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Las Vegas, New Mexico 87701




      The identity of a people, and the self-respect and sense of belonging of its individual members, spring from their history, their culture and their appreciation of their past. For the valiant but isolated and greatly outnumbered nativos of the southwestern United States, the beauty of their culture and the glory of their past have been largely obscured by the venality of the on-rush of the events of American history. Lost from memory and ignored by history is much of the character, valor, endurance and dedication of those early settlers who braved the unknown reaches of a vast and strange land to carve out and establish new Christian settlements.

    Unlike their European counterparts who settled the eastern reaches of America, the Spaniards and Mestizos who crossed the great Chihuahua desert and moved on into New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California were not financed or supported by wealthy entrepreneurs or avaricious rulers. Instead, they were groups of individuals who sought a new destiny on the strength of their individual fortitude and scant resources. They took on the wilderness with little more than the clothing on their backs and a few day’s rations. But they were bolstered by traditions and a culture forged over hundreds of years of resistance to Moorish oppressors, and cast in the mold of a people who had endured a harsh homeland and a tumultuous sequence of foreign potentates.

    They brought with them culture, tradition and erudition, which they passed down from generation to generation in an almost pure and static form. Their isolation preserved the basic values of their early European society, and in their new homes they created a life style that kept the best of the Old World, from which they came, but yet adapted with respect and circumspection to their new environment.

    They established new settlements in the midst of hostile Indians without committing genocide. They established civilization in frontiers without damaging the environment. They lived off the land, but did not rape it. And they remained civilized. They did not become crass or crude, ignorant or uncivil. They kept their social and cultural values intact despite deprivation, hardship, isolation and adversity. As frontiersmen they remained decent, clean and civilize. But their heroic accomplishments have been lost in the gaudy, blustering, noisy growth of Industrial America, and can now be but dimly perceived through the dedicated efforts of scholars and researchers. The present work is an effort to bring to light some examples of this dim but proud past.

Donaldo A. Martinez



    The year 1985 is a special year of jubilee for the residents of Las Vegas and all the people living on the small farms, ranches and settlements which have dotted the landscape on the Las Vegas Land Grant for the past one hundred and fifty years. During this celebration of their sesquicentennial, the people reflect on their exciting and challenging past, their accomplishments and their continuing progressional development as residents of San Miguel County.

    This book, although brief in context, is a result of many years of research into the realm of human experience and historical development--the development of a people who settled and conquered the northeastern reaches of the Spanish and Mexican frontier. Different historical sketches focusing on the Las Vegas Land Grant and its residents are presented to provide the reader with a cross section of daily life experiences and struggles the early settlers of Las Vegas Grandes faced throughout the early course of their history.

    And behind the early struggles of life, there is always a critical release of artistic work, in particular literature. Whether trained by others or inspired by what was available in printed form, various authors living in Las Vegas and the surrounding area left us an impressive record-novels, short stories, poetry, etc.-of which we present a translated sampling. Much of the poetry, however, has been left in its original Spanish form. We have included different literary genres except the folk drama, for most of it seems to have been composed "south of the border" and brought here to Las Vegas after the 1870s. Taken altogether, the literary activity of Las Vegas and surrounding communities in the "Imperial County" of San Miguel is an inspiration to the present day scholar and layman alike.

    Different people contributed to the completion of this sesquicentennial publication on Las Vegas. To them we are grateful and deeply indebted. A special "thanks" is extended to Donaldo A. Martinez, a direct descendant of Luis Maria C. de Baca, for contributing the opening remarks to this project. Elmo Baca and Bob Dalton have graciously provided many reproductions of Las Vegas area photographs collected by the Citizens Committee on Historic Preservation. We thank the original contributors to this excellent collection, and those persons who provided other photographs. Our courteous appreciation and acknowledgement is also extended to the following: Richard Salazar, State Archivist; Bernabé Jaramillo Jr.; and, Tobías Durán.

