Los Ojos, NM

By Robert J. Torrez, Former New Mexico State Historian

The historic village of Los Ojos was established around 1860, at about the same time that its sister communities of Las Nutritas (current day Tierra Amarilla), La Puente, Los Brazos, Barranco, and Ensenada were founded. The valley in which these communities were established had been known to early Spanish explorers and had been used by various native tribes for centuries before its settlement in the 1800’s. In 1776, the intrepid explorers and Franciscan friars Francisco Atanacio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante crossed the Chama somewhere north of present day La Puente and described the valley's resources and potential for settlement, pointing out the "good land for farming…and abundant pasturage…." These resources were utilized by stockmen from the Abiquiu area for several generations before the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant was made by the Mexican government in 1832, and permanent settlement took hold in the early 1860's. Los Ojos, situated on a low plateau overlooking the Chama River, was originally named for the many fresh water springs (ojos or ojitos) which seep from the surrounding hillsides. Indeed, one of these springs has been the principal source of fresh water for the Park View Fish Hatchery for more than fifty years. Some early documents also call the site Los Ojos de San Jose, or occasionally San Jose. It is notable that the parish church which was established in Los Ojos in 1883 was named after St. Joseph.

Maps and documents from the 1870’s indicate that Los Ojos was known by its historic name. An 1877 mapping expedition by the United States Army described the village as one of the principal settlements of the region, with four stores and a population of about 200. The 1870's were also a time of extraordinary immigration to the West from all parts of the world. During this period, developers and entrepreneurs regularly organized colonization societies which purchased tracts of land in the West and then designed elaborate promotional campaigns to encourage emigration to the property. Many of these companies were legitimate, but the era provided ample opportunity for shady operators to entice land-hungry immigrants to every imaginable corner of this vast territory. A pamphlet distributed by one colonization company of the period boasted that settlers who came to its colony had no need to fear any of the hardships inherent to starting a new life in the western wilderness. Their company, it noted, made it possible for them to "find civilization ready-made" when they arrived.

The colony of Park View was established in the late summer of 1876, with lots being staked out on a low plateau which overlooks the Chama River about a mile north of present day Los Brazos. The name chosen for the colony was apparently inspired by the site's magnificent setting. A letter promoting the colony which appeared in the Chicago Prairie Farmer in December 1876 certainly invokes this image:

the new town of Park View has just been laid out…It is, indeed a beautiful spot for a town…nestling in a beautiful valley near the base of mountains, whose…tops are covered with glistening snow…, while the sides of the same…and the valleys below, are covered with a mantle of green and luxuriant vegetation amid which are found numberless varieties of flowers…The scenery here is grand and beautiful and worthy the pen and brush of poet and painter.

Colonists were recruited mainly from among the Scandinavian immigrant population in the Chicago area. By late 1876, optimistic newspaper reports in Santa Fe's Daily New Mexican and the Pueblo, Colorado, Daily Chieftain make it clear that a slow but steady flow of emigrants was making its way through southern Colorado to the Park View colony. In February 1877, a post office was authorized for the town.

Despite early optimism, the colony quickly floundered. In the summer of 1877, a team of surveyors for the U. S. Corps of Topographical Engineers passed through the Tierra Amarilla area. Their report listed Park View among the several communities they found in the area, noting that the colony consisted of eight cabins with a population of less than thirty persons and had no more than ten acres under cultivation. The Reverend Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian minister who traveled through Tierra Amarilla later that year, reported that this "Chicago colony" had eight families. Reverend Jackson also apparently met Broad and his partners, as he noted they had spoken "hopefully" of the colony's prospects. But Jackson was not impressed; "…to a stranger," he observed, "it does not give promise of rapid growth."

Within just a few years, the colony was virtually abandoned. The post office, which had been established for the Park View colony in 1877, had by then burned down or simply been abandoned. In 1880, the United States census showed that Park View consisted of ten households, four of which had Spanish surnames, presumably local families who had moved into cabins abandoned by departing colonists. In February of 1880, the Park View post office was reestablished but it was not reopened in its original location. Instead it was moved to nearby Los Ojos. During subsequent decades, mail addressed to the Park View Post Office in Los Ojos soon resulted in Los Ojos itself being designated as Park View on the maps. So it was that Park View survived in name only by supplanting its neighbor’s name.

Los Ojos, one of the most historic settlements in northern New Mexico, was thus inadvertently assigned the task of keeping alive the name of a place whose existence has been lost to history. For many years, this picturesque northern New Mexico village was known as Park View. In 1971, a number of residents instituted a controversial petition which asked local and federal officials to recognize an official name change which would restore the area known as Park View to its original name of Los Ojos. On July 25, 1972, a proclamation signaling the name change was read at the annual San Jose Parish Fiesta de Santiago, and on September 7, 1972, a resolution of the Rio Arriba County Board of Commissioners made the change official.

Los Ojos. . .  How it came to be known as such and how it fostered the name of a settlement lost to history

Courtesy of the State Records Center and Archives.