Brief History of Costilla County, Colorado

and the San Luis Valley

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Costilla County, Colorado is one of Colorado's original counties, formed in 1861. Prior to 1861 any records will be found in Taos County, New Mexico. The county was named for the Costilla River, which means "little rib" in Spanish. San Luis is the County Seat. Costilla is surrounded by Las Animas County on the east, Huerfano on the northeast, Alamosa on the northwest and Conejos on the west. The New Mexico Counties of Taos and Colfax border it on the south.

1541 - Coronado, famed Spanish explorer, may have crossed the southeastern corner of present Colorado on his return march to Mexico after vain hunt for the golden Seven Cities of Cebolla.

1682 - Explorer La Salle appropriates for France all of the area now known as Colorado east of the Rocky Mountains.

1724 - Bourgmant explores Colorado Area.

1765 - Juan Maria Rivera leads Spanish expedition into San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains in search of gold and silver.

1776 - Friars Escalante and Dominguez seeking route from Santa Fe to California missions, traverse what is now western Colorado as far north as the White River in Rio Blanco County.

1806 - Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike and small party of U.S. soldiers sent to explore southwestern boundary of Louisiana Purchase; discovers peak that bears his name, but fails in effort to climb it; reaches headwaters of Arkansas River near Leadville.

1807 - Pike crosses Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Conejos River in San Luis Valley and builds Pike's Stockade; placed under nominal arrest by Spanish authorities and taken to Santa Fe; later, he and his men are released. James Purcell, another early explorer advises Pike that gold flakes exist in Colorado mountain streams.

1825 - Opening of era of fur-traders, trappers and Mountain Men - Bent brothers, Ceran St.Vrain, Louis Vasquez, Kit Carson, Jim Baker, James Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick, "Uncle Dick" Wooten, and Jim Beckworth - who established posts in Arkansas and South Platte Valleys.

1832 - Bent's Fort, one of the most important trading posts in the West, is built by the Bents and St. Vrain Company near present city of La Junta.

1836 - Texas becomes independent republic and claims narrow strip of mountain territory extending northward through Colorado to 42nd parallel. This includes the Sangre de Cristo mountains on the eastern side of Costilla County.

Early 1840's - Mexico granted lands to the wealthy, south of the Arkansas Valley and in the San Luis Valley hoping to secure claims against Texas or America.

1842 - Lieutenant John C. Fremont undertakes first of his five exploration trips into Rocky Mountains. His last expedition, in 1853, took him through the San Luis Valley and into the Gunnison River country. These expeditions were done for the Army Corp of Topographical Engineers and the party contained 40 men, including a negro and cartographer, Charles Preuss.

1842 - The Town of Manzanares (later called Garcia) founded. These early settlers were driven out by the Ute Indians.

1848 - By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico cedes to the United States most of that part of Colorado not acquired by Louisiana Purchase.

1850 - Federal Government purchases Texas' claims in Colorado, and present boundaries of Colorado established.

1851 - First permanent settlement in Colorado is founded at San Luis; Fort Massachusetts established in San Luis Valley to protect settlers from Indians.

1852 - Culebra - First decreed irrigation ditch dug. It is recorded as the "San Luis People's Ditch" with the water decree being dated April 10, 1852, the date the water referee determined the actual digging and use of the ditch began.

1853 - Captain John W. Gunnison leads exploring party across southern and western Colorado. Gunnison named for him. Fremont's last expedition, seeking a feasible railroad route through mountains, follows Gunnison's route.

Viejo San Acacio settled.

1856 - Church at Viejo San Acacio completed. Locals consider this the oldest church in Colorado because it was never moved or destroyed.

1857 - Dario Gallegos builds first merchandise store in San Luis. This is the oldest continuously operated business in Colorado.

1858 - Construction of Our Lady of Guadalupe begins in Conejo and was completed in 1860. Some believe this to be the oldest church in Colorado. Fort Garland built to replace Fort Massachusetts.

1860 - American Mill Four Company constructs a flour mill in San Luis.

1861 - Congress establishes Colorado Territory with boundaries of present state; President Lincoln appoints William Gilpin as first Territorial governor. July, Supreme Court is organized and Congressional delegates chosen. September, first assembly meets, creates 17 counties, authorizes university, and selects Colorado City as Territorial capitol. The population of the Colorado Territory is 25,371. Costilla County created.

March 1862 - Battle at Glorieta Pass turns back the Confederate Army encroachment into New Mexico and Colorado. Troops from Fort Garland arrive at end of battle.

1866 - County of Saguache carved out of northern Costilla County. Well known scout, trapper, and mountain man, Christopher "Kit" Carson appointed commander of Fort Garland.

1876 - Colorado is admitted to Union as 38th State; John L. Routt is elected first governor.

1877 - The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad crosses over La Veta Pass, entering Costilla County. Within a year the line is extended to Alamosa. Colorado Independent newspaper is published from Garland City. Garland City was a temporary town for railroad workers. As the railroad moved west, so did the town and the newspaper.

1883 - Fort Garland abandoned and troops relocated to Fort Lewis. Land reverts to Trinchera Estates.

1886 - Costilla County Courthouse at San Luis is built.

1888 - Fort Garland Republican newspaper founded. After two years it was relocated to Alamosa.

1893 - National panic brings great distress to Colorado. Repeal of Sherman Act strikes silver mining a paralyzing blow and adds to already acute unemployment problems. Grand Junction Sentinel established.

2 November 1907 - San Luis Valley News published at Fort Garland by George and Catherine Wood. The paper relocated to the Town of Blanca the following year.

14 April 1910 - San Luis Southern Railway completed. This line ran due north and south from Blanca to Jaroso at the New Mexico border. Only 29 miles in length, it has been described as Colorado's loneliest railroad.

1909 - Towns of Jarosa and Mesita laid out by Costilla Development Company. The Seventh Day Adventist Church establishes a school and coop farm in Jarosa.

1921 - General Assembly creates State Highway Department with seven man Advisory Board. Colorado begins building concrete highways on main traveled routes. Pueblo suffers disastrous flood in June; scores drowned and property damage amounts to $20,000,000. Post war deflation sets in and decline in prices brings trouble in the rural areas. During the next several years, numerous banks serving farming areas close, price and farm lands decline sharply from levels reached in World War I, and farmers clamor for farm relief.

1925 - Adams State Teachers College at Alamosa and junior colleges at Grand Junction and Trinidad are opened.

1928 - Site of Fort Garland repurchased by civic citizens and Colorado Historical Society recreates the Fort as a museum.

1940 - Population peaked at 7533 for the County.

2 January 1954 - San Luis Valley News sold and no further issues published.

1983 - Conejos County Citizen, published in La Jara, expands it circulation area to included Costilla County.

1990 - Population of Costilla County decreases to 3,190.

1999 - San Luis Valley rancher proposes to build a tower "to watch for alien spaceships" in the San Luis Valley.
Population is now at about 3,575.