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The History of Los Luceros, NM

In 1598, Juan de Oñate and a group of settlers traveled up El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro until they reached the confluence of El Rio del Norte and el Rio de Chama. The expedition brought their own supplies for long-term settlement.

They intended to establish a permanent colony in northern New Spain, and they picked two areas. The first area was called San Juan de los Caballeros, which was the occupied pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan) on the east side of the Rio del Norte. However, several months later the Spanish capital was moved to Yunge Owingeh, which they named San Gabriel. This location was across the river from present-day Los Luceros.

The capital of New Mexico was moved to Santa Fe in 1609. Some of the first families that traveled with Oñate remained in the San Gabriel area. These families established several outlying farms and ranches. It is believed that Los Luceros was the site of one such rancho during the 1600s, but there is no documentary evidence to prove this.
The earliest known record of Spanish settlement that exists in Los Luceros is the Sebastián Martín Serrano grant of 1703. The grant covered about 50,000 acres. It’s boundaries extended five miles upriver from Ohkay Owingeh on the south end to Picuris Pueblo on the north. It stretched for another eighteen miles from Black Mesa on the west side of El Rio del Norte to the Sangre de Cristo mountains in Las Trampas.

Sebastián Martín gave a portion of the grant to the village of Las Trampas in 1751. After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Martín became a prominent leader in the reconquest of New Mexico in 1692. By 1698, he and his wife, María Luján, were living in the capital of Santa Fe. The couple eventually decided to move to the Rio Arriba area.
At first, they lived in the newly established villa of Santa Cruz de la Cañada. However, when his three brothers and their families joined him, they all moved to the area along the Rio Grande where they established their land grant.

Martín named his frontier settlement Puesto de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad del Rio del Norte Arriba, after a chapel he built at that location. The community was also known as Soledad, after the chapel. In 1717, Martín was appointed alcalde mayor of Santa Cruz de la Cañada. This was a commanding position on the northern frontier because he served not only as mayor, but also as a judge, counsel, and sheriff of the jurisdiction.

One of his first official decisions was to create the first significant irrigation ditch. It was constructed on the east side of the Rio Grande and extended for eight miles The ditch, called an acequia, was fourteen feet wide and provided enough water for proper irrigation of crops. Martín also planted an orchard of several hundred apple trees adjacent to this acequia, and he also cultivated a large cornfield and gardens of chile and onions. In the pastures below the gardens, he grazed sheep, cattle, and horses. Local oral sources claim that Los Luceros is located at the actual site of Sebastián Martín’s rancho. From historical accounts, it is known that Martín’s original ranch house consisted of four rooms and two torreones. Torreones are round defensive structures that were attached to the house, and they projected from the ends of the building which provided crossfire along the facades of the house. Preservationists and architects who have studied the original documents of the property believe that the original fortified building foundations are preserved in the lower floor of the present-day Los Lucero’s ranch house.
The will of Martín’s widow, dated in 1765, described the house in detail. It has twenty-four rooms and a stable, all attached as one structure. The exterior walls had few openings, to aid in the defense against attacks by Apaches and other tribes that carried out raids in the area. The flat mud roof was supported by large vigas and the rooms opened into an interior courtyard. When the house and land were divided among Martín’s heirs in 1772, each of the seven heirs received 16 (square) varas of the house (123 square feet), 17 (square) varas of land (13 square feet) and fourteen trees in the apple orchard.

Sebastián Martín’s hacienda accommodated not only a significant family but also housed numerous servants. The property supported many farm animals and had sufficient storage space for farm products and equipment. It is documented in the 1750 census that Sebastián and María had ten children, Marcial, Margarita, Rosa, Manuel, Angela, Joseph, Antonio, Josepha, Juan, and Francisco. The census also included twenty-one Apache, Ute, Navajo, and Comanche servants. These natives were most likely captured during area raids.
Santiago Lucero, a descendant of the Lucero de Godoy family, married a granddaughter of Sebastián Martín around 1757. Santiago and Barbara, daughter of Margarita Martín and Juan de Padilla, made Puesto de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad their home, and the community was soon known as Plaza de Los Luceros.
In the 1790s the ranch was purchased parcel by parcel from the Martín and Lucero heirs by Julian Lucero, the nephew of Santiago and Barbara Lucero. By 1827, Julian had acquired most of the property, including its orchards. This was when the Martín rancho became known as the Los Luceros Ranch.
In 1850 an Irish immigrant named Elias T. Clark married Julian Lucero’s daughter, Maria Marta. The Clark family acquired the Luceros house, orchards, fields, and grazing lands from Julian Lucero in 1851. He continued to expand his land holdings in the area throughout the next decade, becoming a prosperous farmer and rancher.
In 1851, Clark was appointed Clerk of the US District Court for the Second Judicial District of the Territory. He also served as Secretary of the Council in the Legislative Assembly in Santa Fe.

