Hispanic Heritage Series Part 2 of 6
Writer’s note: In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month La Vida Latina is running a series of stories based on individuls or families who have left a significant mark on the Centennial State. In this week’s edition we discuss one of the original settling families of the San Luis Valley and the legacy left by one of its residents, Erinea Garcia Gallegos.
One of the earliest Mexican land grants in the nation’s history covered millions of acres in New Mexico and southern Colorado. According to historian Dana Rae EchoHawk, “Governor Francisco Sarracino awarded the Conejos or Guadalupe Land Grant as a colony grant on February 8, 1833 to some eighty individuals.”
Unfortunately for those individuals a war with the inhabiting Navajo tribe prevented the settlers from taking the land at the time of the grant. It wasn’t until 1842 that four men, Jose Maria Martines, Antonio Martines, Julian Gallegos and Sheldon Valdes, were able to petition successfully for over 2.5 million acres on behalf of 80 other families as well as their own. Mexican Governor Manuel Armijo upheld the petition and the 83 heads of families were placed in procession of the grant.
According to EchoHawk, they had to abide by two conditions: “First, that the land be cultivated, and second, that ‘towns founded shall be fortified, and settlers must moved there at once and build shelters for protection of their families.”
It was from those early settling families that one of Colorado’s most prominent women from Southern Colorado emerged. Erinea “Nea” Garcia Gallegos was elected into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012 for her work in education and, while raising a family, as postmistress in San Luis.
According to her Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame induction biography, “Garcia Gallegos’ roots in Colorado ran deep. Ancestors of both her parents were among the earliest Spanish-speaking settlers, establishing farms and towns on Mexican land grants in southern Colorado and New Mexico.”
Coming from a family of early settlers allowed Garcia Gallegos to also grow up among entrepreneurs and legislators. Her grandfather and father served as state legislators in the budding state (Colorado became the 38th state in the Union in 1876) and she too, was a pioneer in her own right serving as an educator and as postmistress from 1934 to 1976.
“Gallegos’ legacy was her firm belief in the power of education, exemplified by her simple motto, ‘The more you learn, the more you want to learn,’” her biography states. “The family has honored this legacy through a scholarship fund at Adams State University named for Erinea and [her husband] Maclovio Gallegos.”
In 1932, after working as an elementary school teacher and later as a principal in Conejos, San Luis and other Southern Colorado communities, Gallegos left her position to focus on raising her family of seven. In 1935, only a short time later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her postmistress in San Luis. It was then that the family moved to the historic Gallegos house on Main Street in San Luis, which was conveniently located next to the post office building that the family owned.
“Helping patrons prepare money orders and write and translate letters were Gallegos’ specialties, especially during World War II and later conflicts when many local men [and women] served overseas,” her biography states. “She headed the San Luis Post Office until her retirement” in 1976.
Garcia Gallegos left her mark almost everywhere she went, studying at Adams State University, Western State and the University of Utah. She was one of Colorado’s first Hispanic women to attend college. Her children and grandchildren have followed suite with six of the Garcia Gallegos children and all of their grandchildren having attended and graduated from college.