Rabbitbrush Rambler: Another San Miguel


I’m going to write mainly today about the San Miguel community that lies in the mountains at the edge of Carson National Forest. This San Miguel, New Mexico, is four miles south of Ortiz, Colorado, and seven miles south of Antonito. It is in New Mexico’s Rio Arriba County.

There have been many other San Miguels, like the one over on the Pecos River and another near Socorro, the one in San Miguel County in western Colorado’s mining country, the San Miguel Parish at Taos County’s Costilla on the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant, and the San Miguel church in a community called La Puente in the Chama River’s valley. Or the famous chapel in Santa Fe. The archangel Saint Michael is honored in numerous places.

Taking its name from the parish at Costilla, San Miguel was very briefly one of the first two counties in Colorado Territory, but that title lasted only a couple of days. The county’s name and seat were quickly changed to Costilla.

The two San Miguels with a San Luis Valley connection have very different histories. Settlement on the east side of the Valley at Costilla began in the late 1840s with migration from Taos, and soon had a parish that was dedicated to San Miguel and was visited by priests from Taos. But the San Miguel on the Valley’s west side began with a small number of settlers from the Chama River, and they too had a chapel called San Miguel, which was part of the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, headquartered at Conejos and later Antonito.

I have not found a date when settlers first arrived at the latter with their sheep and their Catholic faith in the high country above Ortiz. The San Miguel chapel seems to date to the late 1920s, though. We do know that Nestor Ortiz arrived in the nearby community of Ortiz in the early 1870s and got that nearby community started.

The boundary between the territories of New Mexico and Colorado was established in 1867. Previously, the line along the 37th Parallel was designated in 1860, but a resurvey in 1867 put plazas like Costilla on the east side of the Valley, San Miguel above the west side, and others just a mile or so south of the original line. This realignment also meant that county business for Costilla had to be accomplished in Taos County at Taos, and the isolated pastoral and agricultural folks living around San Miguel had to do so at the much less convenient county seat of Rio Arriba County at Tierra Amarilla in the Chama River Valley.

Take a look at a map of that area. Many early-day families from the Chama River area had followed a trail north up the Rio San Antonio Road from Tierra Amarilla. There the Rio San Antonio Road reached the headwaters of the Rio San Antonio, while another important route went north from Los Brazos in the Chama River Valley to the headwaters of Rio San Antonio. Another route, Rio Los Pinos, from the west joins Rio San Antonio down below.

It will come as no surprise, then, to find many of the same family names in both the Chama River and the Rio San Antonio/ Rio Los Pinos areas. In contrast, people with other family names came from the Taos County area and settled around the Costilla and the Culebra rivers. And some also moved from one side to the other in the San Luis Valley, so don’t jump to conclusions about the origins of family names.

Some of the settlers on the east side created the Plaza de Los Manzanares in 1851, barely a mile north of Costilla. When the territorial boundary was moved, La Plaza de Los Manzanares found itself to be in Colorado Territory, and by 1915 the Plaza of Los Manzanares had a post office at a store operated by a man named Garcia. So Garcia became the name at the hamlet in Colorado that is a suburb of Costilla in New Mexico.

To my knowledge, the San Miguel in New Mexico near Ortiz in Colorado never had a post office, though.