The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Flood control in Bernalillo involves property owners

Bill Diven

After years of increasing flood threats in eastern Bernalillo, property owners are being held accountable for altering natural drainages, according to town officials.

“We have to be the enforcers,” town administrator Lester Swindle told the Signpost. “We have to be very aggressive about this because it does affect people in town.”

Flood-control maps designed to guide development were last updated in 1988 but have been generally ignored since then through “benign neglect,” he said.

That is changing since Swindle gained the added title of Flood Plain Administrator after completing training with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The town has become a FEMA partner and agreed to update the flood-plain map, which also is used to determine who needs flood insurance.

Some property owners may be paying for insurance they don’t need, and others may not know they need it, Swindle said.

Four large arroyos flowing from the Sandia Mountains aim at Bernalillo but only one is blocked by a dam. The others have been shifted by a quarry operation, narrowed by culverts under I-25 and covered by residential and commercial development along South Hill Road.

“The historical patterns have been destroyed,” Kelly Moe, town planning and zoning director, told a recent meeting of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District. “There is nowhere for the water to go.”

Development also has blocked passages under the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, so floodwaters would hit the railroad embankment and spread south. A further complication is Sandia Pueblo prohibiting the town from using existing ditches to discharge floodwater, due to the contaminants picked up in the town.

That means the town must either divert water west to the Rio Grande or find some way to contain it, Swindle said.

Property owners are being notified and in some cases may be asked to make significant changes to their properties, Swindle said. Others may be asked for easements to allow the town to make changes.

MCT Industries, located between I-25 and South Hill Road, has agreed to cooperate after its construction altered an arroyo on the north side of the property, Swindle added. MCT had not responded to messages seeking comment by the Signpost deadline.


Looking out over the present-day village of Placitas from Montezuma Ridge

Looking out over the present-day village of Placitas from Montezuma Ridge

The Old Montezuma Mine

This letter—courtesy of William and Paul Stamm—was written about 1899 by Bill Echart of Placitas. It was written to interest various parties in buying his claim to the mine.

Bill Echart

In reply to your favor asking for a history of the Old Montezuma Mine, permit me to say that the tradition of this old mine reads like a romance, and indeed there might be room to question the most remarkable features of the story if they were not backed up by old Spanish and Mexican documents recently brought to light and in possession of an old native living here, and if everything in the mine itself, so far as I have cleaned out and reached, did not correspond with the testimony of the oldest inhabitants who with their ancestors have lived here for a century or more.

I have made a careful study of this old Spanish mine and its history. For three years I have been prospecting and mining in this camp, and will only refer to such circumstances as I am satisfied are well founded.

To go back to the beginning, we all know from history that the Spanish Conquerors of this land of Montezuma subjected various tribes of Pueblo Indians and worked them as slaves in the mine, from which gold and silver fairly flowed, enriching the treasure vaults of the Spanish realm and the coffers of her adventurous sons. The yoke of slavery in time became galling to the children of Montezuma, who rebelled against their masters and by a general and simultaneous uprising of the Indians, their tribes drove the invaders from the soil. This was the period in which the most of the valuable Spanish mines were filled in and covered up and gold and silver bullion was buried from view.

That the Montezuma was worked by the Spanish there is no doubt, and subsequently by adventurers from Old Mexico. The old Montezuma Mine of Las Placitas is frequently referred to in documents in possession of Don José Gurale of this place, bearing date A.D. 1667, which I was permitted to see recently, [that] refer to five lost mines in this district, of which the Montezuma is one.

It speaks of “la mina de Bentana, la mina de la Escalera” and says “al sure de Placitas la mina de Nepumeseno y en el miseno Canon la mina de Cola, which interpreted reads, The Window Mine, The Ladder Mine, and to the south of the Placitas is the Nepumeseno mine and the Coloa mine. Then it says “lado orenta de Placitas Travegardo la mina Montezuma Antonio Jinenez,” meaning that to the east of the Placitas Antonio Jinenez was working the Montezuma mine, and supplements it with the statement that Jinenez took twelve mules loaded with bullion to Old Mexico and never returned.

The Spaniards smelted the ores in ovens of mud, adobe structures the remains of several of which now stand to be seen in the vicinity of the old Montezuma, and shipped the gold and silver product on the backs of animals to their strongholds in Old Mexico. By a process of their own, now one of the lost arts, the lead was destroyed; parts of lead adhering to the slag, as can be seen in the slag piles in the mines of these Spanish Arastas. The process was simply for the charge of raw ores, and the fluxes, whatever they were, were put into these ovens, the lead was destroyed and the gold and silver extracted.

The Montezuma was worked by Indian slaves from the Pueblos of Chochiti, San Felipe, San Domingo and Sandia, situated in the Rio Grande, within a half day’s ride of the mine. Since their slavery in the mines, none of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, who are very superstitious on the subject, have worked or gone near the mine. They must know where the lost mines are, but no amount of coaxing can get them to say a word on the subject; although it has been tried a thousand times. These Indians, slave miners, who worked in the Montezuma dwelt in a village near the mine the remains of which now stand in Las Huertas canyon. It is estimated that about one hundred and twenty-five Indian families lived on the spot.

