Located in rural Alamosa County along the western boundary of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the Trujillo Homesteads were settled in the 1860s and 1870s by Teofilo Trujillo and his son, Pedro. The history of the homesteads illustrates the conflicts between Hispano and Anglo cultural and economic practices in the region, with Teofilo living in an adobe house and raising sheep while Pedro built a log house, learned English, and raised cattle. In 1902, after rival cattle ranchers killed Teofilo’s sheep and burned his house to the ground, both Teofilo and Pedro sold their land and moved away. In 2012 the Trujillo Homesteads were named a National Historic Landmark.
In 1864 Teofilo Trujillo migrated from near Taos, New Mexico, to San Pablo, Colorado. Born in New Mexico around 1842, he was one of many Hispanos who made a similar move north in the 1850s and 1860s to establish villages and ranches along the creeks and rivers of the San Luis Valley. In San Pablo he acquired some property and married Andrellita Lucero, but in 1865 they moved to a ranch northwest of Fort Garland, an important defensive post that also provided a market for Hispano agricultural products. Soon the couple moved again, this time even farther northwest, to an isolated area near what is now the edge of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The Trujillos may have been the first permanent settlers in the area. They had six children, but only Pedro, born in 1866, survived to adulthood.
Teofilo Trujillo quickly made himself into one of the wealthiest Hispano ranchers in the area. By 1870 he had 100 milk cows, thirty cattle, ten horses, and ten oxen, and he was raising wheat, potatoes, peas, and tobacco. In 1874 he built an irrigation ditch for his land, and in the late 1870s and early 1880s he secured the title to his land and started to acquire adjacent parcels.
The Trujillo family was able to expand its holdings even more in 1883, when Pedro filed for his own 160-acre homestead about a mile southwest of his father’s. He claimed to have settled the land in October 1879, when he was only thirteen years old. Even in 1883 he was only seventeen, but he lied and said he was over twenty-one. It is unclear whether he had help from his father in establishing the homestead and how closely the two ranches were connected. In any case, by 1885 Pedro had a three-acre vegetable garden and was growing hay and raising cattle and horses on the rest of his land. He had built a stable, a windmill, and a corral as well as a two-story house. That year, when he was nineteen, he married thirteen-year-old Sofia Martinez. The young couple had nine children over their next seventeen years at the homestead, plus another seven children after they moved away.
In 1877–78 the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad arrived in the San Luis Valley, bringing with it new Anglo cultural influences and economic interests. As a young and ambitious Hispano, Pedro adapted readily to the changes. He could read, write, and speak English, and he sometimes called himself “Pete.” He also built his house using logs, a clear sign of Anglicization in an area where most buildings (including his father’s house) were traditionally made of adobe.
Another way Pedro made himself a part of the new order was by raising only cattle. In fact, in an interview conducted in the 1930s with the Works Progress Administration, Pedro implied that a disagreement with his father about whether to focus on sheep or cattle was what caused him to start his own homestead. Teofilo had started as a cattle rancher in the 1860s, but by the 1880s he was shifting to sheep. In 1885 he was one of the largest sheep producers around, with 600 sheep and 500 lambs. At the same time, large-scale cattle operations run by Anglos were expanding in the San Luis Valley, leading to increased competition over grazing lands between Anglo cattle ranchers and Hispano sheepherders. Pedro worried that by raising sheep and grazing them on open range, his father would incur the wrath of powerful Anglo ranchers.
Pedro was right. As one of the largest sheep raisers in the area, Teofilo eventually became a target for the animosity of nearby Anglo cattle ranchers. In 1902 the simmering tensions erupted into conflict. That January, about ninety of Teofilo’s sheep were killed and others were driven away. On January 31, while Teofilo was away from home attending a trial about the incident, cattle ranchers swept in to destroy a large part of his sheep herd and burn his house to the ground—including $8,000 in cash that he had stored inside.
The violent intimidation worked. In March, Teofilo and Pedro sold all their water rights and land—a total of 1,496 acres—to Loren Sylvester and Richard Hosford, cattle ranchers who owned the nearby Medano Ranch. Teofilo moved to San Luis and continued to raise sheep until his death in 1915. Pedro also moved. His descendants believe that even though he raised cattle instead of sheep, he was probably threatened because of his connection to Teofilo. He bought 400 acres of land near Sargents, northwest of the San Luis Valley, and lived there until his death in 1934.
In the early twentieth century, the Trujillos’ land became part of the huge Medano-Zapata Ranch. Teofilo’s homestead was never rebuilt, and his land was never reoccupied. Pedro’s homestead served as housing for ranch employees. A worker named Eulogio Martinez lived there from the early 1900s until the 1930s. After that a variety of ranch workers temporarily occupied the house, but none wanted to stay long because the location was considered too remote. Eventually the house was abandoned and began to deteriorate.
The Medano-Zapata Ranch changed hands several times over the twentieth century. In 1989 a Japanese investment group bought the ranch to raise bison and open a high-end resort. In 1999 the company’s owner, Hisa Ota, decided to preserve the land by selling the ranch to the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy eventually closed the resort’s restaurant and golf course but continued to operate a guest ranching program and raise cattle and bison on the land.
In 2004 the Pedro Trujillo Homestead was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The next spring, Benjamin and Carole Fitzpatrick toured the homestead while staying at Medano-Zapata Ranch. The house was in disrepair and the Nature Conservancy did not have the resources to properly preserve it, so the Fitzpatricks decided to fund a restoration effort. Work began in 2006, stalled for a few years while the Fitzpatricks tried to secure outside grants, and was completed in 2010. The house was placed on a new foundation, the roof was patched, the windows and doors were restored, and a fence was built to keep the ranch’s bison away.
In 2002 the Teofilo Trujillo Homestead was rediscovered by RMC Consultants and J. Robert Linger. In 2006 RMC completed an archaeological assessment of the site using grants from the State Historical Fund and the National Park Service. The Teofilo Trujillo Homestead has experienced very little disturbance since Teofilo sold the land in 1902. The site still includes the ruins of an adobe structure (probably his burned house) as well as several artifact scatters that could offer new information about life at Hispano ranches in the late nineteenth century.
In 2012 the Teofilo and Pedro Trujillo Homesteads were named a National Historic Landmark, making them the first Hispano homesteads in the Southwest to achieve that distinction.