Green Fire Times

Pueblo Villages, Land Grants and Spanish Villages in the Valle de Cochiti

Pena Blanca Church, ca. 1885, Bainbridge Bunting Collection – Center for Southwest Research, UNM Library

By Hilario E. Romero


This first part in a two-part article concludes my series on the history of the Santa Fe River and the communities along its banks. This portion addresses the history, geography and genealogy of the area where it meets the Río Grande at Peña Blanca. From the clear waters of the lake below Pecos Baldy in the uppermost watershed east of Santa Fe, the river descends 47 miles and 7,000 feet to its junction with the Río Grande.  

Historically, the river achieved its delta during wet periods of heavy snowpack and monsoons. Throughout the centuries people living along the river’s banks utilized its springs and marshes and endured its unpredictable nature. Up until the 1990s, Agua Fría villagers used the river’s flow to grow food for themselves and Santa Fe, as well as all the other communities downstream: La Cieneguilla, La Ciénega, La Bajada and Peña Blanca. These acequia-based villages provided most the agricultural, ranching and other sustainable needs for Spanish colonial Santa Fe.

We are currently in the 23rd consecutive year of below-normal rainfall and snowpack, with warming temperatures. We are now living in an environment similar to the one I experienced as a child. It reminds me of the drought of 1952–1958, when both the Pecos River and the Río Grande turned into mere streams, and my family was one of many facing ruin along their banks.

Ancestral Villages of Cochiti

Historically, the juncture of the two rivers served the Queres and Tanos as well as the Spanish. According to many accounts by Cochiti elders, verified by archaeologists, Cochiti’s ancestral pueblos to the north at La Cañada de Cochiti, Potrero Viejo and Cañon de los Frijoles were occupied as early as 1050 A.D. Later, in 1250 A.D., there were large villages at Tash’Cah’Tse, three miles south of present day Cochiti, on the same side of the Río Grande. Tse’Nah’Teh Pueblo sits across the Santa Fe River from La Bajada village. Remains of these early pueblos still exist. (Charles H. Lange. Cochiti: A New Mexico Pueblo, Past and Present, Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1959)

Centuries before the arrival of the Spanish, these pueblos diverted water from both rivers for their needs. Rocks may have been laid across the Río Santa Fe to slow the flow and elevate it enough to divert from each side. With the Río Grande, the process was more difficult. They might have used the natural curve of the river near Tash’Cah’Tse to divert it on the west side and a rock outcropping at the curve to divert it on the opposite side. Their stored crop yields—corn meal, beans, ground chile, dried squash and wild meats—were a deterrent against prolonged droughts. Their worldview and way of life was in balance with nature and the cosmos. It allowed them to survive and prosper in this land that was unpredictable, hostile, cold and snowy in winter and dry and hot in summer.

Spanish Exploration, Conquest, Colonization and Christianization

Upon the arrival of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his large expedition, the people of the Pueblo of Cochiti were probably forewarned regarding Spanish attacks at Zuni and the destruction of several Tiwa pueblos in the middle Río Grande area. Pedro de Castañeda de Nájera, Coronado’s chronicler, mentioned that Cochiti was one of eight Queres pueblos. In the fall of 1581, the Rodríguez-Chamuscado expedition reached the village, describing it as having 230 two- to three-story dwellings, calling it “Medina de la Torre.” (George Hammond and Agapito Rey. The Gallegos Relation of the Rodriguez Expedition into New Mexico, Hist. Soc. of NM, IV, 1927). Diego Pérez de Luxan, of the 1582 Espejo expedition, recorded it as “Cachiti,” where inhabitants “were peaceful, gave us maíz, tortillas, pavo y pinole.” (Journal of Diego Pérez y Luxan, Member of the Party, Antonio del Espejo Expedition of 1582-1583 in Hammond and Rey, Quivira Society I, 1929) As in most pueblos the Spanish encountered, both groups marveled at one-another’s goods. At Cochiti, the Spanish traded bells and small iron pieces for pieles de cíbolo (buffalo skins). (George Hammond and Agapito Rey in their work, New Mexico in 1602, Quivira Society, Vol. VIII, 1938)

Five days after Juan de Oñate’s advance party arrived at Kee’ Wah (Santo Domingo Pueblo) on June 30, 1598, he sent his Maese de Campo (field marshal) Juan de Zaldivar (his nephew) to bring up the main caravan.  On July 7, Oñate held a council with seven Pueblo chieftains who reportedly pledged their obedience to the King of Spain (Herbert Eugene Bolton, Spanish Explorations in the Southwest, New York: Charles Scribners & Sons, 1916) There is a high probability that the leader at Cochiti was among them. A scouting party went further north to find passage over the escarpment known today as La Bajada. Once the main caravan arrived, they decided to go around the steep mesa to what the Spaniards would later call San Marcos Pueblo. Fraile Juan de Rosas was assigned to Kee’Wah/Santo Domingo Pueblo near Cochiti in 1600. Cochiti Mission was still a visita (no resident priest) as late as 1614, with the first reference to San Buenaventura de Cochiti half a century later in 1667. (France V.  Scholes Documents for the History of the New Mexican Missions in the Seventeenth Century, NMHR IV, 1929).

