Montezuma County has been settled since approximately AD 600, and had an estimated population of approximately 100,000, four times its current population, in the 12th century. However, a series of events caused virtually all permanent settlements to be abandoned between 1200 and 1300, and the area was contested between nomadic Ute and Navajo bands until resettlement occurred in the 1870s.

1868: The Confederate Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation was established

1886: Plat for Cortez was filed in Durango and the first irrigation system was platted

1887: First businesses in Cortez included a restaurant run by Mr. F.M Goodykoontz and a real estate office started by E.H. Cooper

1888: Water first arrived in ditches through Montezuma Valley Water Supply; population of Cortez was 300 people including 60 women & 60 school-aged children

1888 - 1889: First permanent buildings included: Congregational Church, Pearl Wasson's Livery & McEwan's Livery, Post Office, Harrington's Drug Store, a meat market & grocery, Montezuma Valley Journal, a courthouse & jail and Montezuma Valley National Bank in the Stone Building and in 1890 early maps show first streets: Main First, North, Montezuma, Chestnut, Market & Beech

1889: Montezuma County formed

1890: Domestic water arrived in Cortez via a wooden flume and 11 canals were being built to serve the county with water from the Dolores River

Town Incorporation: 1894: Mancos incorporated; 1900: Dolores incorporated; 1902: Cortez  incorporated

1906: Mesa Verde National Park was established by President Theodore Roosevelt to "preserve the works of man"; by 1916 the number of cars in the state rose from 15,000 to 300,000 and along with newly constructed roads and interest, tourist traffic increased

1917: Dr Emil Johnson converted two cottages into a hospital on the site that is now occupied by the Best Western Turquoise Inn on Main Street in Cortez

1924: New Mexico Lumber Company bid on a contract for 4 million board feet of timber in the Montezuma National Forest bringing a large number of mill & lumber workers to the Dolores Valley and revitalizing the economy

1929: Cortez got it's first swimming pool when new water lines were brought in from Groundhog Reservoir

1930's: Gas is found in McElmo Canyon located southwest of Cortez

1941: Empire Electric Association begins supplying power to 50 area members

1949: Cortez Regional Airport opened

1955: KVFC radio founded with Dotty Wayt as one of the announcers

1986: McPhee Dam (265 feet tall) was completed on the Dolores River with a full capacity of 381,000 acre feet of water

Montezuma County Today

The County is comprised of 1,333,888 acres (2,084 sq. miles) and was originally part of neighboring La Plata County. Of these lands, 30% are private, 33% are tribal (Ute Mountain Ute), and 37% are state and federal lands.

There are three incorporated municipalities in Montezuma County: Cortez, Dolores and Mancos, and a large number of unincorporated communities, including Towaoc, Lewis, Arriola, Mesa Verde, Lebanon, Stoner, Weber, and Battle Rock. 

It is also varied topographically, ranging in elevation from about 5,200 feet (1,584 meters) to 13,232 feet (4,033 m), and from high Colorado Plateau desert to alpine tundra.  

The second largest reservoir in Colorado, McPhee Reservoir is located northwest of Cortez and there are many other large reservoirs, and hundreds of private lakes and ponds. Much of the county is irrigated cropland, and it produces fruit, large numbers of cattle and sheep, and beans.


Miracle at Cortez: A Lockheed U-2 "Dragon Lady" reconnaissance aircraft made an emergency nighttime forced landing August 3, 1959, at the Cortez Municipal Airport  almost nine months before Gary Powers was shot down over Russia. Major H. Mike Hua (now retired as General) was on a training flight originating at Laughlin AFB, Texas; the U-2 aircraft engine flamed out at 70,000 feet MSL. Maj. Hua established best glide and was able to navigate through a valley to a lighted airport that wasn't on his map nor did he know of its existence beforehand. The airport was the only one in the area with a lighted runway which was illuminated overnight.The aircraft in question, a U-2D, serial number 56-6721, is on display at Blackbird Airpark, adjacent to USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, California. Major Hua was later awarded the U.S. Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for his successful landing of the secret aircraft.