Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Man and His Wives



In one of my recent posts I discussed “Women in Mormonism“ – let’s talk about the men today. It is a well known fact that the Mormon sect practiced polygamy. This concept fascinates me and revolts me all at the same time.

My gg-grandfather, John Henry Spencer, was converted to Mormonism while still a child in England. He came to America with his family onboard the passenger ship Sheffield in 1841. Once the family made land fall at the port of New Orleans, they journeyed up the Mississippi River and joined the “Saints” at the “Kanesville Branch,” now known as Council Bluffs, Iowa. The family was living in Kanesville when Richard Spencer, my ggg-grandfather, and John Henry’s father, was killed on 22 Aug 1851 in some sort of an accident involving a horse – the details of which are unknown to me.

That next year, in 1852, John Spencer, along with his mother Mary and siblings, set out for Utah. They traveled (along with 200 other people) with the Third Company under Captain Thomas C. D. Howell. They left Kanesville, Iowa on 7 Jun 1852 and arrived in Salt Lake City on 27 Sept 1852. The next month in October of 1852 the family relocated to Payson, Utah.

It was in Payson that John met and married Jerushia Kibbe Elmer on 4 July 1858 (sealed for time and eternity). They became the parents of 14 children.

On that very same day, John’s brother, Richard Spencer married Lucy Lodica Elmer, Jerushia’s niece. Sadly, Richard Spencer died shortly after he married Lucy Lodica Elmer. The family story that has been passed down indicates that Richard Spencer and his wife Lucy Lodica attended a dance soon after their marriage, and being over heated and perspiring, he left the hall and laid down on a pile of wood to cool off – where he contracted a “lung fever.” It has been claimed that on his death bed he asked John to marry his widow and raise a family “for him.” Accordingly, about two years after Richard’s death, John Henry Spencer married Lucy Lodica Elmer on 7 Oct 1860 (for time only). (In a nutshell – the marriage with Jerushia is for “time and eternity” and the marriage with Lucy is “only for this lifetime.”) To this union ten children were born.

It has been said that the John Henry Spencer family home in Payson was made of adobe and logs and consisted of two large rooms with each wife being allotted a room. According to family oral history: “The ‘Indians‘ always came on baking day and they were given fresh baked bread. Both of John Spencer’s wives cooked large banquets for the settlers and the Indians alike. His wives and small children helped him a great deal in “Indian affairs.“ John’s first wife, Jerushia, was a nurse and midwife; many a night she was called to go out alone in the pitch black dark to answer a neighbor’s call. She had to travel over a bridge which she dreaded to cross and to her wonder it was her husband’s other wife, Lucy Lodica who carried the light. She helped the Indian squaws sew and care for their sick. While residing in Payson, John Henry Spencer owned property on both sides of Utah Avenue. Both wives helped in clearing away debris and rocks by carrying them in their aprons. Then they planted the orchard and garden for the family.”

Along with many of the other Mormon men, John Henry Spencer was prosecuted later in life for practicing polygamy (unlawful cohabitation and adultery).

Cause No. 672: UNLAWFUL COHABITATION: COMPLAINT – Offense: Unlawful Cohabitation; Complaint filed July 21, 1888; Warrant issued: July 21, 1888; “…on oath complains that John Spencer of Indianola in the County of Sanpete and Territory of Utah…..did then and there unlawfully live and cohabit with more than one woman to wit with Mrs. John Spencer and Jane Doe Spencer whereas name is otherwise unknown to complainant against the peace and dignity of the United States of America, and contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided. Wherefore complainant prays that a warrant may issue for the arrest of said John Spencer and that he be dealt with according to law.”
Cause No. 833: ADULTRY:  “….being then and thus a married man and having a lawful wife alive did commit this offense of adultery by having carnal knowledge of the body of one Lodica Spencer ….” 

He gave bail to await the Grand Jury action. His plural wife, Lodica, also gave bond to appear as a witness. The trial transcript reads: “Bishop John Spencer of Thistle married his second wife in the fall of 1860, had been taking care of his family since. He had lived with the Indians for the last twelve years and was a poor man. His youngest child was four weeks old and they have very little means. The court asked the defendant if he had taught the Indians anything about polygamy and he said, “No”. He was sentenced to a term of four months in prison.

