DON BULLIS Ellos Pasaron Por Aqui: Rio Rancho land has a rich history of ranching
Courtesy of Jim Koontz
It is difficult to imagine, as one drives along NM 528 from Rio Rancho’s south limit to US 550, that the land on both sides of the road has a significant past dating back 8,000 years into pre-recorded history and more than 300 years when Spaniards began keeping land ownership records.
New Mexico historian Marc Simmons reported that when the area was excavated in the 1960s, more than 40 Folsom man (8500 to 7500 BC) campsites were found. Some have been excavated, many have not.
Early man departed and left little behind but desert: land adequate as cattle and/or sheep grazing land, and not much else.
But in 1710, about 100,000 acres of it (some sources say 89,000 acres) became the property of Spaniard Francisco Montes Vigil as a grant of land made to him by King Philip IV of Spain. Montes Vigil sold it about two years later to Capt. Juan Gonzales, a Spanish Army officer.
It became known as the Alameda Land Grant, no doubt in recognition of the cottonwood groves along the Rio Grande. (“Alameda” means “cottonwood grove.”)
Courtesy of Jim Koontz
The exact limits of the grant were somewhat vague. One map I have seen shows a roughly rectangular plot of land beginning at the Rio Grande and extending west, probably to the escarpment at the western edge of what is now Rio Rancho.
There are no exact indications as to how far it extended in any direction. It does show the east limit at the modern course of the Rio Grande. (The river’s course moved to the west in the early 1800s).
Nothing about the Alameda land grant changed for about 200 years, until 1921, when A.B. McMillen bought 55,000 acres from the heirs. In 1929, Albert Black bought more than 20,000 acres of the grant, an area that became the Seven Bar Ranch south of present-day Rio Rancho.
A partnership of Jasper and Elladee Koontz and Jim Baylor bought 55,000 acres of the grant in 1948 and operated it as a cattle ranch.
The son of Jasper Koontz, Jim Koontz, now a resident of Corrales who also operates a cattle ranch in De Baca County, recalls driving cattle where much of residential Rio Rancho now exists. He also remembers driving cattle west to the Marquez area of what was then western Valencia County, where his family continued ranching after 1959.
It was then that they sold to a consortium of New Mexico businessmen, who subsequently sold the 55,000 acres to the American Realty and Petroleum Corporation (AMREP) in 1961 for about $10 million.
An item in the Chicago Tribune dated June 19, 1961, read, “One of the biggest real estate land developments in the U.S. is under way just northwest of the city (Albuquerque)… The development is called Rio Rancho Estates.”
In 1971, AMREP purchased an additional 35,000 acres from the King brothers, who operated the Alamo ranch west of the old Koontz ranch. The King brothers included former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King.
(Look for Don Bullis’ latest book, “New Mexico Historical Chronology: From the Beginning…” due for publication in summer 2018. His earlier books are available from RioGrandeBooks.com.)