Old Times and Old Timers

Seboyeta, a Frontier Town

At As the crow flies, it is only about 40 miles from Albuquerque west to Seboyeta.* The village is located in what is now the far northeast corner of Cibola County, close to the confluence of that county’s borders with those of Sandoval and McKinley counties.

Seboyeta, at the base of Mt. Taylor, was an important community in the early development of western New Mexico.

Sources disagree on exactly when the first effort to settle the area was made. Abe Peña, probably the most astute historian on the region, says that a Father Menchero attempted to establish a Franciscan Mission there in 1746. Other sources say the priests didn’t arrive until 1749. Whatever the year was, the purpose of the mission was to accommodate the Navajo Indians who had agreed to support it.

There were many problems. The Navajos soon lost interest, for one thing. An interpreter at the time is said to have been told by the Indian people that they “could not become Christians or stay in one place because they had been raised like deer.” Another Navajo said this: “I know all these people well, for they are my people and my relatives, and I say that neither now nor ever will they be Christians. They may say yes in order to get what is offered them, but afterwards they will say no.”

The Spaniards, it seems, had made a tactical mistake. They used Laguna Indians as slave labor to build the mission, and the Navajos feared they would end up in the same kind of servitude. They withdrew their support by 1750 and the mission was soon abandoned.

The area was ignored for about 50 years. In early 1800, The Spanish Governor, Don Fernando de Chacón gave possession of the area to thirty families which had previously resided near the Rio Grande at Albuquerque. The names of some of those settlers remain familiar today: Aragon, Baca, Chavez, Gallegos, Garcia, de Herrera, Jaramillo, Marquez, Pera, Peralta, Romero and Santillanes.

Abe Peña describes what the trip might have been like. “Imagine more than 30 carts, each pulled by a pair of oxen, lumbering and squeaking up Nine Mile Hill. Some of the men rode horses. Sheep, goats, and milk cows followed the train herded by boys and some of the older women.”

The original plan called for the trip to take four days. It actually took five. The settlers officially took possession on March 16, 1800.

Alcalde Don Jose Manuel Aragon, representing Governor Chacón wrote in his official report: “Today the colonists received the grant in community and the suertes (lots) as individuals and acknowledged same by throwing stones in the air, pulling weeds and shouting, ‘God save the King’ three times, wherefore they hold and enjoy all the ownership over said tracts which I have districted for such is the will of his Majesty the King.”

The settlers immediately set about two important tasks. The first was to establish a church, which they called Our Lady of Sorrows. The next was to build a fortified village. Ten-foot stone walls were constructed and houses were built up against them with no windows facing outward. Two entrances, one facing south and one east, were protected by hand-hewn ponderosa pine board gates which were each a foot thick.

The Spanish settlers and the Indians of nearby Laguna got along well, but the Navajos in the area felt threatened, and were justified in feeling so. The settlers often engaged in raiding Navajo villages for the purpose of kidnapping children, primarily females, which would be sold into slavery in Albuquerque for about 500 pesos each.

In 1804, the Navajos laid siege to Seboyeta. They attempted to burn the village and to breach the walls. Doña Antonia Romero was one of the heroines of this event. She climbed to the roof of a house to take a look around and saw that a Navajo warrior had managed to climb over the wall and was in the act of removing the huge bar that held one of the gates closed. “Swarms” of Navajos waited outside.

“Snatching a heavy stone metate, Doña Antonia lifted it above her head and brought it down with all her strength on the head of the savage, killing him instantly.” (No mention is made as to why a metate, a stone used for grinding corn and nuts, was on the roof of the house and available to Doña Antonia. On the other hand, maybe she had climbed down from the rooftop before she slew the invader. The narrative of the event is not clear on the point.)

By the following year, the settlers had suffered about all they intended to. They made a plea to the governor to be released from their promise not to abandon the village. Their request seemed to have been ignored, and they pulled out for Albuquerque. Along the way, though, they encountered a detachment of about 30 soldiers, and the settlers returned to their homes. Trouble with the Navajo subsided after that and the village flourished.

Seboyeta became the so-called Mother Village from which settlers founded other villages in the region. Among them were San Mateo in 1862, San Rafael in 1865, and El Concho, Arizona, in 1869.

Ruins of the walls that were so important 200 years ago remain in place yet today.

* The name of the village was originally spelled Cevolleta. Later that was changed to Cebolleta. The current spelling, Seboyeta, was adopted to meet requirements for postal service. There were previous settlements that used the earlier spellings. The word means, “place where onions grow.”