El Rancho de las Golondrinas - Trade and Defense
Trade on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
The early lifeblood of New Mexico was two-way trade on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land). El Rancho de las Golondrinas (The Ranch of the Swallows) was one of many parajes or stopping places along the Royal Road where travelers could rest, replenish supplies, and prepare for the next leg of their journey.
Traveling the Road
As they made their way to Mexico City, traders and travelers from Santa Fe often spent the first night of their six-month journey enjoying the amenities at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. Returning travelers spent their last night at the ranch, after their arduous adventure on El Camino Real, before reaching the capital city. All passed by the ranch’s defensive tower.
Life in the Valley
Spanish colonists first established small ranchos in La Ciénega Valley in the early to mid-17th century, settling on lands previously used for centuries by the Pueblo Indians. Descendants of the Baca, Sandoval, Pino, and other families that began farming at Las Golondrinas in the early days still reside in the valley.
Traders and goods moving up and down El Camino Real passed by this torreón (defensive tower) at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. Some of the most common items moving along the trail included sheep, cattle, woven goods, salt, piñon nuts, and cow or antelope hides.
Archaeological excavations suggest the torreón was built in the 18th century for defense and later used for storage or possibly a residence. It had a diameter of 20 feet and was approximately 15-20 feet high.
Attack at the Torreón
On Thursday, June 20th, 1776, a party of Comanche warriors swept through the Spanish ranchos of La Ciénega (The Marsh) and La Cieneguilla (The Little Marsh), killing nine men and boys and taking two young children captive. Antonio Sandoval, the owner of El Rancho de las Golondrinas, lost his 19-year old son José Antonio Sandoval and nephew Santiago Mascareñas, who were killed as they tended crops. Scenes such as this were typical on the northern frontier as uneasy relations between Spanish settlers and raiding native tribes resulted in tragedies on both sides.
Built for Defense
Torreones (defensive towers) were a common sight throughout northern New Mexico during the Spanish colonial period. Built to withstand attack, Spanish settlers would seek shelter in these structures. Archeological excavations suggest that this tower was most likely built in the 18th century, though it is not clear what role this particular torreón played in the 1776 raid. When not used for defense, this torreón was most likely used for storing crops and possibly as a residence.
Objects Tell Stories [ring and earring]
This Spanish colonial copper-alloy ring from the 17th-18th century was excavated from this torreón site. Objects of personal adornment would have been brought to New Mexico by Spanish colonists or traders and represent the personal belongings and luxury items of early New Mexicans.
This 19th century earring was also found during archaeological fieldwork at the torreón. Completed in 2010, the fieldwork was funded through a partnership with the Río Grande Foundation for Communities and Cultural Landscapes and the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program.
The numerous torreones in La Ciénega valley would have been places of refuge for the settlers when under attack.
Last updated: January 29, 2018