Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chavez Roots Part III: El Tunque

Land near Santa Ana Pueblo, near the site of El Tunque, the original Chaves Estancia
For much of the past three years, I took the commuter train between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Rail Runner Express took me along sections of the Rio Grande – through a large area once known as “El Tunque” -- where my Chavez ancestors first called home. Looking out of the window on the train, I often surveyed the valley landscape, trying to imagine where exactly the Chaves estancia once sat. But the Rio Grande was so different 400 years ago; it often changed course, especially after large floods.

Don Pedro Duran y Chaves made his home at “El Tunque” sometime after he first arrived in New Mexico in 1600, according to Fray Angelico Chavez, whose research I am relying upon for much of this Chavez history. According to Chavez, El Tunque was an Indian name for a very wide arroyo running down from present Ortiz range in the east to join the Rio Grande near Felipe Pueblo. The Chaves estancia stretched southward to the Tiwa pueblos of Puaray and Sandia.

Don Pedro Duran y Chaves was apparently recruited as a soldier in Mexico City to be part of the second consignment of colonists to go to New Mexico in 1600 – two years after Don Juan de Oñate made his way north. Ten years later, Duran y Chaves was present during the establishment of the Villa of Santa Fe. During that first decade, he married Doña Isabel de Bohórques, the daughter of the capitán Cristóbal Vaca, who also arrived in New Mexico in 1600. The couple had at least three children: Fernando, Pedro II and Isabel, and possibly another son named Augustín.

Don Pedro was referred to as a capitán in 1613 as he tried unsuccessfully to collect tribute from the Taos Indians. In 1624, Don Pedro led a punitive expedition against the Jemez pueblos. According to Fray Chavez, Don Pedro typically sided with pueblo Indians against abuses by some friars. By 1626, he was an encomendero, “whereby the Indians of his district (around Sandia and San Felipe) were ‘commended’ to his care for their material well-being and their religious instruction, while he exacted tribute in goods from them for the central government and by way of a salary.” Fray Chavez said the system of encomiendas was often abused in southern New Spain where youths were treated as worse than slaves. He claims the practice was different in New Mexico.

Doña Isabel raised the children at the vast estancia at El Tunque, which included grazing grounds and farmlands, with the help of some servants. The actual residence was south of San Felipe and south of current-day Algodones, known then as Angostura, somewhere on land now owned by Santa Ana Pueblo.

As a result of his conflicts with some in the church, Don Pedro was often reported to the Inquisition in Mexico City. In 1626, Don Pedro “declared in Santa Fe that he was 70 years old and ‘one of the first settlers of this Villa and maese de campo (similar to the rank of colonel) of these provinces.’” Later that year, Doña Isabel de Bohórques was identified as “the wife of the maese de campo of these provinces, Pedro Durán y Chaves, inhabitants and founders of this Villa, forty years of age which she said herself to be, little more or less.” This 1626 record was the last that mentioned Don Pedro Durán y Chaves.

Don Pedro’s eldest son, Fernando Duran y Chaves, inherited El Tunque, where he lived with his wife, whose last name was Carvajal Holguin. Her first name is not mentioned in any records. Don Fernando is first mentioned in records in 1638 as teniente de gobernador (the governor’s temporary representative) for the Rio Abajo, all of the Rio Grande land south of Santa Fe. Don Fernando was said to have died before April 1669, around the time that he led an expedition against the Indians of the plains.

Fray Chavez portrayed Don Fernando in mostly glowing terms, while his younger brother, Don Pedro II, was characterized as a scoundrel. Don Pedro II was married to Elena Domínguez de Mendoza and lived at his estancia north of Isleta Pueblo in the general area known as Atrisco.

The Chaves family estancia at El Tunque was passed down to a third-generation Chaves man, also named Fernando Duran y Chaves. As a result of that inheritance, Fray Chavez logically assumed that the younger Don Fernando was the son of the senior Don Fernando. However, more recent research strongly suggests that the younger Don Fernando was actually the eldest son of Don Pedro II. Thus, as the nephew of his namesake, the younger Don Fernando probably inherited El Tunque because the elder Don Fernando only had one son, Cristóbal,who died.

The younger Don Fernando was a capitán living at El Tunque with his wife, Lucía Hurtado de Salas y Trujillo and four children in 1680 when the Pueblo revolt broke out. Don Fernando called his home Bernalillo, apparently after his eldest son, Bernardo. That family home was a little north of present-day Bernalillo, which was founded by a Baca family.

