Hey Everyone – I recently caught the cold bug, which took me out for quite some time. I hadn’t been sick for more than 2.5 years, despite all of the moving and drastic change in climate (Ukraine to New Mexico & New Mexico to Southern California), so, my body seemed to have forgotten what it was like to be sick. I usually pride myself for being one tough cookie, but I honestly couldn’t handle it this time around and stayed in bed for a couple of days and slept. En lieu, I am behind on some projects, but will be working hard to catch up, so, stay tuned and thank you for your commitment. In the meantime, I want your help, por favor. My blog is starting to really pick up. I’m gaining BIG numbers in visitations and subscriptions from all over the world every day and with Google Analytics and Disqus, I am able to monitor my readers’ engagement with my content, such as their comments, which is also growing. This activity helps rank my blog on Google and Bing as being cool AF, which equals more exposure, more traffic and more lifetime readers – you get the deal. For example, just one month ago, I was ranked on page eight of Google pages. Now I am ranked on page three, with the goal of eventually being ranked number one. So, you’re probably asking yourself right now, “if things are this good, why is she asking for my help?” Well, simply put, I need more engagement and more readers, no amount is ever too much, really, and with your help, we can speed up the process. So, here is how you can help me, please: leave me comments on my blog pages – yes, even the old posts, share my blog and blog posts with your friends and recommend my posts at the footer of each blog story with the Disqus plugin (shown with a little heart icon). Yep – it’s that easy. Maybe you know someone who likes short stories about human interests, places, things, history, the outdoors, music and whatever have you (because you know I cover it), then please share my blog with them. Every time someone interacts with my blog, I get one step closer to achieving my goal of having MAJOR readership. I really can’t wait to see how my blog will evolve over time and I thank you so much for being with me on this journey. Well, without further ado, here is a blog story about all that I’ve learned in a little unknown place called Los Lunas, New Mexico.
“I’m visiting my cousin in Los Lunas this weekend,” I told my dad.
“Oh! You’re going to the moon?” he asked.
Many significant moments in history shaped this village. Two bloodlines carved its name on the map as we know it today. A grand visitation by one of the most revered American presidents took place here. The lore of Southwest Native American culture and the age-old Spanish belief in wandering spirits has kept superstitious villagers at the edge of their seats indefinitely. And the floodwaters of the Rio Grande, the fifth longest river in North America, have left life, death and struggle in its wake. But, when looking at Los Lunas, with its infinite alfalfa and chile fields and original adobe homes that line the Rio’s banks, homes that are still inhabited by the same traditional and quiet New Mexican families that built this village from the ground up, this series of historical events becomes so very unsuspecting and, quite frankly, overlooked for their importance in the carving of America’s Southwestern history.
Much of New Mexican history and inhabited geography is designed by the times and power of Spanish Viceroyalty. The San Clemente land grant, which makes up Los Lunas, is no outlier to this. It was given to Don Felix Candelaria in 1716, by the Spanish Colonial empire. It was subsequently owned by the Luna family in 1899, given to by the US government, but I cannot find any record as to why it changed ownership. In a book I found online titled New Mexico – A Guide To The Colorful State, there is an excerpt quoted from old Spanish archives and written about the will of Antonio de Luna, who died at the hands of the “enemy Apaches” on June 9, 1779. The excerpt lists various items that are reflective of life back then and how they held such value and importance that they simply do not hold today; like a pair of trousers and a jacket, or some wooden benches and a sculpture of Infant Jesus. The book states that when accounting for the inheritance, Antonio’s widow reported that much of the tools were already worn out and useless, that she had to pay 40 ewes of 600 as a burial fee for her dead husband, while another 300 died of carelessness and the plague of lice, and the trousers, well, she was the one who purchased them for Antonio in the first place and for four masses, but, for which she had since lost the receipt.
