July 2015

Near the End of the Long Journey on the Camino Real

La Ciénega and La Cieneguilla Pueblos / La Ciénega and La Cieneguilla Land Grant


Hilario E. Romero


From the earliest times prior to the Spanish arrival in Nuevo Mexico to the present, these communities were linked spiritually, culturally and physically. The trails along the watercourses allowed hunting, agriculture, wood gathering and trade among the ancient pueblos. After the arrival of the Spanish, the connection continued along what would be called El Camino Real. For both groups, this was the end of a long journey for those who followed the old Indian trails up the Río Grande and the beginning of a long journey for those who went south along the Río Grande to trade. The complex history of these communities has been investigated by archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and others, but now there is a chapter of a book that details the history of the pueblos and land grants of this immediate area. Chapter five of Malcom Ebright’s Advocates for the Oppressed: Hispanos, Indians, Genizaros in New Mexico (UNM Press, 2014) is an exceptional work that provides a comprehensive view. The commonalities between these communities and their contribution to the founding and survival of La Villa Real de San Francisco de la Santa Fe is clear. As an ancestral Indian pueblo, La Ciénega was the first. One century later, its neighbor, La Cieneguilla Pueblo, was established. After the Spanish arrival it became a paraje (stopping place) and later a “rancheria.” La Cieneguilla Land Grant was authorized only a few months prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.


La Ciénega and La Cieneguilla Pueblos

According to Nels Nelson, after his major excavation and report on the site in 1914, the early Pueblo people settled in 1200 A.D. on this picacho, an isolated rock outcropping formed between and above the Riito La Ciénega and the Río Santa Fe. It was later discovered that their ancestors built pit houses nearby and a century later moved closer to the picacho and built long roomblocks of basalt and adobe. La Ciénega Pueblo or Guicu—as it was originally called by the Pueblo people—was strategically located at the junction of these two water sources near rich bottomlands that were irrigated and farmed. Trails up and down the cliffs passed through hill slopes that might have been converted into terrazas for small gardens. This pueblo covered most of the mesa-top and had a substantial population.


It’s neighbor, La Cieneguilla Pueblo, was settled around 1300 A.D. Nearby pueblos Quemado and Pindi (today’s Agua Fría Traditional Village) traded with them. Trade between pueblos enabled these village populations and other pueblos like them to expand and prosper, according to Nels Nelson, an archaeologist who investigated the site in 1915. La Cieneguilla Pueblo was a Period IV Ancestral Pueblo Village and was larger than most in the area, according to an investigation by the Santa Fe Archaeological Society in 1956. Many trade expeditions went south from these villages to the Keres pueblos and further south to the Piro and Tompiro pueblos. Travel and trade along the Río Grande trails was common during this period until the arrival of the Spanish.


This continuous line of pueblos from la Caja del Río de Santa Fe to the Tewa pueblos in the town of Santa Fe show that the river could support fairly large populations from the 1200s to the 1600s. Estimates quoted in Ebright’s chapter from Elimore Barrett’s book, Conquest and Catastrophe: Changing Río Grande Pueblo Settlement Patterns in the 16th & 17th Centuries, show there were about 800 people in three area pueblos, which included La Ciénega. Agriculture was also possible because of the rich volcanic soil in this area along the southwestern end of the Río Santa Fe. Many cold-water springs were found in abundance in this area, which, among Pueblo people, made the area sacred. Many Pueblo authors speak about this corridor as ancestral land. They were connected by a wide trail that was used for centuries. This trail would eventually become El Camino Real after the arrival of the first Spanish colonists.


The Spanish Arrival and the Founding of La Ciénega and La Cieneguilla

Early contact with Spaniards occurred when expeditions made their way into the area with Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540 and Antonio de Espejo in 1582. The first documented Spanish arrival at La Ciénega Pueblo in 1591 with Gaspar Castano y Sosa, reported that they were quite amazed to find canales for irrigation flowing. When the first Spanish settlers arrived at La Ciénega Pueblo in 1598, they were able to rest and receive food and drink. The menu was probably corn, squash, beans and domestic turkey. By 1598, the Oñate group passed though the area, with many more colonial settlers to follow.


By the early 1600s, many Spanish families settled in estancias (cattle ranches). The first families who settled near these pueblos gradually intermarried with them, and a new culture emerged in the area. These mestizos built houses along the southwest side of the Riito La Ciénega. Soon, other wealthier “Españoles Mexicanos” like Alonso Varela de Losada settled there in the 1620s. He married Catalina Pérez y Bustillos, the widow of Pedro Márquez, who came with Oñate in 1598. The family of Ana Cabeza de Vaca settled on an estancia called “El Alamo,” according to Malcom Ebright. El Alamo, the early name for La Ciénega, shows up on the Miera y Pacheco map of 1779 in a location four leagues southwest of Santa Fe.


