TwHP Lessons

The Hispano Ranchos of Northern New Mexico: Continuity and Change

[Photo] Valencia Historic District, New Mexico.
(Photo by Betsy Swanson)


orthern New Mexico boasts river valleys surrounded by snow-covered mountains. But it was also harsh and unforgiving; one early settler called it a "glorious hell." The Spanish, who came to this area in the late 16th century, found that the valleys near the Rio Grande could be farmed when streams were channeled into irrigation systems. More than two centuries later, they moved east across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into new, greener valleys. They took their century's old traditions with them, but soon encountered new influences from the rapidly expanding United States.

Some of the small subsistence farms, or ranchos, created in the mid-19th century survive in the mountain valleys of the Pecos and Mora rivers. The irrigation ditches that water the fields are regulated by rules dating back centuries. The houses are built of the same adobe used to construct Indian pueblos and Spanish missions. But the houses also feature decorative details based on architectural fashions brought to New Mexico after it became a U.S. territory in 1851.

The Hispanos, as the early Spanish settlers of New Mexico and their descendants are called, and the Anglos, the immigrants from the east, were often in conflict. The physical fabric of these early ranchos, which combines the traditions of both, testifies to the Hispanos' age-old cultural heritage and to their ability to adapt to change.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Northern provinces of New Spain
 2. Spanish Settlement in New Mexico, 1769

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Hispanos and Anglos
 2. Continuity and Change in the Valleys
 3. Valencia and La Cueva Ranchos

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. A traditional Hispano house
 2. Plan of a traditional house
 3. The main house, Valencia Rancho
 4. Romero House, La Cueva Rancho
 5. Valencia Rancho
 7. Aerial View of the Valencia Rancho

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Comparing Early Building Techniques
 2. Traditional Building and Cultural Identity
 3. Continuity and Change in the Community

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The lesson is based on the Valencia Ranch Historic/Archeological District, the La Cueva Historic District, and the Historic and Architectural Resources of the Upland Valleys of Western Mora County, among the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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