November 2015

Precursors of Albuquerque Along El Camino Real – Folsom/Cochise Cultures, Isleta Pueblo, Atrisco and Pajarito Land Grants, 1650-1900


Hilario Romero


Folsom and Desert Cultures
Ancestors of Native Americans of the Southwest were traveling through and creating communities in and around the valley of the Sandia and Manzano mountains for centuries prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Early Folsom peoples camped below the Pajarito and West Mesas and left evidence of hearths and tools. The bosque along the Río Grande in this area was more lush than today and was home to game such as mastodons, mammoths, long-horned buffalo, camel, giant ground sloth and miniature horses. Folsom people also gathered wild plants and seeds to supplement their diet. Their time was at the end of the last Ice Age, roughly 10,000 years ago, when the climate began to change. Centuries passed, and the land slowly began to dry out, causing the large game to become extinct and the early Folsom to move with the natural forces of nature in order to survive.

Centuries later, the early desert cultures, in the past called Cochise, were attracted to this river valley as dry conditions caused them to look for permanent water sources close to hunting, fuel for fires, wild plants and seeds and, much later, rich soil for agriculture. They hunted smaller game such as elk, deer, wild turkey–which they would eventually domesticate–and rabbits. Once they were able to domesticate the seeds and adapt them to the area, the trio of squash, corn and beans would become staple crops that would sustain their lives. They built pit houses, circular dwellings dug from the earth with protruding roofs for warmth and shelter. They preserved the staple crops by drying them and milling them with el metate and el mano. Although hunting would still be the main source of sustenance, slowly but surely, agriculture would supplement their diet and build stability for future generations.


The Tiwas of Ysleta
By 1200 A.D., the Tiwa people arrived and built aboveground pueblo villages throughout the Río Grande Valley, from today’s Bernalillo to Belen. The ancestors of the pueblo of Isleta settled in a rich area 13 miles south of today’s Plaza de Albuquerque. They found this area to be ideal for agriculture with a permanent water source, fertile soil, hunting and fishing in the bosque and nearby mountains, firewood, clay soil for pottery and building, and volcanic rock for multiple uses. The landforms that surrounded them were sacred and very important to their way of life. Parajito Mesa, the Sandías, the Manzanos and the West Mesa volcanic outcroppings were a few of these important places. They built villages on both sides of the Río Grande. The petroglyphs there are testimony to their spiritual history and culture in the area. They were witnesses and participants in the Tiguex War against Coronado and his expedition. The atrocities committed against the Tiwas by Coronado’s men resound today in recent historical accounts.


First Contact: The Spanish and Tiguex Pueblos War
In the summer of 1540, a large group of Spanish soldiers and Indian allies under Francisco Vásquez de Coronado entered what would be later called la Frontera del Norte de Nueva España. After a dangerous trek through “la Zona Arida”–today’s Arizona, they arrived at Zuni Pueblo, where the Indians were prepared for battle. The Zunis fought hard but were overcome by Coronado’s soldiers and Indian allies with modern weapons, riders on horseback and overwhelming numbers. According to the account of Pedro Castañeda de Najera–who documented the expedition 20 years later–Capitan Hernando de Alvarado and 40 men were sent on to the east with “Bigotes,” a handsome Indian with a mustache. They arrived at the province of Tiguex, a series of 12 pueblos along the Río Grande in a beautiful valley. Many of the pueblos were multi-storied and had sizable populations. Alvarado described what he saw: “This river flows through a broad valley planted with fields of maíz. There are ‘alamedas de alamos de algodón.’” The houses are of mud, two stories high.” At first contact with the pueblos of Tiguex, Alvarado noted: “The next day the principales and people came from 10 pueblos, in order, one behind the other.” That was followed by two pueblos, which did not welcome their arrival but came forward in preparation for war.

Castaneda’s account further stated that Alvarado decided to send Coronado a request to spend the winter at Tiguex. From that point on, the pueblos learned from Bigotes,  the Spanish were determined to find gold. Bigotes escorted Alvarado to his pueblo, Cicúye (Pecos Pueblo) and presented a man from the plains tribes. Alvarado named him “El Turco” because of his dark skin and features. He would guide Alvarado east to a place called “Quivira.” Upon return from the long journey to an area near present day Wichita, Kansas, Alvarado was told by El Turco that the gold band he wore came from Bigotes. He took Bigotes and El Turco back with him to Tiguex and, after reporting to Coronado his adventure to Quivira, he killed El Turco for leading him on a false journey for gold.

