The Interesting History of Colorado’s Oldest Town
Ever since being established as a territory back in 1861, Colorado has become somewhat of a destination for people all across the country. Whether they were looking for gold or trying to get in on the burgeoning tech scene, Colorado has seemingly always had a rush of people looking to get in on the action.
However, Colorado’s oldest active town has a history that dates further back before the state was even a territory of the United States. Located in the southern part of the state lies the small town of San Luis, Colorado's oldest continuously inhabited town.
Before San Luis, Colorado Had Been Inhabited by Native Americans for Millennia
Before we talk about the history of San Luis, we should first dive into the fact that Colorado had been inhabited by Native Americans for about 12,000 years or more before it ever gained statehood.
The first people to arrive in Colorado were big game hunters, and from there, the rich history of Native American tribes who lived here began. Tribes included the Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Apache, Shoshone, Comanche, Kiowa, and Navajo to name just a few.
With this being said, one could easily point to places like Mesa Verde being Colorado’s first town. Created by Puebloans, the preserved villages carved out of the cliffs were created as far back as 1,400 years ago, well before San Luis. However, San Luis’ distinction as the oldest continuous community in Colorado deserves a deeper dive regardless.
San Luis, Colorado, Was First Established in 1851 as a Part of a Mexican Land Grant Program.
The middle of the 19th century saw a turbulent time for the region, with three different countries fighting for land in the western part of the land: Mexico, Spain, and the United States.
In this time, Mexico encouraged settlers to move to the Sangre de Cristo Mountain region in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado with the aptly named Sangre de Cristo Land Grant in 1844.
The grant was owned by a man named Carlos Beaubien, who encouraged 50 largely Hispanic families to move to the San Luis Valley from the New Mexico territory in 1851. This marks San Luis as the oldest active settlement in all of Colorado.
To This Day, San Luis, Colorado, Remains a Bastion for the History of Colorado
Located in the picturesque San Luis Valley, the town of San Luis remains relatively small, with a population of just 613 people. However, its role in the history of Colorado remains hugely impactful.
For one, it is home to what is considered to be the first ever public works project in Colorado. The first settlers of San Luis all pitched in together to create an irrigation system called “The People’s Ditch”, which is still in use to this day, irrigating over 2,000 acres of crops.
Not only is it home to Colorado’s oldest church, but it also has a popular tourist attraction called the “Shrines of the Stations of the Cross”.
While it may not be the first town in Colorado’s storied history, the community of San Luis’ dedication to their past and place within the state’s story is remarkable in its own right.
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