Nuestra Historia - Placitas grew with Las Vegas

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Soon after its founding in 1835, other settlements flourished around Las Vegas, the earliest of these along the Gallinas River south and east of our town.

These placitas were self-sustaining villages and hamlets, whose early settlers farmed and ranched, many irrigating off the Gallinas River. Most had their own church and cemetery, many of which still exist, and several boasted a general store and, in later years, a post office.  

The first neighboring communities established outside Las Vegas were settled as early as the 1840s, in Los Valles de San Agustín, southeast of town. For the most part those communities no longer exist, although many descendants of the original settlers still maintain farms, ranches or home places in and around the old placitas.

Los Valles de San Agustín is an area which begins about nine miles from Las Vegas, southeast of Romeroville, along  the Gallinas River. The placitas in this area are San Agustín, Lourdes, Concepción, La Liendre, and Los Torres. Farther down and east are Chaperito and Cañon del Agua. These communities were settled contemporaneously with Las Vegas, since the earliest days.

Chaperito was an independent land grant, much of which was lost to the Bell Ranch, after protracted litigation. For many years Chaperito was the largest precinct in San Miguel County, and joyous funciones were often held in the vibrant community established along the end run of the Gallinas, about 23 miles southeast of Las Vegas.  

Several large and extended Las Vegas families proudly trace their origins to these early communities. From Chaperito are the Garduño, Apodaca and Arellanes families, as well as  many Durán, Delgado and Lucero families. In Lourdes and La Liendre were C de Baca, Leger and Tapia families, and others from Los Valles de San Agustín are Gonzales and Quintanas.

Farther east, early settlers established Maes (descendants of Juan de Dios Maese, our first alcalde), Trujillo, Trementina, Sabinoso, Variadero and Garita. Descendants of these early settlers are many Baca, Estrada, Gallegos, Gonzales, Lucero, Luján, Montoya, Pacheco,  Sánchez and Quintana families.

West of Las Vegas, San Gerónimo and San Pablo were settled by early pioneers,  including Aragón, Crespín, Encinias, Gabaldón, Lesperance and Luján families. To the northwest, others made their way into the Gallinas area, including Durán, Jaramillo, Ortega, Roybál and Ulibarrí families.

To the north of Las Vegas several verdant hamlets rose soon after our town was established, some  flourishing along the Sapello River, and a few are still thriving. Los Alamos and Sapello, San Ignacio, Cañon de las Manuelitas, Las Tusas and Beulah are some of these. Farther north and west are Terremote, Peñasco Blanco, Lower and Upper Rociada, and Gascon. Early family surnames in this area include Archuleta,  Brown, Goke, Maestas, Martínez, Montoya, Pendaries, Rudolph, Sandoval, Silva and Vigil.

In the early days, Las Vegas freighters supplied these placitas with mercantile of every kind. In later years families made trips into Las Vegas, at first by horse or mule-drawn wagon, for their provisiones. (A one-way wagon trip from Chaperito took a full day and a half, with an overnight  stopover upon ascending El Cañon del Agua.)

These placitas were long vibrant, but in the 1940s and ‘50s they began to diminish, as people sought employment in Las Vegas and elsewhere. During these and later years many people made their way into town from all the outlying placitas, many of which had existed almost as long as Las Vegas, and some of which were settled by original Las Vegas grantees or their immediate descendants.

After World War II, many of the young men from these communities, who had enlisted or were drafted, did not return permanently to their home places, instead seeking jobs and opportunities elsewhere. Some stayed in Las Vegas, and many others made their way to Colorado, California, and other points far and near.

We have not mentioned in this column the Valley area of the county, because the communities there existed as early as 1794, well before Las Vegas was established. Most of the original Las Vegas settlers came from the Valley, and we devoted the first series in this column to our beginning in San Miguel del Bado. (Tecolote was also settled before Las Vegas, as also recounted in earlier columns.)

For much of our history,  the combined population of our  placitas greatly outnumbered that of Las Vegas. In 1890, for example, the total population of San Miguel County was 24,167, yet the combined population of East and West Las Vegas was only 4,693 — a full  80 percent of the people lived  outside Las Vegas. (San Miguel County’s population was the largest in New Mexico in 1890, followed by Bernalillo County, with 20,388.)

Our  placitas were settled contemporaneously with Las Vegas and are extensions of our town. Since the earliest days they have been part of the Las Vegas community.     

Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian.  He may be reached at 425-3730.