Otermín placed Fray Cristóbal 60 leagues from Santa Fé, 32 leagues from Robledo, which he gave as the beginning of the dry jornada, and seven from La Cruz de Anaya (Hackett and Shelby 1942:II, 202;II, 365;II.397). Vargas reached Fray Cristóbal traveling north on August 30, 1692. He noted that it was 32 leagues from San Diego and 65 from El Paso (Kessell and Hendricks 1992:371-373). El Paraje de Fray Cristóbal marked the northern terminus of the Jornada del Muerto of New Mexico. On 27 May 1726 Rivera traveled northnorthwest eleven leagues, passing the Sierra de San Cristóbal, and stayed at a paraje called Fray Cristóbal, located on the bank of the Río Grande (Alessio Robles 1946:50).
On 11 August 1766, Lafora recounted camping there on the bank of the Río Grande five leagues north of the northern end of the Sierra de San Cristóbal (Alessio Robles 1939:93). On 22 November 1780 Anza left Valverde and traveled five leagues south to “Fray Cristoval” (Thomas 1932:199).
In 1895, Coues characterized this as an area more than a specific point (Coues 1895:II, 635- 636). Josiah Gregg gave a short description of Fray Cristóbal in 1833 that defines the Spanish paraje from the Anglo-American point of view.
1861 He wrote that it, “like many others on the route, is neither town nor village, but a simple isolated point on the river-bank – a mere paraje, or camping-ground” (Gregg 1933:258).
In August of 1846, Wislizenus understood this title to refer to the last camping place before entering the Jornada del Muerto heading south rather than a particular site. His caravan camped two miles from the Río Grande but he noted that others stayed nearer or further and that there were no buildings with which to identify the name (Wislizenus 1848:38).
In 1851, Reverend Read described a grove of timber where all travelers “halt to feed, rest and obtain a supply of wood and water before entering the Jornada” (Bloom 1942:135). When Davis passed through Fray Cristóbal in 1855, there was still no settlement of any kind (Davis 1938:208- 209).
A town called Paraje, or Fra Cristobal, founded at about the same site in the late 1850s, survived into the first decades of the twentieth century. A twin town, Canta Recio, was settled directly across the river in the 1870s (Boyd 1986:86). Boyd places the town of Paraje eight miles down river from Fort Craig. During the Civil War, Colonel Edward Canby estimated it at seven miles (Boyd 1986:60, 70-71). Marshall and Walt note that the site of Paraje, designated LA 1124, is south of Paraje Well (Marshall and Walt 1984:293). The ruins of Paraje lie within the flood basin of Elephant Butte Reservoir.
Although it has seldom been completely under water the reservoir contributed to erosion of the town. Boyd writes that during the twentieth century the Río Grande meandered eastward to erode the western portion of the town’s ruins (Boyd 1986:110). According to John P. Wilson, the location of the earliest signs of settlement were found by a surveyor in 1857 at the line between Sections 31 and 6 in Townships 8 and 9 South, Range 2 West (Wilson 1985:32). A 1908 Bureau of Reclamation map in Boyd confirms that location (Boyd 1986:103).
The small area of the river occupied by Paraje and Paraje Well would have been the point where caravans left or reached the river before or after the crossing of the Jornada del Muerto. The “Lava Gate” between lava flows to the northeast and the Fra Cristobal Range to the southwest funneled traffic to the river in that area (Marshall and Walt 1984:241).
A map from the Surveyor General’s files of the Pedro Armendaris Grant shows the “old wattering place” (sic) where the “Wagon Road over the Jornada” met the “old bed of the Río Grande.” It also has range lines and the town sites of Paraje and Canta Recio. It can be used to pinpoint the location where the Camino Real rejoined the river, the focal point of the paraje of Fray Cristóbal. However, testimony in that same file notes that there was evidence of several river beds, or meanders, at Fray Cristóbal, “showing that at different times it has had its channel all over the narrow valley which borders the present stream” (Pedro Armendaris Grant #33:108- 109,182-183). The paraje also spread along and away from the river at that point.
Named for a member of the Oñate entrada, the Paraje de Fray Cristóbal remained important throughout the period in which the Camino Real was in use. Oñate’s men facetiously remarked that the outline of the ridge of the mountain near present Elephant Butte Reservoir looked like the profile of Fray Cristóbal, saying he was “feisimo” (politely, not very good looking). It was described as a general area rather than a particular point but can be defined by its proximity to both the Río Grande and the Jornada del Muerto. In the nineteenth century, Fray Cristóbal became Fra Cristobal, as a modern local spelling and pronunciation without a “y” in Fray and without an accent in Cristóbal.
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.