Los Lunas in 1910
(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history, written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society.
Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.
Sandy Battin, retired editor of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, is treasurer of the Valencia County Historical Society.)
What a difference a century makes.
In 2012, Los Lunas is a modern town, full of new houses, thriving businesses and citizens who commute to Albuquerque for jobs that range from high-tech to high fashion.
But, back in 1910, just before New Mexico became a state, Los Lunas was a town of 719 people, most of them employed locally in decidedly rural professions.
Perhaps, if one has paid attention to the writings of local historians, such as Dr. Margaret Espinosa McDonald, Patty Guggino, B.G. Burr or Dr. Richard Melzer, the fact that sheep played a huge role in the agricultural-based economy of the county will not be a surprise.
But the significance of sheep, prized both for their wool and their meat, is still rather astonishing when the 1910 territorial census is enumerated. Of the 197 people who were employed in Los Lunas that year, a total of 50 of them — a full quarter — worked with sheep. Forty were sheepherders and 10 were sheep raisers.
For comparison, only one person is listed as a stock herder, which, presumably, meant he was a cowboy.
The legendary Solomon Luna
One can only wonder how many of those sheepherders were employed by the legendary Solomon Luna.
A banker and rancher who would go on to serve in the Constitutional Convention leading to New Mexico statehood, Luna’s influence in the state and, indeed, the nation, can’t be overstated.
He was so well known that the story of his death — and the role of sheep raising in the establishment of his fortune — appeared in the Aug. 31, 1912, edition of The New York Times just two years after the census. It says in a story datelined Albuquerque:
“Solomon Luna, for the last 16 years Republican National Committeeman from New Mexico, the largest individual owner of sheep in the Southwest, and the State’s richest citizen, was found dead today at his ranch, 75 miles west of Magdalena, Socorro County.
“The body was discovered in a sheep dipping vat, and was so badly burned in the lime solution as to be almost unrecognizable. The discovery was made by Dr. E.E. Spindler of this City (Albuquerque), a Federal Sheep Inspector.
“Details received tonight show Mr. Luna’s death resulted either from heart failure or a stroke of apoplexy, and not from foul play, as at first suspected. He had complained of a weak heart for several days, and it is presumed he was seized with a smothering spell during the night and went out to get some fresh air or a drink of water from a hydrant near the vat when he was overcome and pitched headlong into the tank.
“Mr. Luna was born in Las Vegas, Mexico (sic), on Oct. 18, 1858, the son of A.J. and Isabel Luna. He received his education at the St. Louis University, which he left before graduation to enter the live stock (sic) business. He was President of the Bank of Commerce, and Vice-President of the First National Bank and the Occidental Life Insurance Company of Albuquerque, N.M. He married Miss Adelaide Otero in 1882, but they had no children.”
Historian Melzer points out that Luna was actually born in Los Lunas.
Solomon Luna, 51, and Adelaida, 40, are shown on the sixth page of the 1910 census, probably in the house that is now known as the Luna Mansion Steakhouse.
He told the census taker, Charles F. Tondre, that his profession was “sheep raiser.” The Lunas said that they had been married for 27 years and had no children. With them lived Lonta B. Perea, 40, a cook, and Francisca Bia, 16, a chambermaid.
If Solomon Luna and others built their fortunes on sheep, many fewer of his Los Lunas neighbors in 1910 were farmers, at least those living in town.
Their numbers total nine — although there were also five home farm laborers, who probably worked someone else’s land; and one person each working as a farm manager, a farm foreman and an assistant foreman.
But jobs could obviously be hard to come by — a large number of workers, 47, described themselves as laborers who worked odd jobs. That’s a full 23.8 percent of the working population.
While Belen, 10 miles to the south, had already emerged as a railroad town, many fewer Los Lunans — 27 in all, or 13 percent — worked for the Santa Fe Railway.
Of those, 20 were laborers, three were section foremen, two were telegraph operators, one was an engineer and another was an agent. Those 10 miles were too far for most folks to travel to get to work in those days; the 30-mile commute to Albuquerque that clogs Interstate 25 today would have been almost unimaginable for Los Lunans in 1910.
