Gerald Peters is the crab in our Santa Fe bucket we love to pull down.
It’s almost too easy. Reclusive and private, he owns a bank, an art gallery and a lot of commercial property. And now beautiful acreage on Upper Cow Creek, where he plans to develop luxury home sites. That’s a lot of targets on someone’s back.
I’ve been in Santa Fe’s building and development game for 36 years and never met him. But we apparently share a love for Cow Creek. He’s at his end; we’re at ours, far downstream.
Cow Creek is an interesting 30-mile stretch of Pecos River watershed. It’s shown on the earliest crude maps of the region but didn’t see Spanish homesteading until Pecos Pueblo people walked to Jemez Pueblo and the Comanche and Apache were eradicated or transplanted.
Diverging from the Pecos River but still close to the Santa Fe Trail and railroad, it sprung three villages along its reaches. Upper Colonias, just downstream for Peters’ place, then Lower Colonias, then North San Ysidro. It connects to the Pecos River just north of San Jose near Interstate 25.
The spring-fed creek, with minor tributaries along its twisty course, is a significant contributor to the flow of the Pecos River, upon which so many are dependent, all the way to Del Rio, Texas.
Families settling the area were hardy. Roybal, Gonzalez, Valencia, Padilla, Ruiz, Aragon are family names I know; undoubtedly there are more. It was subsistence living, with small, flat food-growing flood plains strung together like linked sausages switching from side to side along the canyon floor.
Red willows and box elder maple got dug up and cleared. Acequias were ditched along upper edges and held tight by fruit tree roots. It was all one could want, if the hail and the frost and the floods and the dry spells were gentle and kind.
Over the years, young families moved out of the land grant villages and homesteaded other stretches of the creek. Our 400 yards of creek frontage, between Lower Colonias and North San Ysidro, and two villages and 20 miles from Peters, sits between lands belonging at one time to Roybals to the north and Gonzaleses to the south.
Families then prayed to be big so many hands could help feed many mouths. The rugged, steep hills are dotted with 100-year-old ax-cut stumps of slow-rotting, hot-burning juniper — perfect for the horno. When the Depression and Dust Bowl swept across America in the 1930s, life got harder, but it was always hard.
Great changes came with World War II. It nearly emptied the villages. Boys went off to fight, and other boys and girls went to war jobs in Colorado and California. They seldom came back. Acequias filled in. Cows, sheep and goats ceased trampling creek banks. Willows and box elder maple came back for the beavers. Fields grew over. The remnants of hand-built homes of rock, logs and mud still crumble.
All the villages are still somewhat populated, and big school buses from Pecos still pick up a kid or two, but all save retirees drive somewhere every day for work. Nobody lives exclusively off the land anymore. Which is to say the health of the creek has benefitted tremendously from being fallow for decades and with a fraction of its peak population.
As long as Peters’ plan is luxury ranchettes for part-time ricos, and there are strong covenants for on-site septic treatment and minimal water use, I’m not too worried about effects on our pristine stretch of light-footprint stewardship.