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The Acequias, the Life of the Villages at a Crossroad

by Juan Estevan Arellano


Embudo Valley was officially settled on Sept. 20, 1725, when Capitán Miguel José de la Vega y Coca took the settlers “by hand and walked over the tract, and they as upon their own property and in sign of possession, cast stones, plucked up weeds and shouted,” as was the custom.

The three original petitioners, Francisco “El Ciego” Martín, Lázaro Córdova and Juan Marquez, on July 17, 1725 petitioned Gov. Juan Domingo de Bustamante for a piece of land in “el Embudo de Picuris,” as “permitted us by the Royal Requirements” as they were “without any lands to cultivate to enable us to meet our obligations.”


What we witness above is the birth certificate for the Embudo Land Grant, which had the following boundaries, “... separated by a dry creek running from south to north forming the eastern boundary (present day Cañada del Oso), we register up to the Río del Norte, which forms the western boundary, and on the South to the boundaries of Capitán Sebastián Martín, and on the North the said Río del Norte, and though the Picurís river passes through these lands we petition for the lands lying on either side of the stream.”


Triangular in nature, the grant was approximately 25,000 acres but since the U.S Supreme Court in 1900 rejected the grant on a technicality, only the irrigated suertes, about 800 acres remain in private hands; the rest is managed, or supposed to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the State Land Office.


In 14-years the Embudo communities – starting in the west along the Río Grande are la Naza, la Ciénaga, el Rincón, la Bolsa, and Rinconada; along the Río Embudo (on the south side), la Junta, la Angostura, la Plaza del Embudo de Nuestro Señor San Antonio (today Dixon), Montecito and Cañoncito; on the north side, el Bosque (until recently la otra banda), and Apodaca - will be 300 years old.


But one thing unites all these communities, the acequias, though today they are in much need of repair and maintenance if they are to survive beyond this generation. Under the Royal Decrees (known as the Leyes de las Indias, 1681 –Laws of the Indies) alluded to when the petition for the grant made, the first order of business for the new settlers was to dig an acequia, or acequias. Historically, corn, wheat and chile were grown; today market gardens, a few orchards and vineyards dot the valley.


The New Mexico acequias are rooted in the the Indus Valley, with the word acequia originating in Yemen, and the work here seems to have been laid out by the Tlaxcaltecas who came under contract with the Spanish Crown to do the agricultural work of growing food and laying out the acequias, according to agricultural historian Dr. Tomás Martinez Saldaña of Texcoco.


 In terms of water, Ibn Bassal, writing in 1075, identified four sources of water: 1) water from rivers that is then channeled into a network of acequias, 2) water from norias,  anora in Arabic, or wells, 3) spring water and 4) rainfall. There is nothing more coveted in a property than to have the acequia run close to the house. Here in northern New Mexico such a “water way” is also used to delineate property boundaries, and such acequias are known as linderos or cequiecitas menores. From them run the brazos and ramos, and eventually the water (escurriduras) comes together at the desague (outlet) in order to move the water to the river. The acequia system resembles the human body and how the blood moves through the veins, arteries and capillaries.


As in all desert environments, people used to harvest water through the use of albercas (pools), cisterns and terraces.


Therefore, more than likely the first acequia had to have been the Acequia del Llano for the fact that one of it’s acequia secundarias, or laterals, took the water to the middle of the old plaza. For without water people could not build houses, that is, adobes to construct the houses and torreones that fortified the plaza. This acequia is the oldest and longest at approximately five miles, irrigates the most acreage and has the most parciantes or water rights owners. It is also the one that needs the most immediate attention if it is to continue functioning.


The second oldest, it might date from the same period, circa 1726, has to be the Acequia de la Plaza, not only because the name makes reference to the “Plaza” but also because it irrigates the fields below the plaza. On June 19, 1786 Josefa Martín went before José Campo Redondo Alcalde Mayor and War Captain of the Villa de Santa Cruz de la Cañada, trying to prevent her brothers from moving the acequia.

