Eppie Archuleta, Hispanic Weaver and National Heritage Fellow, was 72 years old when interviewed by Robert Atkinson in 1994.
My Grandpa was a great weaver. He was one of the first weavers in Chimyon. They were all weavers there and all his kids were weavers and contractors. They were great weavers, my Dad was great weaver too. My Mom was a weaver. Before, I think she used to weave rag rugs, but not really at it all the time. When she married my Dad she wanted to weave because she already had the knack, so my Dad bought her a loom and taught her. She’s still weaving at 96.
My Grandpa on my Mom’s side, they never weave, they were farmers. My Grandpa used to raise lot a corn, a lot of animals. He had a big farm. We used to work there all the time ourselves. We used to like to go to our Grandpa’s farm.
My Mom helped raise us. She say she had to because my Dad was crippled. He could work hard but he work with his hands and his head. She support us and support him. My Dad was a teacher. He was a teacher, and he was a great teacher. When I was a little girl I used to go to school and he taught us to weave. We used to farm too, he used to take us to help other people on the farms and all. We were 9 of us, so he used to take all of us and always carry us everywhere to do the farming and then to weave. He was very strict. He wanted everything done right. He was a musician too, he was a singer, and he used to take us to many dances because he loved to go there.
Mom didn’t go, never. She always stay home with the other kids. Later on he was the postmaster. He used to work in the WPA. I remember when he worked there, and then he decided we leave. He was the first postmaster there, and when he retired, my sister took over. My sister retired, her daughter stay at it. Some of the family there still at it, it’s still the same post office.
He was very strict and he wanted everything the right way. Even to weave we had to do the right thing. Even to pray, we used to pray every night. In the nights, the whole family, he even stopped us to tell us we said the wrong word or something. He was always right. He was very right all the time. He was just always right. He was a very strong man even though he was a cripple. He was very strong. I remember he lift a car. There were those cars, the little model T. They weren’t heavy but he used to lift the car.
My parent were very religious. They made us go to church every Sunday and we had to pray every night. My Dad, I remember, he never got up out of bed before he prayed. He used to get up out of bed and kneel there and pray. In the night he used to kneel there and pray by himself, too. He really had faith and we all do. We were raised like that. I believe everything is God’s will.
I am the third. My older sister already passed away about 5 years ago. My brother older than me, he’s still there. We all were weavers still.
Because we were 9 of us, my Dad, I don’t think he made enough money to support all of us. We were never poor. I remember seeing people so poor in those times they didn’t even have enough clothes, but we always had enough. My Dad used to take us to farm. We raised our own food there. We raise animals for meat, and chickens for eggs, we even raised our own wheat. We had big fields of wheat which we had to cut.
I remember my Dad couldn’t work too hard but he was a good leader. We were a lot of girls. We only had two brothers and all of us, we had to cut the wheat by hand and tie everything by hand. Then we used to build a table and there we put the big piles of wheat. First they brought the goats. Then they sweep it and they put the wheat in the middle with a fence around it and brought wild horses.
We used stay all night and day when the wind come. Do it by hand. Get all the straw out. For us, we were young, it was a big party because we all got together, neighbors, and we all meet in the same place. For me, it was very, very nice because we got together with other people and in the evening they just talk.
I’m a very good storyteller because I used to see my Dad and the neighbors say stories. I was young but I used to love to hear stories. Just tales of long time. Oh, I do, I say it to my kids. They love for me to tell stories to my grandchildren. I learn them good. My sisters don’t remember some stories. They say they don’t even pay attention. I did. I loved that. So, I can tell stories to my kids now. I don’t have time in the house, I’m always working or weaving or something, We have to travel to my Mom’s. I travel about 120 miles and I go see my Mamma about every two weeks. My great grandchildren or grandchildren want to go with me and they want a story all the way.
My Grandpa, he was an all right guy. He used to sing for people like when they get married and all that. He played the violin beautiful, I never seen anything like him, and the banjo and guitar and sing all the time. He was a very, very happy man in this world.
My Dad was so strict with us that we never talked to anybody unless we were with him. We never did. So we had to stay weaving. We didn’t like it. We on purpose made mistakes so they had to throw us out for a minute. We just did it because we wanted to get out of that room. We always worked. But I never liked to weave that much, but we did and I learn good. He was a good teacher. If we made a mistake he would tell us take it out and fix it. We learned the right way right away.
