Straight from the horse’s mouth

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
J.T. Martinez looks on as one of his hands shears a sheep. Martinez was a county judge from 1934 to 1954, the son of J.B. Martinez and the father of Emmett Martinez.

As you might have guessed from my last column, I had the privilege during the late 1970s to talk with several Pagosa old-timers. Coffee was the favored lubricant for loosening memories. Some of the old-timers had been born around 1900; a couple had entered Pagosa Country by way of Elwood Pass in horse-drawn wagons.
If you consider that the first settlers landed in Pagosa Country in the 1870s, it’s easy to mentally calculate that most of those first settlers were still around when I had an ear tuned to old-timers during the 1970s. I was gettin’ it straight from the horse’s mouth, no foolin’.
In order to connect with columns I’ve written recently about the warfare between Anglo and Hispanic for political control of the county after the county was created in 1885, I’m going to start with Emmett Martinez.
There are a number of Martinez families in Archuleta County, not all of them closely related to Emmett and not all of them involved in county politics. I’ve been told that Martinez is the most common surname in New Mexico, just as Smith is the most common surname in the United States.
It is also easier to understand the Hispanic people and their times we are talking about if we understand that the Hispanics of the Territory of New Mexico in those days lived in a two-class society. The Mexico/New Mexico social structure was too complicated for the space it would take in this column. Just know that the higher class was well-educated and relatively financially well off when compared to the working or peon classes. The Archuleta, Martinez and Gomez families who led the Hispanics in the 1885 confrontation were all educated, financially secure families. I don’t want to get a bunch of letters on this subject. There certainly were many other higher-class Hispanics among the settlers of Pagosa Country.
Emmett was a direct descendant of the Martinez family who were among the leaders of the Hispanic side of the 1880s fracas. Emmett’s grandfather on his dad’s side was Jose Benedito Martinez, one of the earliest settlers in the Animas Valley (Durango area), where he took land near Hermosa in 1874, before the town of Pagosa Springs was started. He had been born in Rancho de Taos, N.M., in 1853. In 1870, when he was 17, he married Maria Liberta Valdez, who was 11 years old.
He engaged in sheep ranching, freighting and supplying mines. In 1879, he homesteaded northeast of Pagosa Springs and for the next few years commuted between Pagosa Springs and Durango. He moved full time to Pagosa Springs in 1888, where he was active in politics and served as a county commissioner in 1888, when he was involved in the battle between Anglos and Hispanics we’ve been writing about. At one time, he was probably the largest land owner in Archuleta County, having 1,120 acres divided into seven ranches and as many as 27,000 sheep. He died in 1944, his wife in 1930.
More next week.