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The Life and Times of Esteban Padilla:
How the Acquisition of Land Changed His Social Status and Place in the Padilla Family Hierarchy
By Samuel Sisneros
Esteban Padilla was born at Bernalillo, New Mexico circa 1711, the illegitimate son of Diego de Padilla, presumably of the Spanish class and an unknown mother, most likely an Indian servant. Esteban’s Mestizo or Coyote racial and caste identity came from this union. Although these racial categories were artificial and used interchangeably they were part of the elaborate caste system in New Spain; a Mestizo was someone half Spanish and half Indian and a Coyote was a mixed blood person of more Indian than Spanish ancestry. Esteban was designated a Mestizo in the Spanish caste system, but he was also the documented child of Diego de Padilla the patriarch of the most prominent family in the community of Los Padillas, and half brother to Diego’s legitimate children. Although Esteban was marginalized within the large extended Rio Abajo family (Rio Abajo is the region of New Mexico below Santa Fe), he eventually elevated himself from this position to accomplish his most desired goal, the goal of most Colonial Nuevo Mexicanos of any social class, a large family and enough land to provide for the family’s future.
The ownership of land provided the basic needs of any family: food and shelter, an economic basis to barter, a spiritual connection to the seasons and the four elements, and the means to climb the social/political ladder. Underlying the economic and spiritual value of the land was a long-standing tradition of leaving property to one’s descendants. It is apparent that Esteban’s father, Diego Padilla, did not have in his heart the desire to leave property for his Mestizo son Esteban. Esteban would have to work hard for a piece of Padilla family land and for his place in Spanish Colonial society.
Esteban Padilla was born at the beginning of the eighteenth century when Spanish, Mestizo, and some Pueblo people were newly resettled in New Mexico after twelve years of living in exile in El Paso de Norte. Many of these people of the Reconquista had first-hand memories, or at least second-generation family history, of the harshness of the revolt, the exodus from their homelands, and the starvation and harsh living conditions they experienced as refugees. Some of the elders had memories of life before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 but others, like Esteban’s father, only knew the life of their newly formed villages in El Paso de Norte. Many people who had fled to the South after the Pueblo Revolt had to make the difficult decision to stay in El Paso de Norte, migrate south into the interior of Chihuahua and beyond, or return to New Mexico and start over. To put Esteban’s story in context, it is necessary to understand how his grandparents and his father Diego de Padilla settled in the Rio Abajo area of New Mexico.
Esteban’s grandfather, José de Padilla, was born in Querétaro, Mexico. After migrating to New Mexico, José had lived a few years in the Rio Abajo before he and his family escaped to the El Paso del Norte area as a result of the Pueblo revolt. They settled and founded the Real de San Lorenzo and the Pueblo de Senecú, where José began to acquire a large household. In the 1692 Census of El Paso de Rio de Norte, enumerated by Diego de Vargas, the Pueblo of Senecú had two households; that of Alcalde Mayor and Capitán de Guerra, José de Padilla, and that of Lázaro Moraga. José’s household numbered thirty-two persons of which twenty-one were listed as servants. Moraga’s household had twenty-nine persons that included fourteen servants. The fact that these two households contained such a large number of servants indicates that Padilla and Moraga were encomenderos. Encomenderos were colonial grantees. They were granted the right to Native labor and tribute in exchange for assuming responsibility to protect and Christianize their Native subjects. In the case of Padilla and Moraga, these subjects or servants were the Piro Indians from New Mexico who had fled south with the Tiguas and Spanish/Mestizos in 1680.
