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Hacienda de los Torres
By Jane Knowles
The Hacienda de los Torres is a well preserved family-owned farm that has been in continuous use since its purchase by Onesimo Valentine Torres in 1914. It is significant as an intact and functioning northern New Mexico agricultural complex and landscape established as a sheep-farming ranch. The property was originally part of the eighteenth century Antonio Martinez land grant that extended south from the Arroyo Hondo to the Rio Lucero, which now runs through the Tenorio tract of the Taos Pueblo. Resources on the property dating from the early nineteenth century include a functioning acequia system. The original home and buildings built (and land acquired) during O.V. Torres’ ownership are the most tangible elements of this historic farmstead. The buildings and land have been occupied by three generations of the Torres family.
Born in 1891 in Dercio of Los Animas County in Colorado, Onesimo Valentine (O.V.) Torres moved with his mother, Josefa Martinez, to Northern New Mexico in 1894. She married Nicholas Duran, a sheep rancher, in Arroyseco (one word until 1977).(1) Growing up on a sheep ranch, O.V. apparently learned all aspects of sheep ranching so that by the age of 21, he had already acquired his own herd. Torres was a so successful that by the 1920s, his herd had grown to three thousand six hundred head. The headquarters for his sheep enterprise was in Arroyoseco on the land now known as Hacienda de los Torres. It is unknown how much land O.V. initially acquired in Arroyoseco in 1914. However, by the 1930s he owned two hundred acres in the area. Part of this property, the area south of El Salto Road to the Rio Lucero, now belongs to the Taos Indian Pueblo. This portion of Torre’s land was taken by imminent domain in 1939 as a result of a judgment handed down over a land ownership dispute with the Pueblo.
In 1914 O. V. married an Ana Martinez and began the construction of his home out of adobe. The house survives today as an interesting example of traditional northern New Mexico building techniques employed in the construction of a period American four-square plan house. Torres built the Despensa for the storage of the crops grown on the property in 1916 and a privy located behind the house around the same period.
O.V. was so successful a rancher and businessman, that by the 1930s, he had become one of the largest landowners in Taos County. In addition to his property in Arroyoseco he acquired and homesteaded on 640 acres in Tres Piedras during the 1910s. Through subsequent purchases, O.V. Torres came to own 35 sections of land in Tres Piedras in addition to the 15 sections that he leased in the area. By the 1940s, he held in excess of 32,000 acres of land in Taos County. As his holdings grew, so too did his importance in Taos County. In the 1919 New Mexico Business Directory he is listed as a “wool grower.”(2) His name would remain in the directory until the late 1940s. Torres was also well known as a moneylender in the community of Taos County until the 1950s. Extensive records survive attesting to his importance in this capacity. O.V. Torres died November 11, 1961 and divided his land between his wife and ten children.
Sheep ranching in New Mexico reached its peak in New Mexico in the late nineteenth century with millions of sheep being raised, primarily, in the northern half of the state. By the time Torres was grazing his flocks in the verdant Tres Piedras, Cumbres Pass and Tierra Amarilla areas sheep ranching was on the decline in New Mexico. Nevertheless, each spring, some 30 people were hired by Torres to help shear the sheep and in the fall to help ship the lambs to market until the 1940s. Most of the lambs were taken for transport to the railroad in Antonito, Colorado from where they were shipped to Kansas, a centralized location for further distribution to the rest of the country. The homestead cabin, moved to the property in Arroyoseco in the 1940s, was built at Tres Piedras in 1918 to house shepherds during the summer. In addition to raising various crops (including fava beans) and livestock at the hacienda, Torres ran his sheep ranching business from this location even though most of his flocks were grazed in the Tres Piedras.
The acequias running across the property were part of a much larger ditch system that was involved in a historically significant water rights controversy. A water dispute between the local people of Arroyoseco and the Taos Pueblo, located just south of the Torres property in Arroyoseco, resulted in tensions between the communities through most of the nineteenth century. In the early 1800’s, the founders of Arroyoseco dug the Acequia Madre del Rio del Lucero which runs a mile across the Tenorio tract from the Rio Lucero to the Arroyo Seco Creek to a series of smaller network ditches. Since its establishment, the system had serviced the grain and hay fields north of the Arroyoseco plaza. Of the early Spanish settlers it has been observed, “Their situation exemplifies the struggle faced by all New Mexicans attempting to make homes of the frontier.”(3) Water access was critical to the success of the settlers at Arroyoseco. Since Spanish settlement, rights to the water from the Rio Lucero had caused great tension with the Taos Pueblo who resented the diversion of its waters. In 1893, an important decision was handed down by a Judge Seeds who decreed that the people of Arroyoseco had a right to receive thirty-percent of Rio Lucero’s waters. This is the first legal decision, whereby, the water was divided by percentage of stream and not by a use-time-schedule. It is for this reason it is considered to be a landmark case.(4) Obviously, the 1893 decision affected the 1914 establishment of the Torres farm on this land.
The Hacienda de los Torres is a significant and, generally, well preserved example of an early twentieth century, northern New Mexico farmstead. It is also historically significant by virtue of its association with the sheep ranching industry in the state and O.V. Torres. The functioning acequia system on the property derives its significance as part of the larger Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero system that was established in the early nineteenth century and was the issue of a landmark legal decision regarding water rights in 1893. Today, the fifty-five acre property is home to Luis (son of O.V.) and Bernice Torres. They continue to keep the land in agriculture raising horses, cows, sheep, chickens, emus, ostriches, miniature donkeys, buffalo, rabbits, and other animals. Annually, students visit the Hacienda as part of a course on southwestern culture. Luis Torres provides the students with information about the history of the farm and of his family and culture. The property is an important piece of the history and cultural heritage of Northern New Mexico and worthy of continued preservation.
(1) Robert Julyan. Place names of New Mexico. UNM Press., 1998, p. 23.
(2) New Mexico Business Directory. 1919, p. 598.
(3) John O. Baxter. Dividing New Mexico’s Waters, 1700-1912. UNM Press, 1997, p. 16.
(4) Ibid, pp.84-85.
Essay taken from "Hacienda de los Torres", New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties, July 1999.