Due to external pressures and free land, several Hispanic families moved to Monticello and the surrounding San Juan County. The rural landscape allowed Hispanic families to keep more of their culture than those in more urban spaces which manifested in the construction of the first Hispanic Catholic Church in the state.
Compared to the rest of the American Southwest, Utah did not have as strong a Hispanic population until the twentieth century. Previously, Hispanic men had often moved to southern Utah to herd sheep and cattle for three quarters of the year before moving back home to their families. Beginning in the early 1900s, men started to bring their families to Monticello, Utah. Many of the Hispanic families who moved to Monticello were citizens from small New Mexican villages or Colorado. Governments and policies in these states took away Hispanics’ land, water, and right to be involved in the government. This, along with the promise of “free” land in Monticello, spurred Hispanics to move. Groups of families began homesteading in the community with men being employed as sheep herders, ranch hands, and cowboys.
William Herman Gonzalez’s father was of the first family to move to the community in the early twentieth century. Born and raised in Monticello, Gonzalez remembers that “there was always deer meat and potatoes and plenty of tortillas.” Their small group of Hispanics attracted others to move to the community, “this gathering.” In times of need, the families of Hispanics would rally around one another, although they were mostly independent due to the layout of Monticello. As a consequence of the rural landscape, the Hispanics who moved to Monticello were able to keep more of their traditional culture in comparison to Hispanics who moved to urban landscapes. Many were strongly Catholic and raised money to build the first Hispanic Catholic church in Utah, St. Joseph’s.
The relations between Hispanics and Anglos in the community were complex because of the cultural barriers between Catholic and Mormon and Anglo and Hispanic. The two communities did not intermarry until the late 1940s. When World War II began, about 125 Hispanic men enlisted in the war. Upon their return, some were able to advance economically. One of them was Robert Nieves who opened the Highland Café in 1947. However, World War II and the Korean War created new dynamics in this southern part of the state and led many Hispanics in and around Monticello to move north for better paying jobs, bringing with them their strong sense of culture.