Valencia County 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. This is the final story in a three-part series.)
A farming county
Rural Valencia County in 1910 on the verge of statehood was a remarkably stable place, with the vast majority of the population having been born right here in New Mexico.
Home ownership — mostly of farms — was extremely high, people often living on the same land their ancestors had settled centuries ago.
One can only imagine the hard work that had to go into earning a living on a farm in those days. Throughout America, fully one-third of the population lived on farms in 1910. In eastern Valencia County, that figure was about 60 percent — or closer to two-thirds of the local residents.
Farmers around the world — as in New Mexico — mainly plowed fields behind horses or mules, hand-picked crops, carried their household water from pumps by hand, cared for livestock of all sorts by finding forage pasture or putting up hay, grew their own food.
They were at the mercy of the weather — not enough rain, hail that crushed crops, heavy winds that stripped leaves from plants. The work was back-breaking and ceaseless. There were few days off. Work began at sunrise and the weary family rarely stayed up late in the evening in those pre-electricity days.
A county of families
But the census, although constructed of numbers, tells a story if you look behind the fives, sevens and hundreds. For one thing, very few people lived alone. In the Valencia County census, it is extremely unusual to find a household of one. That’s not the case today. A census report for 2010 shows a full 27 percent of Americans lived in one-person homes.
One can look at page after page of the 1910 census of rural Valencia County before finding someone such as Manuel Vigil, 62 years old and widowed, who lived alone on his farm in El Cerro. Mostly, children lived at home with their parents until they married. Older children are often listed as laborers working on the family farm.
It took many hands to work the land — and going one’s own way was fairly unthinkable, in New Mexico as well as across the nation.
And one can see the clustering of families, there to help one another with the big jobs or in sorrow as well as to celebrate the birth of a child or the successful harvest of the crops.
For instance, on one page of the Los Chavez census, there is a group of Castillos living in close proximity to one another. It starts with Polonio and Elauteria Castillo, both in their 50s, living on their farm with their two grown sons, Manuel B. and Vicente, both listed as farm laborers, plus a 3-year-old granddaughter, Trinidad.
Next come Teofilo and Cipriana Castillo, also in their 50s, with their three children, all in school. Then there’s Jose and Virginia Castillo, in their early 40s, living with two sons.
And, finally, Eliseo and Beneranda Castillo, in their 30s, farming and raising their eight children.
The bare facts are there, but it gives the reader in 2012 an impression of coziness, security, safety. As the Castillos’ great-great-grandchildren might say, there was always someone there who had your back.
An educated community
Of the 4,240 people who live in the rural areas of what is now Valencia County, 51.2 percent were adults — 2,172. The children are divided into the 1,109 or 26.1 percent who are not attending school — either too young or too old — and 959 or 22.6 percent who are attending classes.
Education appears to be quite important. Some young people as old as 20 are attending school, probably earlier having to forego class while helping out on the family farm. But, even in early adulthood, they’re determined to get an education.
All in all, it is a fairly literate community. Of the 2,989 adults for whom an answer was given, 1,836 — a majority, at 61.4 percent — could read. Add to that the 259 individuals — another 8.6 percent — who could read but not write, and 70 percent of rural Valencia County residents were at least somewhat literate in 1910. A total of 894 adults — 29.9 percent — could neither read nor write.
There is definitely evidence of the people who brought that education to the rural areas of the county. Jesus C. Sanchez, 43, of Tomé works as superintendent of the public schools. All three of his children living at home — Adelina, 14, Tobias, 9, and Ernesto, 5 — are listed as enrolled in school. Two teachers are also listed as living in the county.
Home ownership, population
For this column, figures for Grants, Milan and the western portion of what was then Valencia County have been excluded; those areas are now part of Cibola County. Also, no numbers have been found in Valencia County for Isleta; the entire pueblo was apparently enumerated with Bernalillo County. The population of Isleta, including Los Padillas, was 1,497. Special census reports were filed of Indian reservations in 1910.
Of the 959 households listed in rural eastern Valencia County, a whopping 796 — or 83 percent — were owned by those living there. Only 163 households described themselves as living in rental property.
Los Lentes and Tomé had especially high rates of ownership – 92 percent in the former and 96 percent in the latter. Casa Colorada, rather surprisingly given how far it is from the nearest town, had the highest rate of renters with 65 percent home ownership.
