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1938), 10.



280 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

That the middle Puerco valley could not supply the new
wants and necessities was especially obvious to young men
returning from the world wars the valley offered them little
or nothing in comparison to what was offered elsewhere.
Most of them were attracted by opportunities for wage labor
in Albuquerque and other nearby cities and towns. Those
who remained on the land in the Puerco valley also found it
necessary to supplement their incomes with part time wage
labor outside the valley. In short, there was so much greater
economic opportunity in other areas that few felt they could
afford to remain in the valley. A subsistence economy had
little appeal in the midst of modern economic conditions.

A final agent in population decline and abandonment of
the villages was the fact that each farmer had a very small
acreage of cropland. At San Luis, for example, there was a
total irrigable area of 546 acres, which was divided into 28
different land holdings ; the largest holding of any individual
was 71 acres and the smallest was 3 acres. Average size of
the holdings was 19.5 acres, but most of them were smaller
than this average. Obviously most of these farm units were
too small to support the settlers at other than subsistence
levels. 63

The crop fields were of irregular shape, due mostly to the
exigencies of the topography, and bore no relation to the grid
system of land subdivision which they long antedated. Most
of them were long and narrow, with one end at the commu-
nity ditch and the other at the river bank. This was in part
due to the necessity of having each field supplied by the com-
munity ditch, and in part a result of land inheritance. The
original farm lands were subdivided lengthwise among heirs,
so the subdivided tracts came to form the long narrow
strips. 64 On the whole, however, the small size of the crop
fields was not so much the result of change through the years

63. Only at San Luis was a contemporary survey made of the irrigated land and
its subdivision, but a similar pattern of land holdings probably existed at each of the
other communities in the middle valley. Irrigated acreage at these other settlements
cannot be accurately determined at present because much of the crop land is now in-
distinguishable. A rough comparison may be made, however, between the irrigated
acreage at San Luis and that at nearby areas as shown in Figures 16, 17.

64. Soil Conservation Service file, op. cit.





i





GEOGRAPHY OF MIDDLE RIO PUERCO VALLEY 281

as it was a characteristic of the occupance from the begin-
ning; there was always a comparatively small amount of
cropland in relation to the population.

With the single exception of field size, the causal factors
in the decline of the Spanish-American settlements were all
changes in the physical and cultural setting. Most of these
changes may be traced, in turn, directly or indirectly to the
overuse and injury of land resources. When coupled with the
fact that these resources were meager initially, it is not sur-
prising that a major change took place in the occupance of
the Puerco valley. Basically this change represented a less-
ening in the intensity of land use, and it may be viewed as a
compensation for the overuse of the land that preceded it.

During the declining years of the villages there was a
heavy dependence on public assistance as a source of income.
A census taken in 1939 at San Luis showed that of 44 families
in the community only two were without some form of gov-
ernment welfare aid. Twenty-six families were subsidized by
Farm Security Administration grants, nine families had
members on WPA projects, six were assisted by the state
department of public welfare, and one had a member working
for the state highway department. 65 The population at San
Luis has now decreased to two families, and these still de-
pend on livestock, wage work, and subsidation.

Travel into and within the middle valley is very difficult
at present, as the roads are almost impassable. Countless
detours must be made around headward-eroding gullies, col-
lapsed bridges, and mudholes. Three high and rickety bridges
on the "main" road through the valley two across the
Puerco and one crossing Arroyo Balcon are much in need
of repair or replacement. At Guadalupe this same road fords
the river and is always impassable at this spot during the
rainy season. In the summer of 1957 a section of the road
north of Guadalupe was completely washed away by flash
flood waters, cutting off that village from all motor travel.

Not only are the roads neglected, but the entire area is
generally forgotten. The middle valley is located in the west-

65. Soil Conservation Service file, op. dt.



282 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

ern parts of Sandoval and Bernalillo counties, and each of
these counties, with an orientation toward centers of popu-
lation along the Rio Grande, can spare little attention to such
remote and slightly populated areas as the middle Puerco
valley. In short, the middle valley has lost all influence in
New Mexico, just as it will probably soon lose the last of its
inhabitants.

