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Dalton Milberger mics up for an interview at families field of Pueblo Chiles. (Ashley Lowe for PULP)

Green Chile: A Seed or a Symbol?

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Tell me this: What makes the Pueblo identity? It could be a lot of things. For some, bad; for others, good.

For Dalton Milberger and many others, though, the answer is quite simple: it’s green chile.

“For the majority of the public, [green chile] plays a huge role,” says Milberger, President of Pueblo Chile Growers Association. Son of Shane Milberger who founded the local farm on the Mesa over 30 years ago, Dalton is one of the many who sees green chile as not only a symbol for our city, but as a way of life.

“Ask anybody ‘what’s there to do in Pueblo throughout the year?’ One of their first answers is the Chile Fest. And that all started because of the Pueblo chile,” Milberger states.

And he’s right. Puebloans cling to the symbol of green chile as a way of communal identification. I mean, we have an entire festival devoted to green chile. We boast our local sloppers; restaurants compete to make the best ones. We eat green chile year round in a range of dishes, not to mention the fact that we have our own green chile beer and wine. We even have green chile license plates for crying out loud. So, it’s fair to say that green chile has become a prominent part of our city’s identity in recent decades.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Before the generation of green chile license plates and festivals celebrating the pepper, our identity relied in an entirely different market—that is, the steel industry.

Tell me this: What makes the Pueblo identity? It could be a lot of things. For some, bad; for others, good.
For Dalton Milberger and many others, though, the answer is quite simple: it’s green chile.
“For the majority of the public, [green chile] plays a huge role,” says Milberger, President of Pueblo Chile Growers Association. Son of Shane Milberger who founded the local farm on the Mesa over 30 years ago, Dalton is one of the many who sees green chile as not only a symbol for our city, but as a way of life.
“Ask anybody ‘what’s there to do in Pueblo throughout the year?’ One of their first answers is the Chile Fest. And that all started because of the Pueblo chile,” Milberger states.
And he’s right. Puebloans cling to the symbol of green chile as a way of communal identification. I mean, we have an entire festival devoted to green chile. We boast our local sloppers; restaurants compete to make the best ones. We eat green chile year round in a range of dishes, not to mention the fact that we have our own green chile beer and wine. We even have green chile license plates for crying out loud. So, it’s fair to say that green chile has become a prominent part of our city’s identity in recent decades.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Before the generation of green chile license plates and festivals celebrating the pepper, our identity relied in an entirely different market—that is, the steel industry.
“CF&I was the first integrated steel mill west of the Mississippi,” says USAFA professor Dr. Terrence W. Haverluk in his article “Chile Peppers and Identity Construction in Pueblo, Colorado.” With our “location along the river…[having] limestone, coal, and iron,” we had all the makings to thrive in this market.
And that’s just what we did. We thrived. We rode on steel as a way to grow our economy and our jobs and our city. According to Haverluk, “CF&I managers rapidly integrated Pueblo with the industrial Midwest.” The steel industry not only built our literal city, but it built our identity.
How and when, then, did chile come into the picture for us? Believe it or not, it was a part of Pueblo’s identity long before the steel era and the city of Pueblo itself.
It started with a fort.
Imagine ristras. Imagine a small community of diverse peoples hanging up ristras to dry in an adobe square. The walls? Eight feet high. In the center of the plaza, hornos—or ovens—where meals of “beans, meat, corn, onions, and chiles” were prepared (Haverluk). Imagine a small community of people planting the seeds for what would later become a symbol for our city and an imprint on our license plates.
The year: 1842. Five Anglo-Americans established a trading post north of the Arkansas, which at the time functioned as the border between the US and Mexico.
“The early population of Fort Pueblo was primarily Mexican, with a few Ute, Comanche, and Arapahoe Indian…
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