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Repatriation from New Mexico to Northern Chihuahua

By Samuel Sisneros

In 1849, following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, more than 150 families from central and southern Texas, a small group from California, close to 4,000 people from New Mexico, along with approximately seven hundred people from the present El Paso Lower Valley (Socorro, Ysleta and San Elizario), chose to retain their Mexican citizenship and emigrate. They followed the receding and consequently redrawn border dividing Mexico and the United States and crossed over to the Republic of Mexico.

The emigration from New Mexico including the El Paso Lower Valley resulted in the founding of several border colonies in northern Chihuahua, Mexico, which included present-day southern New Mexico. The emigrants established the towns of La Mesilla, Refugio de los Amoles and Santo Tomás de Iturbide, which are located in present day Doña Ana county in New Mexico, Guadalupe and San Ignacio which are located 40 to 50 miles down river from Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

As the land changed ownership, the emigrants left their patria chica or regional community and took to the road to resettle in unfamiliar and vacant land. Doing so, they made a physical protest, voting with their feet in favor of their Madre Patria or nation state. They sided with their metaphorical parents (madre “mother” and patria “father”), represented in their authority figures or in their larger nationalistic identity. To the repatriates, even though they relocated to Mexico, they had never left Mexican soil.

The unique relationship between Mexico and those that were living in what is now the southwestern United States particularly in New Mexico was demonstrated by the actions of the Mexican peace commissioners. They rejected the first draft of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo partly because the government of Mexico was not willing to consider U.S. annexation of the department of Nuevo México. The commissioners stated that Nuevomexicanos were not interested in becoming citizens of the United States. Additionally, during the treaty ratifications, Luis de la Rosa, Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as arguing that the Republic of Mexico should not abandon New Mexico. Referring to the Texas-Santa Fe Expedition of 1841, he honored the New Mexicans by claiming:

These worthy and dignified Mexicans should not be sold like a herd of sheep, who being misfortunate and without any protection, put aside their inconveniences and rising against the invaders (United States) spilled their own blood so that they may continue to be part of the Mexican family.

Because of military pressure in Mexico City by General Winfield Scott’s invading troops along with the belief that the United States was going to take over the entire country, Mexico was forced to agree to the final version of the treaty proposed by the United States. Although Mexican officials knew that signing the treaty meant giving up half of the country’s territory and the citizens residing therein, they chose to end the war and salvage what dignity and territory they could.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo especially affected Nuevomexicanos because New Mexico was the most populated area of northern Mexico lost to the U.S. Some of the articles in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were designed to provide the conquered Mexican population some assurance of citizenship including civil, religious, and property rights. Article VIII dealt with the citizen’s right to choose within one year whether they wanted to remain Mexican citizens and repatriate or become U.S. citizens. The provisions in this Article stipulating repatriation to Mexico are as follows:

Mexicans now established in the territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present Treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in the said territories, or disposing thereof and removing the proceeds wherever they please; without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax or charge whatever.

Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories, may either retain the title and the rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States. But, they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty: and those who shall remain in the said territories, after the expiration of that year without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexicans, shall be considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States.

Immediately after signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico initiated a series of decrees and laws that provided for the repatriation of its citizens which included selecting a commissioner of emigration to recruit emigrants. The recruitment and repatriation by Padre Ramón Ortiz initially gained acceptance with the Nuevomexicano populace and territorial officials and many New Mexican signed up to repatriate. But soon after the operation began, it met with conflict from the U.S. authorities. The New Mexico territorial government did not follow through but instead set up a series of obstacles. Despite these obstacles, the repatriation took place, though not as effectively as Mexican officials had anticipated.

The emigrants began their long journey in 1849, one year after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. They must have felt a sense of loss, not only because they were leaving some of their family members and their rural communities behind, but also because they were seeing, perhaps for the last time, the Cerro de Tomé, which has traditionally been a landmark hill with social and spiritual importance. As they looked to the east, they may have wondered if they would ever again see the majestic Manzano Mountains, which were always green with piñon, juniper (sabino) and pine forests. Herding their animals and carrying their belongings on horseback and on carretas (wagons), they looked onward not knowing if they would ever return and uncertain of the odyssey that lay ahead.

They continued through the bosque or wooded area along the river and onto the Camino Real, the same ancient royal highway that many of their ancestors traveled back and forth from Mexico. After traveling some fifty miles, the distance between Tomé and Socorro, approximately two days on horseback, burros or carretas, they joined the repatriates from Socorro, New Mexico. Perhaps after resting their livestock they then embarked on their long journey to northern Chihuahua. This arid area of southern New Mexico spans some two hundred and fifty miles and includes the Jornada del Muerto, “Deadman's Journey,” a ninety-two mile stretch of the Camino Real that was waterless, desolate, and dangerous due to Apache attacks. The entire trip from Tomé to Mesilla and El Paso del Norte Valley, required nearly ten days of travel.

