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Reading 3: Valencia and La Cueva Ranchos

The Valencia Ranch was one of the earliest ranchos established in the Pecos River valley and, by the mid-19th century, one of the largest. Hay was the primary crop, grown for the cattle and sheep that grazed in the surrounding mountains in the summer and were herded down to the valley for the winter. Small vegetable gardens and orchards occupied the irrigated land by the river.

The irrigation system was built when the settlers arrived in 1824-25. Laid out to bring as much land as possible under cultivation and without surveying instruments, heavy tools, or engineering skills, the channels encircled the valley at precisely the right elevation to provide a gravity-fed flow to the fields. The two acequias madres (main, or mother ditches) ran along the edge of the floodplain on either side of the valley. Wooden sluice gates released water to smaller secondary ditches (sangrías) that distributed water to the fields. Men with hoes directed the water into each furrow.

The main rancho house is located on the first rise overlooking the river, just above the east irrigation ditch. The plan of the house is H-shaped, with rooms in single file. The oldest portion of the house, begun about 1850, forms the bar of the H. This part of the house still has mud floors, adobe grain storage bins, and wooden cupboards set into the walls. Sections were added to the house throughout the second half of the 19th century, as the children grew and married.¹

The roof was originally flat, supported by vigas, overlaid with latillas, and covered with dirt. The original flat roof can be seen under the sloping tin roof added in the 20th century. In the older parts of the house, the vigas are round logs. In other parts they are squared beams with finished corners.

The adobe brick walls are several feet thick and most retain their original mud plaster covering. The courtyards are open at one end and the house has windows on all sides. There are portales both in the courtyards and on the outside walls. The walls under the portales are covered with smooth lime plaster. Where the plaster has crumbled, the colors of the successive coatings are visible: shades of tan, cream, soft pink and orange, earth colors, and white.

When valley farmland in New Mexico was inherited, it was divided among the heirs. Each descendent received a long narrow strip running across the valley, with the river or irrigation ditch at one end. Although ownership of the Valencia property has been divided following the traditional pattern, the open fields of the early rancho have been preserved because most of the heirs did not build on their separate plots. Instead, the descendants continued to live in the big rancho house.

La Cueva Ranch in the Mora Valley was founded by Vicente Romero shortly after the establishment of Fort Union in 1851. Romero was not an original owner of land in the valley. By purchasing the shares of several of the original grantees or their descendants, he accumulated a total of 33,000 acres for his rancho. Romero was an important freighter and sheep man. Legend has it that the name "La Cueva" comes from the caves he slept in while tending his flocks. Romero laid out the elaborate irrigation system that still serves the valley. Shortly after he founded La Cueva, he built a large two story adobe house. In the 1870s he added a store, warehouses, and a mill for grinding wheat. The valley was famous for its wheat harvests and La Cueva was the chief supplier for Fort Union, about 20 miles to the east. The mill also supplied flour to other army posts in the west.

By March of 1880, ownership of the rancho had passed to Romero's wife and oldest son, Rafael. On September 1, 1883, Rafael Romero, David Deuel, and Charles White incorporated La Cueva Ranch, to "acquire, hold and sell ranch property and other real estate and to operate the same to construct and operate irrigating ditches and to improve lands in connection therewith, to raise, buy and sell livestock of all kinds and to engage in merchandising, milling and farming."² Deuel and White later bought out Romero's interest in the La Cueva Ranch Company. In 1908, the rancho was listed as the second largest in New Mexico Territory in the amount of area under cultivation. About 4,500 head of cattle were pastured on the rancho during the winter months. The 33,000-acre rancho remained intact into the 1990s.

Questions for Reading 3

1. Review Reading 2. What traditional practices have survived on these ranchos?

2. What elements seem to reflect changes taking place during the Territorial Period?

3. Why might the Valencia rancho and La Cueva have reacted to these new influences in different ways?

4. What effect do you think the custom of dividing ranchos among heirs would have on farming in the valleys?

Reading 3 was adapted from Betsy Swanson, "Valencia Ranch Historic/Archeological District" (San Miguel County, New Mexico), National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1983; "La Cueva" entry, Robert Julyan, The Places Names of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.; and James H. Purdy, "La Cueva Historic District" (Mora County, New Mexico), National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1973.

¹ According to family tradition, the northeast wing of the H plan was built for Luciana Valencia and her husband. The southeast wing was built for Monica Valencia when she married. The northwest wing and a portion of the southwest wing were built for Maria Valencia on her marriage. The end of the southwest wing was added by the youngest child, probably when he married in the early 1890s.

² Articles of the Association of the La Cueva Ranch Company, Records of Incorporation, Territory of New Mexico, III, 1883; cited in James H. Purdy, "La Cueva Historic District" (Mora County, New Mexico) National Register Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1972.

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