The physical and cultural environment of the upper val-
ley has also changed, but not so greatly as in the middle
valley. The settlers of the upper valley have made a re-ad-
justment to the changed environment. Crop agriculture,
though not entirely disappeared, is much less important
than it once was. Approximately twenty community ditch
systems were constructed in this area, but few of them are
still in use. Farming ceased at La Ventana long ago, even
before 1910 ; and just south of Cuba, irrigation has been im-
possible for the last ten to fifteen years. A few remaining
families in the latter area make some attempt at dry farming,
but with little success.

All the presently irrigated acreage is far upstream, in the
mountain valleys from which the Puerco originates. Here the
water supply is more constant and there is less danger of
large flash floods. Erosion and gullying are problems locally,
but the streams do not have deeply eroded flood plains and
channels like those in the middle Puerco. The main problem
in these valleys is the usual drying up of the streams and
ditches in the summer, when the water requirements are
greatest. 66 For this reason, together with all the factors indi-
cated for the decline of the middle valley, the amount of
farmed and irrigated land in the upper valley has decreased
greatly. In 1939 more than 5,500 acres in the area were irri-
gated by a total of seventeen ditch systems, but now much of
the acreage and most of the ditches have been abandoned. 67

Meanwhile there have been other economic developments
in the upper valley and, in comparison with these, the remain-
ing crop agriculture is no longer an important factor in the

66. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Water Facilities Area Plan . . . , op. tit.,
pp. 33. 43f.

67. Ibid., p. 41.



GEOGRAPHY OF MIDDLE RIO PUERCO VALLEY 283

total economy of the area. The new developments have also
increased the population of the area from less than a thou-
sand to about 2,000 persons.

Of these new American economies, commercial cattle
raising is most important, though it came about indirectly.
In the 1920's a number of new settlers moved into the upper
valley west of Cuba and attempted to dry farm some of the
lands. Failing in this because of the climate, they were soon
forced to leave the area or switch to cattle raising. Their
cattle industry now provides these people a fair living, but
it is not as successful as the same industry in more humid
areas.

Two other new developments are lumbering and copper
mining. Lumbering is carried on in some of the forested areas
near Cuba, and there is a sawmill southwest of the town.
Copper mining was formerly important in the mountains
just east of town, and mining activity may resume shortly.

For many years there have been a number of coal mines
in operation in the region between Cuba and La Ventana.
Only a few tons of coal are now produced per year, but there
was a considerable production in the past. During the 1920's
the coal was transported to the Rio Grande valley on a rail-
road that extended into the Puerco valley at La Ventana, but
mining production declined with the depression, and the rail-
road went out of business. The small amount of coal presently
mined is taken by truck to local markets in Bernalillo and
Albuquerque.

The larger coal mines were located near La Ventana,
which became the hub of mining activity. In 1930, about the
peak of the village's importance, it had two general stores,
a hotel, a post office, and a school. 68 Today there is a trading
post surrounded by ruined buildings.

Like the agriculture of the earlier settlers, all the activi-
ties introduced into the upper valley by the newcomers have
been only partially successful. Attempts at farming, as for-
merly, were limited by the physical environment. And in

68. Carle H. Dane, "The La Ventana-Chacra Mesa Coal Field," part 3 of Geology
and Fuel Resources of the Southern Part of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico, U. S.
Department of Interior, Geological Survey, Bulletin 860-C, 1936, p. 87.



284 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

other activities, because of their closer ties to the external
economy, they were even more limited than were the original
settlers by the cultural environment. Most noticeable in this
regard was the decline of mining, which was intimately
linked to the economy of the Rio Grande valley.

And yet, despite the decline of occupance, the total popu-
lation of the upper valley has not decreased within the last
years. In fact, there has been a notable increase, from a popu-
lation of about 1,000 in 1930 to 2,000 at the present. But the
increase is due only to the success of one settlement, the town
of Cuba. Long ago Cuba became the trade center of the en-
tire upper valley, and one might reasonably expect that the
town would have declined in size and importance just as did
all the settlements it served. On the contrary, Cuba has be-
come more important and prosperous than ever before. Most
of its prosperity, however, results not from the life of the
Puerco valley, but from the highway that passes through the
town. This highway (State Road 44) , though paved less than
ten years, is the only direct transportation route between
two of the most well developed regions of New Mexico, the
Rio Grande and San Juan River valleys. Cuba is about mid-
way between the two valleys and is the only town of notable
size on the 160 mile route. Much of its business is in supplying
the needs of travelers passing through on the highway.

