Celebration and Reflection at Doña Ana — May 15, 1845

It was a special occasion: women, men and children abruptly leaving their work in the fields or the shade of their jacales[1] and adobe homes to greet the Bishop; the Bishop who months earlier left Durango with his companions to travel on a multi-stop tour of Chihuahua and New Mexico, who reached this humble place called Doña Ana, between the river and the mountain ranges, a place he journeyed through several years before[2] when it was just a dangerous camp site — and now was a place where crops were growing and where pobladores[3] offered him water, food and smiles — basic human comfort.

The pobladores later gathered for Mass and Confirmation to be officiated by the Bishop, on May 15, 1845. Blessings, prayers and readings, signs of peace, wine and bread, blood and body.  Some of the pobladores were not in attendance, having been killed or taken captive by Apaches.  For them, more prayers.

Either the bishop or one of the priests wrote down on a sheet of paper the names of the confirmed, their parents and padrinos, then tucked the paper into a notebook, where it would remain for generations.

This record faded over time, yet some names still remain: Montoya being the most common.[4] 

[1] Jacales (jacal, singular) were homes made of poles, sticks, mud, grasses, hides — whatever could be found and used to create shelter. The word jacal is derived from the Nahuatl word Xacalli. See Nahuatl Dictionary at https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/xacalli.   The historical record reflects the use of jacales as homes by the indigenous and mestizos in Chihuahua and New Mexico.  See, e.g., search results for the word “jacal” within the Cibola Project.

[2] Bishop José Antonio Laureano de Zubiría y Escalante first traveled to New Mexico in 1833.  See Andrés Resendez, Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850, at pp. 74-76, Kindle edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 74-76.

[3] Pobladores (poblador or pobladora singular) means inhabitants or settlers in Spanish (Diccionario de la Lengua Española), and was the word used in historical records to describe the early inhabitants of Doña Ana.  See e.g., Transcription of records within the Report of the Surveyor-General of New Mexico regarding the Doña Ana land grant in New Mexico, in Senate Documents, Otherwise Publ. as Public Documents and Executive Documents: 14th Congress, 1st Session-48th Congress, 2nd Session and Special Session. United States, n.p, 1874., 3-87. 

[4] Record of Confirmations officiated by Bishop José Antonio Laureano de Zubiría y Escalante at (the place he called) Colonia de Santa Maria de Doña Ana, May 15, 1845, within records at the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Guadalupe, Paso del Norte (now Juarez), Chihuahua.  See photographs of documents above.)

The Río Bravo at Paso del Norte

More than a few times, the Río Bravo (Rio Grande) shifted dramatically at Paso del Norte, especially at the Partido de Chamisal. Due to flooding, many families of Chamisal moved north to Doña Ana in the 1840s. The river continued to change course after it became a section of the boundary between Mexico and the United States.

The map above illustrates the river’s movement between the late 1820 and late 1890s. (Map courtesy of the Mapoteca Manuel Orozco y Berra — click map to enlarge).

East Bajada of the Doña Ana Mountains

East bajada of the Doña Ana Mountains
South end of the Jornada del Muerto Plain on the bajada of the Doña Ana Mountains, 2.9 miles east-northeast of Doña Ana Peak, 5.2 miles southeast of the peak of Summerford Mountain, 32.4725 -106.7449, Doña Ana County, New Mexico, 18 Dec 2012. Creosote shrubland with Acourtia nana, Flourensia cernua, Gutierrezia microcephala, Zinnia acerosa, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, Dalea formosa, Prosopis glandulosa, Dasyochloa pulchella, Muhlenbergia porteri, Eriogonum trichopes, Larrea tridentata, etc. (Photo and description by Patrick Alexander.)

New Mexico and/or Chihuahua

In early July of 1845, Felipe Sena, on behalf of the Departmental Assembly of New Mexico, complained about the granting of land in Doña Ana.  He argued that Doña Ana was in New Mexico (not Chihuahua), and proposed that the titles to land in Doña Ana be suspended pending re-granting of the lands by New Mexican authorities.   (The Spanish Archives of New Mexico  Vol. I, No. 257.)

A month later, U.S troops invaded New Mexico.  

Chihuahua and/or New Mexico

In 1839, Jose Maria Costales of Chamisal submitted a petition to the local Prefecture of Paso del Norte, asking that over a hundred families of El Paso be allowed to settle “el punto de Doña Ana.”  The Prefecture then forwarded the petition to state officials of Chihuahua.[1]  

Why was the petition to settle Doña Ana sent to authorities in Chihuahua, instead of New Mexico?  The answer: at the time, Paso del Norte and Doña Ana were in the jurisdiction of the State of Chihuahua.  After the Mexican Independence, the State of Chihuahua’s northern border extended north of Paso del Norte (and north of Doña Ana) to the paraje de San Diego.[2]  

[1] See Historical Background.

[2] Desconocidos, Mapa del Partidos de Estado de Chihuahua, circa 1830; Escudero, José de Agustin de.  Noticias Estadísticas del Estado del Chihuahua. En la oficina del Puente de Palacio y Flamencos Núm. 1, por Juan Ojeda, 1834, p. 185 (“El punto limítrofe el estado de Chihuahua y el terrítorio de Nuevo México, es S. Diego, segun la diputacion provisional de dicho territorio.”)