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Santiago Valdez

Born: 7-19-1830 - Died: 1888

By Denise Holladay Damico

Santiago de Jesus Valdez was born in Taos, New Mexico on July 19, 1830 and was baptized by water upon his birth "because of emergency" by the Padre's younger brother, Don Santiago Martinez. Padre Martinez concluded the baptism on July 22 of that same year with the anointing of the Holy Oils and Sacred Chrism. The life and legacy of Padre Martínez would intertwine with those of Santiago Valdez throughout the nineteenth century. It is speculated that Martínez was in fact Valdez's biological father, a speculation fueled by Willa Cather (author of Death Comes for the Archbishop) and her portrayal of Martínez as a corrupt and lascivious priest and father of several illegitimate children.

 The paternity of Santiago de Jesus Valdez still remains in question, but the likelihood that it was Padre Martinez, as contended in the Martinez family oral history, remains a strong possibility. Curent research by a Santiago Valdez descendent indicates that Valdez was born out of wedlock to Maria Estefana Madril and the father was unknown. The maternal grandparents were Bernardo Madril and Maria Ysabel Lopes, both dead. Sponsors, "el referido bautisante." It was forbidden by canon law and church custom for a priest to baptize his own child so Don Santiago poured the water and was listed as the sponsor. In his last will and testament Padre Martinez stated: "I declare and dispose that in consideration to Santiago Valdez, a member of my family, who I raised since infancy and adoped with all the privleges of a formal adoption, I educated, and that he recognizes no other father, or mother, than me, and in addition to this he has been obedient to me, for this I dispose, and it is my will that his children take, share and carry my surname in the future." Two theories had been put forth on the geneaology of Santiago Valdez: one is that he was, in fact, the illegitimate son of Father Martinez, or alternatively, that one of the Martinez brothers (Santiago), as the true father.

After his birth, Santiago was placed with the family of Jose Ygnacio de Jesus Valdez and his wife, Maria Dolores Duran of Taos, and Santiago took the surname Valdez. This arrangement would have been made by a mutual agreement between Padre Martinez, Maria Estefana Madril, and Ignacio Valdez. On October 29, 1849, Padre Martinez married Santiago Valdez and Maria Agustina Valdez, the daughter of Jose Ignacio Valdez and Maria Manuela Sanchez.

Santiago and Agustina had nine children. The baptismal records of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (Taos) have entries for the first four children as follows: Maria Agueda de Jesus Valdes (b. 1850), Jose Daniel de Jesus Valdes, (b. 1852), Jose David Valdes (b. 1853), and Maria Teodora Valdes (b. 1855). The first three show the paternal grandparents as the foster father Jose Ygnacio Valdes and Maria Estefana Madrid and the maternal grandparents as Jose Ignacio Valdez and Maria Manuela Sanchez. There are not entries for grandparents on Maria Teodora. The 1870 consensus records for Ocate give a comprehensive list of the children and include: Daniel (age 18), David (age 16), Teodora (age 14), Malaquias (age 10), Marina (age 7), Mariquita (age 4), and Antonio (age 2). The last child, Demostenes, is listed on the 1880 census and he was born in 1873. Baptismal entries for the last five children are non extant in the baptismal records of Taos, Mora, Ocate/Wagon Mound, and the 1859-1867 private baptismal registry of Padre Martinez. Regardless, all of the living children of Santiago and Agustina were given, and retained, the Martinez surname.

Valdez and his family may have learned the importance of education from Padre Antonio Jose Martinez. In Taos, Martinez founded one of New Mexico\'s earliest schools and also published an 1834 spelling book, Cuaderno de Ortografia, on New Mexico's first printing press in Santa Fe. Whether Valdez was his biological or foster son, Padre Martinez groomed him to assume a prominent position in New Mexican society and politics. Santiago Valdez eventually became a lawyer; his education and connections enabling him to advocate for Hispanos in an increasingly Anglo-dominated legal system. During his career, he was involved with adjudicating claims to the Arroyo Hondo land grant.

Valdez and Martínez often worked together in official capacities. In 1856, they served as juezes árbitos, or arbitrators, to settle a dispute over water rights in the acequia system near Taos. The process of arbitration followed a long frontier tradition of using local resources and customs over often expensive and bureaucratic governmental ones thereby avoiding the court system and “the immense costs arising from a lawsuit.” Valdez and Martínez were asked to be juezes árbitos because they were known to residents of the Taos Valley as community and territorial leaders, both having served on the Territorial Legislature on several occasions, sometimes at the same time.

New Mexico's Territorial Legislature had its first session in June of 1851. According to the New Mexico Blue Book of 1882, Santiago Valdez first served on the legislature in 1854 at the age of 24. He may have been elected to this position, at least in part, due to his familial connection with Antonio José Martínez. Between 1854 and 1864, Valdez served in the legislature seven times, as a member of the House from Taos. After 1864, Valdez served as a Probate Clerk in Taos County and a Probate Judge in Mora County but he took a sixteen year hiatus from the legislature: Perhaps his desire to serve and/or ability to get elected were tied to Padre Martínez, who died in 1867.

