The Vigil Legacy
By: John H. Vigil, July 1992
The story of the Vigil legacy is based and deeply rooted at the foothills of the Huajatollas (Spanish Peaks) in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in southern Colorado. This legend spans some seven generations of native Coloradoans.
Trujillo Creek, named after Jose Ramon Trujillo, is located at the foot of the Huajatollas in northwestern Las Animas County of southern Colorado. Trujillo Creek is made up of gentle sloping hillsides, green meadows, cottonwood, evergreen, elderberry, choke cherry and aspen trees. Beautiful wild irises, shooting stars, and yellow wild sweet peas bloom along the creek and meadows. The rich soil of Trujillo Creek brings to life luscious fields of hay, alfalfa, oats, corn and wheat along with the usual vegetable gardens and apple orchards.
Summer in the valley of Trujillo Creek is relatively short. The growing season only lasts from ninety to one hundred days – but lasts long enough for the small farming and ranching community.
As the Mexican Land Grants (Vigil-St. Vrain) became a reality and the Homestead Act of 1862 was being created, the Spaniards were beginning to infiltrate and settle Trujillo Creek. Most of the families came from New Mexico and others who had lived along the Rio Grande. It was in this era that the Vigil’s from Mora, New Mexico came to live and settle in beautiful and fertileTrujillo Creek some one hundred and twenty-four years ago. Even to this day, Trujillo Creek still remains free of dense pollution with beautiful blue skies, clear air to breathe, and “the peace and serenity” (Lucero, 7) that it offered to the pioneers in the mid 1860’s and 1870’s.
Some of the early Vigil pioneers of Trujillo Creek were Juan de Jesus Vigil (Indian Scout), Jose Maria Vigil, Juan Bautista Vigil and relatives related through marriage included such pioneers as Jose Ramon Trujillo (married to the eldest Daughter of Juan de Jesus Vigil), Blas Felipe Quintana and Quinero Maes.
From these family heads began the many generations of Vigil’s who among others helped shape the entire Ritos de Trujillo. Through the years, others have filtered into Trujillo Creek and also have taken part in the challenge of establishing the community.
Juan de Jesus Vigil, member of the Mounted Spies and Scouts of New Mexico, and his wife, Romana, brought their large family to Trujillo Creek in the1860’s from Mora, New Mexico. The family of Juan de Jesus consisted of Isidoro, Hilario, Telesforo, Celedon, Manuel, Juan, Elias, Francisquita, Antonia, Desideria, and Ysabelita. Two other members of his family stayed behind in New Mexico. Some of the land, which the Vigil family owned, now belongs to fourth and fifth generations. One of his great-granddaughters lost her life in the Ludlow Massacre (Coal Miner’s Strike of 1914).
Jose Maria Vigil and his family migrated to Trujillo Creek from El Rito, New Mexico. His wife, Guadalupita, was the daughter of Quinero Maes. They settled near the Plazita de Trujillo Creek in the early 1870’s. Jose Maria’s family ran a local sawmill and the home he built is still occupied by third and fourth generations.
With the coming of the Spaniards settling Trujillo Creek came religion. Of vital importance to the pioneers was the need to build a church. A small house in the plazita (town) had been used for services. Jose Maria Vigil and his brother, Juan Bautista, started the project and called a meeting to discuss the building of a chapel. Others included in the planning were Blas Felipe Quintana, Juan de Jesus Vigil, Celedon Vigil, Hilario Vigil, and many others. Every one present agreed to donate money, goods and services toward the building. Jose Maria and Juan Bautista Vigil who had adjoining land donated the land site. Jose Maria Vigil offered to oversee the project and the adobe making skill of Celedon Vigil produced 3,000 adobes for the chapel structure. The woodworking skill of Jose Inez Cordova, son-in-law of Isidoro Vigil, was generously donated.
The chapel was dedicated in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Priests came from Trinidad once a month to hold mass and stayed in the sacristy of the chapel which was equipped with living quarters. The chapel still remains in tact and as long as it stands it will give evidence of a “faith, dignity and charm of an era that is gone but still remembered.” (Lucero, 26)
Education was also an important part of Trujillo Creek. School was set up in the early days in a one-room house at the plazita. Before a chapel was built, the school served as a place of worship and the local post office. Reading, the translating of Spanish to English, and writing were taught. The pupils attending the school walked or rode horseback eight and ten miles round trip each day. A community meeting was held to discuss the best place for a school that that would be conveniently located for the children. It was agreed to establish a school half way up the valley. The land was donated by Isidoro Vigil. The adobe two-room schoolhouse was built in the late 1890’s. Jose I. Cordova, son-in-law of Isodoro, was one of the building contractors.
At one time the daily average attendance in school was seventy-five pupils. Average wages for the two teachers were $40 to $75 per nine-month period. A three-room cottage behind the school was used by teachers with families. The school building no longer stands and the school building that replaced it was eventually converted into a home.
Life in the early days of the Vigil’s was simple and peaceful. A lot of their social life centered around their religion and community.
Namesake days were celebrated. Some common names that had namesake days were Juan, Jose, Pedro, and Manuel. In the celebration of birthdays or namesake days, several people got together with guitars and violins, composed verses to suit the honored person and went to wake the entire household in the wee dawn hours with the music and singing. The day was spent eating, dancing and singing.
Wedding celebrations consisting of dances, marches, and “entourages” (Lucero, 180) were looked forward to. A chance to celebrate!
The types of dances were square dancing, varselanas and waltzes—the young and the old all took part. It is reported that even the local Indians joined in and danced to Indita, a popular Indian dance. Dances were held in individual homes or the local schoolhouse. The music instruments used were violins, guitars, mouth harps and accordions.
Along with the celebrations of the various local events was the feasting on local food (buffet style) prepared by the women.
Storytelling, puppet shows, picnics and horseshoe pitching were also popular forms of family entertainment. Los Alomitos (a group of cottonwood trees between Aguilar and Trujillo Creek) was a popular spot for family and community picnics. This same area provided a rest area for people traveling by horse and buggy from 1860-1900.
In later years, elections were even cause for festive occasions. Public addresses by politicians were held at schoolhouses and other public places. Many of the county officials who sought votes through these means gained the confidence of the locals along with their hard work and commitment.
Even though the pioneers found the time to join in fun-filled activities, at the end of each day, the families knelt and bowed their heads in prayer. At the end of prayers, youngsters were given a blessing (bendicion) by their parents and grandparents. Religion was never far away even in work and play.
Death also brought the community together. When a person passed away, a messenger on horseback traveled to all the homes to report the death. After the chapel was built, the chapel bell peeled sadly as the news of a death was relayed. Neighbors gathered at the home of the bereaved to offer their help and condolence. A wooden coffin was built and the women prepared the body for the burial. An all night wake took place prior to burial. Alabados (singing of prayers) were sung to the deceased until midnight. Food was then served and neighbors returned to their homes and some stayed with the family. When dawn arrived, a team of black horses hitched to a wagon carried the deceased to the local to the local cemetary the burial. Once again the entire community gathered for the funeral. To this day, graves of our pioneers are still in tact in the Trujillo Creek Cemetary. To this day, graves of our pioneers are still intact in the Truillo Creek Cemetary. Some of the graves hold veterans of World War I and World War II and a couple that had served during the Civil War.
The past about Trujillo Creek is now history, the present belongs to those who survive, but the “future of this peaceful valley is not for us to predict.” (Lucero, 36)