He used to take us from Minnieolas which was about 15 miles to Espanola to school every day. We couldn’t do every day so he rent a place over there and stay with us in school the whole week and we came on the weekends home. My Mom stay home weaving and taking care of the all little ones. But we used to go every single week to Espanola. He wanted us to be educated. I don’t know what for. So I say, I’m not going to school anymore, but he never let us quit school. We had to do what he wanted. So I thought, I think I’m going to get married. I thought it was something just to get out of there. And that’s why I got married. I never liked weaving, but when I got married, the first thing I ask my husband, “I want a loom.” Since then I never stopped.
I was weaving because they made me, not because I wanted to. And we used to weave for money, to buy our shoes and material. My Mamma used to make all our clothes. We never bought anything from the stores. Just our shoes, and we never wear them. Just when went out, but we never went out. Only when our Daddy wanted to take us to a dance. He wanted to go so he took us. But he was very strict. I never talked to anybody, even in the dance.
We had a big loom, and three of us weave on the same loom. My Dad and Mom, or Juan or my sister. She was the oldest and we were always three there. My sister didn’t even go to school hardly. She always weaved.
First when we were small, we just start preparing wool. Then go to the loom and make the bobbins. Then, when we could reach the loom we could work there. We had to actually do it. We know right away we born weavers. I believe that. Mine too, they all can weave. You put them in the loom even if they haven’t done it. I think they have a good mind. Like my oldest daughter. She say she never weave and she didn’t want to learn to weave all the time, so I never push mine.
I was weaving for myself. If they want to learn, I’ll show them. She didn’t want to be a weaver. Then when she start growing, like after she got married too, she said she looked at her aunts and Grandma and she learnt, but she already know. She become a great weaver but not actually from my loom because she didn’t want to be a weaver.
I have another girl. She says, “I’m not going to weave,” and she weaves. She can weave and she already has her loom but she says, “I’m not going to weave until I’m old.” So they don’t want to be a weaver every single day like I am but they will later. My grandchildren, well right away I have a little loom for my great grandchildren. They are working there, and they want to work and I teach them right away to do the right thing. I tell them, “You have to do it right.” They’re learning right.
But because of this wool mill I’m building, I don’t know why I thought this would be a good thing for the valley, because where I am now, Capalini, it says in the paper it’s the poorest place in the state. So I’m over there with a lady. Well, we live there first when we move to Colorado, that’s where we settled. Then when my husband decided to retire, he thought we moved to Lasmoso and we gave everything we had to the kids. We had 8 so we cut in parts the whole farm for them so they all have their parts. Some of them sell their parts to the other ones and they’re farming.
So I decided that I will move there with my mail because I settle in La Hara and I pay rent. A guy says, “Put it here because I’m going to help you. When you make money then you going to pay us.” He made me believe he was going to help us. He made me believe he was going to help me all this time ’til I make money and then I will pay him rent.
But it didn’t happen like that. Once I put the machinery there he started bugging me and he was there all the time like he was the owner. I didn’t like that so I decided I pay rent better. When I asked to pay rent, he wanted to raise the rent. I said, “How could you ask me for so much when I don’t have the money? I haven’t started my machine and then you said you were going to help me.” “I can’t help you forever so let’s pay rent.” I started paying rent. He didn’t make me pay a lot after I started feeling too bad about it and I didn’t have the money. Then the machine started. It took 4 years I think, or 3 years to start that machine because it wasn’t in good condition. It’s a big machine. It’s a factory. It cost me $5,000.00 to move it there and so he doubled the rent when he saw the material come in now.
He said he thought I was going to be a rich lady now and I could pay a lot of rent and he doubled the rent and I told him I can’t do that. He said, “Well then, you going to make money.” I said, “I haven’t made any.” He thought I’m still poor because I don’t have the money yet, because I’m still struggling with the machine. He thought I wouldn’t move again because it cost me so much money to move it there. He thought that I had to pay rent because I couldn’t move.
A lady from Capalini helped me with the money. She said, “If you move it to this place I lend you some money for a piece of weaving later.” Just to promote this place because it so poor. I said, “Alright, give me the money,” and we moved there without a building. We just put it outside and covered it with tarps and so set it there in the middle of the winter so much snow in Colorado. They were moving it in heavy snow. It been over 2 years now that we have this building up.
