The Story Of A Book – ‘Homesteading On The Pajarito Plateau’

‘This book is dedicated to the memory of those original homesteaders who took the risks, made the effort, met the challenges, and gave up their land ‘for the good of the nation.’ —from Homesteading on the Pajarito Plateau
Los Alamos Historical Society
Books tell stories, but as readers we don’t always think about why a book was written or what inspired a story or how the author became interested in it. To know these things can make a book more meaningful.
Bathtub Row Press has recently released a second edition of Homesteading on the Pajarito Plateau, 1887–1942, a title first published in 2012 by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and it is important to know how this book came about.
In the autumn of 1942, the U.S. Government began condemnation proceedings to take over land on the Pajarito Plateau in order to locate a secret laboratory as part of the Manhattan Project. At that time, the land was occupied by the Los Alamos Ranch School, Anchor Ranch, and 32 Hispanic homesteaders and their families.
A problem arose when the ranch school and Anchor Ranch received much larger compensations than the homesteaders, who received less than an eighth of the total amount paid to the Anglo owners of the ranch properties. Not until 2004 would the families of the homesteaders claim a more fair compensation after taking legal action. The U.S. Congress finally created a $10 million fund for awards to the descendants and heirs of those original homesteaders.
In addition to the monetary settlements, the U.S. Department of Energy agreed to fund a book on the history of homesteading on the Pajarito Plateau. Authors Judith Machen, Ellen McGehee and Dorothy Hoard extensively researched the plateau homesteads and the families who worked them. The book is a tribute to those families and their times. It also relates a meaningful part of our Los Alamos history, one worth visiting through the pages of this incredible book. The authors helped preserve not only the history of a time here on this plateau but also our history on a broader scale, giving a glimpse into an important era in our nation’s history when homesteaders sought independence and the right to own land. It was at once an exciting time and a hard time as seen in the stories presented in Homesteading on the Pajarito Plateau, 1887-1942.
Authors Judith Machen and Ellen McGehee will signing copies of the book 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dec. 7, in Fuller Lodge during the Winterfest Open House. Books can be purchased at that time and are currently available in the Los Alamos History Museum Shop. The Museum Shop is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.weekends, and appears on the website at