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“They Couldn’t Make Enough Money With The Cows That They Had”

by Al Padilla and Joe Padilla

Shawn Kelley is an anthropologist and oral historian who has talked with all kinds of people throughout the Southwest. As part of the Abo Canyon Second Track Project, Shawn has interviewed over 60 people about their communities and life experiences along the Belen Cutoff.

Nineteenth-century New Mexico witnessed a roughly ten-fold expansion of the Hispano homeland. Families like the Sisneroses and Padillas moved east from communities like Casa Colorada and La Joya along the Rio Grande to upland areas used for summer grazing near the Los Pinos and Manzano Mountains. Some villages like Manzano were granted land by the Mexican government, while others settled without clear title to their property. Following the Homestead Act of 1862, Hispanos often moved to patent land under the new system. Many of these families maintained strong ties to their parent villages and other settlers in the Abo Pass area.

The Padilla family moved from La Joya, a river farming community, to La Cienega, a small village west of Punta de Agua and south of the Manzano Land Grant. Later, Gabino Padilla and his three sons, Justo, Jose, and Severo, homesteaded at the head of Priest Canyon, forming a loose-knit community commonly called the Padilla Ranch. In 1905, the Forest Service removed the southern Manzano Mountains from the public domain. Lands patented by the Padillas and their few other neighbors became in-holdings within federal lands, limiting community growth to a few families. Here, brothers Al and Joe Padilla discuss family life on their homesteads. They describe sharing aspects of two economies: the long-standing system of barter—mountain villages trading wood or other goods for fruits and vegetables along the river—contrasted with whatever wage labor was available, ranging from local highway construction to the beet fields of Colorado.

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Joe: See, my dad did all kinds of work. My dad worked for the railroad. He worked for that Sais Crusher, and also on construction of US 60 there. And the reason for that is because they couldn’t make enough money with the cows that they had. For some reason or other, the leased part of their property, they would not let them keep that many animals, so they couldn’t make a living. If I’m not mistaken, each one of the brothers and sisters could only have nine cows. My grandfather Gabino supposedly he was making a living with the cattle that he had, and sheep, and goats, and stuff like that, because that’s what they used to do.

My Abo Pass Homestead Map“Abo Pass Homestead Map,” William Penner (Artist) dad and uncle, they used to cut wood and deliver to that little store Miller’s in Scholle. The store had bread, potatoes, beans; it was like a little convenience store with anything that a person would need. So they used to go out there and pay their bill with wood. Once in a while, my dad would come to Belen, to the Becker-Dalies store to exchange the wood for clothing, food, or whatever he could buy.

Al: Our uncle Jose used to do that very often. He had a truck, a Model B, and he used to come over here to the river, and deliver wood for food. Sometimes when it was ready, they’d exchange the wood for vegetables and fruit.

Joe: I never did go with my dad, at the time I was too small, you know, and he wouldn’t take me with him. Well, when he was working at Sais Crusher, my dad would go horseback every day from the ranch. He would travel that canon—Cañon de la Arena, Sand Canyon—which was about five miles. Another thing too, Uncle Jose would kind of take care of stuff at the ranch. They used to help each other, my dad and them.

Al: At one point they’d leave us there in the summer—I don’t know if Joe was there—but Joe Gurule, a cousin of mine, and I had to hoist water from the well for the cows. We must have been 14 or 15, somewhere around that age. We didn’t have enough money to buy a little gas motor and pipe it down and bring it up. We’d have to hoist, dump it into the barrel or whatever, bring it back down again, and bring it back up again.

Joe: They used to plant corn, so we would go out there and take care of the crop in the fields. My dad had 18 acres of beans. And even at that, they used to do some hard work there in the fields. As a matter of fact, when my dad used to work—I mean, when he planted the beans, we’d get up very, very early in the morning. All the kids who were big enough, we’d help my dad hoe the beans, or whatever it was to be done. My mother would go over there for a while, until she was ready to go and cook breakfast. We’d be watchin’ over there, it was kind of far, but she would get a white towel and wave it like that. So here we go, to eat breakfast. But like I said, women used to help the men in the fields also—my mother would. Everybody at the time, the women were very capable. My uncle had three girls, the oldest ones he would have them cuttin’ wood out there just like men.

There were three houses there at the ranch and a schoolhouse. The name of it was the Valencia County School, went up to the eighth grade. It was for the community and I remember one time there was as many as 17 children. I went to that school up to the eighth grade. Some of the older brothers and cousins, they would have to rent a place for them in Belen or Mountainair whenever they were going to junior high and high school.

The school closed in 1947 when they contracted my uncle Jose with all the children to go to Colorado to work at the beet farms in Brush, Colorado. He had a lot of children, so he had help to work these farms. It was very, very hard work and they found out right quick. So the cousins started getting better jobs after they graduated from high school. They quit that labor work there on the farms, you know.