During that time his family suffered; however, was able to sustain themselves through the coldest winter they had experienced.



Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Elmer, Spencer


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Family Ties – Brothers and Cousins

Map of Texas highlighting Bowie County

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I received an inquiry from a fellow Curbow researcher who is just getting started on her family history journey.  While this does not pertain to our direct Curbow family line – let’s be patient and take another look.  Her Curbow family line starts with Edna Curbow, the daughter of William S. Curbow.  William is one of the sons of Wiseman Curbow (brother of our Tilman P. Curbow) and cousin to our Oliver Perry Curbow.  I feel that by looking at Wiseman’s family line we could potentially break down some brick walls and uncover some of our own family mysteries.   

So here we go – the life and times of William S. Curbow:   First – I have no idea what the initial “S“ stands for!  I have never seen it identified in any record.  He was born in Bowie County, Texas. The birth year varies from 1853-1855 in the relevant census records (1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910) and is confirmed as 1855 in the U.S. and International Marriage Record database . He is the first-born son of Wiseman “Wise” Curbow and Emeline Parker.

William’s father Wiseman had been previously married in Georgia.  It is presumed that his first wife died because Wiseman can be found in Bowie County, Texas in the 1850 census living alone with his five-year old son, David Tilman Curbow (1845-1906).  (My husband’s ggg-grandfather was Tilman P. Curbow – and we assume Wiseman named his first-born son after him.)  William S. Curbow is my husband’s first cousin (4 times removed). William’s mother, Emeline Parker, likewise, was previously married to an unknown Mr. McCarty, and she had two daughters with him – Harriet Angeline (born 1846) and Rhoda (born 1849). So at the time of William’s birth, there were already three children in the home – William was their first together. William’s other siblings are: Sarah Elizabeth Carolyn Curbow (1852-1914); Rebecca Ann Curbow (1856-1889); James Benton Curbow (1859-1899); and John Henry Curbow (1869-1942)

In 1860 William is with his parents and siblings in Beat 2, Bowie County, Texas – near Boston. Indexed as “Wm Curbow,” 5, born 1855 in Texas. In 1870 William is with his parents and siblings in Precinct 5, Bowie County, Texas. Indexed as “William Curbow,” 15, born 1855 in Texas.

According to the U.S. and International Marriage Records database on, William married Julia R. in 1872 – the location is not listed – but presumed to be Bowie County, Texas. He would have been only about 17 years old. I’m fairly certain this can’t be correct because his wife, Julia Annava Simington, was not born until 1875!  Alternatively, it is possible that Julia R., in the database is a different person, and this is William’s first marriage and Julia Annava Simington was his second marriage.

This second scenario seems more likely when we look at the 1880 census. He is indexed as “William S. Curbo,” age 25, born in Texas, works on farm. He is living in Precinct 4 of Bowie County, Texas with his wife Julia who is 16 years old – with them is a son named Willie who is four years old. This is either a child from a previous marriage, or Julia gave birth at the age of 12. I find that very unlikely – even in the 1880s!

In the 1900 census the family has moved to Little River, Little River County, Arkansas, which I believe borders Bowie County, Texas. William is misindexed as “W. S. Cirsbow,” age 46, born July of 1853 in Texas; farmer. He is living with his wife Julia A., who states that she has given birth 5 times and that all five children are living – Edna, Doely, Ella, Annie and John, which further seems to indicate that Willie (from the 1880 census) is not Julia’s son. All the children were born in Texas – unfortunately no birth dates were listed on the census. The enumerator must have been in a hurry to get home that day !

Little River County, Arkansas

In the 1910 census the family is still in Little River County, Arkansas. William is misindexed as “William S. Kirk,” age 57 born 1853 in Texas. The mystery of the marriage is solved here – he states that this is his second marriage and that he has been married for 32 years putting his marriage year with Julia Annava Simington at 1878. This also would seem to indicate that Willie (from the 1880) census is the child by his first wife, Julia R. He states that he is a farmer. His wife Julia is 47 years old. Shockingly, in this census she states that she has given birth 12 times and that only 5 of the children are alive. In the home is: Dollie, 17, Anna, 12, Jora, 5. This would mean that she gave birth 7 time between 1900 and 1910 – and seven children died.