“No se le devera de ympedir a dichas tierras de labor el riego de la asequia antigua de que usaron los primeros poseedores, pues se advierte este punto por averse yntentado su mudansa.” Essentially, irrigation from the ancient acequia that was used by the first settlers to such cultivated land could not be impeded. Redondo ruled in favor of the sister.


It has to be noted that no church existed in area until 1833, a little more than a century after the settlement came into existent, since most still continued having the San Juan Parish as their mother parish. That church burned in 1926, and Fr. Peter Kupper, who arrived in New Mexico from Germany, completed the present structure in 1931.


Kupper was the first to plant a big orchard, having established his orchard in 1928, according to famed woodworker Elidio Gonzales from Taos.

The Acequia de la Apodaca, since there is a bill of sale for a piece of property by Manuel Martín to Nicolas Apodaca in “el Embudo” on June 7, 1751, probably was constructed around the mid-1750s as well as the Acequia del Bosque referred to as “la otra banda,” or the other side, until the 1960s.


Since the communities were settled usually from the mouth of the river going up, the Junta (juncture) y Ciénaga (wetland, marsh) had to have been one of the first ones and according to oral history it dates from the 1770s. The reason it was not the first was because the old road, the last spur of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which began in Mexico City, made its way from La Joya (present-day Velarde) through the back of the Mesita and came out in the Arroyo de la Mina and from there continued to Picuris and Taos. Up to 2000, the Acequia de la Naza watered with the sobrante, or excess water from said acequia.


According to an old document, since then, there were parciantes that were not allowed to irrigate if not paid in full as noted in the following entry from April 19, 1839:

“Jues de polecia de el Enbudo Agustin Salasar. Por mi orden de 19 del corriente prebine a u. entregarle al c. Jose Antonio Atencio el pedaso de tierra que bino reclamando en el punto de la Sienega, por esta de hoy ordeno a u. lo contrario diciendole que si el citado Atencio no se abiene a echar dos piones en la asequia que se ba sacando para dicho punto asta su conclución pierde el derecho que reclama a birtud de los documentos que el dia de hoy se me an manifestado.”

From this document it seems the mayordomo at that time was known as “Jues de polecía,” or Police Judge.” It says that José Antonio Atencio cannot use the water in la Ciénaga unless he sends two peones to work on the acequia during the spring cleanup.


Then with the expansion of the population moving east, the last four acequias –  Acequia del Medio, Sancochada, Duranes and Leonardo Martinez seem to date between the 1840s and the 1890s.


All four seem to have been constructed, simply by seeing the settlement patterns by Juan Isidro Martinez and his sons. Up to the 1960s all those lands were owned by his descendants, which seems to indicate they were the ones who constructed these four acequias.


On the Río Grande the biggest acequia on the south side was the Rinconda; then there was La Bolsa, which no longer exists. On the north side there are two smaller ones, the one used by David Rigsby and the Roybales, where Eremita and Margaret Campos farm.


But for them to survive, they need better maintenance and that hinges on more participation on the part of the parciantes, and the election of commissioners and mayordomos that are dedicated to the acequias.

  Stories and Histories of Embudo: A Place in the Heart

    by Enrique Lamadrid


History is a conversation with the past and a dialogue between people of the present trying to reach a deeper understanding of themselves. The list of questions is long. Who all settled Embudo, New Mexico, and where are their children? What is their legacy? What were their challenges? What were their darkest hours and their greatest triumphs? Who are the natives, who are the settlers, and why were they drawn here? What is the process of naturalization through which people become indigenous to place? Answers can emerge from material culture like documents, objects, and architecture as well as larger systems like acequias and fields that changed the entire valley into a cultural landscape.


Does the name Embudo come from two cone-shaped hills, or from the water rushing down, funneled through the great canyons? Everything and every corner of Embudo overflow with stories that must be told and listened to. Some are poignant, others useful, and many are inconvenient, even difficult to hear. Dialogue is the key. Oral history is the recounted experience of one person. My mother liked to tell me about when I first saw the light on a bright sunny December day three years after the second Great War, and how beautiful and reassuring the Embudo River looked from her window at the hospital. We are a family of teachers and our stories are about learning and sharing knowledge.


