March 2014

Tewa Pueblos, Spanish Villages, Official Villa and Railroad Town: The History of the Northern Valley of the Río Grande in New Mexico


Hilario Romero



No historian can write an accurate accountof the area known today as the “Española Valley” without including the early ancestors of the Tewa Pueblo Indians and the centuries before their eventual migration to this lush valley in the 1200s. After all, the city of Española is located on the Pueblo Land Grants of both Okeh’Owingue and Kha’P’oo’Owingue (San Juan and Santa Clara Pueblos). Also, the abandoned village of “La Cañada,” which was a small ranching village since the 1600s, was repopulated by the Tano people who migrated there from San Lázaro and San Cristóbal pueblos. Fifteen years after the Great Pueblo Revolt, La Villa de Santa Cruz de la Cañada de los Españoles Mejicanos was re-founded, in 1695, as the seat of government for all of northern New Mexico.


And as we approach the year 1880, a railroad stop on the Denver and Río Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) was established after the pueblos of Okeh’ Owingue, Kha’P’oo’Owingue and the D&RGW negotiated a right-of-way. This railroad station would be later named after “la Española” (the Spanish lady) who opened a restaurant next to the station. From 1880 forward, the station and the town that grew around this right-of-way would be known by that name. It would extend eventually to the old villages of La Mesilla and San Pedro to the south, Okeh’Owingue and Los Ranchos to the north and Santa Cruz de la Cañada to the east, and La Vega de los Vigiles to the west.




Context of a Complex Community


People had been traveling through and creating communities in and around the spacious northern Río Grande valley for many centuries prior to the arrival of the first Spanish explorers. The first peoples were the Clovis pre-Cochise hunters and gatherers, followed by the Cochise peoples who domesticated the turkey and dog and began to develop agriculture. These Pueblo ancestors fished in what we now call the Río Grande, hunted in the bosque del río, and followed the game that lived in this valley to the vast pastures above in all directions. The early ancestors were the first to trade with the people of Méjico who passed through this valley. Subsequently, their knowledge was carried on to the Anasazi, who slowly migrated into the Tsama (now known as Chama) and Ojo Caliente valleys where they established pueblos along the Río Tsama and Río Ojo Caliente. They came from Mesa Verde (now southwestern Colorado) and the Azteca pueblo northeast of Farmington. They moved onward and settled at Tsi’Ping, Poshuwengueh and Kah’p’oo’in’ko’hu’u (Leaf Water) on the Rio Tsama and established other smaller sites that extended north to Posi’owengueh directly above the Ojo Caliente springs. By the early 1200s these hardy ancestors had made their way into the valleys at Puyé, Tsánkawi, Tsewadi and eventually along the Río del Norte where the Tewas are located today. These early Pueblo people also migrated into the Río del Norte valley, due to the Dineh or Apachis de Nabaju and Yuta (Navajo and Ute) raids




First Contact: Pueblos and Spaniards


After the first encounter with the first Europeans to arrive in New Mexico as early as 1537—when Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions passed through the southern part of New Mexico—the Pueblo people realized that they were not alone in their world and that new peoples had arrived from distant lands. Three years later, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado arrived with his 300 soldiers and 800 Indian allies, servants and slaves with orders to explore the Siete Ciudades de Cíbolo to verify the tales of gold and riches, report their findings to the Spanish leadership and claim these lands for Spain.


During his journey, Coronado visited Yuqueyungue and Okeh’Owingue, having followed the Río del Norte (as it was named at the time) into the valley of the Tewas. This part of the expedition included visits to Kha’P’oo’Owingue and P’o’Woh’Ge’Owingue (San Ildefonso Pueblo). Pedro de Castañeda, chronicler of the expedition reported a substantial number of Pueblo people lived in these villages. Several other Spanish expeditions would follow 40 years later in 1580 to report on the pueblos de indios (as they were called during this time), providing detailed information on their agriculture, economy and customs, from Zacatecas north to Tuah Tah (Taos Pueblo). Soon the valley would accommodate a new group of pioneers searching for a fresh start on life, who were willing to make many sacrifices to survive in this special place.


