As with any persistent genealogist, it’s the anticipation and the ultimate rewards that keep me going. Every lead, every document that I chase has the potential of revealing the unexpected. Often times I stumble across intriguing tales –oral history that merits retelling.
I dialed the number of a Mary Lujan found among my jumbled notes. The woman at the other end of the line was somewhat annoyed.
“Where did you get my unlisted number?” she asked. I briefly explained that I was researching my Lujan lineage, “It was my deceased husband Manuel who was a Lujan,” she replied curtly.
Undaunted I persisted. “Did he hail from Chihuahua , and more specifically the border town of Ojinaga ?” I asked.
“Yes he did” a surprised Mary replied. Plied by the unexpected link, Mary Lujan dropped her guard and shared more details. Her husband’s father– Manuel Lujan Sr. had installed Ojinaga’s initial source of electricity, and as far as she knew, his parents were Jesus Lujan and Sara Houston.
“ Houston ?!” I blurted out.
“Yes” came the matter-of –fact reply. “Sara was a niece of Sam Houston of “The Battle of San Jacinto” fame”.
Genealogy and history going hand-in-hand, I found myself pondering over the Houston connection for days. The intriguing issue moved me to write to the author of a National Geographic article on Sam Houston. The courteous gentleman wrote back immediately saying he knew nothing of Sam Houston’s brother. The nagging question compelled me to go back to the source. I called Mary again. What developed was an unfolding of both a friendship and a story.
Pearl was a widow of twelve years when she met the dashing Manuel Lujan Jr. The love-smitten young man courted Pearl who was always accompanied by two younger sisters. When Manuel proposed marriage, Pearl ’s response was that “when he learned a hidden truth about her, he would not want to marry her”. She confessed that girls she had introduced as her sisters, were in reality her daughters! Pearl ’s explanation of the deception was that she believed she would not receive the same respect as a “widow”, as that of a “Senorita”.
Hearing this, Manuel expressed admiration of her qualities of a decent woman (“Cualidades de Mujer Decente”).
Marriage preparations were on.
At their local parish, the priest that was putting the necessary paperwork together inquired of Manuel….. If his father was Manuel Lujan Sr. of Ojinaga , Chihuahua? Manuel’s answer in the affirmative elicited another amazing story.
“I owe my life to your father,” Father Ramirez told Manuel. During the Mexican Revolution, he and Manuel Sr. were forced to flee Ojinaga rather than face the vengeance of Pancho Villa who hated both priests and moneyed Lujans. “Your father got me out of Ojinaga and onto U.S. soil disguised as a woman!” Ramirez stated.
Mary “Pearl” Alvarez was born in Dona Anna County, New Mexico. Nearby neighbors included the family of Pat Garrett –the man who killed Billy the Kid. In fact, her widowed grandmother had worked in the Garrett household. As a refined and decent young lady, she caught the eye of Edward Fountain who was grandson of Albert Jennings Fountain, an extraordinary figure in Dona Anna County. Despite differences in social and monetary background, the couple married with full Fountain approval. Edward and Pearl enjoyed a happy marriage until his early death.
Pearl strongly suggested that I go visit the old Fountain Homestead, which is now the Gadsden Museum in La Mesilla, New Mexico . The following year I did just that. Mary Veitch Alexander gave me a detailed tour of this amazing tribute to her Grandfather. She spoke proudly of the man who became a legend in his own time. Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain was at times, a Political figure, an Indian Fighter, a newspaper publisher, a Texas Ranger, and in 1881, adefense attorney for Billy the Kid. I delved into personal objects, authentic Indian artifacts, paintings of Native Americans –done on Deerskin by Albert Fountain Jr., and –in the back yard, the jail-bunk that held Billy the Kid!
Before I left, I went back for one more look at a painting of Zara Houston and a silk-embroidered vest worn by Sam Houston—both donations from Pearl’s husband, Manuel Lujan Jr. Thanks to Mary Alexander, the mystery of Sam Houston’s brother was solved. He was a diplomat living In Chihuahua City when he met and married Francisca Estavillo. Their daughter “Zara”, married Manuel Lujan Senior. Their son “Manuel Lujan Junior” was Pearl’s second husband.
Sometime in 1994 Pearl failed to answer my calls. (Unbeknownst to me, her area-code had been changed.) Assuming she had moved or worse yet had passed on; I was left with fond memories and cherished photographs of her and Manuel. Twelve years later, I’ve come full circle and called the Gadsden Museum for verification of pertinent facts related to this paper. I spoke to Mary Alexander’s daughter. She told me her mother had passed away in 2006. I immediately thought of Pearl who was 94 when I last spoke to her, and assuming she also was gone, I asked for details of her demise. Once again, my passion for genealogy has dealt me another great surprise. Mary”Pearl” Lujan just celebrated her 106th birthday!
Elisa Lujan Perez©, 2007