I have been unable to locate the family in the 1920 census. As far as I have been able to determine – his children were: William D. “Willie Curbow, born 1876; Edna (1882-1917); Dollie born 1893; Ella born ?; Anna born 1894; and Zola Elizabeth Curbow (1900-1977).  If there were other children, they are unknown to me.

I also have been unable to locate a death record for William S. Curbow in the Texas Death Index. All of the trees on state that he died in 1923 in Bowie County, Texas. If he did die there in 1923, there should be a death certificate on file; however, I have been unable to locate one for him. It makes me wonder if he died across the border in Arkansas instead?   William S. Curbow is laid to rest in the Sand Hill Cemetery in Simms, Bowie County, Texas, which is confirmed by the Find-a-Grave memorial on that website.

If I were actively researching this family line, I would contact the Bowie County Clerk’s Office, Bowie County Library and/or the Bowie County Historical Society (I believe they have a very active one) – specifically, I would try to locate the two marriage certificates for William and his death record.  If a death date can be determined, I would be scouring the old newspapers for an obituary. 

Sharon – I hope this gives you a good start on your ancestor.  If any other researchers of this family line land on this post, I would be very pleased to hear from you. 





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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Curbow


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William David Curbow and the Beautiful Arizona

William David Curbow was the oldest known son of Oliver and Harriet McGuire Curbow – and my husband’s grand-uncle.  There is some discrepancy in the records pertaining to his year of birth.  His death certificate, compiled from state hospital records, indicates that he was born in 1870 in Denison, Grayson County, Texas.  This is believed to be incorrect.  His World War I draft registration card indicates that he was born in 1883.  This too is believed to be incorrect.  The card states that he was 45 in 1918 when he filled out the card.  This puts his birth year at 1873 – which I believe is closer to the truth.  For our purposes here, I will use the birth date of 25 Jun 1873.  In addition to this, on the Draft Registration Card – he is a resident of Pilot Point, Denton County, Texas, and he lists his middle name as “Davis” rather than “David.”  William describes himself as being tall and slender with blue eyes and light brown hair. 

World War I Draft Registration Card

Marriage Certificate

On May 20, 1900, William married Arizona Evans in Denton County, Texas.  Arizona was the daughter of Edward Thomas Evans (1831-1897) and Caroline Haseltine Quillen (1845-1928).  She was part of a large extended family of 15 children.  Her father was first married to Mary Elizabeth Quillen.  After Mary’s untimely death, he married her sister, Caroline (Arizona’s mother).  The newly weds, Arizona and William, were living with Oliver and Harriet Curbow in the 1900 census record.  Unfortunately, Arizona died very young – less than three months after the census was taken. 

Arizona Evans (misindexed in her marriage record as “Ivens”) was born in Texas in May of 1883 and died on September 20, 1900 in Aubry, Denton County, Texas – very tragically at the young age of seventeen.   The oral family history as told by Richard Mercer – Evans’ family historian – tells me that Arizona died in a fire.  He further advises that Arizona was fun-loving witty, vivacious and quite beautiful.  I agree with him. 

Arizona Evans Curbow - from the collection of Rich Mercer

The photograph of Arizona (right) was taken around 1896, when she is about 13 years old, in Dublin, Texas.   

Richard further states that Arizona “was buried next to her father on Gene Tatum’s place at a bend in the road they called “Little Tree.”  A mention of Arizona’s death appears in the September 27, 1900 issue of the Denton County News: “Mrs. Will Curbo died at her mother’s home here last Saturday morning and was buried at Key Cemetery on Sunday morning.”  Find-a-Grave volunteer, Fred Cross, notes that Key Cemetery is on private property and is now in disrepair, cattle roam freely on the property, and have destroyed most, if not all of the tombstones.  He was unable to locate a headstone for Arizona. 

