Costilla (Spanish, rib) County is centered on the Culebra (Spanish, snake) River, a tributary of the Rio Grande. It is the oldest continually inhabited county in the state and has the highest percentage (80) of Spanish-surnamed residents.
Farmers and ranchers came in the 1850s to what is still a rural area with only one incorporated town, the county seat of San Luis. When designated one of the original seventeen counties in 1861, Costilla had almost 2,000 residents. From a peak population of 7,533 in 1940, the county dropped to 3,190 residents by 1990. Its eastern half climbs the wild, rugged Sangre de Cristo Range, said to have been named by a Franciscan padre to whom the sunset glow on the snowcapped peaks suggested the blood of Christ. The flatter, western half of the county, bordered by the Rio Grande, has a few small family farms and ranches. Although one of the poorest Colorado counties in per capita income, it is rich in vernacular adobe architecture.
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