Esteban’s father, Diego de Padilla, the son of José de Padilla and María López Millán, was born in 1681, in El Paso del Norte, one year after the Pueblo Revolt. Diego Padilla, who was listed as twelve years old in the 1692 census, migrated north, returning to the land his parents had been forced to leave. After his arrival in Nuevo Mexico with the De Vargas settlers in 1692, Diego first settled at Bernalillo, located on the east bank of the Rio Grande, seventeen miles north of Albuquerque. During Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s expedition in 1540, this area was occupied by Tiwa Indian people and was later settled by families from the Oñate colonization prior to 1680. In Bernalillo, Diego married Catalina de Salazar in 1706. They had one child named Pedro Nolasco. Catalina soon died leaving Diego a widower with young Pedro and another son named Luis Suazo, born prior to their marriage but reared by them. Because Catalina’s family was of the Mestizo class of El Paso del Norte, Diego apparently did not acquire a large dowry at marriage. After the death of Catalina, Diego was still landless and settled in with a female Indian servant, perhaps a servant of one of his compadres from Bernalillo or one the many Genizara (Indian captive) women living in Bernalillo. From this union, Estevan Padilla was born.
Diego at this time was probably dissatisfied with his new life and lack of social status; he had no land, three sons, and was living in a single condition or with a concubine. He desperately wanted to improve his situation. He found new hope in his second marriage to María Vásquez Baca. She was the daughter of José Vásquez de Lara, a Spanish soldier of the re-conquest, and María Magdalena Baca, a descendent of the original Baca family of Bernalillo. Although this union did not bring Diego acquisition of land, it did raise his social status and possibly gave him financial backing to acquire livestock. Diego’s new position within the Bernalillo elite enabled him to move his new wife and three sons to a modest home in Albuquerque where the family began to grow. As the family increased in numbers, Diego began to farm and build structures in the lands once occupied by his maternal grandparents, Francisco de Valencia and María López Millán. This land, in and around the Isleta Pueblo, had been shared by Francisco and María with their Tigua neighbors and compadres from Isleta Pueblo before they were forced to flee south after the Pueblo Revolt.
While Diego and his young sons, including Esteban, and some servants were working the land, growing mostly crops of corn, and wheat, and attending to his growing cattle and sheep herds, it occurred to him that there might be a way to acquire a claim to this land for his growing family. In Santa Fe, Diego petitioned for land from Governor Don Antonio Balberde Cossio, Capitán of the Royal garrison at El Paso del Norte. Diego testified that he was a resident of the Villa de Albuquerque and claimed to be without land to grow food to maintain his family. The land was granted to Diego on May 14, 1718. Balberde Cossio ordered Chief Alcalde of the Isleta jurisdiction, Captain Alonzo García, to give possession of the land requested by Diego Padilla. Land use was to be determined by Diego and the boundaries were set as follows:
On the east, the Sandia Mountains: to the south, the bluff of the sand hills of Ysleta; on the west, the said Del Norte River; to the north, the land and houses that my grandfather Valencia formerly owned.
Captain Alonzo García granted the decree made by the Governor and gave royal possession to Diego Padilla, “whom he [García] took by the hand [Padilla], conveyed over said grain growing lands and he [Padilla] pulled up weeds and threw stones and [García] pointed out the boundaries to him.” This land was initially christened Puesto de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de lo de Padilla and later was called Lo de Padilla, San Andres de Los Padillas, Rancho de Padilla, or El Tajo tract. Presently it is known as Los Padillas. The parcel totaled 24,889.925 acres, and was about thirteen miles long and three miles wide. Although granted to Padilla and his heirs, the Governor could partition parts of it off to other individuals for settlement. The standard land given to the peones, those of inferior status or laborers, called a peoneria, amounted to four hundred acres. Elites or caballeros were entitled to receive a Caballeria, which granted them two thousand acres. In consulting later censuses of this area it is apparent that the Governor did indeed grant portions of this land to individuals, some of whom intermarried with the children of Diego.
The children of Diego and his second wife were: Francisco, husband of Isabel Baca; Manuela who married Francisco Xavier Chávez (the first governor of New Mexico when México won its independence from Spain in 1821); Diego who married María Luisa Chávez; Bernardo who married Quiteria Chávez; Tomasa, the wife of Tomas Chávez; Pedro who married Victoria Chávez; and María Barbara who married Antonio Chávez. All of these Padilla siblings married into the large and affluent Chávez family of Rio Abajo. Most of the documentary evidence available list Diego’s children and their children as Españoles. The Spanish title does not necessarily denote race or nationality. In many cases it is a categorization of one’s hierarchical social standing. Some of the new Padilla/Chávez families settled in areas around Los Padillas, while others stayed on the land they inherited at the death of their father Diego Padilla in 1736.
