon's father and brother are also listed as voting in the Territorial Election. By this time Seledon was living in the area probably at La Isla. La Isla is located where the San Antonio river and the Conejos river meet, not to far from the Rio Grande River. By 1850 the area was thriving with settlements and farms. The settlement of San Luis was on the East side of the Rio Grande river and Conejos and Guadalupe on the west side several miles away. In order to cross the Rio Grande river a permit was granted by the Territorial Legislature to Joseph Jacquez and Joseph Garcia to provide a small ferry so that the river could be crossed. This crossing was south of what today is the main bridge going to San Luis. Seledon was the owner, and operator of the ferry. The ferry was known as Valdez's Ferry or Celedonio's Ferry. The Ferryman was expected to transport travelers promptly "at all hours of day or night." The permit set the fees. The fees for the following were, A wagon and two animals, fifty cents, carriage with one animal one dollar: for every beast of burden with its burden, fifty cents: for every Footman, five cents: for every hog, sheep, goat ten cents as described by Colville in her book "La Vereda A Trail through Time." This route passed by Ute Mountain and became known as the "Mormon road to the Ferry" starting in Red River
Another documented incident involving Seledon occurred in 1859 in what is known as "El Cerrito de los Kiowas." The Kiowas were quite hostile to the Settlers and also did not get along with
Utes. According to Luis Rafael Trujillo, as documented by his son, there was a battle between the Utes and the Kiowas in what is known as Cerrito de los Kiowas. The result was five dead Kiowas and three Utes. Luis Raphael Trujillo, Ignacio Trujillo, Seledon Valdez and Victor Garcia were ordered by Tata Tansio Trujillo to bury the dead, so that the animals would not eat the bodies. The Kiowas were buried on the North side of the trail and the Utes on the South side as instructed. My aunt Ramona Valdez remembers a story told to her regarding this incident. Apparently Seledon's daughter, Jesusita was coming home from attending school in South Bend, Indiana via Taos and was to cross the area of Cerrito de los Kiowas right after the killings and the stench and sight of the massacre was more than Seledon wanted his daughter to see so they waited till nightfall to cross the area.
Many of the Setters of the Conejos Land Grant were considered squatters in their attempts to settle the land. Under the Pre-emption act they were entitled to homestead parcels of land of 160 acres each if in fact they had filed their claims correctly. This homestead parcels and land grant claims throughout the Southwest led to establishing of the Court of Private Land Claims. Seledon made his homestead claims (BLM Serial # COCOAA 036656) and also purchased other holdings increasing the amount of land he owned. After William Gilpin was removed as governor of Colorado, the Ex Governor began to purchase large sections of land for development and mining. This attracted an English attorney, William Blackmore who came to the San Luis Valley to promote the sale of the land in that area. Apparently Blackmore approached Seledon in hopes of purchasing his land but Seledon refused Backmore's offer not wanting any more Anglo intrusion in the area. By this time many Anglos were picking up old Mexican Claims thru purchase or non payment of back taxes.
My aunt Ramona Valdez also talks about another story told her of a "tesoro" buried in what she thinks was Seledon's land or home that included beautiful jewelry and was never located by the family. Money was being raised to build a church in Los Cerritos and Seledon was holding the donations collected. Ramona, my aunt, remembers her mother (Nepomocena) telling her that when Seledon was dying someone had asked Seledon if he had any last things he needed to tell the family and he did not respond. My aunt also remembers this lady coming from Los Cerritos to visit Nepomocena and telling her that the "tesoro" had been found by a family that had bought the land. This was about 1935-1936. This family was of modest means and after this stroke of good luck were seen to have purchased farm equipment that was quite expensive. It seems that Nepomocena was quite dejected after this and stated "I guess we will always be poor." I believe most old families in New Mexico and Southern Colorado have a similar "tesoro" story.
Seledon died in La Isla, his home, on June 15, 1884, at the age of 70 never fulfilling his dream of having the Conejos Land Grant recognized. He was buried in the Conejos cemetery. His grave has never been located. Seledon was a prominent individual in the valley and was frequently asked to witness baptisms and marriages as is the custom in the Catholic Church. In looking through Baptismal records and Marriage records his son Cresencio and daughter Jesusita were also invited to witness baptisms and marriages.
On a more recent note a land grant decision has been made on the Sangre de Cristo land grand located next to the Conejos land grant. The Colorado Supreme Court had ruled that the heirs do have rights under a prescriptive easement to use the mountain portion of Taylor Ranch in Colorado for grazing, firewood, and timber and the fence put up by Taylor 40 years ago is an "injustice."