Celebración San Luis
150 Years
Santa Ana & Santiago

July 25 thru July 29, 2001

The residents of San Luis celebrated the 150th anniversary of the community. Celebrants from all over Colorado traveled to San Luis to enjoy the numerous events scheduled over five days. There were musicians, art shows, a pageant, a parade, food booths, and religious observances. The Queen of the Fiesta, Vanessa Angelica Deveraux, was recognized during the celebration. Special religious events were held at Sangre de Cristo Church in San Luis. Father Pat Valdez conducted the services. The entire community was involved with this celebration. The painting on the cover of the publication was done by Evelyn Valdez Martinez (prints may still be available).

El Escritorio was the publisher of the event official publication. The following articles are excerpts from that publication.

From the Editor
Charlene Garcia Simms

If I had to describe the last month, the words full circle would come to mind. I was born in San Luis right around the bend in the road going to Garcia where Dr.Howard Tozer had his office. As a child of about three I remember going back to Dr. Tosher's to have stitches sewn on my hand after my cousin Debbie and I had a tussle over a cup at my gramma Carlota's house in Garcia. Each time I pass San Luis I look at my hand and the stitches are still visible, so although Dr. Tozer's house has been renovated it is still vivid in my mind as a doctor's office.

In the last two weeks, I was fortunate to interview two of the best teachers I ever had: Evan Valdez, who instilled in me a love for writing, and Amos Bernal, who instilled a love for literature. As  I tried to call them Evan and Amos I couldn't so I reverted back to Mr. Valdez and Mr. Bernal. This is the kind of respect I grew up with in the treatment of our teachers and our elders. We referred to our elders as mano or mana before their first names as a term of respect.

Back in Junior High Mr. Bernal taught a mini-workshop in art which my best friend, Evelyn Valdez (today Martinez by marriage), and I took. I knew early on that art was not my calling, but Mr. Bernal and I could see that Evelyn would one day become a great artist. Proof of that is in the cover of this magazine and the essence of San Luis that she captures in the fine details of her painting such as the Culebra River and the Acequia which represent sustenance; the vega (commons) which provides grazing for horses, cattle and sheep; the chamiso that still provides remedios; the trees that provide shade from the heat; and so much more. And, what about the famous lettering on the mesa, San Luis, the Oldest Town in Colorado.  How often did many of us go up there and paint the rocks to keep the message from fading so the moment we drove into town we knew we were home?

In San Luis it does not matter what you do, how much money you make, what you drive or where you live, to be accepted. What matters is your connection and respect for the land either through your roots or your actions. It was a pleasure talking to so many ancianos. Once they found out who my grandparents were they couldn't extend enough of their hospitality. I had the wonderful experience of going up to the Reposo with Priscilla Salazar Martinez, where we found her husband, Fernando, cooking lamb chops, potatoes and calabazitas con maize over a hot fire. There, I met Annajo Sanchez who is a cousin through the Manchego side of my family. Many of you will relate to what I am talking about because that is what San Luis is, one big extended family.

No matter how long you have been away once you see those cottonwood trees on the north end of town or the vega on the south you instantly feel an aura of familiarity and warmth. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of San Luis we are celebrating much more than time. We are celebrating the people, events and traditions that have connected us through our heritage or history that bring us back time and again.  Enjoy!


The First Inhabitants of the
San Luis Valley

by Eduard Terrones Simms

Long before the arrival of European settlers, the San Luis Valley had been home to many Native Americans. At the time the European settlers came into the valley it was not only the home of  the Ute, but the Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa and the Navajo had also either lived in or visited the area. The Ute called themselves the Nuche, "The people," and were called the Yutas by the Spanish and Mountain People by the Pueblos.

In about 1300 the Ute people were nomadic peoples from the north who replaced the Anasazi in the high valleys of southwestern Colorado, and eventually occupied the San Luis Valley. Some sources estimate that the Utes have been in the area for over 10,000 years. The Ute of the sparsely populated Great Basin, are of the Uto-Aztecan language group which includes peoples from as far north as Idaho and as far south as central Mexico.

