Truchas History

ruchas is a primarily hispanic village of approximately 1000 people located within a 15,000 acre Spanish land grant. The Rosario grant was established by petition to the Spanish king and local governor in 1754 by twelve families from Chimayo and Pueblo crossQuemado (Cordova) who established the fortified Plaza of Truchas. Today it is still common land although legally it is a corporation with shareholders.

Honorable Governor and Captain General:

Juan de Dios Romero, Nicolas Romero, Bernardo Romero, Julian Romero, Salvador de Espinosa, Miguel de Espinosa, Tadeo Espinosa, Ventura de Espinosa, Domingo Romero, Daniel Romero, Francisco Vernal and Cristobal Martin, residents of Chimayo, in the best possible form and with all rights at law and state:

That having been approved by Your Lordship, the Grant of El Rio de las Truchas, as soon as it is segregated from the new settlement of "Santo Tomas Apostal," of the river Las Trampas, at which place we have expended in the cost of acequias and cultivation for the period of two years; and ask that Your Lordship will grant us the said site, in the name of His Majesty (whom God save), and that Royal possession be given us, within the boundaries as described in our first petition, and which are:

On the North by the ridge that serves as a boundary; on the South side to the said settlers; On the west, the public road that leads to Pequiries; on the South the boundaries of "Pueblo Quemado," and of Joseph Manuel Gonzales; and on the East by the "Sierra del Oso" (Bear Mountain), which we promise to settle within the time prescribed by law. Therefore, we ask and petition that you allow our petition. We swear in due form of no malice in making our petition, but of necessity.

Translated text from the Spanish Archives, 1754 Petition

In response to this petition the governor ordered the local alcalde to inspect the site and allocate "ample lands for cultivation, league of public land for grazing and raising of livestock..., forests and watering places..., with the right that they shall have ...sufficient land to build houses and which shall be united and adjoining, forming a square town site, closed and with only one entrance, only large enough for the passage of one carreta, in a manner that the inhabitants and families may be able to defend themselves from invasions and assaults of the barbarous enemies..."

On April 24th royal possession was granted with the proper ceremony and proclamation.

After choosing a defensible site on the point of land overlooking the canyon the alcalde mayor laid out a town plaza of 60 yards inside and 70 yards outside dimension, the houses thus being some 15 feet wide. (I remember one original in ruins which still had lattice work for a window as there was no glass in those days and I recall an old-timer plazashowing me where the Indian watch tower or torreon had stood.) The alcalde then measured out 10 yards of garden space around the plaza for each family, and a strip 150 yards wide running from the Rio Truchas to the southern boundary for each family farm. Finally, "Taking the hands of the aforementioned settlers, I took them over the site, pulling out grass, throwing rocks and shouting; 'Long live the King!'; and leaving them in quiet and peaceable possession of the land..."

Over the previous two years the settlers had dug irrigation ditches (acequias) to water their crops. This includes a mile long diversion which brings water from the Rio Quemado on the south over to the Rio Truchas on the north. This acequia de la Sierra begins four miles up in the mountains from here and was dug with wooden sticks as there were no metal shovels in those days. It is still in use.

In 1772 the constant threat of Plains Indian attack caused the Trucheros to petition the governor requesting weapons and Pueblo Indian scouts. While the request couldn't be met, it was only due to lack of resources. In 1748 the citizens of Pueblo Quemado (Cordova, today) petitioned the governor and were allowed to abandon their town due to Indian attacks. And on the old road which ascended the north side of the Rio Truchas (The Taos road) are two mass graves of settlers killed going to church at Trampas during this period. I recall Nicodemos Lopez telling me how Indians stole his grandfather's clothes and food as a boy herding goats where this building stands now. And Willie Vigil, who helped me build here, remembered seeing an old community musket which was permanently installed in the outhouse by the old church overlooking the canyon below.

Indians kept the Colonial Spanish confined to the Rio Grande valley, along with their Pueblo Indians allies. So although this northern province comprised one third of Mexico: it included Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and some of Colorado and Utah, poor weapons meant that settlers were constantly pushed into the narrow river valleys. Spanish weapons were typically lances and bows with arrows. So it wasn't until the Americans arrived in 1846 with their long rifles, that the Plains Indians experienced much domination, and settlements spread to further territory.

Truchas was a subsistence agriculture community up until Los Alamos offered a local source of wages after W.W.II. Its population had grown steadily if slowly through the years which must have provided great pressure on the land, especially since Spanish inheritance divided land among both sons and daughters. In 1776 when Father entering Truchas 1945Dominguez visited the town there were 26 families with 122 people. In 1822 there were 72 families with 294 people. Limited resources provided a somewhat embattled economic mentality. Subsequent legal records show various suits over water and logging in the land grant. Old-timers claim however, that there was considerable water compared with today. At one time there were 14 water powered flour mills along the acequias to grind local wheat. None remain today although two buildings survive in town and one which used to stand just beyond my gate is now located and operating at Las Golondrinas living history museum, outside of Santa Fe.

A 1935 survey by the U.S Government offered a thorough description of the town and living conditions and has been reprinted in Marta Weigle's Hispanic Villages of Northern New Mexico. Here is a brief excerpt.