July 4, 1985

Anselmo F. Arellano

Julián Josué Vigil




    San Miguel del Bado, south of Las Vegas, was settled in 1794 by fifty two families who came from the Pefia Blanca and Santa Fe areas. Among them were some twelve genizaro families or full-blooded Hispanicized Indians who were seeking lands to settle with their mestizo and Spanish vecinos. With-in a short period of time, San Miguel became the main population center northeast of Santa Fe. As the population on the Pecos River expanded, other communities emerged throughout the region on Spanish and, later, Mexican land grants. San Jose was settled in 1803, Tecolote in 1824, and Antó n Chico in 1822. Many of the early land grant concessions of the Las Vegas area were going to large wealthy land owners from the Santa Fe area as sitios to be used mostly for grazing livestock. Among these were the Antonio Ortiz land grant southeast of Las Vegas in 1819; another granted to Juan Estêban Pino, east of present Dilia, in 1823; and, the large Montoya land grant going to Pablo Montoya on the Río Colorado (now Canadian River) in 1824. The San Miguel del Bado Land Grant, and those which followed, such as the Antón Chico and Tecolote, were community grants--lands to be permanently settled in community efforts.

    Las Vegas Grandes were first settled by Luis María Cabeza de Baca and his family through a land grant concession made to him and his seventeen male children. The C. de Baca family petitioned the Spanish government for the land grant on January 16, 1821. The official petition was submitted to the Provincial Deputation of the State of Durango, being that it had jurisdiction over the Province of New Mexico. In his petition, C. de Baca stated that he and eight other people had previously been conceded the land known as Las Vegas Grandes on the Gallinas River on February 18, 1820. The eight other people, he stated, had acquired land elsewhere, and were no longer interested in the tract of land. The boundaries Luis María C. de Baca described in his land request were: "On the north the Sapelló River, on the south the boundary of El Bado, on the west the summit of the Pecos mountain, on the east the Aguaje de la Yegua and the boundary of Don Antonio Ortiz."

    On May 29, 1821, Diego García Conde and Miguel Zubiría, president and secretary of the Provincial Deputation of Durango respectively, informed the governor of New Mexico Facundo Melgares, that in the event Luis Maria's eight companions had other lands to pasture their cattle, the Deputation would grant C. de Baca the petitioned for land called Las Vegas Grandes. Also, it was required that the other parties could not have erected any buildings or made other improvements on the petitioned land. If such improvements had occurred, C. de Baca was to reimburse them, and equal quantities of land should be given to them, wherever they chose to replace those given to Lois Maria. The Deputation also requested that Governor Malgares informed the parties involved of the action taken to carry out the order.

    Two years later on October 17, 1823, the Political Chief of New Mexico, Bartolomé Baca, instructed the Alcalde of San Miguel del Bado to place Luis Maria C. de Baca in possession of the land he petitioned for. By this time it had apparently been determined that the eight individuals who accompanied the first petition had forfeited any claim or reimbursement to the property. The Alcalde was further required to attest at the bottom of the decree that he had indeed carried out the land concession to Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca.

    Luis María C. de Baca's petition had been made to the Spanish Provincial Deputation in January of 1821, but on September 28 of the same year Mexico declared her independence from Spain. The official conveyance and possession placement of the Las Vegas grant, however, did not come until February 27, 1825, when Juan Bautista Vigil, then the Secretary of the Deputation of New Mexico, placed C. de Baca in its possession.

    When Luis María's son, Juan Antonio, sought confirmation of the land grant in 1825, the question arose as to the authority the State of Durango held over New Mexico, being that Mexico was already Independent, and a new political process had been initiated. Some of the states had not yet recognized the new changes; and the officials of the State of Durango exercised their powers which had been entrusted to them by the King of Spain; and although no positive truth was available, it was felt that the Deputation of Durango had acted in good faith and within the scope of its authority when the land was officially granted to the C. de Baca family. The Territorial Deputation of New Mexico further conceded in 1825 that "the province of New Mexico was under the jurisdiction of that State, and that any grant made by its legally constituted authorities was a good and valid one." That same year Governor Malgares of New Mexico was satisfied that the Durango officials were correct in making the concession, and he consequently ordered that the grantees be given possession. It was felt that had Melgares doubted the authority of Durango, he would not have decreed that the family should be placed in possession of the land grant.

