“Ojo de Gallo”: A Nostalgic Narrative of San Rafael


This “nostalgic narrative of historic San Rafael” by Josephine Barela is being published posthumously by her friends, Margaret and John Bonomo, as a memorial to her long, useful life in her community. She spent seven years researching this material and planned to write more episodes, but her time as well as energy were exhausted in a battle with illness, so that she could not complete the work. She left this manuscript in our keeping with the hope that somehow this bit of local history could be printed and preserved in order to foster continued pride in San Rafael and its heritage.

Miss Barela was born February 9, 1898 in San Rafael. Her early schooling was in the mission school San Rafael, as mentioned in this narrative, and high school. She later received a teacher’s diploma from a renowned eastern conservatory of music. She also studied secretarial work and followed this profession most of her life, teaching piano only in her home to local students.

Josephine Barela

Her business experience included employment with the American Red Cross, New Mexico Sheep Sanitary Board, Bruns General Hospital in Santa Fe and Reidling Music Company. She was also employed in government service in Washington, D.C. Her employment with the Grants, New Mexico, Municipal Schools extended from the fall of 1956 until the spring of 1970 at which time she resigned because of failing health.

She passed away in June, 1972, and was buried in the San Rafael Cemetery near her father and mother, two brothers and a sister. She will be long remembered for her keen mind, warm friendship, quick sense of humor, and interest in life around her.

A Nostalgic Narrative of Historic San Rafael

The historic village of San Rafael lies in the beautiful valley of Mt. Taylor just three miles southwest of Grants, New Mexico. On the west rise the beautiful Zuni Mountains, extending south to majestic Mt. Sedgwick towering like a rotund monarch surveying his realm; east and north curve the arms of the San Mateo Mountains in a seemingly protective embrace. You could almost hear the tramp of conquistadores as they marched through!

The original name of San Rafael was Ojo del Gallo later shortened to El Gallo and so known for many years. Ojo in Spanish can mean either “eye” or “spring” and many have thought the name was derived from the round shape of the spring resembling a cock’s eye at the north entrance of town; however, this is in error, as the spring in the early days flowed east without banks over the vega toward the San Jose Valley. The name undoubtedly was derived from the abundance of wild fowl in the area, (grouse, turkey, quail, ducks, etc.), as a vast sea of grass and heavily—wooded hills must have been a mecca of wild life in those days, giving the ever-descriptive Spaniards the suggestion for the name.

This historic village dates back to the days of Coronado. Herbert E. Bolton in his book, Coronado of The Turquoise Trail, Knight of Pueblos and Plains, states that while Coronado recuperated at Zuni, he sent out six companies of cavalry, one of artillery and one of infantry to explore, and Tristan de Luna Arellano, accompanied by Pedro de Castaneda passed through what is now San Rafael on their way to the ancient village of Acoma.

On a map drawn by Miera and Pacheco (Dominguez-Escalamte) dated 1779, given to me by Mr. Arthur Bibo, expert in history of our southwest, Ojo del Gallo is shown encircled within the Alcaldia de La Laguna (jurisdiction of Laguna) still under the realm of Spain.

On December 9, 1836, Civil and Military Governor Albino Pérez sent Fernando Aragon with two hundred men to Ojo del Gallo to quell an uprising of Navajos, as related in Military Campaign In The Navajo Country, New Mexico, 1800-1846 by John P. Waldon.

On August 17, 1857, the Camel Caravan under Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale camped at Ojo del Gallo where they found a good supply of water and grass.

Photograph of a spring of water near San Rafael, New Mexico, ca.1898. via Wikimedia Commons
Photograph of a spring of water near San Rafael, New Mexico, ca.1898. via Wikimedia Commons

In 1861, the following pioneers, while not yet residing in Ojo del Gallo, volunteered for service in the Civil War: Jose Leon Tellez, Monico Mirabal, Jose Fermin Gallegos, Romulo Barela, and perhaps many others whose names have been dimmed in the mist of history.

Jose Leon Tellez was born in Ranchos de Atrisco, New Mexico, and enlisted in Albuquerque as First Sergeant in Co. G, 3rd Regiment, New Mexico Volunteer Mounted Infantry. After he was discharged, he moved to Seboyeta, New Mexico, and lived there for twelve years, then moved to San Rafael in 1874. He was one of the first to file for a homestead, and established his claim for 159.77 acres in San Rafael on June 20, 1881. He also served as First Lieutenant, Co. K, 2nd Regiment Militia, Apache Campaign, under Captain Dumas Provencher, December 27, 1882. For many years he served as Justice of the Peace at San Rafael, and took a very active part in the civic and political life of the community. He owned extensive property and had a large orchard, garden and farm acreage. He died in 1914 at about 77 years of age.

Monico Mirabal came to San Rafael from Seboyeta, New Mexico, also. He had served in the Civil War in Co. 1, New Mexico Mounted Volunteers. He also served as 2nd Sergeant in Co. K, 2nd Regiment Militia, Apache Campaign, under Captain Dumas Provencher, December 27, 1882.7 He acquired extensive properties also, owning the large vega where tons of hay were harvested for many, many years. He was a stockman and also opened a store in San Rafael; the post office was established at his place of business for many years. He became one of the most prominent men in the community, also taking part in civic and political activities, and was highly respected by everyone. He died in 1898 at San Rafael.

Jose Fermin Gallegos was born at Ceboyeta, New Mexico, November 16, 1844. He served in the Civil War as a Private, Co. B, First Regiment, New Mexico Cavalry Volunteers. He returned to Seboyeta after he was discharged, and then came to San Rafael in 1873 as a farmer. He served as a First Sergeant in Co. K, 2nd Regiment Militia, Apache Campaign, under Captain Dumas Provencher, December 27, 1882.

