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“They Used To Steal The Comanchita And Take Her To One Of The Reyes’ Houses”

by Polly 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.

Employees of the Santa Fe Railway frequently established settlements around their section housing, resulting in many small towns along the Belen Cutoff. Scholle, a small village along Abo Pass in central New Mexico, is a good example of this trend and reflects the impacts of homesteaders, ranchers, and employment with the railroad. Polly Sisneros was born in Scholle near La Salada where her family originally herded sheep in the nineteenth century. Her father, Canuto Sisneros, was well known and reluctantly worked for the railroad because it was the only locally available job. Below, Polly Sisneros recalls the dances and religious celebrations and ceremonies that occurred in Scholle and the surrounding areas.

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Square Dance At The Community Center In Mountainair, New Mexico“Square Dance At The Community Center In Mountainair, New Mexico,” Unknown (Photographer)

They used to have parties! That was a party town. Oh my God! My dad worked in this pool hall. That’s how come we came to Scholle, because Mr. Brazil wanted my dad to manage the pool hall. They used to have the dances there on a big ol’ patio between the Brazils and Frank Gómez. All the old dances, the raspa, the varsiliana, baile de la silla, they used to dance a lot. We used to sweep the patio real good and water it, so it could be nice and hard and wouldn’t lift the dirt and all this. Dance ’til midnight. It was so much fun! Pedro Olguin was an accordion player. Frank Gómez played the guitar. One of the Peraltas also played the guitar. Pedro’s brother, Beltrán, played the harmonica. God that was a lively town!

And then at the Bibianos’ house, we used to have a wake on Christmas Eve. They were the Mexican people. They had a velorio (wake) every Christmas, and the whole community got together, and we had a dance of the Comanches. That’s a holy, well, Catholic dance, you could say, I guess. We had the Comanches and Mama and Daddy were the padrinos (sponsors) for that velorio. So we had that every December. My dad used to collect flares from Santa Fe the whole year ’round, so he had enough to put from our house over here to the Bibianos’ house. He used to line them up like this, and put them all in rows and light them for Christmas Eve. We used to line up all the people walking in the middle of the flares, carrying the baby Jesus to the house over here where we danced for him. It was nice. It was a big, big religious celebration. That was fun.

Canuto Sisneros and Gang“Canuto Sisneros and Gang,” Unknown (Photographer)

We had Día de los Reyes, the celebration of the three kings, asking for días and for the Reyes. We asked for candy from door to door to door. And they used to steal the Comanchita (captive Comanche girl). They’d steal her and take her to one of the Reyes’ houses. We had to guess what Rey (king) had her. And if we guessed right, if this was the real Rey that had her, then he was gonna have the velorio next year. If my mother had the niño, then it was her turn. If it was the other Reyes, they took turns to have the velorio for the next year. And then for the Day of the Three Kings, there was a big celebration, and my mother used to make food for the whole community, because she was one of the Reyes. They’d dance on the patio, eat the posole and the pork and the tamales. That was a party town, let me tell ya’. Dance ’til the midnight hour. Oh God, those people celebrated! It wasn’t just a town of work, it was a fun town. Even the ones that weren’t Catholic participated, like Mr. Brazil. I don’t know what religion Mr. Brazil was, but he used to come to the velorios.

Every summer we used to borrow our Blessed Mother from Manzano Parrish. That was a big thing in those ranches. Walk her through all the ranches—even to Priest Canyon and the Padilla Ranch. We used to bring her from Manzano, bring her to Abo, and from Abo to Scholle, from Scholle to Priest Canyon. And we used to have meals at every ranch. Like at the Sanchez ranch we used to have a nice meal. My dad used to take the wagon in case somebody would faint or fall sick. A lot of us had to get in the wagon. And then from there we used to take her to the Sanchez house south of Dripping Springs. Oh, that was the “in” thing in the summer, to take our Blessed Mother. We used to collect all the wildflowers for her so when she got to the Sanchezes, she was all adorned with flowers and gifts. Johnnie’s grandmother used to fix the best meal for us when we got there with our Blessed Mother. She’s still the same Blessed Mother in Manzano, she’s still there all made out of wood. People like the Sanchezes, they were pretty well off, and they used to make new clothes for her: a new dress, or maybe a new veil or something. Maybe somebody received their holy communion or got married and they saved the veil for our Blessed Mother and take her new clothes to Manzano. Those were the days.