Upon arrival in the stretch of land between La Mesilla and El Paso del Norte, the repatriates, like other Nuevomexicanos who made the trip south before them, must have marveled at the shapes of the Organ Mountains or at the contour lines created by time and erosion as they came upon the dry and rocky mountains known today as the Franklin Mountain range north of modern day El Paso, Texas. On the other side of the river they probably looked upon the Sierra de Juárez, the backdrop for El Paso del Norte and its mission church. This international mountain range marks the end of the great Rocky Mountains. The Mesilla Valley and the El Paso del Norte bosque oasis that lay below would soon be their refuge and new home.

Entering the community of Doña Ana, they would have met with residents who were contemplating repatriation themselves. A year later they too abandoned their lands in the Doña Ana Bent Colony emigrated across the river, where they founded the colonies of La Mesilla, Santo Tomás de Iturbide, and Refugio de los Amoles. The latter two are now called Berino and Vado, in Doña Ana County, New Mexico. These emigrants, who by 1852 totaled approximately 2000, had an entirely different emigration experience than those from the Río Abajo area.

The Mesilla Valley was still contested land claimed by both Mexico and the U.S. The New Mexico 1850 territorial census (taken December 19) included the town of Mesilla (spelled Macia) and listed a population of 714 individuals. Just five months later, on May 23, 1851, the State of Chihuahua also conducted a census of Mesilla. The census listed 1,210 residents which indicated that there was a large continuous emigration from Doña Ana to Mesilla. As impressive as it was the emigration to Mesilla soon came to an end. As a result of the 1854 Gadsden Purchase, the U.S. bought this contested strip of land from Mexico, and it became part of southern New Mexico. The residents once again found themselves citizens of the U.S.

Although some of the Rio Abajo Nuevomexicano emigrants may have stayed in Doña Ana, joining the residents in their later repatriation to La Mesilla, many continued the journey south to the El Paso del Norte Valley. Perhaps in Doña Ana, they were met and cheered by Padre Ramón Ortiz, whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction included the Mesilla Valley or by Guadalupe Miranda, the new commissioner of emigration, and also a repatriate from northern New Mexico.

They soon joined their long-lost relatives who were descendants of those northern New Mexico refugees who did not return to New Mexico in 1692 with the Vargas Reconquista but stayed and formed the villages of Socorro, Ysleta del Sur, and those presently incorporated into modern day Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua: El Paso del Norte, San Lorenzo and Senecú.

Perhaps in gratitude for arriving in the great oasis of El Paso del Norte, they entered into the mission church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe to give thanks to their God and also to their patroness, the Mother of Mexico. Like the Nuevomexicano refugees during the Pueblo Revolt, they too sought sanctuary in the area, this time not as people escaping the Pueblo Indian uprising, but as emigrants evading the United States’ cultural and political intrusion and military occupation. They had arrived in the new land, escaping down the Camino Real, taking the course of less resistance.

The El Paso del Norte municipal government conducted a census of Guadalupe and San Ignacio (today Práxedis G. Guerrero) in 1852 which gave a clear picture of the makeup of the original emigrants from New Mexico. They totaled 550 persons a total of 114 families from New Mexico. The 1852 census of the two colonies discloses that 336 persons in Guadalupe listed New Mexico as their place of birth. The neighboring colony of San Ignacio was almost entirely populated by Nuevomexicanos; 214 out of 232 residents (forty out of fifty-two families) were from New Mexico. These numbers might appear insignificant considering that they represent a mass autonomous political exodus. Dwarfing these numbers even more is the fact that the overall population of New Mexico was well over 60,000. But taking into account the population of a typical village of that time, a comparison can be made to the desertion of an entire town. Adding to the population in the new colonies was an equal number of repatriates from the San Elizario area. Therefore, the impact of an increased population in the new border colonies was significant.

The censuses also revealed that the emigrants from New Mexico originated primarily from Río Abajo villages most of which were precincts of the larger towns of Tomé and Socorro, or Socorrito as it was called in the Guadalupe census. The diminutive Socorrito (little Socorro) was used in the census to distinguish it from Socorro, Texas, which is today a precinct of the modern city of El Paso, Texas. Indeed, as we shall see, the population of Socorro, New Mexico, was half of that of Socorro, Texas, in the late 1840s. In the new Chihuahua colonies the Nuevomexicanos continued their regional ties by settling with those who came from their same communities. Those from the Tomé area primarily settled in San Ignacio, and those from Socorro area were among the founding families of Guadalupe.