Beyond oral histories are oral traditions, the bundling of stories told across generations, which are as significant as documents. The story of Embudo can be found in documents as far flung as the Archivo de Indias in Sevilla, Spain and the Archivo Nacional in Mexico City. It can be also be read in the stories collected by the field workers of the WPA during the Great Depression. Actual voices from the past can be heard in the audio archives compiled by Embudo's own Academia de la Nueva Raza, the premiere Nuevomexicano think tank of the 1970s. The place where stories are shared is also of note. Tomás Atencio participated in the lively discussions shared on village plazas. Bringing stories into the light is the process of La Resolana, an institution rooted in the ágoras of ancient Greece, where Plato dutifully took notes on the conversations of his teacher, Socrates.


In 1693, hundreds of families resettled northern New Mexico.  Three years later the colony's second Villa or town was founded after the pacification of a short lived revolt. It was named Santa Cruz de la Cañada de los Españoles Mexicanos, of the Spanish Mexicans as they called themselves. Cañada is not necessarily a canyon, but rather a designated migration route for livestock to upland pastures that no one could block. The beautiful valley of the Tewas, with two pueblos, mountains to the east, volcano to the west and gorges to the north and south was soon overpopulated. Groups of families explored all the tributaries of the Río del Norte for suitable places to survive and thrive. The Martín, Córdova, and Márquez extended families were granted the lands of the Embudo valley after they successfully harvested their first crops, proving sustainability in place. The Merced del Puerto del Embudo de Nuestro Señor San Antonio was granted by the Spanish Crown in 1725. Despite all the pertinent documents and the continuing presence of many descendants, title was never approved by the American courts, making the BLM the owner of much of Embudo.


1706 marks the documentary appearance in Taos of the Nuhmuhnuh or Comanches as others called them. For centuries they used the upper canyons of the Río Grande as a corridor for travel and trade. For eighty years they raided and traded with Hispano and Pueblo communities of northern New Mexico. Hundreds of their graphic "documents" and stories are lightly inscribed on rocks and mark their favorite camps both north and south of Embudo. Pueblos and Spanish Mexicans forgot their differences and defended each other's communities from the Comanches. Time and again, Embudo families took refuge in Picurís Pueblo, and Tiwa blood flows deep in our mestizo veins.


 The third invasion of Embudo came in January 1847. In an organized revolt, Natives and Hispanos in Taos struck out against New Mexico's first American government and killed the governor. Colonel Price led a scorched earth campaign north in punishment. Half of his men took the high road and the other half the low road to Taos. Along the way, his Austrian artillerymen learned the effects of mountain Howitzers on adobe buildings, which could take much more of a beating than stone or brick. The Mexican army and militias had been disbanded because the government understood the consequences of burgeoning trade with the United States and the inevitability of its Manifest Destiny. They wanted to avoid as much bloodshed as possible. The villagers on the high road were terrified. The families left their homes and camped down in the snowy canyons between Chamisal and Embudo. The army took the wagon road east of La Jolla (Velarde) and were met by sixty to eighty poorly armed men and boys, farmers and their sons. They effectively lured the soldiers around the black mesa and north to the Embudo River. Half of them died. If the soldiers had ventured into any of the canyons they would have found their families and many more people would have perished. Where are their names and where is their monument? They were not seditionists or rebels, but acted in defense of their families. A few crosses are etched on the rocks near where they fell. Embudo's darkest hour.


The stories of subsequent decades are better known, because they fall within the memories of our families and neighbors. The original plan of the Chile Line was to connect Denver to Mexico City. Its trains made Embudo Station the point of entry for trade, new ideas, and epidemics like influenza to much of northern New Mexico. They also took men and boys to the mines and fields of Colorado and off to war. Embudo has participated in international economies and events, including ongoing military conflicts as far away as Cuba, France, the Philippines, and Iraq. A trail of staurolite crystals (Jesus tears in Spanish) marks the way to artisanal Beryllium mines near Embudo whose metal ended up in the steel casings of the infamous Little Boy and Fat Man bombs. In the famous Dixon Case, the Supreme Court defined the relation of the state to public and religious education. But at the end of the day, as the Academia interviewers like Alejandro López noted, what people of Embudo value above all is "una vida buena y sana y alegre" a healthy, happy life well lived. Our community has produced notable educators, scientists, artists, wine makers, organic farmers, writers, and philosophers. Most like myself have left.