The younger Don Fernando and his young family fled their estancia during the Pueblo Revolt, just ahead of the pueblo warriors who killed some relatives across the river at Angostura. Don Fernando met up with his father, Don Pedro, and several other colonists as they headed south to the safety of El Paso del Norte.

Another reason that Fray Chavez assumed that Don Pedro II and Don Fernando were not father and son is because Don Pedro II abandoned the colony at El Paso del Norte after getting official permission to move south to New Spain, never to return to New Mexico.

Meanwhile, the younger Don Fernando insisted on returning to his home in New Mexico. By then, he and his wife had six more children, including Nicolas, who was my seventh-great grandfather.

Don Fernando was with Don Diego de Vargas and his small army of Spanish soldiers in 1693 when they returned from exile to re-settle in Santa Fe. Governor Vargas wrote: “I, the said Governor and Captain-General about the eleventh hour of the same day made my entry into the Villa of Santa Fe…with the squadron on the march and in company of the very illustrious Cabildo of this the said Villa and Kingdom, its high sheriff and Alférez Real, the Capitán Don Fernándo Durán y Chaves, carrying the standard referred to in these acts, and under which the land was (originally) conquered.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chavez Roots Part II: Valverde de Llerena

My Grandpa Louie used to have a Chávez Coat of Arms hanging in his den. I wonder if he knew the story about its origin, the five “llaves,” or keys that were bestowed upon two Portuguese men, Garci and Rui Lopez, in the form of a symbolic escutcheon, or shield.

According to the legend, the Lopez brothers formed an army in 1160 to take the Villa of Chaves from the ruling Moors. The Villa of Chaves, which is in northern Portugal at the border with Galicia, Spain, was founded by the Romans several centuries earlier; went through many centuries of war; and, along with the entire Iberian Peninsula, came under Moorish rule. As the story goes, the Lopez brothers successfully drove the Moors out of Chaves, and as a result, Spanish King Alonzo Henriquez made them both knights and gave them the Chaves name.

Some 400 years later, in the late 1500s, a handful of citizens of a small Spanish village on the southern end of the peninsula, set sail for the New World. At least two Chaves men from this village, Valverde de Llerena in Extremadura, made their way to New Mexico. The first Chaves man was killed at Acoma. The second Chaves native of Llerena, Don Pedro Duran y Chaves, was recruited as a soldier in Mexico City to be part of the second consignment of colonists to go to New Mexico in 1600 – two years after Don Juan de Onate made his way north. Ten years later, Duran y Chaves was present during the establishment of the Villa of Santa Fe.

There has been debate about the identity of Pedro Duran y Chaves, who is considered the first progenitor of the many Chaves families in New Mexico during the next 400 years. It is clear that he was born in Valverde de Llerena, as he declared years later. What is not clear, is his own family tree in Spain. Even if his parents and grandparents can be established, the parish records from the 16th Century were apparently lost or destroyed.

Valverde de Llerena is currently a small municipality of about 850 people in the province of Badajoz in Extremadura, Spain. It sits near the foothills of the Sierra Morena, not far from Seville on the east and Portugal on the west. It was settled in 1240, and King Phillip made Valverde de Llerena a Villa in 1560, shortly before Pedro Chavez y Duran was born.

I envision Valverde de Llerena in the 16thCentury as a sleepy rural village much like Belen, Atrisco, Cebolleta or Cubero – New Mexico villages settled by or with Chaves descendants a century or two later. To this day, flocks of sheep can be found at the outskirts of Valverde de Llerena, which reminds me of my Chavez ancestors herding sheep in western New Mexico and eastern Arizona. Traditional Spanish Matanzas are still celebrated community events in Valverde de Llerena, as they are in rural New Mexico.

 The late Fray Angelico Chávez, who I wrote about in my last post as the source of much of what I am writing today, visited Valverde de Llerena in 1952, as he explored his roots in Spain. In his book, My Penitente Land, Chávez described how he couldn’t find the Chaves surname as he traveled through Spain – until he reached Llerena.

“When I gave my name, and told them why I had come, several villagers began introducing themselves as my namesakes,” Chávez wrote. “It turned out that Valverde de Llerena, the birthplace of my name-ancestor by at least half a dozen lines, still had many families with the surname more than three centuries after Don Pedro Gomez Duran y Chavez had left home to seek his fortune across the ocean sea. But to the good folk crowding about me it could not have been more than a generation ago, the way they accepted me as a relative.”

