I’ve always admired my great-grandfather’s name – Juan Diego Antonio Chavez, and I wish I would have known him. His father was Preciliano Chavez, who named his first-born son (out of 11 children) after his own father, Diego Antonio Chaves.
The elder Diego Antonio was born in Cebolleta in 1823 and baptized in nearby Laguna. He moved to La Jolla and married Juana Sisneros in 1848 in nearby Socorro. Some of their children were born in La Jolla, including Preciliano, before they moved back north to Cubero, where he earned a living as a silversmith. According to family lore, my great-great-great grandfather is the same Diego Antonio Chavez who settled the area that later became Grants. I haven’t yet confirmed that tale, but I’m researching it.
In any case, I recently found out that Diego Antonio served in the Civil War. He was mustered into service on March 30, 1865, and mustered out on Sept. 28, 1866. He later moved with his family to San Juan, or St. John’s, Arizona, where he would spend the rest of his life.
During a trip to Washington, D.C., a few months ago, I made my first trip to the National Archives. While there, I found a reference to the fact that Juan Diego’s wife, Juanita, applied for a military pension shortly after her husband died on Christmas Day in 1890. Last week, I received a copy of the pension application and military investigation that resulted in Juanita receiving $8 a month for the final few years of her life, before she died in 1897.
I have spent so much time during the past two years trying to piece together my family tree. It’s thrilling when you make a connection. But I always wonder about these people I’m researching. I always want to know more about them.
The pension file gave me a taste of what Diego Antonio and Juanita were like. His widow describes how he entered the service at Fort Wingate, NM and was discharged in Albuquerque. They lived about 14 miles from St. John’s, and that’s where Diego Antonio, who was “quite old” and sick in bed for two months, eventually died. She recalled that they were married by Father Chavez in Socorro. She thought she was 12 years old when she married, but other records prove she was actually 19. She relied on a prominent local attorney named Alfred Ruiz to help her with the pension application, which cost her $1 for postage and $2 for her marriage certificate to prove that she was married to Diego Antonio. Sadly, Juanita was poor, too “old and feeble” to work, had no property and relied on her sons for support. She lived in a small adobe house.
A soldier who served with Diego Antonio in the New Mexico 1st Calvary Regiment, remembered his comrade well. In a deposition for the pension investigation, the soldier and long-time family friend described Diego Antonio, a dark-complexioned man who stood just 5-feet, 5-inches tall, as “quite a small man – low in stature – but one of the best and bravest soldiers I ever saw. He would drink all the whisky he could get but was one of the best hearted men I ever saw and a man of fine principle. He was an ‘all round’ good and whole man.”