A Quick Area History
Although there is evidence of pre-historic peoples living in the area, the town built by the Chacoan culture is the
earliest proof of permanent settlement in the Bloomfield area. Now
called “Salmon Ruins,” the carefully constructed pueblo was built in 1088 A.D., mid-way between Mesa Verde and
Chaco Canyon. There is evidence the Chocoans built a road from the city in Chaco
Canyon to the town, and forded the San Juan River
at the place Peter M. Salmon used when he entered the area.
The Chacoans left the area in the mid twelfth century, and the site was vacant for nearly a hundred years until the
people of the Mesa Verde culture occupied the town at Salmon Ruins. Before the
end of the thirteenth century, however, the Mesa Verdeans also abandoned the area.
Navajo clans settled in the Largo Canyon
around 1500, building forked stick hogans on ridges overlooking the canyons. They
also built huts of timbers, brush and mud. The Navajo tilled flood-watered valleys,
growing corn and squash, and also hunting game.
After the Pueblo Revolts of 1680 and 1696, some Pueblo Indians left their homes along the Rio Grande and came to the Largo-Gubernador area, settling with the Navajo to be free of
Spanish rule. They introduced weaving, pottery and some religious ceremonies
to the Navajo culture. In the mid eighteenth century, because of Ute raids and
droughts, these groups were forced west to the area of the present-day Navajo Reservation.
Until 1874, probably only the occasional Spanish exploring party passed through the area. Padre Escalante came through in 1776, naming Mesa Verde after climbing up the face of the mesa. After Navajos became shepherds, some clans brought their herds to graze along the river bottom in the summer
and moved back to the mesas in winter.
began to settle in what is now Turley in 1874, coming down the Largo Canyon from Colorado. The widow Mrs. Juanita Valdez Lobato and her son David E. Lobato are credited with being the first family
to put down roots in the area.
In 1876, the San Juan County
region was opened for settlement. Peter M. Salmon and his family came a year
later, as did Orange Phelps and others. Early settlers describe the region as covered in grama grass that brushed the stirrup. It was ideal grazing land for both sheep and cattle.
As the mines in Colorado grew in the 1880s, the demand
for beef rose dramatically. Cattle rustling became a common problem, and residents
of the Bloomfield, Farmington,
and Aztec areas formed militias to protect their herds.
There was also friction between sheepherders and cattlemen since their stock competed for the same feed. Some of the tension might also have been the clash between cultures, as most cattle raisers were Anglo
and most shepherds were Hispanic. John Arrington tells of Port Stockton riding
with a posse (before he became seen as an outlaw) and shooting a Spanish-American shepherd on sight because he was a “natural
enemy” of cattlemen like himself.
Water is another valuable resource in the San Juan County. The confluence of the La Plata, Animas and San Juan Rivers
caused Navajos to call the Farmington area “Totah,”
meaning “three rivers” or “land of waters.” Farmers appreciated
these rivers as irrigating sources, which allowed beans, hay and orchards to be grown.
For more information on individual towns,
see the Town Biographies.