published in the Del Norte Prospector
August 1st, 2018
The San Luis Valley heritage brochure, San Luis Valley: The Cradle of Colorado, is hot off the presses and ready for enjoyment. This beautiful 16-page brochure provides Valley residents and visitors alike journeys to explore all the Valley has to offer in its culture, history and heritage.
San Luis Valley: The Cradle of Colorado brochure includes six travel itineraries designed to lead visitors on a journey to distinct sites throughout the San Luis Valley. Each itinerary exposes a unique aspect of the San Luis Valley’s heritage including:
Along the Valley’s roads and among its attractions, the rich history of the San Luis Valley unfolds to reveal the diversity of the region’s land and people. Cradled between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains at the headwaters of the Rio Grande, lies the San Luis Valley. This vastness, coupled with a diversity of geologic and geographic features ranging from lush river bottoms to an inland ocean of sand to craggy summits reaching elevations over 14,000 feet, has enticed and enthralled people since the times of Ice Age hunters.
While much has changed within the Valley, traditional values and cultural practices still endure. Well-preserved architecture and historic downtowns evoke the past. Whatever one’s interests, exploring the San Luis Valley’s colorful history and vast beauty can make its legacy part of Colorado’s heritage experience.
Along the Valley’s roads and among its attractions, the rich history of the San Luis Valley unfolds to reveal the diversity of the region’s land and people.
The San Luis Valley Museum Association (www.museumtrail.org/heritage) would like to thank all those that helped finance this project: the Rio Grande County Tourism Board, Conejos County Tourism Board, Costilla County Lodging Tax Board, Saguache County Tourism, Mineral County Chamber of Commerce; Bill Summers; Alamosa Local Marketing District Board, Bill Summers, SLV Rural Electric, SLV Historical Society, SLV Tourism Association and the museums members of the SLV Museum Association.
Pick up a copy at any of the Valley’s 17 museums (www.museumtrail.org/museums), the Valley’s Visitor Centers in Ft Garland, San Luis, Antonito, Saguache, Monte Vista, Del Norte, Creede, and South Fork; and the Colorado Welcome Center – Alamosa.
by Joyce Gunn, manager
San Luis Valley Museum-Alamosa
Many years ago, when I started working at the San Luis Valley Museum, I read a lot about the history of the Valley. I learned about the Spanish History from one of the Board Members, Dolores Chavez. As I read I asked many questions of her. She shared with me all of the many changes the Valley has gone through citing history and her own life.
I read about the Spanish Inquisition, explorers in the New World, the cities of gold and Onante’s travels north from Mexico City to New Mexico. He led families north to find new homes in a new land with promises for a new future. What a massive undertaking!
A gentleman stopped at the Museum and shared with me his knowledge of the Onante events. He said that the Mass of Thanksgiving took place August 19th, 1598 or 23 years before the Pilgrims. It made me want to learn more because I realized that the “First” Thanksgiving was NOT with the Pilgrims but with the Spanish. The Spanish had been exploring the Americas for years. Without their exploration and the stories going back to Europe, Europe would have probably never gotten involved in the “New World”. (Side note: St. Augustine, Fl is the oldest city in the US, around 1547, settled by Spain.)
My desire to have and celebrate the “First Thanksgiving” is to share history, not lost but overlooked. None of us can afford to diminish or set aside history of another group especially when it affects all of us. Our beginnings in the Americas are not the pilgrims, or the trappers or Jamestown. It is part of the history of Spain. They chronicled the Native Americans, the lands from the eastern seaboard to California. Understanding their history is like filling in several holes in our own European history. It is past time to learn, share and sometimes even agree to disagree but let us do it with tolerance, respect and understanding. So let us share the day, the family stories, the laughter and the smiles. We will all be better for it!
We will celebrate the “Frist Thanksgiving” on July 14th, 2018. Lunch will be served at the American Legion on 4thSt starting at 12:30 PM with a few words about our shared history and our prayers of Thanksgiving for having this time together. After lunch, at the San Luis Valley Museum we will have music by Los Cancioneros Del Valle. They will perform from 2:30PM to 4:30PM. Enjoy the music, dance, have dessert, tour the museum or visit with Geronimo Olivas, who creates santos and will have many on display. At 6 PM we will say goodnight to new and old friends. Please come and join us!