Tomé also had the highest population in the rural area, with 875 residents; that includes two districts — Abajo and Arriba, upper and lower.
Populations for the other unincorporated areas — and they may not have had exactly the same borders as we think of them today — were: Casa Colorada, 315; El Bosque, 272; El Cerro, 292; Jarales, 756; Los Chavez, 458; Los Lentes, 309; Peralta, 500; Tomé, 875; and Valencia, 463.
Of those residents, 96 percent were born in New Mexico, giving rural Valencia County a remarkable stability. Of the total 4,261 residents who gave answers, 4,103 were born in the state. The highest number of individuals born elsewhere were the 70 — 1.6 percent — who came here from Mexico.
Among the states that provided the largest numbers of 1910 rural Valencia County residents were Arizona, with 10; Ohio, Kansas and Texas, with eight each; and Arkansas and Pennsylvania, with four apiece.
States represented by three county residents each were Indiana and Illinois; while Colorado, Missouri and West Virginia each had two. A single county resident came from each of these states: Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
A handful of other residents came from foreign countries. Other than Mexico, Germany had the largest contingent, with nine residents. Three were born in Canada. There were one each from Australia, England, France, Italy, Scotland and Sweden.
France was represented by Father Juan B. Ralliere — Jean Baptiste, in his native French — the parish priest at Nuestra Senora de la Inmaculada Concepción de Tomé.
Ralliere, who had arrived at Tomé when he was only 23, served for 55 years, earning the title “El Padre Eterno,” according to Belen historians Margaret Espinosa McDonald and Richard Melzer. Listed in the census with an age of 75 in 1910, he was nearly at the end of his tenure, which extended through 1913. He told the census taker that he arrived in America in 1858.
Angelo and Lucy Bianchi, ages 70 and 62 respectively, both born in Italy, worked on a farm in Los Chavez. It would be interesting to learn how they wound up so far from their birthplace. By 1920, they are no longer living in the county.
What we did
Most people didn’t appear to live beyond their 50s or 60s — there are relatively few people in their 70s or 80s in the census.
There is an occasional person who was really quite old, such as Dolores Gallego, a 92-year-old widow who is described as “mother,” living in the household of Natividad Pantaleon Montoya in Tomé.
The majority of Valencia County’s rural population spoke Spanish at home — 2,325 people or about 54.8 percent. Most of those who are listed as English-speakers were surely bilingual — 729 or 17.1 percent. That’s because of the way the question was written: “Whether able to speak English; if not, give language spoken.”
Another 1,186 persons give no answer; most of them are children, about whom, apparently, the question of language was not asked.
What did most rural Valencia County residents do for a living? There were, truly, many different occupations represented but, as in almost all rural areas of the nation, agriculture was the answer for most.
Different census takers wrote down the occupations in different ways. What one might call a general farm, another might say is a small farm. The largest number of farmers, 229, were listed as operating a general farm while 150 were said to work a small farm. Twenty others were classified as home farmers and 62 labored on truck farms.
Additionally, there were two livestock farmers, 36 sheep farmers and four sheep raisers.
All those farms meant a large number of workers, both in and out of the immediate family, were needed. A total of 240 farm laborers were working the land. There were also 314 sheep herders, the largest number in any one profession, four cattle herders and three goat herders.
The railroad didn’t employ nearly as many people out in the country as it did in Belen. But there were 56 railroad laborers listed, along with three section foremen, two car repairers and one each station agent, telegrapher, coalman, pumpman and boiler watcher.
A construction crew also appeared to be in the area, working in Casa Colorada. There were four engineers; two each of bookkeepers, night watchmen, cooks, firemen and stationary engineers; plus one stone crusher, a team driver, a clerk, a telegrapher and a foreman. There were also 22 construction laborers at various sites across the county.
A huge number of men also worked whenever they could, doing whatever was available. These were the 215 who listed their occupation as laborers in odd jobs. Fifteen others were laborers who were “working out,” probably just meaning away from their own homes.
Meleor Jaramillo, 25, of Tomé, was probably a very important man in the county. He is the only professional sheep shearer listed in the census of eastern Valencia County.
In a rural area spread out across miles, local groceries and mercantiles had been established to supply families with their day-to-day goods. They employed two salesmen in general stores and three in mercantiles, a porter and a clerk as well as their owners.
