Celebrating local history


Organizing events is not one of my strong points; it's work enough to organize words. Nonetheless, for most of the past 14 years, I've been more or less in charge of Anza Day in Poncha Springs, Colorado. Actually, it's such a small event that it should be called "Anza Two Hours," but it still takes some work.

On Aug. 27, 1779, Juan Bautista de Anza camped there with an army of 800 soldiers -- 200 of them Ute warriors -- and at least 2,000 horses on a military campaign that left the first written record of this part of the world. In a sense, I suppose, you could say that our history began then, if you define history as a written record of the past.

Anza was one of the most capable and energetic of Spain's colonial governors, back when this was "la frontera del norte," rather than "the western frontier." He is fairly well known in California, at least to history buffs, since he located the Presidio of San Francisco in 1776, taking the route of what is now the presentation was no exception.

An environmental historian, Tom Wolf, talked about the ecological pressures -- horses were supplanting bison on the Plains -- that pushed the Comanche toward raiding along the Rio Grande. We've also heard from Don Garate, historical ranger at Tumacacori National Historic Park in Arizona, who impersonates Anza and is working on a three-volume biography.

Since this was a military campaign, it seemed appropriate to get the perspective a military historian, and we got one last year from Lt. Col Chrisopher Rein, who teaches military history at the U.S. Air Force Academy. This year, the speaker is Vincent C. de Baca, professor of history at Metropolitan State College in Denver. He edited the award-winning anthology La Gente: Hispano History and Life in Colorado, and he'll be talking about the conflicts between Hispanics and Comanche in the 18th century.

Anza Day starts with a potluck at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22, in Chipeta Park in Poncha Springs, followed by the presentation at 7 p.m. in the town hall across the street. It's free and open to the public, and if you're in the area then, I hope you'll drop by. Poncha Springs, at the junction of U.S. 285 and U.S. 50, is so small that you shouldn't have any trouble finding the event. Over the years, I've enjoyed hearing many perspectives on Anza. And one of these years, I hope to get a Comanche historian, because I'd like hear their side of an important, if obscure, military campaign. That will add to the rewards that come from the work of organizing an event, even one as small as Anza Day.

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