FRIDAY July 13th, 2018. The San Luis Valley will host Dennis Lopez. He is known for his vast and accurate knowledge of the history of the San Luis Valley. The Museum is so honored to have him share this knowledge with all of the people who live here in the Valley. The program will begin at 6 PM. Come, renew your knowledge, learn something new and share with others the Spanish history of the Valley. See you Friday night!
by Virginia Simmons, Alamosa Valley Courier
July 10, 2018
Betwixt wild fire, wind, drought, and heat, a lot of people who never prayed before may be doing so right now. How many profess a religious affiliation is a separate question.
One of the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provided that “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof.” Given that liberty, people who settled the San Luis Valley participated in a wide variety of denominations.
If we exclude Native American religions, the churches in New Mexico were Roman Catholic prior to New Mexico’s separation from Mexico in the 1840s. Not surprisingly thus, nearly all who came early into this Valley from New Mexico were Roman Catholic, although some men who had married into the Church might have been less religiously devoted than their spouses. In addition, many Native American captives had been baptized and married in the Church.
Also, in the villages there were small numbers of unaffiliated Jewish merchants, aging ex-trappers, and military personnel of undeclared faith. Before a church structure was built, families prayed in their homes or in private oratorios, and Penitentes had active moradas that provided community services and religious activities. By 1857, Conejos had its first resident priest, and scattered parishes began to have the services of its priests, soon joined by teaching nuns.
In the mid-1860s following the Civil War, change began. There were a very small number of itinerant preachers, like the well-known Methodist John Dyer who had visited homes in the Valley, but the first active Protestant church activity was Presbyterian in the area near Antonito in the 1860s. Pastors and their wives also were especially interested in education as well as conversions.
After the Homestead Act and the end of the Civil War, farmers and ranchers began to arrive and, soon, miners who thronged to the San Juans, followed by the arrival of the railroad. New towns with a variety of residents and church traditions were springing up with various persuasions and increasing Protestant activity, although Catholic remained most prevalent.
Methodists at Del Norte invited suffragette Susan B. Anthony to speak at their church. At Alamosa the firebrand Alex Darley vigorously opposed the Penitente brotherhood, while Alex’s less ardent brother George at Del Norte soon was administering the Presbyterian College of the Southwest while also ministering to his congregation.
Northern European immigrants accounted for the largest portion of the newcomers in the 1870s, and many were Lutheran. The arrival in 1878 of members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Conejos County added to the mix significantly, and by the turn of the century, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, in the Waverly neighborhood. Before long, there were Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, Congregational, Christian Reformed, and many others. Besides parochial schools that still were conducted in several communities, the other children were attending public schools in towns and around the countryside without religious affiliation.
About 20 years ago I was requested to write a paper for the General Legal Services Section of the Colorado Attorney General’s office. Along with Roman Catholic and the widely-known Protestant denominations, there were also numerous other faith groups, such as Buddhist, Christian Scientist, Jehovah’s Witness, Assembly of God, Seventh-day Adventist, Nazarene, Mennonite, Amish, Bahai, Scientology, Dianetic, and others. I tallied nearly 90 organized congregations, plus an assortment of small groups. Some were 100 percent Anglo, some nearly totally Catholic, and others mixed. There was no known synagogue or mosque.
By then active participation of people in any of the churches had already begun to shrink, and today, I suspect that the Valley’s people are not far behind the national trend that shows only 20 percent attending any church.
By Seth Boster (email@example.com), the Colorado Gazette
LAKE CITY • The day is finally here.
I’m visiting with the mayor, who has the look I’d expect of this mountain town’s mayor — shorts, T-shirt, white beard and ponytail poking from ball cap — when the town clerk comes in with an important message.
“They’re dropping the railroad car now.”
Down the street, some of the 400-odd residents have gathered around a mechanical crane.
Some wonder: Has such a thing happened here? At least not in recent memory. How strange to be looking up at something other than the mountains! The law here is that nothing can rise more than two stories, else the views be obstructed.
Now wary eyes look up, only making quick glances down at the pamphlets that a little old lady has distributed to provide more information about “Hinsdale County Museum’s most ambitious renovation project.”
Slowly, the crane lowers the car onto the tracks that men worked so hard to build: Beside the museum, they had to fill the gravel base, drive spikes into the timber ties, cut narrow gauge steel and weld it to the existing tracks, expanding to make room for one more historic car.
Applause breaks out. Success! People wrap their arms around each other for pictures with the car, its splintered wood body and metal wheels intact after a long trip over two mountain passes. It has returned safely to its original home, the sole town of this county that considers itself the most remote county in the Lower 48.
Let the visitors have their day on their rented ATVs. They zip down the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, the only paved stretch through town that leads to the high country glory that is the Alpine Loop. But on this gravel side road, the townies rejoice over this momentous event.
