Hunting in New Mexico’s Acequia Communities Goes Way Back

 

Juan Estévan Arellano

 

Acequia people and hunting go way back in northern New Mexico. When the harvest was brought in and the cattle were back in, eating the rastrojo (chaff) after a summer in the sierra (mountains), people prepared for the caza (hunt).

 

In the past it wasn’t for trophies at all; it was a matter of survival. People from all the villages would all get together and assemble a team of hunters to go after cibolo (buffalo).

 

Every able-bodied man in the village (and this meant kids in their early teens) would gather and elect someone who had previous experience to lead them over the Sierra Madres (today called the Sangre de Cristos) to go over towards Mora, and from there to the Llano Estacados in eastern NM. This would take them several weeks. They had someone who was in charge of killing the buffalo; others followed behind to harvest the animal. It was dried immediately where it was killed and then put into sacks and brought back home as carne seca.

 

When they arrived home, there was a big get-together. Even the elderly or the infirm who couldn’t send anyone on the hunt would all get meat; everyone had to survive the cold winters.

 

Fast-forward closer to the present. I still remember the old El Cerrito bar, when the day before the big hunt, everyone started arriving very early, all dressed in red like Elmer Fudd, and they would drink the night away. For these hunters it was more a day of getting away from the wife or girlfriend and becoming like the songs they used to strum on the guitar.

 

Out of this group was usually one or two who were excellent hunters; they never dressed up like Santa Claus. They would retire early, and the following day by eight or nine in the morning they would drive up to the store with their deer or elk in tow. They had already spent some time during the past two weeks tracking the herd, they knew where they were, and were very apt with a rifle. The day of the hunt, El Coyote knew exactly where he had to go, and in a matter of an hour or two he had what he wanted.

 

Not only were these people expert huntsmen, they were also superb fishermen. My friend Fisher can go almost any time of the day and within a matter of minutes catch his limit. He seems to have an innate feeling for where the fish are, and wherever he’s at, they seem to follow him.

 

In Little League, our coach would take us up to the Trampas Lakes, right below the Truchas Peak. At that time, we were the only ones there. There must have been about 12 of us plus the coach. As soon as we got there everyone was anxious to go fishing. Before long everyone had their rods in the water and hardly anyone would catch a fish, yet Fisher was reeling them in faster than he could get them off the hook. That weekend he got over 150 fish, enough for everyone’s limit. The rest probably caught three or four each. And like El Coyote, he was also an excellent marksman. He once shot a big deer in Las Chorreras, below the Chile Line and Ojo Caliente. He drafted my friend and me to help him get it down. It took us all afternoon, but finally we came down with a big buck.

 

Today, there are several elk that have been camping down by the orchards, nibbling on the fruit trees, as well as young corn plants. Every August, usually until mid-November, plenty of bears come down from Mesita and as far away as Truchas and la Cañada del Comanche to prepare for the winter. Several years back, I was going to get water from my acequia headgate, when all of a sudden I saw a lot of blood in the water. I continued going and by the time I got to the gate, there was a whole glob of blood and a bear that had just gotten out of the water, still dripping. I hurriedly opened the gate and headed home. That afternoon I heard someone had shot a bear the night before.

 

Along the banks of the acequia we usually find footprints of mountain lion and bobcats. Hawks and eagles fly high up above. Last year, along the banks of the Acequia Junta y Cienaga, there were five wild sheep that had somehow escaped from Pilar, a few miles north.

 

An acequia landscape today is as full of wildlife as in the past, only today the only buffalo we see are on the Native American reservations. For us there are no such things as wilderness areas; we refer to them as sierras, montes, llanos, ríos and acequias.

 

 

Farmer, researcher and community leader Juan Estévan Arellano has devoted most of his life documenting the traditional knowledge of the Indo-Hispano in northern NM. 505.579.4027, Estévan Arellano, estevan_2002@yahoo.com