Coronado and his men had taken up residence at a pueblo they referred to as “Cofor” (which was “Kuaua”), ironically known today as “Coronado National Monument.” According to Castañeda, the Tiwas at this pueblo had to find residence among other pueblos. This action, along with the killing of El Turco, demand for food from the pueblo’s food storage, and the rape of a pueblo woman, instigated a war with the pueblos of Tiguex. Initially the Pueblos killed some of the Spanish horse herds left to graze. Coronado’s soldiers and allies took several pueblos and killed many of their warriors, sending shockwaves throughout the Pueblo world. However, the pueblo of Moho remained under siege because the Spanish were unable to break through its walls despite constant bombardment. It was clear that this so called expedition was more of a conquest. The pueblos of Tiguex were in a war and subsequent occupation by Coronado and his men. Throughout the winter of 1540-41, the Spanish invaders took what they wanted from the pueblos, causing hardship and distrust. Isleta Pueblo and its residents suffered from Coronado and his men’s demands. Upon their return to México, Coronado and his captains were condemned for their treatment of the Indians and fined, but Coronado was later exonerated.

For the next 40 years, travel and expeditions to the northern frontier were discouraged, and it wasn’t until Juan de Oñate led a group of settlers in 1598 that the Spanish would decide to settle in what they would call “Nuevo México.” For the next 82 years the Spanish would gradually settle near the pueblos on grants of land given to groups of families. Eventually, the Spanish and Pueblos were unable to co-exist due to the overzealous Franciscan missionary’s conversion methods, the Spanish encomienda, the tribute, forced labor and military service, slavery and the droughts of the 1670s. In 1680, the Pueblos revolted and forced the Spanish out of Nuevo Mexico. The fleeing Spanish under Gov. Otermín escaped the siege of Santa Fe and stopped in Ysleta Pueblo, where they took supplies and some Ysletas with them south to El Paso del Río del Norte.


Return of the Spanish: The Atrisco and Pajarito Land Grants
As early as 1598, there were many parajes (camps/camping grounds) that Oñate and the colonists used along the long journey along what was to become “El Camino Real.” It was a series of Pueblo trails to the south into México that had been used by indigenous traders among the tribes. Los Padillas and Atrisco were parajes–early rest stops that would eventually become small communities during the 1600s and after the Reconquest. The first settlements in the area between Sandia and Ysleta pueblos before the Pueblo Revolt were Los Padillas, Atrisco and, later, Pajarito. Marc Simmons, in his book Hispanic Albuquerque: 1706–1846, speculated that when Gov. Diego de Vargas made his initial journey into New Mexico with a group of soldiers and possible colonists, he gave land grants along the way to “old settlers” in order to reoccupy the same lands settled before the Pueblo Revolt.


The Atrisco Land Grant
The word Atrisco does not exist in Spanish. However there is a Nahuatl word “Atlixco,” which means “on or near a surface of water.” The Río Grande at Atrisco was wide, with a smooth flow and fertile bottomlands. It was probably named by Nahhuatl-speaking Mexican Indians that came with Gov. Vargas in 1692-93. Governor Vargas gave the Atrisco Land Grant to Fernando Durán y Cháves in 1692 at Angostura just north of Bernalillo. His father, Pedro Durán y Cháves, lived in Atrisco before the Pueblo Revolt. It moved toward resettlement in 1701 when Fernando Durán y Cháves asked Gov. Pedro Rodríguez Cubero for formal possession of the grant. In 1703, when Captain Diego Montoya, Alcalde of Bernalillo initiated the ceremony, the settlers were already planning houses and planting fields. (Docket #45 Court of Private Land Claims, Microfilm, NMSRCA) The Atrisco Grant boundaries were described by the heirs of the founders: “On the north, by the Barranca de Juan de Perea; on the east, by the Río Grande; on the south, by the lands of Antonio Baca; and on the west, by the ceja of the Río Puerco” (Town of Atrisco Grant, No. 145, Misc. Records of the Surveyor General of New Mexico.) Once the settlers built their houses, dug the acequia and planted their fields, they probably built La Capilla de San Andrés de los Ranchos de Atrisco, as later documented in the 1750 NM census.