Grant Houston smiles for pictures and takes them, too, for the surefire front page story coming to the next weekly edition of The Silver World. He’s the mustachioed, bespectacled editor of the paper and also the go-to source for history in Lake City, a community staple who’s been around for 63 years, longer than most.
“I love the history, and after a while, it becomes who you are,” he tells me. “I adopted it.”
So do the others who settle in Lake City. Take, for example, Harvey DuChene, the historical society’s VP who has been taken by the area’s great, ancient rocks. His “Geology 101” lectures have gained quick popularity.
He and his wife were lifelong city dwellers until their move in 2003. “She always said she wanted to live in the mountains,” he says. “This is the best I could do.”
The Silver Thread starts off U.S. 50, crosses the Blue Mesa and ribbons through open sage fields and then forest. Follow a shimmering stream and look ahead to the sharp monoliths in the sky, and know you’re close to Lake City, “a peak experience,” reads the welcome sign before the first off-roading outfitter.
Prone to paradelike lines as they rumble west, the OHVs are fairly new to town. Voters on multiple occasions declined to let that noise and dust infiltrate their residential premises. But they relented a few years ago. No longer could they deny the tax dollars to be had by the Alpine Loop’s four-wheel allure.
Mayor Bruce Vierheller is like most, conflicted. “But it’s working,” he says.
The town could use the money, after all. The school, with a K-12 enrollment of about 100, still doesn’t have a gym. Though that hasn’t kept teens from winning state track titles — what better training grounds than out the back door? And that certainly hasn’t kept families from moving for the school with consistently good marks from the state. That’s to do with the student-teacher ratio, parents say, and maybe also to do with the lack of distractions.
“My kids have been on a bike since they were 6, and they just go and explore,” says mother Kristie Borchers. “And you don’t have to worry.”
Hinsdale County is 96 percent public lands, including four wilderness areas, keeping away the neighborhoods and commercial chains that would threaten the timeless character adored by Lake City’s devotees.
But for all of its remoteness, visitors are plenty in the summer. For three months or so, it is “North Texas,” the century-old homes flying that state’s college colors.
The Texas migration is far from a recent development. Houston — the last name “pleases our visitors to no end,” he says — would have nostalgics know that the seasonal bustle is deeply ingrained in Lake City’s history, arguably more than mining.
Why, there’s even a record of the first Texans to town: the Wuppermans, arriving in the 1920s. In diaries, they described Lake City as “a town full of widows,” as the mines were no more and the black-lunged men gone with them.
The Wuppermans, after their haul from the lakes and rivers, would enjoy scenic fish fries. “See, the Wuppermans invited their friends,” Houston says. “That began the shift in the economy.”
Houston’s father was tapped Lake City’s first game warden in 1955 amid concerns of the Texans depleting trout populations. His mother opened a gift shop, and over the years more opened, decorating the main street that is also today not without ice cream parlors and galleries.
This is the touristy basecamp for the growing masses of Colorado peak baggers; they pick from five fourteeners along the Alpine Loop. Recreation has bred older traditions, too, such as Vickers Ranch.
“People will badmouth Texans, but I say they put me through school,” says Paul Vickers, the fifth generation of his family to run the town’s oldest outfitter, renting cabins and hosting horseback rides and big-game hunts in the hills.
His great granddad won a wager for the land. That’s the story he’s been told anyway. He’s more familiar with the wily ways of his dad, who ran the ranch while also sitting as county judge, Bobo the Australian shepherd his trusted adviser in the courtroom.
Lake City’s courthouse claims to be the longest operating in the state, though Fairplay also contends that. There the town’s darkest tale is told, that of Alferd Packer the cannibal. The chairs in the room still are arranged as they were in 1883 when Packer was sentenced to be hanged until he was “dead, dead, dead.”
Packer was near a stream “as pure and beautiful as ever traced by the finger of God upon the bosom of the earth,” the judge said. “Your every surrounding was calculated to impress upon your heart and nature the omnipotence of deity and the helplessness of your own feeble life. In this goodly favored spot you conceived your murderous designs.”
The history is kept, and those romantic descriptions of the land continue. Vickers can’t think of a prettier place to be than here near mountain-framed Lake San Cristobal, the state’s second largest natural lake.
He reflects in a rocking chair at the ranch. “Out of college I worked in retail management, and people were in those stores because they had to be there, not because they wanted to be there. What’s kept me going here? It’s a happy occasion. People are here because they want to be here.”
