Major Lafayette Head (1825–97) was an Indian agent to the Ute tribe for nine years after serving in the Mexican American War. In 1877, he became the first lieutenant governor of Colorado. He was influential in the early development of towns across the San Luis Valley.
Born in Hunter County, Missouri in 1825, Lafayette Head came to New Mexico during the Mexican American War (1846–48), where he served as a private with the Second Regiment of Missouri Volunteers. He fought in four battles in 1847, including La Canada, Santa Clara, and the Taos Rebellion. During this time, he ascended to the rank of major. Head spoke English and Spanish. In about 1847, Head married a Hispanic woman named Maria “Juanita” Juana de la Cruz Martinez.
San Luis Valley Development
Head was influential in the establishment of communities across the San Luis Valley. In 1854, he led families from Abiquiu, New Mexico, to a new location along the Conejos River, where they together built the Plaza de Guadalupe on the Mexican land grant acquired in 1842. Located in present-day Conejos County, the plaza was one of the first permanent settlements in the region. In partnership with Otto Mears, Head started the first sawmill and gristmill in southern Colorado in 1855, and in 1856 he helped establish Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, the earliest church in Colorado.
With the discovery of gold in 1858 came an influx of Anglo-American settlers to the region, and the population surge led to the establishment of the Colorado Territory in 1861. In an effort to increase the land available to miners, Territorial Governor William Gilpin established an Indian agency to handle tribal relations. In 1859, Head was appointed as Special Agent to the Apache and Ute tribes at Abiquiu, but in 1860, the agency was reorganized, and Head was reassigned to the Tabeguache Ute tribe in Conejos, where he served as Indian agent until 1868. During this time, he ran a general store, stables, and school in association with the agency.
As Indian agent, Head worked closely with a Ute interpreter named Ouray. In 1863 Head and Ouray traveled to Washington, DC, with a delegation to meet with President Abraham Lincoln and discuss the “Treaty with the Utah—Tabeguache Band.” This treaty established the boundaries for tribal lands at the 37th parallel and was signed in October 1863 in Colorado with 1,500 Ute representatives and US government officials.
Later in 1868, Head helped the US government negotiate another treaty that created one reservation for all seven Ute bands and relocated them to the Western Slope. In these negotiations the government demanded to work with one representative of all seven Ute bands, and it recognized Chief Ouray, whom Head worked with and knew well, as that representative.
Head’s political career dates back to as early as 1847, when he served as Sheriff of Rio Arriba County in New Mexico. He also served as a US marshal in New Mexico. In 1853 he served as one of five representatives from Rio Arriba County in the Third Territorial Legislative Assembly.
Head’s political career did not resume until about thirty years later. In 1874, after operating a business for several years, he returned to politics in the Tenth Colorado Territorial Assembly as the Councilman for the Eleventh District, which included Conejos County. (This position is similar to today’s state senator.) Head attended the constitutional convention to help establish the Colorado State Constitution.
In 1876, when Colorado officially became a state, Head was nominated to become the first state governor at the Republican Convention in Pueblo. He lost to John Routt, but served as the state’s first lieutenant governor. In 1879 Head left politics and returned to Conejos County, where he lived with his wife. He died during a trip to Denver on March 8, 1897.