Esteban Padilla, however, was not an heir to Diego’s land nor did he have the same social or marital standing as his brothers and sisters. He did not marry into the Chávez clan but instead married a woman of his own social and racial class. Her name was Jacinta Martin (or Martina) Delgado. Not much is known of her origin, only that there are no Delgado families in New Mexico during the major part of her life. Jacinta may have been brought to the area by Fray Carlos Delgado, a priest serving the Isleta jurisdiction at the time. On several occasions, Fray Carlos Delgado returned from missionary excursions outside of the Rio Grande Valley with large groups of Indian children, indios de rescate (rescued Indians), and baptized them in the San Agustín church at Isleta. Estevan and Jacinta married on the fourth of June 1742, at the mission church of San Agustín at Isleta Pueblo. The marriage entry in the sacramental books of San Agustín listed Esteban Padilla and Jacinta Martina as Españoles, which indicates the optimism that both the priest who performed the sacrament, Fray Carlos Delgado, and the witnesses, Joseph Baca and Doña Josepha Gallegos, had for this couple. This Spanish class/racial distinction didn’t last long, as subsequent documents listed them and their children as Coyotes or Mestizos.
The life of Esteban, Jacinta, and their children must have been a difficult one. They most likely lived on property that belonged to one of Esteban’s half siblings. Esteban and Jacinta had a total of ten children all recorded as being baptized at San Agustín church except for one who was baptized at San Felipe de Neri church in Albuquerque. At the baptism of their first child Bernardo in 1747, the padrinos or godparents perhaps were more honest: In the margin of the baptismal entry is written the word “Español” which is crossed out, and above it is written “Lobo segun los padrinos,” or Lobo according to the godparents. The term Lobo is another term used to designate a person of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry. From this point on all the children were noted either as Coyotes or Mestizos. Interestingly the baptismal records of the first five children list the mother as Jacinta with no surname, a practice used for Indian people whose last name was unknown. In the later baptisms she was listed as Jacinta Martin. And in the baptism of a couple of children Jacinta is listed with the last name Delgado. The children of Esteban and Jacinta were Bernardo, Joseph María, Antonio de la Cruz, Juan Francisco, Juan Francisco (the first Juan Francisco died as a baby, and as per custom the following child was given the same name), María Soledad, María Manuela Agustina, Antonio, Micaela, and María Catarina.
Like his father Diego, Esteban sired a large family and though he did not inherit the land of his father, he did inherit his father’s persistence in acquiring land and the means to provide for his family’s livelihood. Sometime before 1750 Esteban was able to climb the social latter and legitimize himself to his father by purchasing parcels of the Lo de Padilla land tract from his half brothers and sisters. In his own testimony, Esteban gave the following account of this land purchase:
Account and memorandum of the money that I gave to Diego Padilla for the title [and] property that I bought of him both in the open and uncultivated land in the whole tract of San Andres; it is as follows: Five dry cows, four milk cows, also, fifty sheep, make three hundred dollars.
Also; for a corn field that Diego Padilla gave me, I paid him a dry cow and a red bull and six sheep.
Also; of Tomas Chaves, I bought a corn field; for said corn field I gave him a horse that cost me two dry cows; that make forty dollars. For a little piece of open land that I bought of Jeh. Antonio Padilla, son of Francisco Padilla, I gave him for said land a sword that cost me twenty dollars; and as this is true, and it may so appear, I signed it.
Esteban Padilla [Rubric]
Although, Esteban does not mention his relationship to the people cited in the above memorandum, in later land courts concerning the Los Padillas tract, sworn statements were given by many who said they knew Diego was the father of Esteban, and the others mentioned by Esteban in the above memorandum were also his relatives (Diego Padilla mentioned in Esteban’s statement is not his father but his brother of the same name).
