Sunday, April 26, 2015

My French Canadian Ancestry: LeDoux

Most people would associate Northern New Mexico with its heavy Hispanic and Native American populations. I’ve written about my Portuguese ancestors who arrived in Taos in the early 1800s, and played important roles in 19th Century New Mexico. Another important part of my Northern New Mexico heritage has French Canadian roots.

My Great-Great-Grandmother was Virginia LeDoux, who married Jose Cayetano DeTevis. Their son, Anotnio DeTevis, was my Great Grandfather who I knew from Las Vegas when I was a child.

I actually have two sets of DeTevis-LeDoux ancestors; Virgina LeDoux’s brother, Robert, married Cayetano’s sister, Carolina.

The DeTevis-LeDoux connection makes sense because both families descend from traders, merchants and fur trappers who ended up in Northern New Mexico where they would spend their final days.

The LeDoux family is traced back to central Canada, near Montreal. Antoine LeDeoux and Marie Madeline Lussier were the parents of two sons, Antoine Jr. and Abraham LeDoux, born in 1784 in St. Denis, St. Hyancinthe, Quebec. Those sons made their way to St. Louis where they entered into the fur trade.

According to a historical account in Mountain Men, by Janet Lecompte, the brothers made their way to the headwaters of the Platte and Arkansas rivers in East Central Nebraska. By 1820, they had been living among the Pawnees. Both men married Pawnee women and each had a child.

Both would eventually make their way to Taos; my ancestor, Abraham, took his Pawnee wife with him, but by 1826, he found a new wife, Guadalupe Trujillo, of Taos. He was granted Mexican citizenship in 1830. Both brothers spent their final years farming in Northern New Mexico. Abraham would die in 1842. Antoine would another 17 years, surviving the 1847 uprising by the local Mexican population against outsiders. Antoine spent his final years on the other side of the mountains near Mora.

As for Abraham’s descendants, he had a son named José, for whom the village of LeDoux is named. Another son, Felipe de Jesus LeDoux, born in 1835, would marry Maria de la Luz Trujillo. They were the parents of Virginia LeDoux and Robert LeDoux.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Uncle Lalo's Stories: Chavez vs. Baca

I have had a handful of conversations with my Great Uncle Lalo Chavez about our family history during the past five years. He knew I was anxious to get see a photo of his father, and my great-grandfather, Diego Antonio Chavez. When he found one, he generously offered me a copy.
Diego Antonio Chavez (top right); with wife Eliza, daughter Perla, aunt Sister Mary Robert Otero and unknown woman
Front Row: Son Benny on right and son Lalo on left
circa 1935
I visited him after Church one Sunday at his West Side home that he shares with his long-time friend, Eloisa Chacon. Over a few beers and some figs from the trees in their backyard, Uncle Lalo settled into his broken-down recliner in the back patio and we had a great conversation about his father and his own upbringing.

I hope to write more about Uncle Lalo and share his stories in the future. But for now, I will start with the relationship between the Chavez and Baca families – a connection that dates back to the first Spanish settlements in New Mexico.

I thought about the Chavez-Baca history when Uncle Lalo told me about the bad blood between the two families who had relatives in Cubero, San Raphael and Grants during the first half of the 20th Century.

I’m sure the story is remembered differently depending on which side of the conflict you were on, but Uncle Lalo said the Chavez side of the story goes like this: In the late 1930s, his father and mother – Diego Antonio and Elisa Chavez – were at a dance in Cubero. As usual, there was a fight outside between some Chavez men and Baca men. When the sheriff, Lalo Baca, showed up at the dance hall, he approached Diego Antonio, my great-grandfather, and struck him in the head.

“My Mom and Dad were dancing and the sheriff went over and hit my Dad with a Billy club, and cracked his head open,” Uncle Lalo told me. “And he didn’t have nothing to do with the fight. They were just dancing. And I remember I was just 3 years old, and I remember when they brought him in, and he was bleeding and Perla (Lalo’s sister) was crying. My Dad said, ‘What are you crying for? I’m not dead yet. Wait till I die and then you cry.’”

Many years later, when Uncle Lalo was living in Los Angeles, he traveled to Grants for vacation to visit his relatives. He ran into his nino, his Uncle Trinidad, at a dance.