It is time to honor those who stayed. It entirely fitting for the Embudo Library to carry and remember the name of native son Juan Estevan Arellano. Novelist, journalist, farmer and acequia activist, he rose to the challenge and defended the community of Embudo and its traditions. He was a man of action and of words, perhaps the best writer ever of our own native Nuevo Mexicano Spanish.




A Dixon History

by Stanley Crawford



“What makes Dixon so special?” I have been asked.


The answer has often depended on the latest addition to village life. A year ago, it would have been the new cafe. We have seen cafes and restaurants and bars come and go over the decades but the latest seems destined to stay for the long term. Five years ago, it would have been the new food coop, finally replacing a succession of venerable but declining general stores. Ten years ago, it would have been the new clinic. Fifteen years ago, it would have been the new public library, or the new school buildings, or the new post office. Thirty years ago it would have been the advent of the innovative Dixon Studio Tour. Forty years ago, it would have been the influx of young gringo families, among whom were my wife RoseMary and I, and our year-old-son, refugees from the political polarization of the big cities occasioned by the war in Vietnam. We were part of the “Hippie invasion,” as it was less politely known.


But Dixon and the Embudo Valley of Northern New Mexico go much farther back. Originally settled by Spanish colonists in the early 1700s as the Embudo Land Grant, as la Plaza del Embudo de Nuestro Señor San Antonio, on lands once claimed by Picuris Pueblo, the village briefly entered US history with the Battle of Embudo Pass. After annexation to Mexico in 1851 [ck], the first American post master and school teacher was a Mr. Dixon, a Confederate veteran of the civil war. According to some accounts he was a popular figure and the village was renamed after him—to become one of only two villages in Northern New Mexico without a Spanish or Native American name. The Denver and Rio Grande Western narrow gauge “Chile Line” was laid down in 1880 from Antonito Colorado down through the Rio Grande Gorge and on to Santa Fe fifty miles south. Dixon, four miles  from the station at Embudo, became a commercial center for the higher mountain villages. In 1969 when I arrived, there were four gas stations and one large general store and five smaller ones scattered throughout the valley, perhaps half of the number that had existed a generation before. There were three schools, the public, the Catholic, and the Presbyterian, and the Embudo Presbyterian Hospital with a board-certified surgeon out on the Taos highway, where our daughter Kate was born. If you lived anywhere between Española and Taos, particularly in the mountain communities to the east, there was a good chance you would have gone down to Dixon for shopping and health needs up into the 1950s.


After World War II, Los Alamos Scientific Lab, as it was then known, became the prime employer for Dixon residents. In the early days of few cars and unpaved roads, the lab employees commuted in the back of a lab-operated enclosed flat-bed truck with a wood stove for heat in the winter . The small subsistence farms and livestock operations of old were, many of them, converted to more easily weekend manageable orchards. Education and health care and state and government jobs also became significant sources of employment.


In the 1960s, Dixon began adding a new kind of resident. Writer Bob Grant, who wrote under the name of Robert Grant, and his wife Caroline and their  children settled in the valley. They were soon joined by Lamont and Heidi Parker who ended up employing many of the late-1960s newcomers making brass jewelry, which they sold in shops in Santa Fe and Taos. Chance,  serendipity, the climate, the water, the scenery, cheap land and housing, drew a growing number of artists and craftspeople into the valley and adjoining hamlets, many of whom made a living of sorts at craft fairs in the plazas of Santa Fe and Taos, and in Los Alamos, Albuquerque, and beyond. Local Hispanic residents with roots in the area going back hundreds of years by and large welcomed the newcomers. The village had been exporting its young for generations, to the military, to the mines and railroads and the fields of Colorado and California. “We were the first young people to come back to the village,” I have written elsewhere, “and though we weren't the right kind of young people, we were better than nothing.” As volunteers on acequia commissions and in the schools and the fire department, the newcomers came to be accepted. In the 1970s when Mexico was going through a financial meltdown, a small surge of refugees from San Miguel de Allende added to the ranks of artists and craftspeople.