Cuba is the only un-characteristic settlement in the entire
Rio Puerco valley. All other villages, whether in ruins or still
occupied by a few families, are visible evidences of deteriora-
tion and change that have taken place in the occupance of the
valley. Every hillside and gully presents similar evidence of
deterioration and change in the physical environment. What
further changes may occur, whether of improvement or
further deterioration, await only the future.



COLONEL DON FERNANDO DE LA CONCHA
DIARY, 1788

Edited by ADLAI FEATHER^

Historical Background

DON Fernando de la Concha succeeded Lieut. -Col. Juan
Bautista de Anza as governor on November 10, 1787.
The wise policy of his predecessor, both military and political,
had given the province greater security against the hostile
tribes than any which it had previously enjoyed. The Utes
and Comanches were at peace with each other and with the
Spaniards. The eastern Apaches were kept from the borders
by the intervention of the Comanches, to whom the governor
had given arms and horses. The Navajos were kept in a state
of truce, if not absolute friendliness, by a policy which in-
cluded bribery, cajolery, threats and flattery. Under the cir-
cumstances, with no danger threatening from other quarters,
Concha was able to get together one of the most formidable
expeditions ever led against the Gila and Mimbres Apaches.
These Indians were by far the most formidable enemies
which the Spaniards had encountered. The northern advance
of the frontiers of Mexico had brought contact before the
middle of the eighteenth century. At first, the superiority of
Spanish arms had given them some advantage but the tech-
niques of the Apaches soon improved sufficiently to nullify
the superiority which the use of firearms and horses had pre-
viously afforded. The situation worsened each year and be-
tween 1748 and 1772, more than four thousand individuals
had died at the hands of the Indians who drove off thousands
of horses and mules from the settlements and destroyed mil-
lions of pesos worth of property. In 1776, an inspection of
the Spanish defenses was ordered by the king and resulted
in strong measures being taken to curb the menace. The best
military men available were placed in command on the fron-
tier. A line of garrisoned fortresses was placed at strategic
locations. The northern provinces, including New Mexico,
were formed into a Commandance-General administered di-
rectly from Madrid. At intervals, strong expeditions were

285



286 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

sent out to harass the Indians on their own terrain. A gen-
eral war of attrition along the entire frontier caused the
Indians some loss in personnel but failed to result in any-
thing approaching subjugation.

The general plan of these expeditions was one of extreme
caution. The main body of the forces and the supply train
moved as rapidly as possible, keeping to the open country as
far as possible. Detachments were sent ahead to scour the
foothills of the mountains in an attempt to surprise small
groups or rancherias and destroy them before they could
seek refuge in the rough canyons. It was not considered advis-
able to penetrate deeply into the mountains since the Apaches
were experts in the arts of concealment and ambush. This
mode of warfare was continued by the Spaniards as long as
they were in command of the frontier and guided Concha in
his plan of action. His determination to cross the Gila Moun-
tains may have been preconceived but was probably decided
on the spot in view of the meagre success of his expedition on
the northern side of the range. It was then obvious that the
Apaches were well aware of the expedition well in advance
and had taken refuge in the rough country. The greater part
of the pay of both friendly Indians and settlers was to con-
sist in spoils taken in battle and sale of prisoners. The danger
of the mountains was probably preferable to the debacle of a
return empty-handed.