As a complete aside – Arizona Evans had a sister named Cordelia Savannah Evans who married Annias Martin.  This couple had a daughter named Bertie Mae Martin – who married John P. Howard – who was the brother of Ida Bell Howard – who married Charles Franklin Curbow – my husband’s great grandparents.  Oh the tangled web we weave ! !

And it gets better!  Annias Martin (above) had a son named Arthur Powers Martin who was Arizona’s first love!  She was in competition for him with Lucy Hatcher, her niece (daughter of James Alvin Hatcher and Martha Ellen Evans – who is actually Arizona’s half-sister)  Are you confused yet?!  I am!

Arthur Powers Martin and Arizona Evans from the collection of Rich Mercer

Rich Mercer writes:  Lucy Bell (Hatcher) and her young Aunt Arizona both had intentions toward Arthur Martin – and sometimes jealously cropped up between them. This picture was taken the day after the circus came to town.  Arthur and the girls were at the circus and he climbed a tent pole then fell right into the girls. The jailer took him away for public intoxication and let him out the next day.  When Arthur saw the picture later in life, he told his daughter, Tiny Delois, that he had a pint of good whiskey in that suit pocket when the picture was made.  Arthur later married Lucy Bell Hatcher and became a circuit preacher establishing several churches in the Oklahoma area. His days of riding horses in to church meeting and falling from circus poles faded away to a life devoted to helping others and raising a fine family. 

So how did Arizona Evans end up with Mr. Curbow – 10 years her senior??

After Arizona’s death, William married Laura Alice Housden on 11 May 1902 in Denton County, Texas.  

Laura Alice Housden was born in July of 1881 in Missouri.  She was the daughter of Andrew John Housden (1843-1895) and Ellen W. Wilhite (1849-1908).  It appears that the Housden family was well-established in the Denton County area, although I can’t find much on Laura specifically.  She had been married once previously (James Robert Graves Stewart) and had a daughter with him named Ollie L. Stewart who was born July of 1899.   It appears that this first marriage ended in divorce. 

William and Laura had one daughter together that I am aware of – Mattie J. Curbow who was born in 1906.  Unfortunately, based on some postings that I found on, William and Laura had divorced by 1915.  I have no information on what happened to William, Laura, Ollie or Mattie after this time period.  Laura apparently remarried because she is buried in Bellevue Cemetery as L. A.”Pope,” and is listed as “Pope” in her brother’s obituary.  I have no information on what happened to the two girls, Ollie and Mattie.

William David Curbow’s life is a mystery to me.  I have been unable to locate him in the 1920 or 1930 census.  I do not know if he married for a third time, if he had any other children or how he spent the ensuing years.  His Texas death certificate states that William died at the age of 76 in the Wichita Falls State Hospital of myocardial insufficiency and pneumonia (along with a fractured hip) on December 21, 1946 – and that he was a resident there for one year and 11 months prior to his death.  His previous residence is listed as Bellevue, Clay County, Texas.  The death certificate is indexed under “William David Kerbow.” 

The Wichita Falls State Hospital was for the insane but not necessarily for the criminally insane.  While I am very curious to know why William was in “an insane asylum,” it should be noted that in years past, people were committed for a myriad of reasons, including drug addiction, alcoholism, deafness, epilepsy or even senility.  A recent request to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for a release of William David Curbow’s records has been denied for privacy reasons. 

The death certificate indicates that William David Curbow was buried in Henrietta, Clay County, Texas.  The Hawkins Mortuary Index contradicts this information and states that he is buried in Bellevue.  It has been confirmed through the caretaker that William David Curbow is indeed buried in Bellevue Cemetery in Bellevue, Clay County, Texas – and not in Henrietta.  His gravesite is known, but has no marker.

Wichita Falls State Hospital - Postcard image from Rootsweb

I would be interested in hearing from anyone that knows anything more about William David Curbow or who is researching the Evans and/or Housden families, and would particularly love to know what happened to Ollie Stewart and/or Mattie Curbow.  And most of all – my heartfelt thanks to Rich Mercer – for sharing his family story and for solving the mystery of the beautiful Arizona Evans.


