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San Juan lies upon the sand dunes, 20 feet above the left bank of the Rio Granule. From this slight elevation the fields stretching to the north, west, and south show by their different colors that a variety of crops is produced. Compared to Taos, the character of San. Juan is more that of it great garden. Crossing the broad acequia, one leaves the arid sands to enter milk verdure. Trim fences of cedar limbs driven into time ground in close line or-dry brush Fastened upon posts with thongs of leather inclose little holdings of half tin acre or more, growing cabbages, melons, beans, squashes, oats peppers and corn. Dense and diminutive orchards of apple and plum trees alternate with these garden plots. Branches overhang and trail upon the hard clay floors beneath. Children play here, and old people on couches enjoy the coolness of the shade. The acequia close at hand spreads its waters by a labyrinth of sub-channels and lesser courses through the verdure, losing itself among tall grasses and reappearing to inclose in its sinuous lines hillocks of pease and beans. Little houses of adobe or of wicker, often adorned by a booth of boughs on top, where the family partakes of its meals, surprise one at almost every exit from the dense shrubbery.
At San Juan, out of a population of 406, there are 80 Indians owning land. While some are found to have 20 and 25 acres others have none, but make their living by working for neighbors. The official schedule for this pueblo states that 342 acres are under cultivation. This is too low a calculation by at least 300 acres. The enumerators’ blanks call for entries of farms of more than 3 acres only. Very many farms contain less than this. The nominal regime of a commune has not produced equality of condition; rich and poor live at San Juan. This disparity has resulted in time willingness of the slothful to sell their allotments and the readiness of the industrious to buy.
They have no flocks of sheep and but a few goats and cattle. Their meat is purchased or received in lieu of work on cattle ranches, and eaten by the well to do on an average of once a month. As vegetarians, however, they maintain a vigorous degree of health. The land lying above the large empties, especially south of the town,
is level and well adapted for farms. Almost 1,000 acres could be saved by ditch construction at a higher level. The government could not undertake a better work for the Indians than to aid in this scheme. Tho necessary expense of surveys, overseeing, and material might be met by a tax on the products of the land reclaimed, the first payments being made by a loan from the government.
The land here yields 15 bushels of wheat and 20 bushels of corn to the acre. The method of thrashing wheat is the ancient one of treading by animals, either horses or goats. An inclosure is formed by long poles driven into the ground. Connecting these are ropes of rawhide, which support blankets, giving the slight framework an appearance of strength. A band of horses or a flock of goats tramping all day will thrash 20 or 25 bushels. The grain of each farm is thrashed separately, animals sufficient being had by uniting the resources of a number. There are 6 thrashing floors at San Juan. At the thrashing season a man and wife may be seen entering the store of a trader, she carrying in her dress and he in a blanket the little results of half a day’s thrashing, sifting, and cleansing. Taking a box holding 10 pounds they scrupulously fill it time and again, turning the contents into the trader’s bin. The equivalent is at once taken in trade at the counter, where husband and wife discuss calico patterns or the purchase of a new hoe.
The town is built of adobe houses 1 and 2 stories high. The plaza is long and irregular, the streets running at right angles and parallel to it. Fewer ladders are seen than at Taos, entrance being had on the ground floor.
A large Catholic Church stands beyond the western end of the plaza, and in front of it has recently been placed a gilded statue of the Virgin, heroic size. This is erected upon a pedestal and inclosed by an iron railing, a gift to the pueblo by the residing priest. Twenty yards from this, and in the plaza, a neat chapel of stone has recently been built at a cost of $10,000, also a gift of the priest, who is a Frenchman, one of the 9 now among the pueblos recently installed in the places of Mexican padres.
The school, under the management of a Mexican, numbers 35 to 40. The school is Catholic. One of the most potent influences for education in time pueblo is the counsel and example of a resident for 22 years, trading in the community. He has a flower, fruit, and vegetable garden of 2.5 acres, kept by an experienced German, whose experiments and results are at once a surprise and an incentive to the Indians. He has been called upon for many years for advice in matters of personal grievance and neighboring encroachment. Although frequent opportunities were offered for acquiring land in the pueblo, he owns only what his house stands upon.
San Juan holds 17,515 acres, little of which, outside of the bottomlands of the river, is available for pasture. But few flocks and herds, therefore, are maintained. Every man in the pueblo owns at least one horse and one burro, and some have several of each kind. Small reserves are heft among the bottomlands for grazing purposes.