Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

San Juan Mountains named for Spanish explorer

Photo courtesy of John M. Motter The Chapson family, pictured here, settled on the West Fork of the San Juan River after an aborted attempt to claim land in the Oklahoma Land Rush. From this photo it is evident they used the materials they found around them to build fences.

Photo courtesy of John M. Motter
The Chapson family, pictured here, settled on the West Fork of the San Juan River after an aborted attempt to claim land in the Oklahoma Land Rush. From this photo it is evident they used the materials they found around them to build fences.

Who were the first Hispanics to travel across Pagosa Country and how long did it take them to get to Pagosa Country after Columbus first landed in the New World in 1492?

A touch of New Mexico history will put the 1865 Juan Maria Rivera exploration of southwestern Colorado in perspective. To the best of my knowledge, Rivera was the first Hispanic to enter Pagosa County. Others had entered the San Luis Valley earlier.

Probably the first Hispanics in New Mexico were four survivors of a 1527 shipwreck in Florida. Over an eight-year period, the four scratched their way across southern Texas and New Mexico and back to Mexico City. Among the four were Cabeza de Vaca and a black slave named Esteban. In 1541, Esteban led Coronado on an expedition intent on discovering the “lost cities of Ciblola,” whose citizens reportedly had much more gold than they could ever use.

Coronado crossed central New Mexico, spent his first winter in the San Juan Pueblo near Escalante, then journeyed eastward through the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, circled though southwestern Kansas, then returned home penniless. Some of Coronado’s men saw the Grand Canyon, but they never reached Pagosa Country.

Juan do Onate began Hispanic settlement in New Mexico in 1598, but in 1680, the natives ran the Spanish out of the territory.

New Mexico contains the oldest inhabited city in the United States, the Jemez Pueblo, and the oldest capital, Santa Fe, established in 1610.

Finally, faced with the threat of approaching French trappers, a New Mexico governor sent Rivera on his 1765 expedition into southwest Colorado and Utah to learn what was going on.

Rivera learned enough that one of his men helped guide the Franciscan Fathers, Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante on an expedition through southwestern Colorado which was intended to provide a road between Santa Fe and the catholic Mission at Monterrey, Calif.

The Dominguez/Escalante party passed through the southwestern corner of Archuleta County on their way to Utah. In Utah they circled around and returned to Santa Fe by way of Arizona. They never reached California.

Incidentally, the San Juan Mountains were named by the Spanish for explorer Juan Maria Rivera.

This story was posted on February 13, 2014.