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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Brick Walls, Curbow


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The Women of Mormonism

When I look upon the faces of my strong, proud and handsome Mormon great-grandmothers (Lucy Lodica Elmer and Mary Rosetta Patterson), only their eyes tell of their great suffering, loneliness and anguish.  The cause?  The Mormon doctrine of polygamy or “plural marriage” as it is sometimes referred to. 

Lucy Lodicia Elmer - from the collection of Blaine Spencer

Before we start you should probably know that I am not Mormon nor do I have any plans of ever becoming one – in fact, I reject the doctrine completely.  I think it would be advantageous to the reader if I gave a brief history of the Mormon sect and how it came into existence:

This sect was formed in New York in 1827 by self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Smith who claimed that he received a visit from the “angel Moroni,” who gave him some “golden plates inscribed with symbols,” which Smith then translated into the Book of Mormon.  Volumes could be written about Joseph Smith, but suffice it to say, that he was shot to death by an angry mob while in a jail cell in Illinois.  After Joseph Smith’s death, the sect split into two distinct groups – the group that my ancestors were a part of, elected a “new prophet,” Brigham Young, and headed west across the great plains to Utah.  This became known as “the great Mormon migration.”  The practice of polygamy within the Mormon religion once again got it’s start when old Joseph Smith claimed to have received a revelation in July of 1831 that Mormon men could practice “plural marriage.”  This revelation would later be published in the Mormon’s “Doctrine and Covenants.”  Interestingly, the doctrine is still in place and can be found in their canonized scripture to this day.   

Mary Rosetta Patterson

During Joseph Smith’s life, polygamy was practiced, however, it was kept “secret” because, of course, it was illegal.  Not only was it kept secret from the authorities – it was initially kept secret from his first wife and the church breathern as well….hmmmmm.  Once in Utah the sect practiced “open” plural marriage and thus they began to experience life in large “plural” family groups.  Many of the biographies that I have received that pertain to my female Mormon ancestors paint a very inspiring picture – a picture of women that struggled together with their husbands and “sister-wives” to overcome great obstacles and challenges – who lived out their picture perfect lives – and then went on to their celestial reward.  

Even in the best of circumstances, this lifestyle seemingly would have been excruciating.  The struggle must have been constant with polygamous husbands giving great attention to favored wives and disregarding a less favored one; limited access to a husband’s time, resources and emotional support; jealousy among the wives; squabbles among the children; attempts to deal with sexual issues; fighting; and general chaos.  The problems seem too numerous to count.  As my own husband so sweetly stated, “Who could deal with more than one wife.”  In the records and biographies, it has been well-documented that many “plural” wives were very intelligent, resourceful and capable women – I thus find this whole arrangement very distasteful – and it honestly makes my skin crawl.  

Jerusha Kibbe Elmer

Out of my four ggg-grandfathers, two of them practiced polygamy: 

Elias Gardner married:  Harriet Snow; Amy Pitchard (my ggg-grandmother); Betsy Elizabeth Markham; Diantha Hanchett; Ellen Elizabeth Abbott; Ruth Markham; Annie Elizabeth England; Martha Todd; and Annie Ann Abbott – that’s nine wives and about 40 children. 

Alvis Houston Patterson married:  Martha Fillmore (my ggg-grandmother); Pricilla Harding Taylor; and Fannie Maude Carline – that’s three wives and about 20 children. 

Out of my two gg-grandfathers, both practiced polygamy: 

John Henry Spencer married:  Jerusha Kibbe Elmer and Lucy Lodica Elmer (my gg-grandmother) – that’s two wives and about 24 children. 

Henry Erastus Gardner married Emma M. Moesser and Mary Rosetta Patterson (my gg-grandmother) – that two wives and about 24 children. 

Martha Fillmore

Mercifully, and due to the fact that Utah wanted statehood, the Mormons “officially” discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890. 