    It is yet uncertain when Luis María took his family to Las Vegas and how long they remained there. José Francisco Salas, an employee of the family, once stated that the family had been at Las Vegas for about sixteen years. He said Indians drove them off more than once, but they would return once the Indian problem would quiet. No other persons besides Luis Maria and his sons resided at Las Vegas or made any improvements on the land during that early period. Salas further said that Luis María resided at Las Vegas for ten years and that he

Had a hut built at Loma Montosa, where himself and his cattle remained for a greater portion of the time. I did not see any other improvements. I had charge of the sheep herd and some times would come to his hut, but the greater portion of the time I was in another direction with the sheep.

    In his petition of 1821 Luis María had requested the land for cultivation and pasturing, but Salas reported that they had never engaged in farming. Six members of Luis María's family were still at Las Vegas when the Pawnee Indians finally drove them off. After suffering various Indian attacks and property losses, the C. de Baca's were finally compelled to leave. They had 3,000 sheep, some cattle and milk cows, and a large herd of horses as well. The Indians never killed any of the C. de Baca party before they eventually abandoned the area, but their losses to the Indians totaled $36,000.00 over the years.

    When title to the Las Vegas Land Grant was being adjudicated much later in 1858, testimony was unable to reveal exactly when the C. de Baca family had left the grant. It appears, though, that members of the family were still there in 1831. That year Josiah Gregg was on the road to Santa Fe when he arrived at the Gallinas River, the first of the Río del Norte waters in the northeast sector of New Mexico. When he arrived at the present Las Vegas vicinity, Gregg reported that at

Gallinas Creek we found a large flock of sheep qrazinq upon the adjacent plain; while a little hovel at the foot a cliff showed it to be a rancho. A swarthy ranchero soon made his appearance, from whom we procured a treat of goats milk, with some dirty ewe's milk curdle cheese to supply the place of bread

    Long before the San Miguel del Bado residents moved to Las Vegas in 1835, they had been faced with the danger of Indian hostility. This was a hard reality their antecedents in New Mexico had been faced with and one, which continued throughout the early history of Las Vegas. Indians had forced the C. de Baca family off the grant, and they continued to be a serious threat to the new community, which was settled in 1835. Crops, cattle, sheep, goats and horses were raided and driven off by Utes, Pawnees, Comanches, Apaches and to a lesser extent, the Navajo. The worst, which could befall a family, was a tragic elimination of one or more of their members. From time to time younger children were spared and taken to live as captives among the marauding Indian tribes. Some times the captives were able to escape, or through barter they later returned to their homes. Others lived out their remaining days with their foster Indian parents. Some of the wealthier Hispano families likewise would purchase or capture Indian children and raise them as cautivos. Many of these grew to adulthood and intermarried among Hispano families

    A few years before Las Vegas was permanently settled, an Indian attack occurred at Tecolote in October 1826. Three sheep herders were scalped—one of them having part of his skull chipped off--by Indians from the "northern tribes," but they lived to talk about their terrifying experience. Following this attack, Juan José Cabesa de Baca from San Miguel assigned a small band of eight men to scout the area carefully for Indians who might be a threat to the people in the area. Those Indians were never seen again. This is but one of many Indian encounters the growing settlements in the new frontier of northeastern New Mexico experienced.

    Other settlement extensions from San Miguel experienced early problems with the Indians. East along the Pecos River the Ant6n Chico settlement of1822 remained unstable, and after repeated Comanche attacks, the colonists a bandoned their settlement around 1828 and returned temporarily to the protection and sanctuary of San Miguel. The people eventually returned in 1834 to remain permanently at Antón Chico.

