Life is Sweet with Honeybees and Cherry Trees

Hello from your History Herald! As spring gently rouses New Mexico from its winter sleep, the days become warmer and brighter and our gardens welcome back their beautiful blooms. Will all this beauty around, I am inspired to talk about one of Earth’s most impressive and important species who starts to make an appearance around this time—the Honeybee!

So, what’s the buzz about bees? While there are several species of bees native to New Mexico, Honeybees specifically have been in the area since the 1500s when early Spanish settlers imported them along with other livestock up El Camino Real. Considered a valuable commodity and tremendous asset to humans, bees were brought along mainly for their pollination services. Did you know that managed honeybees are among the most reliable pollinators in agriculture? That’s very important in this state. New Mexico alfalfa hay, for example, is one of the state’s top agricultural crops and it’s almost entirely dependent on bee pollination!

Honeybees are also valued for their honey, wax production, and more. Did you know local honey provides allergy relief? Bee pollen does too, and is rich in vitamins, protein, and other nutrients. Beeswax is great for fixing squeaky hinges, polishing wood furniture, and for making lotion or salve. Of course, here at Las Golondrinas we use beeswax in our candle-making activity! Propolis, resin bees collect from trees to coat the hive, has antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties; and let’s not forget bee venom therapy, using bee stings to relieve arthritis. Wow, the brilliance of bees!

Evolving over millions of years, these talented little beauties, are unique in their ability to produce honey and form large “eusocial” societies, the most evolutionarily advanced among colony groups. Their form of communication, the most developed of any invertebrate, includes seven dances used to alert the colony about the location and distance of pollens. Honeybees also clean their hives and even self-medicate by choosing plants that benefit them — incredible! In addition, is there really any other way to enjoy a New Mexico sopapilla other than with local honey?!

With plants and trees around us blossoming, you might have noticed some honeybees buzzing around them, and who can blame them? Currently one of New Mexico’s most savored trees, the Southwestern Chokecherry, is in bloom with fragrant pink and white blossoms, enticing bees with their nectar. Found between 5,000 and 8,000 feet of altitude, they thrive in rich, moist soils along riverbanks, but are also hardy enough to withstand drought, which is why they’re perfectly adapted to much of northern New Mexico. By late summer/early autumn, clusters of dark cherries will be ready to be enjoyed by animals and humans alike. Much like Piñon picking, it’s tradition for families to forage the wild cherries annually.

A native species of New Mexico, Chokecherry trees have been traditionally prized as both a food, high in antioxidants and rich in vitamin C, and for the medicinal properties of its bark and roots.

A staple food among many Indigenous communities, Chokecherry ranks among the most important fruits. Called “Capulin” in Spanish, Chokecherries have long been used to make jelly, jam, juice, syrup, and even wine! You can consume them raw, but they pack some pucker power (there’s a reason they’re called chokecherries!). The intense, often bitter, taste mellows when dried or cooked with sweeteners. Capulin jellies and syrups are sweet, tangy (and a lovely color) and are delicious on toast, pancakes, tortillas, and more! Much like sopapillas with honey, Capulin is a must-try New Mexican delicacy!

History Herald: Springtime in New Mexico

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager
The Dye Shed

Wind, allergies, sunshine in some places, snow in others, we all know what that means; it’s officially Spring in New Mexico! It’s the season symbolizing growth, renewal and rebirth. Looking around at the natural beauty of New Mexico we see color springing into vibrancy around us once again. At Las Golondrinas no one loves color more than our talented weavers! They turn plants, minerals, and even insects into natural dyes that transform the wool from our Churro sheep into radiant works of art.

Traditionally, New Mexican weavers have harvested wild growing plants to make dye. One that has always been in high demand for vibrant yellows and golds is “Cota.” This hearty plant is resilient with little water and thrives in the New Mexico wild. Our weavers let spun wool (yarn) sit in a mordant (a substance that binds dye to fiber) of water, alum, and cream of tartar, then soak the yarn in a dye bath made of cota petals. Variations in this process result in an array of golden hues. Cota has been integral to New Mexican life for generations, even used to make a tasty, medicinal tea. (*Please note, this is NOT medical advice. Always consult your health care provider before using home remedies (remedios).)