In the meantime, there were several waves of retirees returning to Dixon in the form of old-time Hispanic residents back from working in the mines of Gallup and Utah and the railroads of Colorado, to reclaim their ancestral lands, and who volunteered for acequia work, plus newcomer retirees from all over the country, who became instrumental in keeping the library going and establishing the new food coop and farmers' market.


By the 1980s, there seemed a critical mass of artists sufficient to establish a cooperative gallery but the idea lost traction and died. Not long after, jewelry-maker Carolyn Thomas and the late potter, Nausika Richardson, floated the idea of a studio tour. At the time there was only one other in existence, the La Cienega Studio Tour. Many of us joined, wondering what we were getting into. But if the first Tour  succeeded,  then the second one was twice as good, and so on down the line. Within a few years the Dixon Studio Tour became an established village event, and by its tenth year it was recognized as being the best among the many others that had sprung up all over Northern New Mexico. The low-overhead Tour is an excellent incubator of basic free-enterprise, allowing new members to learn how to make and market their arts and crafts without having to jump through intricate licensing or training or regulatory hoops. The range of participating artists include those who have had extensive training in their field to those who are entirely self-taught, from neophytes to seasoned artists with significant bodies of work. The Tour put Dixon on the map.


I have heard the village described, tongue in cheek, as “The Independent Republic of Dixon.” There is a germ of truth in the jest. So much of what makes the village livable, interesting, and even exciting at times, has come from the initiative of both those born here and those who have settled here, building on long-standing traditions. Like many small and relatively remote places, Dixon has overlapping layers of culture and tradition and history and has known moments of sadness and tragedy and uncertainty. But somehow it has managed to negotiate the many changes the world has imposed upon it. Defiance, skepticism and scorn for the powers that be have always been hallmarks of the many-times colonized peoples of Northern New Mexico, attitudes which have drawn the like-minded and disaffected from the more regimented corners and routines of mainstream America—to become who they have always wanted to be, within a small republic of individuals.

The Studio Tour is the annual fair in which we celebrate who we have become.





There is archaeological evidence of the rich historic past in this area - of the pueblo Indians and other Indians inhabiting the land; of the Hispanics, their cultural and religious impact; petroglyphs, ruins, links to trade with Mexico and other far away centers.


A myriad of historic trails and wagon roads crisscrossed the area. Of course, the first trailblazers were the Native Americans.  But early explorers on horses sought trade routes between Taos and Santa Fe and, ultimately, further south to Chihuahua. Spanish priests created routes to connect Santa Fe with the more isolated northern pueblos for missionary purposes. One trail led to Picuris Pueblo and then to Pot Creek and Taos pueblos. The Spanish military created wagon roads to fight Comanches whose raids were feared by Spanish colonists, Pueblo Indians, and even the Apaches.


Over the years, numerous research has been conducted in the area, the most recent by an anthropological archaeologist from the Barnard College Department of Anthropology. The research project includes a summer program for college and post graduate students and “digs” for local children and community members.


Just about every place in the world has rocks of many ages, but you can't aways see them as easily as you can in Dixon.


Standing in front of the Co-Op you can look at the skyline as about 2-3 o'clock and see granite that was once a molten magma chamber that cooled completely about seven miles below the surface.  Going West out of town where the rocks get close to the road, you go through some dark rocks that  were once part of an ocean that contained nothing but single-celled life.  When these rocks were buried deeply enough (about ten miles) some of the clay in them was metamorphosed (like a caterpillar turns to a butterfly) into garnets and staurolites and beryls (pretty gems). Ten miles or so of erosion happened while these rocks circled the globe (moving about the rate that fingernails grow) and when they were a little south of the equator they were first exposed and then buried by marine (ocean) rocks—limestone, sandstone and shale.  There are a lot of shells in those rocks and when they were being deposited in shallow warm oceans plants were beginning to colonize the land above the sea.


