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El Paseño, Padre Ramón Ortiz
By Samuel Sisneros
Padre Ramón Ortiz’s parents were don Antonio Ortiz and doña Teresa Miera, both descendants of prominent Spanish colonial families in New Mexico, Chihuahua, and Mexico City. Padre Ortiz’s paternal ancestor was Nicolas Ortiz the progenitor of the prominent Ortiz family in New Mexico. A native of Mexico City, he came to Santa Fe in 1694 with don Diego de Vargas. The progenitor of Ramón's maternal family name was Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, Ramón's great grandfather who was born in Spain and lived in Chihuahua, Mexico by 1742. A year later he resided in El Paso del Norte, where his family stayed until their arrival in Santa Fe in 1756. Miera Y Pacheco is best known for mapping the region surrounding the northern part of the Camino Real.
Ramon Ortiz’s godparents at baptism were Lieutenant Colonel don José Manrique, Governor of New Mexico (1808-1814) and his wife doña Inez Tellez, both residents of Chihuahua, Mexico. His sister, Ana María, was twice married to influential men. She first married don Fernando Delgado and after his death she married Lieutenant Colonel José Antonio Viscarra, governor of New Mexico from 1822-1823. Viscarra was originally from Cuencame, Durango, Mexico. These connections gave Ortiz the financial and political means to enter the seminary in Durango and to eventually become a powerful parish priest.
Ortiz’s pastoral and humanitarian work in El Paso del Norte included providing an education to young men in his home, or offering his home to family members and other Paseños in need. His largess extended to the surrounding community including the “Norte Americanos.” His hospitality towards numerous visitors (Mexican and Anglo) to El Paso del Norte is immortalized in early Anglo literature of the Southwest such as Susan Shelby Magoffin’s journal Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847.
The Anglo American belief in Manifest Destiny brought them into Texas and New Mexico and to El Paso del Norte. Following his defeat at the battle of San Jacinto, Texas in 1836, Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Ana signed the Treaty of Velasco which specified that the Texas border extended to the Rio Grande. To lay their claim to these boundaries the Texans set out on the Texan-Santa Fe expedition of 1841. Before entering Ramón Ortiz’s native village of Santa Fe, the Texas troops composed of 270 soldiers and 50 merchants (it is believed that they were actually militia) encountered fierce resistance from the Mexicans under the command of Governor Manuel Armijo. The 172 Texan survivors were taken prisoner and marched to Mexico City. Angered by this Texan/Anglo invasion on Mexican soil the New Mexican captors tortured and starved their prisoners on the long march south along the Camino Real. After crossing the hot New Mexican desert, known as the Jornado del Muerto, captors and captives reached El Paso del Norte. The prisoners were in poor condition and Padre Ortiz, though intensely patriotic, provided relief to then in the form of food, wine, clothes, medicine and a bath.
Ortiz made long and lasting friendships with the Americans during this first conflict between the two neighboring countries, though he knew that war between the United States and Mexico was imminent. President James K. Polk declared war with Mexico on May 13, 1846 and soon after, the United States military entered northern New Mexico. Governor Manuel Armijo was convinced or bribed not to give resistance to American troops which resulted the conquest of Santa Fe and New Mexico. From Santa Fe American troops marched south on the Camino Real where they encountered a Mexican force of mostly Paseños commanded by Capt. Antonio Ponce de Leon. Just up river from El Paso del Norte, on December 25, 1846, Padre Ortiz was responsible for promoting and inciting armed resistance at the battle of Brazitos. The Mexicans were defeated, and Padre Ortiz was taken prisoner along with others for instigating the armed resistance and for their anti-American activities. The Padre was offered his freedom if he gave his word to cease his activities against the United States. He answered that it was his duty to his country to bring about the defeat of her enemies. U.S. Colonel Alexander Doniphan took Ortiz south to Chihuahua as a hostage, but while on the trail he was allowed to visit with the troops and administer the sacraments to the Irish Catholics among them. Upon entering the city of Chihuahua, Ortiz pleaded with Colonel Doniphan to surrender to the Mexican forces, as he watched the defeat of Chihuahua by the United States troops. Padre Ortiz was eventually released after administering to the wounded and dead on the battlefield.
After his experience with the ravages of war, Padre Ortiz announced his candidacy for the next Congress at Mexico City. He was elected unanimously and temporarily left his pastoral duties. As a congressman, in an effort to protect the interest of his country, he voted against the peace treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The votes, which approved the treaty, were 53 in favor and 31 against. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in Mexico losing half of its national territory, including Ramón's birthplace of Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a result of his efforts in the war, Ramón Ortiz was appointed by the State Government of Chihuahua to head the Commission to repatriate those Mexican citizens who wished to retain their national citizenship, in accordance with article eight of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Initially optimistic, Ortiz went to New Mexico, which at the time, had the highest percentage of Mexican citizens. Many New Mexicans signed up to leave, but most could not relocate due to pressure and obstacles placed on them by American officials. In 1850 nearly three thousand people crossed the newly established border between Mexico and the U.S. to settle towns in Northern Chihuahua. Some settled in Mesilla, Santo Tómas de Iturbide and Refugio de los Amoles (the Berino and Vado area) which are in present day Doña Ana County, in southern New Mexico, while others settled in San Ignacio and Guadalupe del Bravo, Chihuahua, Mexico. The repatriates never reached the number that Padre Ortiz anticipated although his efforts led to the establishment of several border towns. Disappointed, the patriotic priest retired from his civil and political duties and returned to pastoral work in El Paso where he remained until his death. Padre Ramon Ortiz was influential as a pastor, humanitarian, politician and peacemaker in New Mexico, El Paso del Norte and along the Camino Real.
Sisneros, Samuel E. “El Paseño, Padre Ramón Ortiz: Password, 44, No. 33, Fall 1999. The El Paso County Historical Society.