An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

The Gauntlet

Apply now for county fair queen, princess, sweetheart

The Sandoval County Fair Board is taking applications for fair queen, princess, and sweetheart contestants. Contestants must be single girls (never married and never having had a child) between the ages of seventeen and twenty-three as of September 1, 2002. Princess contestants must be between the ages of twelve and sixteen; sweetheart contestants, eleven years old or younger. Contestant entry forms are available at the Sandoval County Extension Office, 867-2582, and the CWW Feed Store in San Ysidro, 834-7038, or by calling 289-9422 in Cuba.

Flowering Desert Garden Tour postponed

Las Placitas Association

There will be no Flowering Desert Garden Tour this year. We were running low on gardens and, given the drought, decided to skip a year. However, if you or someone you know has a garden that the owner is willing to place on the tour, we are most interested in hearing about it.

Please contact Carol Parker, 867-0778 or (After all, sooner or later it will rain again. We hope.)

Recycling board looking for ideas

At its meeting in April, the Placitas Recycling Association Board initiated a long-range planning process for the recycling facility on Highway 165 across from the Comcast site.

“The board is asking for feedback from the community regarding the long-range plans for the facility,” said John Knapp, board president. “We will entertain any suggestions for expansion or improvement of the facility.” These comments or suggestions will be used in helping the board determine what changes or improvements are necessary to upgrade the facility.

The board has formed a Long-Range Future Strategy Committee composed of board members Richard Moore, Garth DeLeon, Len Stephens, and Frank Sciacca. “The committee will examine the potential growth opportunities for the facility, such as expanding to accept new recyclables and increasing community involvement,” commented Knapp.

The recycling facility is open the second and fourth Saturdays of every month from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and staffed by volunteers. “Our volunteers are the key to our success,” noted Fran Stephens, board secretary-treasurer. “The other day, we had a young man, Chris Wolfe, at the site helping his mother. He’s eleven years old and did a tremendous job.

Anyone wishing to provide input to the Recycling Association’s long-range plan or make comments about the facility is invited to phone Garth DeLeon at 771-8602 or Len Stephens at 867-3077. Written comments can also be mailed to Garth DeLeon at 200 Camino de las Huertas, Placitas, NM 87043.

LPA tours original Placitas settlement

Ty Belknap

In May, during National Historic Preservation Week, the Las Placitas Association sponsored a guided tour of the old village of San José de las Huertas with Stan Hordes, a noted Spanish historian from UNM. About twenty people carpooled to the site. LPA also invited Lynn Montgomery, who owns the property next to the old village and has served as steward for the past twenty years or so.

Because it was abandoned and never rebuilt, Hordes described the site as a time capsule recording the lives of the common people who settled New Mexico. Most original Spanish habitation in New Mexico has been destroyed by development or buried under modern cities, and some was were submerged beneath Cochiti Reservoir.

Hordes said that the first written record mentioning this area was in a letter dated 1694 (during the early land-grant process) asking for consideration of a friend’s settlement in Las Huertas. He added that there may have been a mining camp on the site during the seventeenth century, soon after colonists entered New Mexico.

The village was officially founded in 1867, although Juan Guitierrez of Bernalillo had petitioned the Spanish governor two years earlier for a “tract of vacant land called Las Huertas.”

By the time the grant boundaries were designated, twenty-one families were living in the village. The alcalde of Santo Domingo allotted building sites to settlers and ordered them to go on about their business. They were pretty much on their own, living on the edge of the known world.

Hordes said that he was employed as state historian in the early 1980s when Montgomery started to besiege his office with warnings that an amazing historical site was about to be lost to pipeline companies and other developments. He credited Montgomery, who was a member of the Sandoval Environmental Action Committee at the time, for the preservation of the site, which was later acquired by the Archaeological Conservancy.

Montgomery was more than happy to act as tour guide, starting at the ruins of a house that had been excavated in the 1980s when MAPCO Pipeline came through. A UNM student distributed literature about the site and this excavation in particular, which had exposed a kitchen complete with a corner fireplace for cooking, a bedroom with another fireplace, and a number of artifacts, including three beautiful pots of Santa Ana and San Felipe origin hidden under the floor.