In 1595, Rey Felipe II de España (King Phillip II of Spain) approved a request from Antonio Mendoza, Virrey de Nueva España (vice-king of México) to settle La Frontera del Norte de la Nueva España (later to be called “Nuevo Méjico”). The Virrey set up a bidding process to establish a colony and to secure an “Adelantado”—a wealthy individual with leadership skills—to organize and equip (at the Adelantado’s own expense) a large group of soldier-colonists who agreed to undertake a long, dangerous journey to a distant land and settle among local tribal residents. Juan de Oñate’s bid was chosen, and he was named the Adelantado to lead the colonists north in search of a suitable place to settle.


Oñate’s soldiers arrived in July 1598 at Okeh’Owingue and set up camp in the south plaza. Following the harsh winter, Oñate moved the colony to the other side of the Río del Norte at Yuqueyungue. They built a small plaza and church near the site, but the community struggled because of Oñate’s constant absence and neglect due to his hunger for gold, silver and other precious metals. This was demonstrated when the colonists at Okeh’Owingue ran out of staples and were fed by the Tewas in the fall of 1598. They ate guajolotl (domesticated turkey), camotl (sweet potato), maíz (corn—in many forms), calabacín (squash), calabaza (pumpkin), chili (chile) and a variety of other wild meats and vegetables. This was the first “Thanksgiving,” celebrated 22 years before the arrival of the first English immigrants at Plymouth Rock.


Juan de Oñate was initially absent due to the Pueblo de Haak’u’s (Acoma Pueblo) rejection of the oath of allegiance and aggression demonstrated by Juan de Zaldívar-Oñate, nephew of Juan de Oñate, who lost his life in a duel with the leader of the Acomas. The subsequent war with the Pueblo of Haak’u resulted in many Acoma lives lost at the hands of the brother of Juan de Zaldívar-Oñate, namely Vicente de Zaldívar-Oñate, Maese de Campo of the colonizing expedition. As described by Capitán Gaspar Pérez De Villagrá in his epic Historia de la Nueva Méjico, the soldier-colonists were left without leadership at San Gabriel, as it was named, and threatened mutiny as supplies dwindled. Juan de Oñate put down the mutiny and severely punished those he was able to capture. The soldier-colonists at Okeh’Owingue were also upset because Juan de Oñate was waging war against the pueblos, when his orders were to set up a colony. The colonists wanted peace, as they were the settlers. Oñate would eventually leave “Nuebo Méjico,” as they referred to it. Despite these problems with the new colony, when the first chapel was built, a celebration was held and the colonists reenacted the first play in North America. Los Moros y Cristianos (The Moors and the Christians) portrayed on horseback the overcoming of the Arab empire by the Christians of Spain.


By 1608 Juan de Oñate was replaced as Gobernador de Nuebo Méjico by his son Cristobal de Oñate, who became interim governor. Juan was recalled to México to answer for his behavior as Gobernador during the 10 years he was in office. Life at San Gabriel, the first capital of Nuebo Méjico, 1600-1607, was extremely difficult, as the settlers had to design the diversions of the Río Tsama and the Río del Norte, and dig new acequias (irrigation ditches). They then had to clean, level and plow large agricultural fields, and learn when, what and how to plant from their Tewa neighbors. Even though the Spanish settlers had knowledge of farming, they were in a new and unknown land and realized the help of their Pueblo neighbors was invaluable. They also shared seeds they brought from México and Spain and fruit tree sprouts for transplanting. The fields where they planted are still being used today for farming. The village that emerged from that time is now called Chamita. During this same timeframe, the Pueblos of Okeh’Owingue and Kha’P’oo Owingue were planting crops in the area six miles south of Okeh and two miles north of Kha-P’oo’Owingue.



Tsewadi, La Canada & La Villa de Santa Cruz de La Cañada de los Españoles Mejicanos del Rey Nuestro Señor Don Carlos Segundo


Early Pueblo villages in the area now occupied by Santa Cruz, Cuartélez, and La Puebla on the Río Santa Cruz were very important to the Tewas. Other important settlements, including Tsewadi, were located in the hills above what would be later known as La Puebla, another in Cuartélez and there are many other smaller remains along the cañadas. These villages were settled in the early 1200s, and according to María Martínez, the famous San Idelfonso potter, were connected to the sacred place up-river, which María called “Tsi’ma’yo’po’kwi” (place of the good flaking stone near the pool).