I see that thing there but I think, “How could I do that by myself?” I have my husband. I have my big family but they have never put any money in there. They say, “You are crazy. What are you doing? You’re too old. Why didn’t you start 40 years ago?” I say, “I’m alive. I’m still here. I’m o.k. Why not our minds work?” I don’t see why not. So I kept on and my Mamma helped me all the way and she is 96. She backing me up 100 percent. Every penny she gets she’ll give it to me. We don’t need any money. I could make it without any mill, without anything because I used to get Social Security. When they saw the mill they took away my old pension. They say no, I have that. But that don’t give me money. That’s taking my money away. But people didn’t see that.
I’ve been suffering a lot, and to make decisions, it’s been so hard for me because there’s nobody to tell me should I do that or not. Everybody was against me all the time. Now, the mill started for a while. I know what I want out of there. I know what’s there and I know what’s going to come out of there. But they don’t. I have a grandson there, a son of this girl that is a musician. He was going on his way to California that day and he stopped to see Grandma. He saw the machinery, and he likes the idea and he said, “O.k. Grandma, I’m going to stay here for 2 weeks and help you.” He stayed 2 weeks we had a consultant there helping us to put the machines together.
We didn’t want to tell him anything because he was only going to California anyway. But he pay attention pretty good and he’s still with me 4 years. If it hadn’t been for him I don’t know what I would have done. He built the building little by little, that’s why we took so long, because we’re by ourselves. Sometimes we need a hand and there’s nobody.
Now the community is trying to help us with volunteers and a little bit of money, too. Look like we going to make it. But now people is seeing and they know I never give up and so they start thinking. It’s been so hard for me to think and to decide for tomorrow. I haven’t had anybody tell me what to do there. I’m the only one that’s made decisions.
We’ve got a machine that’s going to produce a lot of yarn, not only for the weavers in New Mexico or Colorado, but also from other states, because it’s going to be a lot of yarn there. And it’s the only place in the whole United States, unless they do it by hand, that’s going to be 100% wool. All the mills in North Carolina, and South Carolina, they always blend something on the wool. We are going to go 100% wool and we going to dye our own wool. I wash the wool myself. I wash hundreds of pounds a day by myself.
I think I can still can take a lot. I always worked hard, so I’m strong. I still do things by myself. Even if I’m old. They say, “Oh, you too old.” No matter if I’m old, I can do better than any young ones still. I used to work in the fields. Years ago I took my kids to Colorado because of helping my husband work in the fields to help him with money. And golly, there was no man that worked, they never were better than me. I always wanted to be the best, even in any jobs.
From the mill, we going to help the farmers, first thing. And then, I don’t want any money. As I said, all my kids are grown up and if they interested in the mill they will get. Anybody that wants to work will get it. They’re the ones going to benefit. I want those workers, whoever works to get top salary status. More money coming in, let them get a little higher wages. Why not? I think that’s going to be for others, not for me. I don’t need anything for myself.
I take care of kids and all that. Little ones, and baby ones. They say, “Why do you have to take care of those kids? You took care of yours.” Just because I love them. I love others, especially kids. I teach them without pay, the other ones in schools.
They already put a nonprofit school in my name. Eppi Archeluta School, which is going to be forever. I believe that I can teach until I want to and then my grandchildren will. My grandchildren are the ones that will take over. They will teach from then on. I believe that. So it will be forever. My name will be there.
My Mamma had many works because she had been weaving all her life. She used to weave rag rugs and all that, and when she met my Dad she kept on weaving what we weaving now. My Dad passed away and she kept on teaching us. She still weaving. 96 years old and still at it.
She had worked very hard so I just wanted to say that she was my teacher too, not only my Dad. We’ve been very close, me and my Mom. If I don’t see her she go meet me, go see me and in the mill she’s the one backing me up 100%. All her money she makes. She sell her weavings from her loom. People come from all over. And all her money she’s help me with my mill.
And she’s not the only one to help me. I said that my grandson been there for 4 years and if it wasn’t for him I don’t think the mill would have keep on because maybe somebody else would have come in. But my children too, they have helped me. They have their own families to take care of but on weekends or when they off they all help. If we really need them they go help.