People want to be in Lake City because it’s an escape from everything else. Once people came and went by trains, and now they come and go on scenic byways, and all the while Houston and others stay put, making sure their town is as focused on what it was, what it is and what it wants to be.
Houston leaves the railroad car drop with another story to tell. There’s always something to add to the next Silver World, he says. “I can’t fit it all in!”
by Virginia Simmons, Alamosa Valley Courier
While current news is concentrating on Costilla County’s fire [#SpringFire2018\, this piece will turn to Waverly, which is part of the heritage of Alamosa County. This rural area located southwest of Alamosa along Road 10 was actually still part of northern Conejos County when this story begins.
First, let’s make it clear that Waverly is not a designated town. Next, we need to remember that the area’s story has two parts — immigration from the Netherlands and emigration of farmers who were relocated by the federal government during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.
The first story is about the immigrants from the Netherlands who had read the enticement of a private contractor’s brochure, touting good land and a nice climate. When they arrived at Alamosa by railroad in 1892, however, they found that landscape that looked nothing like farmland in Holland and the temperature was bitterly cold. Shades of enticing photos in realtors’ ads on the Internet!
Housed in a couple of structures by the railroad tracks, the travelers barely survived although they had the aid of charitable townsfolk until they could move into an empty schoolhouse and begin constructing homes. Some, protesting that they had been misled by the information of the Utrecht company’s promotion, accepted land instead around Crook (no pun intended), while the persisting survivors in the San Luis Valley established their farms in the neighborhood of Road 10.
By 1908 they also had begun constructing a Dutch Reformed Church, now called the Christian Reformed Church. They held school in the old building and later in a new one, and there was a store but never a post office. The names of well-known descendants included Van Geeson, Vaniwaarden, Wiescamp, Hof and others.
There were also a few long-time pioneer farms, like that of the well-remembered Dorris family. Next, in the 1930s the area also attracted a second group of emigrants, which resulted from conditions in the Dust Bowl, as well as the Great Depression.
Land and livelihoods literally had blown away there. To help these desperate people, the New Deal’s Federal Government’s Resettlement Administration created a program whereby farmers in the Dust Bowl could obtain a second chance on land where farms could be established.
One such new location was the project at Waverly, a name that might have been begun in another state and traveled with the newcomers to Alamosa County, although I’m not sure about that. Other resettlement projects in Colorado were in Delta, Montrose, and Mesa Counties.
Each farm consisted of 90 acres, and the Resettlement Administration built small, story-and-a-half homes for the farm families, although it soon became apparent to some that 90 acres would not be suitable. Over the years, some of the newcomers stayed and others turned to different work. Many of their attractive homes are still recognizable, often with alterations, changed ownership or moves to different sites.
In a region where farming and ranching are so dependent on good soil and irrigation water, this seems like a good time to mention problems that were evident during the Dust Bowl in southeastern Colorado, northeastern New Mexico, western Kansas, and the Panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. To remediate them, the federal government also undertook land use programs such as the Soil Conservation Service, which now is the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), to improve the practices of land users, many of whom had ill-conceived notions originally.
Many of these sub-marginal lands were simply bought up by the federal government, and cropland was taken out of production and grasslands were restored. Some became National Grasslands, now administered by the U.S. Forest Service, and some others are the properties of nongovernmental conservation organizations.
The Rio Grande County Museum will host a program: Trails, Trappers and Traders-Old Spanish Trail- Geology and Volcanic History SLV and San Juan Mts on Saturday, July 21st, starting at 8:30am.
A special historical program is being held at the Rio Grande County Museum on Saturday, July 21, beginning at 8:30am in conjunction with the La Vereda del Norte Chapter of the Old Spanish Trail Association.
The program coincides with the opening of the “Trails, Trappers, and Traders” exhibit. Informative short presentations will be made on the early pioneers travelers, and trails of the area by Louise Colville; a brief history of the Old Spanish Trail by Doug Knudson, followed by an overview of the geology of the San Luis Valley, the volcanic history and features of the San Juan Mts. and the Summer Coon Volcanic center due north of Del Norte by Steve Nicolais, retired geologist.
Following the presentations, a half day geologic road tour/field trip led by Steve Nicolais, is offered to those interested in seeing the remnants of the deeply eroded Summer Coon Volcanic center, an 8 to 10-mile diameter volcanic complex, just six miles north of Del Norte. Space is limited to 10-12 cars. Carpooling has worked well in past. A Donation of $10 is requested which will be split between the Museum and the La Vereda del Norte Chapter of the Old Spanish Trail.
