"In the Midst of a Loneliness":
The Architectural History of the Salinas Missions
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The reoccupation of Abó probably began as part of the resurgence of interest in the lands east of the Manzano Mountains from 1800 to 1815. The presence of the almost complete church of San Gregorio de Abó, the low walls of the burned-out convento, and the great mass of the ruins of the pueblo beside permanent springs just off the old road through the pass attracted many overnight visitors. Soon a permanent resident population settled by the springs and began to build houses from the remains of the ruined buildings. [1]

The new settlers built several houses southwest of the mission church, including a rectangular enclosure about 135 feet wide and 160 feet long at the south edge of the campo santo, apparently to be used as a corral or pen for livestock. [2] At the same time they built an enclosing wall that ran 140 feet north from the north end of the church and enclosed an area about 330 feet east to west and 550 feet north to south. It originally stood to a height of well over four feet. The settlers built a square bastion-like room at the northeast corner of the enclosure. [3]

The houses consisted of a two-room structure and a five-room structure built adjacent to each other, probably with a continuous wall connecting the two buildings and enclosing a small patio or yard. The settlers may have rebuilt portions of the civil compound on the west side of the church, and perhaps the first convento rooms at the east end of mound I. The reoccupation does not appear to have been extensive, and seems to have been oriented more toward sheepherding and catering to travellers than toward developing a permanent, easily-defended compound.

The settlers later built a plazuela, a small fortified building with a torreon at the southeast corner, on the south side of the corral. By comparison with similar torreon complexes at Manzano and Quarai, the Abó torreon can be roughly dated between 1820 and 1830, when Apache raiding reached its height.

Abó appears to have been abandoned again about 1830. The settlers probably left because of the increased Apache raids during this time and the failure of the Manzano settlers to have the small Abó settlement included in the boundaries of the town grant. The church probably burned out about the same time. For the next thirty-five years the ruins apparently served only as an overnight camp for hunters and for travellers on their way through the pass to Manzano.

Abandonment and Visitors

Lieutenant James W. Abert visited the ruins in 1846. His careful watercolor of the church recorded a number of important details of the structure before major collapses had occurred. At that time Abó looked much like Quarai does today. Abert's measurements of the church closely match the actual size of the building. He briefly described the large window in the east side-chapel, but did not mention any other windows or doorways. [4]

J. W. Chatham visited Abó in July of 1849, and found no trace of anyone living in the area. He briefly described the extent of the church and convento, and of the enclosing wall built by the settlers in the period between 1815 and 1830. [5]

William W. Hunter, a forty-niner on his way to California, passed through about the same time, and also did not note any residents in the area. He described the crenelated wall tops and mentioned two windows in the church. Hunter noticed the charred ends of burned "rafters, joists, and beams" still set in the masonry. [6]

Major James H. Carleton visited Abó on his way to Las Humanas, in 1853. His detailed description of the church again recorded information of great importance to a history of the buildings. From his description, it appears that the apse still stood as of that year, as well as much of the front, or south, wall. Carleton also mentioned the crenelated wall tops and the charred beams still in place in the walls. He was able to find one beam set into the east wall of the church, about six feet above the ground, which retained a finished surface. This may have been one of the beams of the sacristy. Carleton also observed the remains of a protective wall enclosing the church and convento area, but considered it to have also surrounding the pueblo. He estimated that the enclosure was about 940 feet north to south and 450 feet east to west. [7]

The apse fell sometime after Carleton's visit but before Bandelier drew and photographed the ruins in 1882. Archeology in 1938 found that the area of the main altar had been destroyed by treasure hunters, as happened at Quarai and San Isidro. Apparently the looters undermined and cut through the back wall of the apse in the process of digging for phantom treasures. This caused the apse to cave in, taking the end walls of the sanctuary with it. [8]

In the mid-1850s Luciano Pino, accompanying a group of buffalo hunters from the Casa Colorado grant, stopped at the ruins and springs. Pino was impressed with the area and decided to attempt to resettle the ruins. In 1859 he and a group of prospective settlers, including Juan José Sisneros, revisited the area to plan such a resettlement. They were attacked by Apaches and Pino was killed. The survivors decided that the area was still too dangerous and gave up on the attempt at resettlement. [9]

Second Reoccupation

By 1865, the Manzano area had become more peaceful. Juan José Sisneros remembered the good qualities of the Abó valley. By 1869, he had moved his family to the ruins of Abó and had begun building houses and protective walls. [10] They apparently reoccupied and reconstructed the older buildings left by the settlers of 1800 to 1830, and then added to the complex. As each of the children came of age, they built another house within the protective walls of the little settlement. Eventually, with marriages and friends moving into the area, a small village grew up around the burned-out church. By the 1870s the new arrivals had built at least eight houses along the west and south sides of the pueblo ruins.

Several of these houses were plazuelas in their own right. For example, the house where Ramon Sisneros lived in 1882 was part of a U-shaped structure with six rooms. The mouth of the "U" opened toward the west, and was closed by a single wall to form a patio within the building. The main entrance was through a large gateway in the single room forming the south arm of the "U." Other buildings followed variations of the same pattern. [11]

pueblo of Abó
Figure 23. The pueblo of Abó about 1882, at the time of Bandelier's visit. At the east edge of the convento is the house of Marcos Luna. East of it is Ramon Cisneros's house. The walled enclosure described by most visitors to the site through the nineteenth century can be seen extending north and east from the ruined church. South of the church ruins are a series of structures built on or within mound J. These were constructed during the first occupation of Abó in the period from about 1810 to about 1830, and were ruins by 1882. Farther south, the group of large buildings are those where members of the Sisneros family live today. According to family tradition, some parts of these buildings were constructed in the late nineteenth century. However, the buildings have not been closely inspected, so the details of their plan about 1880 is not known.
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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006