When I want to buy this mill it was hard to make this decision. I didn’t know if I should go on ahead and do it or not because everybody was against me and she said, “Go ahead. We need this mill in here. All the weavers need it and a lot of people needs it.”
I told her, “Once you push me in that hole..” She said, “I’ll help you out a little by little.” So she been helping me still. In 1985, we had four generations here and she came here with me.
I think the mill she wanted to do it. Before she was doing it for us because she had too support us and help my Dad. Then he passed and she still kept on. She used to work on the farm. She used to make a lot of chili. She has a big farm. She took care of my grandfather and my grandmother and when they died they left her the farm and then she kept on it for many years ’til now that she can’t work that much out there.
My sister moved with her to take care of her. They don’t let her do nothing so she have all the time in the loom and she just gets to the loom in the morning and all day. If she can she takes a break once in a while but she tries to stay there. I told her, “Don’t work so hard.” It’s not easy for her because we getting old. We getting tired and sleepy and she said, “Just all my worries are there. If I’m weaving I don’t think of anything else. I just weave.” She’s o.k. She used to help my Grandpa, the farmer. The only girl in the family and the boy was the youngest and they didn’t make him. She work because she didn’t want him to work hard, so been working hard all her life. Very very hard. She helped a lot of people, too. She raised some grandchildren because their Mom’s gone and all that. Somebody goes to her door and needs help she’s there. I tell her, “Don’t give me your money. We don’t need the money now. We don’t need nothing now.” And it true. We don’t need very much now.
Everything she weaves goes into the mill and everything I weave goes into the mill or any money I get from any other resource. All I do is weave. I don’t have any other income. People is trying to help me now. They going to build us a school in the community and that will give me a little income to keep on.
I think it’s a great thing. People come from all over: schools, groups of schools, groups of teachers. When it works it’s just going to be a tourist place for people to see. We don’t see that around there. The far east, they have mills like that. Very interesting to see what we do there.
So I feel I don’t need very much now. A little bit only to start and the mill will give me the money to keep on going and to build whatever I want, extra things. I don’t think I need to change to nonprofit.
The regional development lent me the money to repair the mill because it wasn’t in good condition and all that. It took a long time to even put it together because I didn’t know the machine at all. But then we hire these consultants from the east that knows what it was and they help us a lot. Now we know what we have and what’s there, but it took a while.
Oh, we will have a lot of people coming to the coop, even groups of teachers. Two years ago, I had a group of 6 teachers there just to look. I used to go to the schools and now they coming to me. It’s better for them to come here. They can see a lot. I just go with the loom or with nothing and just to talk with them and this way, they can come and see what’s happening. They will see from the beginning, from the chip to the piece of weaving. The whole process, even the dying of the wool and all.
It’s the machine to process the yarn, but I am there with the loom, too. I’m going put a loom right there in the building for people. When they come, they’ll have everything right there to see. It’s educational for kids, and people who don’t know. Some people haven’t seen the loom. They don’t even know how we weave. It’s more interesting to see the machinery. The machinery is big. The building is 50 feet by 100 and it barely fit in there now. I will buy thousands and thousands of pounds of wool every spring to work on the whole year. They only shear in the spring, in March. That’s when the mill works.
I’m going to teach. I’m the only one there that weaves, and my kids, but they don’t stay in the room all day. My sister weave. My girls weave. My grandchildren weave. Everybody weaves in the family. They make looms. I’ve taught a lot of people in the valley because they weren’t any weavers there when I move there to Colorado.
But they never let me teach in the College because they wanted a college degree. I don’t need a college degree to teach weaving. I taught in the vocational school for about 5 years but I had to go to school myself and get my GED because I never finished school. I made it.
My girl weaves very beautiful, and my granddaughter started with me on the mill first. Then the boy, his sister, asked to take care of the paper work and she help us in the mill. Then she decided to go back to school and get a degree in business, so she’s still in school. I think she be back with me to take care of the paper work.
That’s the hard part because the IRS and all this. I don’t want them give us a hard time later on. We have to be careful about that. You want everything done the way it’s suppose to be so nobody will stop us. Like the plumbing, the sewers, and all that, because I have to use a lot of water to wash the wool. This consultant told me you can’t let it go in the field. Then the inspector say we going to have a septic to let the water go in there. And I have the well there so no problem.
