The essay is an excerpt from Another Time in This Place: Historia, Cultura y Vida en Questa (2003) by Tessie Rael y Ortega and Judith Cuddihy presents the history of the village of Questa as determined from the archaeological and written records. All rights reserved.

Photos from the private collection of former State Historian Estevan Rael-Galvez, Ph.D.

Questa- San Antonio del Rio Colorado

From the Record

By Judith Cuddihy© 2003

This excerpt from Another Time in This Place: Historia, Cultura y Vida en Questa (2003) by Tessie Rael y Ortega and Judith Cuddihy presents the history of the village of Questa as determined from the archaeological and written records. 

An Introductory Note

The following account of the history of the Questa area is drawn from the historical record. Where possible, first-person accounts of Rio Colorado have been included to give a first-hand view of what life was like here over the years. Many of the early accounts were written by outsiders, especially French trappers and American and European travelers and explorers. Often their accounts reflect the ethnic stereotypes of their time, which must be borne in mind when reading these descriptions. The total result is “history” from many viewpoints and at many levels—the kaleidoscope of history even at this small scale using the most reliable evidence and as straightforwardly as possible, within the limits of the material available.  Names are used as appropriate to historical period being discussed. Names for Questa include Rio Colorado, Plaza de Rio Colorado, San Antonio del Rio Colorado, and Questa. The Red River, Rio Colorado, was also known as the Little Red River. In this text the Rio Colorado in other contexts, for there were several western rivers so named, will be explained and denoted as such. The numbers in parentheses refer to reference notes, which can be found at the end of this section.


Ancient Geological Events Formed Our Landscape

Landscape is an important backdrop to the events of history—the stage upon which it occurs—and sometimes even an actor. This has certainly been true throughout the history of the Questa area. Driving north up Route 522 from Taos, up to the top of the Mile Hill, and then down from Llama, the very southernmost part of the San Luis Valley appears and the village of Questa comes into view, much as the geological scene first appeared to settlers coming up from Taos in the early 19th century. A glance to the east and to the west gives hints of the tumultuous geological happenings in this area, for the Questa area was truly born in fire and ice. 

Questa itself sits on the Questa Caldera, a collapsed volcano. The landscape that we face today is the result of a huge volcanic explosion, centered on what is now Latir Peak, that occurred here some 25 million years ago. This explosion was so powerful that molten rocks from the explosion were thrown as far south as Penasco as well as north beyond Costilla. The volcano collapsed, forming a caldera, and then the floor of the collapsed volcano, moved by tremendous geological forces, rose up again to form Pinabete, Venado, Carbresto, and Virsylvia Peaks. Flag Mountain is the the southernmost wall of this volcano; other boundaries have been found along Mallette Canyon (eastern boundary), Bonito Canyon (eastern margin), and further north to the north side of Jaracito Canyon (at Virsylvia Peak). Goat Hill is formed of volcanic rock from the Questa Caldera. The Mallette Canyon Road from Questa to Red River travels right through the caldera, and the Latir Wilderness area is the core of the Caldera. Today’s Route 38 more or less follows the southern boundary of the Questa Caldera. Volcanic rock from this explosion, called Amalia Tuff, can be seen in the Costilla Valley and it forms the ridge between Cabresto Creek and the Red River. Elephant Rock is actually a large block of quartz and latite that slid down from the southern wall of the Questa Caldera.

The Rio Grande Rift of the Taos Plateau, just west of Questa, is a divergence in the North American tectonic plate that reaches down 36,000 feet into the earth (below the Rio Grande Gorge), and was formed about 36 to 25 million years ago (some sources give 18 million years ago). This tremendous down-fault is filled with alluvial silt, or sand and soil washed down from the mountains over the millenia. In our area, this fill is about 30,000 feet deep; without this alluvial fill, the Rio Grande Rift would be an open canyon six times deeper than the Grand Canyon. This Rift is still widening in New Mexico. The volcanic peaks on the Taos Plateau became active around 10 million years ago and erupted periodically up to about 2 million years ago.

Other significant geological events occurred in this area. Even earlier than these explosive events, about 300 million years ago, this entire area was part of a huge inland sea. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains rose of from the bed of this inland sea about 286 million years ago. Water returned to this area again about 1.6 million years ago in successive waves of moving ice during the march of huge glaciers over North America. These glaciers covered much of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Moreno Valley is the most obvious evidence of their passage, as are the glacially created lakes on Latir Peak and the glaciers on Blanca Peak, which the southernmost glaciers in the United States (1). The result of much of this activity is a rich supply of minerals in the area, including molybdenum porphyry, iron hydroxides, iron sulfates, clays, micas carbonates, quartz, kaolinite, and gypsum (2).

With all of this geologic history on a grand scale, the history of humans in the area is very recent historically speaking. And it is with that history that we begin our story.

Clovis, Folsom, and Oshara/Upper Rio Grande Cultures in Questa Area

The Questa area has been a crossroads and hunting ground for humans for almost as long as they have been in North America. The reasons for this are most likely a combination of geography, climate, and abundance of wildlife.

Probably the earliest humans who visited this area were the Paleo-Indian Clovis and then Folsom people, who were descendants of the people who crossed the land bridge from Siberia in Asia over the Bering Straits around 13,600 years ago during the last Pleistocene ice age (3). Evidence found in northeastern New Mexico—particularly beautifully wrought fluted stone projectile points­---indicates that these hunter-gatherer people roamed this area 8,000 to 15,000 years ago, hunting the rich wildlife in the area. Wildlife included mammoth (Clovis hunters), horse, camel, an extinct form of bison (Folsom hunters), tapir, sloth, and deer all living in wetter climate than today and in a savannah-like landscape of shallow lakes and pine (4). A Clovis projectile point, unearthed near Clovis, New Mexico, is the “oldest, well-defined projectile point in the New World” (5). Many of these early campsites and kill sites have been found close to the Questa area, just east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

As the climate changed and became warmer and drier, probably around 6500-5000 BC, the wildlife disappeared and these early peoples moved further east on the North American continent.  Archaeological evidence of these early peoples has been as close to Questa as the Blanca Peak and Great Sand Dune areas and San Antonio Mountain. By the time of the late Clovis and early Folsom people, there were large, well-organized hunting parties who took advantage of the large herds of bison on the Great Plain. It is believed that these peoples knew how to preserve large quantities of meat and use the hides for clothing and shelter—a way of life that continued until extinction of the great herds in the late 19th century (6). These groups were followed by the Cody complex people (6800-6400 BC), and then at around 6500--5000 BC, a group of people known as the Yuma culture hunted throughout the area of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico (7).

The first real archaeological evidence of humans in the Questa area is that of the Upper Rio Grande Culture, which is also called the Oshara Culture (8). Believed to be the direct ancestors of the Anasazi people, these hunter-gatherers hunted, traveled through, and lived in this area about 5000 years ago. By then, the climate was pretty much the same as it is now and bison were probably the main game present. The archaeologist Louis Renaud traveled extensively throughout this area in the 1940s, tracking down evidence of the Upper Rio Grande Culture. He found several sites in the Questa area that he described as tool-making sites, where he unearthed blades, side scrapers, choppers, and points made of basalt and obsidian. He also found lookout sites, fireplaces, and rock shelters. Bones found at these sites were from deer, antelope, bison, and smaller animals. There were no ceramics. The fact that many of the sites Renaud found were at the edges of canyons, on top of volcanic rock plugs, or on high rock spurs indicated that perhaps these were lookouts and defensive positions; thus, this group of people could have been an intrusive culture entering an area occupied by other people. Renaud found many trails coming up the east side of the Rio Grande from the Chama area and Pajarito Plateau, up the valley to the Sand Dunes and to the Walsenberg area and La Veta Pass. These trails perhaps indicated that the sites in the Upper Rio Grande Valley were way-stops on long annual trips. Renaud’s evidence indicated that the Upper Rio Grande Culture area, using present landmarks, was bounded on the north by Alamosa, on the east by the Sand Dunes, on the west roughly by US 285 to Tres Piedras, and on the south by Arroyo Hondo (9). Later surveys in the area, particularly around Guadalupe Mountain, have unearthed over 16,000 chipped stone items.

Further archaeological evidence of the Upper Rio Grande Culture was found in Questa in an archaeological survey performed in 1992 before the construction of the Questa by-pass road.  This survey uncovered artifacts from the Arachaic, Anasazi, Pueblo, and Jicarilla time periods, showing that the Questa area was used for the last 5200 years by Native American groups. The oldest materials found in this survey were radiocarbon dated to as early as 3200 B.C. (San Jose 3200 BC—1800 BC). Many ancient hearths, obsidian, chert, and basaltic artifacts, and stone tools were uncovered in this survey (10).

Upper Rio Grande Culture people probably migrated with the seasons  in small family groups to exploit resources available for food, water, toolmaking materials, pigments, fiber. They used  rockshelters as windbreaks and built huts as shelter. Either the entire household would move together from place to place or the women and children would stay at a base camp and the men would follow the herds and game. During this period (around 2500-2000 BC), wells began to be dug and agriculture (maize and squash) was introduced from Mexico (11).

For subsequent periods, the Cabresto survey showed that the heaviest visitation of the Questa area occurred during Pueblo IV period. These researchers felt that this long-standing visitation of the Questa area indicated deliberate visits rather than people fleeing in haste through the area (12).

The Cabresto survey also unearthed artifacts from the following cultures--En Medio  800 BC to 400 AD; Basketmaker III 400/500-700 AD; Pueblo I 700-900 AD and later (II, III, IV); Pueblo IV 1330-1600 AD. For orientation, it was around 1300 AD that the cliff dwellers from Mesa Verde, Chaco, and Canyon de Chelly migrated to the Rio Grande Valley; it is believed they were forced from their cliff dwellings by Utes and Athabaskans (13). The north and south buildings of Taos Pueblo date from about 1350 AD, although Taos people may have been in the area earlier. They may also be descendants of Anasazi living in the Four Corners area who migrated out of that area after a drought that occurred around 1200 AD,  or they may have come from tribes from the north.

Evidence of Jicarilla Apaches living in the Questa area before 1680 was also found in this survey. It is known that these Apaches aided Taos Pueblo during Pueblo Rebellion in 1680. Apaches del Acho (thought to be later called Jicarilla Apaches) were reported by Vargas in 1694 as living on the Red River north of Taos (14), and the  finds during the Cabresto survey support this report. The Questa area was most certainly a hunting area for these people. Athabaskan speakers arrived in northeastern New Mexico in 16th century, then spread to west and south to become the present-day Apache and Navajo groups (15).

It should be pointed out that not much archaeological exploration has been done in the Questa area and, indeed, in northern New Mexico. But for more detailed information about what has been uncovered about these early occupiers, consult James H. Gunnerson’s Archaeology of the High Plains (16).

Utes (mostly Mouache and Capote bands) reached this area by around 1500AD. They were to become closely intertwined with life of early Questa-area settlers. Also visiting the area for hunting were Comanches and perhaps other Plains Indians tribes.

With the entry of Spain into the northern New Mexico area, the Indians had  new elements to deal with—new ideas and goods as well as conflict over land. Pedro de Castenada, a member of the 1540-1542 Coronado expedition describes the Plains Indians they encounted as well as the “multitude of cows [buffalo] that they were numberless” (17). These Spaniards visited a settlement of 200 houses made of buffalo skins. Casteñada wrote that “the maintenance or sustenance of these Indians comes entirely from the cows, because they neither reap nor sow corn.”  In 1599, Don Juan de Oñate described the Indian nations he saw in northern New Mexico. “We have seen other nations, such as Querechos or Vaqueros, who live among the Cibola [Pueblo Indians] in tents of tanned hides. The Apaches, some of whom we also saw, are extremely numerous. Although I was told that they lived in rancherias, in recent days I have learned they lived in pueblos the same as the people here….They are a people that has not yet publicly rendered obedience to his majesty” (18).


The Spanish Entrada and Northern New Spain—The Colonial Period

With the arrival of Spain to the New World, the Questa area continued to be a crossroads, not only for Apaches, Utes, and Comanches, but now also for the Spanish explorers and missionaries.

The first European to enter the Upper Rio Grande area and Sangre de Cristo Mountains was probably Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. In 1540 he started from Mexico City on his journey of exploration to the Pacific Ocean and through what is now Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. A member of his army, Hernandao de Alvarado is credited with discovering Taos Pueblo, which he called Braba (19). He described the pueblo as having three stories of adobe and then another two to three stories made of wood. He estimated the population at 15,000, an exaggeration! Braba was visited by another contingent from Coronado’s army a few months later and these soldiers described two pueblos, one on each side of the river. The pueblo was visited again by the Spanish in 1541 by Velasco de Varrioneuvo and the Spanish now named the location Valladolid. However, these explorers probably did not go further north than Taos. The 1580 expedition of Fray Agustín Rodríguez, which included two other friars and Captain Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado, and the 1581 expedition of Antonio de Espejo also only went as far north as Taos , as did the 1582 expedition of Antonio Espejo and Fray Bernardino Beltran. The lure of gold led Gaspar Castano de Sosa as far north as Taos in 1590 (20).

The first Spanish colonizers of New Mexico came with the Oñate conquest in 1598. Don Juan de Onate brought 130 soldiers and their families with him that year (a total of 400 men, women, and children, 83 wagons and carts, and 7000 head of cattle (21) and 80 more soliders in 1600. According to Fray Angelico Chavez, only 40 of these soldiers established permanent residence in this new land. At this point, the “Kingdom of New Mexico” (22) stretched from Taos Pueblo in the north to Guadalupe del Paso (Ciudad Juarez) in the south, west to the Hopi pueblos and east to Pecos, the Galisteo Basin, and the Manzanos Mountains. The only Spanish town was Santa Fe. Oñate claimed all of the land drained by the Rio Grande for King Phillip II of Spain (23), although he is believed to have traveled only as far north as Taos (24). The Spanish government was quick to close the entire area to trade and exploration by other nations to protect their ownship of this vast area of the New World. The result was isolation both culturally and geographically (25).

Although Spanish explorers had come very close, the Questa area was still the domain of Native Americans.  However, it seems clear that many Spanish explorers came through this area, mainly looking for gold. In 1593, Juan Humana and Francisco Borilla led an expedition to find gold mines “200 leagues north of Taos.” They did not return alive, but met their deaths at the hands of tribes along the Purgatory River, north of the Questa area in the Spanish Peaks area. However, others did find the workings of Native American mines and eventually a slave trade developed in the area to work these mines. The mines apparently were located near the Sangre de Cristo Pass, in the Culebra Mountains, and in the San Juans (26).

After the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680, sparked in large part because of the Spanish mistreatment of Indians working in their mines, Don Diego de Vargas re-established Spanish claims to the area in 1692. De Vargas describes in his campaign journal a 1694 expedition with a force of 70 soldiers north from Santa Fe into Colorado to investigate the Utes (27). Also accompanying the expedition were Franciscan missionaries, including Fray Juan de Alpuente and Fray Francisco de Farfan, believed to be the first Catholic priests to travel so far north in Spanish territory. The purpose of the expedition was to raid Indian pueblos to obtain food for the 1100 “destitute” people living in the retaken Santa Fe and to subdue the rebellious Indians. He found Taos Pueblo deserted—the Indians had left on purpose to prevent the expedition from looting their granaries—and DeVargas set up crosses in the plaza between the north and south pueblos and then looted the granaries. De Vargas decided to return to Santa Fe north through Ute country and south along the Chama River to avoid being attacked by the Picuris Indians (28).

After being attacked by 80 Taos Indians north of Arroyo Hondo, the expedition made camp on July 8th, 1694 on the banks of the Rio Colorado (Red River) in the Questa area. De Vargas wrote that he was informed that

“the mountains that run along the edge of the Rio Colorado are inhabited by Apaches del Acho, and that the Yutta nation, which we are looking for, does not countenance them in their land, for which reason I should flee from this place, which is also the farthest point to which the rebel Taos Indians, who still have sentinels and spies watching up, come out on the trail of the buffalo, the dung of which has been found in different parts, as along the descents from the mountain to the river.”

So here we have perhaps the first written description of the Questa area from the pen of De Vargas. De Vargas and his men  then marched north to the Culebra River and then turned west and crossed the Rio del Norte. They traveled to the San Antonio River and then south past San Antonio Mountain along the west side of Rio del Norte and back to Santa Fe. While they were in the San Antonio Mountains, they were attacked by Utes, and De Vargas’ description of the event is interesting because it describes the status of the Utes at that point (29).

“There were about three hundred of them counting the women. Their apologetic explanation of the reason for their raid was quite plausible. They pointed out how before the revolt of 1680 they had been the friends of the Spaniards, but had always been enemies of the Tewas, Tanos, Picuries, Jemez, and Keres. During the period of pueblo independence these rebels has often come to this region to hunt buffalo disguised as Spaniards mounted, and with leather jackets, leather hats, firearms, and even a bugle, all of which they had taken from the Spaniards at the time of the revolt. Whenever they went on these excursions the Utes had attacked them, hence the recent misfortune, a result of mistaken identity. The expedition departed with manifestations of friendship on both sides, and the Utes were invited to Santa Fe to trade with the Spaniards as had been their custom prior to 1680.”

Spanish settlements were established along the Rio de Norte (Rio Grande) from Taos Valley south to Tome. Two more Spanish cities resulted as well—Santa Cruz de la Cañada and Albuquerque. In 1694 De Vargas traveled through the Questa area to re-establish a mission in the San Luis Valley that would open the way for mining and Indian slavery to resume. Other expeditions through this area included the 1692 expedition of Captain Roque de Madrid—the first military expedition in northern New Mexico. He returned in 1705 to lead an expedition north from Taos to retrieve runaway slaves. In 1706 (30) Captain Juan de Uribarri traveled through the Jicarilla Apache lands of northeastern New Mexico to the furthest northern limits of Spanish control chasing after runaway slaves,  where he met French fur traders. He claimed the Northern Rockies and nearby areas in the name of the Spanish king (31). In 1719 Governor Valverde went on expedition to punish the Utes and Comanches, who were raiding Apache settlements (32). He left Taos with a force of 105 soldiers and over 400 servants and warriors.  They found that the French were making inroads on territory in what is now southeastern Colorado, even supplying the Indians with firearms, but apparently the worst of their experiences was a serious attack of poison ivy  (33).

French and British traders in the Questa area were becoming a problem for Spain, threatening Spain’s  sovereignty in New Spain. In 1720 (34) Don Pedro de Villasur was sent north to Colorado and Wyoming—also later to Kansas and Nebraska-- to deal with this threat. One message had reached Santa Fe that 6000 Frenchmen were only 175 miles from Santa Fe (34)! Villasur left Santa Fe with 40 soldiers and 60 or so Pueblo Indians  and Apache guides  (35) and then took the route to Taos and east over the mountains. The fate of this expedition was quite different, with most of the men, including Villasur scalped by Pawnee Indians near the North Platte River, in 1720. We actually have pictorial evidence of Villasur’s exploits in the Segesser II hide paintings, which were collected by the Jesuit Padre Felipe Segesser. Although the artist is unknown, the paintings are the earliest known pictures of the Spanish colonial presence in the southwest. Villasur is shown at the Battle of August 20, 1720, the ambush of his party of Spanish soliders and pueblo Indians (36).

Many of these early explorers seemed to skirt the southern San Luis Valley area by crossing over the mountains to the east just north of Taos at Fernando Creek, and then along the eastern foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, although those headed for the mines in the San Luis Valley most probably came up through the present Questa area. The most common route north was said to be from Santa Fe to Taos, then north until the the Culebra Mountains could be crossed to the east, and northeast to valley of Purgatoire River, or north by way of San Luis Valley.

The arrival of the French in this area was imminent, if it had not already occurred--- Villasur had already encountered French traders near this area.  However, the French did not seem to be very interested in the Questa area at this point. A French map by Guillaume de L’Isle in 1718 shows North America from the East Cost to the Rio Grande. Taos appears on the map as does Picuris Pueblo, but the Rio Colorado of the Questa area does not appear and Indians to the north of this area are labeled Padoucas; east of the mountains is labeled country of the Apaches and the Padoucas (37).