New Mexico history books often mention that Los Luceros was the site of the first county courthouse for Rio Arriba. However, this isn’t exactly true.
In August 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny and the American Army of the West occupied New Mexico. Kearny introduced a new political organization for New Mexico and a system of law that was known as the Kearny Code. These new regulations organized local governments and the district courts around the seven partidas (counties) established by the Mexican Department Assembly in 1843. One of these partidas was Rio Arriba. However, Kearny’s review of the Mexican documents was flawed and incomplete. He missed a crucial amendment that was passed on June 17, 1844. This amendment stated that Santa Cruz de la Cañada was to be the county seat for Rio Arriba instead of Los Luceros.

In August 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny and the American Army of the West occupied New Mexico. Kearny introduced a new political organization for New Mexico and a system of law that was known as the Kearny Code. These new regulations organized local governments and the district courts around the seven partidas (counties) established by the Mexican Department Assembly in 1843. One of these partidas was Rio Arriba. However, Kearny’s review of the Mexican documents was flawed and incomplete. He missed a crucial amendment that was passed on June 17, 1844. This amendment stated that Santa Cruz de la Cañada was to be the county seat for Rio Arriba instead of Los Luceros.
So even though the Territorial Legislature established the first county seat in Los Luceros, the county courthouse was not built there. Instead, Los Luceros and the buildings were rented out for official county business. This was the custom because no official county courthouses had been constructed in the territory. However, by January 1852, the Territorial Legislature had changed the county seat from Los Luceros to San Pedro de Chamita, several miles away.

Elias T. Clark died of consumption in 1860, at the age of forty-five. After his brother Louis was shot and killed in 1876, Los Luceros was passed on to Eliza Clark, the only offspring of Elias and Maria Marta Clark. Eliza would go on to marry Luis Maria Ortiz. The 1870 census mentions Eliza, who was nineteen years old and Luis, age twenty-two, living in Los Luceros with a baby daughter and a Navajo family. In 1880, the census documented their four children, Teresita, Gaspar, Clotilde, and Beatrio. Luis Ortiz would serve in the Territorial legislature and was also elected sheriff of Rio Arriba County. It was during his term as sheriff that the small, building just west of the main house was used as a jail. Eliza and Luis are responsible for much of the remodeling of the main ranch house in the 1860s and 1870s, possibly including the addition of the second-floor porch.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ortiz family could no longer afford to maintain the property and were forced to abandon it. In 1923, Mary Cabot Wheelwright purchased Los Luceros. Wheelwright was an American anthropologist and a museum founder. She established the museum which is now called Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, in 1937 along with Hosteen Klah, a Navajo artist and medicine man. Throughout the next 35years, Wheelwright spent time traveling the world, living in the eastern United States, and living at Los Luceros. In 1940, she traveled to India with the goal of finding symbols related to the ones found in Navajo art. She continued to record information about Navajo ceremonials given by Klah and by another 58 medicine men, and collected reproductions of ceremonial sandpaintings in various media.
Mary Cabot Wheelwright died in 1958. She bequeathed the main house at Los Luceros to the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe. The remaining property she left to her friend Maria Chabot. The museum, however, declined the bequest and the main house reverted to Chabot. Chabot was keenly aware that she could not maintain the property on her own, so she asked her friend, Georgia O’Keeffe, if she knew anyone who might be interested in buying Los Luceros.

O’Keeffe called her friend Charles Collier and his wife Nina, who eventually purchased the property in the early 1960s. The Collier family established the Instituto Internacional de Arte Colonial Iberico and filled the buildings with their extensive collection of Spanish Colonial art. When Charles Collier sold the property in the 1970s, he donated the entire art collection to the College of Santa Fe. The property soon had new owners who let the buildings and property fall into disrepair and neglect. Sometime in 1980, Dan and Marie Clevenger moved into the main house to act as caretakers of the property.

When T.G. Futch and Ann Chaney Futch bought the property in the early 1980s, the first floor of the main house was underwater. The acequia system had not been maintained for many years causing the water to flow freely throughout the main house and other parts of the property. In 1987, they established the American Studies Foundation, to preserve and restore the property and buildings. The foundation struggled for many years to maintain the property and to provide artistic and historical programs for the public, but financial difficulties eventually forced it to close.
In 1983, Los Luceros was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The property is also on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. Frank Cabot and his wife, Anne, were the last private owners to buy Los Luceros. After it came into their possession in 1999, they restored it and built a visitor center. After several attempts by the Office of Cultural Affairs to purchase Los Luceros, the Cabot’s sold the property to the state of New Mexico in April 2008 for $2.5 million.

Sources:
New Mexico’s Most Haunted: Exposed by C. Polston

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