Chavez, a Franciscan priest at the time, was invited to celebrate mass for the feast day.

 “In my flowing Spanish cape I must have seemed to them like some visiting prelate from the Indies; but I myself, while fully realizing where I was, felt no different from the many times I had presided over similar festive processions in different New Mexico towns. Back in the church, as the acolytes or monecillos – a word used only in Extremadura and New Mexico – were lighting the altar candles for the service of Benedictions, the pastor announced to the faithful that I would speak ‘four words’ to them, which is the Spanish equivalent for a sermon as short or as long as one cares to make it. Since by now I had already found out that these good people’s Castilian was like my own, I felt no embarrassment or hesitation as I told them of all my extremeno forebears and of a new homeland they had found across the world so very much like their own birthplace. In fact, I had never been so eloquent in the tongue of my fathers.”

Fray Chávez, who spent many years as an archivist for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, was very familiar with the spelling of the Chaves name, as its common usage evolved from “Chaves” to “Chávez” during the 1800s in New Mexico.

“’Chaves’ comes from the Latin plural claves for keys – as displayed upon the crest – which in Galician Spanish (and Portuguese) had evolved into chaves while in Castilian Spanish it turned into llaves,” Chavez wrote in his book, CHÁVEZ, A Distinctive American Clan of New Mexico. “Although the surname is not patronymic, meaning ‘the son of’ as in Rodriguez or Martinez, the zet had already been added in Portugal long ago. It also became the common spelling in neighboring Mexico, and from there it made its way here in modern times.”

Fray Chávez, in his book about the Chávez Clan, passes along an interesting story about one of the 19th Century descendants who supposedly inherited some unique artifacts from his forefathers. Manuel Antonio Chaves, who served as a lieutenant colonel during the Civil War, owned a signet ring of pure gold bearing an escutcheon of five tiny keys, along with a document telling about the origin of the Chaves name. The heirlooms were apparently handed down through about seven generations from eldest son to eldest son. Manuel Antonio Chaves lost the signet and the historical document was never discovered. But the story, including the brave antics of the Lopez brothers who inherited the Chaves name, continues to live on.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chavez Roots Part I

New Mexico has the largest Hispanic population (46 percent of overall population) than any other state, which isn’t surprising, given our historic ties to Spain and Mexico. In terms of genealogy research, that heritage means, among other things, that we have access to a treasure trove of resources to trace our family trees. On the flip side, that long history in New Mexico – typically 300 to 400 years -- makes it more difficult to accurately pinpoint our European roots. We generally don’t have a grandparent who immigrated here within the last 50 or 60 years. Without that recent immigrant, we don’t have many oral stories, photos and records. In my family tree, for example, those European roots are between six and 14 generations old. Fortunately, there are records from Spanish, Mexican and American archives. Even more fortunately, dedicated researchers and historians have poured through those records.

I am relying on these researchers, one in particular, to connect the branches in my family tree, starting with the history of my maternal Chavez side of the family.

The late Fray Angelico Chavez, a Franciscan priest, captured much of this history in his seminal 1954 publication, “Origins of New Mexico Families, A Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period.” I have the revised edition, published in 1992, thanks to my Great-Uncle Lalo Chavez. This work is probably owned, or utilized, by most genealogy researchers with roots in New Mexico. Because of his own Chavez roots, Fray Chavez had a particular interest in the original Chaves settlers. He published another book in 1989 called, “Chavez: A Distinctive American Clan of New Mexico.” I am relying on these two works for the vast majority of what I currently know about the Chavez roots in New Mexico.

However, while many people still consult Chavez’s research, several others have either built upon his body of work, or corrected mistakes found with some of his assumptions. Jose Antonio Esquibel wrote an article in 2010 for the Hispanic genealogy publication, Herencia, which challenged Fray Chavez’s assumptions about the Chaves origins in Spain. In “A Case of Mistaken Identities: Pedro Gomez Duran and Pedro Duran y Chaves,” Esquibel argued persuasively that Fray Chavez wrongly concluded that two names found in early records, Pedro Gomez Duran and Pedro Duran y Chaves, were actually the same person. Esquibel uses more recent research to conclude that Pedro Gomez Duran and Pedro Duran y Chaves were, in fact, two different men, with different fathers from the same village in Spain. We know that Pedro Duran y Chaves, born about 1576, was the progenitor of the Chaves family of New Mexico. But we apparently don’t know the identity of his Spanish parents.

