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John Mocho: The Story of a Basque Rancher and the Mocho Ranch

By Linda Tigges

Immigrants from the Basque country that lies between France and Spain have come to New Mexico in a tradition that extends at least as far back as Onate in the 1600s and Anza in the 1700s. Two Basque settlers who arrived in the United States around the turn of the last century were James and John Mocho. They combined homestead land and leased land into a sheep and cattle operation in northern New Mexico that at one time contained 115,000 acres. The ranch proper, sometimes known as the Bonanza Creek Ranch or later as the Jarrett ranch was located between Santa Fe and Madrid, south of I 25, east of La Bajada, and west of US 285.

John Mocho, the son of a wine grower, came to the United States in 1901 from southern France. He joined his older brother who was working on a sheep ranch in Oregon. In 1909, his younger brother, James, joined him in New Mexico, working in the sheep business. Eventually, both John and James made their way to Las Vegas where they were able to buy a herd of sheep, grazing them on open range wherever they could find water. The Mocho brothers purchased a ranch in Capitan and married the daughters of a nearby homesteader, Thomas Shoemaker, before moving to other areas in New Mexico. John Mocho purchased a cattle ranch in Magdalena and James Mocho bought the "Bonanza grant" in Santa Fe where he had a milking operation. After a successful cattle venture in Magdalena, John retired, but in 1934 took up sheep ranching again, buying James Mocho's Santa Fe property. John Mocho remained at the ranch with his family until the 1940s when he moved to Arizona following a massive heart attack. Much of the information about the Mochos’ ranch was provided by two of his children, Neva Mocho Coleman, and Jim Mocho.

The ranch headquarters, which remains today, is sited in the vicinity, if not at the actual location, of the headquarters of the 17th century Marquez estancia. Both Neva and Jim Mocho remember that among the barracks and ranch buildings was a building that had been used as a stage coach station. Jim recalls someone finding an old fifty caliber single shot buffalo gun that had been buried there, and also remembers that there was a “Penitente village” of about a half dozen families on the mesa towards the east end of the valley. "At Easter they went to the top of the hill nearby, the cone shaped hill you can see from the Interstate, and put a little cross there. On Good Friday, they would tie someone to the cross." Deed records show that the property was part of the Los Cerrillos Grant, one of the three grants that formed the basis of the Mocho ranch. The records also show that In the 1850s this grant was sold by the Delgado family to Don Jose Leandro Perea, a well-to-do sheep rancher and rico from Albuquerque. Perea, or his heirs subsequently sold the land to the Padilla family, including Pablo, Pedro, and Oriol, (uncles of Pablo Perez quoted below) who had been buying grant land in the area from the 1850s to early 1900s. The chain of title is confused, but the lands, sometimes called La Bonanza, Bonanza Creek, Cerrillos Ranch, or old Cerrillos, as well as the recorded grant names, were in the hands of the Padilla and Rio Grande Livestock Company when purchased by the Mochos.

Both Neva Mocho Coleman and Jim Mocho have clear memories of their family’s ranching operations. Like the Pereas and Delgados and other Spanish settlers within the area going back to the mission estancias of the 1600s, sheep ranching was their main livelihood. In addition to sheep, John Mocho had 65 milk cows, was a charter member of the New Mexico Cattlemans' Association, and raised alfalfa.

The ranch house was large and built by A.J. Thomas, a former owner. Letta Wofford, 90 years old at the time of the interview in 1990, a long-time resident of the area, said that the Mochos had a "wonderful big house under the trees." There were several ponds by the house, some of which were 12 to 13 feet deep on one end which were kept stocked with trout and bass. Because the Archbishop would sometimes come and fish in the pond, the Mocho family called them the Holy Lakes. Neva Coleman says that because there were so many people to feed, sometimes up to 28 a day during the haying season, and lambing and shearing, help came from Santo Domingo and other locations. John Mocho could apparently speak three Indian dialects as well as French, Basque, Spanish, and English. Family photos show him with a large handlebar moustache.

Though the ranch was sometimes called Bonanza and the creek now called Cienega was called Bonanza Creek, the little town of Bonanza was back in the hills. It was prosperous enough at one time to boast a two-story building where Lew Wallace was supposed to have written part of Ben Hur in the 1880s. Wallace had apparently invested in mineral rights in the area.

According to Jim Mocho, it became clear to his father that the days of open grazing would not continue and that purchase or leasing of large amounts of land was necessary for ranchers. As the highway department and homesteaders fenced their land, ranchers needed access to lands of their own or to leased land. Those who depended on the open range were ruined. In order to ensure adequate land for his sheep and cattle herds, John Mocho leased several large holdings and began to purchase other land in the area, mostly small holdings from homesteaders who wished to sell. Nearly all of homestead lands were to the east of the ranch headquarters. Jim Mocho says that his father built many of the fences in the Rancho Viejo area and tried to convince others to do so as well, once buying an entire railroad car full of barbed wire in Albuquerque. In an interview in 1990, Pablo Perez, who lived nearby and who worked for the Mochos as a sheepherder, said that John Mocho finished the fence around 1940 and then he didn't need sheepherders.

While John Mocho by no means purchased all of the homestead parcels to the east of the Los Cerrillos grant, upon sale of the property in 1943, the title abstract showed that he owned 25,253 acres, including the Sitio Juan de Lopez, Sitio de Los Cerrillos, and Los Cerrillos grants, and portion of the Sebastian De Vargas grant. He also had leases from the Cherokee and Pittsburgh Coal and Mining Company, Ortiz Mine Grant, Lamy Grant, Seton Village, Taylor Grazing, Beckner Estate, J.A. Armijo, the Padilla family, Harry Davis, and owners of several other smaller parcels. In addition he had a forest permit for summer grazing to run 1,300 sheep with lambs on approximately 20,000 acres of forest.

