A young man’s heart is stirred with a vision of the past. He wanders among the flocks of sheep raised by his family for generations, remembering a time when these animals were the economic backbone of northern New Mexico and a man’s wealth was measured by the size of his flock.
In 1977, Antonio Manzanares brought life to that vision when he acquired his own small flock of churro and Rambouillet sheep. By 1982 the flock had grown to 450 sheep and now numbers 900 ewes.
The churro is a coarse-wooled sheep once used by the peasants of Spain. These sheep were included in Coronado’s army when it left Campostela in 1540 bound for the conquest of the Seven Cities of Cibola. The churro was ideally suited for the extreme heat and cold of the mountain Southwest-tough, hardy, disease resistant, needing little water on the trail. And their long-stapled fleece has a lower lanolin content that means it requires less water in the cleaning process and takes dye well. From this animal was born the weaving industry that still thrives in New Mexico today. The Spanish brought their own technology with them-the Old World treadle, or walking loom that sparked the textile revolution in Europe. Plans were brought to the New World and looms of hand-hewn timbers were built that could produce lengths of cloth up to 100 meters long. They are still in use at the obrajes, the workshops of contemporary New Mexico weavers from Chimayo and Taos to the Chama Valley. Antonio, his wife Molly, three daughters and one son unite to continue the tradition of pastores with commitment and care.
I was having lunch with my camera last October in the Los Ojos Cafe and they asked, What are you doing sitting here? Why are you not taking pictures? The flock is being moved to La Puente from the high country at Canjilon Lakes. I grabbed my camera and drove to Hwy. 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Taos. The Basque in me was alive and I remembered why I had left Santa Fe for my birthplace in Tierra Amarilla. It was a warm day colored by aspen of orange, yellow, red and lime. The autumn wind and the smell of sage engulfed me. There appeared the view of Antonio, Molly on horseback and their sheep herder, Marcos, four dogs and 2,000 sheep. The bah bah was music in my ears and brought excitement to my heart. I asked my husband to stop the truck, I said I am walking and helping Antonio and his family with the sheep to La Puente. I walked for 10 miles.
The sheep were penned into some corrals along the way while I shared food, water, and cookies with Antonio, his family, the sheep herder and friends. His daughter Lara drives the truck and brings water and food with such love and a smile. The sheepherder, Marcos, tells the story of bears visiting the camp for a bit to eat and how he protects the sheep with the dogs. The trip across the mountains will take three days.
The teamwork of the Manzanares family— dogs Cazador, Phillip, Solo Vino, Toby and the horses, Peanut and Smokey — is amazing to watch. They are truly helpers to each other in their commitment to the task. We are greeted by Tony the sheriff who is trying to stop traffic with the help of Antonio. We enter the beautiful town of Tierra Amarilla and people are standing on both sides of the road, watching.
Horses in pastures along the highway are running, they must feel the excitement too. The sheep move into the community. Antonio dismounts his horse and mends the fences with patience.
To La Puente, where the sheep will pasture until November or December, depending on the weather, and then will be moved north until March. In May, they will be sheared and then moved again to Tres Piedras where lambing starts. Assisting in the birth process takes hard work, as every so often a sheep will reject its baby. Antonio and his helpers place these lambs with other nursing ewes. In spring, the sheep make a six-day trip back to the Canjilon Lakes. Antonio moves his sheep to a different camp every week to prevent overgrazing.
At Tierra Wools in Los Ojos, Antonio’s churro wool is processed by the women of Los Ojos and neighboring communities. They wash, spin and collect local plants to dye the wool which is then woven into colorful blanakets, jackets, table mats and runners, pillows. Raw wool, dyed and undyed, is purchased by weavers from all over the region. They are working, like the Manzanares family, to keep a tradition alive and flourishing.
Los Ojos writerr/ photographer Dorothy Galloway was raised on a ranch in Tierra Amarilla.
Ski Country 2001 -2002