During my trip to St. John’s, AZ, I discovered more than a photo of my Great-Great Grandfather Preciliano Chavez. A few other photos of his children and a grandchild prompted me to expand my research and verify what I previously learned about the large family that Preciliano and his wife, Telesfora Duran, raised – first in St. John’s, and later in Cubero.
Preciliano, who was born in La Jolla, NM, appears to have first moved west from Cubero to St. John’s in the 1870s with his parents, Diego Antonio Chavez and Juana Sisneros and some siblings.
Preciliano was 18 when the 1880 Census was taken in St. John’s. His 15-year-old brother, Isidro, and a sister, Patricia, 8, were living with him.
Preciliano’s older sister, Maria Librada, was married with two children by the time she showed up in the 1880 Census in St. John’s. Librada was married to Jose Torres with two children, Paula and Margarito (she later had another child, Edward, while in St. John’s.) Unlike her brother and others who returned to New Mexico, Maria Librada stayed in Arizona. In fact, I heard from a descendent of Maria Librada, who told me the Torrez side of the family met for a breakfast reunion this weekend in Phoenix.
Preciliano had two other sisters, Nicanora and Irinea, who appear to have stayed in Cubero when the rest of the family moved to St. John’s.
Preciliano left St. John’s in 1883 and married Telesfora Duran at San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque. He took his bride back to St. John’s, where they immediately started what would end up being a very large family.
Preciliano and Telesfora had 13 children – 10 of which were born in St. John’s between 1883 and 1901: Liberata (1883), Juan Diego Antonio (my Great-Grandfather born in 1884), Juana Bruno (1886), Isidro (1888), Yrinea “Irene” (1892), Onofre (1893),Ygnacio, Leopoldo (1898), Federico and Aniceto (twins born in 1898), and Victorino (1901).
The three youngest were born in Cubero after the family moved back to New Mexico: Trinidad (1903), Nicanora (1904) and Sofia (1912).
Juan Diego Antonio
Preciliano named his first-born son after his own father, Diego Antonio Chaves. The younger Diego Antonio, my great-grandfather, spent his childhood – his first 17 years, in St. John’s. I wasn’t able to find any mention of him during my trip, which is disappointing because he is the only great-grandparent whose photo I do not have. He would spend his adult life in Cubero, and after marrying Eliza Otero and having five children, including my Grandpa Louie, he died after a losing battle against Tuberculosis in 1939.
Born in 1893, Onofre would go on to live for 99 years, before passing away in 1993 in Mesa, AZ. Perhaps because he lived so long, my Grandpa Louie and his younger brother, Lalo, knew their Tio Onofre very well. My Grandpa would talk about visiting Tio Onofre in Arizona. After hearing great things about him, and reading a short oral history from him, I was fortunate to find a photo of him at the museum in St. John’s. It’s interesting to look at the photo of him as a young man, apparently just married, and think about the words of a wise man some 60 years later. He talked about a tough life in St. John’s and Cubero, working for Basque sheepherder from Spain, Juan Iriarte, for 20 years, and the unfortunate deaths of a brother (killed after being thrown from a horse) and a sister (shot by her aunt after a dispute.) Onofre also talks about his father, Preciliano, and describes him as “kind man, muy buen hombre,” who was the coffin-maker in the village and raised sheep, then ran cattle before selling to Iriarte. Onofre had a daughter, Telesfora, who he named after his mother, Telesfora Duran.
The second-oldest son of Preciliano, Isidro married Isabela Montano and had eight children before he was killed in an accident involving a horse. I first learned of the accident from the oral history that his brother, Onofre, gave many decades later to another relative, Pauline Chavez-Bent. According to Onofre, Isidro was celebrating a feast day and entered a horse race. The horse lost its footing, Isidro fell forward and the horse trampled him to death. Onofre was under the impression that accident occurred during a celebration of “El Dia de San Juan,” which led me to believe it was the feast day in St. John’s. But I was able to track down Isidro’s death certificate from Sept. 8, 1937, which states that the accident actually occurred in Laguna, presumably at the feast day at the western New Mexico pueblo. The certificate confirms that Isidro was thrown from a horse and suffered skull fracture with cerebral concussion. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Albuquerque where he was pronounced dead. Funeral services were held at the Chavez family home in Cubero. He was buried in the cemetery just up the road. Among his eight children, Isidro left a son, Preciliano, named after his own father and the patriarch of the family. I’ve tracked down some cousins from the large family he left behind, but haven’t made contact, as of yet, with any of them.
Aunt Sophie was the youngest of Preciliano’s children, born in Cubero about a decade before her father died. I have faint memories of Aunt Sophie. I vaguely remember going to Bluewater, where she lived, and I remember her funeral in Grants when I was just 8 years old. I assumed she was my Grandpa Louie’s sister, probably because she was just a few years older than him. But she was his aunt. My mom remembers going to stay with Aunt Sophie in Bluewater during summer months. Aunt Sophie was a teacher for 35 years, most of that time in Grants. My Uncle Ralph told me he also remembers visiting Aunt Sophie and Uncle Luciano (Sarracino). He remembers the horses, pigs and a rooster that didn’t crow, was dirty all the time and preferred to stay in the pig pen. He also remembers Aunt Sophie’s candy drawer in the kitchen, and how she used to chain-smoke Camel non-filtered cigarettes. Like my mom, Uncle Ralph remembers the day Aunt Sophie died in the summer of 1977; she was working in the garden and the dogs went to Uncle Luciano and barked at him until he followed them back to her. Uncle Ralph was a pallbearer at her funeral and said he remembers it like it was yesterday.
|Juanita Chavez is on the right, standing w/sister Nicanora on the left and sister-in-law Dulcinea Montano in the center|
Tia Juanita was Aunt Sophie’s older sister. My mom said Juanita and Sophie lived together in Grants, in the same house one of Aunt Perla’s daughters now lives, on 5th Street. She said the two sisters were very close. They both attended Western New Mexico University and talked my mom into enrolling at the school in Silver city after graduating from Valley High School. But my mom took a job with the phone company, instead. My mom said she only remembers Tia Juanita wearing black. She apparently never married, and my mom said she remembers her raising a boy who may have been the son of a relative. In the photo I discovered in St. John’s, which was apparently taken in Cubero around 1921, Juanita is standing with a boy named Efren Baca. A note under the photo said he was raised by Juana. Also in the photo is Preciliano, standing with his granddaughter, Telesfora, who is Onofre’s daughter and named after Preciliano’s wife. The final person in the photo is Jose Duran. I’m not sure if he is a member of Preciliano’s wife’s Duran family. But both of my parents swear he looks very much like my Uncle Louie, who is my mom’s oldest brother.
Victorino and Federico
I also discovered a photo of Victorino and Federico – both sons of Preciliano. Victorino followed in his father’s footsteps and raised a very large family of his own. With his wife, Flora, Victorino had 14 children, including 8 boys, which means that Chavez line was sure to spread for many more generations.