of gravel in almost every nearby creek. Some of it was unearthed with water from the remarkable 41-mile-long Big Ditch, diverted from the Red River and sprayed on the gravelly hillsides using large high-pressure hoses. By 1875, “Etown” was in decline as the gold played out. Later, a new way to dredge gold briefly renewed life here, but a 1903 fire sealed its decline. Returning to Taos requires a climb out of the Moreno Valley through Puerto del Palo Flechado, or “Pass of the Arrow-Pierced Wood.” Although this gap in the chain of mountains was the easiest thoroughfare through them, it nevertheless was a steep and difficult route. Its name is said to have arisen when travelers chanced upon a rotten log shot full of Apache arrows. Below the pass is the Valle Escondido (“Hidden Valley”). A narrow canyon called Cañón Fernando de Taos channels the traveler along the Río Fernando de Taos and below the mountain chain of Sierra Don Fernando. This brings us to an explanation of the repeated local use of the name Fernando. During the late 1600s, the Spanish established a few farms and ranches in the vicinity of Taos, on what was then the extreme northern settlement of the inland Spanish Empire. Among the settlers was Don Fernando de Chávez. During an insurrection of the Pueblo people, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Chávez and his family were killed. But the Spanish and Pueblo peoples reestablished neighborly relations after 1696, and Taos was resettled. Chávez was remembered when Cristóbal de la Serna petitioned in 1710 for a grant of land and with his entourage developed the village known as Don Fernando de Taos, using the respectful title don. Initially, members of the Spanish community lived within Taos Pueblo itself because of their common need of defense against the Comanches, and in 1795 there were still some Spanish residents in Taos Pueblo. But eventually the Hispanic colonists moved just outside
Looking north above the Rio Grande Gorge to Ute Mountain and the Sangre de Cristos of Colorado.
the pueblo and established the town of Taos. The rich soil so abundant in the Taos area lends itself to corn, beans and squash, despite a short growing season of about 140 days. A shared interest in agriculture, village life, trade, protection from enemies and adaptation to the environment has kept the communities of the areas’s Hispanos and Pueblo Indians close and unified, yet separate and distinct, ever since.
Roberto H. Valdez is a native New Mexican whose ancestors settled here in 1598. He holds a master’s degree in geography, with an emphasis on human-environment interaction, from the University of New Mexico and is currently a history and geography instructor at Northern New Mexico College in Española.
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