Sandoval Signpost


An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Around Town

Paging Through The Past
Signpost article reprints from twenty years ago

San Antonio de Las Huertas (the story of old Placitas)

—Martha Liebert

In the narrow valley, a shining stream runs down and around the north side of the sacred Sandia Mountain, where the wild plum thickets and chokecherry bushes vie for sustenance in the rocky soil. A son of old Spain followed an Indian trail up the canyon and found an oasis of natural springs in a great clump of huge cottonwoods. Here was the spot he had been seeking: the place he wanted to call home.

Juan Gutierrez selected a site in the foothills, just as many who came later, but he was here on a warm September day in 1765. Immediately, he petitioned the King of Spain to grant this piece of land to eight families whom he represented.

Two years later, his request was formally approved, but by that time there were 21 families to be included in the San Antonio de Las Huertas Grant.

In January of 1787, the settlers formally occupied the grant lands. Following ancient custom, they pulled up grass, threw stones, and cheered the King. For long months, the families had labored to build a strong walled town on the north bank of Las Huertas Creek.

Timbers were cut with stone axes and dragged from high up on the slopes to be roof beams of their houses. Rock was gathered for foundations. Everyone worked. This was a communal endeavor.

A common wall linked corrals and homes with only one gate in the outside wall, which could be barred for protection against attack, for these were dangerous times. The houses formed a hollow square and this central plaza was the site of many work activities when the weather permitted. The making of baskets, pottery, working with wool and food preparation took place here in this relatively safe spot.

The houses usually had no more than two rooms: a kitchen/living area and a sleeping room. Women usually built the houses of adobe brick and stone and plastered them with adobe, finishing with a coat of gypsum on the interior walls to brighten them. The width of the rooms was determined by the length of timbers available. The village had a pair of oxen for the heavy work of hauling and plowing.

Furniture was almost unknown. Adobe bancos were built in all around the walls and adobe bins were made to store grain and other foods. Families sat on the clean swept floor and ate from a common pot, using tortillas as a spoon for their beans or stew.

Sleeping blankets and serapes for wear against the winter winds had to be laboriously made on home looms. Cleaning the wool, spinning, and carding took great amounts of the womens’ time. The only other clothing was made of hides and skins, which must also be worked up with brains and much scraping to achieve a soft and supple consistency.

Water for cooking and drinking was carried from a spring in pottery jars or pitch-covered baskets.

Washing was done on rocks in the stream. Daily food preparation included grinding corn meal (blue and white) on the stone metate with the maon (hand stone). All fruits and vegetables were very carefully preserved by drying in the hot sun, either by stringing cut slices to hang against the walls or by laying slices out on the hot roof to dry.

Medicinal plants and herbal remedies had to be gathered in their time. Each family kept their own supply of roots and plants for teas and concoctions for illnesses.

Living was so close to the bone that the colonists did not have the resources to build a church and camposanto (graveyard), so they walked the nine miles down the arroyo to San Felipe Pueblo Church for their religious needs: baptisms, weddings, and burials.

Life was lived on a very simple and primitive level in those days. There were no frills and no money. Barter was the most used system of exchange. Their tools were of stone because metal was so rare and costly that few could afford such things.

Each family had a few head of sheep or goats and planted small plots of beans, corn, and squash, as well as chile. They worked long and hard to terrace the hills to catch rain water and planted their gardens there. They augmented their basic diet of tortillas with fruits and nuts gathered from forest and plain. Meat was not in the daily diet, but only served on feast days or when a member of community was lucky in the hunt and shared with all.

Navajo and Apache raids on the small fields and flocks was common and a disaster for the families who often lost their sons who were the shepherds of these flocks as well as their livestock and food supply.

The community had to be self sufficient to survive, for there was little contact with the outside world. All family clothing and food had to be prepared in the home and field. Most of the year folks were barefoot and bareheaded.

Some of the men would make an annual trip to the plains to trade for buffalo hides and jerky, often being gone months at a time. Trips for salt were also made to the Manzano Mountains. During these periods when some of the men were gone of necessity, the village was in very great danger, for its defenses were down with so few left to defend it.

These hardy folks lived in Las Huertas for eighty years. But in 1823, the government ordered the village to be abandoned and the families to move down to the valley for protection. With great sadness, they left their village for twenty years. When they returned to the canyon to live, they did not use the walled town again, but established four separate villages: Tejon, Ojo de la Casa, Tecolote, and what is now the village of Placitas.

By 1860, the customs, tools, houses, food, clothing, and lifestyle were largely what they had been one hundred years before and the Apache raids still continued.

San Antonio de Las Huertas is one of the few “living land grants” left in New Mexico in that its descendants are still living on grant lands and actively managing the grant as a legal entity.

If you would like more information about the history of Placitas, the Historical Society would welcome your interest. Monthly meetings cover a variety of subject on local history. Call 867-2755.

Reprinted from The Placitas Signpost, January 1993.

NM State Monuments host holiday events

On December 2, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. The Monument Rangers and Friend of Coronado Monument proudly announce their annual Christmas Celebration at the Monument—“Christmas at Kuaua.” Hot chocolate, cider, and cookies will be provided, along with familiar carols, and a visit from St. Nick. Beautiful luminarias and gaily-decorated trees will lift your spirits to the beat of Native drummers and storytellers around a roaring bon-fire. Coronado Monument is located off Highway 550, 1.5 miles west of the I-25 exit 242.

On December 15, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. the Fort Selden State Monument in Radium Springs will offer living history military reenactors, one thousand luminarias, free cookies and beverages.

Also on December 15, at Jémez State Monument in Jémez Springs, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. the ruins of Giusewa Pueblo and San José de los Jémez mission church will be decorated with hundreds of traditional luminarias. The evening’s program will include traditional Native American flute music and Jémez Pueblo dancers’ performance between two illuminating bon-fires. Enjoy free horse-drawn wagon rides from Jémez Springs Park to the Monument and holiday refreshments. For more information, call 575-829-3530.

Admission is free to all events at all monuments.

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