El Carrizo Church
The Church That Time Forgot
Story by Virginia Sanchez Photography by Steve Larese
(Editor’s note: El Carrizo Church is on the recently released list of Most Endangered Places for 2005. The writer shares her personal story of why she nominated the church for the list.)
My father, now in his 80s, often told me he wanted to find his great-grandfather’s gravesite. Ten years ago, he learned from a relative at a family reunion that his great-grandfather was buried near Roy. Last fall, on our way home to Colorado from a funeral in northern New Mexico, I decided to veer off 1-25 at Wagon Mound to go looking for Great-Grandpa in Harding County.
It was a beautiful, clear day for a drive through the Canadian River Canyon and New Mexico’s eastern plains. My parents and I traveled along the two-lane highway for miles and miles passing no other vehicles, only deer grazing on the prairie. Following my father’s strict instructions, I pulled the van over once we arrived at the small prairie town of Roy and asked the first person I found if she knew the Romero family. The kind woman gladly directed us to the home of Tomás Romero.
I found Tomás behind his house, introduced myself, and asked if he was related to José Dolores Romero. Luck was on our side—Tomás was his grandson. Tomás and my father immediately started a conversation about how they were related (half first cousins once removed) and where José Dolores Romero was buried. As it turned out, Great-Grandpa was not buried in the Roy Cemetery, but in El Carrizo Cemetery. Tomás began explaining the drawn-out directions to the cemetery. Knowing I would definitely get lost, I asked if he could accompany us to El Carrizo. Tomás accepted and became our personal tour guide.
We traveled northwest from Roy about 15 miles. The drive to El Carrizo gave Tomás and my father time to “connect.” I enjoyed going through the family genealogy stored in my head as I listened to their stories. We later turned onto a dry, dirt road taking us through the Miller Ranch, drove over a few cattle guards and continued on a prairie cow path for a few more miles. I listened to the sound of the thick, tall feather grass brushing under the van as I recalled the history of the area—Folsom Man and prehistoric bison, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s explorations through this part of New Mexico in 1540, and buffalo hunts by Native Americans and Hispano ciboleros. Just after we descended a rough and rocky hill, a church with a small belfry came into view. The turquoise tint of its weathered, corrugated, metal-pitched roof enhanced the landscape—finding my ancestor’s gravesite became secondary.
Although the sign on the gate reads, “El Carrizo Church,” the official name of this Catholic mission church was San Antonio. José Durán, assistant archivist at the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, confirmed that the stone church was built shortly after 1916, when George Gonzáles and his wife, Piedad M. de Gonzáles, deeded an acre for the church and cemetery. On the front exterior of the church appears a large vertical crack attesting to its loneliness on the abandoned prairie. The gaping hole in the weathered door begged me to enter. Upon entering, I saw the beautiful white altar adorned in three places by a bright red paper flower. As I looked around, my heart sank. Some of the rustic benches were broken and there were visible signs animals and birds had also made their way into the abandoned church. Part of the ceiling panels had started to fall. What really caught my eye were the six beautiful stained-glass windows etched with the surnames Baca, Lucero, Chavez, Gallegos and Valdez—descendants of El Carrizo’s settlers, community leaders and church benefactors. These windows were all in excellent condition, but clearly in danger of damage by vandals and severe weather. I admired the pride the settlers took in building their church on this sandy prairie and was sad to see it in such disrepair.
Two priests served in the San Antonio mission church. Between 1920 and 1944, Mass was offered by the Rev. Courad Lammert, parish priest from the town of Bueyeros. Then from 1944 to 1955, the Rev. Fred Stadtmuller, from the Mosquero parish, served the El Carrizo community. Area resident Doroteo M. Martinez was baptized in San Antonio Church during its early years. “The church was beautiful inside,” he recalls. “Mass was offered once a month. We had a funcion every June 13 and (the statue of) San Antonio was paraded around the church. My parents and other family members are buried in the cemetery.” His nephew Epimenio Martinez remembers Rev. Stadtmuller, the “Flying Padre.” “Father Fred Stadtmuller used to fly his plane into El Carrizo. He used to give people rides. I rode in his plane once; it was my first time. He landed the plane on the flat.” Monsignor Stadtmuller is now retired and lives in Albuquerque.
The San Antonio Church in El Carrizo was abandoned by 1960. Fortunately, this Harding County church made it on the 2005 Most Endangered Places List issued by the New Mexico Preservation Alliance. Although the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has no plans to restore the church, many area residents agree something must be done to protect the stained- glass windows, replace the door and repair the exterior crack in the stone wall. I believe they will come together bringing tools, ladders, and material and fostering community involvement and volunteerism. Matt Mitchell lives five miles from El Carrizo and has taken an interest in protecting it. “The church is a part of the history of this part of the county. It’s a neat little place to look at. I’d hate to see it fall down and ruin those stained-glass windows.”
My family’s roots in northern New Mexico and interest in our heritage led us to El Carrizo and the San Antonio Church. Not only did we find the cemetery where my ancestor was buried, we enjoyed the personal tour by our newly found relative and thoroughly enjoyed the day and our travel in Harding County. We went looking for Great- Grandpa in Roy and found much, much more in El Carrizo.
Virginia Sanchez is a Historian/genealogist with deep roots in New Mexico. She is a frequent presenter at Historical Society of New Mexico conferences and genealogical societies in New Mexico and Colorado. Her favorite topics include New Mexico’s Spanish colonial military, the life and times of Juana Lujan (Virginia’s seventh great-grandmother) and a Colorado acequia community in Huerfano County. She lives in Denver and is writing a book about an 1866 settlement in Cucharas, Colorado. She was a senior technical writer for 20 years and has a master’s degree in technical communication. Virginia Sanchez