However, the Spanish continued to worry about French entry into the Territory of New Mexico (38). The Viceroy of New Spain wrote Governor of New Mexico in 1719 to take care to win over Apaches to Spanish allegiance so that this alliance would prevent the French from coming into Spanish territory. This strategy was so important to Spain that Spanish gifts to Indian tribes in 1700s cost in some years as much as $100,000—a huge amount of money in that period!

This strategy worked until the mid-18th century when the French persuaded the Comanches and Apaches to let them pass through. The pressure of the French was too great and, in 1739, the Mallett brothers Pierre and Paul entered New Mexico and were allowed to sell their trade goods in Santa Fe; the French returned in 1749 and 1750-1. Soon after in 1763, Louisiana was transferred to Spain, which moved the Spanish frontier east to the Mississippi River.

The search for gold and silver north of the Questa area continued to bring travelers through this area. In 1761 Governor Manuel Portillo explored San Luis Valley for minerals (39), and in 1768, the expedition of Don Juan Maria de Rivera traveled up from Santa Fe through the Chama River area and them back down through San Luis Valley. To protect their explorations and mineral finds, the Spanish built a fort on San Antonio Mountain in 1768.

Spain made peace with the Comanches around 1783. The gift-giving system to Indians was firmly established at this point, so much so that Pedro Bautista Pino, in his 1812 report to Spain notes that the Utes possess “…a stronger tendency toward brigandage than toward acquiring recognition through virtuous acts. Their hypocrisy leads them to perpetuate acts of the most abject humiliation. Money is all powerful with the Yuta” (40).

The next written description of the Questa area comes from the journals of Don Juan Bautista de Anza, Governor and Military Commander of New Mexico, in 1779. He was  on his way back from the Battle of Greenhorn in Colorado, in which he killed the Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde (“his haughty and arrogant manner caused me to resolve to deprive him of his life”) south of the present Pueblo, Colorado, when he passed through this area. The Comanches had been harrassing the Spanish settlements and pueblos of of northern New Mexico and Anza, along with an army of 800 men (including 200 Utes and Apaches) and 2500 horses was sent to push them back (41).

After the battle with the Comanches on September 3, 1779, Anza turned south to return to Santa Fe. He reached the Rio de la Culebra on September 5th. The Utes, who had traveled with  Anza left here “…without bothering to say good-bye, this lack of attention to the amenities due either to their barbarity or to their eagerness to be back on home ground” (41). On Tuesday, September 7th, Anza describes his travel through the Questa area. “A little before seven we started out and marched for three leagues over good terrain before crossing the Rio Colorado, then we skirted the mountain on our left, and where the going was a bit rough, and so it took us until four o’clock to make the remaining five leagues to the Pueblo de Taos, which is the farther north of any village in this territory.” Anza helped repel an attack by Apaches at Taos before traveling back to Santa Fe.

Pressure by the Indians continued to hold back Spanish settlement on the northernmost frontiers of the New Mexico Province, but despite these continued incursions, the Province of New Mexico continued to grow.  In his General Report of 1781, Don Teodora de Croix, commander general of Interior Provinces of New Mexico noted that the population of the Province of New Mexico was 20,810 people. Of the Indians, he reported “The Comanche and all the Apache, with the exception of the Navajo and Jicarilla, now at peace, attack in this province…the numerous and valiant Ute nation remains friendly and aids us happily against the Comanche.” Later he analyzes the Indian situation, which is impeding resettlement of the Province—“I shall content myself if the Comanche make less frequent visits to the territories of New Mexico, if the Ute remain faithful to our friendship, and if the Navajo do not take sides openly in the interests of the Apache. In this way the hostilities of the latter can be withstood and punished, and the province will breathe” (42).

The northern frontier of New Spain was in many ways a burden to Spain in the early 18th century. The Presidios in the south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of California were manned by about 5000 soldiers and Indian allies. There was inadequate financial support from Mexico City and Spain to bring the Interior Provinces of New Spain under control. In addition, during the 18th century and early 19th century Spain was engaged in the War of Spanish Succession, the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, a war against England, and a war against Napolean! Thus the northern settlements were left to their own devices in defending against Apache and Comanche raids. According to Brinkerhoff and Faulk  (43), The Interior Provinces included the area along the Rio Grande. There were no presidios in New Mexico—just missions and civil settlements. In civil settlements, land ownership included the obligation to maintain arms and horses to assist the military because Spanish government envisioned the civilian population as a standing militia

But the militia in the Borderlands did not have proper training or leadership. As described by Brinckerhoff and Faulk (44), “They lived secure within the solid adobe walls of their forts, drew their rations and pay, and farmed the small plots of land assigned to them. Along with the civilians, the chief concern of the soldiers was to stay alive on that bloody frontier—and, hopefully, to reach retirement age.” Such was probably the life of the small contingent of soldiers and settlers visited by Jacques de Mun on the Rio Colorado in 1816 (see below).


Outside Influences—Exploration, Mapping, and the Fur Trade

The turn of the 18th to 19th century was a pivotal point in the history of the Questa area. Spanish militia and settlers had finally reached this area still dominated by the Utes, Apaches, and Comanches. French trappers also penetrated the area as did new  interlopers—European and American travelers and mappers and the vanguard of the American military.

The first of these outsiders was Zebulon Montgomery Pike, U.S. Army officer and explorer. He was ordered west by Gen. James Wilkerson in 1806 to find the sources of the Red River de Nachitoches and Arkansas River and to explore Spanish New Mexico—really to “approximate” the Spanish possessions, determine what he could about the politics and geography, and hunt the Comanches. After reaching what is now Pike’s Peak in Colorado, he turned south to the Rio Grande, where he was captured by Spanish troops in 1807 and brought to Santa Fe---probably the first American visitor to that city---and then to Chihuahua for questioning. The Spanish suspected that he was a spy and there is evidence to support these suspicions. Spain was still guarding New Mexico Province carefully and did not want incursions like this from Americans who were seeking the gold that was thought to be in the area. Pike’s book An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi and through the Western Parts of Louisiana was the first written description of this part of North America available to the American public. Did his expedition pass through the Questa area? Pike’s map of the area shows the Rio Colorado of this area plainly marked and properly placed. He hunted widely throughout the area; however, it appears that Pike traveled south on the west side of the Rio Grande and was captured just south of Alamosa (45).

The Santa Fe trail, from St. Louis to Santa Fe, was first traveled by Americans in 1810. The firm of McKnight & Brady sent the first eastern trade goods to New Mexico that year and their men (James Baird, Robert McKnight, Samuel Chambers, and others) were seized by the Governor of Santa Fe and imprisoned in Chihuahua for 10 years. The Spanish had been trading with the Utes from as early as 1765, even though they were forbidden by law from doing so. Not only did they trade in furs, but they also engaged in slave trade. However, by the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Spanish realized that they needed the friendship of the Indians, particularly the Plains Indians, so that they would be a buffer against the French and Americans and the fur trade was a perfect tool for this (46). Spanish trappers were granted licenses to trap in the frontier areas, but they could not take foreigners with them. To deter the influx of the French and American trappers, the Spanish government established a military post on the Rio Colorado around 1815 (47).

  Settlers had started moving up from Taos, first to Arroyo Hondo and Arroyo Seco in 1815 (48) to seek new pastures for herding their sheep and goat. They lived in adobe huts and dug ditches for irrigation. Civilian settlers also tried to establish themselves on banks of the Rio Colorado in the same year. Filed with a Private Land Claims Court case (49) is the following document, evidence of a land grant to people in Rio Colorado in 1815. The original decree of Governor Don Albert Maynez is believed to have been lost, but the following report of Pedro Martin, an officer of the Spanish government, was reported to be in the archives of the Surveyor General as file number 801:

Sir Governor

I report to Your Excellency, that in accordance with your instructions I have proceeded to the place and site of the Rio Colorado, and put fifty families in possession. I notified and gave them to understand that the settlement which they make in the place mentioned must be common, not only for them but for all the residents which in the future may join them. That in reference to dangers said place is exposed to, they should always keep themselves well provided with arms. All answered that they had heard and understood of what they had been notified.

God guard Your Ex’cy many years

Taos December 23, 1815

Pedro Martin

In testimony given at the Private Land Claims Court case, Juan Antonio Laforet testified that he remembered seeing ruins of the 1815 settlement houses when he was in Rio Colorado in 1842. Francisco Montoya testified that he knew of the 1815 grant (49).

It was this settlement that was described by the next visitors to this area--the Auguste Chouteau­--Julius DeMun expedition, who came to New Mexico in 1815-1817. Chouteau and DeMun had hoped to get permission from the Spanish government to trap beaver in the northern New Mexico area. While Chouteau and his men waited at the Sangre de Cristo Pass, DeMun went south to ask for permission to trap on the upper Rio Grande. He described in his journal being stopped at the “frontier village of Rio Colorado” and not being allowed to proceed to Santa Fe. Thus, DeMun’s journal provides the first evidence of any Spanish settlement at Rio Colorado (50).

Chouteau and DeMun were ordered out of Spanish territory; however, they stayed on and in May of 1817 were captured by Spanish soldiers and brought to Santa Fe. These trappers almost had the same fate as the McKnight and Brady expedition. The Spanish imprisoned them for 44 days and confiscated all of their property--$30,380.74 1/4, “the fruits of two years’ labor and perils” (51). Then they were set free, each with a horse, and they returned to St. Louis.

A 1817 census for the Province of New Mexico shows a total of 36,579 people—18,276 Spanish, 9422 “Indios” and 8881 “Idem de carras.”  On the west side of the Rio Grande, Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente had initially been settled as early as 1747. Although driven off by Indian raids, settlers reoccupied Abiquiu in 1754 and by 1808 it numbered 2000 people. Ojo Caliente was resettled in 1768–1769. Settlements north of Rio Colorado in what is now southern Colorado were attempted as early as 1788 and again in 1833,  but settlement  north of Rio Colorado would not begin in earnest until the granting of  the Las Animas Grant to Charles Bent (52).

Indian attacks were a continuing problem and the Mexican government set up the Provincias Internas to deal with these problems on the northern frontier. Using more experienced soldiers, the government plan was to impress upon the Indians the Spanish military strength and at the same time to emphasize that the goal was friendship. To help this along, they gave the Indians firearms and liquor to make them more dependent on Spanish goods. The arrival of Anglo-Americans from the east was a continued threat to the alliances being made with the Indians. Tyler points out in his article on Mexican Indian policy in New Mexico (53) that during the early 1820s the Mexican government considered the Indians to be equal to the white man in rights and privileges, something the frontier settlers did not support.

Traders were now beginning to move up and down the Taos, or Trappers, Trail, which came from Santa Fe to Taos, north through the San Luis Valley and then over the Sangre de Cristo Pass to the Arkansas River. Four forts were established on the Sangre de Cristo Pass in 1819 to guard the eastern approach to New Mexico against foreigners. The fort on the eastern side of the pass lasted for one summer, and then was attacked and destroyed by “three hundred Indians or white men dressed as Indians”  in October of that year (54). Other evidence collected by Major Stephen Long’s Rocky Mountain expedition in 1820 seems to indicate that the fort was attacked by Pawnee Indians from the east (55). The Sangre de Cristo Pass had long been the Comanche war path to northern New Mexico and the Questa-area settlers and it was also a hunting road for the Utes to the buffalo on the plains east of the moutains. The Santa Fe Trail, established in 1821 went over the Raton or Cimarron Passes to Santa Fe.

Despite this increased traffic on the Taos Trail, by 1822 the settlement on the Rio Colorado seems to have vanished. This area was visited by Major Jacob Fowler, a land surveyor, under Col. Hugh Glenn on February 6th, 1822, on the journey from Pueblo to Santa Fe (56). In his journal (57), Fowler describes in his own colorful language and unique spelling what was left of the settlement… “on this Crick there Is a Small Spanish vilege but abandoned by the Inhabetance for feer of the Indeans now at War With them We this day troted the Horses more than Half the time and maid thirty miles not did We Stop till In the night.” Just to the north, Fowler had camped a few months earlier with Kiowa Indians in a camp of over 4000; while he was there, 300 lodges of Comanche arrived as did 350 lodges of Comanche, Kiowa, Padduca, Cheyenne, Snake, and Araphahoes. He describes a camp of 900 lodges with 10,000 to 18,000 Indians and 20,000 horses—it was no wonder that the hardy settlers at Rio Colorado were driven away! (58).

But trade on the northern frontier continued to be encouraged by the Utes. Thomas James, who was with the Missouri Fur Company and in New Mexico in 1821 (59), described the Ute trade with New Mexicans. James desribed a speech by the Ute leader Lechat urging trade:

“Come to our country with your goods. Come and trade with the Utahs. We have horses, mules and sheep, more than we want. We heard that you wanted beaver skins. The beavers in our country are eating up our corn. All our rivers are full of them. Their dams back up the water in the rivers all along their course from the mountains to the Big Water. Come over among us and you shall have as many beaver skins as you want.” 

As for the Spanish in the area, Lechat said:

“What can you get from these? They have nothing to trade with you. They have nothing but a few poor horses and mules, a little puncha, and a little tola [tobacco and corn meal porridge] not fit for anybody to use. They are poor—too poor for you to trade with. Come among the Utahs if you wish to trade for profit. Look at our horses here. Have the Spaniards such horses? No, they are too poor. Such as these we have in our country by the thousands, and also cattle, sheep and mules. These Spaniards, What are they? What have they? They won’t even give us two loads of powders and lead for a beaver skin and for good reason, they have not as much as they want themselves. They have nothing you want. We have everything they have, and many things they have not.”

Americans visited the Questa area again in July 1825 when George Sibley, who was sent by the U.S. Secretary of War James Barbour to assess the Indian tribes, arrived at the New Mexico border. Spanish authorities turned most of his party back, but Sibley was given permission to travel to Taos, where he arrived on October 31, 1825. In July of 1826, the Mexican government gave him permission to survey a road from the east to Santa Fe. As for his assessment of the Indians, he wrote “With the exception of the Pawnees, the tribes that have been mentioned have but little knowledge of our Government and People; and none of them have any Respect for the Mexican authorities” (60).

The American and French incursions continued and during the 1820s, their trapping led to the use of beaver pelts as a form of currency. People living on the northern New Mexican frontier were cash poor and they needed money to buy any  type of manufactured equipment and supplies. Trapping was one means; another was raising sheep. By 1827, there were an estimated 250,000 sheep in the northern frontier area. These could be sold for hard cash as well, although that meant making a very long 40-day trip to Chihuahua (61).

In an 1829 military expedition to the Questa area (62), Donaciano Vigil describes what was left of the settlement on the Rio Colorado (63):

“In the year 1829, as military commander of about two hundred men, I being 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 depredation of the Indians, and was a square of houses of about fifty varas on each side, the walls of the houses being all standing. I was never at the place again. The place stands on the north bank of the Rio Colorado, about five or six leagues north of Don Fernando de Taos.”

In addition to the Col. Hugh Glenn and Jacob Fowler trapping expedition and the Thomas James and John McKnight forays into New Mexico, trappers active in this area in the 1820s  included General William H. Ashley,  Smith, Jackson, Sublette, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and Astor’s American Fur Company. (David J. Weber’s book The Taos Trappers [64] is an excellent source of information about the trapping industry in this area.)

This increasing flood of French trappers and Americans from the east would change the relationship of the Mexican frontiersmen with the local Indians—up until this time the Spanish used the commercial dependency of the Indians. Yet the governor of Chihuahua thought that the arrival of the Americans might have a good effect. In 1825 he said that contact with the Americans “would produce the advantages of restraining and civilizing the New Mexicans, giving them the idea of culture which they need to improve the disgraceful condition that characterizes the remote country where they live, detached from other peoples of the Republic….” (65).

These early settlers in Rio Colorado were indeed “detached” from the Republic. In 1828, about half of the Church parishes in New Mexico had no priest. A parish on the frontier meant isolation and danger. Many of the churches existing churches were crumbling, and, because the Franciscans had left New Mexico, many parishes saw their priest only a few times per year (66)


Vecinos on the Northern Frontier

Don Francisco Laforet (his last name has many spellings, including La Forett, Laforee, Laforey, and Laport) is said to have come to live in the Rio Colorado area in 1829. He built his house near the river, but Indian attacks soon forced him to move up to the ridge with other early settlers (67). His arrival on the banks of the Rio Colorado was a harbinger of things to come. Laforet was born in Montreal, Canada, somewhere between 1791 and 1796. He came to New Mexico with Syvestre S. Pratte and the Robidoux brothers in 1825 and two years later married Maria Dolores Armenta in Taos.  In 1827 he traveled from Taos “outside the boundaries of the Mexican Federation” with Ceran St. Vrain and Charles Beaubien, among others, and later that year he made a trip into the mountains with “Old Bill” Williams and others. Laforet became a Mexican citizen in 1832 and continued to trap in the area (68). When he actually settled in Rio Colorado seems to be up for debate, although the Donaciano Vigil account (see above) seems to support 1829. His father-in-law Antonio Elias Armenta was one of the original petitioners for land in Rio Colorado in 1836 and in 1842 (see below). Laforet amassed some 200 varas of land for farming adjacent to his father-in-law’s holdings. We’ll get a better picture of Laforet from George Frederick Ruxton, who visited him in 1847 in Rio Colorado.

Another early settler in Rio Colorado seems to be Don Juan Benito Valdez, who is described as one of the five pioneers to settle this area in Frank V. Garcia’s account given to WPA Writer Lester Gaines in “Early Life in Questa” (69). Born in Taos around 1813, Don Benito built the first chapel in Rio Colorado (see J.P. Rael’s description “El Oratoria de Dona Estafana” in The Cycle of Birth, Life, and Death section). He is said to have had a large number of Indian slaves as part of his household.

During this period, Indian slaves were found in the homes of the wealthier families; these Indians did household work and in many cases were allowed to marry and raise their own families. They usually took the Spanish family name. Records show that Indian slaves could be purchased in Texas for $100 each (70). We’ve already referred to trips in pursuit of runaway slaves by Juan Archuleta in 1650 and Juan de Uribarri in 1706–1709. The legal background supporting this slavery dates from a 1452 papal bull that originally provided for selling Moslems into slavery, and later was expanded to include “foes of Christ” and all unconverted people. In the New World, the encomienda system gave an allotment of Indians to the landed gentry to serve as slaves. By the 1850s, there was slave trade all along the Rio Grande (71). It is believed that the early French trappers also partook in the trade. Antoine Robidoux is said to have collected Indian women and children to take to New Mexico. The Utes also participated in this trade; in fact Walkara, the Ute leader, was said to be “lord of the Mexican-Indian slave traffic from 1832-1835.” Mountain Man Dick Wooten in the 1840s described a common scene—“…it was no uncommon thing to see a party of Mexicans…on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies buying Indian slaves….”  The slavery worked both ways—New Mexicans traded young Mexican children to the Indians for horses—boys were worth $100, girls were worth $150-200. Trade fairs in Taos from 1841-1846 also dealt in the slave trade.  The Superintendent of Indian Affairs had six Indian slaves, and the Territorial Governor Henry Connely had slaves in his household (72). The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 had no effect on this slavery in New Mexico, and it was not until President Andrew Jackson’s proclamation of 1865 that government employees had to discontinue their “practice of Indian slavery.”

Another visitor from the east, Jacob Francis Dye, passed through the Rio Colorado area in 1831. This area was still rich in wildlife, as Dye describes (73):

“By this time we arrived on the Rio del Norte, in a small strip of country where deer were very plenty. A difference of opinion existed here, thirteen men out of thirty-four wanted to stop and kill meat, sufficient to take us on to Taos, but our commander, Col. Bean, gave the order to proceed on without delay and they started immediately. Our little party of thirteen remained behind, that day, and killed twenty-three deer and packed them into camp, before twelve o’clock. We barbecued the meat that night and was on the march early next morning, overtaking the main party the same day, who was on a short allowance of meat…we packed up and proceeded on the Rio del Norte till we came to a large flock of sheep which was herded by New Mexican shepherds. As soon as they discovered us they fled, and one of them proceeded to Taos, about 45 miles, and gave the alarm; the other after some considerable time came back to the herd. The New Mexican treated us with hospitality and friendship, and three days time we were in Pueblo Rio Hondo, where we found all the luxuries that those people, in their profound ignorance, at that early day, were provided with, or the country afforded.”