But that same fact meant that Los Lunas was, as were most rural communities, remarkably self-contained. Just about anything one might need could be supplied there.
There was a one-of-a-kind economy that is reflected by the census figures. There is one butcher, one telephone control person, a doctor, a tailor, a mason, a grist miller, a shoemaker, a grocery wagon driver, a boarding house keeper and a construction company foreman. There was even a lithographer who told the census taker than he printed “show bills.”
In some businesses, there was simply a little more competition. There were five carpenters, three merchants/retail grocers, two bookkeepers, three saloonkeepers and four salesmen, who mostly worked for the merchants.
Those of note
The Huning family, which would make its name in Valencia County in both ranching and in the mercantile it operated for decades, is represented by a single individual within the village limits in 1910. Fred D. Huning, 32 and single, was born in New Mexico but noted that his parents were born in Germany. He listed his profession as sheep raiser. He owned his home and lived there alone.
On the governmental front, there was a sheriff, a county clerk and a U.S. mail carrier. From the looks of it, there was no municipal government in Los Lunas. It was actually incorporated almost two decades later, in 1928.
The clerk and sheriff were highly respected individuals, people entrusted with immense power in the small community. People turned to them for advice and for help. Both were positions of tremendous responsibility.
The sheriff was Ruperto Jaramillo, 45. He lived with his wife, Manuelita, 40, who has written that, of the 14 children born to them, 13 were still living. That was a tremendously lucky number in a day where diseases ranging from cholera to polio and from small pox to tuberculosis, accidents such as catching fire from an open hearth or stove or childbirth claimed the lives of way too many babies and children.
The Jaramillos likely felt they were blessed by God. The census taker took down the names of those still living at home: Cruzita, 19; Dolores, 17; Abel, 16; Lucinda, 14; Solomon, 12; Demetrio, 10; Amalia, 8; Tranquilina, 6; Manuel, 4; Rosita, 3; and Clarita, a year and four months.
The county clerk was Jesus M. Luna, 34, who lived with his wife, Aurelia, 32. They had been married 13 years and hadn’t been as fortunate as the Jaramillos — of their six children, only three were still living. The three — Gilly, 12; Emma, 7; and Mabel, 2 — are listed, the two eldest attending school.
There were no teachers, priests, ministers or lawyers living within the village precinct in 1910. But there was a doctor — Dr. William F. Wittwer, age 38, and Nebraska-born, who passed through Los Lunas on the railroad and decided to stay on.
He was a neighbor to the Lunas, living across the street in the lovely adobe now housing Teofilo’s Restaurante. Wittwer’s wife, Anna, was 27 and had been born in Missouri. They had been married three years, but had no children. With them lived Sulima Garcia, 22, a cook.
The few women who worked were all employed by private families. Five were laundresses, four were cooks, two were chambermaids. Four folks, of both sexes, described themselves simply as servants.
Odd jobs and railroaders
If Belen’s census was given a little spice by the fact that one resident listed her job as “fortune teller,” Los Lunas could brag a similarly quirky profession. The job for one 26-year-old man looks very much like “public prayer.”
Most of the residents of Los Lunas — 421 or 58 percent — had been born right here in New Mexico. The next most common place of birth was Mexico, with 37 residents. Of those 37, 16 worked as laborers for the railroad. In fact, almost all of the railroad employees are listed on one page of the census, one after another, and all of them were born either in Mexico or states other than New Mexico.
Could they have been traveling through while working with the railroad, and were simply found in Los Lunas at the time the census was taken?
It could even have been a railroad camp, perhaps laying tracks. If they did move on, they would have inflated the population of Los Lunas merely by being present at the time of the census.
Most of them were single, but a few were married. Maybe, if one of their descendants is still living in the area, he or she can solve the mystery.
These railroaders were:
• Charles Wilson, 30, a railroad telegraph operator.
• Carson M. Greer, 37, a rail section foreman, who lived with his wife, Mary, 37, and their children, Harry, 16, and Rachel, 4.