Among the group gathered around the house were several descendants of the original settlers, including Tony Lucero and Ora Correa. They provided some disagreement and embellishments that enlivened Hordes’s presentation of the site’s history and significance.

Lucero said that when his land-grant ancestors were disenfranchised by big estancias in Bernalillo, they badly needed a place to go and settled in Las Huertas in spite of the danger of Indian raids and many deprivations. He emphasized that the site is remarkable not only for its beautiful vistas but for its defensibility. Lucero pointed out the hill that, according to tradition, was used as a lookout for Comanche, Navajo, and Apache attacking from the west. Hordes said he thought they attacked from down the canyon to the east.

The people in San José had to defend themselves in times of attack, possibly providing a buffer for the more established settlements. Most contact with the outside world took place at San Felipe Pueblo. The settlers travelled to San Felipe for religious services, trading, and even intermarriage. Lucero added that they lived much the same as the native population in terms of dress, agriculture, and technology. They even used stone tools, bows, and arrows.

Hordes stated that San José had grown to an administrative center populated by 284 people in 1802, but that the village was abandoned in the 1820s because of an order from the colonial government, which could no longer provide defense against attack. Lucero objected to the term “abandoned,” saying that they never left, that the women and children were said to have moved down to Algodones and San Felipe, but that some men stayed with the crops and livestock, and the government didn’t provide much protection anyway. Hordes replied that he welcomed the information and would be happy to be proved wrong. He conceded that it could be an error in translation and that the actual order was to depopulate the area rather than abandon it.

The original settlers and many more began to move into the area again in the 1830s, but did not fully resettle the village of San José de Las Huertas. After New Mexico became a U. S. territory in 1847, the San Antonio de Las Huertas Land Grant was dismembered in a tangle of titles, bogus claims, and land speculation that is still unresolved.

The tour meandered through the ruins that included low mounds that may have been the walls around the village, remnants of old fields, and fragments of an acequia system off of Las Huertas Creek. Pottery shards and slag from metalworking were evident in many places. Montgomery pointed out landmarks and discussed several conflicting theories.

Other land-grant descendants shared further stories and opinions. Montgomery said such friendly controversy adds to the richness and mystery of the place.

 Lucero questioned whether the mounds of rock really surrounded the original walled village. He produced a copy of a nineteenth-century map that showed the village was several hundred yards east of the area designated by the Archaeological Conservancy.

Lucero said that he did not mean to be confrontational just for the sake of a good argument, but that he felt there is a great deal of evidence to support his belief. Even if it turns out that his theory is wrong, Lucero argued, officially limiting the site as it is now designated might block preservation of additional significant historical areas.

Evidence of walls, acequias, and stock ponds extend all along Las Huertas Creek through private land that is known to locals as Tawapa (where there are ruins of hippie houses built in the sixties and bulldozed in the nineties when private developers prepared the land for subdivision and residential building).

As with the conservancy site prior to its designation in 1986, there is no way to protect archeological sites from private development if they are privately owned. The members of the tour all agreed that it was a shame that so much of the rich heritage of Placitas could be lost. Lucero said that he still thinks there is time to find funding for the purchase of more of the site.

Ora Correa still lives on the land next to the conservancy where her ancestors, the Trujillos, resettled after their return to Las Huertas. She and Montgomery extended the tour to the acequia system along the creek that still feeds fruit trees on their farms. Correa said the system was originally built by her grandfather, as evidenced by nineteenth-century documents in the state engineer’s office..

The tour finished up under an old walnut tree. Montgomery offered to continue downstream to some pueblo ruins, but the tour had already lasted through the lunch hour; heads were full and stomachs were empty.

Appreciative members of the tour commented that the oral history added greatly to the big picture and they urged that the stories be recorded  for posterity. Las Placitas Historical Facts and Legends, by Lou Sage Bachen, provides many fascinating accounts of the early days of Placitas. Copies are available at the Placitas Mini Mart.

Trespassing is not allowed on the Archaeological Conservancy site. For information concerning group tours, call 266-1540.