The old workings of the Montezuma are filled in and under water but by the size of the dumps they must be extensive. The Chief of the Cochite Indians says his ancestors worked in the Montezuma mines for six moons in every year and the remainder of the time was spent in the valley of the Rio Grande not many miles distant. He says the gold and silver ornaments used on the churches of the Pueblo Tribes came from the old Montezuma mine.

They say one of the lower shafts of the mine caved in, burying five Indians. Montezuma is 300 feet deep and that there are seven levels run off from the shaft. There was no pumping machinery those days and the water was carried to the surface in earthenware vessels and rawhides on the back and held in place by straps around the forehead of the slaves. Those natives also say that the crown of the statues of St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary in St. Joseph’s Church at Algodonas, where they worship, were made from beaten silver from the Montezuma mine. It is well known among the natives here that Felix Samoza, one of their number, while ploughing north of the Montezuma mine twelve years ago, in the vicinity of where one of those ovens was recently discovered, brought to the surface a bar of bullion 15 inches long, 1-1/2 inches wide and an inch thick, a piece of which bar was tested by a San Francisco assayor and was found to be very rich in gold and silver. Five of those old Spanish ovens for ore roasts have been discovered in all, three of which I discovered myself. Recently, within five years, one Wilson [see note] while ploughing near the Montezuma mine ploughed up a bar of gold said to be worth $1,950, but parted with it for $1,550. Ample testimony, if required, can be had to substantiate those facts. Those matters prove two things to our satisfaction; first, that the mine was extensively worked, and secondly that rich ores were taken out of the lower levels now filled in and covered by the Indians, and where we have discovered the old workings with a good deal of labor, the shaft filled with water to within 72 feet of the surface.

It is also a part of the tradition, and as likely to be true as any of it, that a quantity of bullion was hidden in one of the lower levels of the mine at the time it was filled in during the Indian insurrection; but none of these statements, traditional or otherwise, are necessary to show that the Montezuma mine is a valuable property the ore is here to show for itself in the works as far as we have cleaned them out to the water level. Of course when depth is gained by cleaning and pumping out the lower levels there is no doubt in my mind that rich ores will be found that are known to have been worked by Spainards, and no doubt the bullion referred to.

[Note: In an issue of the Albuquerque Journal published about 1950, there is a news item in a column “50 Years Ago Today” about a prospector named Wilson who lived in Placitas and was murdered close to his mine. The killer fled toward Bernalillo. The law was on his trail.]


Historical society to host pueblo field trips, blacksmith demos

On May 2, Ed Blumenfeld will host a tour of Kuaua Pueblo in Bernalillo in conjunction with the May meeting of the Sandoval County Historical Society. The public is invited to this free program at 2:00 pm at the Sandoval Historical Society Museum (the DeLavy House) on Edmonds Road just west of the Coronado Monument.

On May 16, the society will host a field trip to San Marcos Pueblo—a prerevolt pueblo—in the Galisteo Basin. Participants should meet at 9:00 a.m. at the museum for carpooling.

On May 29, blacksmith Gary Williams will demonstrate the making of hand-forged tools at 10:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 2:00 p.m., also at the museum. For further information, call 867-2755.


Mission de San Antonio Fiesta to feature a matanza

 —Fran Stephens

A traditional matanza is a family and community event in which a gathering of folks help in an labor-intensive job of processing a large pig: butchering, cooking, and preparing the meats for storage.

Historically, in the days before refrigeration, a matanza was done in the winter, to prevent spoilage. At the June 12-13 Mission de San Antonio Fiesta in Placitas, a matanza will be done as a fund-raising event for the preservation of its historic building.

The cooking will be done by Steve Otero, who learned the art of the matanza from his father, and his father before him. A group of hard-working folks get together and prepare carne (meat), chicharrones (pork rinds), frijoles (beans), and tortillas with red chilies, and put on a feed.

Today, matanzas are not done very often because of the work involved. But Steve has kept the matanza alive. He uses jarillas (pots) that look like very large woks: wide round-bottomed skillets with legs that hold them up off the ground so they can be placed over a propane fire. Not all of the cooking is done over propane; a large part of the work is digging a trench that will hold the fires for cooking the chicharrones and a large grill for the tortillas.

Work for the matanza begins six hours before the appointed time. A trench must be dug, a cedar fire started, pots set to boil. Today the pig is butchered and prepared off site. When all is ready, the workers start the cooking. Six hours later, folks are ready to enjoy the feast.

On Saturday, June 12, the traditional mass celebrating the Feast Day of St. Anthony will be at 6:30 p.m., followed by a procession through the village of Placitas with santos accompanied by mariachis and the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard. the procession will end up back at the Mission for refreshments.

On Sunday, June 13, shortly after the 9:30 a.m. mass, there will be music, dancing, an arts-and-crafts fair, a horseshoe tournament, game booths, a raffle for a night at the Hyatt Tamaya Resort for two, and the matanza feast (noon to 3:00 p.m.). Live music by Trappie and the In-Crowd will be featured. Delicious hamburgers, nachos, and other treats will be available. Come join in the festivities!


