More to Explore

Biographical Sketch of Miguel Chavez

There appears to be little doubt that Santa Fe businessman Miguel Chavez earned the designation placed on his death certificate by his executor and personal representative: Capitalist. Yet, as an early day Warren Buffet, he was also rightly credited with the title: Philanthropist.

By Mark Thompson

There appears to be little doubt that Santa Fe businessman Miguel Chavez earned the designation placed on his death certificate by his executor/personal representative-- “Capitalist!”[1]  Yet, as an early day Warren Buffet, he was also rightly credited with the title “philanthropist.”  When he died a widower, all of his four children having predeceased him, the Santa Fe New Mexican justifiably anticipated a considerable testamentary gift to charity.[2]  After all, this was the man who donated the statue of Bishop Lamy,[3] located in front of St. Francis Cathedral, and the money for a building at St. Michael’s College.[4]

Chavez was born in Santa Fe on May 15, 1855, to Silviano and Veneranda Chavez,[5] and by age 16 was forced to leave school to support his widowed mother.[6]  They moved to Parkview (Los Ojos), north of Tierra Amarilla, in the 1870’s and by 1880 he was a self-employed merchant.[7]  In September of 1883, Chavez married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Krummick[8] and by June of 1885 they were blessed with their first child, a son.[9] During the first decade of the new century they moved to Santa Fe and, by 1910, Lizzie had given birth to four children, none whom were still living at the time of Miguel Chavez’s Death.[10] Lizzie Chavez died October 8, 1926, at age 66.[11]

The expectations of the New Mexican, and undoubtedly the charitable beneficiaries, were met when the terms of the Will were disclosed in December, 1928.  The newspaper article on Christmas Eve heralded the coming of the “benefice” for several charities: “Miguel Chavez Leaves over Half Million Dollars to Catholic Church and to Orphans and Poor of Santa Fe and of Albuquerque.”[12] But in the second week of January, 1929, the other shoe dropped, this time in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico: “Colorado Woman Seeks to Break Will of Miguel Chavez; Claims Entire $500,000 Estate; Carolina C. Salazar Alleges she is 46 years of Age and Illegitimate Daughter of Wealthy Real Estate Owner of Santa Fe; Says She was Recognized as his Daughter and was Born at Park View (sic), Rio Arriba County; Says she was not Mentioned in the Will.”[13]

Salazar sought personal relief, a declaratory judgment and injunction, against the executor, Santa Fe businessman Carl A. Bishop, the nieces and nephews of Chavez, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and, the St. Vincent’s Sanitarium and Orphans Home and Industrial School. As a Colorado resident, she alleged federal court jurisdiction based upon diversity of citizenship, between herself and the several defendants.[14]  The defendants argued that the controversy was “a matter to be determined by the Probate Court of the County of Santa Fe,” i.e., that the U.S. District Court lacked jurisdiction.[15]  Judge Colin Neblett did not explain his rejection of the defendants’ argument, which eventually became known as the “probate exception” to diversity jurisdiction. The United States Supreme Court, in another case in 1946,[16] questioned the scope of the “probate exception” and, finally, in 2006, a unanimous Supreme Court gave the exception a very strict construction, perhaps limiting its use as a bar to federal court diversity jurisdiction in future cases.[17]

The plaintiff’s substantive law allegations were based upon the New Mexico statutes:  born illegitimate, she was legally “recognized” by Miguel Chavez as his child;[18] Chavez failed to name her in his Will and, therefore, as to her, Chavez is deemed to have died intestate;[19] and, because she was his only direct intestate heir, she was entitled to his entire estate.  As might be expected, the case would be decided on both the applicability of the “recognition” statute, and the evidence submitted to establish the fact of recognition. The defendants hammered on the idea that any recognition by Chavez came before the effective date of the statute, February 24, 1887,[20] what might have been called the “recognition with impunity” argument because evidence of recognition before that date could not be used against him.[21]

If the parties briefed the issue, written briefs did not make it into the court file and Judge Neblett, ruling against the defendants, did not elaborate on his reasons, merely admitting the evidence.[22] Plaintiff’s legal team was led by former N.M. Supreme Court Justice, Clarence J. Roberts, who had authored three published opinions involving the 1887 statute, including the landmark community property decision, Beals v. Ares.[23] None of these three cases provided a direct answer to the defendants’ argument, but one can imagine Judge Roberts, as he was called in the press, dazzling the court with his views on the law of descent and distribution. Perhaps Roberts’ partner, Charles Brice, added the argument that because New Mexico had never followed the common law with respect to illegitimate children, and that the 1887 statute, as amended in 1889,[24] was “remedial” and should be liberally construed so as to aid an illegitimate child, a view he adopted as a Supreme Court justice in 1938.[25] That still leaves the question of why the statute should be applied to facts arising before its enactment, but one can imagine that whatever these two lawyers argued to Judge Neblett carried considerable weight.[26]

