El Contadero Mesa

Between the 26th and 27th of May 1598, the Oñate expedition traveled nine leagues from the “Arroyo de los Muertos” or “Arroyo de las Parras” without their carts because it was impossible to proceed with them. On the 27th, they arrived at “Ciénega de Mesilla de Guinea,” named this because the mesa was made of black rock (Pacheco, Cárdenas y Torres 1871:XVI.249). It was the same formation that shared the names El Contadero, Senecú, and Black Mesa.

Hammond and Rey place the marsh on the east bank of the Río Grande, near San Marcial (Hammond and Rey 1953:I.317). That area was later called Valverde.

Otermín, in 1680, twice mentioned El Contadero without giving details about it (Hackett and Shelby 1942:II, 172,364). On another occasion, however, he described camping at the “place…which they call El Contadero, along the banks of the Río del Norte.” The next morning they “crossed the Río del Norte, the pueblo of Senecú being on the other side” (Hackett and Shelby 1942:II, 203).

On 12 August 1766, one league north of Fray Cristóbal, Lafora entered a perilous defile through hills and ravines called “el Contadero.” It extended north three leagues, as far as the mesa of Senecú. From the mesa the ruins of the pueblo of the same name could be seen across the river (Alessio Robles 1939:94).

In Miera y Pacheco’s map (“Plano del Rio Grande, 1773), two sites are featured: Contadero south of “Mesa de Senecú” and an unnamed paraje north of the mesa, perhaps Valverde (Adams and Chávez 1956:268;Marshall and Walt 1984:286).

The 1819 description of the Valverde Grant gave as the southern boundary “a peak or knoll located on the southern edge of the Mesilla del Contadero which is the boundary or terminus of the Valverde Valley and which is at the Fray Cristobal Paraje” (Bowden 1969:II.163). El Contadero was noted but not described by Gregg (Gregg 1933:258). Ferguson referred to the “high table-land on the east side of the river called ‘Cantadero’(sic)” (Bieber 1936:334). Gibson camped at Valverde, which he described as very close to a mesa. His description of the mesa as a volcanic table, flat except for one little elevation, with very steep sides, identifies it as Black Mesa. When his unit left Valverde it went six miles around the east of the mesa and to the camp of another unit on the south side. That camp was one half mile from water but had forage and wood. It was nine miles from Fray Cristóbal (Bieber 1935:293-294). An 1872 map of the Pedro Armendaris Grant shows a place labeled Contadero south of the mesa with the same name (Pedro Armendaris Grant #34:28). Marshall and Walt place the paraje south of the mesa. They also note a colonial and Mexican period archeological site, Corrales de Contadero (LA 31735, Río Abajo Site No. 72), that may be associated with the paraje (Marshall and Walt 1984:270,294).

Wilson uses the name Contadero for the pass, the mesa, and the point where the road once more reached the river. He also describes the trail as “the very narrow trail along the western and southern base, between the steep sides of the mesa and the waters of the river” (Wilson 1976:6-7). The term Contadero was used over the centuries to describe Black Mesa itself and its southward extension toward Fray Cristóbal, the defile leading through the southern extension to Black Mesa, and camps on both the south and north sides of the mesa. The latter was later known as Valverde.

Oñate named the “Mesilla de Guinea,” a reference to its black color, and the marshes along the river beside it. Lafora referred to the mesa itself as the “mesa de Senecú,” from which the ruins of the pueblo of the same name could be seen across the river. Miera y Pacheco used the same name for the mesa itself. By referring to “the southern edge of the Mesilla del Contadero” at “Fray Cristobal Paraje,” the 1819 description of the Valverde Grant used that name to describe the entire formation of which Black Mesa is the northernmost part. Lafora described Contadero as the narrow defile leading north to the mesa. The 1773 map of Miera y Pacheco depicted Contadero south of “Mesa de Senecú”, as did the Armendaris Grant map. That may have been Gibson’s 1846 campground on the south side of the mesa, six miles south of Valverde and nine miles from Fray Cristóbal. Marshall and Walt place the paraje south of the mesa and also note an archeological site called Corrales de Contadero in that vicinity Finally, the only Otermín mention of El Contadero in 1680 that can be located was across from the pueblo of Senecú, at or very near the place later known as Valverde. Miera y Pacheco’s map showed an unnamed paraje immediately north of the Mesa de Senecú. These both conform to Gibson’s 1846 description of a campground near the ruins of Valverde. It was in a grove of trees near the base of Black Mesa and bore traces of earlier campers.

For the purposes of this study, Marshall and Walt’s Corrales de Contadero archeological site (LA 31735, Río Abajo Site No. 72) should be considered as the appropriate site for the paraje of Contadero. The name Valverde later included the flat on the east bank north of Black Mesa.

This landmark mesa, also known as Mesa del Contadero, Mesa de Senecú, Mesilla de Guinea and Black Mesa, boasted parajes to both the north and the south, both associated with the name Contadero. One, south of the mesa, has been identified with a Mexican and colonial period archeological site.

Courtesy U.S. Department of the Interior. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail, Comprehensive Management Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement. Santa Fe, NM: National Park Service/Bureau of Land Management,2004.