There are only two wells in Truchas proper, and only one has now water all year (the Presbyterian Mission well). The people use the water of the irrigation ditch....

The original grantees were 12, whose names are preserved in the letter of patent which is available. The settlement is approximately 200 years old. One old man's grandfather was born here in 1830, and Truchas was already quite a town. The houses were built close to the edge of the canyon, probably to goats threshingsave arable land and for protection against Apache bands. All the old houses were built around a patio, with but one or two doors and no windows to the outside....

Ninety percent of the people are Catholic; there are two separate Penitente groups with separate moradas.

The houses average two and a half rooms; many of them are in bad condition, needing plastering, roofing, etc. Only about half of the floors are wood covered, and only about half of these have rugs of any kind (mostly hand woven). The furniture is meager and poor in quality. The houses are not nearly as adequately furnished as in the other communities, such as Cundiyo.

Only 20 people have left Truchas in the last 6 years. Besides the C.C.C. workers, 6 young people have left and are now working elsewhere. There are only five high school graduates, four of these being graduates of Menaul School in Albuquerque. Clothing is practically all overalls; shoes are poor. Six people were wearing home-made tewas. ...On the average, 100 men, prior to 1930, left every year to work in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming as section-gang hands or as workers in metal mines or as sheep herders. This has been going on since the year the Denver and Rio Grande [narrow gauge railroad] was built--1880. Before that, buffalo and deer hunting and fishing supplemented agriculture. Oldsters told me they distinctly remember when much of the clothing was made of deerskin....

Until around 1950 there was no electricity or running water. Myrtle Walmsley a teacher at the Presbyterian Mission school from 1936 to 1956 wrote a book called "I REMEMBER TRUCHAS THE WAY IT WAS" and described an early experience here.

An Errand of Mercy
Finally we came to Truchas and I had my first impressions of this little community that was to be home. It wasn't a very good impression. The storm had beaten against the fronts of the homes. The storm had come in from the south, as they usually do, and the rain had beaten against the fronts of the mud houses so that the straw showed. An adobe house that is wet is sad looking. The roads were muddy. Only little coal oil lamps lighted the homes and so there wasn't too much of the town that I could see.

Everything seemed very strange to me and very new and different...

Sunday afternoon we walked through the plaza and I noticed some of the homes were boarded up. I asked Miss Thompson about this. She explained to me that some of the people had land quite a distance away from the plaza. Though they had very humble adobe homes simply furnished in the plaza, some of them had summer homes out on their little pieces of land where they moved soon after Easter and stayed until the harvesting was done. ...

... The road coming up Saturday evening had been bad but it was nothing compared to the road that we traveled Sunday night. It was a road for teams and wagons down on the llano. The fences were very close together -- a one way road with just room enough for a team and wagon. We slipped and slid and jogged from one mud hole to another until we came to where we had to turn. The fences were so close together that Miss Thompson had to back up in order to get around the corner. On we went and we dropped into a mud hole, climbed out, dropped into another mud hole, until finally we dropped into one that we just couldn't get out of. There we were, stuck.

Miss Thompson asked one of the men to go for help. The other man went with us to separate the wires of the fences and hold them up so we could crawl through. She took her medicine bag and off we started across the field in the dark, slipping and sliding.

There were three or four little homes in this pasture where we were. Finally we arrived at the home where someone needed attention. When we entered the house I saw there were many folks there. This was a life's pattern. The neighbors came to share. When there was joy, they came and when there was trouble, they came.

The first room we entered was the kitchen where there was a stove and table. We went in the next room where a woman was on the bed. She was moaning. People were standing against the walls, the women in their black shawls. Some of the men were squatting down on their heels. There was one lamp with a chimney quite smoked up so it was difficult to see much. They found a chair for me and I sat in a corner out of the way. I couldn't see much but I could see the ceiling which was cloth and I saw flies on it.

After Miss Thompson had cared for the woman and after they had thanked us, we went out into the night. We stumbled across that field and went through the fence again and came where the car was.

A man had come with his team. He hitched it up to the car and with Miss Thompson running the motor, two men pushing and the man urging his team, we got out of the mud hole.

Another observation from that time:

The month of March is the cruelest month for it kills so many of our people. There is sickness which we call resfriado but it always ends in pneumonia, and this is the one that kills most of our people. Before we used to have the cruel viruela, that is gone. We have now and then escarlatina and the tos-ferina.Ithink that is the great cause of so much death here is the lack of clinic and a doctor right here Truchasin the village. If a person gets sick, one has to travel to Espanola, often on the way to the doctor, they die.


Five years ago we used to have four cars and they belonged to the well to do. Today due to Los Alamos jobs we have increased to the number 105. 65% of these cars belong to people who are employed in Los Alamos. We got electricity about three years ago. Today about 25% of the people are having electricity. 25% of the people [have] washing machines, some of them with electricity, and some of them with gasoline. There are about 35% of the people with radios. Of all these new commodities 55% is owned or introduced by the Los Alamos workers. We have a great number of new houses. Those too are exclusively of the Los Alamos workers---they repaired the old adobes with the new architecture which [is seen] right now in the village. Commodities in the house such as linoleum, tables and chairs and oil lamps are Los Alamos workers' innovations. They have decidedly changed our life.

[F. Sandoval, July, 1950]

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