The interest which Governor Concha showed in the loca-
tion of the San Francisco River was one which was shared by
officials and citizens of New Mexico. The fabulous placers San
Ildef onso de la Cieneguilla had been discovered in 1779. These
were situated in Western Sonora at no great distance south of
the present Arizona border. As soon as the news had spread,
numerous New Mexican settlers left the province without
seeking the necessary permission and hastened to join the
thousands of gold-seekers already assembled. Those who had
no intention of deserting the state saw an improved market
for their goods and labor. Governor Anza had attempted to
form a combined military and trading caravan to Sonora by
way of the San Francisco river but found conditions unfavor-
able. The only Spaniards who had led expeditions by that



FERNANDO DE LA CONCHA DIARY 287

route were Don Bernardo Miera y Pacheco who went from
Zuni to the Gila in 1747. This journey was made before
the hostility of the Apaches had become solidified. Both re-
ported finding sedentary Indians who cultivated maize in the
vicinity of the present day towns of Alma and Pleasanton.
Their statements that the river bed formed a short and easy
road to Sonora was highly optimistic. It would have shortened
the distance by almost half but later exploration showed that
no road through the region could be called easy.

Concha had no guide available and apparently made no
special effort to locate the San Francisco river, otherwise he
would have proceeded to a point much nearer Zuni. His con-
jecture that he may have stumbled upon it by accident was
wrong ; at no time was he even within its drainage basin.

The Expedition

The number of men whom Concha had in his command is
nowhere stated. Ninety men left Santa Fe with him but no
accounting is made of the numbers who joined him en route
and at Laguna. There he selected twenty Navajos from
among numerous volunteers. Later in his narrative he men-
tions the presence of Indians from Taos, Zia, Santa Ana and
Jemez. There may have been natives from other Pueblos also.

Anza had been advised, eight years before, not to attempt
the trip with less than five hundred persons. Judging from
the numbers of men whom he was able to detach his com-
mand, he had not less than that number and more than twice
that many horses.

The settlers were obliged to furnish horses for themselves
and their servants. The Santa Fe garrison also possessed
their own. The King's herd was destined to furnish mounts
for the Indian allies, as had previously been done for the
Comanches in their war against the Jicarilla Apaches. A herd
of this size was undoubtedly unwieldy in rough or timbered
country. When the train was sent to await the Governor at
Fra Cristobal, the escort may have been small or so encum-
bered by the animals that they were able only to defend them-
selves from the Indians who harassed them without feeling
capable of taking the offensive.



288 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

The Route

His route is easy to trace even though there are many
obvious errors in his distances and the direction of his
marches. The stopping places mentioned on his way from
Santa Fe to Acoma are still well known and the distances
correct. From that Pueblo, his first day's journey took him to
Cebolla Spring, still so-called, thirty-one miles away near the
foot of Cebolleta Mesa. His next stop was made in the open
plain where he found water. Evidently the season had been
one of normal rain or more since he never encountered diffi-
culty in finding sufficient water for his horse herd. His third
stop was near the site known at present as Tres Lagunas. The
name of San Bartolome by which he designates the place is
not to be found on maps of any period and is not used in the
locality. The alternate name of El Presidio probably owes its
origin to the appearance of a nearby peak, westernmost of
the Sawtooth Range. Its vertical sides and flat top resemble a
fortress, even from near at hand. He encamped at the lake a
short distance to the northwest.

He was now traveling through pinon and juniper country
which made a more or less circuitous route necessary because
of the low-growing branches. Since these grow densely on
the ridges and sparsely or not at all in the heavier soil of the
valleys, it is likely that he rounded the west end of the Saw-
tooth Mountains and followed two opposite valleys, one of
which leads downward into the flat land and opens into an-
other which ascends toward the foot of Allegros Mountain
where he made camp.

On the next day, he crossed the mountain range, passing
east of Allegros Peak, through Greens Gap and to the west
of Horse Mountain, stopping at Horse Springs. The broad
plain of San Agustin was crossed at a rapid pace, fifteen
leagues in a single day. His progress on the following day is
doubtless in error. Setting out at one in the afternoon and
stopping at five, he could not have covered the fourteen
leagues given in his diary. He probably advanced less than
a half of that distance.

Here he sent back his supply train and horse herd. Pro-



FERNANDO DE LA CONCHA DIARY 289

ceeding six miles over rocky terrain, he came to a river which
he thought might be the San Francisco. It was the East Fork
of the Gila. Surprising an Indian rancheria, he had his first
and greatest success, killing eighteen and taking four
prisoners.