Colonial caravans arrived one by one with goods from La Nueva España—later known as México—and the tired, worn travelers, “Españoles Mejicanos,” as they were called, would stop at the Spanish paraje of La Ciénega (the marsh). At this point, they realized they were close to the end of their difficult journey and were welcomed by those whom had come before them. This “paraje de la Ciénega” was a way station between the Kiwa and Cochiti pueblos and Pueblo Quemado, later known as the village of Agua Fría. Close by was La Cieneguilla Pueblo, with a larger Queres population, strategically located along the Río Santa Fe.


La Cienega Land Grant

After the return of Gov. Vargas in 1693, he passed through La Ciénega and found it abandoned. Governor Vargas gave a land grant to Miguel García de la Riva in 1701. He sold it in 1704 to his son, Juan García de la Riva, with expanded boundaries that were not in Gov. Vargas’ original grant, according to Malcolm Ebright in chapter five. Further on, Ebright writes about Miguel García’s daughter, who married a prominent general named Juan Paez Hurtado, from Villa Franca de Palacios, España. For the next seven decades, these families intermarried with powerful military and political families to acquire more influence and land. Felipe Rico de Rojas and María Roybal, widow of José Riano Tagle and Ana Cabeza de Vaca, show up in the 1750 census of La Ciénega. By the late 1700s, new families, led by patriarchs who were officers in the Spanish army, married into families that owned land. Some of those Spanish families were the Cabeza de Vacas (shortened to Baca), Romeros, Delgados, Hurtados and many others.


Juan José Guadalupe Romero was a Teniente Coronel (lieutenant colonel) in the Spanish army and was stationed in Santa Fe in the 1780s. He retired from his post and established a large estancia near the Peñasco Blanco de la Golondrinas and extended his domain south to the Cañada de Guicu in 1788 with his wife, Ygnacia Cabeza de Vaca, whose family also owned land in upper La Ciénega. Juan José was born in Tomé, Nuevo México in 1766. They had nine children, four of whom were Vicente, Jose León, Miguel and Rafael. Miguel Romero y Cabeza de Vaca, son of Juan José, was my great-great grandfather and was born at the estancia on Sept. 29, 1797, according to baptismal and family records. He was baptized on Dec.13, 1797 (Santa Fe Baptisms, 456). He would later marry Josefa Delgado, daughter of Manuel Salustiano Delgado. This estancia was the former Miguel de la Vega y Coca estancia, known today as the Rancho de las Golondrinas, which was part of his wife Ygnacia’s inheritance.


By the late 1790s, many new families arrived, intermarried or purchased land in these areas. One such family was the Delgados. Patriarch Manuel Francisco Delgado and his wife, María Josefa García de Noriega, were married on March 22, 1779 in El Paso del Río Del Norte (today’s Juárez, Mexico) Diligencia Matrimonial, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Dec. 5, 1778. Juan José’s parents, Antonio Delgado and Doña Juana Xaviera Chavarría, were from Real de Pachuca, where Manuel was born. His mother died in Pachuca before he left for El Paso del Río del Norte. Doña Juana’s father was capitan of the militia in El Paso del Río del Norte. His name was José García de Noriega. Manuel received orders to report to the presidio in Santa Fe in 1780. Manuel and his wife lived in Santa Fe until he was mustered out of the presidio in 1790. In the late 1790s, he purchased a piece near the Estancia de los Romeros in upper La Ciénega near the house where Miguel Romero y Cabeza de Vaca was born. Manuel’s son, Manuel Salustiano Delgado, was my great-great grandfather from the female side of the Delgados.


La Cieneguilla Land Grant

Just before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Gov. Otermín granted land in La Cieneguilla to Sergeant Major Francisco Anaya Almazán, only to lose it when hostilities commenced. When he returned with Gov. Vargas, he petitioned the governor for land. Governor Vargas gave him the same amount as before. Almazán’s heirs would eventually expand this grant from nine acres to 3,200 acres. After his first wife died, he married Felipa Cedillo Rico de Rojas. In 1714 Almazán died, but before his death, he asked Gov. Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón to revalidate his grant because the document was partially eaten by mice. He asked for more land than he owned. Mogollón figured that out and validated the same amount. The heirs of Almazán deeded the grant to Andres Montoya. For the next two centuries, land speculation and lawsuits between new arrivals and the settled residents occurred. Those who first settled, the Pueblo people, left after the 1680 revolt and many of the mixed castas, through oppression, were gradually pushed out.


Part Two of this article will make the final connections to this last leg of El Camino Real before it reached La Villa Real de San Francisco de la Santa Fe. The complicated history of this corridor needs to be presented in order to understand the importance of agriculture and trade to the early history of Nuevo México.

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 an administrator and professor of history, education and Spanish at the University of New Mexico, Highlands University and Northern New Mexico College.

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1 thought on “Near the End of the Long Journey on the Camino Real”

  1. Sweet !!! I am husband of Dolores Roberta Romero from Belen,NM. She is descendent of Jose Leon Romero, son of Jose Guadalupe Romero! We would like to confirm his parents. I think Jose Guadalupe is son of Bartolome Romero de Pedraza.
    Hope I can get in touch with Hilario Romero !

    Ed Strickland