Romulo Barela was born at Pajarito, New Mexico. He served as a private in the Civil War in Captain James Hubbell’s Infantry Division, New Mexico Mounted Volunteers. After his discharge he moved to Los Padillas in 1867, where he opened a small tendejon (store) in 1867. He also drove a wagon train freighting from Albuquerque to Independence, Kansas. He used to say it took six months to make the trip. They butchered buffalo on their way and dried the meat (jerky) and stored it in the buffalo hides. He also freighted from Albuquerque to Kit Carson, Colorado. A copy of a contract dated June 14, 1873, in our possession, states, “Barela train to take all the freight he can conveniently take and bring back not less than six thousand, five hundred nor more than ten thousand pounds from there to Albuquerque at the rate of two cents per thousand. The sum of $45 to be paid (him) in cash and the balance in merchandise from (C.W.Lewis) store in Albuquerque.” Also in our possession are six coupons for dealers in manufactured tobacco, Special Tax for the years 1845 and 1876.

In 1882, Romulo Barela came to San Rafael to look over the grazing land available for his flocks of sheep. Impressed with what he saw, he decided to remain, and accompanied by his wife, Maria Anastacia Apodaca de Barela and their only son, Eliseo Barela, he moved here. In 1883, he established a store and a saloon; the store continued to operate through members of the family from 1883 to 1959.

In 1885, Eliseo Barela returned to Pajarito, New Mexico, and married Peregrina Lobato and came back to establish a trading post among the Navajos at a place called La Parida. Their venture was successful, but as my grandfather’s business expanded, he sought my father’s help and Eliseo Barela returned to San Rafael where he took over the store and saloon management, and my grandfather, Romulo, assumed the ranching, sheep and cattle supervision. This arrangement remained until 1909, when my grandfather suffered a stroke of paralysis and was an invalid until 1921, when he died.

On August 24, 1885, Eliseo Barela and one hundred fourteen other residents of San Rafael joined together to draw up a Manifest to be sent to President Grover Cleveland and other officials in Washington, D.C. claiming the land in and around San Rafael as required by a law of the Legislature of New Mexico enacted on April 3, 1884. They stated in this Manifest that in the year 1869 when the United States troops abandoned the Old Fort Wingate (established in 1862) to go to establish what is now the New Fort Wingate, the settlers of Ojo del Gallo were invited by the Commanding Officer of the Post to come and occupy the lands of the Old Fort Wingate, which they did. They broke the ground, dug ditches, built houses and fences and established a town of about three hundred inhabitants. They called it San Rafael. The census rolls in the Coronado Room, Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico show 678 people at Ft. Wingate in 1870, but there is no record of the settlement at Ojo del Gallo.

Seboyeta, spelled Sevolleta in the 1870 census, had 581 people at that time while Cubero had 630. From the old records, it seems that the north end of San Rafael was settled by Ceboyeta and Cubero people while the south end was settled by people from the Rio Grande Valley.

My uncle, Anastacio Burgos, a goldsmith, came from Burgos, Spain, to settle and practice his trade in San Rafael.

In 1872-1876, a serious conflict developed between the Acoma Indians and San Rafael residents over the boundary of the Acoma Grant. Evidence seems to indicate that some of the Acoma Indians were given liquor and then persuaded to give false evidence as to the location of the Ojo del Gallo, according to information given to me by Dr. Myra Ellen Jenkins, State Historian, New Mexico State Record Center and Archives. After the matter was settled in favor of the Spanish settlers in 1876, early pioneers filed claims for homesteads and established them. Jose Leon Tellez was first, as previously mentioned, and was followed by Pablo Salazar on May 23, 1891; Francisco Mirabal on July 14, 1895; Manuel Garcia on December 30, 1881 and Perfilia C. de Otero on January 31, 1903.


The life line of the community was the acequia (community ditch). The original channel flowed south from the spring on what is now East Street in San Rafael, and in the early 1890’s, for convenience in irrigating the large fields and gardens, the channel was moved further east to the present site. Water pressure was so strong it took two men to handle the head gates. This acequia furnished water for domestic use, watering stock and irrigation. Rules of the acequia were strict: in March or April, water gates at the spring were opened to the Vega and the ditch allowed to drain. All those using this water, which included all families, were assigned one day’s work cleaning it. Those who owned alfalfa fields had to work or hire others to put in as many day’s work as each land “frontage” covered. A mayordomo was appointed each year to supervise the acequia and was paid $3.00 for each “frontage” a farmer owned. On the day the water was turned on, a farmer had to assign one man for each strip or “frontage” he owned to do the work. The length of this acequia was two and one-half to three miles and at the end drained into Section 23. During heavy rains in the summer and early fall, walls of water falling down the canyon would turn the acequia into a raging torrent and head gates at the spring north of town had to be opened to the Vega; after the acequia drained, it would have to be recleaned before any water could be used. Many homes had their own domestic wells which helped in times of crisis such as these.

Houses were built of adobe or terron. Adobe was made from mud mixed with straw and terrones were brick—size blocks cut out of the vega soil, which was always moist. This soil is volcanic ash with enough fertility for grass and weeds to grow, and after being thoroughly dried in the sun, furnished sturdy building material. The houses were roofed with vigas (beams) set on braces within the walls and covered with boards or planks; over a foot of dirt was piled on these for weather proofing. Walls, inside and outside, were mud-plastered and dirt floors were packed smooth and hard. Walls inside were whitewashed with jaspe, also called yeso (gypsum), which was brought in large chunks from Los Cerritos del Jaspe at the foot of Mt. Sedgwick. These chunks were broken up and put in the hot hornos (ovens) to bake, then pounded to fine powder and mixed with water, then applied with an hizote (piece of sheep pelt) to the walls.

Photograph of a grouping of five penitente crosses stuck in small piles of stones, San Rafael, New Mexico, ca.1900. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Photograph of a grouping of five penitente crosses stuck in small piles of stones, San Rafael, New Mexico, ca.1900. Via Wikimedia Commons.