The trial opened August, 1, 1929, in Tierra Amarilla, with Judge Neblett hearing testimony from the first of 60 witnesses eventually called by the plaintiff.[27]  The plaintiff was required to prove that the recognition by Chavez was “general and notorious,”[28]  and certainly the lawyers were taking no chances that they would fail to meet that somewhat vague standard.  Probably the most dramatic testimony at this first stage was that of several elderly Parkview residents who remembered Chavez hosting a party at the home of Carolina’s mother, Luisa Lovato, to celebrate Carolina’s baptism![29]

Much of the evidence at the second, Santa Fe phase, dealt with the knowledge of other members of Chavez’s family and that of his wife’s family.  But the defense also called forty-two witnesses, according to the clerk’s trial notes, in an attempt to diminish the impact of the plaintiff’s case.  Several witnesses testified that Chavez had told many people that he had no relatives, and one witness testified that Chavez told him that “God gave me my money and I’m going to give it back to God.”30]

 At the close of the evidence, Judge Neblett immediately announced from the bench that the plaintiff had prevailed,[31] and, on August 29, 1929, filed a judgment directing the executor to pay nothing to the beneficiaries named in the Will and to recognize Carolina Salazar as the daughter and only heir at law.  The defendants immediately appealed to the newly created Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals,[32] basing the appeal primarily on their argument that evidence of recognition by Chavez was inadmissible.[33] Perhaps Salazar’s lawyers saw problems in defending their legal position in the appellate court because the case was settled. The parties stipulated that the appeal should be dismissed and the Tenth Circuit so ordered on April 5, 1930.[34] Carolina Chavez Salazar and her husband, Luis, eventually moved from Colorado to Santa Fe where she died on March 14, 1960[35] and was buried in FairviewCemetery on Cerrillos Road.36]


[1] Miguel Chavez, death certificate no. 337 (1928), New Mexico Bureau of Public Health, Santa Fe.

[2] “Miguel Chavez Dies After Short Illness: Liberal Benefactor of Catholic Schools,” Santa Fe New Mexican, December 14, 1928, p. 7.

[3] The inscription on the side of the base reads, in Spanish, “Donated by Miquel Chavez, Santa Fe, 1915.”

[4] Ironically, the school thought he had failed to contribute all he promised and filed a claim in the probate court. “Miguel Chavez Left Estate valued at Over $600,000; Bulk in First Mortgages,” Santa Fe New Mexican, March 4, 1929, p. 3.  [Probably because of the difficulty in valuing the unpaid loans, the estimates of value varied, with the press eventually using $650,000.00, an amount equal to $7,697,368.00 in 2006 dollars.  (See]

[5] Note 2, supra.

[6] Note 3, supra.

[7] Ibid. See also,  Veneranda Chavez household, 1880 U.S. census, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, population schedule, Town of Tierra Amarilla, enumerator district [ED] 28, sheet 3, dwelling 19, family 19; National Archives micropublication T9, roll 803.

[8] Chavez-Krummick marriage, 19 September 1883, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Santa Fe, marriages p. 38; (Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, no. 00161907).

[9] Miguel Chavez household, 1885 N. M. census, Rio Arriba County, population schedule, precinct 23, enumerator district [ED] 21, sheet 24, dwelling 2, family 2; National Archives micropublication M846, roll 3. (The precinct designation appears to be incorrect; most of the county was not identified with township names by the enumerators.) 

[10] Miguel Chavez household, 1910 U.S. census, Santa Fe County, New Mexico, population schedule, City of Santa Fe, enumeration district [ED] 224, supervisor’s district [SD] 181, sheet 221B, dwelling 234, family 238; National Archives micropublication T624, roll 918.

[11] Elizabeth Chavez, death certificate no. 269 (1926), New Mexico Bureau of Public Health, Santa Fe.

[12] Santa Fe New Mexican, December 24, 1928, p. 2.

[13] Santa Fe New Mexican, January 8, 1929, p. 6. See also, “Suit is Filed to Break Will of Miguel Chavez,” Albuquerque Journal, January 9, 1929, Morning ed., p. 1.

[14] Carolina C. Salazar v.  Carl A. Bishop, et al, No. 1916E (D.N.M. Feb. 2, 1929). (The court file is now located in the federal archives in Denver.) It is not clear why the complaint carries a February filing date when the newspapers clearly reported the filing in early January.

