Colorado The U.S. Era
As the grant owner, Beaubien not only had to begin fulfilling his obligations to settle the grant, but he had to do so under a new political and legal regime. The
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 and ushered in the U.S. era for Latino Colorado. The treaty ceded 529,017 square miles to the United States for $15 million, which included the southern part of Colorado. Seventy-five thousand Spanish-speaking inhabitants in the region many in Colorado become U.S. citizens, and under the treaty they were guaranteed their civil, political, and land rights.
In 1850, Beaubien began efforts to populate the grant land. He offered single men 50 varas of land and married men 100 varas of land.1 The land was divided in long, narrow strips to conform to the region’s natural topography. All strips touched both a river and the resource-rich mountain land, providing settlers with the resources to survive the harsh climate conditions of the San Luis Valley.
In addition to individual vara strips, Beaubien also granted settlers communal use-rights to the mountain lands, which they would eventually name La Sierra. Settlers could use La Sierra’s resources grazing lands, timber, and plants and animals on the mountain. Beaubien eventually recorded these land rights in a legal, Spanish-language document in 1863. This document would become the basis for the ongoing litigation legal conflict over land rights between Anglo land owners and the Latino residents of San Luis.
Once settled, San Luis residents began shaping a devoutly Catholic community based on communal principals regarding resource use. In 1852 community leaders claimed the earliest water rights in what would become the territory of Colorado. Prefiguring what would become known as the doctrine of prior appropriation in American law, Latinos built an intricate acequia irrigation system, relying on snow melt from the mountains to irrigate their lowland farms.
By the time that Colorado was established as a territory, many Latino communities in southern Colorado were already thriving. A regional sheep industry had emerged in these Latino villages. Colorado’s Latinos were also distinguishing themselves in military campaigns in holding the fragile U.S. republic together. In 1862 at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, the Colorado Regiment which included a number of Latinos from the San Luis Valley helped to defeat the Confederate Army.
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