Jose Benedito Martinez, a Pagosa Country pioneer

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Shown, from right to left, are Emmett Martinez, Judge JT Martinez (the son of Jose Benedito Martinez and father of Emmett), Fred Harman II (the creator of Red Ryder), and JT’s wife, Manualita. JT was an Archuleta County judge for many years.

The Martinez name in New Mexico is very common, as common as Smith is among Anglo Americans. Unsurprisingly, the Martinez name is well represented in Pagosa Springs history.

A number of Pagosa Country oldtimers remember Emmett Martinez, who filled prescriptions at Jackisch Drugs for years. Others who’ve lived here more recently will remember Emmett’s son,  Jerry Martinez, who, after retiring from a U.S. Forest Service career,  served as an Archuleta County commissioner not so long ago.

This particular Martinez family has been involved at the core of county politics from the county’s inception.

Once upon a time, back in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, the embryonic years of county development, there was considerable friction between our Hispanic and Anglo ancestors for control of the county’s political machinery. That friction was of a serious nature, leading to shooting and bloodshed.

The two primary Hispanic families involved were the Archuleta family, for whom the county is named, and the Martinez family, of which Emmett Martinez is a direct descendant. I know there are direct Archuleta descendants still living in the county, and I suspect there are also direct Martinez family descendants as well, although I am not in touch with them.

The scion of the Martinez family we have been talking about was Jose Benedito Martinez. As an aside for those not familiar with New Mexico Hispanic culture, it will be no surprise to learn that they were almost 100 percent of Catholic persuasion. Often, I presume to curry favor in that direction, the name Jose was included for sons and the name Mary for daughters. It was not unusual for a family with three or four sons to attach the name Jose to each son. The name Mary was attached to each daughter. The hoped-for favor arises because Joseph and Mary were the names of Jesus’s earthly parents.

Returning to our original story, Jose Benedito Martinez was born near Rancho de Taos, N.M., in 1853. New Mexico had been a possession of the United States since 1846. In 1870, he married Maria Liberta Valdez. During his early years, he engaged in sheep ranching, freighting and supplying mines in the Colorado Animas River area (Durango to above Silverton).

By 1874, he moved to Durango, being one of the earliest settlers there. He took land in Hermosa, a few miles north of what was then Animas City. In 1879, he homesteaded north of Pagosa Springs at the end of what we now know as Turkey Creek Road. For the next few years, he commuted between what became Durango and Pagosa Springs.

He moved permanently to Pagosa Springs in 1888, and was one of the first Archuleta County commissioners. At one time, he was one of the largest landowners in Archuleta County, having 1,120 acres divided into seven ranches, and as many as 27,000 sheep.

He apparently was not reticent about squeezing the trigger of his six gun and was said to have many notches on that weapon.

When I moved here, local oldtimers, including Emmett, were fond of telling how Benedito, while on trial in a Durango court, pulled his six shooter and shot a witness in front of the judge and the rest of the courtroom crowd. He ultimately was absolved from any criminal sanctions, but the cost of his defense seemed to siphon off much of the family wealth.

More next week on the Martinez family and their involvement in early county politics.