THE STORY TELLERS
We are the chosen. My feelings are that in each family there is one who seems to be called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones; to make them live again; to tell the family story, and to feel somehow that they know and approve. To me doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all that have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: “Tell our story” — So we do.
It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who I am and why I do the things I do. It goes to pride in what our ancestors accomplished and how they contributed to what we are today.
It goes to the deep pride with which they fought to make and keep us a Nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us; that we might be born who we are; that we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring we trace each fact of their existence because we are they and they are us.
So, responding to my call, I tell the story of my family, as it is up to those who are called upon in the next generation, to take their place in the long line of family story tellers.
And that is why I do my family genealogy–that which calls young and old to step up and put flesh on the bones.
IN THE BEGINNING
In 1989, I embarked on a search for the ancestors of my grandfather, Esteban Lujan. The pursuit was to take me to Southwest Texas and across the Rio Grande from Presidio to Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico. Eventually I went further south to Cuchillo Parado, birthplace of my grandmother Rosa Flores. And finally: to Chihuahua City itself.
Once bitten by the “genealogy bug”, I prodded along the fascinating, sometimes frustrating, sometimes lonely path of genealogy research. Fortunately, before the first year was over, it became apparent that my “tribe” had settled in the area–La Junta de Los Rios Del Norte y Conchos of colonial times. They remained there for over one hundred years. This turned out to be a bonanza for it enabled me to find and document countless descendants of the original settlers.
Genealogy and history going hand-in-hand, I got into the history of La Junta long before I had found any significant numbers of ancestors. I wanted to know why they had chosen to settle in such a desolate, inhospitable place, and what kept them there for so long. For those of you who never heard of La Junta, the following should be helpful.
The La Junta de Los Rios, as termed by the Spaniards, extends twenty like miles north of the Rio Grande to Shafter, Texas. It had Ruidoza, thirty odd miles to the west, and Redford (El Polvo) twenty miles to the east. The triangle was completed at Cuchillo Parado some 25 miles south into Chihuahua. Often referred to as “The Last Frontier”, it is easily one of the oldest farming communities in Texas. As early as 1250 A.D. to 1500 A.D., semi-sedentary natives who traded with nearby hunter-gatherers peopled villages on both banks of the Rio Grande. It has been speculated that the trajectory may well have been the path through which corn and beans were brought into North America. Or, could it have been the other way around?
In 1535, Alvaro Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and three companions, survivors of a ship- wreck in the Gulf of Mexico, wended their way back to Mexico along the Rio Grande. After seven years of incredible, and sometimes miraculous, feats of survival they visited the La Junta area. There they found the “comeliest” of all the Indians that they had thus far encountered. Sadly, Vaca’s assertion of the existence of “The Seven Cities of Cibola” resulted in raids that gathered his beloved natives as slaves for the mines of Mexico. Numerous “entradas” followed the Vaca “noticia”. Among them: Rodriguez- Chamuscada (1581-1582), Espejo (1582-1583), and Mendoza-Lopez (1683). By the time Trasvina Retis was authorized to accompany Priests who were to establish missions at La Junta in 1714 (The Official date of the founding of Ojinaga), he found Christian natives sporting western dress! *
In the early 1700s, the Comanche was moving south as far as the Trans-Pecos area. Pushing the Apache before them, both raided areas south as far as Durango, Mexico. In an effort to seal off the area, Don Jose de Berroterran was sent to explore El Despoblado. The journey turned out to be futile and disastrous. In 1747, a three-pronged attempt to explore the area, with the possibility of establishing a presidio, was made. In Captain Ydoiaga’s final report, recommendations were that there were no suitable agricultural areas, no grazing land for animals (not enough to support a garrison). Ydoiaga further argued that if soldiers were moved into the area, fearful natives might move out. Despite these points of view, the Real Presidio de Nuestra Senora de Belen y Las Amarrillas was established in the Indian pueblo of Guadalupe (Ojinaga) in 1759.
Primo Enrique Madrid, Redford Stewart, translated the Ydoiaga papers.
By the late 1700’s, real or imagined encroachment of the French and the Americans, coupled with Comanche and Apache raids, prompted the establishment of a cordon of Presidios along the Rio Grande. Soldiers assigned to Presidios “Del Norte” (Ojinaga), and “El Principe” in Coyame (1777), were joined by Indian auxiliaries, familias, and providers of related services. Meanwhile, Native American “rancherias” existed on both sides of the Rio Grande and up the Rio Conchos as far as Cuchillo Parado. The permanent Presidio Santiago del Norte was established around the time that the thirteen Colonies of New England were pursuing their independence.
My earliest Lujan in the area was a soldier stationed at El Principe, in Coyame Chihuahua. (Coyame is on the west bank of the Rio Conchos—with Cuchillo Parado to the east.) I discovered my Lujan getting married in Chihuahua City in 1785. Therefore, I am guessing that he arrived in Coyame in the late 1700’s, for by 1800 I find him fathering children born in Presidio del Norte (Ojinaga). Since he appears as an “Invalido” (retiree), this could indicate that he had already served the required ten years of service. Twenty odd years later his offspring are marrying locals at Presidio del Norte. Others in Coyame marry back and forth among the military families, and those new hybrid natives began forming their own clans. A few mix with those of Cuchillo Parado, thereby extending their families across the Rio Conchos to the East. Their struggle for survival was constant. Our antepasados (ancestors) suffered Indian depredations, droughts, and the resultant years of hunger and poverty. Plagues killed hundreds. Up until the 1870’s, the population in Presidio del Norte rarely exceeded 1500 souls.
As my research progressed, I outgrew my little notebook. I fashioned an index out of a telephone and address book. Then I converted to a stenographer notebook until, at the insistence of my son David, I dove into modern technology and the Family Tree Maker Program. In time I became so familiar with the names on the Ojinaga micro-film that as soon as I saw Mata, Ramirez, Levario, Ortega, Navarette, Zubiate, or Juarez, I knew I was in Coyame or Cuchillo Parado. Today my computer holds over 20,000 names. A second file, REDFORD, exceeds five thousand direct descendants. Later on, with the coming of Anglos to the area (1843), names like Russell, Leaton, Faver, Landrum, Spencer, and eventually Dutchover, Miller, Bulliex, were added to the surname stew.
Come along with me as I retrace a most interesting and rewarding journey.
Please be mindful that historical, and genealogical discoveries are not always in order of occurrence.
I have opted to insert them where expediency is in order, and where it will facilitate familiarity with main characters and events.