Spanish Peaks Country Heritage
Prior to the Europeans arrival, Spanish Peaks Country served as a crossroads for the native people of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
Taos Pueblo in New Mexico was a major trading center for over 1,000 years, and the Native people, who spread many trading routes from Taos, headed north most frequently, crossing into Colorado’s San Luis Valley and over the Sangre de Cristos in Spanish Peaks Country. From here, they would travel farther into the Front Range, Wyoming, Montana, or Nebraska.
Back then, it was the Utes, Navajos, Jicarilla Apaches, and Comanches who traveled through Spanish Peaks Country. They believed the Spanish Peaks were sacred and performed many ceremonies here. According to their legends, Spanish Peaks Country was where mankind first emerged from the womb of the earth into their vision of the Garden of Eden.
The Spanish and French trappers were the first Europeans to come to Spanish Peaks Country, and they founded a settlement along the Huerfano River called Badito.
Zebulon Pike, who led an expedition in 1806 to 1807 to map the lower half of the Louisiana Purchase, soon followed. By that time, more than 1,400 Europeans had already passed through Spanish Peaks Country.
Pike’s expedition notified the Spanish in Santa Fe that the Americans were coming, and the Spanish responded by sending troops north to build a fort along the southeastern edge of the Wet Mountains. The Mexican Revolution ensued, and the Spanish were forced to leave and abandon their fort.
At this time, William Becknell made the first recorded traverse of the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri to Santa Fe, establishing a trail that brought thousands of folks west, some of whom came through Spanish Peaks Country. For years, this was the preferred route for traders heading to Taos who wanted to avoid the customs officials in Santa Fe.
At the beginning of the Colorado Territory days, Spanish Peaks Country was much larger, stretching from the Arkansas River south to New Mexico and from the Kansas border to the mountains. Over time, however, it was broken into the smaller counties we are familiar with today.
For many years, Badito was Spanish Peaks Country’s main center of business and the official county seat before Walsenburg became more established and the county offices were moved there.