Esteban and his family had become full members of the land owning, farming class of Rio Abajo society and their household in 1750 contained two servants. The whole family participated in the seasonal rituals, including the cleaning of the acequias that ran near their fields. Esteban would show his oldest sons how to open and close the conpuertas that diverted the water from the acequia madre, the main irrigation ditch coming directly from the river. In the summer they would water the fields, which had smaller compuertas that had to be watched so that irrigation water would not over flow into someone else’s field or home. The family worked hard at irrigating and planting during the summer months. In the fall they would harvest máis and chile, and pick apples from the large mansanos growing throughout the Los Padillas valley. They would participate in trade at the plaza of Albuquerque selling apples or corn or they would go to Isleta pueblo to barter for blankets or other produce.
The only time Esteban and his family would take a break from their rigorous chores was to go to Mass on Sunday at San Agustín Church, a four- to five-mile walk. Not all of the family members would be able to go because some would have to tend to the animals or tend the water if they were irrigating their fields. Often times, a member would have to stay home because they didn’t have shoes to attend mass. Esteban, and occasionally other members of the family, would join the peregrinos from Laguna, Acoma, Los Padillas, Pajarito and other villages near Isleta, making the annual pilgrimage to San Agustín church for Good Friday mass. The people of Los Padillas would also attend the feast day of San Agustín de Isleta church on August twentieth, and other feast days during the liturgical church calendar, a time of Catholic religious celebration in harmony with traditional Tigua dancing and rituals. It was a time for the people of Isleta and the neighboring Spanish/Mestizo villages to strengthen their kinships. There remains a strong compadrazco or comradeship today between the cultures of the valley.
In the fall of 1760 the whole family may have traveled to Isleta to see the first visitation by a Bishop to New Mexico, Dr. Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, the sixteenth bishop of Durango. It must have been a wondrous sight, if not peculiar, to see such a high representative of the church and crown of Spain in the hinterlands of New Mexico far from cities like Durango or Mexico City. Pueblos and Spanish/Mestizos alike must have stood in awe at the pomp and attire of the Bishop and his retinue. This visitation left an impression on the people of New Mexico generally and particularly on Esteban who had become increasingly visible in church functions at San Agustín.
Esteban and Jacinta were considered people of importance in Los Padillas and in the Pueblo of Isleta. Esteban’s social status as a landowner, his involvement in the church, and his age were all at play in the community as he and Jacinta became Padrinos or testigos (witnesses) together or separately over thirty times in the baptisms or marriages of their family members or fellow parishioners, Spanish, Mestizo and Indian alike.
Although Esteban and his family were relatively prosperous landowners, frontier life in eighteenth century New Mexico was difficult. There were droughts, famines and continuous raids by Apache warriors. In 1791, Esteban Padilla died at the age of eighty, senile and a widower (Jacinta had died the previous year). He had been cared for by his many children in his old age.
Despite all his hardships, Esteban managed to raise his family and overcome in some measure, the racial and economic stigmas of Spanish Colonialism. He left the land he bought in Los Padillas to his children and grandchildren as a legacy of his hard work and determination.
1692 Census of El Paso de Rio de Norte. Enumerated by Diego de Vargas, The Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico, 1995.
50th. Congress 1st Session, Senate Exec. Doc No. 38, 1887, Private Land Claim #146
Adams, Eleanor B. Bishop Tamarón’s Visitation of New Mexico, 1760. Historical Society of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1954.
Archives of the Archdioceses of Santa Fe. Isleta Marriages and Baptism.
Chávez, Fray Angélico. Chávez, A Distinctive American Clan in New Mexico. Limited Edition, Santa Fe, 1989
Chávez, Fray Angélico. Origins of New Mexico Families: A Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period,. Revised Edition, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 1992
Julyan, Robert. The Place Names of New Mexico. UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1996.
Lagham, Olmsted Virginia. New Mexico Spanish and Mexican Colonial Censuses 1790. New Mexico Genealogical Society, 1975
Lagham, Olmsted Virginia. Spanish and Mexican Censuses of New Mexico 1750-1830. New Mexico Genealogical Society, 1981