Herbs and Plants for Dying

New Mexicans in the past, however, didn’t have access to modern healthcare, and so, relied on herbal healers, honorably called Curanderos by their community. This is not a title they would have bestowed upon themselves. To provide the best care they could, curanderos spend years apprenticing and studying, and utilized various types of plants, herbs, and roots to sooth and cure an array of ailments. One of the most important was oshà. It grows in the high sierras and was used in treating colds, lung infections, and sore throats. It was also believed to ward off rattlesnakes and was used by Pueblo and Spanish communities alike to discourage insect infestation along acequia banks (irrigation ditches), which is great because springtime is also when local farmers from rural communities across New Mexico work together to clean the winter debris from their acequias, as they have for generations.

History Herald: Acequias

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager

Acequia Madre

Did you know that Acequias are the oldest water management institutions in the United States? They were also the first non-Indigenous form of government in New Mexico, a system still in place in small rural communities. This system of irrigation, brought by the Spanish who learned from the Moors during their occupation of Spain, once supplied water to a large portion of the Southwest. Today, around 700 acequias continue to feed the fields of Northern New Mexico! Each acequia has a mayordomo (ditch boss) and a commission, which oversee the delivery of water, settle disputes, and maintain the ditch system.

These ditches also help to restore aquifers and riparian areas, like here in La Cienega. Because acequias are integral to farms, ranches, and in some cases infrastructure operations, this job is essential in maintaining healthy farming ecosystems. Here at Las Golondrinas our small operations crew works hard tending to our animal friends, crops, and of course the Acequia Madre, or mother ditch, which runs through the site and is used to irrigate our fields. The acequia on Las Golondrinas’ land is part of the La Cienega Acequia, a community shared irrigation ditch that has been active since ca. 1715, and it’s listed on New Mexico’s register of historic places! This is the time of year the crew cleans it and prepares the fields for the growing season. We are all so excited to begin anew this spring and hope to welcome our guests back to this beautiful site this season!

The Three Wise Women of Santa Fe

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager

Hello from your History Herald!

The Three Wise Women of Santa FeYou may be familiar with the Paloheimo name, Leonora and Y.A., the founders of our museum, but did you know that Leonora comes from a line of pretty remarkable women? Eva Scott Fényes, her daughter Leonora Scott Muse Curtin, and granddaughter Leonora Curtin Paloheimo were highly accomplished in the arts, science, business, and cultural preservation, leaving their mark on Santa Fe. The lives of these three women, spanning over 150 years, were champions of cultural preservation in the Southwest and together created a pretty remarkable female dynasty.

Fényes was the daughter of a New York publisher. Her first husband, U.S. Marine Corps general W.S. Muse, was Leonora’s father. Her second husband was Hungarian nobleman and physician Adalbert Fényes. She first visited New Mexico in the 1880s and was quickly enthralled by its rich Spanish and Native American art and history. Their first home in Pasadena, California, is now the Pasadena Museum of History. Later, with her daughter and granddaughter, she completed their Santa Fe residence at 614 Acequia Madre in 1926. It is filled with antique furniture and artwork from the Southwest and Finland, as well as Depression-era tinwork, textiles, and furniture made for the Native Market cooperative, subsidized by Leonora Paloheimo. It was dubbed “the house of the three wise women” by friend, Charles Lummis, the famous journalist and preservationist.

Eva Scott Fenyes in Egypt
Eva Scott Fenyes in Egypt

Eva was an accomplished artist, leaving behind hundreds of watercolor pieces, mostly of Southwestern adobe structures. She was also talented in oil painting, learning the art from famous American artist Sanford Gifford, who taught her while sailing the Nile during one of her tours of Egypt in 1869. Many of these works now reside in the Acequia Madre archives.

Her daughter, Leonora Scott Muse, married Santa Fe lawyer Thomas E. Curtin. After his death, she and her young daughter, the second Leonora, accompanied Eva on her world travels, developing their own passions and talents. During her childhood the youngest Leonora made frequent trips to Santa Fe with her mother and grandmother where she learned Spanish and developed a deep love and appreciation for local culture. Like her mother and grandmother before her, Leonora had a preservationist spirit and wanted to see the beautiful traditions of Santa Fe life maintained and celebrated. In Santa Fe, the two Leonoras were founding members of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society and purchased the La Cienega property that eventually became El Rancho de las Golondrinas.