Some settlers from San Gabriel migrated to “La Cañada” in the early 1600s and established a series of rancherías in the valley along the Río de la Cañada, as it might have been called. They built houses and farmed the fertile lands along the river bottom and revived the dormant irrigation canals carved out by the early Tewas who farmed the area before them. Life was dangerous. Hostile tribes attacked these rancherías throughout the 1600s until 1680, when the Great Pueblo Revolt removed them from their homes as they ran for their lives to Santa Fé. These settlers escaped south to El Paso del Río del Norte (Ciudad Juárez), where they remained for 13 hard years trying to farm and ranch in a very harsh environment. The Tano people of the Galisteo area eventually migrated to “La Cañada” after the revolt, due to Apachi, Yuta and Dineh raids, and farmed the cañada until 1695, the year when Diego de Vargas granted the land to a mixed group of españoles-mejicanos and former La Cañada residents. The land grant was titled: “La Villa de Santa Cruz de la Cañada de los Españoles Mejicanos del Rey Nuestro Señor Don Carlos Segundo.” One year later, Diego de Vargas brought an additional 21 families and moved the Tanos from their villages, relocating them at Okeh’Owingue and other Tewa pueblos, but the majority of them left for the villages of the Moquis (today’s Hopis). This move caused friction with the Tewas and the Pueblo Revolt of 1696 brought the Tewas together to fight the Spaniards led by the Pueblo of Kha’P’oo’Ge Owingue (San Ildefonso). The Tewas were able to keep the Spaniards from defeating them and also demanded concessions from the Spanish.


Life during the first 10 years of the Santa Cruz land grant was difficult. The new settlers were not like the rugged pioneers who first settled the area. Diego de Vargas concentrated his governorship on the rebuilding of Santa Fé and fighting the Tewas. Miguel de Quintana, who came from México City at the age of 22, according to Fray Angélico Chávez in his genealogical work, Origins of New Mexico Families, lived the remainder of his life in Santa Cruz de la Cañada, had a large family, was a poet and composer of “coloquias” (cultural poetic two-person dialogues) and died in April of 1748. Many current Santa Cruz residents trace their lineage to him.


La Villa de Santa Cruz de la Cañada was the second official “Villa” in La Provincial de Nuebo Méjico, with La Villa Real de San Francisco de Asís de la Santa Fe as the first and also the capital of the provincia. Santa Cruz de la Cañada would become the northernmost jurisdiction for civil and military government and church affairs and remain a center of major activity throughout the Spanish, Mexican and half of the Territorial Period. It became the seat of government for the Alcaldía by the same name, which covered all of northern Nuebo Méjico as far north as the San Luís Valley. The re-colonization began on the south side of the Río Santa Cruz, where the Tano Pueblos had relocated from their homelands in the Galisteo area during the time the Spanish were in exile. The first group of settlers, mostly from Nuebo Méjico, who escaped to El Paso del Río del Norte after the Great Pueblo Revolt, had some of the pioneer spirit and wasted no time in rebuilding the town at the same site where the Tanos had lived. The Tanos left a small chapel and a few houses in poor condition. However, a few years after the second group of 21 families from Méjico arrived in 1696, a flood would change the location to where it is today. Santa Cruz de la Cañada was abandoned for several short periods of time in its early history due to raids by the Yutas and Dineh (Utes and Navajos) and little support from the leadership in La Villa de San Francisco de Asís de la Santa Fé.


By the end of the 18th century, Santa Cruz de la Cañada, as the seat of government for the Alcaldía de Santa Cruz de la Cañada, was the most populous area in all of La Província de Nuebo Méjico with a total recorded population of 8,859 according to the 1790 census, which did not include most of the pueblos and isolated villages of the Alcaldía. Santa Cruz de la Cañada at this time became the breadbasket of the northern províncía with many fields under cultivation and large orchards along both the Río Grande and the Río Santa Cruz. Between 1705 and 1770, groups of settlers from Santa Cruz de la Cañada migrated in all directions, as the population along the Río Santa Cruz increased and fertile land was less available. They went upriver to Cuartélez, Chimayó, Pueblo Quemado, Truchas and Las Trampas, west up the Río Tsama and north to Ojo Caliente, Embudo and Taos.


