Along Hwy 17 from Antonito to Chama

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Villages of Conejos County
Las Mesitas, Conejos, Antonito

San Luis Valley Art Projects
From France to Conejos
Las Mesitas - "the flattened hills"
Migration of Spanish speaking settlers from New Mexico in the 1850s, primarily from Abiquiu and Santa Cruz, settled this area.   First settled was the town of Conejos on the Conejos River where the first church in Colorado, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was built in 1856.   The area was still part of the New Mexico territory ceded to the US by Mexico just a few years before.   The area would not become part of the Colorado Territory until another 10 years.

Before the time of these permanent settlements, Spaniards, in the mid 1700s, petitioned the Spanish crown for a land grant to farm, raise livestock, trap, and mine.  They were given the area now known as the Rio Grande and the San Luis Valley.   Nearly ninety years later in 1833, the Mexican Government now independent from Spain was petitioned to grant to certain individuals land along the Conejos River.  The land was partitioned, recorded, and dated in Taos, New Mexico.  However, it took several years more to establish permanent settlements due to the Navajo in the area who chased them back to New Mexico.   In spite of this, early settlers did establish ranches and small villages, even as far north as Del Norte and La Garita.

Las Mesitas's San Isadore Church ruin which was destroyed by fire in 1975. Many small villages in this area began to be established.  San Rafael, Mogote, Las Mesitas, El Cedro Redondo, San Antonio, Ortiz, and Plaza de Guadalupe later renamed Conejos, sprang up around 1854 settled by Spanish speaking families from Northern New Mexico, many having brought sheep with them.   Many of these areas became sheep ranching centers.  

But Mormon migration also brought settlers to this area.  In 1854, Silas Sanford Smith, who became the first president of the San Luis Stake of Zion in Conejos County, surveyed the site of Sanford for his Mormon colony.   In 1877 John Morgan led Mormons to Conejos County and they settled around Manassa and Sanford.  They came from a camp established earlier in Pueblo, Colorado where in 1846, before the Mexican War, they had built a Mormon log meeting house.

Members of the Penitente Brotherhood settled in Lobatos, a tiny village 3 miles east of Antonio.  There they built the first "morada" in the San Luis Valley.   A "morada' is a meeting house for the brotherhood.

The town of Capulin (chokecherry in Spanish) west of present day La Jara was one of the earliest permanent settlements made.   Many came from the Ojo Caliente area of New Mexico led by Hipolito Romero.  There were some Jewish and Syrian families who also made their home here.   Capulin's most famous citizen, artist Eppie Archuleta, has her weavings displayed in the Smithsonian.

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From France to Conejos

From Auvergne in France, an area somewhat similar to the Rio Grande and San Luis valley area in Colorado, with its hills, deep gorges, and hot springs, a young priest was recruited in 1839 to come to America as a missionary.   Father Machebeuf sailed from France to New York with his friend and fellow priest, Jean Baptiste Lamy.   Father Lamy would become the Vicar Apostolic of New Mexico and Arizona headquartered in Santa Fe, while Father Machebeuf would become Vicar Apostolic over Colorado and Utah with headquarters in Denver.   And the recruiter, John M. Odin, later became bishop of Galveston and archbishop of New Orleans.

In 1850, they sailed together down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans.  This was only two years after the war with Mexico and the US government was trying to restore order in the southwest territories. An army escort led them over the plains of Texas and from El Paso, they followed the Rio Grande River route north to Santa Fe..

According to a letter written by Machebeuf, the residents of Santa Fe gave them a cool reception and the clergy already in place, not wanting to serve under the Frenchman, eventually left New Mexico.  He described, however, a different greeting from 8,000 Native Americans in costume and having constructed triumphal arches.  The protestant ministers, he described, as "filled with rage and envy".

Priests in Taos and Albuquerque challenged the reforms initiated by Lamy which were eventually appealed to Rome.  Lamy sent Father Machebeuf to discipline rebellious priests around the area.

Meanwhile, in their native France, through a coup d'etat, Napoleon III gained the throne.   Mexico, having gained independence from Spain just 30 years before, was in the throws of strife attempting to establish a liberal constitution which would become war in a few years.

This same year of 1852, Santa Fe became a diocese and Lamy requested Jesuit missionaries to help him minister in this frontier.   Father Machebeuf served as pastor in Albuquerque.

During the next two years, Mexican settlers made their way up the Conejos River.  A mule pulled a cart carring an image of the Patroness of Mexico, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.  Legend has it that the mule stopped and would go no further.   It was taken as a sign that the settlement was to be built there.  It was called Guadalupe Village but later because of raids, was moved to higher ground and renamed Conejos.

The first grist mill in Colorado was built here and the church was completed in 1857 and named Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.  Father Machebeuf said the first Mass.  The second parrish was established two years later in San Luis and Machebeuf served as pastor over all the missions in New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern Colorado.

By 1860, Machebeuf moved into the position of Vicar Apostalic over Colorado and Utah.  He made a trip from Santa Fe to Denver to establish St. Mary in Denver, but on the way made a stop in Conejos.



At the same time that Machebeuf said the first mass in Denver, Benito Juarez was fighting those opposed to the recently established Mexican Constitution.  The opposition included the military and the clergy.   He won the battle and moved into Mexico City and was elected President.  Soon after, he suspended payments on the national debt for 2 years, confiscated the lands owned by the Catholic Church which constituted about 35% of Mexican land, abolished the inquisition courts, and expelled the Archbishop of Mexico.