According to Jim and Neva, the ranch, including all of the leased land, supported 10,000 to 12,000 head of sheep, divided into four bands. Each band had a herder and a camp tender or a cook, with each herder given his own coffee grinder and so much coffee. The herders slept in tents. In the summers, the sheep were herded up to the mountains to an area near Cowles, New Mexico. Neva remembers that, "The head herder would cook and pack and move the camp with burros. Each herder had about 1,000 sheep." Jim states that there were sheep dogs too and that his father could give one of the dogs directions about where to move the sheep by waving his hat. The dogs would separate a sheep or the ewes and bucks with hand signs. Pablo Perez said that he left school and began herding sheep on the Mocho Ranch. "I was only nine, and I had 300 head of sheep and at night I would wait until they all laid down and I would lay down in the middle of them. I was afraid of the coyotes." He added that sheepherders were used until World War II, when fences went up and all of the labor went to California.

A clear memory for both Jim and Neva was the shearing of the sheep for the wool buyers. The shearing was mechanized to some extent, a reflection of John Mocho's interest in new ideas. The ranch had electricity, a stationary hay bailer, and a wind mill with a generator with a Delco diesel generator battery backing up the water pump. Jim stated that, "Sheep shearing took place in a large tent, about 20 by 30 feet, with a gasoline engine from a Model T with a belt and a rod that went along the top of the tent to operate the clippers. It was mechanical, a little like the old dentist’s machine. There were several shearers on each side. The sheep would come in with their feet tied. Then the shearers would throw the wool into the wool sack. It must have been eight feet high. My job was packing down the wool, and I just stayed in there until the wool piled up and I could get out." Pablo Perez remembers that the sheep were sold in May and were shipped to the railroad by truck. Henry McKinley, a neighbor who now leases some of the former Mocho ranch land said that a water tank that belonged to the ranch was covered with names and on it was written, "1920 (or maybe 1929). We're coming through here with sheep to Lamy.”

Though sheep apparently dominated the economy of the ranch, John Mocho also raised cattle. By the 1930s, trucks were used to load and sell cattle at Lamy where the big stockyards were located. Pablo Perez remembers driving cattle to the trucks and taking them to the big corrals there. Neva Mocho Coleman recalls driving cattle east from the ranch headquarters south of La Cienega to the railroad station and shipping corrals in Lamy. "Charlie Trujillo and I drove them, and I remember that it was so cold that the water was frozen on the outside of the pipes on a well we went past on our way."

There are earlier memories of long cattle drives. Jim Mocho remembers his father talking about driving cattle from Magdalena to Albuquerque in the years before the move to Santa Fe. In the same way, Henry McKinley remembers his parents talking about driving horses from Mountain Air to Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu. Pablo Perez also remembers the open range. "The Ortiz y Pinos from La Cienega had a lot of sheep. One time Mocho traded cattle to the Ortiz y Pinos for rams. There weren't any fences. I took the cattle to Ortiz y Pino and brought the rams back.”

Horses, of course, were an essential part of the ranch economy, and sometimes served as part of the entertainment. Jim Mocho said that Harvey Coleman, Neva's husband and son of a neighboring rancher, "used to trap horses from the Caja del Rio. He would run them into an arroyo and catch them at the end. They would run on the ranch, though you might only see them every two or three days." Henry McKinley also remembers the wild horses on the Caja del Rio. He says that his father, for a Sunday afternoon's entertainment, would collect some of the horses in the corral over at Bobcat Pastures, an eastern part of the ranch near Seton Village, run them into a circle and try to ride them. Pablo Perez says that his uncle, Pedro Padilla, who "had arms like two by sixes" would grab the horses by their ears to hold them.

The story of the Mocho ranch and their sheep and cattle operations is complemented by the memories of Pablo Perez, mentioned above, who worked as a sheepherder as a boy and has lived in the area his entire life. Pablo said that he was born in Cerrillos in 1906, but went to school in La Cienega, recalling that after the fourth grade, his father took him out of school to work as a sheepherder for the Mochos. He states that he learned how to shear sheep with his father. "He [father] would do the hard parts and he would shear the back with a shears. They would pack the wool in big sacks. I used to walk on the wool in the sacks, (just like Jim Mocho 30 years later) and I would sink way down."


1850s: Delgados sell west portions of ranch to Jose Leandro Perea.

1901: John Mocho immigrates to the United States.

1918: James Mocho buys west portion of ranch from Padillas and the Rio Grande Livestock Co.

1934: John Mocho buys ranch.

1943: John Mocho sells ranch to James Girard.

1951: James Girard sells to Richard Jarrett

1957: Tilly Jarrett inherits upon Richard Jarrett’s death.

1976: Hughes inherits upon Tilly Jarrett’s death.

1982: Glenn Hughes inherits upon Sue Hughes’ death, sells eastern portion.

1995: Imogen Hughes inherits upon Glenn Hughes’ death.

Sources Used

Personal Communication:
Neva Mocho Coleman: August 5, 1997.
Henry McKinley: September 7, 1997.
Jim Mocho: August 5, 1997.
Pedro Padilla: September 7, 1997.

Santa Fe County Deed Records, Indirect Indexes, 1848-1935, A-D:96-5, E-K:12-1, L-R:58-2, 65, 88-3, 90, 92-5.

John Mocho, a Family History. 1980. Provided by Jim Mocho, Albuquerque.