Shoemaker, A History of
Presented to Dr. Knowlton
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for
Shoemaker, New Mexico
Teresa B. Maes
December 2, 1958
“. . . . . . . . His worth is commemorated by the beautiful canyon of the Fort Union Military Reserve which bears his name.”1 Shoemaker, New Mexico, the beautiful Canyon in Mora County has had its history similar in some respects to other communities in New Mexico. Yet few old-timers are aware of its history or how Shoemaker got its name. They are mostly concerned of its beauty and its simplicity, still reminiscent of the old days in Shoemaker. True, these old-timers do not want to return to live in the valley for today, Shoemaker has nothing to offer them in the way of living. Some of these people are now living in Las Vegas, Watrous, and other surrounding communities while there are those who has settled in other states. Yet when they are able to they return — during this summer for picnics, during the fall for hunting, and that other times just to visit.
The data presented in this paper is in a summary form. Some of the stories told by a few of the old-timers that are vague, I have left out. For example, there are those who claimed they bought the land from Captain W. R. Shoemaker, because they say, the land belonged to him. Another story is about how a man succeded in obtaining some land that rightfully belonged to another man who was serving in prison term. For this reason it is my hope to write a more authentic paper about the history of Shoemaker and compare it with the data found in this paper.
Shoemaker, New Mexico lies in the county of Mora. It is situated about twenty-eight miles northeast of Las Vegas. Watrous and Valmora are within a small distance from the Valley.
Today the total population in Shoemaker is about twenty. The landowners total five. Small as the community is today it is surprising to many that in the late 1800’s and throughout the early 1900’s Shoemaker was a large community. By now almost of the land marks are extinct.
Shoemaker was named in honor of Captain W. R. Shoemaker, who was Civil War ordinance officer at Fort Union. Captain Shoemaker seems to have been admired by both the military people and the civilians. Legend has it that in the territorial days of New Mexico the government would give their employees land in payment for their services. Again, legend is that when Captain Shoemaker became sick he decided to sell his land to those who were his friends.
Early settlers coming into the Valley were mostly in interested in farm and grazing land. The valley offered the early settlers this for through the valley pass the Mora and Sapello rivers. This land is fertile and is surrounded by equally good pasture land. A family that first settled in the valley came from “El Rio de los Pecos”, the little village that today is known as San José situated in San Miguel County. The family settled in what was then known as Cherryvalley for then, although unofficially, the valley was called Cherryvalley by the early settlers. The older brothers found work in “La Junta de los Rio,” (Watrous). Sometime after, the AT&SF Railroad Company started building a railroad through this small village. Work was available and one of the brothers was employed as a mule-skinner. His team consisted of four mules which were hitched to a fresno with two wheels, one on each end. This fresno carried the dirt to be dumped on the bank where the railroad was to be built.
Other families drifting in had similar experiences. They were all self - employed, but since many had large families sometimes the older sons found work. Small farms sprang up all along the canyon valley. Eventually the valley was a small but prosperous community with a railroad and an unpaved road that many travelers used to get to “El Ojo de Santa Clara.” (Wagon Mound)
Religion was important in the community. A church was built of stone near a hilltop. There was no parish, but a priest from El Ojo de Santa Clara would come every week to give mass. The priest arrived in the evening and families took turns in lending a room to the priest. The Loretto sisters would come every spring to teach the youngsters catechism.
Las Vegas, El Ojo de Santa Clara, and La Junta de los Rios were the places that people visited the most. The men, however; were the ones to benefit from such trips since a woman’s place was in her home. Entertainment, however; was plentiful. There were dances given in a private “sala” and to guitar and violin the people danced till wee hours of the morning. Usually at the end of every dance there was a “prendorio.” Whoever was chosen would hire musicians for the next dance.
During the passing years some farms were made larger, while other families sold their land and moved elsewhere. The land changed owners over and over. The community knew owners such as Stailey and Ramming, Ven Hueten Co., Johnson, Gentry, Ornella, and Murphy. What was once a typical Spanish community was becoming more and more “americanized.”