    The confusing status of Hispano/Indian relations many times New Mexicans repelling Indian attacks while other times they served as arbitrators among warring Indian tribes. One December 4, 1827, just prior to the time the settlers abandoned their town, fourteen Comanches arrived at Antón Chico seeking a location where they could arbitrate their differences with their Apache enemies. They had Santiago Sandoval write Governor Manuel Armijo, requesting the canes, which were customarily exchanged in peace treaty negotiations.

    In May 1829 Jose Cavallero wrote to Principal Commander Don Juan José Arocha from "Begas de las Gallinas" (Las Vegas) reporting on the soldiers under his command. One detachment of troops, twelve in number, under the charge of Eugenie Lovato was a ways off patrolling at "el Parage de la Llegua." Cavallero reported that the soldiers under his command were complaining about their miserable wages and that they could use some money, at 1east, "beinte reales, " he said [dos reales = two bits=25~]. Cavallero made a special plea to get his men paid. [Documentary evidence shows that New Mexico at best could support but a military force of one hundred soldiers for all the Territory during the late Spanish and succeeding Mexican Period. The internal politics of the confused Mexican Republic could be to blame for the misery and poverty coloring New Mexican history of that age.]

    A month later in June, the same detachment of soldiers at Las Vegas was called back to San Miguel by their military superior because they were ill-equipped and undermanned to adequately patrol and defend the area against the Indians. When they returned, Alcalde Santiago Ulibarrí became infuriated and accused them of cowardice, complaining that they only displayed their valor while they were stationed in the plazas. Two of the soldiers defended their position and complained to the governor that Ulibarrí not only called them cowards, "but all soldiers who protect this orphan frontier." The soldiers, Eugenio Lovato and Francisco Campos, sought vindication from the insults by stating those soldiers continually had to endure many hardships, the worst being hunger. They had to share meager provisions, which were provided for their sustenance, while they were being asked to protect and lend their services to their "nation."

    The soldiers stated that even if they were to have money to purchase food, the wealthy who owned livestock had no compassion for humanity. "With or without money," they said, they were unable to obtain "a little milk, or a sheep or ewe to help meet but one of the many needs which surrounded them. " The poor residents of the area who herded livestock under military protection at "las gallinas" were relegated to the same status of want, they stated.

    Up to the time that Las Vegas was finally settled the poor economic condition the soldiers from San Miguel suffered had apparently not changed much. Early in March 1834 a small detachment of soldiers was stationed in Las Vegas to patrol the area against Indian encroachments and, to protect individuals who grazed livestock in the area. One of them, Juan Arias, deserted because he was apparently dissatisfied with his position as a soldier, its poor benefits, and his inability to provide for his family. José Larrañaga from San Miguel complained to the military commander, Blas de Hinojos, that the detachment at Las Vegas did not have the means to support themselves or their families at Bado. Subsequently, they were making a special request for money to enable them to carry out their familial obligations.

    By 1831 the community of San Miguel del Bado had grown into a thriving town of over 2,000 people. Other settlements on the Pecos River near San Miguel also grew in numbers. Available lands for grazing and farming were soon absorbed by the more fortunate individuals, and many more remained idle without any occupation. In due time the local parish priest at San Miguel, José Francisco Leyba, recognized the social and economic problems which began to develop in the area, and he launched a campaign of protest and concern to the Governor and Territorial Deputation in Santa Fe.

    In his lengthy manifesto, which was dated June 17, 1831, Father Leyba complained about the growing population of San Miguel and the problems and burdens vagrants and other unemployed people in the area were posing on the rest of the population. To alleviate the pressing conditions at San Miguel, Father Leyba recommended the settlement of the northeastern portion of New Mexico. He felt that both industrious men and vagrants from San Miguel would benefit from the settlement of those areas. Since the majority of the families in the area were poor, the priest requested government support by way of oxen, hoes, axes and other tools the people would need to build their homes and cultivate their lands. In his plea to the government officials of New Mexico, Father Leyba stressed that the settlement of new lands would also close the northern frontier and gradually eliminate the Indian problem.