All homes had an open fireplace in one corner of the room for warmth and for preparing food. Furniture was hand-hewn and in some cases hand-carved; hides or strips of leather were used for chair seats. Mattresses were filled with straw or virgin wool. Where no beds were available, the mattresses were folded neatly along the walls on planks. Floors were covered with hand-braided rugs or with thoroughly washed and dyed sheep pelts. Wool was washed with amole, cactus pounded, dried in the sun, then later swished like soap in water.


Three and four-foot high adobe walls were built around the backyards, called plazuelas, affording privacy. Here, the hornos were built where meat was barbecued, bread and chicos were baked. Chicos were ears of unhusked corn, cleaned thoroughly of silk. The husks were tied back on and after baking they were hung on lines to dry and then stored for winter use in stews with beans or chile. Blue corn was used mostly for posole, tortillas and tamales. Meat was cut into long, thin slices (jerky) and dried in the sun. Jerky was roasted over an open fire and also pounded on a special metate which had a deep well in the center. When pulverized, this meat was used as a basis for chili and soup or fried with onions. Strips of pork dipped in chili sauce and called tasajos were hung in the sun to dry. Pumpkins and melons were also cut into long tasajos and dried in the sun for winter use. Wealthy homes had at least three metates; one for meat, one for chili and one for corn.

People were resourceful and economical and not a particle of food was lost. Where possible it was dehydrated for future use. Quelites (wild spinach) and verdolagas (lambs quarter) grew all over the alfalfa fields and were relished as greens when boiled and then fried with onions and whole pinto beans. Tunas (prickly pears) were used for jellies, and lemita and capulin (wild cherry) as bases for beverages. Green coffee was roasted over the open fire and then ground; the roasted kind was also available and in time Arbuckle’s coffee was the favored brand. Packages of this coffee had coupons which could be cut out and sent to the company for redemption of many valuable articles, much on the order of the present-day trading stamps.

Chocolate was used more as a beverage than coffee. Large, heavy bars of chocolate were imported from Old Mexico. A very rich chocolate drink was made called champurrado which was highly relished. Maple sugar, called piloncillo, also imported from Old Mexico, came in long, thick cones wrapped in straw. Bunuelos (fritters), empanadas (turnovers) filled with pumpkin, fruit or ground meat, and chiles rellenos (green chiles filled with boiled ground meat using raisins and pinones, then rolled in egg and flour) were fried. A rich delicious sauce made with browned sugar, called melado, seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, was poured over the chiles. A very rich dessert seldom heard of now was marquesote made with twelve eggs, yolks and whites, on the order of present-day angel food cake. It was a very special wedding cake.

In the corrals were built the horse barns with stalls and also the chiqueros (pens built of heavy poles). These chiqueros had high tapeistes, platforms or lofts built on tall poles open on all sides, where alfalfa, hay and guaco (bee weed) were stacked high. Mangers built on the sides were filled with the feed dropped from these tapeistes and horses and cows were sheltered from heat and rain as they fed. Guaco is a nutritious legume whose pods are filled with seed. When dry, this weed was pounded with long sticks and the seeds were used as chicken feed.

Many of these early settlers were sheep and cattle raisers who also owned large alfalfa farms and garden plots. Persons who did not own land were given a chance to plant farms and gardens on shares. Other crops raised in San Rafael were wheat, sugar cane, corn and beans, much of the latter temporal (dry farming). According to my sister Mrs. lgnacita B. Romero, and Jose G. Sanchez, living now at Grants, Don Jose Leon Tellez owned a type of mill operated with a horse where sugar cane was processed and the syrup boiled and sold in the community. Another mill was owned by Preciliano Archunde. Wheat was taken to the pueblos where it was ground for flour.

With an abundance of water, all types of vegetables were raised. Almost all families owned chickens, a cow, horse or goat which helped them supplement their needs. Land to graze these was free as was all the fuel they needed, procured from the nearby hills and montes. Wages were meagre, but fortunately most patrones owned commissaries or stores where credit was extended to their workers; there was an old law, however, that persons who did not pay their debts could be put in jail, and many of these old-timers lived in virtual bondage throughout their lives, burdened with heavy debts.


Fr. Jose Rafael Chavez, a secular priest, was the first Catholic priest to serve in Ojo del Gallo, coming in the mid-1850’s. He resided in the community and built the first chapel here. It was a small adobe building which stood a few feet south of the present Guadalupe Grotto. At the time he left the church, he retained ownership of the chapel, and when he died around 1894, was buried in his vestments under the altar. Ownership of the chapel then passed on to his brother, Don Esquipula Chavez, who retained it intact. Years later, he, his wife and several adult members of his family, as well as several children, were buried inside this building, as was the custom in those days.

The little chapel became somewhat of a shrine and all funeral processions on the way to the cemetery stopped in front of it and said prayers for the dead buried there. Another old custom was the burying of several members of a family in one grave, and this was done in many cases in the old cemetery. The Chavez chapel was demolished in the early l930’s and is now a part of the Guadalupe Plaza.

Fr. Chavez was succeeded by Fr. Jean B. Brun, a French-Canadian secular priest. He was the brother of Mrs. Dumas Provencher. He was ordained in 1868, then served at Taos and Pecos before he was given charge of the churches of Laguna, Acoma and Zuni, and the chapels of Ceboyeta, Cubero, San Rafael and San Mateo. There is no definite information as to when he came to San Rafael, but in testimony on the boundary of the Pueblo of Acoma in October, 1884, Fr. Brun stated that he had lived in San Rafael for about ten years. This would put him in the area about 1873, which is probably the approximate date of the church.