Santiago Valdez wrote a biography of Martínez in 1877, Biografia del Presbitero Antonio Jose Matinez, Cura de Taos, ten years after the priest’s death. Though Valdez lamented his lack of “learning and knowledge,” he said that “a conscientious duty impel[led]” him to attempt the task, though so doing meant “laying [him]self open to the criticism of those who are experienced in writing books....” Valdez thought himself “wanting in the necessary art and practice that should adorn an author,” and that his endeavors in writing about Padre Martinez were “limited to a manifestation and publication” of “the arts, expressions, and writings” of the Padre. Despite Valdez\' humility, his biography of Padre Martínez has proved invaluable to historians and all interested in learning about Padre Martínez and New Mexican history. A more commonly known biography of Martínez, Recollections of the Life of the Priest Don Antonio Jose Martínez, written by Pedro Sanchez, may have been based upon Valdez's earlier work.

Valdez resumed his legislative service in 1880 under different circumstances from his earlier tenure. During his first terms in the 1850\'s and 1860\'s, he was a young man working under the mentorship of Martínez but by 1880 he was fifty years old and had risen to social prominence in his own right. One biographer of Padre Martínez wrote of Valdez in his later years: “As a lawyer, he was considered outstanding in his time; as an orator, he had no peer.”

In 1884, when the New Mexico Territorial Legislature ordered the compilation of New Mexico's laws, Santiago Valdez was appointed to a three-person commission charged with the compilation. Though New Mexico's political and economic power were shifting after 1846-1848, Valdez's presence on the commission affirms that Hispano voices had not been silenced and were in fact a vocal majority. The laws of New Mexico as well as the journals of the territorial legislature were written in both Spanish and English as many of the legislators were Hispano and whose first language was Spanish.

Santiago Valdez used his knowledge of the newly instituted Anglo-American legal system when he served as the lawyer for Arroyo Hondo land grant claimants. The Martínez family, with whom Valdez was closely allied, had been holders in this grant, in the Taos valley, almost since its inception in 1815. His selection as lawyer for the claimants was a logical choice to given his familial connection and his competency regarding the legal system in late nineteenth century New Mexico.

Under this system, those who had been granted land by the Spanish or Mexican governments or their heirs, had to prove the validity of their grant before an government official known as the Surveyor General and, after 1891, before a special court known as the Court of Private Land Claims. This process was often arduous, expensive, and rife with corruption. Claimants from Arroyo Hondo, those people living on the grant and seeking to prove its validity, filed grant papers with the Surveyor General as early as 1861. However, it was not until 1887 that seventy-three claimants petitioned the Surveyor General seeking confirmation of the Arroyo Hondo grant. Though the claim eventually proved successful and the US government recognized the validity of the Arroyo Hondo grant, Valdez would not live long enough to see the fruits of this work. By March of 1892, Valdez had passed away. Edward Bartlett, a prominent New Mexican who had served with Valdez on the three-person commission which completed the 1884 Compiled Laws of New Mexico, replaced Valdez as the attorney for the Arroyo Hondo claimants.

Although Santiago Valdez is well known to aficionados of the history of Padre Antonio José Martínez as his likely son and as his first biographer, he became prominent in politics and in the social life of the Taos area in his own right. Over the course of his lifetime, he saw many changes come to New Mexico. His education enabled him to advocate for the people of Arroyo Hondo, the Taos valley, and New Mexico through these changes. Santiago Valdez inherited a legacy of education and political activism from one of New Mexico\'s important historical figures and passed this legacy on to his own children, at least one of whom, Melaquias Martínez, would go on to be a prominent politician.


July 19, 1830: Santiago Valdez born in Taos.

July 22, 1830: Santiago Valdez baptized by Padre Antonio José Martínez.

October 29, 1849: Santiago Valdez marries María Agustina Valdez.

1856: Valdez and Padre Martínez serve as juezes árbitos in acequia dispute.

1854-1864: Valdez serves on Territorial Legislature seven times.

July 27, 1867: Antonio José Martínez dies.

1877: Valdez writes biography of Antonio José Martínez.

1880: Valdez again serves on Territorial Legislature.

1884: Valdez, Edward Bartlett, and Charles W. Grune complete the 1884 Compiled Laws of New Mexico.

1887: Valdez, acting as attorney for Arroyo Hondo land grant claimants, files for the grant's confirmation before the Surveyor General.

1888: Santiago Valdez is buried in Taos, April 13.

Sources Used:

SG 159, Arroyo Hondo, SANM-I, Roll 29, especially frames 258-265.

Santiago Valdez. Biografia del Reverendo Padre Antonio José Martínez Taos, 1877, reproduced from the copy in the Henry H. Huntington Library, Ritch Collection, Microfilm, Reel 1, NMSRCA.

1884 Compiled Laws of New Mexico (Santa Fe: New Mexico Printing Company, 1885), Secretary of State Inventory, Item 35, NMSRCA.

W. G. Ritch, The Legislative Blue-Book of the Territory of New Mexico (Santa Fe: Charles W. Greene, 1887), NMSRCA.

Guadalupe Baca-Vaugh, ed., and trans., Pedro Sanchez, Memories of Antonio José Martínez (The Rydal Press, 1978): 86-87, fn 1.

Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance: The Story of Padre Martínez of Taos, 1793-1867 (Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1981), especially pages 33-34.