Dye also describes buffalo in the area “…we took up the line of march and that finished the last of our beef—hump, rump, and stump. We proceeded on our way two days, without any rations, when our friend Nidever discovered a band of buffalo and filled five fat cows” (74).

Dye apparently was traveling with the Robert Bean--Alexander Sinclair party of trappers on their 1830–1831 expedition. They had received information about the trapping possibilities in the Rocky Mountains from the Major Stephen H. Long and Captain John C. Bell expedition of 1820 and traveled from Fort Smith Arkansas to Taos, hunting for beaver, mostly unsuccessfully, along the way. They spent the winter of 1830-1831 in Taos and Jacob Dye was hired by Simeon Turley.

New Mexico became a department in 1836, which meant that it had to take control of its problems and not depend on Chihuahua. Starting in 1837, Governor Manuel Armijo began taxing merchants and traders to raise money to fight the Indians. He also demanded that citizens stay on the frontier—for him the land grant policy was an opportunity to occupy the frontier to hold off foreign incursions and a means to continue trade with the Indians. It was in this climate that formal settlement in Rio Colorado was attempted again. People were already living in the area, as indicated by the listing of Rio Colorado as a settlement in the First District, Partido 2 in the 1840 census (75).


The Cañon del Rio Colorado Land Grant

The first attempt for this grant was the June 12, 1836 petition for land filed by Antonio Elias Armenta, Jose Victor Sanchez, and Jose Manuel Sanchez. According to the Posecion document, these settlers were “praying for a tract of land in grant for our livestock, it being the place of the Canon del Rio Colorado, which is considered pasture land, although very few animals enter the ground...” (76). The land was described as “…from the mouth of the Canon to the source of the river, and on the north what forms the ridge to the Rito del Cabresto. The alcalde and ayuntamiento stated that the land was granted “with the indispensable condition that they must confine themselves to from the mouth of the Canon they mention to the lake and the first little vallies to said lake on the East as they state in their application.” Testimony in a case before the Surveyor General’s Office in 1877 identified the ridge as “situated between the Canon del Rio Colorado and the Rio del Cabresto commencing on the west at Pueblito….”  The “little valleys” were identified by a witness as “…located above the laguna at the place I pointed out to you.”

The text of the documents for these grants is as follows (77):

His Honor Antonio Jose Ortiz, Constitutional Alcade of the First Vote:

And this illustrious corporation, we, citizens Antonio Elias Armenta, Jose Victor Sanches, and Jose Manuel Sanches, with the greatest submission and respect, and in due form, personally appear before your excellency, praying for a tract of land in grant for our livestock; it being the place of the Cañon del Rio Colorado, which is considered pasture land, although very few animals enter the ground; but no injury as from a third party being occasioned us, which we state to you, so that you together, and as guardians of the public welfare, may grant this our petition, if proper, binding us not to admit any person not being proper as residents; and said application is from the mouth of the Cañon to the source of the river, and on the north, what forms the ridge to the Rito del Cabresto, provided our junta and its president think expedient and our application being legal; we declare this is not in dissimulation, and as necessary; and we are

Antonio Elias Armenta

Jose Victor Sanches

Jose Manual Sanches

This 12th of June 1836


In assertion of this day the foregoing petition was received, and being put to discussion before this respectable ayuntamiento, it was decided to make to the parties the grant applied for with the indispensable condition that they must confine themselves to the mouth of the canon they mention to the lake, and the first little valleys to said lake on the east, as they state in their application. Thus the illustrious corporation decreed, commanded, and signed this day of June 23rd, 1836.

Antonio Jose Ortiz

Santiago Martinez

Juan Antonio Lobato, Secretary

The Possession document was signed only by three settlers so it is not clear how many people settled this land. (Further information in the section “Petitions to Validate the Canon del Rio Colorado Land Grant,” describing the court cases to validate this land grant.) According to testimony given during the Private Land Claims Court case in 1897, Juan Antonio Laforet testified that his grandfather, Antonio Elias Armenta and the Sanches’ pastured their animals on the granted land. In 1836, Armenta lived in El Desmontes on the Arroyo Seco and did not move up to Rio Colorado until 1842. The Sanches’ lived on the Arroyo Seco in 1836 and in 1842 (78).

The San Antonio del Rio Colorado Land Grant

A second group of settlers petitioned for a land grant on the Rio Colorado early in 1841, essentially for land that is now Questa proper. This petition was returned to the settlers by the Governor Manuel Armijo in a decree dated September 6th, 1841. “By order of his Excellency let the application of the petitioners be returned to them, as that which they request is inadmissible according to the report of the justice of their jurisdiction. And by superior order I sign it. Jorge Ramirez.”  Apparently permission had originally been granted by J. Andres Archuleta, Rio Arriba, Prefecture of the First District for a “possession on the Rio Colorado, in the vicinity of Taos, to sixty individuals who solicited it, and who are in possession, but there now appears of decree of the Most Excellent Governor, dated September 6 last past, which is literally September 6, 1841.”

On January 8th , Rafael Archuleta, Antonio Elias Armenta, and Miguel Montoya and 35 families filed a petition with Don Juan Andres Archuleta, Prefect of the First District of the Department of New Mexico for a tract of land on the Rio Colorado (80). These pobladores, or settlers, stated in their January 8th petition that “..finding ourselves in want of land for the support of our families, and believing that the public lands should be given to those, who take an interest in developing them for the promotion of agriculture…” they should be granted “…the land which we solicit at El Rio Colorado..”  which is “…very fertile for the purpose which we solicit it…” (81).

In the January 19 posession document by Don Juan Antonio Martin, Justice of the Peace for the First and Second jurisdictions,  a tract of  land was  approved. Martin, describes that “…I, said Justice of the Peace in the company of two witnesses, the citizens Juan Andres Lovato and Jose Antonio Gutierres, finding the mentioned land free and public there being present 35 families, I made them understand and know the petition they had made and the superior decree and expressed to them that for the purpose of possession, they had to observe and comply with the following conditions.”

This is followed by another document dated February 22, 1842, from Archuleta asking for the matter to be brought before the Governor “…in order that His Excellency may state whether the possession already given shall be carried into effect or be revoked….”

A reply from the “The Secretary of the Government, Don Guadalupe Miranda”  to Archuleta on February 24th states that (79):

Having reported to His Excellency the governor with your note of 22nd inst. he has has instructed me to inform you that that granting or refusing of those lands for colonization is peculiar to the Departmental Assembly but in order that your action many not be without effect he directs that the parties in possession may thus remain, and subject to the action that may be taken by said Excellent Assembly when it convenes, which will call before it the reports of the proper authorities.

On the other hand the fact of this government having refused permission to those who asked it led also to the observation that for the present it is not proper that the population be scattered and particularly at such a distance from the frontiers, on account of the risk to which they are exposed from the enemies of the union---the Texans; and that being so far away they cannot protect themselves, and they furnish the enemy a base for operations and supplies, which causes incalculable damage to the Department.”

This reasoning is surprising, given the long-standing policy of having armed settlers defend the frontier against the marauding Indians from the north and east and the Americans and the French.

As was required by law, the petitioners came and threw a piece of sod to indicate possession of the land. Martin said that after hearing the conditions, the settlers “responded in a unanimous voice that the orders will be remembered and understood.”  He then said, “I conducted them over said land, they pulled out grass, and shouted with joy ‘Long live the sovereign powers of the Mexican nation and the constituted authority…” (82).


The boundaries of the grant were described as: “Por el Norte el ojito de los pinabetes y la punta del cerro de guadalupe pro el sur cuesta oseja del rio colorado por el oriente la ciendra y por el poniente el dicho cerros de guadalupe con el rio colorado” (To the north the source of the river of the pine trees (ojito de la Pinabete) and the point of the Cerro Guadalupe. To the south the cuesta del Rio Colorado, to the east the Sierra, and to the west the Canon where the above-mentioned Serro de Guadalupe joins with the Rio Colorado in which circuit is contained the given land) (83).

The original possession document (84) also described a “…surplus on the upper side, at the rito del cabresto, without being distributed and the meadow in front of the plaza which remains for the benefit of all in common, that is to say it cannot be cultivated, and below there remained another surplus without being distributed up to the mouth—puesta-- of the canonsito, there also remains within the possession the island lying between the two Rivers, that being the place where the citizen Antonio Elias Armenta, settled and his son-in-law, Francisco LaForee [Laforet] to whom were designated a greater number of varas of land than to those to whom corresponded in a direct line on account that said island is of  small extent and this Senor Armenta being ascending to the right of priority in the petition they made, there were also entitled to the right of priority, Rafael Archuleta and Miguel Montoya, who made every effort to obtain the possession advising the colonists that the pastures and watering places are common as remains stated, and the <illegible> for entrance and exits to the towns shall remain ample and free where it may be deed proper, also said plazas shall have drainage on the North side to the sejita—little brow-- near the woods, and in the south to the little river at the foot of the sejita where the water is taken out for the plaza, on the east forty varas for drainage and easements and on the west 40 varas  more for the same purpose aforesaid.” The total acreage in the grant was approximately 110,000 acres.

All of these requirements are characteristic of the villages established in the the upper Rio Grande valley—a community pasture, la vega; a community upland pasture, or ejido; long-lot fields, or extensions, parallel strips of land running at right angles to streams or acequias; and fortified pastures (85).

Thus, the pobladores of Rio Colorado became landed neighbors, or vecinos. They were the beneficiaries of a decree issued in 1812 by Charles IV of Spain, which ordered the officials in New Spain to distribute vacant royal lands to “loyalist defenders” and thus create a new class of small landholders (86). From about 1591 until this time, the Spanish monarchy had protected Indian lands and ordered that their communal lands should not be invaded nor should their villages be subject to the process of composicion.

By taking the name of St. Antonio to designate their village, the settlers were mirroring their religious and social values (87), the all-important adhesive that would hold together their settlement under difficult conditions. Because there were no priests and the “law,” such as it was, was in Taos, these early settlers used their religious customs to enforce the moral order of the community.

Affixed to the petition for the grant were names from 35 families, as required by the colonization laws of 1824 and 1829. It is interesting to note that one of the names listed is that of one Carlos Hortives for 100 varas. This was one of the many spellings of the name Charles Autobees, of whom there will be more in subsequent pages.

To keep this land, the settlers had to agree to live on the land and maintain the common lands, to possess weapons to defend the land, to cultivate the land for 4 years before being able to sell it, and to fortify the town. The fortified plaza would have been built on high ground of mud-plastered logs (jacals or xacales) placed side by side vertically in a trench.  Once these temporary buildings were constructed, many layers of mud plaster were added, horizontal bond beams stabilized the  vertical logs, and vigas and latillas were added to make a roof. Houses of the plaza were built side by side and each house had “single-file” rooms with no windows and doors opening onto the interior courtyard. The courtyard was closed off by a fortified wooden gate. The only extant building of this nature in the area, and probably much grander than any fortified plaza in Rio Colorado, is the Martinez Hacienda in Taos. Dispensas, or outbuildings, were located outside the plaza.  These fortifications were very much needed because of the frequent Indian depredations on this tiny village by the Utes from the north and by the Apaches.  These raids would continue on and off in Rio Colorado throughout much of the 19th century.

These fortified plazas evolved into plazuelas—L- or U-shaped buildings or family compounds-- once the threat of Indian attacks subsided. Questa examples are the Rael and Gallegos plazuelas. Once farming was underway and the community was more established, square or rectangular buildings of one or two rooms were constructed of adobe and had flat roofs.

The Justice of the Peace was called back to Rio Colorado many times to settle questions and disputes regarding the land. On May 14, 1843, Jose Miguel Sanchez designated land to new colonists in Rio Colorado. He noted that “…this instrument remains and will remain attached to the royal possession which rests in the person of Don Antonio Elias Armenta….” (88). Dioniso Gonzales, Justice of the Peace of Arroyo Hondo, was asked to come to Rio Colorado on July 13, 1844 to reconfirm boundaries of “lands of the Rio Colorado….And having in my hands the royal grant and donation I commenced to examine the lands….I raised the line and commenced to measure the lands of the citiziens Antonio Elias Armenta and his son-in-law Francisco Lafore and Francisco Armenta….”  Apparently there was a dispute between Armenta and Juan Benito Valdez regarding their land, as the Justice of the Peace mentions a lawsuit—“…it is not stated in the note where two hundred varas of land were given to said Juan Benito and not stated in the donation that said Valdez has the stated varas on a straight line from here to Rio del Cabresto.” (89). The Justice of the Peace is back in Rio Colorado on July 24, 1844 regarding the dispute between Armenta and Valdez. He reaffirms the boundaries but both parties refuse to sign the document.

On November 11, 1845, Justice of Peace Dionisio Gonzales declared the San Antonio del Rio Colorado grant “legal and valid in all its parts and purposes as intended by the grantors.”

In 1847, Justice of Peace Lorenzo Martin came up to Rio Colorado to settle the issue of roads on the land grant. He set out 100 varas as an outlet of the plaza and 50 varas for common entrances and outlets. “I fixed their respective boundaries, so that at no time will they have any dispute nor pretext of ignorance, leaving on the partition of lots on the upper side of the plaza (town) already built, fixing as the boundaries of the town, on the east, la Cuchillita (small ridge) leaving as a road room enough for one wagon; on the north in case no other town is built, and if the families of the same, who possess the land may encrease [sic], they may enjoy as drainage what is designated on the grant; on the south, following the former town, and on the west, the forty which have the original town….” This document also designates Don Francisco Lafore as Senor Alguacil (Sheriff).

While the Rio Colorado settlers were establishing their houses and farms, the traffic of traders and now the U.S. Army also continued through Rio Colorado. Letters and notes regarding Bent’s Fort to the north tell of large sums of money carried along the trail from Santa Fe to Bent’s Fort—for example $28,000 in specie carried by a party including William Bent, Simpson and others in April of 1844 (90). They too were experiencing problems with the Indians. As described in the St. Louis Reveille in 1844, “Several different tribes, the Chayennes, Sioux, Apaches, Kiawas, and others, as is supposed, were scouring the plains ‘in cahoot,’ but for the prompt action of the traders in drawing themselves up and forming their defence, there is little doubt that they would have been stripped of their property and, perhaps slaughtered.”  Regarding the Comanches, “They are daring and desperate Indians when once embarked in an enterprise, but they seldom attack until they see advantage clearly on their own side” (90).

By the mid-1840s the northern frontier was dependent on this traffic of American traders for merchandise and for markets to sell their goods. Trade with Chihuahua was both time-consuming and expensive, and thus imports from the East began to grow. Imports from America to Santa Fe were estimated to be $145,000 per year during this period (91). Settlers in the northern part of the New Mexican territory began to fear that Mexico might try to sell New Mexico to the United States. New Mexicans said they would rather be an independent state “Republica Mexicana del Norte” than suffer this fate.

At about this time the Navajos joined forces with the Utes to attack the frontier settlements of northern New Mexico, portending an even more miserable state of affairs for the settlers in Rio Colorado. George Simpson, on a trip south to Taos with his wife for the baptism of their child in 1844, reports an encounter with the Utes north of Rio Colorado. When they arrived in Rio Colorado, Simpson found that the Utes had killed several herders and three people traveling to Taos (91a).

A letter of September 20, 1844 from one “J.B.” at Fort William on the Arkansas River describes a letter (92) from George Bent in Taos of September 9th reporting a Mexican and Indian War between

“…a portion of the Eutaw Indians and the citizens of New Mexico. It appears that sometime last fall, the former Governor of Santa Fe (Armijo) granted to a Frenchman, named Portalance, and an Englishman, by the name of Montgomerie, authority to raise a party for the purpose of invading the territory of the Navajo Indians, with whom the Mexicans were then at war, but returning from the Navajos, rather unsuccessful, they fell in with a band of Eutaws, who were then at peace with the Mexicans, killled several of them, and drove off a number of their horses and mules.

“A few days previous to the date of Mr. B’s letter, the Eutaw Chief (Spanish Cigar) called upon the present Governor (Martines) at Santa Fe and demanded satisfaction for the outrage committed on this tribe. The Governor refused to give him the desired satisfaction, and the Indian seized him by the throat, and commenced shaking him. Martines drew his sword, and run the Indian through his body; –he then gave orders to his soldiers to  fire, and six of the Indians who had accompanied the Eutaw Chief were killed upon the spot.”

This killing of the Ute Chief , whose real name was Panasiyave, was bad news for Rio Colorado. In revenge, the Utes attacked Rio Colorado in October of 1844 along with other villages north of Santa Fe and then early in 1845, they attacked Rio Colorado again along with Ojo Caliente and the Pueblo of Taos. Sixty armed Mexicans were sent out of Taos to go after the Utes, but they had no luck. It was not very helpful to learn that Americans at Pueblo and Hardscrabble were supplying the Indians with guns and ammunition in return for the horses and mules stolen from the settlers at Rio Colorado and other northern village. Another early settler at Rio Colorado, Marcelino Baca, was also an early settler of Greenhorn and Pueblo in Colorado. Indian attacks on these early settlements resulted in Baca losing 117 fanegas of corn to the Utes in one raid, driving him back to the relative safety of Rio Colorado (93).

A letter of July 27th, 1845 published in the St. Louis Reveille on September 16th, 1845, describes the northern New Mexicans as

“…still amicably disposed to our people [i.e., the traders and trappers]. Whether there is really a declaration of war on the part of the Mexicans, these northern people are equally in the dark with ourselves. I do not anticipate any trouble with them in any event.”

An eastern traveler, A. Wizlizenus, with Col Doniphan’s expedition in 1846 and 1847, describes a meeting with  frontier settlement Mexicans, possibly even from Rio Colorado, out on a buffalo hunt somewhere near the Cimarron River (94).

“While we were travelling to-day over the lonesome plain, men and animals quite tired and exhausted, on the rising of the hill before us quite suddenly appeared a number of savage looking riders on horseback, which at first sight we took for Indians; but their covered heads convinced us soon of our mistake, because Indians never wear hats of any kind; it was a band of Ciboleros, or Mexican buffalo hunters, dressed in leather or blankets, armed with bows and arrows and a lance—sometimes, too, with a gun—and leading along a large train of jaded pack animals. Those Ciboleros are generally poor Mexicans from the frontier settlements of New Mexico, and by their yearly expeditions into the buffalo regions they provide themselves with dried buffalo meat for their own support and for sale….They are never hostile towards white men, and seem to be afraid of the Indians. In their manners, dress, weapons, and faces, they resemble the Indians so much, that they may be easily mistaken for them.”

A Spaniard’s description of Rio Colorado in 1845 is provided by Pablo Dominguez in testimony for a Surveyor General’s Office case (95). He had been in the military when he visited Rio Colorado in September 1845.

“The place is on the main road running northward from the town of Taos and about 15 or twenty miles from Taos. When I was at the place there were residing there about 45 or 50 families. When I was there I was in command as lieutenant of a detachment of soldiers sent by the military commander Archuleta in pursuit of some Panano (Cheyenne) Indians who had been killing some shepherds in that section of country. According to my recollection, the town was built of adobe and lumber principally of the latter. The most of the adobe buildings contained upon them loopholed battlements placed there for defence in fighting off the hostile Indians. There were fields there planted with corn and beans, and in the vicinity I saw pasturing in charge of herders considerable numbers of cattle. My orders were to scour the country throughout that section for Indians….”

With George Frederick Ruxton’s arrival in Rio Colorado in the 1840s, we get the first really detailed description of life in Rio Colorado in the mid-1840s (96). Ruxton, one of the first Anglo tourists to reach this area, was traveling north from Taos to the settlement at Rio Colorado. His colorful description, complete with the prejudices of the time held by  many of the Anglos from the East, provides a wide-ranging view of what life was like for the vecinos of Rio Colorado. These extended excerpts are included because of the detail they provide about life in Rio Colorado in the mid-1840s.

