The unique past of San Cristóbal Valley Ranch

San Cristóbal Ranch's transformations, famous visitors and role in the Red Scare.

Elizabeth Cleary
Posted 9/28/14

The property is not open to the public and it doesn’t look like much, but at times during the past 100 years or so the area that was once called the San Cristóbal Valley Ranch has undergone several transformations, had a number of famous visitors …

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The unique past of San Cristóbal Valley Ranch

San Cristóbal Ranch's transformations, famous visitors and role in the Red Scare.

Posted

The property is not open to the public and it doesn’t look like much, but at times during the past 100 years or so the area that was once called the San Cristóbal Valley Ranch has undergone several transformations, had a number of famous visitors and was even at the center of a federal investigation during the Red Scare.

Very little written information exists on the history of the property. Probably one of the most thorough accounts is contained in the book “Sing My Whole Life Long,” a biography of longtime San Cristóbal resident and folk musicologist Jenny Vincent. Craig Smith wrote the book in 2007 after meeting her at his son’s wedding 10 or so years ago. Vincent was there with some of her bandmates to play music at the wedding, and Smith said he became fascinated with her life story and soon got the idea to turn it into a book. Vincent even influenced Smith to learn to play the accordion.

Vincent and Dan Wells (she would later remarry and take the surname Vincent) bought the ranch in San Cristóbal in 1937. They were a young couple from back East that fell in love with the area in Northern New Mexico after paying visits to their friend Freida Lawrence, widow of the famous author D.H. Lawrence. Vincent and Wells cared deeply for their new neighbors and community in San Cristóbal, and soon after buying the ranch the couple decided to start a  school for grades nine through 12 for boarders and daytime students on the property.

The school allowed San Cristóbal Valley residents to attend high school without having to make the 30-mile round trip to Taos every day. The school was such a success that they soon added grades five through eight.

“A lot of it was built around the things kids did together — chores, building, caring for their rooms, outdoor activities,” Vincent told Smith for his book.

In 1943, Vincent became the Taos County representative for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which, according to Smith’s book, was founded in 1908 to help farmers in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming improve and market products.

“The farmers union was a milestone for Jenny’s personal and political maturation,” Smith wrote. “In this work she found meaningful expression and practical application for her growing political convictions.” That same year, Vincent joined the Communist Party.

Vincent moved to New York for a while during the 1940s and returned to San Cristóbal following a split from Wells. After returning to New Mexico in 1947, Vincent met and fell in love with Craig Vincent, a man who shared many of her political convictions and worked for a nonprofit dedicated to improving conditions for the underprivileged in Denver. The two married in 1949, and settled down at the San Cristóbal property, where they decided to start a guest ranch. It was not long after that San Cristóbal caught the attention of the communist-fearing right, during the era of “McCarthyism,” so-called for Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy.

In 1950, a man who went by the name of Harvey Matusow came to stay at the ranch for one week. His real name was Harvey Matt, and he was working undercover as an informant for the FBI. Two years later, Matt testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). According to

Smith’s book, many of the accusations, such as Matt’s assertion that Jenny and Craig Vincent went on an “intelligence gathering” mission to Los Alamos, were nonsense.

In 1954, Craig Vincent was subpoenaed to testify at a trial of his friend, Clinton Jencks, who was accused of falsely signing an affidavit that claimed he was not a communist. Craig Vincent refused to hand over the San Cristóbal ranch’s guest list as well as other information concerning the ranch, and was sentenced to five years in prison, although he never served his sentence.

Smith received much of the information for his book from conversations with Jenny Vincent herself.

Now 101 years old, Jenny Vincent spoke with a reporter who came to visit her at the Taos Retirement Village in July of this year. When asked about the FBI investigations at the ranch, Jenny Vincent simply said, “I’m trying to forget.”

“My memory is not as good in that area as it is in remembering a song,” she said.

Jenny Vincent still plays folk music at the retirement home every Tuesday, and each week she attracts a sizable audience. Her husband has been dead for more than 30 years.

By the time Craig was subpoenaed to testify, he and Vincent had already sold the ranch. According to Smith’s book, Craig Vincent wrote in a letter to the Taos Chamber of Commerce that he and Jenny Vincent “could no longer in all fairness to our guests and ourselves subject them to the overt danger of being framed in this way, to satisfy the evil political purposes of those who would subvert the Constitution.”

In 1964, however, Jenny and Craig Vincent decided to buy the ranch back. Five years later, the couple decided to rent the ranch out to Reis Tijerina, who was to use it as an Indo-Hispano cultural center. An announcement was made on the afternoon of Feb. 2, 1969, and by that evening the ranch home and other structures had burned to the ground. Craig Vincent was convinced this was arson. So did Tijerina, who according to Smith’s book, thought of the fire as “further proof of the conspiracy to keep Hispanic peoples from developing their culture, rights and heritage.”

Jenny and Craig Vincent later sold the property, and it became the site of the San Felipe del Río Children’s Home. And later it became a drug and alcohol treatment center. The owners of the treatment center still own the property, although it closed in January, 2013. The property currently houses the domestic water system for San Cristóbal.

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