Call museum @ 719- 657-2847 early to reserve a spot on the tour. There are no attendance limitations on the museum exhibit and talks. Check the Museum’s Facebook page and local news media for more details on the field trip.
After four and a half months of cleaning, sorting and building repairs, Rio Grande County Museum is pleased to announce that we are open. Exhibits are being worked on for the upcoming season and a calendar of events will soon be available.
The museum staff would like to thank the following people who gave their time to the museum during this disaster: The Rio Grande County Road and Bridge crew, the Rio Grande County Custodial Staff, Steve and Mark Nicolais, Alex Colville, Gene Glover, Karla Shriver, Roni Wisdom, Mike Hurst, DeAnn Jacobs, Lil Davis, Mark Niederquill, David Yoder. The all waded ankle deep, cold water to move and protect the artifacts and fixtures. Fellow museum directors, Sue Getz, Jane Rhett and Peg Schall came to the museum as advisors to help start the clean-up process. We know that there are others who have given their time and support during this process.
During the last four months Kyndra Powell sorted, boxed and labeled the clothing, quilt, cultural blankets and linens collection. Steve and Mark Nicolais and Steve’s grandson, Braden Whitehill have placed shelves into the appropriate areas for the boxed artifacts, moved boxes and cleaned up the museum rooms to ready them for the exhibits. The High Valley Community kids are volunteering time in the mentoring program to assist with the next phase of getting the exhibits in place and the collections in order.
It has been a community project to get the museum up and running. We are looking forward to a fun and successful year. The museum hours are Tuesday - Friday from 10 - 4 and Saturday from 10 - 3. For more information, please contact the museum at (719)657-2847 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook for weekly stories and more information.
By Teresa L. Benns
ALAMOSA — About 25 members of the Valley’s History Undiscovered Group (SLV-HUG) met at Calvillo’s Restaurant last Thursday (04/19/18) to update the group on various historical activities happening throughout the Valley this summer and fall.
After enjoying a buffet meal, attendees reported on the projects in their respective areas.
Tori Martinez, executive director for the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area announced that the Conejos County Museum will be reopening this spring after being closed the past two years. The opening date is set for May 11.
Charlotte Bobicki with the Mount Pleasant School Association reports she is working on a project to restore the historic Mount Pleasant School in rural Alamosa County. Her grandfather helped start the school, other family members were students there and she spent the first six years of her elementary education at the one-room schoolhouse. At that time, Bobicki said, there were 30 students up to the eighth grade. The school had a stage, small library, and a big bell to summon students, which somehow over the years has disappeared. “It’s probably in town someplace,” Bobicki said. Many of the school’s original founders came from Germany. It is listed on the national and state historical society registers. The school closed in the 1960s.
Tamara Estes, president of the Southern Branch of the Territorial Daughters of Colorado, says their group is working on projects in Huerfano County and the old Doyle School in Pueblo County built in 1860 — the oldest school in Colorado. The Territorial Daughters welcome members who can trace their descendants to the area prior to 1876. The group was founded in Colorado in 1910 and he San Luis Valley group was formed in 1940.
Joyce Gunn, with the San Luis Valley Museum in Alamosa, reports she is working on a project to establish a celebration recognizing the San Luis Valley as the official home of the First Thanksgiving. She related that historical records show that on July 11, 1538, 300 families were present in the valley with priests and conquistadors and celebrated the first real Thanksgiving meal. The fact has been buried in history ever since. Gunn says she would like to hold a celebration commemorating the event in July with a sit- down meal, dancing and other ethnic events.
Kat Olance, president for the SLV Museum Association are waiting to see if the Colorado and Wyoming Association of Museums have selected the Valley community for their 2020 conference which would bring 180+ museum professionals from across Wyoming and Colorado to the SLV.
Maria Van Sant, a member of the family trust that funds the La Garita St. John the Baptist Church, reports the church will get a new roof this year beginning sometime next month. She also passed out postcards advertising the church, its Rosary Walk and its many historic points of interest.
Brittany Morrissette, a volunteer at the Crestone Historical Museum and a board member with the SLV Museum Association, says the museum will have to be relocated this year because it has lost its lease. She hopes the town will help her move into the old Crestone school house near the museum’s present location.
The Rio Grande County Museum will be presenting a history of the churches in Rio Grande County this year.
After 18 years of working with the Division of Parks and Wildlife, the Old Spanish Trail Association hopes to have signs to erect soon marking the trail.