I take care of 4 little babies. Those two babies, and the little one is 4 years old and the other 5, and I have the looms their size. They are weaving, too. They are already weaving, the little tiny 4 year and 5 year old, even the other, 2 years, stand under the loom. They already weaving the coasters or something. I make them take it out and so they can make it right and they doing pretty good. They learning the right way right away, which all the big ones know. They started small. We make the looms their size. When I teach, I love to teach young ones. I will make different size looms because we make them ourselves. My kids do. I have a big, big loom, 9′ wide, which my oldest boy made, so I have rugs room size.
I think it’s nice to have that mill there. We keep the wool for others, too. And if I teach a lot of people, the mill will produce the wool for them. The money will go in there, too, and will get the mill going, too. Because all these people will buy wool yarn to weave. The black wool, they don’t buy them, the buyers, from the farmers. They don’t want any black wool from the farmers but they always have some in there.
We used to raise sheep, too, ourselves. We used to have 500 heads or so when my boys were young and they help us take care of them. When they left and had their own families we sold them. We always had black sheep because it’s a mark on their flock. So farmers have black sheep. I’m going to pay top price on that because that’s going to sell for a lot of money because there is no natural black in the market. Unless you do it by hand, there isn’t any.
I thought a book would be nice for our kids, when they grow up, and our grandkids about the whole life. The way we been in this world and working all our lives, I think its interesting. When you have so much that you have done. It’s different when you just do one thing all your life. I think its a great story. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I tried once to ask the publishers.
One of my boys told me once, “If you ever left me something in this life, I want a book from you. I want a story.” So then I thought maybe the kids will grow up and be publishers or writers. Maybe they will some day. They getting pretty good education. They have a lot to say that I put down myself. I thought if each one of them will say something, what they think, and all of them wrote something or make a tape of what they think.
I never retired. I don’t think so, as long as I can move. I have to do so much in the farm, in the house, for the kids. I had 10 kids. I lost 2 small babies but I have 8 and each one of them have a great story. They all say something. I don’t remember many things. If they tell me, I remember sometimes, sometimes I don’t. Like my boy said, “Remember when I was in the tree?” He was on top of the tree and I told him, “Get down, you going to fall.” I don’t remember that.
I had 6 boys and so just imagine 6 boys messing up. They were wild, there, and we had a lot of space. I just weave at night, or in the morning if I had to take care of the farm. I used to plow with a team of horse. My father-in-law used to help me a lot. He used to feel sorry for me, too. He lived over a 100 years. I took care of him because I was very grateful when he helped me. And then he died.
The kids, some of them during their teen years, they don’t know very much what happened. They don’t know how hard we worked. My boys say, “We’re so proud that you taught us how to work. Now they put us anywhere. We can do anything.” They’re strong. All of them can do hard work.
I’ve been thinking to ask the kids to write, each one of them what they remember. I thought if they want to do something, if all of them write something, and then my Mom, and then my sisters, and then Julio, they all each one of them put something , together they get background way down there. But because I don’t get them together with me, they can do it in their house, each one of them, because I never get my family together at the same time. That’s for them someday. For the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. Pretty much all the grandchildren write stories in school about me. They get pretty good grades.
In the book we could tell stories and show the way we weave. Those things can be in the book. Maybe I can get things together . I’ve been thinking about but I never ask the kids. The kids, they remember a lot of thing when they were babies and what I did and all that. Each one have a different thing to say. My Mom, she remembers everything, dates and all. I always love to tape my Mom or people like that. I just like to talk to her a lot.
She said that we came from the first weavers on her side of the family, Navaho. They kept maids years ago that Spain got from the Indians. They had them as maids there. My great-great-Grandparents came from there. I have a piece of weaving, three pieces, a big one and two little pieces she gave me that he made, the first Navaho people that came from there.
I think it’s about 400 years ago when she got them. They are almost wore out when she got them but they were nice pieces. She claimed she started the weavers from there in the side of the family, but then she didn’t weave like that. She wove rags when she was smaller and she stop and farm and all, and when she go married with my Dad then she stay at it with the real wool and she’s good. She still weave beautiful. She say she not going to let us weave better than her. But we do, but she believe she still good. She weaves scenery and she weaves churches and things. She loves to do that.
I can weave anything in a piece of weaving. I have proved to myself that I can put your picture in there, because I try, and I want to know that I can. I can weave anything.