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.
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.