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Exploring Southwestern Colorado's Early History

Earlier this month, Colorado Mesa University Montrose hosted a captivating installment of the Montrose Lecture Series, featuring ethnohistorian and registered professional archaeologist Steven G. Baker. Throughout Baker’s colorful career, which spans 60 years, he has dedicated a majority of his studies to the Ute tribes of Colorado and Victorian mining settlements.

Baker’s research and insights were presented during his lecture titled Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765: The First Descriptions of Colorado and the Ute Indians.   

While many western Colorado residents might be aware of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition from the late 18th century, few are probably familiar with Juan Rivera, a Spaniard who set off from New Mexico 10 years earlier. Rivera traveled through southwestern Colorado, documenting his early encounters with Ute and Paiute Natives.

Using Rivera's journal to trace his two expeditions, Baker presented new information on Spanish exploration in Colorado, specifically in Montrose and Delta. Baker is one of the first historians to thoroughly explain Rivera’s experiences and detail his search for the Colorado River and the bearded men of Teguayo.

Baker theorizes that Escalante and Dominguez — who acknowledged their use of Rivera’s journal — were continuing Rivera’s mission to locate the Colorado River and the bearded men of Teguayo, a goal that they ultimately achieved.

“The human history of the Southwest still presents many puzzles, and while Baker offered some fitting pieces, he was careful in his presentation to point out all that is unconfirmed and unknown. It's an intriguing, ongoing study,” said Instructor of English Rhonda Claridge. 

This installment of the Montrose Lecture Series raised awareness of local history and provided attendees with a deeper insight into the accomplishments of historians, archaeologists and anthropologists as they work to understand and communicate the past.


Written by Amber Whisman