research (embudo)

Torreon excavations

Place 4: San Antonio del Embudo (Dixon)

The Embudo Land Grant was issued to Francisco Martin, Lazaro Cordova, and Juan Marquez in 1725, at a time when the northern Rio Grande region was just beginning to come to terms with a new life under the harrow of Comanche and Ute raiding. In 1719, the horse herd of Captain Serna–which had been pastured on a ranch along the Rio Embudo–were run off by Comanche and Ute, the first of many such raids in New Mexico. At the same time, the Comanche and Ute were aggressively pursuing Apache settlements on the Plains just over the mountains to the northeast. By 1723, these raids had become so intense that the Jicarilla Apache were abandoning their Plains settlements altogether and were moving as refugees to Taos, where a mission was being built for them. This was the dangerously uncertain world into which the small village of San Antonio del Embudo (now known as Dixon, NM) was thrust.

Embudo was part of a broader Spanish effort to secure the northern frontier of New Mexico. Paralleling Ranchos de Taos’s relationship to Taos Pueblo, the Embudo plaza was positioned along an irrigable river a short horse ride (10 miles) away from Picuris Pueblo, which was–along with Taos Pueblo–a key trade center during the early eighteenth century. Settlements like Embudo and Ranchos de Taos were designed to provide a line of defense for the colony against the northern raiders; no doubt they were also intended to keep the potentially rebellious Northern Tiwa pueblos within the Spanish fold. The village itself was built as a fortified settlement roughly a mile east of the Rio Grande in the middle of a well-watered valley formerly used by Picuris Pueblo as farmland. Adobe roomblocks connected one to another in a quadrangle restricted access to a central plaza and permitted movement through the village using interior passageways. Moreover, two torreons were erected on the northeastern and northwestern corners of the plaza, overlooking the community’s agricultural and pasture lands below.

Dixon 1960.1 copy

Embudo (Dixon) as it looked in 1960. The Catholic church buildings are visible in the upper center. The plaza dominates the middle of the image. A standing and still roofed torreon is visible in the lower center.

These defensive measures were taken for good reason. “The Rancho del Embudo,” wrote Fray Miguel de Menchero in 1744, “has in its district about eight families of Spaniards, and is situated on the river called Pecuries, sixteen leagues from the capital, toward the north. It is called Embudo [funnel], because when one comes from Taos… one comes over a craggy mountain, and the entrance to the said place is through a narrow pass formed by two ranges, by way of which the heathen Indians usually make their murderous incursions. The whole place is full of crosses, which I saw, and I prayed for those dead.” Already by 1747, Governor Joachín Codallos y Rabal reported that Embudo was in a ruinous condition, similar to many small Spanish villages in the northern Rio Grande valley at the time. In 1748, along with the besieged settlements at Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente, Embudo was temporarily abandoned.

What was it like to live in Embudo during the perilous eighteenth century? How did villagers negotiate relationships with the much more numerous Pueblo communities to the east (Picuris) and southwest (Ohkay Owingeh) or with the Jicarilla Apache who increasingly occupied the mountains around them? How did they meet the constant threat of assault by newly empowered equestrian tribes from the South Plains while remaining economically reliant, like most Hispano communities, on Plains trade? What crops were grown in the Embudo valley? What animals were kept? What access did they have to colonial goods imported from Mexico or Spain? How did the community organize itself politically and spiritually? How, as Catholics, did they experience and move through the greater New Mexican landscape, and what marks did they leave behind? And how did life in Embudo change after the eighteenth century with the shift toward Mexican and then American rule, with the construction (and then speedy decommissioning) of the nearby Chili Line railroad, with the growth of Los Alamos as a regional employer, with the arrival of Hippies, and with the emergence of modern Dixon as an artistic center? These are among the questions the Gorge Project is interested in exploring through surveys and excavations on the old Embudo plaza, as well as through oral histories with the descendant community.


Midden ExcavationsIn 2013, students from Barnard College, Columbia University, and Framingham State University undertook salvage excavations just outside the Embudo plaza in what proved to be a midden area with nicely stratified deposits. In the image on the left, an oval pit is visible at the bottom of the excavation unit. The pit is filled with charred refuse containing a wealth of information about the foodways and domestic practices of the community’s earliest residents.

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Midden ProfileThe sediment in the 2013 excavation unit appears to have accumulated from about two centuries of domestic dumping episodes as hearth fill, broken pottery and food remains were deposited in a low wash just outside the plaza compound to the northwest. The intact horizontal lines of dark ashy soil visible in the image on the left are particularly exciting insofar as they are permitting us to examine discrete depositional moments in the plaza’s history. Digging down through these deposits one can clearly see when stone tools ceased to be used, when the community gained access to coal, and when glass and metal became common.

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Dixon Artifact.3In the lowest levels of 2013 midden excavations, a number of stone projectile points were recovered. On the left is a resharpened obsidian side-notched arrow point; on the right is a simple triangular chalcedony arrow point; and in the center is an unusual and finely made black chert corner-notched point. The form and material of the latter artifact is non-local and may be the result of early interactions–likely violent–between the Embudo community interlopers from the Plains.


Dixon Artifact.2

Two Catholic artifacts retrieved from the 2013 excavations on the Plaza del Embudo are pictured above. Both probably date to some time between the late nineteenth century and mid-twentieth century. Left: a cross, perhaps originally attached to a rosary. Right: a Catholic “Four Way” devotional medal; the front of the medal depicts, clockwise from top, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Saint Christopher medal, the Miraculous Medal of Mary, and the Saint Joseph medal. The presence of Saint Joseph on the devotional medal speaks to Dixon’s proletariate past; as the patron saint of workers, he may have been worn by a laborer in the fields. The presence of Christopher, patron saint of travelers, on the medal also encourages us to envision this artifact as having been worn by an itinerant laborer.


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