Despite such hardship, the Luna family prospered, bringing in new generations to run the gamut of political prowess and civic servitude for which the family came to be known. Through the Luna Family, Belen also known as Bethlehem, a community ten miles south of Los Lunas, came into the picture; with the marriage of Antonio Jose Luna of Los Lunas and Isabella Baca of Belen. Together, they formed a matrimonial union that tied and controlled both villages for nearly a century.
Interesting fact about Belen is that it was originally a settlement provided by Spanish authorities for the Genízaros. According to the traditional short definition, Genízaros are Indian captives sold to Spaniards who then became household servants. Most Genízaros in New Mexico were Plains Indians captured by other Plains tribes and then sold to individual Hispanos or Pueblos.
In modern history, Belen is also known for its controversial placement of a nativity scene at the village’s center and main drag, which was paid for using state funding through taxpayer dollars. The ongoing argument over this installment is that of a separation of church and state and whether it exists in small places at which politics and family powers are one in the same.
In 1808, the son of Antonio and Isabella, his name was Salomon, married Adelaida Otero of Antonio Jose Otero of Valencia. Their marriage brought together a new bloodline, the Luna-Otero’s, who also dominated the county’s future for years to come.
One of the major influences that the Luna-Otero family had on the village was the induction, construction and capitalization of the Santa Fe Railroad. For the first time in Territorial Period New Mexico, the people had an advanced means of facilitating movement of livestock, hay, supplies and general merchandise throughout the state.
The famous one-of-its-kind, adobe and terron victorian southern colonial Luna Mansion is an effect of the Santa Fe Railroad, as it was built as a gift to the Luna-Otero family in exchange for the right-of-way through the Luna-Otero extensive land grant holdings. Today, The Luna Mansion is ran as a historical restaurant with a spirit lounge that serves the delectable Teddy’s Rough Rider cocktail, made of white rum, honey and lemon juice.
Teddy’s Rough Rider
One of the first things I took in about the Luna Mansion was its quaint country vibes, imbedded in the well-mannered gestures of its rural county folk who sipped on spiced rum with orange bitters and topped with maraschino cherries, while they dined on Los Lunas-originated cuisines, such as enchiladas served with frijoles and posole. I could tell, just by looking at them, that they had deep roots in American history; just like that of the Luna Mansion’s polished wood floors beneath their cowhide boots and just like the lace ribbed cotton-white napkins that they tucked in their starch-ironed collars, decorated with bulky turquoise bolo ties.
The second thing I took in about the Los Lunas mansion was its columned facade and painted glass windowpanes; the same ones that in 1910, established men of Valencia County and our exuberant personality of a president, Theodore Roosevelt, looked through with candied rum in their hands, as they cheered to the signing of New Mexico’s constitution. That following year, New Mexico became the 47th State drafted into the federation.
When I was visiting the Luna Mansion with my cousin, I sparked conversation with the owner on my way out; I was in the mood for just a bit more conversation after having enjoyed that hearty cocktail named after Teddy Roosevelt in the upstairs spirit room. The owner, Farid, noticed that my cousin and I were admiring a photo of a young soldier hanging on one of the rustic walls and so he explained to us that the soldier photographed was a Rough Rider; a member of the cavalry unit in which Theodore Roosevelt fought during the Spanish-American War. Farid then showed us a present-day framed photo of the mansion’s parlor, lit with 21st century lighting fixtures, the same parlor in which we were standing, but with a clear-as-day reflection in the large open front windowpane of a life size stature of the same young man in the photo on the wall. He was in his full Rough Rider uniform and getup and with a musket over his shoulder; he was an apparition, but he was real and of course my body became consumed with eerie goosebumps. The experience was truly unreal!
Spirits, and not the kind you drink
The Luna Mansion isn’t the only place in Los Lunas known for its haunting stories of restless spirits and things that go bump in the night. On our way through the Los Lunas country one dark summer night, the road before us lit by our headlights and the glow of the penumbral moon, my cousin told me that if I followed highway 319 North, that I would make it into the Isleta Reservation, where the Tewa people reside. He told me that there are stories he knows of skinshifters, ones he’s heard from his Tewa classmates back in grade school. Skinshifters appear to be a common story shared by many Southwestern Native American traditions relating to witch’s legendary abilities. These adepts allegedly are able to transform into a variety of animal forms. They can also allegedly use various animal’s body parts to transform some aspect of their humanness into that of a desired animal. Some accounts in the Northern Rio Grande pueblos mention the ability to change into fire-balls, or “flaming bowls” when they need to travel somewhere extremely fast. Where are they going and what is their agenda? According to legend, these adepts are said to meet regularly in enclaves in caves or by large, isolated rock formations.