City and project-management officials break ground
on new Rio Rancho development.

Cabezon Communities, in Rio Rancho, to include up to 3,500 residences

Local government officials, economic development leaders, business owners, and land developers gathered on Tuesday, April 13, for the official groundbreaking ceremony at Cabezon Communities. The new nine-hundred-acre community is one of the largest mixed-use developments in New Mexico, and is a prototype for Rio Rancho’s new focus on planned, community-driven, sustainable redevelopment.

More than a hundred people attended the morning event, including Rio Rancho mayor Jim Owen, and Rio Rancho city councilors Robert Radosevich, Arturo Boniello, and Marilyn Salzman. Charles Hagelin, Stan Strickman, and Bo Johnson, partners in Cabezon’s development company, Curb North, and Scott Browning, senior vice president with Charter Bank, joined the city officials to dig the first shovelfuls of dirt.

When the development is complete, Cabezon Communities will include up to thirty-five hundred residences, as well as multiple commercial and mixed-use sites with a variety of office, retail, and other commercial tenants. Among the amenities envisioned for the pedestrian-friendly development are a community center, swimming pool, school, parks, community center, and walking and biking trails.


Family travels to save sacred sheep

On May 20, the Corrales Historical Society will host “The Churro and the Navajo” with Stacia Spragg. The presentation is about one family’s journey to save the sacred sheep and begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales. As part of the society’s 2003-2004 Speakers Series, the program is free and open to the public. The church is fully accessible to those with disabilities. Refreshments will be served after the program.

For further information, call 899-6212.


Egg hunt turns up 4,000 eggs

The fifth annual Easter Egg Hunt at Rotary Park was a huge success,” said event organizer Fawn Dolan. “Even though Bound for Success did not reach its fund-raising goal of $10,000, children and adults had a great time searching for the more than four thousand eggs that had been stuffed by Jason and staff at the Town of Bernalillo Parks and Recreation Department with candy and other surprises donated by the First Assembly of God Church.”

Bikes, stuffed animals, school supplies, and other treasures were given away to lucky recipients.

Next year, BFS has plans to get ten thousand eggs into the eager hands of toddlers and teens. BFS is also looking for gift certificates from local merchants to raffle off or for purchase at a nominal fee. They are also looking for artists interested in decorating ostrich, goose, and duck eggs for the first annual Easter-egg auction. They welcome all ideas, energy, and support, with the hope of making the Bernalillo event the best Easter-egg hunt in the county.

The organizers wish to send a big muchas gracias to the following supporters of their efforts: Wallen Builders, Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, Theco, Tires Plus, Range Café, JPR Gravel, Phil Messuri, and Nearly New. 

To get involved in next year's plans for this event, call Fawn at 280-4603.


LPA lecture—history of the Placitas Canyon area

In recognition of New Mexico Historic Preservation Month and the fact that the Placitas Open Space is listed on the State Register of Cultural Properties, the Las Placitas Association will present a free lecture on Saturday, May 22, at the Placitas Community Center. The topic will be the history of the Placitas Canyon area from Native American and Hispanic perspectives. The presentation, from 9:00 a.m. to noon, is open to the public. 

On June 5 and 26, LPA will present workshops on rainwater harvesting and storm-water management. For further information, visit or call 771-1171.


Herbfest at Rio Grande Nature Center

On Saturday and Sunday, May 1 and 2, the Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center will present Herbfest, their seventeenth annual celebration of herbs, wildflowers, and native plants. All activities are free.

Events include crafts and activities for children, rare and native seeds and plants for sale, herbal foods, and a wide selection of arts and crafts. Trained interpreters will guide bird and nature walks, and specialists and researchers will tour restoration areas in the bosque, the Nature Center’s specialized gardens, the new butterfly garden, and the mesic grassland, an area reminiscent of the Rio Grande’s old floodplain. North American storyteller and flutist Ernie Lovato will entertain young and old under the cottonwoods.

For more information, call 344-7240.


Game commission approves wolf reintroduction, recovery in SW

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

The state game commission agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, to actively participate with the various cooperators in the reintroduction and recovery of the Mexican gray wolf in the Southwest. The commission made the decision at its April 7 meeting in Silver City.

Department biologists and three commissioners presented an update of wolf-related management actions since 1998 at a public meeting April 6 in Silver City. About seventy people presented comments, with a seven-to-one margin supporting the commission’s participation in the wolf memorandum.

The commission instructed department staff to work cooperatively with other agencies, tribes, and the public on the following considerations:

Modifying the population rule to expand wolf release boundaries; reviewing the Paquet Recovery Assessment, an independent interim assessment of wolf recovery; and considering direct wolf releases in appropriate areas of New Mexico. The department was instructed to present a progress report to the commission by December 2004.

Signatories to the MOU include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture,

U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, White Mountain Apache Tribe, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, and several counties in Arizona and New Mexico.

The commission also approved support for Governor Richardson’s executive direction to protect the plants and wildlife in the Otero Mesa region.

The commission also directed the department to begin the biennial review process for the status of threatened and endangered species. For further information, call (505) 476-8000 or visit






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