In another article published in Herencia in 2001, Ernest J. Sanchez, of Las Cruces, apologetically corrects another mistaken assumption that Fray Chavez made in his original research. Sanchez refers to Fray Chavez as the “Godfather of Hispanic Genealogy,” and prefaces his article by saying, “It feels almost wrong to correct anything in it (“Origins of New Mexico Families”), but that is the nature of Genealogy as more information is made known to us.”

The new information Sanchez cites essentially shows that one of the early Chaves men, Fernando Duran y Chaves II, was the son of Pedro Duran y Chaves II, not Fernando Duran y Chaves I. The two Chaves men, Fernando I and Pedro II were brothers and sons of the elder Pedro Duran y Chaves who came to New Mexico in 1600 from Spain. Fray Chavez tells interesting stories about the two brothers – one of which (Fernando I) was portrayed more sympathetically; while the other (Pedro II) was seen in a more negative light. Fray Chavez had assumed that Fernando II was the son of Fernando I because he inherited his estancia near current-day Bernalillo. But Sanchez points to additional records show that Fernando II, the only Chaves to return to New Mexico following the Pueblo Revolt, was actually the son of Pedro II, who stayed in Mexico, or New Spain, rather than return to his birthplace.

With those caveats about past genealogy research, including my own, there is a compelling story to tell about the Chaves journey from Spain to New Mexico.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Who do you think you are?

In a few hours, I will mix myself a dirty gin martini with three olives, settle into my favorite chair and watch the premier episode of this season’s NBC series, “Who do you think you are?” I mention the martini because, for some reason, I started drinking them on Friday evenings after a long day at work, and coincidentally, about the time that the NBC series first started nearly two years ago. That’s the same time I became motivated to start researching my own family history.

I’ve always had a passing interest in my family tree. I can’t say I was ever as interested in New Mexico history – until now. It has become obvious that I had to understand New Mexico history in order to put my own family history into the proper context. For example, I am currently reading “Gateway to Glorieta,” a history of Las Vegas, NM, by Lynn Perrigo. With each page, I’m beginning to have a better understanding of what my Gallegos, DeTevis, Cordova, Alires, Trujillo and many other ancestors were going through at the turn of the century: The arrival of the railroad; constant drought and, ironically, deadly floods in 1903 and 1904; frequent, deadly bouts of smallpox; out-of-control fires the destroyed buildings nearly as fast as they were erected on the Las Vegas plaza; rough-and-tumble political battles; and the Rough Riders campaign in Cuba, among many other events.

Despite my passing interest in my own history, I never really did much about it. Like many people, I waited too long to start my research, and missed valuable opportunities to gather and appreciate information that I only could have found from my grandparents. I shouldn’t say “too late,” because I still have my Grandma Rise. I also have pretty good memories of the many stories that my Grandpa Louie told me. But my Grandpa Carlos died in 1980, and I wish I had the chance to talk to him about his family history, his service during World War II and his career as a painter in Los Alamos and a mailman in Las Vegas. Likewise, I regret not talking more with my Grandma Lola, who died in 2000, about her family. I recently discovered old photos from her cousins and nieces and nephews that were sent to her and to her mother. Since I didn’t know any of those relatives, I had to crop the photos, upload them to my family tree on and compare them with information gleaned from obituaries, census, marriage records and baptismal records. Now I have a better idea of the family tree on my Grandma Lola’s side of the family; but I don’t really know many of the family stories.

In any case, I now know that those family stories, records and photos may still be out there, if only I continue to probe and exercise patience. I also know that is a valuable tool.

When I first watched the NBC program in 2010, I was fascinated by the compelling stories of the celebrities whose genealogy was expertly laid out in a way that you can only find on TV. Still, I got caught up in the marketing campaign, and went online to check see what I could find. I immediately figured out the appeal: you had to pay to be a member of the online service, and once you successfully track down ancestors, you’re hooked. At least I was hooked, and apparently many others continue to join the successful web site.

I continued to make progress online, but also moved quickly to the more tedious, but also alluring, side of genealogy research – physically going to the library and state archives to read through hundreds of records.

I’ve come across some people who think online research through sites like is the ultimate research tool. I’ve also heard some traditional researchers who refuse to embrace the technology. Obviously, I believe the more tools we can access, the better.

Since watching that first episode of “Who do you think you are?” I now have about eight large binders full of records -- all backed up and organized on my computer. And I don’t have plans to slow down my research. For now, I’ll mix that martini and enjoy learning about Marin Sheen’s family history.