Coming from all social and economic classes in New Mexico, the emigrants initially replicated social and economic relationships they had known back in the Río Abajo. The ricos maintained their elite social roles as political officials, ranchers, and merchants. The pobres continued to survive as farmers (labradores) and servants. Theirs was a system of dependency with the rich relying on the poor who were trapped in debt servitude. These same dynamics were revealed almost immediately in the social and political machinations of the Chávez and the Otero families, who, as in New Mexico, continued their long-standing relationship in the new colonies.

Miguel Antonio Otero, a member of one of the rico families from Manzano, New Mexico, continued his role of political official in Guadalupe where he became Commissioner of Irrigation, responsible for overseeing the system of community canals or acequias used for irrigation of crops and pastureland. Otero’s descendants still live in a colony outside of San Ignacio, originally called Plaza de los Oteros but known today as Plazitas. Maybe even more important in the formation of the colonies was Father José Antonio Otero, Miguel Otero’s brother. Father Otero, who also repatriated, was educated under the famous Mexican patriot, Padre Antonio José Mártinez of Taos. The Otero’s were wealthy and well connected to people of power in New Mexico during and after the U.S. occupation. Miguel and Padre Otero were cousins to don Miguel Antonio Otero I, an aristocratic leader and New Mexico delegate to the U.S. Congress (1855-1861). His son, Miguel Antonio Otero II, was territorial Governor of New Mexico. Both Oteros, senior and junior, were influential in the initial quest for New Mexico’s statehood.

The Chávez family legacy in the colonies and their connections in New Mexico were equally as impressive as that of the Otero family. Gerónimo Chávez and Bárbara Vallejos became the progenitors of the Chávez legacy in Guadalupe, which further extended into the El Paso del Norte area. Gerónimo Chávez was the brother of Francisco Xavier Chávez, the first Governor of the Departmento de Nuevo México under the independent Republic of Mexico in 1823. Francisco Xavier Chávez’s sons also made their marks in the history of New Mexico and Mexico; two were New Mexican Governors. Mariano José held the office in 1835, and José in 1845. Another son, Tomás, became a prominent lawyer in Durango, Mexico.

Given the connections that these prominent Chávez men had with the Chávez emigrants, it is apparent that the Gerónimo Chavez clan's decision to repatriate was influenced by a political and economic stronghold in New Mexico and in the interior of Mexico. The Gerónimo Chávez family was among the elite in Los Padillas, just south of Albuquerque. Among the descendants of Gerónimo Chavez who emigrated were Francisco Chávez, Antonio Chávez, José Chávez, and Padre José Vicente Chávez. Their position in New Mexican society assured the continuity of the families’ class status in northern Chihuahua.

Although the Chavez and the Otero clans were the most prosperous of the repatriates other families, in most cases connected to them by marriage, political loyalties or by debt servitude, also found their way to the new settlements. Not all were from Río Abajo rather some were from northern New Mexico who had married into Río Abajo families and settled in either of the two Río Abajo zones prior to the emigration. Among these colonizers were the Campos brothers, Ruperto and Francisco. Both were born in Santa Fé and the latter was an Alférez or military sergeant in New Mexico. Another unexpected emigrant was Carlos Prais (Charles Price), an Anglo-American merchant whose place of origin was listed as Estados Unidos. Also the blacksmith brothers José and Juan Antonio Trujillo brought their trade to San Ignacio from Belén. In Guadalupe, Manuel Calles from Tomé was a sastre (tailor) and Antonio Silva, also from Tomé, was a carpenter. The latter appears to be the same Antonio Silva who is credited with carving the saints still hanging in the Immaculate Conception church in Tomé, New Mexico. Don Joaquín Bazán was a scribe in Río Abajo before he repatriated to Guadalupe and became a county secretary. Bazán and his parents were recruited from the interior of Mexico, as master weavers, to go to northern New Mexico to teach their craft. It is not known if Bazán continued as a weaver while he served in his political occupation in Guadalupe. Another immigrant who was the most famous of historical figures at the time of the U.S. invasion was Juan Bautista Vigil y Alarid, the last Mexican governor of the territory of New Mexico. He lived in the colonies for ten years before returning to Santa Fe.

The repatriates joined together at a place that became their new home. Theirs was a drastic movement which resulted from U.S. military occupation, war and subsequent peace treaty. The repatriation brought into fruition Article VII of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The migration and colonization was both a continuation and a fractionalization of a long established community. It was a demonstration of an act of defiance to the U.S occupation of their homeland and an active symbol of allegiance towards the nation of Mexico as the repatriates declared their intentions to “retain the character of Mexicans.”

Sources Used:

Condensed from: Sisneros, Samuel. “Los Emigrantes Nuevomexicanos: The 1849 Repatriation to Guadalupe and San Ignacio, Chihuahua, Mexico.” Master’s Thesis, University of Texas at El Paso, 2001.