Along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro during Spanish Colonial times — from the late 1500s to the early 1800s — what were children doing to contribute to their community; and how did they have fun?
At El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a Spanish Colonial ranch from the 1700s, life as it was then is still alive in the setting, the buildings, and the activities that take place here. Several times a year, children come to the Ranch of the Swallows to experience and to perform the duties of the children from the 1700s.
They learn that Churro sheep were brought up El Camino Real from Mexico City in the late 1500s — and that the wool of the sheep became invaluable to everyday life. Once sheep were sheared, the wool needed to be washed to get it ready to be dyed with brilliant colors. To wash the wool, the family dug up a yucca plant and used the root to obtain soap.
They would take the bark off the root with a mano and metate or a knife. They squeezed the root and swished it in a pan of water to make the water soapy. Swirling the wool in the water cleaned off all of the oil. Now it was ready to be dyed.
Hand spinning of the wool turned it into yarn for Colcha embroidery. Children as young as 6, 7, or 8 learned this skill. Mothers would teach the girls to embroider blankets, bedspreads, and rugs. Colcha embroidery is easy. It’s just one stitch repeated over and over.
Corn had long been an important crop for pueblo Indians and Spanish people. Children shucked the corn and used a mano and metate to grind the corn, which was then made into cornmeal for tortillas.
The people who settled here didn’t have stores along El Camino Real to buy sugar. They made their own sweetener by boiling down sorghum cane. The sorghum mill you see here is from the 1900s. In the 1700s, children would take a mallet and pound the sorghum cane in a trough to squeeze juice out of the cane. The juice was boiled for 5 or 6 hours to make sorghum molasses, which tasted very sweet and a bit smoky.
Children also helped make rope — and bake bread in a traditional adobe oven called an horno. But what did they do for fun? Fun then and fun now are relatively different. In the 1700s, chores and free time were interwoven in every day life. Boys may have enjoyed hunting but it was also essential to survival.
Some activities included spiritual beliefs. Ojo de Dios or the Eye of God is a weaving made across two sticks. The spiritual eye has the power to see and understand things unknown. They were placed in places where people worked or where they walked along a trail — where the eye can watch you do your work or inspire you. Today children place Ojo de Dios by their homework so they’re inspired to do good schoolwork. During down time in the winter, girls might make ramilletes, a beautiful bouquet of paper flowers. Cutting vibrant patterns of paper into various shapes, the ramillete was layered and secured. This was an excellent chore to achieve good hand and eye coordination. The children of Spanish Colonial times were intimately involved in daily family life. Bring your family to El Rancho de las Golondrinas and many other points along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail. You may be surprised to find family traditions that look and feel familiar. The past — touching your life today.