The Ute traveled for the most part in small groups and foraged for food and occasionally gathered as a larger group for communal sharing. By the mid-17th century the Ute had acquired the horse from the Spanish. The horse brought a revolution to the life style of the Ute in terms of extending trading, hunting and raiding areas. They became among the most proficient horsemen in the entire area, notwithstanding the Comanches, who had the best reputation for horsemanship.

After the United States invaded Mexico and took New Mexico, various conflicts took place between the Ute and the United States, the most significant being in 1879. The struggle of the Ute to maintain their land and lifestyle was a continuous battle, from the attacks by other Indian tribes, the arrival and conflicts with the Spanish, and the final defeat by the United States military. The battles the Ute fought were not just against armies, but against extreme hunger and misery caused by the loss of their economic base resulting from the encroaching settlers, hunters and the military.

A political theme of some non-Indians in Colorado was that "The Utes must go." These people had forgotten that the Ute had been allies with the United States in various other U. S. Indian Campaigns. The leader to finally mediate a peaceful resolution for the Ute was Ouray. Unfortunately, for the Ute, the year Ouray died, the Utes were pressured into giving up most of their land and settling for smaller parcels of land in Colorado and Utah.

Having been forced out of the San Luis Valley by the United States military and non-Indian settlers, the Ute still have a presence in the valley by place names, spirit and some people of Ute heritage. There is much oral tradition that tells of the interaction between the Ute and Hispano settlers, teaching and learning from each other about farming, herbs and other survival techniques. Some Utes became part of the Hispano's households as servants or slaves, and eventually, through miscegenation and marriage. It is hoped that the Nuche are welcome back to what was once their ancestral homeland, to share in the bountiful harvest of the beautiful San Luis Valley.

Sources: UTES, The Mountain People, Jan Pettit; The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, Richard K. Young, Oklahoma.


by Charlene Garcia Simms

Traditions are the heart of a culture; food, rituals, music, dancing, dichos, refranes, adivinanzas, folk medicine, folk tales, and folk art.  In San Luis, one can go through the calendar and run into several traditions each month. Some of the traditions are no longer practiced but the memories still linger. The year started off with los dias where early in the morning a group of men reminiscent of the medieval minstrels  went from home to home serenading people about the new year. The year ended with children going from house to house early on Christmas morning asking for mis Christmas, similar to trick or treat, except that by December layers of clothing had to be worn in the freezing  morning hours, so characteristic of  the San Luis Valley.

Most memorable was the week before Easter. On Holy Friday the Penitentes performed their rituals and sang their alabados. As the procession took place one could hear la careta de la muerte  with doña Sabastiana keeping everyone in line. She was a skeleton-like character there to remind us of our mortality.  Children were not allowed in the morada, the building where the Penitentes held their rituals. The buildings were made of adobe and most of them had no windows; they looked dark and mysterious. One time my cousins and I were sneaking around the corner of the morada, and mano Isaias came out flaying his arms wildly, scaring us half to death. Because the morada was banned to us children, we would soon be back sneaking around the corner again and that would keep everyone busy for at least one afternoon. For years the Penitente Brotherhood seemed to be dying  out  but recently they seem to be having a  revival.

Fortunately, the food served at lent has survived and one can still look forward to eating: lentils, spinach with onions, verdolagas, torta de huevo, chicos, chicharrones, alberjon, salmon patties, atole, panocha, home-made bread and galletitas, biscochitos, and sopa. One way you can tell the difference of where people were raised is what they call their food. There is a bread pudding that those of us who grew up in the San Luis Valley call sopa but others will argue that sopa is Spanish rice and bread pudding is called capirotada. Other foods from the past that are not as common in the present are burroniates (large and small intestines from lambs) morcillas (blood pudding); cabeza de cabrito cooked slowly in the oven- what a delicacy, sesos (brains), cuajada (something like cottage cheese). Interestingly, these specialties can still be found in the restaurants in the Basque region of Spain around  San Sebastian.

No doubt, that at the center of any function is food. In preparation for weddings, baptisms or funerals, food preparation took several days. For me, the most important thing I remember about food is that if I just dropped in at someone's house or if someone came to our house at dinner time, without hesitation, room was  made at the table for this guest and "Thanks be to God" was always given

 top | © 2001 El Escritorio