Questa was originally known as San Antonio del Rio Colorado (Saint Anthony of the Red River). Questa is at an elevation of 7,655 feet, on the western edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountians (Blood of Christ). It is said that when the first Spanish explorers in the region saw the red and purple hue hit the mountains in the evening during sunset, they cried out, "la Sangre de Cristo."
In 1883, the town acquired a post office and Leander Hambelin, the postmaster, as the story goes, misspelled the new village name in his report to the U.S. Postal Department in Washington, D.C. He meant to write down “Cuesta.” a Spanish word for rolling hills. Instead he wrote down "Questa." The name Questa remains today.
Some historians claim Don Francisco Loforet homesteaded in this area beside the river in 1829. Originally, Questa was settled as a farming and mining town. A hundred families lived in the area in 1849 receiving mountain men and traders who came over the old Taos Trail in covered wagons. Attacks by Apaches and Utes forced villagers in 1854 to erect a 6-foot defensive wall around the village to provide some protection.
I often wonder about the defensive wall story as there is no site or ruins of any such fence formation around the village, but I leave that to others who may have more documented history.
One other interesting and more believable “cuento” about Questa is the story about the red rock formation on the mountains above the Village of Questa. A long resident of Questa, Gustvo Rael told me this particular historical note. Some of the villagers refer to it as “sentinel hill.” Villagers were always on the lookout to the west for attacking Apache or Ute Indians. From this vintage point, the villagers who were assigned the responsibility of being on guard for any approaching danger, would be able to see any “cloud of dust” approaching and they could then signal the villagers below to move their families, cattle, or any belongs into the high walls that surrounded many of the homes at the time. It also gave the villagers time to go on the defensive or offensive depending on how you look it and make sure they could defend their village. This is an interesting and more believable “cuento” of the history of the area.
In a series of articles written by Lawrence Gallegos and published in The Taos News in 1979. Gallegos raised in Taos County, and at the time an employee of the Department of Human Service in Albuquerque, researched the history of Questa’s San Antonio del Rio Colorado land grant. He read microfilms of the land grant documents in The University of New Mexico library and the New Mexico Archives in Santa Fe. This particular article written by Lawrence Gallegos regarding the Questa land grant request appeared in The Taos News, March 1, 1979 Edition:
San Antonio del Rio Colorado (Questa) was officially founded January 19, 1842, as a land grant community. The petition for the grant is dated January 8, 1842. The petition document shows Rafael Archuleta making the request for the grant for himself and other individuals (Antonio Elias Armenta and Miguel Montoya). This petition document reads:
“The citizen of Rafael Archuleta, resident of the jurisdiction of Taos, in the names of those subscribed in the accompanying petition, present myself before your honor with the due respect and submission that I owe and say, Sir, that finding ourselves in want of land for the support of our families, and believing that the public lands should be given to those, who take an interest in developing them for the promotion of agriculture, and as our wise laws empower the governor and the Prefect to give the public lands for the increase of agriculture and the petitioners believing that the land which we solicit at El Rio Colorado, is very fertile for the purpose which we solicit it and without prejudice to any third party, we ask of your honor, at the most immediate time, to grant our solicitation giving us with amplitude the tract with its corresponding surroundings, obligating ourselves not to abandon the land that we ask for, unless it be on account of an invasion of the enemy and we should not receive aid, for all of which we ask and request that our petition be granted and by doing so we shall receive benefits and advantage, affirming and swearing that our petition is not out of malice but of necessity, and this petition is made in common paper because there is none of the proper kind in this district, nor in Santa Fe nor in any other place, binding ourselves to pay triple.”
Rio Arriba, January 8, 1842
Signed by Rafael Archeluta, Antonio Elias Armenta and Miguel Montoya.
The grant was officially approved January 19, 1842, in the form of a “Posecion” document. A translation of this document has also been obtained and reads:
“In San Gernomio de Taos the 19th day of January of the present year 1842, the Justice of the Peace of the First and Second Jurisdiction by virtue of the laws of said two jurisdictions, Don Juan Antonio Martin in fulfillment of the order of the Prefect of the First District Don Juan Andres Archuleta as it appears in the superior decree made the 18th day of the present month that it be given for possession the Rio Colorado and that the duties belonging there to be made known and having proceded to the land, I, said, Justice of the Peace in company of two witnesses, the citizen Juan Andres Lovato and Jose Antonio Gutierrez, finding the mentioned land free and public there being present thirty five families…….” (To be continued is the last sentence in the news article).
One of Questa's oldest surviving building is Saint Anthony Catholic Church. The church was constructed in 1841 with thick adobe walls, massive vigas and corbels, and high ceilings. The renovated church is still in use today. The beautiful, warm and inviting interior speaks volumes of the history the church has played in the Questa community. It's altar and statues provide a place of serenity and worship.
These days, Questa's population of 1,905 includes many descendents of the original Spanish settlers. Richard Rael recently left a note in the Guest Page that is worth following up with. Rael recomends reading "To the Ends of the Earth." It is a history of Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. The book will explain the "real reason" why some of the Spanish settlers settled in Questa, Cerrilos, & Mora, New Mexico.
The white "Q" on the mountainside continues to proclaim to all travelers and visitors to the area, the great sense of history and pride the residents of Questa still experience about their historical roots and heritage.
Mining has been a part of the Northern New Mexico heritage since the early 1900's. Molybdenum was formed during the volcanic activity over 25 million years ago and discovered in the early twentieth century. In 1918, underground mining began at the Moly Mine. Depending on the ups and downs on the price of molybdenum, the mining operation has bolstered Questa's growth and economy.
Today, the Molycorp Questa Mine continues to be a vital part of the community and continuing controversy and debate over its impact on the environment and community. Tourism and farming are also important economic factors in the community.
(Some information above courtesy of Jai Cross/The Taos News, the Northern New Mexico Historical Society and Museum and NM Economic Development Department).