May 2015

Santa Fe’s Southwest River Corridor: From Pueblo Lands, El Camino Real, Cristóbal Nieto Land Grant, El Pino, Court of Private Land Claims to Ecoversity and La Cieneguita del Camino Real


Hilario E. Romero


Early Agua Fría and the First Pueblos

When the Indian Pueblos of Agua Fría were settled by Native Americans, possibly as early as 3,000 BC, “the area was an agricultural mecca,” according to Cheri Sheick of Southwest Archaeological Consultants. They chose this location because of its cold water springs, little ciénegas and the longer growing season at that elevation. They grew the trinity of squash, corn and beans and supplemented it with wild edible plants like quilitl (quelite or wild spinach), and used the river nearby for irrigation. They also fished in the upper river—later to be known as the Río Santa Fe—where there was abundant trout, and collected firewood. The forests were within eight miles to the east of their pueblo, and they hunted wild game such as elk, deer, bear and bighorn sheep. Within the area of their pueblo, they also hunted wild turkey—later domesticated—and rabbit, quail, large migratory birds and other small game. This area today would include an area running southwest along the river close to Cieneguilla, northeast along the river to the forest, southeast to today’s I-25 and northeast to the edge of Tesuque Pueblo.


These Pueblo people are most likely the first permanent residents to live in what we now call Santa Fe. Eventually, they abandoned their pueblos sometime during the 1200s. They relocated upriver because of drought; giving them better access to water, hunting, firewood, fortified security, possible new enemies and cosmic signs. Their new pueblo could have been built just a stone’s throw northwest from today’s Plaza de Santa Fe, where the Santa Fe Community Convention Center now sits. They had to build a new pueblo, create a new diversion on the river and dig ditches for irrigation. The new pueblo presented new challenges because the growing season was shorter upriver. They probably developed new techniques to compensate for the rise in elevation and the proximity to the forest. They brought with them drought-resistant seeds that were planted in their new environment. They remained in this area for about another two centuries before moving northwest to build Te-su-gueh Pueblo on the Río Tesuque, a pueblo that continues to be an innovative leader in New Mexico with its agriculture.


El Camino Real

El Camino Real—the Royal Road—brought the first settlers as early as 1600, when some of Juan de Oñate’s group decided to retrace their steps back to the area now known as Santa Fe. They initially realized that the land closer to the mountain was difficult for farming and ranching. Many moved down the Río Santa Fe to the area known as Ojitos Frescos and south to Pin’di and Pueblo Quemado, where the ruins of a burned pueblo lay in the Traditional Village of Agua Fría. Agua Fría village extended from the Pacheco Land Grant to the southwest boundary of the Merced de Santa Fe—Town of Santa Fe Grant. Ten years later, Don Pedro de Peralta, under orders from the Spanish Crown through the Virrey de México, officially proclaimed La Villa Real de San Francisco de la Santa Fe in 1610.



Great Pueblo Revolt in Galisteo, Santa Fe and the Nieto Family

Just prior to the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a group of early Spanish settlers from the Santa Fe area traded their goods in El Paso del Río del Norte—today’s Juárez, Chihuahua. Among them was Cristóbal Nieto, who was in El Paso del Río del Norte while his father, Alcalde José Nieto, prepared his family back in Galisteo for an escape, as the Tanos were revolting. Tragically, José Nieto, his wife Lucía and Cristóbal’s sisters, María and Juana, were killed by the Tanos of Galisteo Pueblo. Cristóbal’s wife, “Petrona Pacheco, along with two of their children were taken captive during the confusion,” according to Hackett and Shelby from their translations in Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermin’s Attempted Reconquest, published by UNM Press (1942). Cristóbal Nieto most likely received news from the group of Spanish settlers that escaped the Great Pueblo Revolt that his wife and children had perished along with his parents and siblings.


According to Malcolm Ebright in his article, submitted to the Office of the State Historian and copyrighted by the State Records Center, entitled: Cristóbal Nieto Land Grant (2004), Cristóbal Nieto returned to Santa Fe as a soldier in 1697, 17 years after his wife and children were taken captive by the Tanos de Galisteo Pueblo. His wife had three daughters that were rescued from their captors and returned to Santa Fe by Roque Madrid in 1692. Later that same year, Cristóbal Nieto was reunited with his wife and three children—Simón, Maria & Lucía—and Sebastiana and Josefa (from captivity) and the youngest, Petrona, born later according to Don Diego de Vargas’s distribution of livestock and supplies, May 1, 1697, in John Kessell and Rick Hendricks/Meredith Dodge, eds., Blood on the Boulders: The Journals of Don Diego de Vargas, New Mexico, 1694-97, Book 2, UNM Press, 1998. The realization that his wife and children were still alive must have been an emotional shock. He received a small land grant from the new governor, Pedro Rodríguez Cubero, on the southwest side of Santa Fe, bordered on the northeast by the Río Santa Fe, between the house of Domingo de la Barreda to the west and the Domingo de la Barreda land grant to the east, near what was known as the Ojito Fresco (possibly near the ditch that runs into the river on the east end of Frenchy’s Field) and intersected on the south by el Camino de los Carros, today’s Cerrillos Road.