The church at Santa Cruz de la Cañada was built during this period starting in 1733 with one steeple that remained until the arrival of Jean Bautiste Lamy, who replaced Bishop Zurbiría of Durango, Méjico in 1854. Lamy added another steeple to the church on the left side, which has fallen three times. (This church is currently on the state and national registers of historic places and is a wonderful example of a Spanish colonial church.) A visitation was made in 1760 by Bishop Tamaron of Durango, Méjico. He remarked that the church was rather large but had little adornment. This encouraged the local santeros to begin carving reredos, bultos and retablos (altar screens, statues, and paintings on wood). It was in this Villa de Santa Cruz de la Cañada that the santero tradition emerged and prospered in northern Nuevo México.


The Revolt of 1837 broke out during the Mexican Period (1821-1846) when Mexico declared its independence from Spain. The residents of Santa Cruz de la Cañada heard that the new governor, Albino Perez, was appointed by Presidente-General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who had a plan to organize Nuevo México into a department instead of a territory as it had been since 1821. It would be de-centralized and the wealthy Governor Pérez would appoint prefects in different regions to govern and report directly to him. He also proposed to set up a system for taxation in order to strengthen the military, provide for roads and other necessary improvements. A plan was developed by the leaders of the rebellion, centered in Santa Cruz de la Cañada and Chimayó to counter Santa Anna’s plan and it was signed in Santa Cruz de la Cañada. The battle took place near the Pueblo de San Ildefonso (as it was referred to at that time). The Cañaderos y Chimayoses and some Pueblo warriors defeated the governor and his troops and chased them back to Santa Fé. Governor Pérez tried to escape during the night and was intercepted by a group from Santo Domingo Pueblo near the village of Agua Fría on the Camino Real.


A priest from Tomé encouraged the residents surrounding Albuquerque to launch a plan, march to Santa Fé and remove the rebels. They were led by former governor-general of Nuevo México, Manuel Armijo. This army of 1,000 men marched north on September 10, 1837 and arrived in Santa Fé without a fight. The leader of the rebels, José “el genízaro” González was in Taos visiting his family. Pablo Montoya led an equally large force of men to Santa Fé, but realized that Armijo and his troops were better armed than his army and a peace treaty was negotiated.


Upon the arrival of the Army of United States of North America, the people of northern Nuevo México organized an army to fight Gen. Kearny and his forces, who arrived in Las Vegas in July of 1846. The Nuevo Mexicanos were unable to organize a fully equipped army to fight this large force. They waited a few months and on Jan. 19, 1847 in Taos, they captured and assassinated newly appointed Gov. Charles Bent and organized an army composed of men from the pueblos, Ranchos de Taos, Santa Cruz de la Cañada, Chimayó and other villages. They met the enemy at Santa Cruz de la Cañada (where the Sombrillo road meets the road to Chimayó).


For the next 30 years, Santa Cruz de la Cañada would remain the seat of government for the newly organized county of Río Arriba, until it lost that status in 1880 to Tierra Amarilla due to politics. Support from the territorial government waned and left the Santa Cruzeños to organize and stabilize their economy through farming and ranching. Santa Cruz de la Cañada has been bypassed by population growth in the west by Española—first by the railroad, then by Española’s incorporation as a town. Finally, Santa Cruz has been swallowed up by Española’s limits, and the future will determine if it can continue as a parish or redevelop into an independent village.



The Denver Río Grande Western Railroad and the Establishment of a Railroad Station


In 1880, the Denver and Río Grande Western Railroad decided to build a line south from their Conejos, Colorado Antonito Station to the northern Río Grande Valley of New Mexico. They completed it and then negotiated with the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad to run their narrow gauge south to Tres Piedras, then to Embudo and south along the Río Grande to the pueblos of Okeh’Owingue and Kha’P’oo’Owingue. The most difficult negotiations for the railroad right-of-way commenced at those pueblos. The D&RGW representative’s decorum was demanding, patronistic and unbending. However, the railroad representatives changed their attitudes and convinced the pueblos that their lease was fair and comparable with other leases they had negotiated.