He built his home, a large European-style frame structure located east of the acequia, directly east of the present Catholic church. He, his father and mother and sister, Maria, lived there, and for several years he celebrated Mass in the hall of his home. My aunt, Christine Perea de Lobato, who came here as one of the first teachers in 1885, helped him as his organist and soloist. Later, Fr. Brun built a small frame chapel just a few feet south of the present Catholic church. When his parents died, they were buried inside this little chapel, as were two of Mr. Dumas Provencher’s children. Mr. Provencher had married Fr. Brun’s sister, Maria, in 1874.


The Provenchers moved to La Jarita (Cuberito) where he established a saw mill. Later they moved to Blue Water where he bought mules for the government, according to Mrs. Moises Mirabal of Grants, New Mexico, Fr. Brun’s niece. Don Damacio, as he was called by the Spanish people, later moved to San Rafael and as a member of the Militia, during the uprising of the Apaches in 1882, he organized and served as Captain-Commander of Co. K, 2nd Regiment, New Mexico Volunteer Militia, December 27, 1882.


Politics has always been a burning issue in the hearts of our Spanish people, and one of the first elections in San Rafael on record was held in November, 1876, with others following in 1878, etc. One of the very hottest ones occurred in November, 1888. Captain Dumas Provencher, known as Don Damacio by the San Rafael people, and who with his brother-in-law, Fr. Brun, had become one of the most prominent citizens in the community, was appointed as a member of the Militia to supervise the election. Two Indians attempted to vote, and knowing they were not citizens, Captain Provencher refused to permit them to do so. That night, as he watched the tallying of the votes, it was said that chairs had been pulled back by the other election officials, and a shot rang through the window and he was killed. It was stated that one of the election officials, shot out the lamp to darken the room in an attempt to protect the men. One of the Indians, called El Coyote (half-breed) was suspected, but the evidence was circumstantial.

Two letters on file at the State Record Center in Santa Fe, written by very prominent citizens to Territorial Governor E.G. Ross, request that a large reward be offered by the Territory as well as one to be offered by the family in an effort to produce substantial evidence that the murder had been premeditated. There was strong evidence of an organized conspiracy not only to murder Don Damacio and two election officials, but to destroy poll books as well. It was felt that the life of an innocent man had been taken because the precinct had gone Democratic.

However, no evidence was ever produced and the murder was never solved. Captain Provencher was buried in the little frame chapel his brother-in-law, Fr. Brun, had built. This chapel was a landmark in the village until destroyed by fire in May, 1930, along with the large adobe church Fr. Brun had built in 1881 a few feet north of it.

After Captain Provencher’s death, Fr. Brun became involved in a controversy with some of the San Rafael residents, partly as an aftermath of his brother-in-law’s murder and partly because of the severe reprimands he gave the people for not attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. When his life was endangered, his friends urged him to leave. A rumor was circulated that he had left at night, disguised as a woman. This was an utter falsehood. My father stated that Fr. Brun had been loaned a horse by Jose Rafael Chavez, and accompanied by my grandfather, Romulo Barela, and another friend, Teodoro Chavez y Otero, had left at midnight, riding across the vega and over the malpais until they reached Los Alamitos (now Grants), where by mutual arrangement they met friends from Ceboyeta, New Mexico, who gave Fr. Brun safe escort to their homes in Ceboyeta. Fr. Brun remained there, according to his niece, Mrs. Moises Mirabal, until he received his assignment to Socorro, New Mexico, where he remained until his death in 1907. He was buried at Socorro temporarily, then his body was transferred to Rosario Cemetery at Santa Fe. His sister, widow of Mr. Provencher, later married Mr. Saiz MacDaniel and they moved in the early l900’s to La Jarita to operate a saw mill. Mr. and Mrs. MacDaniel were parents of Mrs. Moises Mirabal, the former Sarita MacDaniel.


After Fr. Brun left San Rafael there were no more resident priests. One would come from Gallup to celebrate Mass once a month, and, if needed, would make special trips. However, the faith was kept alive by various religious ceremonies conducted by the people of the community. At Easter time, the Hermanos (Penitentes) conducted their rituals, climaxed on Holy Saturday by a big dance.

Photograph of a penitente's cross near San Mateo (San Rafael?), New Mexico, ca.1898. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Photograph of a penitente’s cross near San Mateo (San Rafael?), New Mexico, ca.1898. Via Wikimedia Commons.

During the summer there were four feast days, namely St. John’s, St. Peter’s, St. James’ and St. Anne’s. On these days the women of the village would take the statue of the particular saint in the early dawn to the fields down below the town for a special blessing. On one occasion, as a child of about six or seven, I accompanied my grandmother on one of these processions. On the way back, and as the little shawl-clad ladies chanted the Ave Maria at the top of their voices, I looked up at the sky and I saw a very bright and beautiful star popping two or three times. I asked what it was and was told it was El Lucero – the morning star – and ever since then I have associated the Virgin Mary with the morning star.

The rest of the feast day was spent in merriment. The men would ride horseback around the village all afternoon. It was the custom to bury a live chicken in the road with just the head sticking out. As the men rode pell-mell past it, they would lean down and attempt to grab the chicken. If they succeeded, they would shout “Gallo” and get a prize. Also the families in whose home there was the saint’s namesake would give refreshments, which were called Gallo also. St. Anne’s day was the ladies’ day and they rode horseback all afternoon. At night there would be two or three dances to top the day. People would come from Ceboyeta, Cubero and San Mateo, and San Rafael households would have two and three guests at a time.

At Christmas time Las Posadas was celebrated. It is the story of the fruitless search for shelter by Mary and Joseph. A boy and girl, accompanied by several people, went from house to house asking for admittance, but nobody would admit them. These pleadings went on for nine days until Christmas Eve when the image of the Infant was deposited in the manger at the creche.