The town of Atrisco prospered and grew, and in 1750, and there were four plazas, each containing extended families that eventually outgrew their common areas for grazing and firewood gathering. As a result, in 1768, a group of 15 men, led by José Hurtado de Mendoza, petitioned Gov. Pedro Fermín de Mendinueta for lands to the west of their town boundary, from north to south. On April 28, 1768, a granting decree was issued for land with the following boundaries: “On the north, by the Cerro Colorado, which is located two leagues south of the town of San Francisco del Río Puerco; on the east, by the ceja of the Río Puerco Mountain; on the south, by a point three leagues south of the Cerro Colorado; and on the west, by the Río Puerco.” The governor directed the Alcalde of Albuquerque, Francisco Triból Navarro, to deliver royal possession of the land to the grantees. (Town of Atriaco Grant, No. 145, SGNM) On the southern boundary of the extended Atrisco Grant the settlers “were especially cautioned against introducing new settlers without prior consent of the inhabitants of the town of Atrisco.” On or near a landmark called the “Alamo Gacho” there was an abandoned rancho that was formerly owned by Pedro Durán y Cháves. The governor gave it to José Hurtado de Mendoza, brother-in-law of Efigenia Durán y Cháves. (Town of Atrisco Grant, No, 145, SGNM) The people of both grants prospered, and by the 1790 census of New Mexico, there were four plazas totaling 225 individuals, the first with 11 extended families and their servants, the second with 17 families and servants, the third with nine families and fewer servants, and the fourth with 16 families and the fewest servants. (SANM, Censo de Nuevo México, 1790, NMSRCA) Many of these families were mestizos, and most of the servants were genizaros, captives from the Apachis, Comanchis and Apachis de Nabajú who were Christianized and acculturated into Spanish society.

When the descendants of the founding families who first resettled the town of Atrisco’s extended grant of 1768 came to prove their ownership before U. S. Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson on March 19, 1881, they first filed a petition seeking confirmation of the grant known as the lands of the Río Puerco. Included was a copy of the expediente (pertinent documents relating to the land grant) showing that on April 28, 1768, Gov. Mendinueta gave the grant to José Hurtado and 14 others. A supplemental petition was filed almost five years later by the inhabitants of the town of Atrisco near the Río Grande in U.S. Surveyor General George W. Julian’s office on Dec. 31, 1885 on behalf of the founders of the town of Atrisco. Although the grant papers were lost, the heirs were able to show that through deeds, church and census records that they were in possession of the land throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (Recompilación de las Leyes de Las Indias, 1680. Gave title to community/individual settlers with continued/uninterrupted possession for 40 years.) U.S. Surveyor Julian on Jan. 28, 1886 was finally convinced to report to the U.S. Congress that the evidence by the claimants warranted the presumption that a grant was made to them in or about 1700 and the grant papers of the 1768 concession for additional grazing and wood gathering lands were genuine. Despite this favorable report, Congress did not survey nor pass judgment upon the grant. (J.J. Bowden, Private Land Claims of the Southwest, M.A. Thesis SMU 1969, p. 1703, available at the Fray Angelico Library, Museum of NM)

Seven years later, on Feb. 26, 1892, over 225 claimants petitioned the District Court of Bernalillo County, asking the court to incorporate their interests by creating a body politic and corporation under the name of the town of Atrisco. (Based on an act of the Territory of New Mexico, Chapter 86 Laws of NM, 162-174 (1891). The District Court granted their request and declared the petitioners and their successors to be a body politic. Eight months later, the town of Atrisco filed suit in the Court of Private Land Claims against the United States of North America and the city of Albuquerque requesting confirmation of the two grants, in trust, for its inhabitants. The first grant was estimated to be 41,500 acres and the second about 26,000 acres. It was also alleged that a portion of the 1700 grant was overlapped by the town of Albuquerque, even though the town of Atrisco was the senior grant and thus should prevail. The Court of Private Land Claims, in its decision on Sept. 4, 1894, held that under Spanish and Mexican customs a grant covering a large tract of land to a large number of heads of families was understood to be a community grant. (Journal 180-182 (Misc. Records of the Court of Private Land Claims) Regarding the conflict between the grants of the towns of Atrisco and Albuquerque, the court held that there was no evidence that Albuquerque had a corporate existence prior to 1788 and, therefore, there could be no presumption that is was entitled to four square leagues of land by operation of law until that date (United States Supreme Court, US vs. City of Albuquerque, 171 U.S. 685 (1898)