“He says, oh, let’s go beat the hell out of the Bacas,” Uncle Lalo recalled.

“I said, ‘Why, Tio? The Bacas aren’t doing anything.”

Uncle Lalo said his brother, my Grandpa Louie, had a bar right outside of Grants and they decided to go recruit him so they would have at least three people for the fight.

“So we went over and told Louis, yeah, we’re going to go beat the hell out of the Bacas,” Uncle Lalo said.

My Grandpa responded to his Uncle Trinidad, according to Lalo, saying, “Hey Tio, why you want to beat up the Baca’s? Raphael Baca is a friend of Lalo’s. And Bautista Baca is a friend of mine. Why am I going to beat them up?”

Trinidad reminded Louis and Lalo that Raphael Baca was the son of the guy who cracked their father’s head some 20 years before.

“Tio, I was three years old and Raphael was a baby,” My Grandpa Louie told his uncle, “and he’s my friend. And then, Lalo Baca is dead now.”

“But that’s the way the Chavezes were,” Uncle Lalo told me. “The Bacas and the Chavezes used to fight all the time. But I didn’t have anything against the Bacas. And a lot of my cousins still hold that grudge against the Baca’s.”

I wonder whether any of those Chavez and Baca men knew at the time how intertwined their histories are in New Mexico.

Don Pedro Gómez Duran y Chaves, considered the progenitor of the Chavez clan in New Mexico, arrived here in 1600 as part of the second wave of Spanish colonists. Soon after, he married Doña Isabel de Bahórques Vaca, the daughter of Don Cristóbal Vaca. Just as the Chaves name would later change to Chavez, Vaca would become Baca. In short, the Chavezes and Bacas were joined by marriage during the first years of Spanish New Mexico’s history.

Many more Chavez and Baca men and women would marry during the 1700s and beyond. Many others apparently chose to fight.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Grandma's Beautiful Sister: Maria Amelia DeTevis

Today marks the 2-year anniversary of my Grandma Rise’s death. In honor of that anniversary, I want to share the story of one of Grandma’s sisters, Maria Amelia, who died too young, but left an impression on my Grandma.

Maria Amelia DeTevis was a young, beautiful 17-year-old when she got married in Las Vegas to Simon Bustamante. Thinking back more than 70 years, my Grandma remembered her younger sister’s wedding dress, and a horse-drawn carriage. She said the wedding was a big deal in town, and was mentioned in the newspaper. My Grandma said she was closest to her sister, Amelia.

Soon after the September wedding, the worst kind of tragedy struck the young bride. On Oct. 25, 1941, as my Grandma recalled, her sister’s husband went to get what he thought was kerosene. But it was really gasoline. When Amelia lit a match, the gasoline exploded and she died as a result of the fire.

My Grandma didn’t tell me much more than that, other than emphasizing how beautiful her sister was. She told me there was a photo of her on her headstone in the Las Vegas cemetery. During my next trip to Las Vegas, I located the headstone and snapped a photo. I didn’t show my Grandma, because I wanted to wait until I wrote about it. But I waited too long.

My Grandma married my Grandpa Carlos only a few months after that terrible tragedy – on March 14, 1942. The timing was terrible because the family was still in mourning over the death of Amelia. But I assume it was unavoidable because my Grandpa was preparing to head overseas to fight in World War II. He and his brothers had to leave their training in Texas to attend the wedding in Las Vegas.

Since the family was in mourning, my Grandma didn’t get the horse-drawn carriage and the big, fancy wedding, though she didn’t express any regrets to me. The one thing that bothered her was that her mother-in-law took a lot of the food that was meant for the wedding and used it for another family event scheduled the next day. My Grandma recalled the bridal party having to scrounge for bread and meat for some sandwiches the night of the wedding.

Despite the circumstances, my Grandpa remembered her own wedding fondly. She had a large family with many sisters, but it made me wonder how she really felt at the time after losing her closest sister. I know they had to deal with many hardships back then. Still, it’s difficult to comprehend. I only wish I could have shared that photo of the headstone with her. I know she would have said, again, how beautiful her sister was.