“All this day I marched on foot through the snow, as Panchito made sad work of ascending and descending the mountain, and it was several hours after sunset when I arrived at Rio Colorado, with one of my feet badly frozen. In the settlement, which boasted about twenty houses, on inquiry as to where I could procure a corral and hoja for the animals, I was directed to the house of a French Canadian-an old trapper named Laforey [Laforet]-one of the many who are found in these remote settlements, with Mexican wives, and passing the close of their adventurous lives in what to them is a state of ease and plenty; that is, they grow sufficient maize to support them, their faithful and well-tried rifles furnishing them with meat in abundance, to be had in all the mountains for the labor of hunting.

Of the village itself, Ruxton wrote:

“Rio Colorado is the last and most northern settlement of Mexico, and is distant from Vera Cruz 2000 miles. It contains perhaps fifteen families, or a population of fifty souls, including one or two Yuta Indians, by sufferance of whom the New Mexicans have settled this valley, thus ensuring to the politic savages a supply of corn or cattle without the necessity of undertaking a raid on Taos or Santa Fe whenever they require a remount. This was the reason given me by a Yuta for allowing the encroachment on their territory.

The soil of the valley is fertile, the little strip of land which comprises it yielding grain in abundance, and being easily irrigated from the stream, the banks of which are low. The plain abounds with alegria, the plant from which the juice is extracted with which the belles of Nuevo Mejico, cosmetically preserve their complexions. The neighboring mountains afford plenty of large game-deer, bears, mountain-sheep, and elk; and the plains are covered with countless herds of antelope, which, in the winter, hang about the foot of the sierras, which shield them from the icy winds.

No state of society can be more wretched or degrading than the social and moral condition of the inhabitants of New Mexico: but in this remote settlement, anything I had formerly imagined to be the ne plus ultra of misery, fell far short of the reality --such is the degradation of the people of the Rio Colorado. Growing a bare sufficiency for their own support, they hold the little land they cultivate, and their wretched hovels on sufferance from the barbarous Yutas, who actually tolerate their presence in their country for the sole purpose of having at their command a stock of grain and a herd of mules and horses, which they make no scruple of helping themselves to, whenever they require a remount or a supply of farinaceous food. Moreover, when a war expedition against a hostile tribe has failed, and no scalps have been secured to ensure the returning warriors a welcome to their village, the Rio Colorado is a kind of game-preserve, where the Yutas have a certainty of filling their bag if their other covers draw blank. Here they can always depend upon procuring a few brace of Mexican, scalps, when such trophies are required for a war-dance or other festivity, without danger to themselves, and merely for the trouble of fetching them.

Thus, half the year, the settlers fear to leave their houses, and their corn and grain often remain uncut, the Indians being near: thus the valiant Mexicans refuse to leave the shelter of their burrows even to secure their only food. At these times their sufferings are extreme, they being reduced to the verge of starvation; and the old Canadian hunter told me that he and his son entirely supported the people on several occasions by the produce of their rifles, while the maize was lying rotting in the fields. There are sufficient men in the settlement to exterminate the Yutas, were they not entirely devoid of courage; but, as it is, they allow themselves to be bullied and ill-treated with the most perfect impunity.”

Ruxton describes life in Rio Colorado and Laforet’s unique personlity:

“The fare in Laforey's house was what might be expected in a hunter's establishment: venison, antelope, and the meat of the carnero cimarron - the Rocky Mountain sheep - furnished his larder; and such meat (poor and tough at this season of the year), with cakes of Indian meal, either tortillas or gorditas, (The tortilla is a round flat pancake, made of the Indian cornmeal; the gordita is of the same material, but thicker) furnished the daily bill of fare. The absence of coffee he made the theme of regret at every meal, bewailing his misfortune in not having at that particular moment a supply of this article, which he never before was without, and which I may here observe, amongst the hunters and trappers, when in camp or rendevous, is considered as an indispensable necessary. Coffee, being very cheap in the States, is the universal beverage of the western people, and finds its way to the mountains in the packs of the Indian traders, who retail it to the mountain-men at the moderate price of from two to six dollars the half-pint cup. However, my friend Laforey was never known to possess any, and his lamentations were only intended to soften my heart, as he thought (erroneously) that I must certainly carry a supply with me.

Sacre enfant de Garce," he would exclaim, mixing English, French, and Spanish into a puchero-like jumble, "voyez-vous dat I vas nevare tan pauvre as dis time; mais before I vas siempre avec plenty cafe, plenty sucre; mais now, God dam, I not go a Santa Fe" God dam, and mountain-men dey come aqui from autre cote, drink all my cafe. Sacre enfant de Garce, nevare I vas tan pauvre as dis time, God dam. I not care comer meat, ni frijole, ni corn, mais widout cafe I no live. I hunt may be two, three day, may be one week, mais I eat notin'; mais sin cafe, enfant de Garce, I no live, parce-que me not sacre Espagnol, mais one Frenchman.”

After three days of hospitality and abuse in Rio Colorado, Ruxton left for the Arkansas River:

“Laforey escorted me out of the settlement to point out the trail (for roads now had long ceased), and bewailing his hard fate in not having "plenty cafe, avec Sucre, God dam," with a concluding enfant de Garce, he bid me good bye, and recommended me to mind my hair - in other words, look out for my scalp. Cresting a bluff which rose from the valley, I turned in my saddle, took a last look of the adobes, and, without one regret, cried "Adios, Mejico!"

I had now turned my back on the last settlement, and felt a thrill of pleasure as I looked at the wild expanse of snow which lay before me, and the towering mountains which frowned on all sides, and knew that now I had seen the last (for some time at least) of civilized man under the garb of a Mexican sarape.”

But this influx of Americans was proving troublesome and upsetting the balance between the Indians and Mexico. In 1843, Padre Antonio Jose Martinez told the Mexican President that Americans were now providing firearms to the Indians. The Indians used these firearms to raid the settlers’ cattle and livestock and then traded the spoils back to the Americans for more firearms and other goods. Thus, the Americans were providing a new market for the stolen property and as Padre Martinez put it contributing  “ the moral decay of Indians and of encouraging Indian depredation on New Mexico” (97). But the American onslaught was not to be held off and the settlers in Rio Colorado were about to encounter a new government.

The U.S. Army of West Arrives in New Mexico—Territorial Times in Rio Colorado

U.S. President James Polk declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846, and Col. Stephen W. Kearny’s Army of the West crossed into Mexican Territory on August 2, 1846, on his way to set up a civil government with Charles Bent at its head. On August 8, 1846, he was camped on the Rio Colorado (probably Canadian River) and gave his first orders in New Mexico.

Following the old Santa Fe road, according to William H. Emory (98) through Las Vegas to Santa Fe, General Kearny declared that “By the annexation of Texas, the Rio Grande from its mouth to its source has become the boundary between the United States and Mexico, consequently all persons living on the East side of that river are to be regarded as Citizens of the former and are to be treated accordingly…We are taking possession of a Country and extending the laws of the United States over a population who have hitherto lived under widely different ones, and humanity as well as policy requires that we should conciliate the inhabitants by kind and courteous treatment.” 

The settlers of Rio Colorado were now under American control. But what the citizens of Rio Colorado wanted and needed was relief from the Indian attacks on their livestock, houses, and crops. Kearny promised to provide some help here. He ordered that “The inhabitants of this Country must be protected from the Indians, and for that purpose several companies  of Mounted Volunteers must be kept near the frontier. If the Indians after agreeing to a peace will not keep it, a large force (sufficient to insure entire and complete success) should be marched into their country for their punishment” (99). Soon afterward on September 16th, Kearny ordered Major Clark to “…detach 50 mounted men of his command, under Capt. Fischer, with orders to proceed without delay to the Apache Country for the purpose of recovering property stolen within a few days past by these Indians from the frontier inhabitants.” 

But the problems with the Indians continued to increase. On October 2, Kearny invited the chief of the Navajos to Santa Fe “…for the purpose of holding a Council, and making peace between them and the inhabitants of New Mexico (now forming a party under protection of the U. States) and as they have promised to come, but have failed doing so, and instead …continue killing the people committing depredations upon their property, it becomes necessary to send a military expedition into the country of these Indians to secure a Peace and better conduct from them in the future.”

Kearny sent Col. Alexander Doniphan to march into Navajo country to the west of Santa Fe. “He will cause all the Prisoners and all the Property they hold which may have been stolen from the Inhabitants of the Territory of New Mexico to be given up and he will require from them such security for their future good conduct as he may think ample and sufficient by taking hostages or otherwise.” Lieut.  W.H. Emory, an Army topographer accompanying Kearny provided a detailed journal of the entire expedition and also produced the first accurate map of the New Mexican territory, including the Rio Colorado of the Questa area (100).

Kearny himself did not stay long in New Mexico. His sights were on California, and after he established a civil government in the New Mexico Territory and instituted a new legal code, he left for California on Septmber 25th, 1846. Kearny was injured at the Battle of San Pasqual. He served as military governor of California Territory after a bitter disagreement with Lt. Col. John Fremont over who should lead the new territory. Fremont, who will appear again in our story, was court-martialed for his role in the California fiasco, although he was eventually pardoned by President James K. Polk. Kearny was hit hard by his dispute, and succumbed to a tropical disease on his way home in 1848 (101).

Meanwhile in northern New Mexico, a company of the First Dragoons was stationed at Taos to defend this portion of the Ninth Military Department organized in 1848, and much attention was given to the Navajos who were raiding from Abiquiu to Albuquerque. Peace treaties were made and broken several times over (102). But the depredations on the Rio Colorado settlers on the northernmost frontier continued.

To give an idea of the level of damage the Indians raids were inflicting, according the the reports of the U.S. Marshals during the period from August 1, 1846 to October 1, 1850, property stolen by the Apaches in New Mexico alone amounted to 12, 887 mules, 7050 horses, 31,581 horned cattle, and 453,293 head of sheep (103). Protecting against these raids proved costly for the U.S. federal government, which spent $12 million between 1848 and 1853 in the Ninth Military Department for defense against the Indian raids.

American interest in this new addition to the United States was growing by the late 1840s, as evidenced by articles appearing in the national magazines, such as The American Whig Review. A November 1848 article (104) provides a very detailed picture of life in this region. The Comanches and Apaches, still terrorizing Rio Colorado, are described as being “…wild and predatory, and having now the use of horses, may be regarded as the Arabs of the elevated deserts of the New World…” and that they “…are exceedingly warlike, and constitute the chief and most dangerous obstacle to the passage southward of the traders and settlers….” The Navajos, who occupy “…the country between the upper waters of the Del Norte and the Sierra Anahuac, and perhaps extending toward Colorado…are half-agricultural, and not less martial than the Apaches, who speak the same language with them….” The incursions on the northern New Mexico frontier were also now well known—“These Indians…are animated by the most intense hatred of the Mexicans. They have completely depopulated some portions of the frontiers of the Mexican States. The upper half of the valley of the Rio Grande is constantly subject to their incursions. One of the chiefs of a party of these Indians met, by appointment, by General Kearny, exclaimed as the latter was about proceeding from the rendezvous, ‘You have taken New Mexico, and will soon take California; go then and take Chihuahua, Durango, and Sonora; we will help you. You fight for land; we care nothing for land; we fight for the laws of Montezuma and for food. The Mexicans are rascals; we hate them all.’” Later in this piece, the Navajos are described as being “…almost constantly at war with the Mexicans. They have had some skirmishes with American trappers, which resulted much to their disadvantage, and of whom they stand in considerable awe.”

A survey by the U.S. Army in 1850 indicated that the line to be defended against the Indians was from Abiquiu to Rio Colorado to Rayado, La Junta, Las Vegas, and San Miguel (105). Obviously Rio Colorado was right on the front lines in this respect, but no military post was recommended for the village. Rayado and Taos housed the closest garrisons. The U.S. troops were described by Twitchell (106) as “…a degenerate military mob, open violators of law and order, and …they daily heaped injury and insult upon the people…”. As a result, trouble between the soldiers and the Mexican locals frequently erupted.

The resentment of the local Spanish population and the Indians against the incursions of the Anglos finally reached its peak in the 1847 Taos Rebellion. The Mexicans and Indians of Taos joined forces on January 19, 1847 and killed all who sided with the United States, including New Mexico Governor Charles Bent, the Sheriff of Taos, Stephen Luis Lee, and the Americans at Turley’s Mill (January 20, 1847) north of Taos (107). All of the towns in northern New Mexico, including Rio Colorado, joined the insurrection. John Albert and William LeBlanc, who had escaped from Turley’s Mill, headed north to Fort Pueblo. They later explained that they escaped death by avoiding Rio Colorado. Tom Tobin escaped from Turley’s Mill and rode south to Santa Fe to bring news of the uprising. Other mountain men, including Tobin’s brother Charles Autobees also fled to the relative safety of Santa Fe (108).

But two other escapees from Turley’s Mill—William Harwood and Mark Head—were not so lucky. Later George Ruxton learned more about this attack, most likely from John Albert after he reached Fort Pueblo, and describes their murder in Rio Colorado and Laforet’s role in these events. Here is his account (96):

“As Markhead [Mark Head] and Harwood would have arrived in the settlements about the time of the rising, little doubt remained as to their fate, but it was not until nearly two months after that any intelligence was brought concerning them. It seemed that they arrived at the Rio Colorado, the first New Mexican settlement, on the seventh or eighth day, when the people had just received news of the massacre in Taos. These savages, after stripping them of their goods, and securing, by treachery, their arms, made them mount their mules under the pretence of conducting them to Taos, there to be given up to the chief of the insurrection. They had hardly, however, left the village when a Mexican, riding behind Harwood, discharged his gun into his back: Harwood, calling to Markhead that he was "finished," fell dead to the ground. Markhead, seeing that his own fate was sealed, made no struggle, and was likewise shot in the back by several balls. They were then stripped and scalped and shockingly mutilated, and their bodies thrown into the bush by the side of the creek to be devoured by the wolves. They were both remarkably fine young men.

Laforey, the old Canadian trapper, with whom I stayed at Red River, was accused of having possessed himself of the property found on the two mountaineers, and afterwards of having instigated the Mexicans to the barbarous murder. The hunters on Arkansa vowed vengeance against him, and swore to have his hair some day, as well as similar love-locks from the people of Red River. A war-expedition was also talked of to that settlement, to avenge the murder of their comrades, and ease the Mexicans of their mules and horses.”

The Taos Rebellion was put down by Colonel Sterling Price and an army of 353 men who came up from Santa Fe (109). The final battle took place at the church at Taos Pueblo, in which 150 Indians and Mexican sympathizers were killed. The survivors were tried at the first term of the American Court in Taos, Carlos Beaubien Presiding Judge (whose son Narciso was killed in the uprising), and executed in Taos. The Trials were held from April 5 through the 24th , 1847: 15 of 17 men were tried and convicted of murder and executed by hanging, 5 were tried and one  (Antonio Maria Trujillo) was convicted, and 6 of 17 were tried and convicted of larceny. Pablo Montoya, the leader of the uprising had been executed on February 7th. According to Lewis Garrard, he was “…hung the next day by drumhead court martial in the plaza of San Fernandez.” (110–112). Although the names of all of the men tried are given in the Court records, their towns of residence are not given, so it is not clear whether any of the plotters from Rio Colorado received this rough justice.

The next year, on a trip from Los Angeles to Taos and then Santa Fe with Kit Carson, George D. Brewerton describes an encounter with Indians that are camped about a day’s journey north of Taos, which would be in the Rio Colorado area. “…a sudden turning of the trail brought us into view of nearly two hundred lodges…” Carson hoped that these Indians were “Eutaws,” which he considered “a friendly tribe.” They were not Eutaws and Carson and his party used subterfuge to avoid an initial attack; the Indians soon caught up with them and were on the verge of attacking Carson’s party when word came that a party of 200 American volunteers were on their way “…to punish the perpetrators of recent Indian outrages in that vicinity….” Brewerton and Carson and their companions reached the northernmost Mexican dwelling, “This town being nothing more than a collection of shepherd’s huts, we did not enter but made camp near it.” “I remember celebrating this occasion,” Brewerton wrote, “by  visiting one of the Mexican huts, where I ordered the most magnificent dinner that the place afforded, eggs and goat’s milk….” The settlement described by Brewerton could very well have been Rio Colorado (113).


John Fremont, “the Pathfinder,” Comes to Rio Colorado

The outside world from the east arrived in Rio Colorado in a big way with the fourth expedition of “The Pathfinder,” John Charles Fremont. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of the Topographical Engineers of the U.S. Army, and later as Captain, Fremont had previously led expeditions to explore the unknown regions of the West for the War Department of the U.S. government. (114). Fresh from his stinging court martial over the Bear Revolution in California, Fremont, now on his own and financed by St. Louis merchants, set out in October of 1848 with 33 or so men, one-third of them greenhorns and the remainder veterans of previous expeditions, and 120 mules to find a passage to California through the upper waters of the Rio Grande that might be suitable for a railroad. He decided to make the trip during the winter to demonstrate that the railroad could operate year round. The mountain man Dick Wootten refused to guide Fremont because “There is too much snow ahead for me (115). Fremont finally persuaded “Old Bill” Williams, who was in Pueblo, Colorado, to guide the party through the mountains—although “…it was not without some hesitation that he consented to go, for most of the old trappers at the Pueblo declared that it was impossible to cross the mountains at that time, that the cold upon the mountains was unprecedented and the snow deeper than they had ever known it so early in the year.” (116). Another French trapper, Longe, turned back at Pueblo because of the snow and cold and warned that there would be “evil to those who continued” (117). The winter turned out to be a particularly brutal one and the expedition foundered in the 18-foot-deep snows (118) of the La Garita Mountains, north of what is now Del Norte, Colorado (118). The mules began to die from the cold, and the men had to cut down trees for firewood, build sleds to carry their equipment, and to make paths in the snow. (Evidence of these camps still exists and the cut off tree stumps, showing the depth of the snow, can be seen at several sites, including the famous Christmas camp site.)

Thomas Martin, one of the expedition members, described their situation—“Our path or track was sunk down deep in the now in places 18 feet deep, quite wide at the top but gradually narrowing until at the bottom it was only a foot wide. We made no other attempt with the mules. The two we took over froze to death 4 days later. At the first camp we left nearly 100 mules that all perished, with either cold or hunger…..Seeing that we could not get the mules over we returned and packed all our bags over on our backs to our new camp.”

Fremont decided to send a rescue party on December 26th to the New Mexican villages to obtain food and supplies and help in moving his men from their camp. “In this situation, I determined to send in a party to the Spanish settlements of New Mexico for provisions and mules to transport our baggage to Taos…..we had not two week’s provisions in the camp. These consisted of a store which I had reserved for a hard day, macaroni and bacon” (119).

They estimated that the closest settlement was Rio Colorado and a party of four men, including the famous Old Bill Williams, set off with $1800 to find help (132). Making their way down the mountains to the San Luis Valley, the party bogged down in the snow and cold and from lack of food and fear of Indian attacks. When they did not return to the camp in the La Garitas by January 11th, Fremont and another party went after them. Fremont wrote, “After sixteen days had elapsed from King’s departure, I became so uneasy at the delay that I decided to wait no longer. I was aware that our troops had been engaged in hostilities with the Spanish Utahs and Apaches…and became fearful that they (King’s party) has been cut off by these Indians “…my intention was to make the Red River settlement about twenty-five miles north of Taos, and send back the speediest relief possible” (120).

Fremont’s group met a party of Indians, said to be led by Chief San Juan—“an Utah, son of a Grand River chief we had formerly known” who gave the men four horses and promised to lead them to the Rio Colorado settlement. “By a present of a rifle, my two blankets, and other promised rewards when we should get in, I prevailed upon this Indian to go with us as a guide to the Red River settlement, and take with him four of his horses, principally to carry our little baggage.” (121). Fremont then caught up with the original party, now reduced to three men, who had been traveling for 22 days. Fremont reached Rio Colorado on Saturday, January 20th (122).

