31. Abó

Up: Contents Previous: 30. The Salinas Pueblos Next: 32. Cuará

[page 342]

The Christian epoch in the history of the Salinas pueblos was a brief one. No one knows by whom these towns were founded nor how long they had existed. There they were when the Spanish colonisis first came under Oñate in 1598; and they may have been in their decadence even then on account of their frontier situation and the constant attacks of the wild Apaches of the Plains, similar to those which subsequently destroyed them.

But we do know when they came to an end, and that the last ones were abandoned between 1675 and 1680; and supposing that the first preaching of Christianity among them was very soon after they had been included in the vast missionary district assigned Fray Francisco de San Miguel by the apportionment made at San Gabriel, the length of the Christian period would be only three-quarters of a century. Practically, it was considerably shorter, for the district assigned Fray Francisco was principally that of Pecos with nine pueblos, and while the Salinas country was included it must have had scant attention in those earlier days, and that condition necessarily continued until more clergy arrived so

[page 343]

that each town of any importance could have its own resident missionary.

A few dates are well established and stand out clearly as historical landmarks. The great church at Abó was built about 1629 by Father Acevedo, who died here in 1644. It was destroyed about 1678.

Abó was the headquarters of the missionary work among the Piros or Tompiros, and in an enumeration of the towns, Tabira and Tenabó are distinctly mentioned as being “visitas” of the church of Abó. On all the maps of that period San Gregorio de Abó is the only town which is represented in the Salinas region. Yet as stated in the preceding chapter, its population is said to have been no larger than 800.

The first expedition in modern times for the examination of the great Salinas ruins, was that undertaken in December, 1853, by Major James H. Carleton, U.S.A., at that time stationed at Albuquerque. This was the same officer who, ten years later, made the celebrated march from the Pacific to the Rio Grande, across the Arizona desert, as commander of the California column, and was for a number of years thereafter at the head of military affairs in New Mexico.

Major Carleton left Albuquerque on December 14th, following the route by Casa Colorada and the Abó Pass, and arrived at the pueblo of Abó on the afternoon of the 17th. From there he proceeded to Cuaró, a measured distance of twelve miles, 760 yards, in a direction somewhat east of north; and after investigations there and a trip to the celebrated

[page 344]

orchard at Manzano, rode in a general southeastern direction to the Gran Quivira, a distance of about thirty-eight miles.

No subsequent travelers have given more accurate or interesting descriptions of the great Salinas ruins, and these have the additional advantage of being made in advance of the slow but constant disintegration of half a century. We are therefore glad to present extracts from his report, with regard to all three of the great ruined missions, with such subsequent information as may seem of value and interest.

Of the great Mission of Abó he says:


“The ruins of Abó consist of a large church and the vestiges of many other buildings, which are now but little else than long heaps of stones with here and there portions of walls projecting above the surrounding rubbish. There is yet standing enough of the church to give one a knowledge of the form and magnitude of the building when in its prime. The ground plan is in the form of a cross. The great entrance was in the southern end. From there to the head of the cross, where the altar was doubtless situated, it is 132 feet inside. This, the nave of the church, is 32 feet in width. The transept is 41 feet in length and 23 feet wide, and is 66 feet from the doorway.”

“The walls are of great thickness, and their height is, at this day, in over half the structure, all of 50 feet. The upper edge of these walls is cut into battlements. The church as well as the neighboring buildings, was built of a stratified dark red sandstone,

[page 345]

such as crops out along the creek and sides of the hills. The pieces of stone do not average over two and one-half inches in thickness and are not generally over one foot in length. We saw not a single dressed stone about the ruins. These stones are laid in mortar made of the ordinary soil from the ground


immediately at hand. The roof of the church was evidently supported by beams and covered with earth, as in the present churches throughout New Mexico. The walls over the doors and windows, so far as we could observe, had been supported by beams

[page 346]

of wood. When these were destroyed, the stone fell down. The woodwork of the church was evidently destroyed by being burned. Wherever in the walls portions of beams still remain, they are found charred and blackened by fire.

“The extent of an exterior wall, which, from appearances, once surrounded the church and the town, was about 942 feet north and south with an average width east and west of say 450 feet.”


In the latter part of the “eighties,” Prof. Charles Longuemare, of Socorro, in company with Father Lestra of that city, made a complete examination of all three of the great ruins, and wrote a series of descriptive articles on the subject, which appeared in the Bullion, of which he was editor. The following extract supplements in certain points the more detailed report of Major Carleton:


“The ruins of the old pueblo of Abó are striking for their magnitude and the interest which they inspire by their surrounding topography and the grand ruins of the old Franciscan church which rears up before the vision of the approaching traveler fully forty feet in the air. The walls vary from four to ten feet in thickness and measure 130 feet in length and 35 feet in width.

“The old ruined edifice stands at the north extremity of the main pueblo, which is built in the form of a parallelogram 1,000 feet by 300, and was evidently built of two-story stone dwellings, the outside walls acting at the same time as fortifications with

[page 347]

only one opening at the south extremity pierced for an entrance.”


The present day traveler can reach this remarkable ruin with more ease than either Major Carleton or Prof. Longuemare, as the line of the “Belch Cutoff” passes within a comparatively short distance; or, by taking Mountainair as a center, all three of the famous ruins can be reached by pleasant separate trips.

[page 348]


Up: Contents Previous: 30. The Salinas Pueblos Next: 32. Cuará

© Arizona Board of Regents