“What is your opinion of Mormon polygamy as a religious tenant?,” was asked of an eminent divine, upon his return from a visit to Utah, where he had spent several weeks investigating the system, with eyes, ears and heart wide open.  “It may be good enough for a certain class of men,” was the reply, “but for the women, it is a damnable doctrine.  Religion was designed by the Creator to satisfy that longing for infinite good and purity, which exists, in some degree, in every human soul; its mission is to elevate and purify mankind, and a system which tends to degrade any portion of humanity is but a libel upon the sacred name of religion.  The best resources of our language cannot supply me with strong enough terms in which to denounce this infamous doctrine of the Mormon Creed!”  The corner-stone of polygamy is the degradation of woman, and it can flourish only where she is regarded and treated as a slave – and whatever degrades woman, degrades man also.  Excerpts from Women of Mormonism – The Story of Polygamy – as told by the victims themselves and edited by Jeannie Anderson Froiseth – 1886. 

It is not my intention with this post to instigate a discussion on the doctrines of Mormonism.  My focus is the effect that polygamy had on the women and children of these families.  I will write further as I learn more about these courageous, if not misguided, women.  To learn more about polygamy and Mormonism in general – I found this blog very interesting and straightforward –




Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Elmer, Fillmore, Patterson, Spencer


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Lucy Ann Spencer – A Life Cut Short

My great grand aunt, Lucy Ann Spencer, did not live a long life. She was one of the daughters born to John Henry Spencer and Lucy Lodica Elmer in Payson, Utah on 23 October 1875. Lucy can be found in only one census record, and that being the 1880 census when she is only 5 years old. She is with her parents John and Lucy Spencer living in Thistle, Sanpete County, Utah. Also in the home is John’s “other” wife Jerusha (remember polygamy among the Mormons). Between the two women there are 11 children in the home ranging in age from 9 months to 17 years.

Lucy Ann Spencer Olsen – from the collection of Blaine Spencer

On October 30, 1895, at the age of 20 years, Lucy married Henry Peter Olsen in Mount Pleasant, Sanpete County, Utah. Henry, born 5 Feb 1876 in Sanpete County was the son of Danish and Swedish immigrants, James Peter Olsen and Margaret Christina Carolina Miller.  

Henry Peter Olsen - from the collection of Blaine Spencer

Lucy’s story is a tragic one. She gave birth to six children – three boys and three girls. None of her boys survived their infancy. The following children were born to Lucy and Henry: John Henry in 1896; Lucy Pearl Lena (1897-1990); James Edgar in 1900; Mary Alice (1902-1991); Annie Ethel (1905-1921); and George Elmer in 1908. The last boy, George Elmer was born 20 Aug 1908. His mother, Lucy Ann Spencer Olsen, at the age of 32, died five days later on 25 Aug 1908. Baby George died the next month on 13 Sept 1908.

Lucy’s husband, Henry Peter Olsen, eventually married again. On 16 Feb. 1910 he married Edna Shepherd. Edna was born 20 Sept 1889 in Lake Shore, Utah County, Utah, one of the daughters of Moses Andrew Shepherd and Rachael Ann Brady.

Edna Shepherd Olsen

Henry and Edna had five known children: Hannah Levender Olsen born 1910; Joseph Peter born 1912; Cleo born 1915; Rex T. born 1918; and Helen Esther born 1919. And again tragedy would strike this family. Barely three months after the birth of their last child, Helen Esther, Edna Shepherd Olsen died at the age of 30 on 22 Feb 1920.

Such heartache cannot be fathomed.

Henry Peter Olsen did remarry; however, I know nothing about his third wife other than her name: Eliza Jane Neilson. It is believed that this couple did not have children.

Henry died of heart trouble at the age of 67 on 5 April 1943. He is laid to rest in the Mount Pleasant City Cemetery with his first two wives, Lucy and Edna, and several of his children.