The American Civil War was also beginning.

Within six months, Spain, France, and Britain decided to launch a joint occupation of the Mexican gulf in order to force repayment of Mexico's debts.   They landed in Veracruz in December 1861 to begin deliberations.   On May 5 of the next year, Juarez had a victory.   Spain and Britain withdrew but the French troops under Napoleon III remained.  The French occupation violated the Monroe Doctrine but the US was too involved in their own war to help at the time.  Within a year the French moved in to an evacuated capital, set up a provisional government, and brought in Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph von Habsburg of Austria to accept the Mexican crown.   He arrived in Mexico City in June of 1864.

When the US Civil War came to an end, the US sent arms and troops to Mexico to help them in their fight.   Within a year, Napoleon III withdrew his troops.  Juarez and the united Mexican forces resumed their campaign and within six months Maximillian surrendered, was tried and executed.  Juarez was returned as president of Mexico.  Among his first acts was to expel the Spanish ambassador along with 200 priests.

But in the new territories of the US, Bishop Lamy's request for Jesuit missionaries was answered and five priests were sent from Naples, Italy arriving in August of 1867.   More missions were established in Southern Colorado and within two years the Conejos church became the mother church of 25 missions.   Father Machebeuf traveled to each one for their feast days.  Soon the Jesuit priests took over all responsibilities for the church in Conejos.

That was 1871.  In 1872, in Mexico, President Juarez died of apoplexy.  Some believed he was poisoned.  The Jesuit Order was banished from Mexico the next year.

In 1877, General Profirio Diaz became the new head of Mexico and more friendly with the clergy and conservative elements.  He ruled Mexico until 1911, shortly before the Mexican Revolution.

This same year, the Italian Jesuits from Naples, at the invitation of Archbishop Lamy, opened a college in Las Vegas, New Mexico.   Five years later, they established another school west of Denver in Morrison at the urging of Denver's first bishop, Joseph Machebeuf, and the Colorado Territorial Governor Gilpin.  The location would be at a resort the bishop bought from former governor John Evans.  The college was called Sacred Heart.

Five years later in 1883, the college was reestablished at a new site in Denver.  The Las Vegas College was closed and this new school would later be called Regis University.

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San Luis Valley Art Projects

Antonito     Conejos     La Jara     Capulin     Bountiful     San Luis     Mogote Village    



  • U.S. Post Office Murals

    • Ojo De Dios (Outside)
    • American Eagle (Interior Mural)

  • Main Street Murals

    • History of The Conejos River Region
    • Miracle at Tepeyac - Nuestra Senora Del Valle De San Luis
    • Quetzalcoatl De Nuevo Aztlan - the Great Water Serpent of the Rio Grande
    • Mimbres Rabbit - Conejo for Conejos
    • Mimbres Trout - Truchas De Luz
    • Cattle Drive Along the Cumbres and Toltec

  • Narrow Gauge Café Murals

    • Sun/Eagle/Aspen
    • The Box Canyon of the Rio San Antonio"

  • Narrow Gauge Motel Murals

    • The Cumbres And Toltec Railroad - Four Seasons

  • Cristo El Rey Church Murals

    • Dove of The Holy Spirit" - Altar Mural
    • Nine etched glass windows

  • People’s Drug Store Murals

    • The Main Street of Antonito - 1911
    • Hayfield in the Bosque
    • San Antonio Mountain

  • Antonito High School Murals

    • Two Trojan Horse Designs
    • Trojan Warrior
    • The Four Seasons" (Cafeteria/meeting Rooms)
    • The Judgement of Paris" (Entry)
    • The Battle Between Hector And Achilles"

  • Four Silos The History of The San Luis Valley


  • U.S. Post Office Murals
    • The Old Plaza at Conejos
    • For the 125th anniversary of that Post Office
    • The Old Jaramillo House

La Jara

  • U.S. Post Office Murals
    • The Conejos High Country

  • High Valley Insurance Building Murals
    • The High Valley

  • Valdez Law Offices Murals
    • Shepherd’s Sunrise

  • U.S. West Phone Building Murals
    • The Old Platoroline Terrace Reservoir

  • La Jara Trading Post Murals
    • The Wild Horses

  • Probvost-le Febre Wool Warehouse Murals
    • The Rams

  • Catholic Church Murals
    • Adoration of the Magi

  • Long Branch Saloon Murals
    • Animal Map Alaska to Guatemala

  • Centauri High School Murals
    • Peregrine Falcon (Entry)


  • Centauri Junior High School Gym Mural
    • Peregrine Falcons (Entry)


  • Town Hall Mural
    • Park Jack Dempsey Portrait

  • Manassa Grade School Mural
    • The Pinnacles of the Conejos

  • Main Street Murals
    • Jack Dempsey in 1921 (Homage to George Bellows)
    • America’s Farmers and Ranchers Feed the World
    • Hummingbirds and Columbine Clock

  • Mormon Pioneer Days Rodeo Grounds Murals
    • Running Rodeo Animals (Fence)
    • Rodeo Animals (Arena)
    • Rodeo Animals (Entry Gates)
    • Bronco Busters (Stadium)


  • Silo Mural
    • Whooping Cranes

  • Abe’s Place Mural
    • The Evening Star


  • Conejos Propane Co. Mural
    • San Luis Valley Sunrise

San Luis

  • U.S. Post Office Mural
    • San Luis - Colorado’s Oldest Town

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