Fremont and another man went on to Arroyo Hondo and Taos to get more mules—there were only a few in Rio Colorado—and more provisions. Fremont later recounted that “The morning after reaching the Red River town, Godey and myself rode on to the Rio Hondo and Taos, in search of animals and supplies, and on the second evening after that on which we had reached Red River, Godey had returned to that place with about thirty animals, provisions, and four Mexicans, with which he set out for camp on the following morning. On the road he received eight or ten others, which were turned over to him by the orders of Major Beale [Beall], the commanding officer of this northern district of New Mexico” (123). Fremont decided to stay with Kit Carson in Taos. On January 23rd, Godey, with people from Rio Colorado, including Jesus Valdez, and four muleteers from Arroyo Hondo, went back north to rescue the remaining parties. He reached the party with Richard Kern on January 28th, who described the rescue—“Godey came with Ferguson—almost missed us. F. returned to the other camp and brought us some bread and corn meal on the 29th—Also a Spaniard & horses & mules…” (124). Kern reached Rio Colorado on February 9th—“Moved on to Rio Colorado 15 miles—got there about sunset, and slept in a house—met Preuss and Creutzfeldt [two expedition members].” 

Thomas Martin described reaching Rio Colorado—“When we arrived at the settlements, a small town on the Red river we found Williams and his party there. This town or Pueblo is about 30 miles N.W. of Taos, N.Mex. There we laid 10 days stopping at a Hotel kept by a Frenchman” (125).  Micajah’s McGehee told of their rescue by Alexis Godey and people from Rio Colorado—“Relief it was, sure enough, for directly we spied Godey riding toward us, followed by a Mexican. We were all so snowblind that we took him to be the Colonel until he came up and some saluted him as the Colonel…Dismounting, he quickly distributed several loaves among us, with commendable forethought giving us but a small piece at first, and making us wait until the Spaniard could boil some for us, or prepare some ‘tole’ (boiled cornmeal), which he quickly made and this we quickly devoured.” McGehee described the “little outer settlement of Rio Colorado” where “obtaining what provisions he could, and hiring several Spaniards with mules, Godey set out as speedily as possible up the river. On his way he fell in with two other Mexicans, who, with mules loaded with bread and flour and cornmeal, were going out to trade with the Utah Indians. These he pressed into service...” (127). One of the Rio Colorado members of the recue teams, Jesus Valdez, later settled Del Norte in 1859.

Another account of reaching Rio Colorado was given by  Thomas Breckinridge.—“For nearly the entire distance we crawled on ice or through snow…Our suffering was almost beyond description. Those who have been affected by snow-blindness can appreciate our situation. Our feet had been so frozen and thawed that the flesh began to come off….We finally reached the settlement [Rio Colorado], about ten o’clock at night. The people had been expecting us, as Fremont and his party had stopped there and informed them that we were on the way. The settlement was located in a small valley, and was called the ‘Red River Settlement.’ We were received very kindly by the Mexicans, who did everything to alleviate our distress. The Alcade’s wife, a Mexican woman, attended to our frozen limbs, bathing them several times a day with Juniper tea” (128).

By early February, all of the survivors also reached Rio Colorado. The surviving rescue party members reached Taos on February 12th, 1849. Fremont left that same day to pursue the lower Spanish Trail to California. Of the 32 men who had started out with Fremont, 21 survived the expedition. Fremont tallied up the damage of his failed expedition. “After a long delay…Mr. Haler came in last night [Feb 5th 1849], having the night before reached the Red River settlement, with some three or four others. Including Mr. King and Proue, we have lost eleven of our party” (129).

Fremont, in a letter to his wife, blamed it all on the guide Williams—“The error of our journey was committed in engaging this man. He proved never to have in the least known or entirely to have forgotten the whole region of country through which we were to pass. [Note that Fremont thought that Abiquiu was the closest settlement to their location in the La Garita Mountains.] We occupied more than half a month in making the journey of a few days, blundering a tortuous way through deep snow which already began to choke up the passes, for which we were obliged to waste time in searching” (130).

As leader of the expedition, Fremont was the responsible party, but it is clear that his court martial had changed him. “I say briefly, my dear Jessie, because now I am unwilling to force myself to dwell upon particulars. I wish for a time to shut out these things from my mind, to leave this country, and all thoughts and all things connected with recent events, which has been so signally disastrous as absolutely to astonish me with a persistence of misfortune, which no precaution has been adequate on my part to avert” (131). E.M. Kern, a member of the expedition, writing to his wife Mary from Taos faced the issue more directly—“You will think it strange I have no doubt when you learn of our remaining here instead of going on with Fremont, but our tale is soon told that will give you an idea of the why and wherefore. In the first place he has broken faith with all of us.” He described Fremont as one “…who loves to be told of his greatness…” and “jealous of anyone who may know as much or more of any subject than himself…” Most interesting about this letter is a drawing, presumably by E.M. Kern, showing two expedition members watching over a dying member of their party.  

Such was Rio Colorado’s experience with the “great” man. A detailed description of the expedition and the route that Fremont’s expedition followed can be found in Patricia Richmond’s book Trail to Disaster (132), as well as a discussion of the controversies involving Old Bill Williams possible sabotage of the expedition and the allegations of cannibalism. The route of Fremont’s expedition can also be explored using the directions in Richmond’s book and directions provided at a Web site (132). Fremont never wrote much about this expedition, and most of the details are found in the diaries of surviving expedition members, including the Kern brothers, Thomas Breckenridge, and Micajah McGehee. Notably, Richard H. Kern, the expedition artist, produced some of the first paintings of this area (133).


Indians Depredations on Rio Colorado Continue

The arrival of the U.S. Military and the increased traffic on the Santa Fe Trail had served only to increase the anger of the Indians, and thus they stepped up their attacks on the frontier villages (134). Rio Colorado as the northernmost of the settlements bore the brunt of these attacks.  The beleaguered citizens of Rio Colorado were offered some relief from Indian raids in the person of Lt. J.H. Whittlesey and his First Dragoons. On March 9, 1849, Whittlesley was ordered north to Rio Colorado to find the Utes that had been stealing the settlers’ livestock (135). The Utes had just lost a battle with the Arapahoes and needed food—they had told Col. Beall that they really had intended to pay for the cattle they had stolen. Whittlesley and his troops left Taos with 67 soldiers and a mountain howitzer on March 11 reached Rio Colorado on March 12. He chased the Utes out to near Cerro de Olla. Charles Autobees and his half-brother Tom Tobin went along with the troops as guides, as did trapper Antoine Leroux. The Lieutenant claims to have killed 10 Utes at the Battle of Cerro de Olla and to have wounded many more; he lost two of his troops and three horses. Whittlesley captured the Ute Chief Montoyo at Rio Colorado and brought him to Taos; Montoyo escaped from captivity there and was killed (136).

This campaign against the Utes would have further repercussions. Members of Fremont’s Fourth Expedition had returned to the area to retrieve supplies that had been cached in the mountains when the expedition foundered in the mountains to the north. As described by Indian Agent John Greiner: “This expedition however well conducted was fatal to two Americans, who had started a few days previous to the arrival of command at Red River [Rio Colorado village] to open the ‘Cache’ made by Colonel Fremont at the head of the Rio Del Norte at the termination of his disastrous expedition. These men were Bill Williams, the celebrated trapper, and Doctor Kern, the physician and naturalist of Fremont’s party…..On their way back, when they were surrounded by a party of Utahs who had received the intelligence of Lt. Whittlesey’ s expedition, then taken prisoner and instantly killed….” The Utes had taken their revenge

In February of 1850, James Calhoun, Indian Agent, and later first Territorial Governor of New Mexico, sent Auguste Lacome, a trader living in Arroyo Hondo, up to the Ute village north of Rio Colorado to see if they would negotiate a peace treaty (137). After some jurisdictional problems with Col. Benjamin Lloyd Beall, Lacome revisited these Mouache Utes and brought their answer to Governor Monroe—they did not want peace.

  After New Mexico became a territory in 1850, the U.S. Government was unhappy about the high cost of troops in New Mexico (138). Col. E.V. Sumner was sent to the Taos region in 1851 to take care of the Indian problem cost effectively. His solution was to cancel all of the lucrative civilian contracts and build a series of frontier forts.  Indian attacks increased, and the local New Mexicans became even more hostile toward the American government as the Indian troubles grew worse. By 1852, there were about 1000 soldiers in the entire New Mexico Territory, certainly not enough to control the continuing Indian depredations up and down the Rio Grande.

The army in 1850 was stationed at Rayado (squadron of Dragoons under Brevet Major Grier, 1st Dragoons) and at Don Fernandez de Taos (post established in 1847; there until 1852 when Fort Burgwin was established). George A. McCall, Inspector General in Taos describes the  “inhabitants of the Valley of Taos are the most turbulent in New Mexico, and the Indians of the Pueblo of Taos, three and one-half miles north of Don Fernandez, still entertain a smothered feeling of animosity against the Americans, which it is well to keep under. But the force above specified is considered sufficient to enforce all police regulations and keep these people quiet” (139). In an 1850 report, McCall reports 53 persons killed in Indian attacks on the northern frontier from September 1, 1948, to September 1, 1850, principally by Navajos, Utes, and Jicarilla Apaches. He also notes 13 captives taken from New Mexico. He also reports $114,050 worth of animals driven off by Indians during an 18-month period ending on Sept 1, 1850. Earlier, for the period 1846-1850, numbers of livestock taken by Indians are 12, 887 mules, 7050 horses, 31,581 cattle, 453,293 sheep (140)! But the northernmost point McCall was willing to recommend military protection was Taos.

The Indians were defended to some extent by  people such as Col. George Archibald McCall, in his Report on Conditions in New Mexico (141): “The forays which the Apaches make upon the Mexicans are incited by want; they have nothing of their own and must plunder or starve. This is not the case with the Nabajoes. They have enriched themselves by appropriating the flocks and herds of an unresisting people and cannot offer the plea of necessity.” McCall described the Utes as numbering four or five thousand and that they did “…not extend their forays further south than Abiquiu, Taos, and Mora-town.”  He added that “…they are often united with the Jicarilla Apaches.”

Slavery was also an issue. McCall (142) reported that a “New Mexican, living at San Miguel, recently returned from a large camp of Comanches and Apaches on the Pecos, stated that in the camp of the former there were almost as many Mexican slaves, women and children, as Indians. It will be a difficult matter to induce them to restore these prisoners. And until this unlicensed trade is broken up, their predatory incursions into New Mexico can never be checked.”

There were a series of treaties with the marauding tribes throughout the 1850s. A treaty was made with the Apaches on July 1, 1852, which stated in Article 5 that “Said nation, or tribe of Indians, do hereby bind themselves for future time to desist refrain from making any incursions within the Territory of New Mexico of a hostile or predatory character; and that they will for the future refrain from taking and conveying into captivity any of the people or citizens of Mexico, or the animals or property of the people or government of Mexico…” (143). The Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache signed a similar treaty dated July 27, 1853, and the Mouhuache Utes signed one dated September 11, 1855. The Arapho and Cheyenne signed one dated October 14, 1865 and another dated October 21, 1867. However, none of these treaties seemed to stop the raids on Rio Colorado.

James S. Calhoun (144) in a letter of July 30th, 1850 reports a band of “Marches” [Mouache] Utes living 2 days north of Rio Colorado. Led by Ampariia, they had 20 lodges and about 40 warriors. Utes tell Col. Auguste Lacome that “…they were lords of that region---the whole country was theirs, not only the grass, wood and water, but the winds and sky above was theirs….” Calhoun estimated three warriors to a lodge. The Utes occupied the west side of the mountains, and the Jicarillas the east side—their camp had 120 lodges.

In this same letter Calhoun also includes the following petition from citizens of Taos County, including several from Rio Colorado (144)

“To His Excellency, Governor Monroe , Military and Civil Governor of New Mexico.

The undersigned citizens of the County of Taos, would respectfully represent that the Apache Indians are within a days travel and but a few days ago entered the village of Rio Colorado, and are daily becoming bolder in their depredations. We therefore pray Your Excellency to issue an order for a campaign of the People of this County. The bearer of this petition [apparently Lacome] while [sic] explain the present whereabouts of these Indians, their feelings, &c as he has just returned from their village.


James H. Quinn

Lucien B. Maxwell

Thomas Birch

Wm. Krowing [sic; Kronig]

Wm. Becket

Francis Laforet

Choteau Laforet

Carlos Beaubien

Charles Ortebees [sic; Autobees]

Wm. White

Auguste Lacome

Jose Manuel Arrogon

Anto. Jose Valdez

Vital Truhillo

Phillipe Aragon

Jean Baptiste Charlefour

Anto. Laforet

Christopher Corson [sic; Carson, aka Kit Carson]”

Note that several of the signers were residents of Rio Colorado and many of these names have already appeared in this text.

In a letter of February 26th 1850, Calhoun includes a report from Auguste Lacome of Arroyo Hondo that the Utes wish to make a permanent peace with the United States. They said they broke the previous Treaty at Abiquiu because “…they were forced to do so from the fact, that they were in a starving condition, that when they robbed the ranches of the people of the northern part of the Territory, it was the purpose of the Chiefs subsequently to make reparation.” The Chiefs wanted to meet with Calhoun just north of Rio Colorado “…at a place called Costilla—about two days journey from Taos, or at the Sand Hills….” In a letter of March 29th 1850 Calhoun described the boundary between the Apaches and Utahs as commencing “…on the Rio del Norte, about latitude 37 degrees…” with the Jicarillas north of this line.

The policy of the government was made clear in a letter from H.N. Smith of the Office of Indian Affairs dated March 9th, 1850 (145):

“I do not think the Indians in and surrounding New Mexico are so lazy and indolent as the tribes nearer here and bordering upon our own civilization. After they are once reduced to a proper subjection and made to feel the Strength and power of our government and afterwards experience its clemency and kindness I am of opinion that they will prove to be very tractable, and under the guidance of discreet and worthy agents we may yet see some of their rich mountain valleys teeming with the produce of a laborious civilization. The Spaniards reclaimed from Savage life all our Pueblos and made them industrious and honest Cultivators of the soil, in a short time we might succeed as well with several of the wild tribes surrounding New Mexico.”

Another description of an Indian attack on Rio Colorado is included in a letter from John Greiner at Don Fernandez de Taos to Calhoun dated October 20th, 1851 (146):

“On the 4th instant a large party of Kiowa’s & Arapahoes attacked a Eutaw village on the Lattira near Red River, about 30 miles from Taos, and drove off about 50 head of horses & mules and captured two women and four children.

On the 15th inst they made another attack upon the same Band within 18 miles of Taos on the opposite bank of the Rio Grande and drove off nearly all their remaining stock.

The Eutaws were forced to retreat to Ojo Caliente, where they are now uniting their forces in order to make a Campaign against these marauding Indians.

I know of no remedy to check these outrages. The Military force stationed here can afford no assistance. The post intended to be established in the Eutaw Country has—I learn—been abandoned until next Spring. The Eutaws are peaceable and kindly disposed towards our Citizens, and have behaved well.”

Regarding the settlement north of Rio Colorado, Greiner writes (147):

“…preparations are being made by Citizens of this Valley & others, to settle the lands claimed by the Eutaws in the Valley of the Los Conejos.

The Indians have repeatedly driven the Mexicans from this land—they say it is their Winter hunting ground that it contains the bones of their Fathers, and they cannot & will not give it up quietly.”

Troops were back in Rio Colorado in 1851, as described by J.A. Bennett. On March 11, 1851, Bennett was traveling with the Paymaster to Fort Massachusetts, north of Rio Colorado. They camped at Rio Colorado and Bennett described it as a settlement of 3000 inhabitants [surely an exaggeration!]—“the same as all others I have seen, indolent, dirty, immoral. Passed a restful night.” But he spread his scorn around and described Arroyo Hondo as “…the usual dirty and filthy place” (148). His diary is one of the first accounts of the military in New Mexico. But the views he expressed reflected the racial prejudices of his time. It is interesting that he had an entirely different attitude toward the local Indian populations, describing the Utes as “…fine, noble-looking Indians” and the Snakes “…like the Utahs, are rather friendly and manly with the Whites.” This attitude apparently was an eastern one, as Territorial Governor Lew Wallace referred to it in a letter of  about 1880 “So it is not strange if, in great bitterness of spirit, New Mexicans, without regard to class or nativity, are disposed to believe that the President reflects the sentimentalism of the which gentle folks on the banks of the Hudson and in the hearing of the bells of Cambridge are supposed best representatives. The latter are situated happily for the indulgence of rose-colored theories about the Indians…” (149). However, George D. Brewerton description of New Mexican women of the Taos area in his 1854 article about his travels in New Mexico (probably around 1848) is more charitable (149a).

“…the women of New Mexico toil harder…They are literally “hewers of wood and drawers of water;” but unlike their cowardly and treacherous lords, their hearts are ever open to the sufferings of the unfortunate. Many have borne witness to the fact; for the wounded mountaineer, the plundered trader, and fettered prisoners dragged as triumphal show through their villabes by men who never dared to meet their captives upon equal terms in the field, have experiences sympathy and obtained relief from those dark-eyed daughters of New Mexico.”

His view of the Taos-area men was quite the opposite—“Sleeping, smoking, and gambling consume the greater portion of their day; while nightly fandangoes furnish fruitful occasions for murder, robbery, and other acts of outrage,”

After moving troops back and forth from Taos to the San Luis Valley, in 1852 the Army established Fort Massachusetts 80 miles north of Taos and Fort Burgwin southwest of Taos to protect Taos and the Rio Colorado frontier against the Indian depredations and to protect against another Mexican rebellion (150).

The U.S. Government finally took effective military action in 1855 after the December 25, 1854 massacre of the inhabitants of Fort Pueblo led by the Ute chief Tierra Blanco. Five mounted companies of volunteer troops were called up in January 1855 to put down the Utes and they set out for Fort Massachusetts near Mount Blanca. They then moved north to confront the Utes, and by April 30th, Tierra Blanco was asking for peace. They again appealed for peace in June and were escorted to Abiquiu where an agreement was reached on September 10th with the Utes and the Jicarilla Apaches. Kit Carson reported after this meeting that “The Indians that are now committing depredations are those who have lost their families during the war. They consider they have nothing further to live for than revenge for the death of those of their families that were killed by the whites; they have become desperate; when they will ask for peace I can not say” (151). Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate dragged its collective feet for many years in ratifying the treaties and it was not until 1863 that a new treaty with the Utes was ratified by the Senate. In the meantime, Rio Colorado continued to suffer from raids from these very tribes.

Although the U.S. Army was stationed at Taos and at Rayado, the Rio Colorado settlers continued to be plagued by Indian attacks. The Taos County Register of Strays (1856–1899) (152) records some of the losses. From a March 11, 1857 raid, Justice of the Peace of Rio Colorado Jose Miguel Ortiz claims the loss of five beasts of burden and one mule to Apaches and Jicarillas. The Indians, identified as Yutas, also killed a cow in this raid.  In a December 29, 1861, raid, Indians made off with three cows and one bull from Juan Nepromoseno Bargas, one bull from Francisco Suaso, two cows from Francisco Martin, one cow from Desiderio Valdez, 20 of Jose Maria Martinez’ goats, and 79 sheep and 32 wagons. Then on January 5, 1862, the raiders were back to take sheep, livestock, and fruit. A September 6, 1862 raid on Rio Colorado by Utes and Apaches netted 16 horses, 7 wagons, and 23 sheep.

The U.S. Government was supposed to make good on property lost in such raids. The Congressional Records of the time are littered with accounts of Indians depredations and requests for indemnities and with bills “providing for the examination of claims of Indian depredations in the Territory of New Mexico.”   The 34th Congress of 1856 authorized the Secretary of the Interior “to cause an investigation to be had of the claims for depredations by Indians in the Territory of New Mexico, that may have been heretofore made and filed in the Department of the Interior, and report to the next session of Congress, or as soon as practicable, the facts in each case, and particularly enumerating such as come within the provisions of the intercourse law, and for which in his opinion indemnity should be provided by Congress: Provided, That nothing herein contained should be construed to bind the United States to make payment of said claims.” By 1869, the residents were petitioning the Congress and “praying for protection against the depredations of the Indians.”  In 1874 a bill “for the relief of certain persons in New Mexico, for Indian depredations” was presented to House of Representatives (153).