Pajarito Land Grant
Although an original land grant document for El Sitio de San Ysidro de Pajarito does not exist, Joséfa Baca, daughter of Manuel Baca of Bernalillo, owned land in Pajarito in 1733. Joséfa had six children: Antonio, the oldest, followed by José, Diego Domingo, Manuel Rosa and Isabel. (Fray Angelico Chávez: Origins of NM Families, p.144-145) The boundaries for this land were clear: “On the north by the town of Atrisco Grant; on the east, by the Río Grande; on the south, by the sitio or place called Los Padillas; on the west by the [Ceja del] Río Puerco.” (J.J. Bowden, Private Land Claims of the Southwest, 1969 (Southern Methodist Univ. unpublished Master’s Thesis) page 1708) Using these boundaries as a base, they run approximately 13 miles from east to west and four miles from north to south, encompassing 33,280 acres.

Antonio Baca, son of Joséfa, acquired an undivided interest in the grant in 1746 as a devisee under his mother’s will and purchased the balance of the grant from his siblings. (Spanish Archives of NM, Twitchell Document #94, 1746) The land grant had three villages living within its boundaries when the 1750 census of New Mexico was recorded. They were: Pajarito, Ranchos de Padilla and Sitio de Gutiérres, and living within them were a few Spaniards, many mestizos and genizaro servants (SANM, Censo de Nuevo Méjico, 1750, NMSRCA) For the next decade, some of the Baca family resided on the grant. Joséfa Apolonia Baca, Antonio’s daughter, married Clemente Gutíerrez, who was a successful trader on the Chihuahua trail, on the 13th of October of 1755 (Diligencias Matrimonales, San Agustín de Ysleta Pueblo, 1755) Clemente Gutiérrez purchased the Padilla Grant for sheep grazing in 1768. The settlers expanded sheep grazing onto the lands west but suffered from raids by the Nabajú and Apachis from 1770 to 1800. Shortly before his death, Clemente Gutiérrez purchased the Pajarito Grant from Antonio Baca, on May 10, 1785. (Senate Executive Document No. 89, 50th Congress, 2nd Session 43-44, 1889) Their son, Lorenzo Gutiérrez, would later inherit the grant from his mother, Apolonia.

Almost a century later, the descendants of Clemente and Joséfa Apolonia Gutiérrez testified before U.S. Surveyor General George W. Julian in 1877, claiming their undisputed possession of the Pajarito Grant by demonstrating complete ownership in their oral testimony, which was consistent with the documentary evidence. They testified that, since the turn of the 17th century, they built houses, fences, planted orchards, vineyards, dug the acequia system and cultivated the lands until the present without anyone questioning their right or title to the tract. (J.J. Bowden, pages 1707-12) After waiting over 10 years, the heirs of Josefa Baca, Antonio Baca and Clemente Gutiérrez finally heard back from the U.S. Surveyor General Julian in 1887 stating that the confirmation of the claim by Congress “would not only be a matter of justice to the claimants but would tend to preserve the peace and the town of Pajarito, primarily inhabited by the claimants and their peons.” On Feb. 7, 1893, the claimants filed suit in the Court of Private Land Claims seeking confirmation of the grant, which they estimated at 40,000 acres. On Sept. 8, 1894, the court, by decree, held there was a presumption that a grant had been made to Joséfa Baca and the tract had been acquired by prescription. A survey was made between September 1897 and April 1898 for 28,724.22 acres. The grant was finally patented on Nov. 27, 1914. (Miscellaneous Records of the Court of Private Land Claims, Journal, p. 186-188)

The families of long-settled Isleta Pueblo, and the Atrisco and Pajarito land grants and villages that evolved in the South Valley between Albuquerque and Peralta were blessed by rich land and an abundance of water. But without their ancestors’ ability to fight off disease, Navajo, Apachi and Commanchi raids from 1770 to 1800, and hard work and determination, they would not have continued occupation to this day.

This general look at the early history of the South Valley throughout the onslaught of change during its early period is only part of the story. For a more complete history of these land grants, see Joseph P. Sánchez’s Between Two Rivers: The Atrisco Land Grant in Albuquerque History, 1692-1968 and Elaine Patricia Lujan’s article “The Pajarito Land Grant: A Contextual Analysis of Its Confirmation by the U.S. Government,” fall 2008, Natural Resources Journal.


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 Northern New Mexico College, and adjunct at New Mexico Highlands University and University of New Mexico.


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