The other popular play was Los Pastores, the shepherds. Based on the Nativity, the main theme is the struggle between Good and Evil. The main characters are St. Michael the Archangel, The Devil, the lost shepherd and the other shepherds in the group. The staid and sedate Don Nabor Mirabal, Sr. as the lost shepherd was a scream. He would plunge into the group, big blue eyes spread all over his‘ face with a look of terror as he screamed, “Chispas, Senor, que me quemo, que me quemo!” (Sparks, Oh Lord, I’m burning, l’m burning!), the Devil pursuing close behind him. Nor could one ever forget Don Jose Andres Saavedra, Elias’ father, in the role of the Devil. A slender man, he would wear a tight-fitting jet black satin suit, two big black horns sticking out of his head and a long black tail bobbing up and down his back. Possessing a stentorian voice, he would shake the rafters as he roared, “Mi trono, vasallos,” and his two vassals flew to carry his many mirrored throne. Then as he charged through the aisle he would fling his challenge to St. Michael Archangel, perched high near the ceiling on a white shrouded ladder. “Saca tu espada, Miguel Valiente!” (Draw forth your sword, Oh Valiant St. Michael), and there would ensue a most realistic sword battle. Nothing phony about Don Jose Andres! We kids never breathed until his black neck lay writhing under the satin-shod foot of St. Michael. After that they would all join in singing a Christmas carol and wend their way to the manger to worship the newborn Babe.

Many years later I sat at the Metropolitan Opera watching a performance of Faust. As a renowned operatic star strutted across the stage in the role of Mephisto, I had a fleeting glimpse of Don Jose Andres as the Devil, and frankly, Don Jose Andres’ performance did not suffer in comparison. The inborn dramatic talent these staid and serious-minded men possessed was equal to professional actors, and they found their own ways of expressing themselves.


Fr. Brun was succeeded by Fr. George J. Juillard, a French secular priest, who came once a month from Gallup, New Mexico, to celebrate Mass at San Rafael. He served from l888 through 1909 and was assisted occasionally by Fathers A.A. Martin and M. Dumarest. Fr. Juillard left as, pastor in 1909. In 1910, the Franciscan Fathers were assigned to take over the parish and the first Holy Order priests to come to San Rafael were Fr. Florentine Meyers and Fr. Robert Kalt. Fr. Robert was assigned as pastor and served in this capacity until 1945. During his tenure, he built the convent and priest’s residence in San Fidel in 1928. When the San Rafael Church burned May 18, 1930, he immediately started plans to rebuild it and in 1933 a contract was given to Pringman Company of Albuquerque, and the new church was completed in 1934. He also built the first church in Grants, New Mexico, as well as the priests’ residence. Fr. Robert was a true follower of St. Francis, living a life of service and self-sacrifice, never too busy, too tired or too sick to help those whom he served. Perhaps no other priest in this area ever suffered more hardships than he did. He was an inspiration to all those fortunate enough to know him.


Early stores established in San Rafael from 1870 through 1900 were owned by Jose Rafael Chavez, Monico Mirabal, Manuel Padilla y Chavez, Romulo Barela, Dr. Burlew and Esquipula Romero, Eliseo Barela, and Nabor Mirabal and Bros. Almost all of these stores carried general merchandise including ready-to-wear, and firms in Albuquerque who supplied their needs were Ilfeld and Company (receipt in our possession for merchandise dated July 31, 1883); Spitz and Schuster (receipt of August 2, 1886); Gross Kelly; L.B. Putney; Rosenwald Brothers; The Economist (Lewinsons); and The Golden Rule. In the early l900’s H. J. Haverkamph, Solomon Bibo and Camille Weisskoff also had stores in San Rafael.

The Bond-Sargent Store, one of the largest mercantile firms aiding in the economy of San Rafael, was established in Grants in 1915. This firm sold wholesale and retail and handled everything from groceries to building materials, wool and sheep. The store manager was Mr. Leonard Bond. He had a son by the name of Charles. One of the early bookkeepers was George Anderman and the outside manager was Floyd Geis. Incidentally, “Charles, Anderman, Sargent and Geis Streets” in Grants were named for these men. (Geis is pronounced “Guyce” — not “Geese”!)

In 1928 Mr. Carroll G. Gunderson became manager of the firm and the name was changed to Bond Gunderson Store and so remained until very recently when it became The Furniture Mart. These firms for years not only provided employment to the citizens of San Rafael and Grants, but also aided the San Rafael firms in procuring hard-to-get merchandise from other areas, especially during the war years.


Saloons were owned in the early l880’s by Dumas Provencher, Romulo and Eliseo Barela and Silvestre Gabaldon. In the early l900’s, other saloon owners were Geronimo Ortiz, Zacarias Padilla, Ramon Padilla, Rodolfo Otero, Leopoldo Mazon, Tomas Apodaca, Fidel Aragon and Jose Andres Saavedra.

Saloons always seemed to do a flourishing business. In the years 1896-98 through the early l900’s, the annual fiesta was celebrated in late November when stockmen finished shipping their wool, lambs and cattle, and money was plentiful. Professional gamblers from Albuquerque would come to San Rafael then and set up their tables in the saloons on a percentage basis. With them came Mr. Joe Barnett who, according to my father, was an accomplished violinist, and, no doubt under the hypnotic spell of his music, many a local shark lost his shirt. A very well-to-do resident lost all he possessed in one night and his wife never forgave my father for having permitted these professionals to come to his saloon. My godfather, Demetrio Barela, as a young man in the l890’s, used to take them their trays of midnight lunch and receive tips of $5.00 gold pieces!

Mr. Barnett in later years became very prosperous and prominent. He built the Sunshine Theatre in Albuquerque in the 1920s.