• Desiderio Rodriguez, 38, a railroad laborer, who lived with his wife, Petra, 38, and their children, Domingo, 8, and Carmel, 3.
• Pedro Morales, 21, a laborer, and his wife, Maria, 20.
• Manford Olson, 22, an engineer.
• Quirino Garcia, 30, a laborer.
• Robert Walsh, 22, a telegraph operator.
• Pantaleon Comacho, 60, and two young men who are listed as brothers but who are probably his sons, given their age discrepancy, Julio and Luis Comacho, 20 and 18, respectively, and one adopted son, Esriolo Comacho, 17.
• Gonzales Crespin, 31, a laborer who lived alone.
• Francisco Rodriguez, 53, a laborer, his wife, Daria, 44, and their son, Augustin, 6.
• Francisco Sandoval, 22, listed as the head of household, and seven other men, all described as partners, worked as laborers. They are Martin Leon, 22; Julio Garcia, 32; Doloreo Basquez, 24; Sevino Saniz, 25; Refugio Mora, 20; Filimono Ramides, 21; and Jesus Ramides, 32.
Only five other residents of Los Lunas were born in foreign countries — four in Germany and one in Norway. One of the German-born women, Anna Castillo, 37, has married the New Mexico-born Miliano Castillo, 39, and they live with six sons and daughters.
The Castillos’ biography is fascinating, an American success story. Historian Burr reports, “Anna Castillo was Anna Weber, former governess to the Crown Prince of Germany. She was brought to America by Louis and Henrika Huning, who had raised Emiliano (as opposed to Miliano) Castillo, Sr. since the age of about 11.
“They taught him the mercantile business and he opened his own store, first a meat market and later a full-service grocery store. Three of Emiliano’s sons served as mayors of Los Lunas, Jose (1934-1936), Fred (1952-1962) and Emiliano Jr. (1968-1982).”
Miliano was probably Castillo’s nickname, since that’s how it was written on the census.
Another well-known German resident of the community was Simon Neustadt, 52, who ran the mercantile store that went by his name. It continued to function until the last decade or two of the 20th century.
In 1910, Neustadt lived with Leah, his 36-year-old New York-born wife. They had no children. Also living with them was a boarder, Joseph Tondre, 27, a salesman for the mercantile, and two other employees, Ramona Trujillo, 21, a cook, and Rafaela Salazar, 40, a chambermaid.
Joseph Tondre, too, would go on to considerable fame. He was U.S. marshal in the Harding Administration, ran for governor in the 1940s, was warden of the state penitentiary in the 1950s and served as sheriff of the county and a long-time school board member.
He was the father of Anne Williams, who served on the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus Advisory Board, and grandfather of local attorney and former State Sen. Tony Williams. Joseph was the nephew of Charles F. Tondre, the census taker, who farmed and ran a winery in Los Lentes.
As in Belen, the most common state for non-New Mexico-born Los Lunans, is Missouri, the original home of seven residents.
In addition, six were born in Texas, four apiece in Colorado and New York, three in Iowa, two in Wisconsin, and one each in Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
About 181 of the population were children. Of those, 92 — about half — were attending school, while the other half, 89, were at home, either too young to go to class or those 15 and older who were already working.
The literacy rate among adults is rather high. Of the 362 adults who answered the question about whether they could read or write, the majority, 238 or 65.7 percent, were fully literate. Another 19 — about 5 percent — could read but not write, a surprising concept for many of us living in 2012. We don’t realize that the two are really separate skills. A total of 105 — 29 percent — could neither read nor write.
A total of 132 families answered the question about whether they owned or rented their own homes. As is the case now, the majority, 89, were homeowners while an additional 43 were renters.
All in all, the census took Charles F. Tondre just six days in April, 1910, to visit as many homes in Los Lunas as he could, sitting down with his neighbors and taking time to answer the many questions that, today, give us an idea of life in the village on the verge of statehood.
(The final part of the series on the 1910 census, which will be published in August, will be on the rest of present-day Valencia County.)