Cochiti and Santo Domingo (Kee’Wah) Pueblos, 1614-1800

In 1680, Cochiti Pueblo joined the Pueblo Revolt and killed its resident priest, forcing the Spanish colonists under Gov. Antonio de Otermín to escape to Guadalupe del Paso del Río del Norte. One year later, Gov. Otermín came north, recruiting Christian Tompiros and other loyal puebloans while capturing and hanging those who had resisted the previous year. Immediately after the revolt, the Cochitis relocated to their former pueblo at Potrero Viejo, atop a mesa about six miles north of their village, where they remained between 1680 and 1692. The Cochitis, along with other Queres pueblos, forced Otermín back to Guadalupe del Paso del Río del Norte (Charles W. Hackett. Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of NM & Otermín’s Attempted Reconquest, 1680-1682. Alb.: UNM press, 1970). In June of 1696, the Cochitis again rose up in revolt along with other northern pueblos, which had battled sporadically with Gov. Diego de Vargas since 1693. Five missionaries were killed and the whole region erupted in war. Cochiti’s resident priest, Fraile Alonso de Cisneros, managed to escape to San Felipe Pueblo, which was still loyal to the returning Spanish government (Manuel J. Espinoza, First Expedition of Vargas into New Mexico, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1940).  

Gradually, relations between the Spanish government and the pueblos improved as the new governor of New Mexico gave the pueblos more concessions. In 1706, Santo Domingo Pueblo Gov. Cristóbal Coríz appealed to keep interim New Mexico Gov. Francisco Cuervo y Valdés in office. Pueblo Gov. Coríz was noted as being the “principal war chief of the Queres nation.” It was also noted that the Cochiti Pueblo governor, among others, spoke Castellano. One year later, Fraile Miguel Muñiz reported that the San Buenaventura de Cochiti mission church was under reconstruction. (Charles W. Hackett. Historical Documents Relating to NM, Carnegie Inst.:1923-1937)

The visitation of Archbishop Tamarón y Romeral on May 23, 1760 brought his group to San Felipe Pueblo, where they had lunch under a ramada. Shortly after that, Gov. Marín del Valle took them to Santo Domingo Pueblo, where they also dined. The governor left his two-seated carriage for the archbishop, then returned to Santa Fe to await his arrival. That same day, the archbishop made his inspection of the mission at Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kee’Wah) and administered confirmation. After visiting missions to the north, east and south, he returned to Cochiti via the east side of the Río Grande. Because they were unable to transport the archbishop across the Río Grande in a canoe, the population crossed the river to the Rancho de Santa Cruz to be confirmed. (Journal of Pedro Tamarón y Romeral) In 1776, Fraile Francisco Domínguez arrived in Santa Fe with orders to visit of all the missions and find a route to Monterey, Capital of Alta California. He was joined by Fraile Silvestre Veléz de Escalante for inspection and census of the missions, including Cochiti Pueblo, where they listed 116 families and 486 persons. They noted that some of the Queres speakers spoke Spanish. (Eleanor Adams and Fray Angelico Chávez, Missions of NM 1776. trans., Alb.: UNM Press, 1956)

Spanish Land Grants in El Valle de Cochiti 

La Cañada de Cochiti, Diego Gallegos Grant, Santa Barbara de Sile and Rancho de Cubero

In 1728, Antonio Lucero of Santa Fe was given a land grant at La Cañada de Cochiti. Finally settled in 1742-1743, it was located three miles north of the pueblo on the west side of the Río Grande. Its northern boundary ran from the old pueblo at Potrero Viejo to a ravine opposite Santo Domingo Pueblo. Life was dangerous at this time. Several groups of men and boys were attacked and killed by bands of Navajos in the Valle Grande (today’s Valles Caldera), who took their cattle and sheep. A young family of Montoyas was wiped out while pasturing their animals on the Caja del Río Grant, possibly near Ojito de Santa Cruz. By the early 1800s, settlers had temporarily abandoned La Cañada due to constant Navajo raids and because of drought and consequent famine (Fray Angelico Chávez, Valle de Cochiti. New Mexico Magazine, Jan,/Feb. 1973). Virginia Quintana y Ortiz interviewed Gerald Leyba Sr. about his great-great-grandfather’s story that the Cochitis invited refugees of La Cañada de Cochiti to live with them (Virginia Quintana y Ortiz, personal interview with Gerald Leyba, July 25, 2004).