Quite a while later, after quite a lot had happened (the evolution and extinction of the Dinosaurs for example), a vast volcanic field erupted north of Taos. Sediment from this lava field washed down into the Dixon area following faults that were forming as New Mexico was pulled apart by global tectonic happenings.  The pulling made space for the sediment from the volcanic field to be “stored” and some of the bones of some of the animals that were living here at that time (11 species of camel, rhinos, 6 species of horse, bone-crushing dogs as big as a pony) were buried and preserved in them.  These rocks can be seen North of town and they tend to be reddish or purplish if you look close.  Mountains then rose to the East and sediment (sand, pebbles, clay) from the marine rocks mentioned above washed down and mixed with the sediment from the volcanic field.  These rocks tend toward more greenish and orangish hues and you can see them in the arroyos south of town. You can find some of the shells from the ancient oceans in (usually gray) cobbles in these rocks.


By this time our part of the continental crust had moved north to near its present location and at one time the climate got drier or for some other reason there was a lot of sand blowing around and a dune field buried most of northern Rio Arriba and southern Taos Counties.  These dune field rocks are fairly light colored and you can see them in the iconic hills across from the Dixon turn off from the Taos Highway (the same hills shown on the Carnelian Center's logo).  About the time that Australopithecus was leaving tracks in volcanic ash in Africa,  fluid lavas were erupting near Taos and flowing down into the Dixon area. The land surface was then up at the level of the Mesas to our West and the black rocks capping those mesas and exposed in the Rio Grande Gorge on the way to Taos or Pilar are those lavas.  About that same time Earth began to have Ice caps after a long ice-free period.  The ice sometimes got down into the US (by sneaking across the Canadian border at night) and when it did there were also Alpine glaciers in the Sangre de Christo Mountains East of Dixon. The ice eroded the mountains and made bigger rivers and the rivers began to carve the beautiful valleys all around us.


– Scott Aby


Of Dust and Bone

by Levi Romero



do I hear

‘mano Anastacio’s

muddy mystic drawl


coming over brain waves

fuzzy as AM radio nights

long time ago


when we slept outdoors

in the humming


drinking from quart bottles of soda pops

sharing a bag of chips and


strumming broom guitars

to Band On the Run

with our transistor radios

tuned in to



seventh grade crushes

and teasing howls

in the mooing cow dusk

and hopping toad yards

lit in golden orange


adobe dust on my brow

and burning, yearning,

learning love exploding

from my heart


like bottle rockets

in the starry spangled

Fourth of July


where are you lain

little dipper dreamers

who once stirred

under granma’s homemade

blankets in the dewy breath

of early morn


when grandfathers

with shovels slung

across their shoulders

headed for the ditch banks

to open up their




oh, July apple

suckling summer with the

sweet and bitter taste

of wisdom’s tears trickling

down you pink mountain



I see you

I feel you

I hear you


to be born again


oh, fathers’ graves

with splintered crosses

swaying skyline bare

under a November



whose resurrection burneth

through the flaming hearts

of your displaced



and from snowflake

whiskered men

mumbling broken mouthed

forgotten ancient prayer

of dust and bone


in the plaza

where rainbow haloed angels

crowned with a wreath

of wild country flowers

blow their groggy



I hear you

yes, I hear you

‘mano Anastacio


I hear you cawing

like a lone crow

in the pines




It Goes On In That Way

by Levi Romero



I remember that day on FM Hill


 we were just hanging out drinking beer

 there was nothing really special about that day

 other than they don’t happen like that anymore


 there were a few of us

 ‘though I can’t recall exactly who

 but Mague


I remember him


 flat-topped white-haired Korean War veteran

 with faded tattoos and a crazy laugh

 and he was crouching low to the ground


 he took a good hit from some homegrown

 raised his head towards the sky

 and blew the smoke into his beer can

 and then took a really good swallow


I remember that


 because I thought that maybe it was

 some special magic trick going towards infinity

 ‘cause I knew he’d come down a long road

 and carried with him secrets

 of an unspoken trade


I remember him today


 beyond the skyline of this city

 the noise of crows

 and the freeway traffic

 and I tip my can in remembrance


 to the gray sky

 and the black volcanoes

 and to Mague


 because it goes on

 in that way


remembering, remembering


 it goes on in that way

 it goes on in that way




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