Sunday, August 12, 2012

Otero and Chavez Livestock Brands

Melquaides T. Otero Cattle Brand 1913
Diego Antonio Chavez Cattle Brand 1915

Who would have thought there was a state bureaucracy in New Mexico more than a century ago – even before statehood? I guess it makes sense. But I hadn’t really thought about it until a recent discovery of family records related to my maternal ancestors and their involvement in the cattle and sheep business in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Those ancestors – on the Chavez and Otero side of the family – had to file applications with the New Mexico Cattle Sanitary Board to register the brands they used on cattle. For sheep, they filed with the New Mexico Sheep Sanitary Board.

I was surprised to learn that those two agencies – the oldest in state government – date back to 1887. The agencies were established by the territorial Legislature to control infectious diseases and oversea the treatment of the animals, including transportation, branding, slaughter and conditions of upkeep. Now that I think about it, any time the Legislature is involved, there’s bound to be a bureaucracy. The agencies were combined in 1967 to form the Livestock Board, which is what exists today.

While the territorial agencies were created in the 1880s, the practice of branding in New Mexico goes all the way back to 1598 when the first Spanish colonists settled in the area with Don Juan de Oñate, according to the New Mexico Livestock Board. Oñate trailed 7,000 head of branded cattle to the area now known as Santa Fe.

Melquiades T. Otero Cattle Brand 1899
The oldest brand record I have is from my Great-Great-Grandfather Melquiades Otero, of Cubero. The document is a copy of a 1899 certificate for re-recorded brand, which means he must have already had a certified brand prior to that. One of the fascinating things about the certificate, aside from the actual brand, is an image of a U.S. ten-cent money note that was either part of the seal on the certificate or placed on top of the certificate when it was copied. There is also a hand-written note on the certificate.

Eliza Otero Cattle Brand 1905
Melquiades T. Otero Sheep Brand 1915
There are also cattle and sheep brand certificates that Melquiades Otero received in 1905. Interestingly, there is a cattle brand record for his daughter, and my Great-Grandmother, Eliza Otero, from that same year. Eliza would have been just 15 years old at the time. There are also records for cattle brands in 1913 for Melquaides, who would die just two years after that, and for his son, Felix Otero, and his niece, Eloisa Otero, who was 11 years old at the time. Eloisa was taken in by Melquiades a few years before that after the death of her father, Miguel. She would stay with her cousin Felix in the Otero household after her Uncle Melquiades died. Eloisa went on to be a Catholic nun.
Eloisa Otero Cattle Brand

I’m not sure how typical it was for girls or women to have their own cattle or sheep brand in the early 1900s. But it wasn’t unprecedented. There are Spanish colonial records from two centuries before that, in the early 1700s in which Doña Elena Gallegos, known for the Elena Gallegos Land Grand that runs through current-day Albuquerque, registered her own cattle brand, according to an article published by the Office of the State Historian.

Diego Antonio Chavez Cattle Brand 1915
The final record I have is a 1915 cattle brand certificate for my Great-Grandfather, Diego Antonio Chavez, who had just married Eliza Otero a year earlier in Cubero. While it appears he first obtained the cattle brand when he married into the Otero family, I know he was involved in herding sheep before that along with his many brothers and his father, Preciliano Chavez, in St. John’s, AZ.

Apparently there is a method to the design of livestock brands. The Livestock Board has a brief tutorial on its web site.

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