Old Times and Old Timers

by Don Bullis

The Saga of Baca Location No. 1

When Part One closed last month, the Whitney Brothers had demanded that the area in question be partitioned, so they could claim their portion of it.)

When the dust settled, nearly 50 owners of Baca Location Number 1 were identified. Mariano S. Otero owned the largest share at more than 34,000 acres. Whitney owned just over 19,000 acres. Some heirs owned as little as 112 acres each. Early in 1899, the court ordered that the Baca Location No. 1 be sold, in toto, and the proceeds distributed among the owners. The sale was held in March of the same year. The highest bidder was one Frank Clancy who paid just over $16,500 for it. Joel Whitney got less than $3,000 as his share. At the bottom of the list were Refugia, Siria and Elsia Salazar who got $23.60 each. Tom Catron got just over $1,700.

A week later, Clancy sold the site to the Valles Land Company, owned by Mariano Otero and his son, Frederico. Thus did Baca Location Number 1 become the property of a single landowner. In less than three generations, the Cabeza de Baca family found itself without an ownership interest in any of the the Baca Locations. (Attorney John S. Watts got the other four.)

Mariano Otero died in 1904 and sole ownership fell to Frederico. He held on to it until 1909 when he sold it to a group of Pennsylvania investors that called itself the Redondo Development Company. That began a new era in ownership.

Redondo investors had grandiose plans for the Valle Grande, but not a realistic grasp of what was involved in attaining them. They hired a surveyor to subdivide the land into several categories: grazing, timber and housing. The surveyor also identified areas considered mountainous or otherwise “worthless.” What the investors didn’t factor in was the remote location of the place. It was 30 or so rugged miles to the closest railroad. The area was served exclusively by unimproved mountain dirt roads. Winters were long, cold and snowy and access was impossible for several months each year. About the only income realized by the Redondo Company was from a grazing lease maintained by former owner Frederico Otero.

By 1916, Frederico was ready to give up his lease, and Frank Bond, an Española businessman, negotiated an agreement to graze sheep in the caldera by the spring of 1917. But Bond was so enamored of his new leased land that he further negotiated the purchase of the place, which was consummated in December of the same year. Redondo Development Company retained the timber rights.

Bond soon operated 17 sheep camps to oversee a flock of about 20,000 sheep. By the 1930s, he was also grazing cattle on the ranch. The Redondo Development Company continued to own the timber rights although logging operations did not begin for nearly 20 years simply because there was no transportation system available which could move logs or finished lumber out of the mountains. That all changed in 1935 when a graded road was completed from Los Alamos to Cuba. A representative of Redondo made a pro forma effort to sell the timber rights to Bond, but Bond happened to be out of town at the time and the sale was made later the same day to Robert Anderson who immediately sold the rights to Abram Kaplan of the New Mexico Lumber and Timber Company.

The company was already harvesting timber nearby and was able to begin logging operations on the Baca Location almost immediately. More than 35,000,000 board feet of lumber was taken out within the next year. Bond continued to do well with wool production, the demand for which increased considerably in the war years, from 1941-45. But as World War II was closing in the summer of 1945, Frank Bond died.

Other changes were in the offing. The demand for wool dropped considerably with the introduction of numerous synthetic fabrics. Bond’s son, Franklin, made the shift to cattle and by the mid-fifties the herd amounted to 12,000 head, or so. Franklin Bond died in 1954, and his heirs did not do well in managing the ranching operation, and it was leased to the King Brothers, Sam, Bruce and Don, in 1959. The Kings operated the place as a cattle ranch, but were also interested in buying it. The problem they had was a shortage of ready cash since they had recently purchased the Alamo Ranch, just west of Rio Rancho in Sandoval County, also from the Bonds. They offered to buy 25,000 acres of the Baca Location, but the Bond estate declined to partition the land.

The last chapter of the Baca Location No. 1 saga began in 1962 when United States Senator Clinton P. Anderson introduced a bill in congress to establish the Valle Grande National Park. There was great ado about this possibility, but before it could come to fruition, the Bond heirs, in January 1963, sold the place to a group of Texans led by Pat Dunigan of Abilene. Sale price was $2.5 million. The caldera would be operated as a ranch. Dunigan soon set about bringing logging on the Baca Location to a halt. He entered into a series of court actions against the New Mexico Timber Company, with mixed results. But finally, in the summer of 1972, Dunigan was able to purchase the timber rights from New Mexico Timber for $1.25 million.

Dunigan began exploring options for federal ownership of the site in the late 1970s, but his efforts came to naught and he died of heart attack in February 1980. Dunigan’s will provided that a trust be established to oversee the property for his three young sons. The trustees had no interest in selling the property, but by late in the 1990s, the Dunigan sons, Mike, Andrew and Brian, let it be known that they would be interested in selling, particularly to the government. The deal was completed on July 25, 2000. The Dunigans received $101,000,000 for the land. Not bad when you consider that Pat Dunigan’s total cash investment was $3,750,000.

Today it is the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and perhaps ownership is decided for once and all.

It is a beautiful, natural, wonderland that is open to the public in a limited way.

Don Bullis, Rio Rancho Observer, September 5, 16 & 26, 2004
George Curry, 1861-1947, An Autobiography, H. B. Hening, editor
Howard Lamar, The Far Southwest 1846-1912, A Territorial History
Craig Martin, Valle Grande, A History of the Baca Location No. 1
Otero, My Life on the Frontier
Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, A Brief Multi-
Marc Simmons, Ranchers, Ramblers and Renegades