Posted by on March 20, 2011 in Spencer


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Estaca – Plaza at an Ancient Crossroads

When my husand and I were deciding on where to vacation last year – New Mexico or the Ozaarks – it was an obvious choice for me!  Of course, I wanted to go to nothern New Mexico to visit the ancestral family home of my Montoya family.
After spending a few days in Santa Fe we headed north. And there we found Estaca – a small series of villages nestled between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the lower Rockies) and the mighty Rio Grande on the high road to Taos.  As I understand it, Estaca is comprised of several small communities (or villages) and the names are very often used interchangeably in the records:  Rancho de los Lopez; Acequia de San Rafael; Plaza de San Francisco; Rio Grande Bosque; Rio Grande; and Arroyo del Palacio.  All of these small communities lie in the Espanola Valley which is about halfway between Taos and Santa Fe.  Would it sound cheesy and predictable to say that my spirit immediately felt “at home” ?
Our fist mission was to find the San Juan de los Caballeros Church at San Juan Pueblo. Within the walls of this church are kept the records of at least three generations (and probably four) of my Montoya family recording births, christenings, marriages, deaths and burials. The pueblo was founded around 1200 by the Tewa people who moved there from the north (perhaps southern Colorado). The Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Onate took control in 1598 and renamed the pueblo San Juan de los Caballeros.  He then established the first Spanish capital of New Mexico nearby, thereby merging two great cultures.  In November of 2005 the pueblo returned to its pre-Spanish name – Ihkay Owingeh – “place of the strong people.”

San Juan Pueblo - abt 1906 - church in background

After touring the church grounds and the pueblo, the hunt was on for the ruins of the Montoya adobe. However, before we found them, there were more surprises in store for us. We headed north from the church and crossed the Ro Grande River on the San Juan bridge, from there we took a right on the first road – the Camino Real.  We drove about four miles and we were there.  We came to a small plaza of sorts and in the middle of the road stood a small chapel.

San Juan de los Caballeros Catholic Church - present day

Unbeknownst to me at the time, we had arrived at The Plaza and La Capilla (Little Chapel) de San Francisco de Asis.  Delfinia Romero lovingly speaks of the Capilla in a book written by Mary Coyne entitled, A History of Estaca, New Mexico:

The Capilla remains at the heart of this community still, and as I look at it from my window, I contemplate how through the passing years it has consistently been solid, true, constantly there. The purpose of the little brown chapel has always been the same: to give devotion to el patroncillo, the patron Saint Francis and his ideals of hard work, poverty and love of animals. The devotion renews the beliefs and values at the very core of existence for the families in Estaca.

When the story is told of the building of the chapel, we recall that the women….Elizaida, Margarita, Rosaura and Ramoncita {Ramoncita Montoya Gallegos – my great aunt} – used their bare hands to spread the mud plaster on the walls, rubbing gently to make them smooth and to forever imprint upon the capillita their souls as well as their very beings. It will be told that the grave in front of the chapel is that of Antonio Martinez, who gave the land for the capilla because the bulto (statute) of the village’s patron saint, San Francisco, didn’t have a home and was passed from house-to-house throughout the years. Antonio’s gift made it possible for the community to come together and build the little chapel.

Capilla – The satisfaction of a beautiful form
Proportion of vision, Crypts close to ancestor roots
Tribes whisper names, stories
Holy ground. Numinous space. Capilla in Estaca
Fresh glitter of the jewels
Private suffering and death
Written by:  Margaret Rose Coyne (1943-2001)

The Plaza and La Capilla (Little Chapel) de San Francisco de Asis

As a postscript:  That day, we did find what I believe are the ruins of my great grandfather Montoya’s adobe home. The ruins sat on fenced property about a mile south of the “little chapel.“ There wasn’t much left of the adobe.  I’ve posted a picture on this site when I wrote about Maximiano Montoya – you can see it there.  Behind the ruins sat a more modern home; although, it was also in disrepair. Behind that I could see what might have been the apple orchards and behind that was the Rio Grande River. I cannot say for certain that this was the right place; however, I felt peace. It was almost as if the ancestors were whispering, “Welcome home.” 

Since we were technically trespassing – we didn’t stay long! There was a car next to the home, but I didn’t feel comfortable about pounding on doors. I would have loved to have been able to visit with the locals. I would surely have found many relatives. However, this is a culture and a community that does not always accept outsiders. We received several uneasy looks from folks. We did strike up a conversation with an older man on his front porch; but, he claimed not to know about any Montoyas or any ruins in the area……..even though we found them less than a mile up the road!!