Whether the residents of Rio Colorado ever received any compensation for their claims is a matter for further research and investigation. In 1859, a speech made by NM representative M.A. Otero in the House of Representatives stated that there had been no action on citizens’ claims for Indian depredations (154).  “When I first came to Congress, I found that many claims were filed in the Interior Department with regard to Indian depredations from New Mexico. No action had been taken upon them up to that time.” Otero had been instrumental in passing the legislation quoted above in the 34th Congress, but as of 1859 Congress would not act—“I have ever since labored to bring the subject before Congress for its action.” He goes on to say “We had hoped, when you took possession of that Territory, that all our troubles were at an end; but we seem to have been doomed to bitter disappointment. Our property has been stolen; our people have been violated and murdered, and our children taken into captivity; …You cannot visit a village or a hamlet in the entire Territory but you hear the sad tales of murdered friends and relatives…..the people of New Mexico complain that the protection that was promised has not been extended to them; and that having failed in that, they ask for something that might be done to have their claims for Indian depredations examined….”

And finally in Otero there is a spokesman for the good character of the Spanish population—“The people of that Territory are Mexican born, but the great majority of Castilian origin and descent, and are generous, noble, and brave; and in a striking degree they retain the elements of their Spanish extraction; native quickness of perception and apprehension, pride of character, love of adventure, generosity of impulse, and a characteristic heedlessness of personal danger. They are a people possessing, in an eminent degree, moral probity and integrity in all transactions of business—are active, energetic, and enterprising. Their perservering traders have been, sir, the pioneers, the creators, and the establishers of that vast inland traffic which now animates the boundless prairies into green seas that grandly swell with accumulating floods of thriving commerce.”’


More Arrivals and Visitors in Rio Colorado

The presence of Francisco Laforet in Rio Colorado drew other trappers and traders to settle in this valley. One of the most colorful, and famous, of these was Charles Autobees, who had many wives and many ways of spelling his last name (Ortibi, Otterby, Ortubus, Ortivis, and Hortuvis being just a few of them). He was the half-brother of Tom Tobin, another famous character in northern New Mexico (155). Charles Autobees came west from St. Louis as a trapper around 1825. He came to Taos in 1834 or 1835 and stayed to work for Simeon Turley at his distillery on the Rio Hondo where the infamous Taos Lightning was manufactured. Autobees traveled up and down the Taos Trail for Turley, selling his whiskey and flour. Turley also had a store in the new settlement of Pueblo, Colorado, from 1842. The name of one Carlos Hortuvis appears in the list of settlers on the 1842 San Antonio del Rio Colorado land grant; this is presumably Charles Autobees.  In 1845, Charles and Tom were granted land at what is now La Lama by the governor of New Mexico Manuel Armijo to help defend it against the Navajos, Utes, Comanches and Apaches. This land, the Cebolla grant,  was bordered on the north by the Rio Colorado, on the south by San Cristobal Creek, on the east by the mountains, and on the west by the rocky  bluffs of the Rio Grande (156). Over the next several years, Charles would move back and forth between what is now Pueblo, Colorado, and Arroyo Hondo. He moved up to Rio Colorado in July of 1850 to farm his part of the Cebolla grant. He also worked as a guide for U.S. troops going out after the hostile Indians plaguing the northern settlements. He  apparently was a spy for Lieut. J.H. Whittlesey’s March 1849 expedition to “chastise” the Utes (157). Later that year he sold his share of the Cebolla grant to Jose Gonzales. Lecompte describes Rio Colorado at this time as “New Mexico’s most northerly and hence most Indian-plagued settlement.” In 1853 he went with William Kronig (see below), Marcelino Baca, and a party of 25 men to settle the Vigil and St. Vrain grant at what is now Pueblo, Colorado. He was back in Rio Colorado two months later and in June of 1853 met G.H. Heap (see below) when he visited Rio Colorado. Eventually he settled up in Colorado, where he died in 1882 (158).

A picture of life in Rio Colorado in the early 1850s is provided by the reminiscences of William Kronig (159), who lived in Rio Colorado during this period. Kronig was a German who came west on the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico in 1849 in hopes of joining Fremont’s troops and to dig for gold in California. In Santa Fe Kronig met up with Viereck (no first name given by Kronig) who painted theatrical scenery and was the brother of a famous German actress, and another German named Schlesinger. They decided to join the territorial volunteer troop of Col. Benjamin Lloyd Beall and headed north to Taos, where Kronig served as Orderly Sergeant and Commissary Sergeant  of the Company for two months. Beall’s company was sent up to Rio Colorado to protect the settlers from the Ute and Apaches raids. Kronig describes the settlement (159):

“ We were stationed at a little Mexican town on the banks of the river. The natives had small farms to supply their needs. Their flocks of sheep and goats grazed on the hillsides under the care of a herder. The cattle and horses roamed nearby the settlement, grazing. It was in Rio Colorado that I met La Port [he probably means Laforet], a Canadian-Frenchman, who had settled there.” 

In December of 1849 Kronig decided to take “La Port” up on his invitation to spend the winter at Rio Colorado. While hunting game for Christmas dinner, Kronig got the idea to sell game in Taos to the U.S. troops.  But Col. Beall decided to send Kronig up to the San Luis Valley to ask the Utes to come to Taos to make peace. He found the Ute camp 7 days past Mosca Pass and  obtained a promise from Chief Chico Belasquez to “Tell your Chief that we will come to Taos as soon as the grass is long enough so that it will keep the horse strong; also that we will kill no more Americans and Mexicans.”  After returning from this adventure, Kronig was sent  by Beall to Rio Colorado to spy on an Apache Indian married to Mexican woman. Beall thought this Indian was providing information about troop movements to the Indians. Kronig spent a month in a cabin in Rio Colorado watching this Indian but never saw any interaction with other Indians. Next James H. Quinn, a beef contractor in Taos, asked Kronig if he would like to be set up in business in Rio Colorado. Quinn would supply the goods for sale and Kronig would have to  find a suitable building for a store. And so he became one of the earliest storekeepers in Rio Colorado. As he put it, “I had some competition but was satisfied with a fair profit, and in a short time had most of the business.” He further described life in Rio Colorado:

“This village was very quiet as there was yet no mail route established between Rio Colorado and Taos, or any newspapers. The distance between these two towns was only 30 miles but there were so few people in this community who could read or write, so we had to go to Taos for our mail and reading material.”

Kronig described the physical set up of the village:

“The town of Rio Colorado was built on high ground. A large valley extended to the east, there were meadows and farm lands. Opposite the town, where the valley widens out to the west, the river came out of a deep canyon; at this point is where the La Port farm was located. LaPort had resided there for many years with his family, including his two sons and his son-in-law. They managed their ranch as well as performed the major part of the farm labor. …These four men were, at all times, armed with their Hawkins rifles; even when they irrigated the fields they carried their weapons and also, a good supply of ammunition. In this community it was necessary for everyone to be able to muster a rifle or handle bows and arrows.”

For a change, the Indian situation was quiet:

“Owing to the great depth of snow in the mountains, the Indians had been quiet; no crime had been committed in the vicinity. They had operated on the east side of the mountains, stealing and killing where-ever the opportunity presented itself.”

But this quiet was not to last for long. Indians came into the village and robbed the grain mill and took horses and cattle. Kronig followed the marauders with Judge Beaubien’s nephew (probably John Bautiste Beaubien [160]), who had lost 12 head of cattle to the Indians. They had no luck in retrieving the cattle, which the Indians were killing and eating along the way, and Kronig returned to Rio Colorado.

Then Kronig described a most interesting Indian attack.

“ The Indians were already on the hilltops; the horses and mules belonging to the community were moving toward the canjoy, where the La Ports opened fire, wounding two Indians at their first volley. The Leaders dismounted, picked up their two wounded men and carried them off, leaving the horses and mules they were driving. One of the Indians, more daring than the rest, was completely cut off by the town people and surrounded. I took a careful aim at him and was in the act of pulling the trigger, when someone pushed my gun up and the ball went into the air. “For God’s sake, don’t kill him; he is the son of the rich Juan Vigil.” I could not see that that fact made any difference, as he was in a sense an Apache Indian. He wore the same dress and acted like them and fired on his own countrymen. I believe he would have killed some of his own people if his aim had been straight….This man was known as “The Gente, Son of the Rich,” who knew how to read and write; but preferred the company of the Apaches to his own race. He had committed depredations, murder, robbery and torture on his own people, but because he was the sone of the rich Juan Vigil, was not punished.”

Apparently “the rich Juan Vigil” was Juan Benito Vigil, one of the original Rio Colorado settlers. Kronig goes on to tell that robbery and murder by Apaches was quite frequent. “They would sneak in quietly, drive the stock away and if a herder protested they would kill him. Many times the herders would be taken with the stock, never to be seen again.” Kronig sooned turned to farming on a borrowed piece of land. Here Kronig was introduced to the peon law, when the son of Isidro Trujillo stole corn from Kronig’s crop. The boy belonged to Rodrigo Vigil, who was one of the richest men in town. Peons earned about $2.50 per month in hopes of cancelling their debt to their owner, usually an impossible goal. Most of them remained in this servitude for the rest of their lives. Because Vigil was charging more than the legal 6 per cent interest in the case of the Trujillo boy, Kronig was able to get the boy released.

It is from Kronig’s account that the story of how to determine the value of a house in Rio Colorado originated. He explained that each joist in the house was worth a dollar and no account was taken of the value of the land. If the house was made of split logs covered with split cedar, then these houses were valued at two dollars per joist.

Justice in the village was administered by the Alcade, who in one instance ordered a thief to be whipped in the middle of the street and then escorted out of town. Kronig describes how the Church collected taxes on the local people. They collected one-tenth of all the farm goods and one-hundredth of the lambs and calves. There was a tax on every household of one barrel of corn, one-half fanega of wheat, and the expense of an annual Saint’s feast. This system of taxation ended after the annexation of the Territory by the United States.

Kronig’s account also tells the story of a painting for the church. Viereck, who was also living in Rio Colorado, reproached the villagers for having a church with no paintings or other adornments and he offered to paint the twelve apostles on canvas for a payment of $160.  The money was raised quickly and Viereck produced the painting, which was hung in the church. Kronig says that “Years later, when I returned to Rio Colorado, the picture was still on the altar of the church.” Viereck is said to have also painted a picture “Christ on the Cross” for a church in Taos.

Kronig described another incident regarding the local Indians. Woken by Charles Autobees shouting“the Apaches are coming” Kronig went to the main street where La Port [Laforet], Beaubien, and others were already posted at the adobe wall with their rifles.  A long string of mounted Indians was approaching, and  “as they approached, we noticed that the first ten riders were not Apache Indians but part of a Ute tribe that was at peace with the Americans and Mexicans…we could see that the Utes carried a Mexican wood chopper in front of them for a shield….The Utes…yelled for us not to shoot as they had come in peace; that they, with the Apaches, were on their way to Taos to sign a treaty of peace.” In total, 120 Apaches and 10 Utes went to the house of the Alcade and asked for peace. The Indians were also well supplied with gold and in a short time they bought out all of the stock in Kronig’s store. He rode to Arroyo Hondo for more goods; in all, the Indians spent about $1200 in Rio Colorado—a small fortune. These Indians were later attacked by volunteer soldiers who confiscated much of these goods. The Utes often came into the village to buy grain and ammunition in trade for animal skins and buffalo robes and Kronig went with the Utes to other villages to trade his own goods.

By 1851, Kronig felt he could make a living trading with the Indians and decided to close up his store in Rio Colorado. After a few trading trips, Kronig decided to settle as a farmer in Cuerno Verde (Greenhorn) in Colorado (sometime between 1851 and 1853). After a trip to Laramie, Wyoming, to obtain cattle, Kronig instead settled at the mouth of the Fountain River, the site of present-day Pueblo, Colorado, where a Mr. Baca (Marcellino Baco of Rio Colorado) had already settled. Kronig again established a store, but trouble with the Indian culminated in a massacre at Pueblo on Christmas day 1854, in which Kronig’s holdings were destroyed.  He went to La Costilla, where he established another store and a distillery, and then moved to Mora near present-day Watrous in 1856 to ranch. With the discovery of gold in the Moreno Valley  area in 1860 (see below), for which he was partly responsible, Kronig became a wealthy man. He lost his fortune in a plan to construct a 40-mile ditch and flume and then regained it from a smelter he built in the Magdalena Mountains. He died in 1896.

John Bautiste Beaubien, a nephew of Judge Charles (Carlos) Beaubien was now living in Rio Colorado. On June 1, 1854, he sold a house and land to Solomon Beuthner of Don Fernando de Taos. The property is described as (160):

“Lot bounded on the north by a house and lot now in possession of Francisco Laforette, on the east by the west line of the public plaza of said town, on the sourth by a house and lot belonging to John Bautiste Beaubien, and the west by a ditch and the public road running on the west side of said town. Said lot or parcel of land being <no amount given> varas in length from east to west and <no amount given> varas in width from north to south and containing one dwelling. This property is located next to the public plaza of the Church.”

The coming of Solomon Beuthner to Rio Colorado was indicative of a new trend in the area—the arrival of German-Jewish businessmen. In 1850, of the 786 non-whites in New Mexico, 229 of them were German; by 1860 there were 569 Germans in New Mexico (161). Beuthner went on to become postmaster of (apparently in the Office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs) in 1855 (162) and a merchant banker in New Mexico (163). Beuthner became a member of the Masonic Lodge around 1854 (164). His brothers Joseph and Samson also came to Taos (164) and they had a mercantile business in Taos called Beuthner Brothers (established around 1860).  Apparently their business was quite lucrative as Santa Fe merchant John Kingsbury reported in 1858 that “We have just got word from Taos that Samson Beuthner lost in one night $3000 + at billiards playing with Hicklin, and settled it next day by paying $1500+” (165).

  But from the following correspondence Beuthner had with General James H. Carleton, it may be that one of the lures for venturing into the northern frontier—gold—may also have been an incentive for him to purchase a house in Rio Colorado. In 1863 General James H. Carleton was notified by a trooper that “There is a report here that gold has been found in large quantities on Little Red River [this could be the Cimarron River, which was also known by this name]. I hope that is true. When the command returns I suppose that we shall learn all about it” (166). “I much hope that your mining shares will prove valuable as I have every reason to believe that the mines will prove to be very  good. Your claims are located and recorded, and Mr. Solomon Beuthner would have sent them by this express but in fear that they might get wet or lost, he will bring them to you as soon as he visits Santa Fe” (167). Another letter refers to Carleton personally filing mining claims in New Mexico; he also contacted financiers in New York City to obtain capital to develop the mines.

A letter from Beuthner to Carleton  dated November 27, 1863—“I am exceedingly obliged to you, for the information contained in your letter, respecting the Gold Mines, and take this opportunity to assure you Dear Genl. that I shall use every effort to induce Men of Capital of this City [New York] to form Companies for the purpose of developing the vast resources of New Mexico, which I know is beyond the power of individuals to accomplish” (168).

Carleton encouraged his soldiers to look for mineral deposits throughout New Mexico and even encouraged people like Kit Carson to participate in these searches. Carson writes to Carleton in 1865 that “In regard to the new silver leads I am not sufficiently posted yet to say much about them but will advise you of the first favorable opportunity I hear of” (169). But Carleton is best known for supervising the removal of the Navajos from their lands during the 1863-1867 Long Walk to Bosque Redondo (170). Carleton makes clear his opinion of the Indians in an 1865 letter: “..the question which comes up, is, shall the miners be protected and the country developed, or shall the Indians be suffered to kill them and the nation be deprived of its immense wealth” (171)? For him it did not seem to be a question of protecting the frontier settlements.

A description of Rio Colorado at the end of the 1850s is provided by a traveling journals Albert D. Richardson in his book Beyond the Mississippi (172). He describes the trail from Taos to Denver as a “…lonely mountain trail led through the range of the murderous Utes….” Miners coming south to New Mexico in the winter declared the trail “…as safe as Broadway. Others pronounced the journey madness, and its inevitable price a lost scalp.” Richardson obtained advice for the trip from Kit Carson in Taos and set off on October 25th with Carson, who stayed with him for the first hour of the trip. Richardson reached Rio Colorado the first night and gives the following description (173):

 “After a solitary mountain ride of twenty-eight miles I dismounted at Beaubean’s trading-post beside a rushing transparent little stream bearing the name Colorado, so frequent in Spanish nomenclature. Beaubean was a Frenchman whom long intercourse with this mixed population had converted into a bewildered polyglot. With profuse bows and in a medley of French, German, Spanish, English, and Indian, he begged me to pardon his poor lodgings and his fare so unfit to set before a gentleman. As a sequel to this preamble he gave me a supper of mutton and eggs, the best meal I had eaten in New Mexico, served upon snowy linen, in a pleasant room. Then through the long evening I lounged in a luxurious arm-chair, reading before my cheerful fire with many glances through the skeleton window at tall snow-crowned mountains, with yawning black canyons between.”

“The dirt floor was smooth and hard. The mud walls, dressed with a trowel and whitewashed, could hardly be distinguished from the finest plastering. They were hung with pictures of saints, and crucifixes, curiously intermingled with views of horse races and cock-fights. The mattress upon the floor, covered with fine blankets of whitest wool, was quite luxurious. That afternoon in a wretched hovel across the narrow street, a little child had fallen into the fire and had been burned to death. Now shrieks and moans rending the air, showed that in one dusky bosom under all its rags and wretchedness, the mother-heart was beating. Soon after the sunrise I rode on among scattered ranches with valley-fields of corn and wheat.” 

Richardson then describes the crops he sees as he rides north out of Rio Colorado:

“Soon after sunrise I rode on among scattered ranches with valley-fields of corn and wheat. Irrigation makes the parched, sandy soil wonderfully productive. …It is not adapted to Indian corn on account of the cold nights. In winter farmers do not feed stock; the cattle subsist upon a wild sage so tall that it is seldom hidden by the snow.”

When Richardson reaches the Costilla River, he dines “…at the trading house of Mr. Posthoff, a German resident of gentlemanly manners and liberal culture….” He also describes a grist mill in Costilla—“…a horizontal water-wheel connected by an upright shaft with the millstone one story above. The stone, revolving no faster than the wheel, grinds very slowly, and having no bolting apparatus turns out very coarse flour.”


Mineral Resources Are Found Near Rio Colorado

Mining came to the Rio Colorado in the 1860s. The Ute Indians had long known mineral-rich areas throughout the San Luis Valley and, of course, earlier expeditions had gone north from Taos to find gold in the Valley. In 1866, the Utes went to Fort Union (east of Santa Fe) and used copper-rich ore to trade for supplies. William Kronig, who had lived in Rio Colorado in the 1850s, along with John W. Moore, hired the Indians to take them to the source of the copper. This turned out to be at the peak of Baldy Mountain in the Moreno Valley, and Kronig and others subsequently developed the site into the Mystic Copper Mine. It is possible that some Rio Coloradans found work in these early mines. Pay was usually 25 to 40 cents per day in the mines (174).

Taos County Mining Records (1865–1881) (174a) include a mineral claim filed on February 27, 1865 by Anthony Joseph, (first initial I, J, or G) E. Price, William Le Blanc, and Francisco Martinez of Fernandez de Taos for their company the Montezuma Mining Company, for a lode in Taos county “…aforesaid on the mountain north of the Plaza of San Antonio.” No indication is given of what the mineral discovered was, and the description of the claim area is exceedingly general—“a canon which has a fervent of Cotton Wood Trees”  and “the water Canon.”

Mineral discoveries in the 1890s would affect Rio Colorado more substantially (see below).