Leonora Curtin was a student of Native American and Spanish-American Herbology and wrote the books Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande and By the Prophet of the Earth. She was a talented ethnobotanist during a time when you didn’t see a lot of women in science. Leonora Paloheimo researched Native American languages for the Smithsonian Institution, and during the 1930s started Native Market to provide an outlet for the works of local craftsmen.

Leonora Curtin
Leonora Curtin

In 1933 Leonora and her mother purchased Las Golondrinas for $15,000, paying the first $13,500 in cash and the rest in 200 sheep (how New Mexican of them)! She said there was “no plan to live at the ranch; it was to be a retreat where they could escape from the pressures of a too-active life in town and refresh themselves in the primitive simplicities of the country.” In 1945 she met Finnish Diplomat, Y.A. Paloheimo. The couple were soon married, and Y.A. quickly fell in love with the Ranch. By the 1960s Las Golondrinas had become a family home and year-round farm and ranch.

Through the years they worked to restore the historic structures to their former brilliance. It was during an afternoon stroll, while admiring the beauty and charm, that Y.A. was struck with the idea to develop an open air, living history museum, and El Rancho de las Golondrinas was born!

Opened in 1972, this year marks 48 years of preserving the beautiful history and culture of New Mexico and it still remains the perfect place to “escape the pressures of a too-active life.”

History Herald: Smokey Bear, a New Mexico Hero!

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager

Hello from your History Herald!

Smokey BearDid you know that in 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, crews discovered a major wildfire driven by strong wind? As the crew battled to contain the blaze they received a report of a lone bear cub seen wandering near the fire line. Suddenly, the firefighters were caught directly in the path of the fire storm. They survived by lying face down on a rock bed for over an hour as the fire burned past them. Nearby, the little cub had not fared as well. He took refuge in a tree that became completely charred, escaping with his life, but also badly burned paws and hind legs. The crew removed the cub from the tree and a rancher among the crew agreed to take him home. A New Mexico Department of Game and Fish ranger heard about the cub and drove to the rancher’s home to help get the cub on a plane to Santa Fe, where his burns were treated and bandaged.

News about the little bear spread swiftly throughout the state. Soon, the United Press and Associated Press broadcasted his story nationwide and many responded, inquiring about the cub’s recovery. The state game warden wrote to the chief of the National Forest Service, offering to present the cub to the agency as long as the cub would be dedicated to a conservation and wildfire prevention publicity program. The cub was soon on his way to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., becoming the living symbol we know and love, Smokey Bear. Smokey received numerous gifts of honey, and so many letters that they dedicated a private zip code just for him!


He remained at the zoo until his death in 1976, when he was returned to his home to be buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico, where he continues to be a wildfire prevention legend. In 1952, the popular anthem was written, and due to the song’s popularity and the addition of “the” between his name, Smokey Bear has been called “Smokey the Bear” by many adoring fans, but, in actuality, his name never changed. He’s still simply, Smokey Bear.

Now that summer is in full swing and outdoor adventure beckons, please remember to enjoy the outdoors responsibly so that together we may protect this beautiful state and all who call her home!

Learn more about Smokey at

Sources and Resources for at-home learning:

Rollin’ Bones: The History of Dice

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager 

Hello from your History Herald! “Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein.

When you were a kid did you ever play “bones”? Ever wonder why dice (and often dominoes, which are also called “tiles”) are called “bones”? You guessed it! Because they were originally made from the ankle bones of animals. Early civilizations used bones, hooves and horns from animals like sheep or deer. Carved into cubes, small circles were then inscribed on the bone dice to delineate the differing sides. Did you know that those small circles actually have a name? The dots on dice are called “pips.” Did you further know that on a 6-sided dice, opposite sides always add up to lucky number 7?!

Dice are some of the oldest gaming implements known to mankind, dating back at least 5,000 years! Some of the oldest known dice were discovered at an archaeological site in the Middle East as part of a Backgammon set. But the first dice throwers weren’t gamers, they were religious figures who used them, as well as rocks, sticks, or even animal entrails, for fortune-telling. The journey from divination to gaming is unknown, but it seems that since the outcome of fortune-telling was complex, and well, a gamble, it made sense for them to “roll” into the gaming scene.

Dice games eventually made their way into New Mexico, where pieces were crafted from bone or wood until manufactured dice were brought over during the latter part of the 19th century. Like marbles, quoits, pick-up six, jacks, and more, dice have been a favorite pastime for generations! Make sure that amid your at-home learning and hands-on history, you take some time to play!