[15] “Additional Objections and Exceptions of the Defendants,” filed August 29, 1929.

[16] Markham v. Allen, 326 U.S. 490 (1946).

[17] Marshall v. Marshall, No. 04-1544, decided May 1, 2006.

[18] New Mexico Code 1915, § 1850.

[19] New Mexico Code 1915, § 5870.  The Probate Code essentially retains the “omitted children” provision.  See § 45-2-302, NMSA 1978.

[20] N.M. Laws 1887, ch. 32, § 9.

[21] This law on illegitimate children probably seems “quaint” to the modern lawyer. The Probate Code now declares that “an individual is the child of his natural parents, regardless of their marital status,” incorporating the Uniform Parentage Act (§ 40-11-1, et seq, NMSA 1978) for the standard of proof, including DNA testing, etc.  See § 45-2-114, NMSA 1978.

[22] “Mrs. Salazar Scores Point in Her Suit For Chavez Estate,” Santa Fe New Mexican, August 16, 1929, p. 7. “Chavez Estate Loses Point By Court’s Ruling,” Albuquerque Journal, August 17, 1929, morn. ed., p. 1.

[23] 25 N.M. 459, 185 Pac. 780 (1919).  In Beals, Roberts took the position that the 1887 statute, at least the marital property provision, was an unfortunate flirtation with the common law property system, and was given a proper burial in the 1889 statute.  The other two cases, more directly dealing with illegitimate children, were Grates v. Garcia, 20 N.M. 158, 148 Pac. 493 (1915) and Wallace v. Blanchard, 26 N.M. 181, 190 Pac. 1020 (1920).  

[24] N.M. Laws 1889, ch. 90, § 21. 

[25] State v. Chavez, 42 N.M. 569, 82 P.2d 900 (1938). (No relation to our subject, Miguel Chavez.) It should be noted that Judge Roberts and Judge Brice in their Supreme Court Opinions were not in complete agreement on the origin of that part of the statute dealing with illegitimate children.

[26] The lawyer “firepower” brought to bear on this case may be unprecedented in New Mexico history.  In addition to Judges Roberts and Brice, the plaintiff was represented by Manuel A. Sanchez, N.M. Surveyor General, 1922-25, and the then incumbent U.S. Senator, Sam G. Bratton, another former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice and later a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The defendants were represented by E. R. Wright, J.O. Seth, E.F. Davies, J.J. Kenny, David Chavez Jr., and Charles Fahy.  David Chavez, no relation, was later a U.S. Territorial Judge for Puerto Rico and then a New Mexico Supreme Court Justice.  Charles Fahy, who eventually left New Mexico to become a labor lawyer in Washington, D.C., was appointed by President Truman to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1949.  

[27] “Chavez Estate Case Opens,” Albuquerque Journal, August 2, 1929, morning ed., p. 1.

[28] Note 25, supra.

[29] “Miguel Chavez Threw Party When Carolina Was Baptized Old Timers of Parkview Say,” Santa Fe New Mexican, August 9, 1929, p. 5.  Carolina was born October 2, 1882, and the baptism took place in Tierra Amarilla on October 29, 1882, but was recorded in El Rito. The author is indebted to Rio Arriba genealogist, Joe Salazar, for detective work which revealed that the padrinos (godparents) apparently told the priest that Carolina’s last name was “Mestas,” the “maiden” name of  her maternal grandmother. Book T2, Baptismal Records, page 395, 1882, San JuanNepomucenoChurch, El Rito, New Mexico (Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, no. 16765).   Carolina’s mother was using Luisa Lovato as late as 1885.  See,  Luisa Lovato household, 1885 N. M. census, Rio Arriba County, population schedule, precinct 23, enumerator district [ED] 21, sheet 26, dwelling 32, family 32; National Archives micropublication M846, roll 3.

[30] “Miguel Chavez Said He Had No Relatives, Say Witness To His Will,” Santa Fe New Mexican, August 15, 1929, p. 2.

[31] “Mrs. Salazar Is Winner of Lawsuit For Chavez Estate.  Judge Neblett Holds She is Illegitimate Daughter of Don Miguel,” Santa Fe New Mexican, August 17, 1929, p. 1.

[32] “Chavez Estate Case Will Go To High Court,” Albuquerque Journal, August 18, 1929, morning ed., p. 3.

[33] Assignment of Errors, filed November 14, 1929.

[34] Bishop v. Salazar, 41 F.2d 988 (10th Cir. 1930).

[35] “Mrs. C. Salazar Dies in Hospital,” Santa Fe New Mexican, March 14, 1960, p. 2.

[36] “OBITUARY,” Santa Fe New Mexican, March 16, 1960, p. 12.