You have probably guessed that I have not driven on that road since learning this lore.
The flooding Rio Grande
Since before the Rio was irrigated and engineered into the Rio we know it to be today, it was a rambunctious Rio of sorts, with a clear channel that broke off into little channels that carved their routes through budding bosques and which dangerously flooded every year and, thus, put villagers and their livelihood in severe danger. In the village of Tome, which is about six miles south of Los Lunas, there is one such story of the Rio flooding, that illustrates the community’s devoutness to the immaculate and how the Rio’s unpredictability was simply a way of life.
In 1739, 125,000 acres were granted to 30 families by the Spanish Crown and thus Tome was formed. One of the greatest prides of a Spanish colonial village of this time was its church, so Tome built its church of Immaculate Conception, which today stands. Relics, retablos and bultos adorned the church in baroque style, a little Santo Niño sat in one corner with a blood colored velvet robe, a pair of new shoes placed beside him, the old pair was replaced because the villagers believed that the baby wanders at night, helping those in need. In the distance, on Tome Hill, a man has erected three crosses, a tribute to his fallen sons, a promise to God that he would pray in front of each cross for their safe return. Beyond the church are homesteads with livestock and healthy crops, everything blooming with life as the Rio, at its foreground, nourishes the land and the living with its northern sediments and minerals. But all doesn’t remain peaceful here, because the Rio begins to flood, causing the townsfolk to flock for their most prized belongings, in search of higher elevation, to save themselves and the things they cannot live without. Among the saved possessions are the relics from the church. Everything and everyone has been taken to the top of Tome Hill, where they are now shrouded by the shadows of the three great crosses.
These relics can be seen today, in the outdoor museum, protected behind warped old glass, that stands beside the Tome church.
The Tome Hill, you ask? Well, it’s still there, garnished with three massive white crosses to which the devout take pilgrimage every Good Friday, on their hands and knees and sometimes with crosses on their backs.
The Los Lunas Institution
Climbing to high places in search of safety isn’t a new story to the folks of Los Lunas who neighbor the old training school with its brick and mortar and midcentury modern architecture. According to my cousin, the place used to be an institution for folks with learning disabilities, but it eventually closed down for alleged abuse and neglect, sometime in the 1980’s. It later became a women’s recovery station, where battered women, some addicted to crime, drugs and the streets would go to get “fixed”. According to village lore, one such battered woman, a murderess who got sick of her husband’s abuse and inflicting pain, was an inmate of this facility and in a wild rage, escaped its confines and was later found atop the village’s water tower, cursing at the moon in a disheveled craze. Eventually, the women’s recovery station closed down too and fell under ownership of the state, now housing the state police office and the Department of Motor Vehicle.
Secrets of a small place
As I was trying to summarize the agricultural communities that make up Los Lunas, I thought it better that I reach out to an old Instagram follower who knows the area better than I. So, I asked Brandon, whose family owned a farm in Los Lunas, to describe the village for me, to tell me something that would lure someone unknowing of this place to visit one day, something about it that would make them say, “well, imagine that.” But to my surprise, what he told me wasn’t about fantastical ghosts or some wild religious lore or about the drama and demise within a longstanding family bloodline… rather it was simpler, something a little more neat and wholesomely American.
“People here are all about family and traditions. Lots of mantanzas and chicharrones! Friday nights are a no club scene, more like backyard BBQ’s and just hanging out with family and friends. Even though it’s growing like crazy, it still has the small town feel to it. No rat race here, and you will get stuck behind tractors every now and then.”