In the early days, “dating” was unheard of. Young people met at the dances which were held almost weekly except during Lent. There were three types of dances: de gusto (pleasure), de mesilla (where they served refreshments), and de casorio (wedding), the last being very gala affairs. These dances were always well-chaperoned and no young ladies were permitted there unless accompanied by an adult. A bastonero (marshall) was always appointed and he saw that no disturbances occurred at the dance. Cupid had ample opportunity to fling his darts at these gatherings, but this did not always end at the altar. Parents had the last say and often marriages were arranged as family affairs and the girl or boy would have little to say. Many a satin train trailed a broken heart to the altar until the tenure of Fr. Kalt, when a young girl attired in her bridal outfit went in to the confessional and told him her parents were forcing the marriage. Needless to say, he came out and in a scathing sermon refused to perform the ceremony and dismissed them all! What became of the girl is not recalled, but this, no doubt, was the beginning of “Women’s Lib” in San Rafael!

When a marriage was agreed upon, the young man’s father would send word to the girl’s father to expect company on a given night. Then he, accompanied by several men, would call on the father of the girl, and, after a short conversation, would present the letter asking for the hand of the girl in marriage. The father would reply that he would answer sometime soon (usually a month, no less) as the girl could not be handed over “standing up.” If the reply was a refusal or calabazas (pumpkin or lemon) it would be sent in no time! A week later the lady relatives of the groom would pay a formal call on the girl, usually in the morning.

Immediately after the acceptance, the prendorio (engagement ceremony) was arranged. After inviting all their friends, the families would meet. A master of ceremonies was appointed and as the bride-to-be and the groom-to-be stood in the center, the master of ceremonies in an eloquent speech would present all the parties to each other. After that, the girl would take a seat and all her friends would shower her with money and gifts. Bridal showers as known today were unknown then. After refreshments, they would all proceed to the dance hall for the rest of the night.

On the wedding day, following Mass, the bridal party, accompanied by friends and, relatives, would walk from the church to her home: Musicians would accompany them and men friends would fire their pistols all the way to the house where the wedding feast would be served all day. In the evening they would have a formal dance, sponsored by the padrinos (groomsman and matron of honor).

The bride’s dowery, including wedding dress, veil, jewelry and other finery, was paid for by the groom’s family. This included the feast. The bride’s family was under no expense whatsoever.

An amusing anecdote regarding his romantic experience was told us by an elderly friend. When the time came for a young man to choose a bride, his father took him to a neighboring village where he knew of an eligible girl. They sent the proper notice about their arrival, but somehow they got there hours ahead of time and found the girl helping her mother bake bread in the outside horno. ‘Her head was covered with rag curls and her face was a solid mass of tierra blanca, a white, chalky powder the women used to use as a face mask! He took a look at her and wondered what he was going to get, but, being a dutiful son, didn’t say a word. At suppertime, in walked the girl to serve them – beautiful blond hair, blue eyes and rose petal complexion. He fell in love right away and they were married. As Don Vidal rolled over laughing, recounting his experience, one could sense the relief he must have felt when he found out he wouldn’t be saddled with a female Dracula for the rest of his days. This couple lived a long time and was one of the most devoted in the community.


Law and order were maintained under the justices of the peace and deputy sheriffs. Unfortunately, no records of the early-day justices of the peace were found in Los Lunas, Santa Fe Records Center or the Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, but the men definitely known to have served as justices of the peace in the 1880’s and early 1900’s were Jose Leon Tellez, for many, many years; Teodoro Chavez y Otero, Jose Leon Domingues, Juan Salazar y Otero, Manuel Padilla y Chavez and Casimiro Lucero. Casimiro Lucero was also a very fine goldsmith and all wedding rings and jewelry needed were handmade by him.

Likewise, names of the deputy sheriffs of the day were not listed. Don Carlos Baca, Valencia County sheriff for many years, when submitting his vouchers, seldom listed his deputies by name, but would just record payment made to “Deputy from San Rafael, or Cubero” or from whatever place he came.

Simplicio Marquez, who was killed in line of duty, and my father, Eliseo Barela, served as deputy sheriffs. My father had many a narrow call, two of which I recall having him tell us. On one occasion, accompanied by his uncle, Justo Apodaca, his constant companion, he went to Ramah to apprehend a criminal. When they reached the door and knocked, it was opened and two guns were levelled at their heads. My father explained he was there in the name of the law and finally persuaded the relatives to permit him to arrest the man. On another occasion, as he boarded the train at Grants with his prisoner, the man’s relative whipped out a gun to shoot my father, but Uncle Justo’s quick action in pressing a sharp-bladed dagger to his ribs, forced the man to drop his gun. At times, he would lock up his prisoner in our parlor and place guards outside under the windows and by the door in the hall, until the next day when he could take the man to Los Lunas. That was a very exciting day for us children! Mementos of his days as a sheriff in our possession are his silver badge, the above-mentioned dagger, and a leather-covered steel “billy.”


Public schools in San Rafael were established in the 1880’s, but there is no record of teachers serving. Those known to have taught were Mrs. Christine Perea de Lobato, and in the early 1900’s, Don Federico Mirabal, Don Telesfor Mirabal and his wife, Dona Josefita Montoya de Mirabal. For some years the school was closed, but in 1912 a fine, well-equipped school was built. The first directors of this school were Silvestre Mirabal, Eliseo Barela and Rodolfo Otero. This school building burned to the ground in the l930’s and a new building was later erected under W.P.A. funds.

In 1898-99, the American Missionary Association of New York established a mission school in San Rafael. Staffed by well-trained and highly dedicated teachers, this little school continued in operation for about twenty-two years. First superintendent was Dr. Burlew; his assistant teachers were his wife, his sister Grace, and Miss Stuppi. Dr. Burlew was succeeded by Dr. Josiah Heald, who was superintendent for many years. He and his wife both taught, and their children, Clarence, Kenneth, Bessie and Josiah, Jr., all attended school here. Years later, Clarence became a renowned geologist and Bessie returned as a teacher in this school.

