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“There’s What I Call A Triangular System Of Compadrasco”

by Francisco Sisneros

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 Hispano families like the Sisneroses and Padillas moving into new areas and establishing communities. Some villages petitioned for, and were granted, land from the Mexican government, while others settled without clear title to their property. After New Mexico became a territory of the United States, Hispanos often moved to patent land under the new system that included the Homestead Act of 1862. Frequently, these families maintained strong ties to their parent villages. The Sisneros family lived in the Salinas region during the seventeenth century, left the area before the Pueblo Revolt, and was among the first Hispano families to resettle in the 1800s. Here, Francisco Sisneros, who was born and raised near the Abo ruins, talks about his family living by the mission pueblo of Abo. He also remembers how his great-grandfather handled over-crowding near the ojo—perennial spring—that drew the earlier Pueblo Indians to live in the area.

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The family moved from Casa Colorada on the Rio Grande up to the area of El Arroyo Colorado north of the Abo ruins in about 1854. Somewhere in between, during the time of the Civil War, we know that they were at La Salada, the area south of Abo. We don’t know the exact year; however, in his journals, Adolph Bandelier says that the family was in Abo by April of 1869. The family has maintained a presence in that area ever since.

The families were, of course, all interrelated and they intermarried. What we call the primary family or the core family was actually the Pino family. That would have been Mariano Pino and his wife Eulogia Baca. They had several children, and three of their children ended up marrying men that eventually lived there in Abo Viejo. One of the daughters, Margarita Pino, married Eusebio Ballejos. The other daughter, Petra Pino, married Gabriel Ballejos—two sisters married two brothers. And then the other sister was Viviana Pino, and she married my great-great-grandfather Juan Jose. The other family that was there, of course, was the parents of Juan Jose, Ramon, and Mauricia Sisneros, and that would have been Jose Maria Sisneros and his wife Justa Sanchez. So those families all traveled together.

They had been grazing there, even before they settled there. What brought ’em down there, I would imagine would be the fact that there was good drinking water and a lot of it, a good spring. Well, they still had a lot of family that lived in Casa Colorada. And then later, there’s the La Joya connection, so there’s what I call a triangular system of compadrazco (extended kinship network of godparents) there, in that everyone was related to someone in La Joya, or in Casa Colorada, and it just went around.

The ones that ended up in Abo Viejo, definitely it was the families of Mariano Pino and Jose Maria Sisneros. And they all had a lot of children, and so a lot of the houses that were built at Abo belonged to these families. And they all, of course, claimed a right to the ojo (spring), the agua (water), which was the lifeline there.

By 1899, my great-grandfather Joaquin Sisneros, sensing the pressure of there being too many families in Abo Viejo—the Ballejos and everybody that they married into and a lot of the Sisneros people that were there—my great-grandfather Joaquin started buying up their interests, both the land interests and their interest to the ojo. So he did this over a period of many years, actually probably it took him about 25 years to finally settle on the land acquisitions. It was a very difficult period, according to the paperwork. I have the original letters and receipts that were produced. A lot of the families did not want to sell their rights to the ojo. A lot of the Ballejos, especially descendants, they felt that they were being pushed out by my great-grandfather—and they were.

Well, he pressured them, and he would offer them what he considered to be a fair price for the land, and also for the right to the ojo. Mostly what they were concerned about was the ojo, because without the ojo, there’s nothing. In fact, by 1899, under pressure from some of his family, he chased Saturnino Gutierrez and his people all out of there, and they all ended up in Western New Mexico. There’s communications from Saturnino Gutierrez, who became a land surveyor and what-not in western New Mexico. He sent a lot of threatening letters to my great-grandfather, telling him that if he didn’t pay up, or if he didn’t stop harassing his clients, that he was going to kill him. So anyway, it was a long process, but eventually Joaquin ended up with what he wanted there. He ended up pretty much with all of it, and then from there he was able to go on to redistribute to his children.