History and Culture of the San Luis Valley

The area comprising the SAN LUIS VALLEY and RIO GRANDE NATIONAL FOREST has a rich and colorful history.

Native American Paleo-Indian cultures, beginning with the Clovis and Folsom Complexes (11,000 years ago) were the first know inhabitants of the area. These and the following cultures of the Archaic Stage and the Ute Indians lived by hunting animals and gathering native plants found in the area.

The Spanish began exploring the San Luis area during the late 1500’s. In an attempt to get people to settle the area, Mexico established numerous land grants within the Spanish territory. In 1770, Don Juan Baustista de Anza traveled through the San Luis Valley and over Poncha Pass in attempt to crush the Comanches who threatened the Spanish settlers.

The valley remained largely unsettled until the area became the territory of the United States around 1850.

The first permanent settlement in Colorado, known as San Luis de la Culebra, was established in 1851 on the Rio Culebra River on the Sangre de Cristo Grant.

To protect the early settlers in the valley, Fort Massachusetts was established, north of San Luis, in 1852.

La Loma de San Jose, near present Del Norte, was first inhabited by Hispanic families in 1859 that left the Santa Fe area. Irrigation ditches were constructed and farms established. More extensive farming activities began in the 1880’s near Hooper and the area near Monte Vista where large-scale irrigation systems were built.

More: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/riogrande/learning/history-culture/?cid=stelprdb5172158