Taos County, New Mexico
Town Coordinator: Shalane Sheley-Cruz
Des Montes, although once a Spanish plaza, is not a town, a township or municipality of any type; it's not on the maps; it has no post office (nor has it ever); and no U.S. census ever named the area. Yet to the locals, it is a very distinct place.
"Two miles east of Arroyo Seco...[Des Montes] appeared on early maps as Los Montes, since 1832 as Des Montes, and local people still know it as Des Montes, likely referring to the nearby mountains to the east." (Robert Julyan's Place Names of New Mexico :University of New Mexico Press, 1998)
"The area of Des Montes is/was primarily determined by the the acequia which irrigates it, the Cuchilla Ditch (aka the Des Montes Ditch). This ditch comes out of the Hondo River. The water was diverted at the point where the river comes out of the mountain cut which now leads to the ski valley. It runs roughly west along the hillside, seemingly uphill, coming out near to what is now the intersection of Rt. 230 and the Rim Rd, aka Cuchilla Rd. From there it runs west over the flat mesa approximately 2m. between the Rim Rd (north boundary) and the Hondo-Seco Rd, aka the Middle Rd (south boundary). Des Montes ends on the west where this mesa drops rather sharply into Arroyo Hondo. The eastern boundary would be Rt. 230, if the Des Montes ditch were the only determining factor. Nowadays people refer to the mesa east of Rt.230 which is watered by the Revalse Ditch as Des Montes as well and perhaps this was the designation from the beginning." (Linda Moscarella, resident)
This map was drawn from information provided in John Baxter's Spanish Irrigation in Taos Valley with the approximate location of the Des Montes Ditch - where the community of Des Montes was/is located.
The Topozone Map shows the Des Montes ditch and the TerraServer map provides a birdseye view of the area (selection site was Valdez).
The history of the area goes back almost two centuries: "Official colonization in the Hondo Valley began in 1815 when Governor Alberto Máynez authorized the Arroyo Hondo Grant for a large number of families, although a few hardy pioneers may have settled in the area earlier. At about the same time, accelerating population growth near Taos led to establishment of other new communities northwest of the pueblo, at Arroyo Seco and Desmontes on the Antonio Martinez Grant, and at San Cristóbal beyond the Hondo."
"Soon after receiving fields and homesites, vecinos of Arroyo Hondo had to wrestle with the problem of sharing water from their river with neighbors on the valley's south rim. Although frequently identified as citizens of Arroyo Seco in early documents, these people actually resided at Desmontes, an area west of Arroyo Seco plaza that gradually emerged as a separate community. There is some evidence that, even before approval of the Hondo grant, settlers on the plain above had begun work on the great ditch that seems to run uphill to irrigate their lands. On modern maps, the big southside canal is called the Cuchilla ditch from its source above Valdez until it reaches the cop of the cañon where it divides. At that point, the Desmontes branch continues to the west and the Revalse acequia flows south." (John O. Baxter, Spanish Irrigation in the Taos Valley, Santa Fe: New Mexico State Engineer Office. 1990, p. 23.)
There were claims "that the Desmontes acequia watered 1,300 acres and was organized about 1808…. However, other documents concerning the origins of Arroyo Seco village suggest that 1815 is a more realistic priority date." (Ibid, p. 26.)
"In 1850, New Mexico became a territory with Taos County as a governmental subdivision…. On May 19, 1852, Arroyo brought suit in probate court against the inhabitants of Desmontes to determine the rights of the two communities to water from the Río Hondo." Water rights disputes have continued in the courts until as late as 1977 (Ibid, p. 39).
The community was located within the Antonio Martinez land grant. First to come to the area were the Mexicans, as the territory was first under the rule of Spain, then of Mexico. Some of the written evidence of families living in Des Montes is from the records of Nuestra Senora de Los Dolores Church in Arroyo Hondo. According to the circuit rider priests who visited the area, from 1852-1865 they baptized at least one hundred sixty-four Des Montes children born to forty-three family names. The largest family in Des Montes during that time was the Vigils, with nineteen children born to them and five more born to Vigil mothers married into other families. The Martinez family had seventeen children (one mother); the Maes family fourteen children (one mother); and twelve Cruz children. Most of the families were related at one point or another. For a history of three of those families, click here.
During that approximate time, the priests also performed at least twenty-six marriage ceremonies for the families.(I state "at least" because villages were not always recorded in either records).
The general area of Des Montes/Valdez was the location of the "Taos Lightening" still where the infamous moonshine was made. It was also the site where fugitives escaped to, and were captured at, after Governor Bent was killed in 1847 in the Taos rebellion.
Even though it is very small, time has irreversibly changed it. Des Montes is no longer a small village of poor Mexicans. In the 1960s, old family ranches and farms were subdivided into lots for homes, purchased primarily by "outsiders"... non Taosenos, for summer homes, art studios etc.
In the 21st century, Des Montes has become an exclusive resort area for the rich, no doubt lured by the nearby (9.5 miles) Taos Ski Valley. Visitors to the area can stay at a beautiful bed and breakfast, the design of which alludes to the original inhabitants of the area over 150 years ago. Recently it was advertised for sale for 1.5 million dollars.
It is well known that the Hollywood actress Julia Roberts owns a ranch in Taos, but locals revealed that she actually lives in the Des Montes area (probably near the Arroyos Del Norte Elementary School, to which she made a generous contribution - People Magazine - March 19, 2001).
Anyone interested in moving to the area can check out Carol Allen's description of the area in her on line listings. She says that "Des Montes is one of the more lush areas of Taos, providing innumerable fields and small ranches as well as beautiful homes."
There aren't many stories about the area. But Bill Whaley gives a very delightful narrative on the area in his "NOSTALGIA: THE SUMMER OF '69: The Tricks of Memory" in the Geronimo journal (even though Des Montes is only mentioned once).
Although in the past the residents of Des Montes were no doubtedly a close-knit community, the age of the internet and strangers continually coming an going, have brought a distance between neighbors. Yet that same electronic marvel allows past and present residents (and those just interested in the area) to keep in contact through the Mailing Lists and Information for the Lower Des Montes Neighborhood Association, who now have a newsletter of events and activities of Des Montes.
Although it has never existed officially, Des Montes continues to exists in the hearts of the people.
My thanks to Carol Hale for her contribution to the local history of Des Montes, and to Linda Moscarella for her description of the location.
Webmaster: Shalane J. Sheley-Cruz