Around the late 1800’s or early 1900’s a school was established in the community. The early teachers came from Texas so it was understood who controlled the school. There was a large rooming house close to school. Here the teachers lived throughout the school term. During one school term the school experienced a crisis and as a result six teachers were replaced one after another. Some attribute the crisis to politics, others to a cultural conflict . . . . . . . . . . . The school’s activities consisted of the three R’s. There is also the Christmas program which all the people looked forward to. Until about 1946 when the school was consolidated the Christmas program was a big event. (By 1946 there were no longer the dances that were given at the sala. By this time the majority of the people had moved away.) After the program was over a dance was held in the school house. This was the only social event of the year and people from Valmora, Wagon Mound, and Watrous would attend. The dance music was still violin and guitar and the people danced to old favorite Spanish tunes.
The economy of the village has always been irrigated farming. Early, the settlers formed an agreement to build a ditch to irrigate the land that was close to the Mora river. This agreement became known as the North Side Ditch Co. which consisted of several landowners in the valley. The water was divided in proportion to the amount of the acreage to be irrigated with the community ditch. The water was divided by hours per week so every landowner could have a turn at irrigating once a week. When the community owners agreed on this system they figured on what is known as truck farming since there were many small farms with gardening and small orchards in mind. Eventually, as some of the farms grew larger or as others sold their water rights there arose trouble with the distribution of water rights. As a result of such misunderstanding the water owners decided to form some by-laws as to how the maintenance of the ditch would be carried out. In view of the fact that some of the landowners refused to work their shares of the ditch it was agreed to charge them a certain amount of cash. This too, provoked more disagreements and as time went by the water rights had to be settled by the district court. At the present time there are only two water owners and they divide the cost of maintenance of the ditch between the two.
Today, the farms are larger and their products are largely alfalfa, a little wheat and corn. This is mostly on a subsistence basis since these farmers have their large ranches, their cattle and farm animals consuming a large proportion of the produce.
The class structure of the community is somewhat hard to define. Two of the largest farms are owned by oil men from Texas and Oklahoma. As a result they seldom spend their time in the community. Instead, they bring their farm managers from Texas, and in turn these managers hire labor from communities nearby. The landowners range from the extreme wealthy to middle class. The labor help would be classified as poor.
Socially the people of the community do not mix, especially since the community school was consolidated. Usually each group or family keep to themselves. Their entertainment is found in Las Vegas, traveling, and in visiting relatives or friends outside of the community.
A history of one’s community is a delicate subject since one not only touches the cultural aspects but one also deals with how land ownership was acquired, and other problems that often result in hurting those who are still living. Difficult too, is to distinguish between fact and heresy since heresy plays an important part in our lives especially when repeated throughout generations.
It is suspected that the data in this paper is not in chronological order. For this reason I do not claim to be authentic. Yet, whether part of this data is heresy, this paper, I believe, presents a good backbone of the history of Shoemaker.
1. New Mexico folklore society, New Mexico place name Dist., First collection, committee report, May 14, 1949.
1. Leonard, Olen E. The Role of the Land Grand in the Social Organization and Social Process of a Spanish American Village. Edward Brothers, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1948.
2. New Mexico Folklore Society, New Mexico Place Name Dictionary, 1st Collection, Committee Report, May 14, 1949.
3. Spencer, Lydia, I Married a Soldier, Copyright 1892 by J. B. Lippincott Company.
4. Steere, Edward, Fort Union: Its Economic and Military History. Thesis, Highlands University.
1. Baca, Margarito, Oct. 18, 1958, Shoemaker, New Mexico
2. Dominguez, Donicio, Nov. 20, 1958, Watrous, New Mexico
3. Gentry, Milton, Oct. 18, 1958, Watrous, New Mexico
4. Morales, José, Nov. 15, 1958, Cherryvalley, New Mexico
5. Torres, George, Nov. 16, 1958, Las Vegas, N. Mex.
6. Wasson, John Sr., Oct. 18, 1958, Watrous, New Mexico
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