Among the eight local retail merchants were Daniel Lucero, 40, and Miguel E. Baca, 41, who ran general merchandise establishments in Tomé; Predesandro Padilla, 50, owned his own butcher shop in Tomé, while Federico F. Chavez performed the same service in Peralta.
Eugene and Max Paul Kempenich, 20-something brothers, operated a general merchandise store in Peralta, while Ambrosio Gingras and Felix Gurule operated groceries in Valencia. In Los Chavez, the German-born Richard Pohl, 49, owned a retail grocery.
In Peralta, Adolfo Garcia, 32, listed his occupation as merchandise freighter, perhaps delivering groceries and other goods to local grocers and mercantile operators.
Liquor was also readily available. Jesus Alderete, 70, operated a saloon in Peralta as did Aniceto Gurule, 35. In all, there were eight saloonkeepers offering refreshing drinks throughout the county.
The working woman
Working women were rare; almost all of them were widowed. Five women worked as housekeepers. But most of them, 29, described themselves as laundresses or washerwomen.
Such was the case with Maria Salazar, a 50-year-old widow, who lived alone in Los Chavez, earning her living by washing clothes for a private family.
Josefa Garcia, 21, earned a living for herself and her grandmother, Barbara Gabaldon, 60, with her work as a housekeeper for a private family. Two widows, who are listed one after another in the Los Chavez census —Maria G. Cordova, 56, and Librasia Garcia, 36, are both laundresses for a private family. Garcia is providing for her six children, the two eldest of whom are working as sheepherders.
Also working for a private family, washing their clothes, is Susana Gabaldon, 53, a widow with two children at home. Life has proven hard for her; of her 12 children, only six are still living.
All three women in the Zamora family — Candida, a 48-year-old widow, and her daughters, Josefa, 25, and Crisosta, 16, are laundresses in Los Lentes.
Two women in the county had a creative solution to earning a living: Maria Moya, a 45-year-old El Cerro widow, and Francisca Connelly, 48, wife of a Peralta farmer, were dressmakers who both worked out of their homes.
An interesting population
Only one family has been found to have taken in a boarder: Henry Gallaway, 58, a farm laborer born in Sweden, is listed as a boarder in the home of Julian and Eutemia Garcia in El Bosque.
Andre Sichler, a 48-year-old born in Germany, operates his farm in Los Lentes with his wife, Mary, and their seven children. These days, the Sichler name is still prominent among county farmers.
Other highly skilled jobs have only a few providers in the rural area. Joaquin Castillo, 27, owned a blacksmith shop in Los Chavez as did Felipe S. Castillo, 26, in Jarales. Jose Antonio Chavez, 42, worked as a mason in Jarales. Menardo Sanchez, 28, operated a barber shop in Jarales, the only one in the rural area of the county.
And two men, who lived next door to one another, are Severo Apodaca, 32, and Alfredo Martinez, 28, whose occupations are listed as “professor” and whose industry is “musician.” Did they give music lessons in Jarales?
Dr. Richard Melzer, who teaches history at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, says that folks considered learned in various subjects were sometimes called “professor.”
Nine carpenters, several with their own shops, were available to help local residents. Juan Trujillo y Pineda, 62, of Peralta, was a builder of houses.
There was one school superintendent and two teachers, but, if rural residents needed a doctor or a lawyer, they would have to go to Belen, Los Lunas or even Albuquerque.
But there are three midwives, that valuable profession in a county with very few doctors. Isabel Castillo, 52, worked in the Los Lentes area helping women give birth, as did Concision Rael in Valencia and Teresa Gallego, 65, in Peralta. (The names are written as Concision and Gallego; the handwriting is sometimes difficult to read more than a century after it was written.
Also, one census-taker spells names normally written today with a “z” instead with an “s.” Thus, all the names in one section are written as Chaves or Sanches.)
And, in each local census, from Belen’s fortune teller to Los Lunas’ public prayer, there seems to be a job that’s a mystery. There is also one in the rural county — Manuel Silva, 28, of Los Chavez, lists his job as “public showman.”
All in all, rural Valencia County in 1910 was an industrious place, where everyone worked and everyone played an integral part in the community.
The armchair historian’s only wish must be to have traveled from home to home with the census takers — Placido Jaramillo, Moises R. Mirabal, Andres A. Romero Jr. and Charles F. Tondre — meeting the people, talking with them and getting a glimpse into the way they lived beyond the numbers that were recorded.