School house at the pueblo of San Rafael, New Mexico, ca.1900. Via Wikimedia Commons.
School house at the pueblo of San Rafael, New Mexico, ca.1900. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Other early-day teachers were Miss Honore DeBusk, and two who served the longest and were best remembered for their un-tiring efforts to inspire their students to further their education were Miss Ora Hester, who came around 1904, and Miss Ida L. Frost. Miss Hester in later years married Mr. Henry Brook and was elected Public School Superintendent for McKinley County. For several years, this little school was the only source of elementary education available for the children in the community. Three students who received their early training in this school, namely, Misses Margaret, Beneranda and Cipriana Otero, in later years returned as very efficient teachers in the public school. Through the efforts of Miss Frost, my late brother, Jesus, and Tom Garcia, proprietor of the Red Ball Garage in Grants, took their courses in auto mechanics at the old College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Las Cruces – today New Mexico State University.

Dr. Charles Grover, with his wife, mother and foster daughter, Rena Childers, came to San Rafael around 1906 or ‘07. He was the first to own an automobile and was an expert mechanic. Under his able instructions, Don Daniel Chavez, Sr., father of Esquipula Chavez, and son, Crecensio Chavez became the first auto mechanics in San Rafael. The Grovers moved to Grants around 1914.


San Rafael has always been well-represented in the economic and political history of New Mexico. Among those who contributed most as a family group in this capacity were the prominent sons of Don Monico Mirabal, “pioneer settler in the community. All of them were stockmen and property owners. Eldest of the six was Don Silvestre Mirabal. Born at Ceboyeta May 10, 1864, he was brought to San Rafael as a child. He became one of the wealthiest men in the county. In the early l900’s he was elected “assessor and treasurer of Valencia County; he served in the territorial legislature and in 1910 was elected chairman of the State Constitutional Convention; following statehood in 1912 he again served in the Legislature. He was named delegate to the New Mexico Rivers and Streams Commission and also to the National Rivers and Streams Commission. In 1916, he served as president of the Citizens Bank in Albuquerque.

He possessed a keen sense of humor and took a great delight in assuming the garb of a poverty-striken man, no doubt to poke fun at the airs assumed by the “would-be-rich” and to show those less fortunate than he that to be poor was no disgrace. On the proper occasions he would wear frock coat and silk hat with the ease and aplomb of a New York City tycoon. Don Silvestre was active until the day of his death, October 9, 1939.

Don Nabor Mirabal served as assessor and was deputy treasurer to his brother, Don Silvestre, during the latter’s second term. In 1908 he was delegate to the old Irrigation Congress held in Albuquerque, and in 1909 when it was held in Washington. In 1909 he was a delegate to the Farmers’ National Congress held in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1919, he sold his sheep interests in San Rafael and moved to Albuquerque to open a store there.

He returned some years later to San Rafael and in the early l930’s was a leader in assisting Fr. Robert rebuild the church which burned in May, 1930.

Federico Mirabal was a teacher in the public school in the early l900’s and while still quite young contracted pneumonia and died.

Telesfor Mirabal was also a teacher in the public school, along with his wife, Dona Josetita. He also served as deputy treasurer during his brother Silvestre’s first term as treasurer. He later moved to Albuquerque and then to California.

Jose Rafael Mirabal was a prominent stockman also and later moved to Albuquerque where he made his home for the rest of his life.

Gilberto Mirabal attended New Mexico Institute and later. St. Michael’s College in Santa Fe. He lived practically all his life in Santa Fe where he was employed in the Capitol for many years. In 1927, when my sister was his secretary in the State Comptroller’s office, he told her he had worked in practically every office in the capitol, from “sharpening pencils in the basement” to State Comptroller. He also served as Director of the Motor Vehicles Department. He remained active in the political circles of Santa Fe until his retirement in the mid-1960’s.

Another prominent man of the early days was Don Leopoldo Mazon. Handsome and dignified, he was a typical Spanish grandee and never was seen wearing Western clothes, but was always dressed in expensive tailored suits, fine hat and shoes, and with an expensive cigar in his mouth. He was rated a millionaire and owned vast lands, including La Tinaja Ranch, and real estate in Albuquerque and elsewhere. He also owned large herds of sheep, cattle and horses.

On one occasion, he let down the bars of dignity and came in my father’s saloon. After a few drinks, he looked up and saw himself in the mirror. Not liking what he saw, apparently, he whipped out his pistol and shot the mirror to splinters. Knowing he was drunk, my father did not say anything. Next day Mr. Mazon came to my father full of apologies and told him to buy the best mirror he could get. My father did, and today that mirror adorns the north wall of our living room – a memento of the foibles of Don Leopoldo Mazon.

In 1913, as Mr. Mazon alighted from his carriage at La Tinaja, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was buried at his ranch. His wife and son survived, but neither was capable and in a few years squandered their fortune. Both died in dire poverty years later.


In 1917 the tenacles of war reached the village of San Rafael and among the young men called to the colors were Amado Otero, Frank and Solomon Sema, Rafael Manuel Gabaldon, Severo Chavez, Gabino Blea, Eugenio Chavez, Perfilio Onopa and Eutimio Chavez. Eutimio Chavez was killed in action shortly after he arrived in France, and around 1919 his body was returned and the first military funeral was held in San Rafael.

November 22, 1918. The recruiter met young men at the railroad station and selected mostly single men.
November 22, 1918. The recruiter met young men at the railroad station and selected mostly single men.

In September 1918 the dreaded Spanish Influenza struck San Rafael and not a day went past that the church bell did not toll to announce the death of someone until about the end of November. Hardly anyone escaped the “flu” and whole families were practically wiped out. A pall of gloom fell over San Rafael for many months.