 New Mexico – I now understand why they call you the Land of Enchantment – I will be back.

Espanola Valley and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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Posted by on March 20, 2011 in Montoya, Times and Places


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Aunt Ramona – Maria Ramoncita Montoya Gallegos

Maria Ramoncita Montoya Gallegos was my grand-aunt – she was known as Aunt Ramona to my father – and she was the dearly loved grandmother of my second cousin Carma Gallegos Owen.

Ramoncita Montoya Gallegos - Photo from the collection of Carma Gallegos Owen

Ramoncita Montoya was the first child born to Maximiano de Herrera Montoya and Maria Juana Adelia Martin”ez.”  Born 27 Feb 1897 in Bosque, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, her birth and christening (7 Mar 1897) are recorded in the books of the San Juan de los Caballeros Catholic Church.

Aunt Ramona lived in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico her entire life.  We can find her there in the 1900 census where she is three years old.  Her parents at this point have been married four years.  Her mother has given birth twice but only Ramona is alive.  Sister Elisa was born in 31 Jan 1899 and died before the 1900 census.  Living nearby is Ilario J. Montoya and wife Josefa Montoya.  Ilario is Ramoncita’s grandfather.  Also close by is her grandmother – Agustina Herrera with several of Ramoncita’s aunts and uncles.  Additionally, her future husband, Florentino Gallegos can be found in the census living nearby with his uncle Roybal Soledad. 

By the 1910 census Ramona is 13 years old.  She is with her parents, Max and Juanita, who have been married 14 years.  Her siblings present in the home are:  Francisca, 10, Leopoldo, 8, Celestino, 6 (my grandfather), and Juan, age 6. 

On 5 July 1916, Ramona married Florentino Gallegos in the San Juan de los Caballos Catholic Church in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico.  Florentino was born on 11 Nov. 1873 to Juan Francisco Gallegos and Maria Isabel Martin. 

Florentino and Ramona Gallegos - abt 1947 - photo from the collection of Carma Gallegos Owen

My Aunt Margie and Uncle Louie (along with their other siblings, including my father) spent some summer vacation time with their grandparents in New Mexico.  What Aunt Margie remembers the most about Aunt Ramona was that her house was always very neat and clean.  She doesn’t remember much about Ramona’s husband other than she remembers him being very tall and quiet.  Aunt Ramona spoke no English – only Spanish so there was somewhat of a language barrier.  Margie said that one afternoon she was at Aunt Ramona’s house – in one of the bedrooms – and a snake slithered in and hit itself under the bed.  Margie was screaming out the Spanish word for snake – but must have gotten it wrong – because Aunt Ramona just laughed and shook her head at little Margie!  

My cousin Carma Gallegos Owen has done extensive research on her grandparents, and all her family, and has written about them comprehensively.  Here is an excerpt of a piece that was published in the New Mexico Genealogist – The Journal of the New Mexico Genealogical Society, which was published June 2006 (Vol. 45, No. 2): 

Florentino and Ramoncita had five children, two of whom died in childhood.*  Florentino was a well-respected carpenter and was known for his large vegetable garden and fruit orchard.  He was well over 6 feet tall.  In contrast Ramoncita was short.  She enjoyed sewing and embroidery and was an excellent cook.  Besides raising their family, one of their contributions to the community was the assisting in building of the Capilla de San Francisco de Asis in 1936.  The construction, in the center of Estaca village, took two years to complete. 

*Maria de los Angeles born 1918; Jose Eugenio born in 1920; Juan born in 1923 and Josifita “Josie” born in 1926.  The name and birth year of the fifth child are unknown to me.  

Florentino Gallegos died at the age of 84 on 5 Nov. 1958.  He is laid to rest in El Guigue Cemetery in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico.  Ramona lived to be 84 years old as well, dying on 27 Oct 1981 in Espanola, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico.  She is laid to rest with her husband in El Guigue Cemetery.  

Ramona Montoya and Florentino Gallegos


Posted by on March 19, 2011 in Gallegos, Montoya


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