The Indian Threat Ends

For almost a century, settlers in Rio Colorado had been subjected to the raids of Indian tribes. By the end of the 1870s, these raids were pretty much over. And throughout this long period there had been some cooperation with local Indians, particularly the Utes who had a camp just north of Rio Colorado and were said to have a camp where El Pueblito is now located. In addition to trading with these tribes, many locals went buffalo trading with the Comanches. One Vicente Romero of Cordova, interviewed by Lester (175), provides a vivid description of such a meeting. Supplied with “salt, blankets, and strips of iron for arrow-heads” and “big packs of a very hard bread, which our wives baked especially for trading to the Indians,” they set off via Mora past Fort Union to Indian country. After signaling to the Indians with smoke, the Indians came and made camp near theirs. “After a sort of feast with the Indians we started in to trade. This would take a long time because there would be much talk over each trade.” Then they would engage in horse races and gambling and contests with bow and arrow as well as wrestling matches. They would also follow the buffalo herds. These were dangerous trips and any argument could quickly turn to ugly death. When they returned home, “We could see people on the roof-tops counting us as we rode down into the village to see who was missing. ..The next few days were filled with feasting and the nights with dancing.”

The Indian Wars in the West continued until about 1890. Once the Civil War ended, the floodgates opened with people coming West to seek gold, land, trade, and adventure, having a great impact on the Indians’ way of life, most notably with the hunting of buffalo, a mainstay of western and plains Indian life. The Army strategy was to establish a system of forts to protect the main travel routes and white settlements. Supplementing this approach were military operations against specific areas of Indian resistance using volunteer forces; in this area, these operations were conducted against the Utes and Apaches, Following the defeat of Indians tribes, government policy was to move the tribes to reservations. Some of the tribes kept to the reservation in the winter months, eating government rations, but when the warm weather made its appearance, they returned to the warpath. The Apache campaigns in the West did not end until the 1886 surrender of Geronimo. The last of the Indians wars were the legendary Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn in June of 1876 and the battle of Wounded Knee in December of 1890.

There is little evidence of everyday life in Rio Colorado in the written record beyond the descriptions of visitors or the reminiscences of residents such as William Kronig. There are very few historical records of St. Anthony’s Church in Rio Colorado. Records of births, marriages, and deaths in the settlement were kept at the mission of San Geronimo at Taos (176) until 1865; then Sacred Heart in Costilla kept these records because there was no priest at Rio Colorado. The first marriage for Rio Coloradans recorded in Costilla was that of Jose Cisneros Cruz and Ramona Duran on May 20, 1865. The first burial was F.O. Jesus Garcia on May 29th, 1865. The Questa parish did not have its own priest until 1941 (see below).


The Railroad Comes to Northern New Mexico

The 1870s brought more surveyors for the railroad that would come eventually through just north of Rio Colorado. By 1876, rail for the narrow-gauge Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was approaching Cucharas to the north and La Veta. The next year it had extended to the Fort Garland area and a new town, Garland City, sprang up almost overnight. The route of this railroad had been the Sangre de Cristo Trail, until the road turned south through Rio Colorado to Taos. The railroad reached Alamosa in 1878, Antonito, Tres Piedras and Chamita, NM, and Cumbres Pass and Chama NM in 1880. The narrow-gauge track was replaced with broad-gauge track to Alamosa in 1898 (177). The southern terminus of the railroad, originally to be El Paso, was instead Española. A southern spur went south from Antonito to Tres Piedras, and then south of Embudo it followed the river, and eventually ended at Santa Fe. This train line, dubbed the Chile Line, ran three times per week between Antonito and Española. The total time from Denver to Espanola was 21 hours (178). Passengers could ride in open platform cars, the caboose, or the baggage car. One car per day carried lumber and livestock as well as hogs and wheat. The stop nearest Rio Colorado was at Jaroso, where wool and cattle from Rio Colorado were shipped out for sale. In 1914, the Madera branch opened; it went from Taos Junction by way of Ojo Caliente to the Hallack and Howard Lumber Company in the mill town of Madera, and also ran to Embudo. People from northern New Mexico finally had a reasonably efficient way to send goods and produce out for sale. And adventurous tourists now had the means to visit the Pueblos that were near the Chile Line route. Vestiges of this line can still be found along current Route 285.

What the railroad introduced to areas in its path was a new cash economy; manufactured goods meant a diminution of the barter economy that had existed for centuries in this area. Many landholders could not afford to keep their property and had to look for employment. Agriculture and livestock production were commercialized and meadowlands became overgrazed. Many farmers fell into debt and were forced to sell their land and their water rights.


Petitions to Validate the Cañon del Rio Colorado Land Grant

As with many of these early private land claims, the U.S. Land office was hesitant to confirm the grants because of the vague wording of the grants.  Because the Spanish thought land was not valuable, their land grants were made in large quantities and natural objects and landmarks, which disappeared over time, were provided as boundaries. Surveyors took advantage of these vague boundaries and expanded the bounds of grants even further.  And unscrupulous land speculators took advantage of all of this in attempts to defraud the U.S. government of public lands. Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), the U.S. government was to respect the validity of these grants if they had been valid under the laws of Spain and Mexico. The Office of the Surveyor-General was created in 1854 to determine the validity of the Spanish grants (179).

In 1874, Jose Antonio Laforet, grandson of Antonio Elias Armenta, presented a claim to the Surveyor General’s Office to validate the Cañon grant. The grant was transmitted to the U.S. Congress December 7, 1874, but no action was taken. (180). The Land Office instructions of 1885 required that these cases be referred back to the Surveyor General for re-examination. In the second presentation before the Surveyor General, the claim was rejected by Surveyor General George W. Julian on April 10, 1886. He cited as grounds for the rejection the following:  Jose Antonio Laforet had filed claiming to be the sole owner of the land, but no evidence was presented showing how he gained title to the land; documentary evidence of the original grant was not filed in the public record, there was no evidence of delivery of possession or of occupation; a letter from E.M. Ashley dated March 19, 1874, had been presented saying he had purchased an interest in the grant; the Taos officials had no authority to make the grant because the land did not belong to the Town of Taos.  Julian explained that town authorities could only grant up to 50 varas, not the 49,939.21 acres being claimed here; only the Governor had authority to grant such large amounts of land.

A subsequent claim was presented to the Private Land Claims Court on March 3, 1893, by Clarence P. Elder, who had bought up most of the Cañon del Rio Colorado grant. Elder, in his petition, claimed he was the owner of the grant “…by purchase from the heirs and assigns of the said original grantees, and claims a perfect title to the same.” A series of deeds made during 1872–1875 appear to have passed title to the grant to Elder. The Court dismissed this petition for the grant on November 17, 1896. After a series of amended petitions were dismissed the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and on January 18, 1898, it was dismissed (181).


Petitions to Validate the San Antonio del Rio Colorado Land Grant

Beginning in 1854, the people of Rio Colorado sought validation of their grant. A claim was filed with the Surveyor General’s Office on March 11, 1872, and testimony was taken in the case in 1873. On January 6, 1874, the Surveyor General recommended the grant for confirmation by the Congress; the grant was surveyed in September 1879 for a total of 18,955.22 acres. As with the Cañon claim, the case was referred back to the Surveyor General’s Office for re-examination under the Land Office instructions of December 11, 1885. Surveyor General George W. Julian in 1886 felt that because the land was acquired for the purpose of cultivation and not for the formation of a city, town, or village that “It seems unnecessary to devote further time to discussion of the validity of the grant as it is so manifestly without law to support it. “  However, he felt that the townspeople had made “ …a good prima facie case…whether all original proceedings were regular or not….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….To this extent I recommend a confirmation of the claim to the legal representatives of those who were placed in possession of the land on January 19, 1842…” (182). In his view, the settlers had “…no legal title to the land claimed; but as they were placed in possession thereof by an officer of the Mexican government, they have and equitable claim….” Julian recommended rejecting the legal title of the claimants but that the grant be approved by Congress, But no further action was taken (183).

Because of the backlog in grant petitions, the Court of Private Land Claims was established in 1891 to settle these claims. The claim was next filed with the Private Land Claims Court in 1892 and the response of this Court was filed on February 5, 1892. The Court ruled that the Justice of the Peace had acted without warrant or authority of law and “those claiming under them are trespassers” (183). The Court also cited grounds that the grant was not a village or community grant, that the amount of land claimed was in excess of that actually used and necessary for subsistence, and that the grant was for agricultural purposes. A refiling of the claim on August 20, 1892, by prominent attorney Napolean B.  Laughlin provided evidence that the Governor had ordered the Prefect to make the grant. “…Juan Andres Archuleta, who made this grant, was a man of prominence and intelligence; that he has held several offices of trust under the Government; that he was acting Governor in the year 1840, and it will not be presumed that he acted without authority, and contrary to the order of his superiors when he made the grant….”

The filing also noted that “The fact that the Governor in 1846 fixed the boundaries of the Cebolla grant as bound on the north by the south boundary of the Rio Colorado grant is of itself sufficient to make the court presume a recognition of the grant in question by the granting powers of the Government then in existence in the country….”  Even more important, the argument continued that “The value of the land to plaintiffs consist in their rights to the wood, water, and pasture, much more than in the lands they cultivate, and should they be forced to resort to their rights under the ‘small holders’ act, they would be deprived of their property rights in the wood, water, and pastures.”  The Court dismissed the claim but allowed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 18, 1893. There is no record of the appeal in the PLC files, but this must have been dismissed, as the Government Accounting Office (184) lists the grant as being rejected. Citizens of what was now Questa had to file under the Small Holdings Act to gain title to their land.

While the quest for approval of the Rio Colorado land grants was proceeding, San Antonio del Rio Colorado became Questa. Rio Colorado became Questa  on March 12, 1883, when the first postmaster Lee Hamblen (Leander Hamblin) came to town. Not speaking, or spelling, Spanish very well he spelled Cuesta with a Q. The mail came in on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and was dropped off south of Tres Piedras (185) and picked up by the Arroyo Seco post office. The mail was then brought by stage to Questa. Around 1910, the mail routes were revised and the northern terminus of the mail route was changed to Jaroso. Since Hamblen, Questa has had 15 postmasters, including J.P. Rael (1926–1948).

It was also in the mid-1880s that the present St. Anthony’s church was built; the towers were added in the 1940s.


New Mining in and around Questa

Mining would play an increasing role in the life and economy of Rio Colorado/Questa. The first Rio Colorado connection with the copper and gold rush in the Moreno Valley was William Kronig, who had lived and did business in Rio Colorado in the 1850s. A few Indians had brought colored rocks to Kronig and Captain William Moore at Fort Union in 1866. Kronig and Moore sent two men to investigate the source of these rocks, Mt. Baldy, and they indentified them as copper. Four men were then sent to Mt. Baldy by Kronig and Moore to do the necessary work so that the claim could be filed and certified as the Mystic Copper Mine. While there, one of the men discovered gold while panning in Willow Creek, and the gold rush was on  (186) by the spring of 1867. Kronig, Moore, Lucien Maxwell, and others formed the Copper Mining Company and when work started on the copper mine in 1867, they found more gold. By the spring of 1868, there were more than 3000 people working the gold fields and living in the new town Elizabethtown. By 1899, about $3 million worth of gold had been mined in the Baldy area (187).

By the end of the 19th century, mineral deposits were found much closer to Questa; in the late 1880s, two prospectors found a metallic material in Sulphur Gulch. They did not know what it was but they staked a claim anyway. And to add to the Red River confusion, a new town of Red River, up the road from the old Rio Colorado settlement, was established in 1895 after the discovery of gold in the area; that town’s population ballooned to over 2000 in 1897 (188). Gold mines such as the Midnight, Anchor, Caribel, Edison, and Memphis mines were close to Questa and were worked in the 1890s; the small, albeit short-lived, towns of Midnight and Anchor sprung up at the sites of these mines. Unfortunately, ore had to be sent to Denver for treatment, and this along with legal issues regarding the land on which the mines were located resulted in their abandonment after only a few years of operation. Other short-lived mining towns in the area included La Belle, Hematite, and Amizette. Gold, silver, iron, and copper were mined to the northwest of Questa in the San Luis Valley throughout the 1880s and 1890s, one of the most productive mining towns in this area being Creede. Several placer gold sites were located near Questa, and Questa served as a shipping point for many of these mines. (Placer mining was done by panning or with sluice boxes, which separated minerals that had washed down from the mountains from the mud of creek beds.)

During World War I, molybdenum was used to harden steel and this use enabled the identification of the ore found in Sulphur Gulch. The molybdenum was formed in the volcanic activity of 25 millions years ago that formed the Questa caldera.  A prospector named Fahy sent samples of the molybdenum to an assayer, thinking it was silver; the assayer identified the presence of molybdenum in the sample. In 1920 the Molybdenum Corporation of America bought the Sulphur Gulch claims by federal land patent under the Mining Law of 1872 (189) and began underground mining (1922-1958) at the site. The original underground mine had over 35 miles of tunnels, and the ore was sent to a gold mill near Red River for processing. A processing mill was built at the mine site in 1923.  By the 1950s, a company town had been established near the mine and the mine was the second largest supplier of molybdenum in the United States. Open pit mining followed (1964-1985), and in 1985 a more extensive underground mining operation began to reach the Goat Hill ore body. These workings are 2000 feet below ground and a 7000-foot decline shaft is used to bring the ore up to the mill for processing (190).

With the arrival of this new mining-based cash economy, people in Questa suddenly had a new way to make a living as miners. By the 1980s, the Moly Mine employed almost 600 people (191), but this was a boom-or-bust-based economy with work at the mine dependent on the world market for molybdenum. Decades of mining have produced 328 million tons of waste (191) at the mine site and 100 million tons of molybdenum ore. Spills from the tailings pipelines and acid drainage from the mines waste sites have apparently contaminated parts of the Red River and local acequias, and dust from the tailings have been shown to have high levels of lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. Thus, while Molycorp, which disputes claims of pollution, has pumped some $30 million per year into the local economy, the environmental issues relating to the mine have been taking an increasing role.  Action by environmental groups under the Clean Water Act have brought in state and federal regulation of the mine operations and the institution of reclamation procedures.

Mining and the news of gold and silver strikes also brought in large numbers of people from the outside, and in some cases trouble. One of the most famous examples of this was the murder of 19-year-old James Redding by John Conley near Questa at the Guadalupe placer claims on January 16th, 1905.  As stated in the true bill of murder, Conley was accused of  “…unlawfully, feloniously, willfully, purposely, of his deliberate premeditated malice aforethought shoot off and discharge at upon and in the forehead of him the said James Redding and in the throat of him the said James Redding…inflicting in and upon the forehead…about one half an inch to right of the center of the forehead…the bones of the top and back of the head being broken by said bullet, one mortal wound…and inflicting in and upon the throat of him the said James Redding, immediately above the larynx, one mortal wound, of which said mortal wounds the said James Redding then and there instantly died” (192). In a legal document of the First Judicial District of the Territory of New Mexico, Conley claimed that he was protecting his mining claim from Redding, who had advanced upon the defendant, “…cursing, abusing and threatening to take his life, with an axe uplifted and ready to strike.”  In an undated appeal (193), Conley argued  that during his trial, in which he was convicted, no evidence was presented to dispute his story. Redding was said to be “…under the influence of liquor” and Conley said he went “…to Questa and Red River for the purpose of surrendering himself to the authorities…” although not immediately “…due entirely to his fear.” Redding’s father had a hotel in Questa and Conley knew him and the family well. Conley also shot one Charles Purdy, 70 years old, “…who was advancing towards him with an uplifted axe….” The jury’s verdict was not unanimous—at least one juror when polled said “It was the best we could do” (see note 192).

Conley’s appeal to the Supreme Court was denied and his sentence to death by hanging stood. In a newspaper report of January 25th, 1906 (194), Conley still held to his innocence “Even should I hang for this affair, I now, with my last breath, will maintain that I shot to save my own life. The killing was brought about in such a manner that I could not act other than I did.” He further describes the scene: “Purdy and Redding had been drinking…..We quarreled over the terms of a contract which I had made for doing assessment work on the placer claims. Purdy ordered me to leave the tent, and emphasized his remarks by throwing a heavy iron frying pan at me…I backed away from the man and walked down a narrow path to where our horses were tied, intending to mount and ride to Questa. Purdy came from the tent and took an axe which was sticking in a nearby log and followed me. Redding, in the meantime, secured another axe from the same log and took a short cut to the horses.” Conley then described how he drew his .38 revolver from his waistband and shot Redding in the forehead and the throat and struck Purdy in the chest. He then rode to Questa: “I intended to give myself up there, but when I reached the town I was afraid that I would not be treated properly by the officials. After spending a few moments in a store at Questa, I rode to Red River.” But before he could talk with the Justice of the Peace there, a posse from Questa arrived and he was brought back to Questa. Conley claimed that he could not get a hearing from the Supreme Court because he lacked the funds to have a transcript made of the Taos Court proceedings. 

So John Conley became the first person to be hanged in Taos County under the Territorial Government between 1848 and 1906. Because of the ruthless administration of justice following the Taos Rebellion in 1847, Taos juries were loathe to return death penalty verdicts. But Conley did not benefit from such jury reluctance. His hanging took place in 1906, but Conley protested to the end in his own way and did not get the swift and sudden death that he had meted out to Redding and Purdy. Just before the hanging Conley somehow got a rusty pocket knife and tried to slash his throat. He failed to cut an artery, although he suffered a heavy loss of blood, and a doctor treated his wounds. While he was still unconscious from this suicide attempt, he was taken to the gallows, seated on a stool with a noose around his neck, and hanged. Unfortunately, the drop did not break his neck and he died a slow death from a combination of strangulation and blood loss (195). Robert J. Torrez in his article on lynchings and legal hangings in the NM Territory notes that professional hangmen were not used in New Mexico and that executions were carried out  “…by understandably nervous public officials who frequently bungled the task….”


The 20th Century Comes to Questa

Our story now becomes less detailed. The end of the Indian raids and of the gold rush changed life in Questa to a more cyclical everyday existence of farming, livestock raising, work at the moly mine, churchgoing—the cycle of birth, life, and death. Much of this life is within memories of the older residents of Questa and details of life in Questa during the early to mid-twentieth century are provided by Tessie Ortega in the following sections.  There are a few items of note to be covered from the written record though.

The first of these concerns action taken against the discrimination suffered by Hispanics that was evident in many of the early descriptions of Rio Colorado by non-Hispanic travelers visiting the area. The influx of new people in search of gold and silver or coming in on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad underscored this problem even more. The result was the Sociedad Proteccion Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (The Society for the Mutual Protection of the United Workers), better known as the SPMDTU. The group first formed in 1900 in Antonito, Colorado. The rules of the society, which was a fraternal order providing health and life insurance for its members, were based on the Society for the Mutual Protection through Law and and on the regulations of the Minor Order of St. Francis. The founders felt that by organizing formally, they could counteract the discrimination that Hispanics were experiencing. The society spread to San Luis in 1902. By 1915, the idea of the society had spread to New Mexico and it reached a membership of 430 people (196). In Questa, the SPMDTU first occupied a building next to the church; later it moved to a building near the intersection of Rtes 522 and 38, a building that the organization still owns. By 1971, the organization had 1096 members. The Questa chapter existed mainly for the insurance aspects of the organization.

Despite such mutual aid groups, this discrimination continued through the early part of the 20th century. In 1936, the Governor of Colorado tried to stop Spanish speakers from coming into southern Colorado and checkpoints for this purpose were at Fort Garland and Antonito (197). Many Colorado restaurants had “White Trade Only” signs.