    Father Leyba had been in New Mexico fourteen years, but he was disappointed with the lack of progress in the territory and its poor state of affairs. He favored promoting progress and new growth in New Mexico, with support from those who showed new vigor and sought new justice. In the past, he said, they had been Spanish subjects, and the "mandarí n" Spanish officials had not been concerned with anything, which benefited the territory. Their avarice had them more preoccupied with their salaries and other benefits they gained in their service to the crown, he said.

    Father Leyba felt that now that the New Mexican Republic was selfgoverened, Mexican citizens could have no better opportunity and motive to procure those things, which escaped them during the Spanish colonial period. They now owned their own territory and had government officials from among their own people and here in New Mexico, local natives as well. Past governments and public officials could have been more useful and less prejudicial in promoting the welfare and development of New Mexico. In commerce and production, he stated that New Mexico could have rivaled the Mexican Republic had the effort of men of position been there.

    Father Leyba said, "Although I was not born in her womb [New Mexico's], I have the greatest interest to see her transformed from what she is today into a flourishing position with a better place among the integral parts of the Mexican Republic. "He was convinced that there were others in the territory who were just as interested as he in pursuing a better situation for the citizenry.

    The priest's main concern was the miserable situation New Mexico found herself in and the scarcity of resources and land occupied by the people. Yet, there were immense, unoccupied lands, which could be converted, into productive farm and grazing properties. He said that according to his sources of information the Rio del Norte, the Rio Puerco, and other streams and springs did not contain sufficient water for the lands in the occidental side of New Mexico. He stated that the richest water resources in New Mexico could be found in the Rio Pecos, as it extended in a southerly direction. Those who raised livestock knew this very well, but most of them had withdrawn their herds and flocks because of the continuous attacks and raids by the northern Indian tribes.

    The Pecos River, with its never-failing water and grasslands could sustain vast flocks of sheep and other livestock, which abounded in New Mexico. Father Leyba further said that if these lands along the Rio Pecos were secured, the many losses of livestock the people had suffered could be recovered in a few years, both by wealthy owners of large flocks and herds, as well as the less fortunate who attached themselves to the rich through the "partido system" [a contract sharing system]. The losses the poor endured many times reduced them to a state of near slavery or debt peonage to the rich. Leyba's main concern was to find a way to register these unoccupied lands through proper application of the 1828 "Ley de Vaqos" (Vagrant Law). The Vagrant Law who had been ratified by the Mexican Congress simply gave "vagrants" three alternatives: 1. Be drafted into the military to fight campaigns against the Indians; 2. Go to prison; and/or, 3. Participate in settling new lands in the frontier. Leyba said that the law was being ignored while at the same time there was "plenty of land within shouting distance, which they [the people] could not occupy, much like the man who carried water and could not drink it."

    Father Leyba referred to Article 14 in the Ley de Vaqos and stated that through proper enforcement of the law, the eastern frontier could be populated, something of utmost importance to the territory. He said that settling eastern New Mexico was exactly what the people from San Miguel del Bado offered. Once accomplished, this would assure tranquility for the interior settlements and serve to provide a blockade on Indian raids on settled farming and ranching lands. Naming specific lands he felt could be settled, Father Leyba said:

The grazing lands called Las Vegas, Sapelló, and Ocaté occupied with enough settlers can secure the frontier against the gentiles, although in the event they do enter, or can come in through other areas to destroy our homes, they will fear the element of surprise as they retreat. Or, if they fail when they first come in, they will be more respectful in future campaigns against our colonial strength, and they will eventually give up their custom of pillaging our settlements.

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