The Tompiro People

The people that settled Abo at the end of the 11th century were part of the Tompiro group, the same group that established pueblos at Quarai and Gran Quivera nearby. They were the mountain relatives of the Piro who lived further south.

Located between the Manzano mountains and the eastern plains, Abo managed to extract sufficient subsistence, augmenting agricultural endeavors with foraging and trade. There was little rainfall or groundwater available for irrigation. A small stream south of the pueblo flowed intermittently throughout the year. A wall encircled the pueblo, with one entrance.

The community existed on the edge of the pueblo culture. Nomadic tribes roamed the eastern plains and attacked the village regularly. Abo, Gran Quivera and Quarai are referred to collectively as the “Cities That Died of Fear.”

Arrival of the Missionaries

Franciscan missions built during the seventeenth century were more ambitious than those built after the Pueblo Revolt. The priests intended to inspire the local population, modifying and augmenting the mission as long as there was time and money available.

Fray Francisco de Acevedo arrived in Abo 1629. His tenure marked the first productive missionary effort. Acevedo chose Abo as his headquarters based on the size of the community and available resources. The village exported piñon nuts and salt, a commodity precious to the Spanish for mining as well as preserving food. Trade led to limited economic prosperity, which funded an organ for the choir loft within a few years of completing the mission. Las Humanas (Gran Quivira) and Quarai were made visitas of the wealthier community of Abo after 1630, meaning the priest was based in Abo and ministered to the other parishes infrequently.

Mission San Gregorio de AbóSan Gregorio Mission

Construction of the mission complex at Abo occurred over the course of 50+ years. The villagers built San Gregorio mission using materials and techniques similar to Chaco Canyon. The reddish-brown sandstone in the area is fissured in layers, making the rock easy to work with in the absence of iron technology or stone cutting tools. They set the stones facing the rubble core to reduce irregularities on the surface of the walls, coating the outer surfaces in plaster. The stones used were rarely larger than one foot square or more than four inches thick. Smaller fragments were inserted as chinks into gaps left by stones of irregular size or shape.

Decade Long Construction Project

James E. Ivey, archaeologist and historian with the National Park Service, excavated the site and identified three major stages of construction. The first phase occurred in the 1620s. That phase included the a simple church and a convento with a single courtyard. Francisco de Acevedo authorized expansion and renovation on the mission between 1645 – 1649. The parishioners demolished the apse end of the church to make room for an extension of the nave and added east and west transepts, and a new apse. They raised the height of the roof, renovated the convento, and reinforced the walls, thickening them to address structural demands and adding buttresses.

By the mid-1650s, Abo, Gran Quivera and Quarai were under duress. Drought, disease and perpetual raiding took a toll on all three communities. The Franciscans continued to build, with faith that God would alleviate the hardship. The third phase of construction included renovating the convento again, with a second courtyard added for storage. They added corrals and pens for livestock. At the end of the third phase, the church was approximately 132 feet in length, with width ranging from 23 feet at the south entrance to almost 32 feet at the end of the sanctuary. It was almost 50 feet tall. With the exception of San Esteban at Acoma, San Gregorio was about twice the height of any other missions in the province.

Within a decade of completing the third stage of construction, all three Salinas pueblos collapsed. The survivors migrated to Tajique and Isleta pueblos.

Disease, Drought and Raids

The arrival of the Spanish was Abo’s Trojan horse. Initially the newcomers brought increased wealth due to trade; however, the economic prosperity was quickly offset by exposure to the European borne smallpox and measles viruses, escalated attacks from the Great Plains, and the cultural ramifications of Spanish religious intolerance. Drought led to famine. Pueblos on the Rio Grande reported refugees from Abo arriving as early as 1671. By 1678 only the ghosts remained

From about 1800 to 1815 tentative efforts were made to resettle the area around Abo. Houses and utility buildings such as barns, corrals, and pens were constructed for dwelling, ranching, and farming. These attempts proved premature, with frequent Apache raids in the 1830s thwarting resettlement efforts. The Apache wars deterred significant settlement until the early 1900s.

Mission San Gregorio de Abó Fred Cisneros donated the land to the state of New Mexico in 1938. The property and buildings became part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in 1981.

Abo is west of Mountainair, about an hour south of Albuquerque. The site is open dailyand there is no fee. Dogs are welcome on a leash.


  1. My family have been generations of New Mexico and Southwestern inhabitants…enjoy your articles and would like to receive them at my email address below.

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