National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Hispanic Heritage Month
Montoya Ranch, Huerfano County, Colorado

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

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Montoya Ranch
Photograph courtesy of the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office

Historic Montoya Ranch Shows Hispanic Settlement Patterns in 19th century Colorado

Montoya Ranch in Huerfano County, Colorado, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 3, 2012, for its historic association with Hispanic history during the settlement era from ca. 1869-1910, a time when hundreds of people emigrated over the mountain passes from Taos and the San Luis Valley into Colorado to build their adobe homes and raise crops and sheep in a community first known as Huerfano Canon and later known as Talpa. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, Hispano settlers began farming, ranching and building houses in the rich verdant  Huerfano River valley from Badito, the county seat, west to the present-day location of Gardner and up Turkey Creek to the north. The Ranch also has associations with architectural history, being a rare example of an early Hispano residence and an excellent example of Spanish Colonial architecture that was modified to the Territorial Adobe type of building.

photo Montoya Ranch
Photograph courtesy of the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office

Local tradition holds that Montoya Ranch was built originally as a community defense facility, possibly under the leadership of Pedro Antonio Garcia, to serve a communal defensive purpose during a time when conflicts with Native Americans were common in the region. The primary landmark of the former Montoya Ranch is a large fortified adobe building, roughly 74’ x 46’ (3400 square feet) in dimension built of adobe brick and containing a functional basement. In addition to the remarkable Adobe building, the Montoya ranch district features historic sheep facilities, an irrigation ditch, underground structures, and remnants of cultivated plants, all of which speak to Hispano settlement, agricultural practices and architecture in the latter half of the 19th century.

Available information about the settlement of Huerfano points to the settlement of the area by the Garcia family. Pablo Antonio Garcia occupied lands adjacent to the Montoya Ranch adobe and appropriated water rights as early as 1867. The eldest of three brothers who emigrated from the Taos area of New Mexico, he may have played an important role in the construction of the Montoya Ranch adobe.

The area of Talpa is located on the Vigil-St.Vrain land Grant, also called the Las Animas Grant, made by the last Mexican governor of New Mexico before the region fell to the United States during the Mexican-American war. Many of the grants were later discounted by the American courts, but the Garcia brothers and their wives, hired hands and children appear in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, as well as in the tax rolls, land ownership records and water rights records. The oldest brother, the afore-mentioned Pedro Antonio Garcia, with a large family and larger land holdings, may have been recognized as the leader or patron of the community.  In addition to paying attention to American property law matters and water rights, he may have promoted communal activity.  In the 1880 census, Victor and Juliana “Montolla” were living in the Talpa area. In 1880, Victor Montoya appropriated the water right for a ditch that diverted water from Turkey Creek, upstream from Talpa. In 1887, he applied for and received patent to 160 acres, where the Montoya Ranch historic district is located.

photo
Montoya Ranch
Photograph courtesy of the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office

After one or more Hispano families occupied and owned this property (including Victor and Juliana Montoya from ca. 1874 to 1910), the Faris family, who were Lebanese immigrants, purchased it in 1911 after occupying it by 1910 in accordance with a purchase contract with the Montoya family.  Lebanese immigrants to the United States were often called Arabs or Turks, but the majority of the estimated 100,000 were Christians of the Syrian Greek Orthodox church. In the west the Lebanese were often peddlers, but became stationary and respected merchants once they acquired the means. Louis Faris operated the local post office and a general store, and the family raised sheep, fruit, and vegetables.  They made substantial modifications to serve these functions, including a porch, enlarging the original building, adding a commercial storefront, and adding a number of doors and windows. Louise Saliba Faris (1888-1955) was born in Lebanon and immigrated with her family in 1895 to Walsenburg, Colorado.  Fluent in Arabic, English, Spanish, and some French, Louise worked in the thriving family store in Walsenburg and met Lebanese immigrant Asperidon Faris (1885-1923) at a dance in Trinidad. They wed in 1908 and soon were operating a store and Post Office in Talpa. Their daughter, Jeanette Faris Thach (after whom the area was renamed from Talpa to Farista), lived in the building with her husband, continuing the various Faris operations until about 1943.

Over time, the local population fell drastically. The buildings that held the local dance hall, the school and other public places were abandoned and disappeared.  By 1990 Farista consisted of only a few homes along Colorado Highway 69. The post office was discontinued and vestiges of a one-busy rural Hispano community faded away.  Only the Montoya Ranch adobe and a handful of other buildings and structures remain on the dry landscape above the verdant Huerfano River Valley. Most of the 19th-century homes have melted into the landscape. The Montoya Ranch abode is not occupied.

Hispanic Heritage Month

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