Much later these families decided to go to different parts of the Valley. The Atencios went to what is now known as Los Valdezes or Seven Mile Plaza. There they undertook to construct what is known as the Atencio ditch, three years after the Silva ditch. Part of them went to what is now known as Swede Lane, which was first founded by Agapito Lucero and his family. Still others moved up to what is now known as San Francisco Creek, which is where my paternal grandfather applied for a homestead, which was granted to him, of course, in 1897. This was the place where the settlement built a grist mill, which was called the Blue Mill because the mill stones were made of a real dark blue stone and the principal meal that they did grind was from a blue kind of sweet corn that they had brought from New Mexico and which they grew there to make their flour.
At that time, I can remember my grandmother talking about the different classes of flour that they had grown in those days, after the grinding in the Blue Mill. She always talked about it as "el Molino," which was the mill, and which the flour was ground in and which it was graded. The first grade was always called the floor or the best of the meal, the second was the "semeta," which is pretty fair and the third, which was the poorest grade, was the "salvado," which would make a kind of a course biscuit or cookie.
My mother went to school up there on San Francisco Creek, as did all the other thirteen children in the family. I remember Mother mentioning that her teacher, Mrs. Wood, dropped by for them in her buggy and picked up all the children and took them to the little school up there on San Francisco Creek. Then she'd drive them home in the evening because of fear of rattle snakes.
There was always plenty of game, fish, deer, etc. So, they had a good life. They had plenty to eat, especially with the mill and with the irrigation project that they had. It was pretty good for awhile.
They decided to leave San Francisco Creek because of the trouble that they had, due to a fact, that they were diverting waters that they shouldn't have. So they decided to leave San Francisco Creek and come back to the Valley.
However, they did raise livestock and they did have their crops of corn and so on up there.
About in 1872 when they came down here to La Loma, where the grandparents and ancestors lived, Jesus Maria or J.M. Alarid, as he was known, who had come from New Mexico and was the professor, began teaching the children of the settlers, ranging in ages from ten to twenty. This was before any school district had been formed. He taught in an adobe building, which was built right next to where they lived, which is now known as the old Sylvester Ranch. Of course, he did not get any pay, but he did get grain, potatoes, meat, and other rations, I presume, from the children that he taught.
I remember my grandfather saying, that at La Loma de San Jose they had their own burial grounds. At one time they had all kinds of tombstones that they had made out of carved rock and wood.
My ancestors on both sides of my mother's family are buried there, as was the Martinez family, Jose Bonefacio and Manuel Martinez families, which, of course, were related to my mother through her mother's family. In other words, it was a very clannish deal. They were all intermarried and they were all related."
Geronimo Olivas to featured at the San Luis Valley Museum-Alamosa on Friday, January 26th starting at 6pm.
Geronimo Olivas received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Foreign Language/Spanish and a minor in Art in 1993 from Adams State University.
His first crucifix was created in 1988 while attending a workshop instructed by Master Santeros from New Mexico. It was then that Geronimo realized he had a gift to carve holy images out of wood. Thus, began his life as a santero.
Geronimo received a Master-Apprentice grant in 1992 from the Colorado Council of the Arts under the mentorship of Master Santero Rubel Jaramillo. In 1993 was a featured artist for the “Young Audiences” Artist in Residence Program for the Colorado Council of Arts. In 1994, he became a Master Santero for the Master-Apprentice Program sponsored also by the Colorado Council of Arts.
Having participated in numerous art shows, gallery exhibitions, and presentations throughout Colorado including: Adams State University’s Salazar Rio Grande Del Norte Center in the Luther Bean Museum; San Luis Valley public schools, Lifeway’s of the San Luis Valley, Colorado State Veteran's Center; Colorado State Fair, numerous traditional functions, and museums. Some of his santos are part of the permanent collection of Tomas J. Steele, S.J. “The Regis Collection of Santos” Dayton Memorial Library Regis College and private collections of Bishop Arthur N. Tafoya and Fr. Patrick Valdez.
His unique style derives from research of traditional santos of Colorado and Northern New Mexico and centers around Hispanic heritage; particularly the Morada de Nuestro Padre Jesus in Lobatos, Colorado and history of Catholic saints. The rivers and forest produce an abundance of resources available to him. Geronimo searches for many types of wood native to the San Luis Valley: pine, aspen, cedar, and cottonwood root. Using carving tools, gesso, rabbit skin glue, pine pitch, natural and manmade pigments, and a cheese cloth method for creating garments. The final product is created in accordance with tradition.