In 1919 the stock market fell, and, as a result, the stockmen of the village sustained heavy losses, as there was no price for wool and they had to store it for about two years. On top of this an epidemic of scabies struck cattle and for the first time in the history of New Mexico cattle had to be dipped. A large dipping vat was built at Toltec, New Mexico, and in June 1920 cattle dipping began. It was an impressive sight to watch these frantic, wild-eyed animals being guided through the dipping vat.

In 1920 many of the men left for the lumber camps to find employment, and several families moved to Arizona. The pumice mines were started in 1920, affording employment and aiding the economy of San Rafael.

In the late summer or early fall of 1922 an earthquake was felt in San Rafael around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. A loud, rumbling noise as if tons of rock were being dropped on the roof was heard; tables and chairs shook and dishes rattled. Practically everyone ran outdoors and this became the topic of conversation for a long time.

In 1923 Tommie Thompson., a student at the University of New Mexico, landed his airplane in San Rafael when it developed engine trouble. The next day (Sunday) after repairing it, he offered rides at $5.00 per person. I begged and cajoled my sister Marie to go up with me and finally persuaded her to climb in. While flying high, I looked at her – her eyes were shut, her face was as white as a sheet, and there was a look of terror all over it! Fortunately, she was wedged tight between Tommie and me, for when the plane landed, it bounced up and I shot forward. My nose made contact with the cowl of the plane. Fortunately, no serious injury occurred and the enjoyment I got out of the sky ride was worth the risk!

In 1925, the Breece Lumber Company, later Prestridge and Seligman, was established and offered employment to many in San Rafael.

In 1929, during the Great Depression, other companies which were established and aided the economy of our village were the telephone company and the light company. The Grants Union High School was built in 1929, and the members of the first Board of Education were my father, Eliseo Barela, president; Jerry McBride, vice—president; and Carroll Gunderson, secretary. The school was dedicated in September 1929 with Governor Dillon the main speaker. On the program was a Mr. Scholder, ticket agent for the Santa Fe Railway Company, who played a cornet solo. I was asked to come from Albuquerque, where I was employed, to accompany him on the piano. The afternoon of the dedication, a torrential rain fell and I had to wade through the mud and scrape red, glue-like Grants clay off my brand new shoes before I could appear on stage. After the program, my father had to phone for his team of mules to pull our heavy Paige car out of almost hub-deep mud. Ever since then, I have avoided unpaved areas in Grants – that red clay literally petrifies when it dries!

Other companies which have contributed much to the economy of San Rafael have been the pumice mines (1936); flourspar mines, later Zuni Milling Company (1940); Harmon & Reed, later Stanley & Card Vegetable Companies (1938); the box factory; and New Mexico Timber Company, later Prestridge Lumber Company (1945).

In 1947, the Sherman Production Company filmed the movie Paso Por Aqui (later the name was changed to Four Faces West) in San Rafael. Star performers in this movie were Joel McCrea and his wife, Frances Dee. One of the supporting actors was Charles Bickford. The movie was filmed around the Barela Mercantile. Company; the only stipulation my father made was that the residents of San Rafael be given an opportunity to work. Practically everyone in the village was given a chance as extras, laborers, guards at night, and teams and wagons were hired for use in the film, which was a western.

In 1930 the life-line of the village, the acequia, went dry, due to the drought and perhaps excessive use by industries, which lowered the water table. An emergency existed, but through the efforts and hard work of many of the men of the community, led by the late Justo Murrietta, a grant was obtained from the State, and a deep water well for domestic use was drilled. Strict regulations were established, and water restricted for domestic use only, with the exception of five or six head of livestock. No gardens were permitted and the curtain fell on all farming in the area, except for one or two owners who were able to drill deep irrigation wells.

Early in 1950, the uranium mines were opened in the Ambrosio Lake and surrounding areas; these mines have employed many, many men from San Rafael, affording them the largest salaries ever paid in the history of this area. Along with the mines came large supermarkets and chain stores giving employment to many of the citizens of Grants and San Rafael.

In 1962, a parish hall was constructed and blessed. It was since been enlarged.

The mission remained under the care of the Franciscans until 1971 when it was again named a parish.

Bishop Hastrich at a San Rafael parish celebration.
Bishop Hastrich at a San Rafael parish celebration.

The parish, with its Spanish culture congregation, is very active and growing in numbers and activities.


1. Bolton, Herbert E. Coronado on the Turquoise Trail, Knight of Pueblos and Plains. (Coronado cuarto centennial publications, 1540-1940, Coronado Historical series, v.I Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1949. pp. 213-215.

2. Wilson, John P. Military Campaigns in the Navajo Country, Northwestern New Mexico, 1800-1846. (Museum of New Mexico Research Records, no.5, p.20) Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1967.

3. Stacey, May Humphreys. Uncle Sam’s Camels: the Journal of May Humphreys Stacey supplemented by the Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale, 1857-1858. ed. by Lewis Burt Lesley. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1929.

4. U.S. War Department. Archives. Washington, D.C.

5. U.S. Land Office, Santa Fe, N.M. Records.

6. Records taken from Adjutant General, State Record Center and Archives, Santa Fe, NM.

7. Ibid.

8. Valencia County, New Mexico. Records, Book A-6, p.326.

9. Jose G. Sanchez was the son of Patricio Sanchez who came here in 1896 from E1 Rito, New Mexico. Don Patricio was a prominent farmer, rancher and stockman.

10. There is no record of Fr. Chavez’ tenure in the Archives of the Archdiocese.

11. Information furnished by Dr. Myra Ellen Jenkins, New Mexico State Record Center and Archives, Santa Fe, N.M.

12. Records taken from Adjutant General, New Mexico State Record Center and Archives, Santa Fe, N.M.


  1. We drive throigh San Rafael on trips to Albuquerque from St Johns AZ. The immense white house with blue tile roofing is an eye popping part of the area. What is its story?


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