Cristóbal Nieto and his family raised sheep, some cows and a bull from the supplies he received from Gov. Vargas. The area had to be sufficient in water and grasslands to sustain the livestock and grow into a ranch. Oral accounts from villagers of Agua Fría describe this area as Las Cieneguitas, or little marshes, which would indicate that it was possible to succeed with a ranching endeavor. Cristóbal’s son, Simón, purchased land from José Manuel Gilthomey in 1707 nearby in between Salvador Archuleta and Capitan Luis Maese, and planted corn. (Spanish Archives of New Mexico I, Dec. 5, 1707 #639)


According to Fray Angélico Chávez, in his Origins of New Mexico Families, Simón Nieto, son of Cristóbal Nieto, was married to Francisca Maese, one of the daughters of Luis Maese and his wife Josefa de Archuleta. Simón Nieto was a soldier in Santa Fe in 1700 and was still soldiering in 1728, the same year he lost his wife Francisca. According to a deed cited by Malcolm Ebright in his article on the Cristóbal Nieto Land Grant: In 1727, one year before he lost his wife, Simón Nieto sold off a tract of land bordering his father’s land grant, which was purchased by his wife that same year from her sister several year after the death of their father, Luis Maese.


Virginia L. Olmstead’s compilation of the New Mexico census of 1750, published by the New Mexico Genealogical Society, shows the Nietos were represented by Francisco Nieto (Cristóbal’s grandson); his mother, Lucía Nieto; his aunt, Petrona Pacheco; his aunt, María Nieto; and his three children as the only Nietos listed. This was the same year that Petrona Nieto, wife of Cristóbal Nieto, died. By 1765, according to Malcolm Ebright, “Francisco Nieto was serving as a soldier in the Presidio de Santa Fe (Santa Fe Garrison) and had partitioned land south of Agua Fría that he had purchased from Andrés Montoya of Cieneguilla. This in the first document that connects a Nieto with the place name El Pino.” However, when looking at J.J.Bowden’s map of Santa Fe County, New Mexico, showing the Spanish and Mexican Land Grants of Santa Fe in his Private Land Claims of the Southwest, SMU Press (1969), he shows El Pino’s location just outside the southwestern boundary of the La Merced de Santa Fe (Town of Santa Fe Grant), which would put it in the area of Frenchy’s Park, Ecoversity and La Cieneguita, moving southwest to the boundary on the Camino Real to Agua Fría Village. The Arroyo de San Antonio eventually would be converted into Acequia de San Antonio, (which runs off the Acequia Madre down the slope between today’s Osage Lane and San Ildefonso street in Casa Alegre and comes down to the Camino Real (Agua Fría Road) at today’s Pueblo Alegre. In the 1700 and 1800’s it emptied into a “tanque” (holding pond) used by ranchers to soak their carretas. It crossed the Camino Real and entered the Ecoversity land, and ran through the Boylan property and back into the Río Santa Fe. The last mention of the Rancho El Pino in the 18th century comes from a partition suit filed in 1788: “Rita Padilla, daughter-in law of Juan García de Noriega, who died owning an interest in “a Rancho of cultivable lands at the place of El Pino, filed a partition suit in 1788.” Ebright, Cristóbal Nieto Land Grant, Office of the State Historian (2004).



The Court of Private Land Claims, Feb. 11, 1893

Juan Nieto, claiming to be a direct descendant of Cristóbal Nieto, filed a claim for confirmation of the Merced de Cristóbal Nieto. The prosecuting attorney, James Purdy, muddied up the entire process with his legal maneuvers and caused the Cristóbal Land Grant to be rejected by the court without a trial on June 11, 1898 (Ebright). During its tenure, 1891 to 1904, the Court of Private Land Claims approved only 1.9 million acres out of a total 33 million acres of land grants of claimants. This was possibly the largest land grab in U.S. history.




The 20th Century

On the Official Topographical Map of Santa Fe County, in 1904, which was the same year that the Court of Private Land Claims concluded its adjudications, the Rancho El Pino was no longer on the map because the area has no boundaries showing. The Nieto family descendants still live in Santa Fe. However, this history shows that the Agua Fría village was contiguous from the southwest boundary of the town of Santa Fe. By 1952, the map of Santa Fe County shows several small houses along the Camino Real—Agua Fría Road—in the area where Rancho El Pino was located. Oral accounts talk of the Corridas de Gallo (rooster pulls) that took place up until the 1960s in this area. Rancho El Pino was sold, and several generations of families (los Maese, now Maez; los Britos; Valencia; Sanchez; Montoya; Gallegos and Rael) continued to live, ranch and farm on parts of the land for the next century, possibly up until the 1990s.


Eventually, developments made their way into this old land grant through land sales. The Acequia de los Pinos (Acequia Madre) runs through the entire area, and during years of sufficient snowpack it carries water. Casa Alegre was built in the upper portion of the area in the 1940s and ‘50s by Allen Stamm, followed by Pueblo Alegre in the 1980s, and Cielo Vista in the 1990s, along with La Cieneguita del Camino Real affordable housing subdivision, by the Housing Trust. Frances Harwood purchased almost 12 acres in the lower portion of the ranch and, in 1999, opened Ecoversity, which is next to the Alamo and Camino Mío neighborhoods. The Ferguson Street neighborhood, called Aspen Creek, was the last development built, in 2002. The history of El Camino Real and the Agua Fría community is an extremely significant part of the history of Santa Fe. We owe a debt of thanks to the settlers, ranchers and farmers of this area for their contributions to the survival and history of La Villa Real de San Francisco de Asís de la Santa Fe.



Hilario E. 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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