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Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

The village of Abiquiu lies in the Chama River Valley on high ground above the Chama River. People made their homes in the Chama River Valley for at least 5,000 years before the establishment of this village in the 1700s. We know this because we find many abandoned pueblos on the surrounding mesas and in the valley. The valley was a major trade route among Pueblo peoples traveling to and from the San Juan River area and the Rio Grande River Valley.

Eventually, some people from the San Juan River area to the west settled in the Chama River Valley. “Chama” is the Spanish name for a Pueblo site, “Tsama,” whose inhabitants were related to the people of present-day Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan) Pueblo. These early inhabitants were farmers who grew squash, pumpkins, beans, and corn. They had moved on to other sites by the time the Spaniards arrived in the region.

Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza“Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza,” J. Cisneros (Artist)

When the Spaniards entered the area in the late 1500s and early 1600s, Navajos had already built small settlements along the Chama River and used the Chama Valley route to travel south and raid the fields and villages the Spanish set up. Later, Utes moved into the territory and also fought with the Spanish. The Spanish settlers counterattacked their enemies. These continual conflicts among the Spanish, Utes, and Plains Indians made the area dangerous. Eventually, the Spanish developed a system of giving presents to the Utes in exchange for peace.

By the 1700s, the Spanish authorities decided to open the lands along the Chama River to more settlements. Spanish villages to the south were overcrowded, and the Spanish leaders wanted to form a buffer between the settlements that already existed and the Indian peoples that they fought with. The Spanish authorities gave land grants to encourage people to move to the Chama River Valley. In 1734 Bartolomé Trujillo, from the town that today is called Hernandez on the Rio Grande, and nine other families received a land grant along the Chama River. They named their new farming settlement Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiu.

Other small settlements sprang up along the river in the next decade, but fighting between the Spanish and their Indian neighbors forced people to abandon their lands and return to more secure areas further south. Determined to set up a buffer zone, the Spanish authorities forced the settlers to go back to their land grants along with thirteen genizaros. Genizaros, or Indians who had been taken from their tribes and become Christians, started a separate settlement called Santo Tomas. This village became present-day Abiquiu.

Santo Tomas de Abiquiu became the site of an annual trade fair authorized by the Spanish government, where the Spanish and Indian populations met peacefully to trade. Similar annual trade fairs in Nuevo Mexico also took place in Taos and Pecos. Every fall the Utes and other Plains Indians came to Abiquiu and traded with the settlers. They exchanged buffalo meat and hides, deerskins, and captive children for corn and horses. The Spanish baptized the captive children and accepted them into the Spanish population. Today, many of Abiquiu’s residents are descendants of the genizaros and captive children.