Santa Barbara de Sile (Xile or Chile), was a land grant given in 1730 to Diego Gallegos of Bernalillo and others, south of Cochiti Pueblo across the Río Grande from Peña Blanca. In 1748 the widow Gallegos deeded it to Santo Domingo Pueblo, probably to settle a lawsuit. Despite these difficulties, the pueblos and Spanish villagers banded together to fight the Navajos and Comanches who were raiding the area. Sile was resettled in 1790 by some of the refugees who had left La Cañada de Cochiti. In the 1820s, Rancho de Cubero was developed on this same land, but Santo Domingo Pueblo again filed a suit and won its return (Fray Angelico Chávez, Valle de Cochiti, New Mexico Magazine, Jan./Feb. 1973, pp. 6-17)

Early History of Peña Blanca, 1754-1850

Juan Montes Vigil submitted a petition for a land grant to Gov. Marín del Valle, which was awarded Nov. 13, 1754 with the following boundaries: “On the north, the lands of the Pueblo of Cochiti, on the east, the hills, on the south, the lands of the Pueblo of Santo Domingo; on the west, the Río Grande” (J.J. Bowden, Private Land Claims of the Southwest, 1969 pp. 1256, 1257) Shortly thereafter, he sold the grant to his son, who in turn sold it to Santa Fe resident José Miguel de la Peña for 500 pesos. In 1770, Peña set up a ranch, had his servants run it, and eventually gave it to his eldest son and namesake, who called it Rancho José de la Peña. It was through this ranch that Peña Blanca got part of its name because three years later the area was known as Rancho de la Peña Blanca. After 1790 the lands between Cochiti and Santo Domingo pueblos began to fill up steadily with families from Santa Fe, La Cañada de Cochiti, and later from Bernalillo.

In the 1750s the Santa Fe presidio grazed its horse herds on La Majada and Caja del Río land grants. The Majada Land Grant, which included Peña Blanca within its southwest boundary, had been granted in 1695, but it is highly probable that by the time Juan Montes Vigil petitioned for his grant, the families of La Majada/La Bajada were glad to receive more neighbors to help repel the Navajo and Comanche raids. Eventually, many families in the area and upriver, in Santa Fe, would come together through marriage.

Luís María Baca (he changed his surname to Cabeza de Vaca) was a resident of Santa Fe married to María Josefa López. Presidio soldier Luís María moved his wife and 11 children to Rancho de Santa Cruz, near the spring of that name at the eastern edge of the Caja del Río Grant above the Río Grande.This was a 1600s land grant given to Cristóbal Fonte (Fuente?) and his wife, María Ramos Varela, who were living there by the early 1660s. (Fray Angelico Chávez, Origins of NM Families, Santa Fe: William Gannon Pub., 1954) Luís María’s grandmother, Nicolasa del Castillo, mistress of the ranch, later married the recipient of another large land grant. In 1798, after the death of his first wife, Luís María remarried Ana María Sánchez, heiress to the Montes Vigil family ranch in Peña Blanca, where he later established his headquarters. She died giving birth to her fifth child. In 1819, Luís María Cabeza de Vaca looked for grazing land in Las Vegas Grandes for his 15 offspring. (Fray Angelico Chávez, Origins of New Mexico Families, Santa Fe: William Gannon, Pub., 1954) In 1821 he was awarded the Las Vegas Grandes Land Grant, encompassing almost 500,000 acres. He and his sons took possession of the grant in 1823, building a house on the Loma Montosa until raids by the Pawnees pushed them out. Luís María spent his last years in Peña Blanca with his third wife. On May 16, 1827, he was shot to death by a soldier in an argument concerning a piece of contraband (Anselmo Arellano and Julián Josué Vigil, Las Vegas Grandes on the Gallinas, Las Vegas: Editorial Teleraña, 1985)

In 1807, Spain joined France in a peninsular war against Portugal and its ally, England. As Napoleon and his armies readied for war with Portugal, they turned on Spain, invading the peninsula and crowning Joseph Bonaparte King of Spain. New Mexico, being one of the most isolated of Spain’s colonies, lost contact and assistance from the mother country until 1814, despite sending delegate Pedro Bautista Pino to the Cortes at Cádiz in 1812.

Wars for independence pushed Spain from the Americas and Mexico became an independent nation. Under the Mexican constitution of 1824, women continued to vote and own property as they had during the Spanish colonial period. Slavery was prohibited, Native Americans were made citizens, and trade was opened between the U.S. and Mexico on what would be known as the Santa Fe Trail. Due to its isolation and necessary self-sufficiency, New Mexico was slow to register these changes. In the Valle de Cochiti, trade with Chihuahua had continued for two centuries, and it would continue after the 1846 invasion of the United States of North America. The villages of this area continued to struggle with Navajo raids, drought and famine. Their self-sufficiency and surpluses contributed substantially to the health and welfare of the capital, Santa Fe.  

Part Two of this essay, the 10th in this series, will cover the history of the lower Río Santa Fe region from 1840s to the present.

Hilario E. Romero, an author and former New Mexico State Historian, is a retired history, Spanish and education professor of 40 years. He is currently a board member, publications chair and international liaison for the Camino Real Trail Association.