In 1880 they broke ground at their Antonito station and started preparing the ground for laying track. The route ran directly south to Pamilia, Volcano, No Agua (isolated stops), and onward to Tres Piedras, Servilleta, Ojo Caliente, Barranca, Embudo, Alcalde and into Okeh’Owingue and Kha’P’oo’Owingue, with the track on the west side of the Río Grande. Initially, the train was accepted as progress. However, those that were near the line complained of noise and squatters. Eventually it would become a boon for the surrounding communities. Shortly after the tracks were laid at the end of the line, the D&RGW built a railroad station. The right-of-way was about a quarter of a mile wide and people began to squat on both sides of the track. This caused problems with the two pueblos that had leased the right-of-way. Eventually agreements were made and squatters were thrown off the land. However, they would be replaced by others seeking free land to build on.


Farmers and ranchers from the surrounding communities of Chamita, Hernandez, Corral de la Piedra, San Pedro, La Mesilla, Santa Cruz de la Cañada, the pueblos of Kha’P’oo’Owingue and Okeh’Owingue, Alcalde, Los Luceros and Velarde began to bring their produce, livestock and other trade items to the station and sell them. A Spanish woman from the area started a restaurant next to the station. When a call was made to name the station, many locals mentioned that they referred to the restaurant as that of “la Española” and the name was chosen. The railroad line running from Antonito to Española would be known as the “chili line.” With the advent of the railroad and the wool industry, the population of Española grew from 150 in 1881 to 1,500 by 1900 (on the right-of-way pueblo land).


In 1883, two brothers who emigrated from Canada arrived in Española with the profit they made from selling their wool processing plant in Pueblo, Colorado and opened another wool business in Española. George W. Bond and his brother Frank set up the little known Partido Partidario, a system to provide land for their sheep to graze. Landowners in northern New Mexico would use their common or land grant pasture to graze the Bond brothers’ sheep and supposedly receive a percentage of the wool profits. This resulted in overgrazing the valley and surrounding meadows, and the brothers on occasion not keeping their end of the bargain. When overgrazing was prohibited, the brothers speculated on land grants like the Luís María Cabeza de Baca location (Valles Caldera in the Jémez Mountains). They grazed thousands of sheep in this large mountain valley with an abundance of pasture and made a fortune. They headquartered in Española and expanded their business interests all over New Mexico.



The Town of Española


By 1915, road transportation began to compete with the railroad and the boon began to dissipate. A slow exodus of people from Española occurred for the following 10 years. In 1922, the Río Grande at Española flooded taking everything in its path. Bridges were destroyed and the bosque del río was left covered in silt. Three years later, Española, for a second time, applied for incorporation and became a town. The first high school in the valley was Santa Cruz Parochial in Santa Cruz de la Cañada in 1908. Española High School followed 12 years later in 1920. The major wars (WWI and WWII) attracted large numbers of men from the valley and there were many who did not return.


In the 1980s many of the historic buildings were torn down for an urban renewal project. However, in 1995 a move was made by the mayor and council to redevelop the downtown area, create a replica of a plaza, and bring the Main Street Program to Española. In 1998, the 400th anniversary of the founding of San Gabriel (eight miles north of Española) was celebrated as the first permanent European colony in North America. Actually, the village of Chamita is what replaced San Gabriel as a permanent colony. The Bond house, which was beginning to fall into ruin, was restored in 2000. In September of 2008, Barack Obama came to Española campaigning for the presidency of the United States. The valley and its residents have endured a long varied history. This general view with some detail is but a sprinkling of the important events and personalities that were recorded in documents, history books and oral history.



Hilario Romero, a New Mexican Mestizo (Spanish/Basque/Jicarilla Apache/Ute), is a former New Mexico state historian. He has spent the past 40 years in higher education, as professor of History, Spanish and Education, including at UNM and Northern New Mexico College.




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