Heritage & History

Conejos Country is located in the beautiful San Luis Valley. Read more about Our Towns.

There is evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years. Archeologists have identified dozens of ancient sites throughout the valley. As recently as 200 years ago, and as far back as 11,000 years, nomadic Native American hunters came to Conejos County in search of food, shelter, and medicines. In those days, before grazing cattle and trophy hunters, tall grasses covered most of the valley floor creating a perfect home for many varieties of wildlife.

Word of the abundant and beautiful lands of North America reached Europe and by the mid 1500’s, exploration of this magnificent wilderness began. This resulted in centuries of uneasy and sometimes violent relations between Native Americans, who hunted seasonally in the valley, and the newcomers. In 1742 a group of Spanish livestock producers, farmers, trappers and miners petitioned the Spanish Crown for a land grant in what is known today as the San Luis Valley. Surrounded by majestic mountains and the headwaters of the Rio Del Norte, it was a desirable area in which to settle. Permanent settlement didn’t actually occur until the mid 19th Century. In 1851, the towns of San Luis and Guadalupe were established.

In the early 1800’s, current day Conejos County was in the possession of Mexico. In 1848, the war between Mexico and the United States was settled with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. After the United States victory, the Conejos Land Grant became the territory of the U.S. When the territory of Colorado was created in 1861, the major part of the San Luis Valley was divided into two counties, Costilla County to the east and Guadalupe County to the west. Once the Colorado Territory was established, Guadalupe County was renamed Conejos County. Conejos, meaning rabbits in Spanish, was an apt name as the country was known for its abundance of rabbits.

By 1870 there was a scattering of villages along the rivers and waterways of Conejos County. In 1877, Mormons, or Members of the Church of Latter Day Saints,  arrived led by John Morgan. They settled in and around Manassa and Sanford. The relationship between the Hispano/Catholic and the Anglo/Mormon has always flavored the story of Conejos County as have the Native American, the Presbyterians, Mennonites, Syrian merchants, Jewish business men, Japanese, Swiss, Dutch, English, Irish and German farmers, ranchers, miners, and railroad builders.