The members of the town acted early in the 1900s to protect their water rights. In the case of one of the acequia associations—The Cabresto Lake Irrigation Corporation—Melquiades Rael, Benito Luis Ortiz, Eulogio Rael, Francisco Borja Rael, and Jose Maria Cisneros acted to incorporate and get construction underway for a better system. In the February 13, 1902 articles of incorporation, they described their purpose “…to construct a canal commencing about 6 1/2 miles up the Cabresto River easterly from said Town of Questa, thence westerly down said stream to said Town and continuing there from easterly about 2 1/2 miles and appropriating the waters of the outlet of Cabresto Lake.” The dam at Cabresto Lake was approved by the Territorial Engineer Vernon I. Sullivan on April 10, 1908, and work on the dam was completed in January of 1910. Five ditches were approved by the Territorial Engineer on November 23, 1910. The cost for building the system was $15,000. This ditch association has a priority date of 1815, perhaps coinciding with the first settlement of this area. These water rights were re-registed July 30, 1952, for another 100 years. The corporation was legally extended on July 30, 1956 (see note 204).

Isolated as Questa was, the town was not spared during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918–1919. Worldwide, one in five people got the flu and over 21 million died. The first case appeared in Camp Funston, at Fort Riley, Kansas, on March 8, 1918, and the disease spread throughout the world in three waves, with the second between September and December 1918 being the most devastating. Most of the dead fell into the 20- to 40-year age group, thus decimating the strongest people in the community (198). The pandemic seems to have swept through the Questa area between September 28 and October 5th of 1918 (199). On October 11, 1918, all schools, churches, and other public places were ordered closed and people were required to wear gauze masks in public. The November 29, 1918 issue of La Revista de Taos (200) lists the 50 or so names of the flu deaths in Questa and Cerro reported by the quarantine official, M.S. Trujillo of Questa. No age group was spared, with the deaths ranging from infants to the very old. About 28% of all Americans were affected by the flu and about 675,000 died. In New Mexico there were 50,000 cases and 5,000 people died. New Mexico was one of the last states to get the flu, and it was suspected that it came into the state with a circus that arrived in Carlsbad on October 8, 1918. Rural New Mexicans towns were hit much harder than the urban areas. Other diseases periodically struck the town, and typhoid existed in Questa until the 1940s.

Questa celebrated its centennial in 1935, and Jose Praxedes Rael (1895–1976) commemorated the event with his poem “The Founders of Questa.”

During the Great Depression, small villages such as Questa were able to survive because of extended families working together. In addition, the Works Progress Administration under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program provided construction projects in Questa—construction of the road to the Fish Hatchery, the road to Red River,  and the La Cienega school. These programs also brought to Questa the Writer’s Project that recorded much of the oral history of the area extant at the time, and people like John Collier documented daily life in Questa through photography. But old ideas died hard, as revealed in the following description of Questa written by Collier in 1943 (201):

“At this time [1943], Questa had the most despicable reputation with anyone else. So Father Smith decided to do something. One day he got an axe and starting tearing down the bridge, the only way out of town. When people saw what he was doing, they were furious. They said, “What are you doing that for?” And Father Smith said, “If I don’t tear down the bridge, it’ll fall down.” The people said, “In that case, we’ll help you.” So they tore it down and then they realized what they had done. “Now we can’t get out of town,” they said. Father Smith said, “I guess you’ll have to build another one.” And they did.

Father Smith lived in a house on top of a hill where the Parish Hall is now located. From there he could see everything that was going on in town—who was fighting, who was hanging out in bars, and so forth. One day he had a police siren mounted on top of his car. Whenever he saw a disturbance, he’d turn on the siren and go down. He said to them, “Did you see it? Did you hear it? Then swallow it.” He succeeded in remodeling Questa. Two years later it won a prize for civil cooperation.”

As late as the 1940s and 1950s, Questa remained a sheepherding and grazing community with about 5000 sheep. Sheepherding has since declined for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact that sheep carry diseases that affect bighorn sheep. As a result, the U.S. Forest Service has been converting sheep permits to cattle permits (202).

Questa became incorporated on March 12, 1964, by approval of the Taos Board of County Commissioners (203). The first town election took place in July of 1948.

In 1974 the Cabresto Creek—Red River Adjudication began for the local acequias. This adjudication covers the Cabresto Lake Irrigation Association (which has a priority date of 1815), the Llano Community Ditch, four community ditches that take water from the Red River (Questa Citizens Ditch Association), the acequias that get water from West Latir Creek, and the Acequia Madre del Rito de La Lama. The purpose of the adjudication was to determine the extent and validity of the water rights and how they would be affected by a reclamation project. These claims were heard by as Special Master of the U.S. District Court in 1990 and some disputed claims were validated,  but a final decree has not been issued by the Court for all claims (204). (The Cabresto Lake Irrigation Corporation claim was adjudicated in June of 2002.)

Questa was invaded by “marauders” from the north one last time in 1978.  Two motorcycle gangs—the Night Fliers of Liberal, Kansas, and the Sons of Silence from Colorado Springs—came into town over the July 4th holiday weekend and caused enough commotion to force the local businesses to close in Red River and Questa. The armed bikers then began threatening Questa residents and stopping cars, and there were reports of shots being fired; also there were reports that the bikers threatened to “burn this Mexican town down.” Local police led the bikers to a campground outside of Questa. Men from Questa were then involved in a shootout with the bikers on Route 38. State Senator C.B. Trujillo stood behind the actions of the Questaños saying they were “doing the only American thing”  and that the response was “the only American reaction you can take when you see your community destroyed.” In the end, four bikers were wounded and two Questa men were arrested (205).

Questa today is the sum of many influences—medieval, religious, Spanish, Native American, Anglo, and French. Played against a dramatic landscape of mountains, valleys, mesas, and volcanic terranes, these influences have been combined and adapted to form a traditional northern New Mexican village, where faith, family, and interdependence have blended with the water and the land. Questaños live on land that was defended by their ancestors—against maurauders and against drought. In many ways Questa remains this traditional Hispanic village of northern New Mexico. Perhaps it is less well known than the High Road villages of Truchas, Chimayo, and Peñasco; nonetheless Questa remains authentic and unique.


References and notes

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132., accesssed 11/14/02; Richmond, Patricia Joy. Trail to Disaster: The Route of John C. Fremont’s Fourth Expedition from Big Timbers, Colorado, through the San Luis Valley, to Taos, New Mexico. University Press of Colorado, Colorado Historical Society, Denver, CO, 1989, 1990


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135. Perkins, James E. Tom Tobin: Frontiersman. Herodotus Press,  Pueblo West, CO, 1999.


136. Richmond, Patricia Joy. Trail to Disaster: The Route of John C. Fremont’s Fourth Expedition from Big Timbers, Colorado, through the San Luis Valley, to Taos, New Mexico. University Press of Colorado, Colorado Historical Society, Denver, CO, 1989, 1990


136. U.S. Congress, Senate Executive Documents 24, 11-13.


137. Abel, Annie H. (ed.). The Official Correspondence of James A. Calhoun while agent at Santa Fe and Superintendant of Indian Affairs in New Mexico. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1915; Office of Indian Affairs. The Official Correspondence of James S. Calhoun while Indian agent at Santa Fe and superintendent of Indian affairs in New Mexico, collected from the files of the Indian Office and edited under its direction, by Annie Heloise Abel. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1915.


138. LeCompte, Janet. “Charles Autobees.” In The Colorado Magazine XXXIV (Jul 1957), pp 163-180, (Oct 1957), pp 274-289; XXXV (Apr 1958) pp 139-153, (Oct 1958) pp 303-308; XXXVI (Jan 1959), pp 58-66, (Jul 1959) pp 202-213.


138-142. McCall, Col. George Archibald. New Mexico in 1850: A Military View. Robert W. Frazier (ed.). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.


139. Murphy, Lawrence R. The United Staters Army in Taos, 1847-1852, New Mexico Historical Review XLVIII, no. 1, January 1972, pp. 33-48; also see Bender 1934; Murphy 1972.


143. Treaty with the Apache, July 1, 1852. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School., accessed 11/2/02.


144–147. Office of Indian Affairs. The Official Correspondence of James S. Calhoun while Indian agent at Santa Fe and superintendent of Indian affairs in New Mexico, collected from the files of the Indian Office and edited under its direction, by Annie Heloise Abel. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1915.


148. Bennett, James A. Forts and Forays: A Dragoon in New Mexico 1850-1856. C.E. Brooks and F.D. Reeve, eds. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1948, 1966.


149. Horn, Calvin. New Mexico’s Troubled Years: The Story of the Early Territorial Governors. Horn & Wallace Publishers, Albuquerque, 1963.


149a. Brewerton, G. Douglass. Incidents of travel in New Mexico. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine VIII(47), April 1854., accessed 8/5/02.


150. Murphy, Lawrence R. The United States Army in Taos, 1847–1852, New Mexico Historical Review XLVIII, no. 1, January 1972, pp. 33-48.


151. Time event chart of the San Luis Valley. The San Luis Valley Historian 1(2), 4-5, 1969.


152. Taos County Records. Indian Depredations 1856-1889, Register of Strays 1858-1899. Box 16757. New Mexico State Center for Records and Archives.


153 .Century of Lawmaking, U.S. Congression Documents and Debates, 1774-1873, Statutes at Large, 34th Congress, 1st session, 1856.,a ccessed 9/28/02.


154. Speech of Hon. M.A. Otero. Congressional Globe, House of Representatives, 35th Congress, 2nd session, February 21, 1859., accessed 9/28/02.


155. Perkins, James E. Tom Tobin: Frontiersman. Herodotus Press,  Pueblo West, CO, 1999.


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158. Lecompte, Janet. Charles Autobees. In LeRoy R Hafen, The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, volume 4, pp 21-37, The Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale, CA, 1966.


159. Jones, Charles Irving. William Kroenig, New Mexico Pioneer. Part I, New Mexico Historical Review XIX, no. 3, July 1944, pp. 185-224; Part II, New Mexico Historical Review XIX, no. 4, October 1944, pp. 271-311.


160. Taos County Records, 1853-1869, Book A-1. Serial Number 16701, pp. 109-110. “John Baptiste Beaubien to Solomon Beuthner.’


161. Tobias, Henry J. A History of the Jews in New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque,  1990


162. Treaty with Utes, September 11, 1855. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School., accessed 11/2/02.


163. Parish, William. Merchant Banking in Early New Mexico. Mid-Continent Banker 51(7); 1955, cited in Papers of Floyd S. Fierman, University of Arizona Library Manuscript Collection, SJA 003.


164 Tobias, Henry J. A History of the Jews in New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque,  1990, p 155.


165. Kingsbury, John M. Trading in Santa Fe: John M. Kingsbury’s correspondence with James Josiah Webb 1853-1861. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, 1996.


166. NARA, RG 98, letters received, Need to Cutler, 29 September 1863, cited in Ackerly, Neal W. A Navajo diaspora: the long walk to Hweeldi. Dos Rio Consultants Inc., Silver City, NM, 1998.


166–171 Ackerly, Neal W. A Navajo diaspora: the long walk to Hweeldi. Dos Rio Consultants Inc., Silver City, NM, 1998.


167. NARA, RG 98, letters received, Need to Cutler, May 1, 1865, cited in Ackerly.


168. NARA, RG 98, letters received, Beuthner to Carleton, November 17, 1863, cited in Ackerly.


169. NARA, RG 98, letters received, Carson to Carleton, April 12, 1865, cited in Ackerly.


171. NARA, RG 98, letters received, Carleton to Doolittle, November 22, 1865, cited in Ackerly.


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174. Giese, D.F. (ed) My Life with the Army in the West: Memoirs of James E. Farmer, 1858-1898. 1994.


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175. Brown, L.B. “Los Comanches.”  WPA New Mexico Writers’ Project, April 1937;


176. LDS Archives of Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Costilla—Sacred Heart, Burials 1865-1955, Box #59 LDS; LDS Archives of Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Costilla—Sacred Heart, Marriages 1865-1937, Box #59 LDS; M. Ochoa, Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, personal communication.


177. Colvile, Ruth Marie. The Sangre de Cristo Trail. The San Luis Valley Historian, vol III, no. 1, 1971, pp. 11-33.


178. Carl Heflin Collection, The Chile Line, The San Luis Valley Historian X, 7-10, 1978.


179. Ebright, Malcolm. Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico. University of New Mexico, Press, Albuquerque. NM Land Grant Series, John B. Van Ness, Series Editor, 1994; Julian, George W. “Land Stealing in New Mexico.” In The North American Review 145 (368): July 1887.


180. Canon del Rio Colorado land grant, SANMI roll 22:447 SG 93, Surveyor General’s Office. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe.


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183. San Antonio del Rio Colorado land grant, SANMI roll 33:521 case 4, Private Land Claims Court. New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe.


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185. White, James W. The history of Taos County post offices. 1997


186. Looney, Ralph. Haunted Highways: The Ghost Towns of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1968.


187. Sherman, James E. and Barbara H. Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico. Univesity of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1975.


188. U.S. Forest Service—Carson National Forest, USDA. Placer Creek mining history trail; Pioneer Canyon trail, mining history of Red River.


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194. Particulars of the killing of Redding, for which the Supreme Court says John Conley will have to hand. January 25th, 1906, unknown newspaper.

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195. Torrez, Robert J. Capital punishment in New Mexico. La Cronica de Nuevo Mexico, issue 55, November 2001. Historical Society of New Mexico; Torrez, Robert J. Myth of the hanging tree: lynchings and legal hangings in Territorial New Mexico. La Cronica de Nuevo Mexico, issue 44, January, 1997.


196. Sanchez, Frederick C. A history of the S.P.T.M.D.T.U. The San Luis Valley Historian, vol. III, no. 1, winter 1971, pp. 1-15.


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198. Daniels, Rod. In Search of an Enigma: “The Spanish Lady”. National Institute for Medical Research, 1998.


199. Lawrence, E. Spanish ‘flu keeps its secrets. Nature Science Update, 1999., accessed 5/22/03; Melzer, Richard. A Dark and Terrible Moment: The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 in New Mexico. New Mexico Historical Review 57:213-236, 1982; Spanish flu 1918-1919;, accessed 5/22/03; The Influenza Pandemic of 1918., accessed 5/22/03.


200. La Revista de Taos, November 29, 1918.


201. Wood, Nancy. Heartland New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1989, p. 82


202. Hedlund, Eric J. Sheepherder fights to keep grazing permit. The Taos News September 14, 2002, p. A12.


203. Questa incorporating—fifteen years ago. The Taos News, March 22, 1979, p. A4.


204. “Life Along the Capillaries—Questa’s Ageless Acequias.” In Dialogue—Agriculture at the Crossroads. The NM Water Dialogue/Western Network and the Natural Resources Center at the University of New Mexico, August 1996, pp. 4-7; Cabresto Lake Irrigation Corporation records.


205. Blair, Billie. Events recalled in Questa, RR area shooting. The Taos News July 13, 1978, pp. A1-A2; Police puzzled by shootout at Questa. The Taos News, July 6, 1978, p. A1; Questa Council meeting, July 10, 1978.



Additional Reading

Abert, Lieutenant James Willian. Expedition to the Southwest: An 1845 Reconnaissance of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1999

Arny, W.F.M. Indian agent in New Mexico: the journal of special agent W.F.M. Arny, 1870. Stagecoach Press, Santa Fe, 1967.

Bhappu, R.B., Reynolds, D.H., Roman, R.J., and Schwab, D.A. Hydrometallurgical Recovery of Molybdenum from the Questa Mine. Circular 81, State Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources, Socorro, NM, 1965.

Brown, Lorin W. Hispano Folklife of New Mexico: The Lorin W. Brown Federal Writers’ Project Manuscripts, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1978.

Brown, Lorin W. Village Life and Lore. Federal Writers’ Project in New Mexico.

Cobos, R. A Dictionary of New Mexican and Southern Colorado Spanish. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 1983.

Coyner, David H. The lost trappers. With an introduction by David J.Weber. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1970.

Davis, W.W.H. El Gringo: New Mexico and Her People. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. (Reprint of “Bison Book,” Harper, New York, 1867), 1982.

De Buys, William and Alex Harris. River of traps: a village life. University of New Mexico Press in association with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Albuquerque, 1990.

Espinosa, A.M. (J.M. Espinosa, ed.) The Folklore of Spain in the American Southwest: Traditional Spanish Folk Literature in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1985.

Exploring the American West, 1803-1879. Handbook 116. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington DC,, 1982.

Fremont, John Charles, and Mary L. Spence, Expeditions of John Charles Fremont: Travels from 1848 to 1854. University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Hafen, LeRoy R. (ed) Ruxton of the Rockies. University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1950, p 196.

Hafen, LeRoy R. Fur Traders, Trappers, and Mountain Men of the Upper Missouri. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1995 (Arthur H. Clark Company, 1965-1972).

Heap, G.W. Central route to the Pacific with related material on railroad explorations and Indian affairs by Edward F. Beale, Thomas H. Benton, Kit Carson, and E.A. Hitchcock, and other documents, 1853-1854. LeRoy Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, eds. Arthur H. Clark Co., Glendale, CA, 1957.

Heap, Gwinn Harris. Central Route to the Pacific: from the valley of the Mississippi to California. Lippincott, Grambo, and Co., Philadelphia, 1854

Horgan, Paul. The Heroic Triad: Essays in the Social Energies of Three Southwestern Cultures. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1970, 1994.

Horgan, Paul. The Heroic Triad: Essays in the Social Energies of Three Southwestern Cultures. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1955.

Jenny Vincent Trio. Spanish-American Dance Tunes of New Mexico, WPA 1936-1937. Cantemos Records, San Cristobal, NM, 2000.

Jones, Oakah L. Jr. Los Paisanos: Spanish settlers on the northern frontier of New Spain. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1979.

Jones, Oakah L., Jr. Los Paisanos: Spanish Settlers on the Northern Frontier of New Spain. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1979. 

Lamadrid, E.R. “La Musica Nuevo Mexicano: Religion and Secular Music.” Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Lamadrid, E.R. “Nuevo Mexicanos of the Upper Rio Grande: Culture, History and Society.” Juan B. Rael Collection, Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Lamadrid, E.R., “Hispano Folk Theater in New Mexico.” Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Lavendar, David. Bent’s Fort. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln,  1954

Loeffler, Jack. La Musica de los Viejitos: Hispano Folk Music of the Rio Grande del Norte. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1999.

Lyckman, Ernst. A Review of the Ranch, Trading Post, Mill and Distillery of Simeon Turley, Canoncito, Arroyo Hondo, Taos County, New Mexico 1830-1847. In Ayer y Hoy en Taos

Magoffin, Susan Shelby. Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico. Yale University Press,, 1926, 1962, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1982.

Marceau, Helen, Hauskins, Eunice, and Lucero-White, Aurora. Folk Dances of the Spanish Colonials of New Mexico.

McKinlay, P.F. Geology of Questa Quadrangle, Taos County, New Mexico, Bulletin 53. State Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources, NM Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, NM, 1957.

McNierney, Michael. Taos 1847: The Revolt in Contemporary Accounts. Johnson Publishing Company, Boulder, CO, 1980

Moorhead, Max L. The Apache Frontier: Jacob Ugarte and Spanish-Indian Relations in Northern New Spain, 1769-1791. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1968. 

Pettit, Jan. Utes: The Mountain People, revised ed. Johnson Books, Boulder, CO, 1990.

Salaz, Ruben O. Land Grant History from New Mexico: A Brief Multi-History 

Simmons, Marc, ed. On the Santa Fe Trail. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 1986. 

Simmons, Marc. Coronado’s Land: Daily Life in Colonial New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1991. 

Simmons, Marc. Ranchers, Ramblers, & Renegades: True Tales of Territorial New Mexico. Ancient City Press, Santa Fe, 1984. 

Simmons, Marc. Spanish Pathways: Readings in the History of Hispanic New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2001. 

Simmons, Marc. Spanish Pathways: Readings in the History of Hispanic New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2001. 

Spears, B. American Adobes: Rural Houses of Northern New Mexico. Ancient City Press, Santa Fe, 1986. 

Steele, Thomas J. Folk and Church in New Mexico. The Hulbert Center for Southwest Studies, The Colorado College, Colorado Springs, 1993. 

Usner, Don J. Sabino’s Map: Life in Chimayo’s Old Plaza. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 1995. 

Weigle, Marta, and Peter White. The Lore of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1988.

Weigle, Marta. New Mexicans in Cameo and Camera. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1985.

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