A long and difficult journey of sixteen leagues in a single
day took him across the mountains to a point not far from
Pinos Altos. He then entered the Mimbres Valley and followed
the stream to the Cienega del Rio Mimbres and two leagues
beyond. Turning back to the northeast, he followed the low
ridges of the Mimbres Mountains and crossed over a short
distance north of Sawyers Peak. Descending the South Fork
of the Percha, he camped at a spring near Hillsboro, then
turned north to the marsh of the upper Animas Creek. Here
he captured an Indian girl and proceeded north, crossing the
Seco and Palomas Creeks, and camped on Cuchillo Negro
Creek.

Finding that his supply train was not at Fra Cristobal,
he crossed the Rio Grande and followed the east bank of the
river and the Camino Real to Santa Fe.

Diary

Diary of the expedition against the Gila and Mimbres
Apaches begun on the 22nd day of August, 1788, organized
by the Governor of New Mexico who had previously given
the necessary orders that the settlers and Indians of the
Province should assemble in the Pueblo of Laguna.

The 22nd

I left the town of Santa Fe with seventy-four soldiers,
eight Comanches, eight Jicarilla Apaches and the horse herds
of the garrison and of the king and made camp for the night
at the plains of Santo Domingo. Leagues 10

The 23rd

We left the Plains of Santo Domingo and made camp at
Alameda for the night. On this day, two soldiers who were
ill were sent back to Santa Fe. 10



290 NEW MEXICO HISTORICAL REVIEW

The 24th

We traveled from this point to the plains of Isleta where
we made camp. 8

The 25th

At this Pueblo, I dispatched a detachment to the Sierra de
la Magdalena by way of the Sierra de los Ladrones, com-
manded by Sergeant Pablo Sandoval and composed of twenty
soldiers and twenty selected civilians. I gave orders that they
should reconnoiter both ranges, following any tracks which
they might find in order to discover whether there were any
enemies in these places and to punish them if they found
them there. They were to rejoin me at the town of Laguna
where they would find me making necessary arrangements
for the general campaign.

With this in mind, I left Isleta and came to the Rio Puerco
at midnight, examining all the places from which the Apaches
frequently make their raids. 8

The 26th

From the Rio Puerco, I went to the Pueblo of Laguna,
making reconnaissance as before. 10

The 27th

I halted in order to assign all my forces, supply our allies
and organize the divisions. Out of the royal treasury I bought
cattle and sheep for the maintenance of the Comanches, Jica-
rillas, and Navajos. Of the last-named nation no less than
fifty-three had joined me on the previous day; but realizing
the great expense which it would cause the treasury to fur-
nish them with food for two months, as well as the wearing
down of the king's horses which would result, I dismissed a
part of them, thanking them for their good will and present-
ing them with gifts. I kept the well-known Antonio el Pinto 1

1. Antonio el Pinto was a Navajo well known to the Spaniards. He had formerly
been seen among Indian raiders in Sonora. In 1786, he came to Santa Fe with others of
his tribe and declared his allegiance to the Spaniards. Later, he was reported to have
been seen at an Apache council at the Picacho ; an accusation which he denied.

His friends and relatives were among the Apaches who lived on the Mimbres which
accounts for the zeal with which he fought a strange tribe on the upper Gila and his
reluctance to lead the army farther south.



FERNANDO DE LA CONCHA DIARY 291

and nineteen of his family group which is composed of some
of the most vigorous individuals and best acquainted with the
territory to which we are proceeding.

On the same day, I completed the organization of four
divisions under the command of First Lieutenant Don Manuel
Delgado, Ensign Don Antonio Guerrero and Sergeants Pablo
Sandoval and Don Clieto Miera. Each of these four divisions
I further divided into another four to avoid confusion. These
were placed under the command of military officers and
sergeants.

The 28th

A review was made of the troops and their arms and
general orders were given concerning the stations of each one
under all circumstances.

The 29th

Ammunition was distributed according to need. Sergeant
Pablo Sandoval joined me with his party, after reconnoiter-
ing the Sierra de la Magdalena and the Sierra de los Ladrones,
and reported no fresh tracks nor any new occurrences.


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