Special History Study
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Felipe Chávez was a member of one of the several prominent Hispano families who contributed to the establishment and development of the Santa Fe trade during the nineteenth century. Other influential comerciantes names were Otero, Perea, Yrizarri, and Armijo. For generations these families intermarried, cooperated in business ventures, and made possible the form of mercantile capitalism that evolved in New Mexico. Until 1860 a large number of wealthy Hispano merchants enjoyed commercial success. During the following decade their numbers and overall assets declined, but the Hispano elite still maintained and, in some cases, even strengthened their economic position.

A comprehensive analysis of the commercial endeavors of the wealthiest Hispano merchants in New Mexico is not possible because only scattered documents of their economic transactions survive. Information about merchants of more moderate means is even more scarce. However, inadequate documentation does not mean that their contributions were less important than those of the elite. A brief sketch of the Delgado family commercial activities suggests that, though less affluent, the Delgados played an crucial role in the economic system that evolved in New Mexico as a result of the Santa Fe trade. The activities of arrieros and peones were also critical to the success of the system, but little besides their names is known about them.

The Otero family was one of the most heavily involved in the Santa Fe trade. Manifests at the Santa Fe customs house indicate that the Oteros, among the leaders in establishing direct commercial relations with the United States before the Mexican War, traveled east with Mariano and José Chávez at least twice (1840 and 1844). [1] A credit report from July 1856 listed Antonio José as "enterprising" and worth between $75,000 and $100,000. [2] Even though the Otero name does not appear in the very extensive lists of Santa Fe merchants who passed Council Grove during June and July 1859, census data for 1860 indicate that two family members, enumerated as merchants, were among the richest New Mexicans—Manuel Antonio reported $164,550 in total assets while Antonio José declared $65,074. In 1870 Manuel Antonio claimed $174,500 in personal and real estate while Antonio José, who listed himself as a farmer, assessed his property and that of his wife at $22,000. [3]

Manuel Antonio Otero's partnership with Felipe Chávez and frequent references to the Oteros throughout the Chávez papers confirm the similarity of their activities and interests. Like Felipe Chávez, Manuel Antonio continued to maintain close economic ties to Chihuahua as preparations for his 1867 trip indicate. [4] Like Chávez he also became involved in banking ventures. On December 1881 Jacob Gross of Gross, Kelly & Company, forwarding and commission merchants, advised Manuel Antonio:

When you organize your bank at Socorro, I would not advise a capital of over $50,000, that sum is plenty & it pays better when the capital is small. Get Lic. Perea interested or Felipe Chávez, or the present delegate Luna, if possible, then have some of the prominent people in Socorro to take a few shares, such men as Captain Abeyta or Juan José Baca. [5]

The Oteros were successful politicians and businessmen, systematic information on the Oteros' businesses, however, is quite scarce. One branch of the family left New Mexico in 1862 to become partners in a commission merchant firm (Otero & Sellars & Co) that operated at the various terminal points of the Santa Fe Trail. Miguel Antonio Otero I was delegate from New Mexico to the United States Congress, but abandoned a political career to devote his energy to "banking, outfitting, wholesaling, and retailing." [6] He and his family left New Mexico in 1862 and followed the changing railroad terminus from Westport, to Fort Harker, Ellsworth, Hays City, Sheridan, Fort Wallace, Kit Carson, Granada, La Junta, and briefly back to New Mexico at El Morro, Otero, and then Las Vegas. [7] Miguel Antonio Otero II's autobiography contains wonderful insights about life on the frontier and recounts the hectic activities of firms like those his father operated:

"...[the business] remained open both day and night. This was necessary, since it usually took all day to load a large outfit, and after that there were many odds and ends that had to be attended to. The wagon-boss had to buy all his provisions for the trip, see that his wagons and animals were in good condition, sign the bills of lading for each wagon, obtain an advance of the money needed for incidental expenses on the trip, and give drafts on the merchants owning the goods. All this had to be done in time for the train of wagons to start at daybreak. To attend to these necessary details, the commission houses utilized two full set of bookkeepers, salesmen, clerks, and porters, one set working all day and the other all night. [8]

wagon train
Figure 10. Wagon Trains Arriving in the Santa Fe Plaza, ca. 1861. Photo courtesy Museum of New Mexico.

Otero also revealed that his father, in addition to his regular line of business, was a large government contractor, receiving and forwarding supplies to different military posts and Indian reservations throughout the southwest. [9] Miguel Antonio Otero II followed his father's example and became a successful politician. President William McKinley appointed him governor of the territory of New Mexico in 1897. The first native New Mexican to occupy the post, he continued to act in that capacity until 1906. The literature on his political life is extensive, but there is little, if any, specific information on the family's economic activities. [10]

Otero described the hacienda La Constancia, the large estate of his uncle Manuel Antonio, who according to his 1860 census declaration was the fourth richest man in New Mexico. [11] The hacienda was located south of Albuquerque:

to the rear of the main house was the country store, which my uncle operated. It was a single room, about one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, with shelves and a counter. One side of the room was devoted to groceries, vegetables, fresh meats, chickens, milk, butter and eggs, while the other half was used for dry goods, hardware, leather goods, and the like. [12]

The Pereas are another family who played an important role in the development of the Santa Fe trade. Juan and José Perea were among the New Mexicans who returned from the United States in 1844 with impressive shipments of American and European products. At the end of July of that same year José remitted over $40,000 in merchandise to Chihuahua, Zacatecas, and Aguas Calientes (see Appendix I). [13] Unfortunately only scattered documents survive about the family business activities after the Mexican War. The Westport Border Star reported that on July 8, 1859 the Pereas shipped to New Mexico thirty-five tons of merchandise in fourteen wagons. The caravan included sixteen men, two horses, four mules, and 162 head of cattle. [14] In 1867 José Leandro, by this time one of the wealthiest men in the territory, outfitted another large train which carried wool to Kansas City and returned laden with merchandise, an operation that took place on a yearly basis. [15] Periodic reports between 1851 and 1875 indicate that American business firms considered him one of most prominent men in the territory. He owned substantial real estate, had a top credit rating, and owned a series of stores, the most important at Bernalillo, where he resided. His assessed wealth in 1875 was $800,000 with real estate valued at about $100,000 and about 75,000 sheep. [16] Census reports for 1860 and 1870 confirm the information presented in the credit reports—he was among the richest men in New Mexico with assets listed at $225,000 in 1860 and $408,000 in 1870. [17]

Only one additional Perea listed in the 1860 shared José Leandro's occupation—J. L. from Las Vegas with $36,500 in total reported assets. Other Pereas—Pedro José and Julian declared themselves farmers. They also owned substantial property. Pedro José reported $40,000 in personal estate while Julian claimed $20,000. At the time of the next census José Leandro was the only merchant, but five Pereas, who continued farming, held combined personal estate of $59,000, a substantial amount of property for farmers in New Mexico in 1870. [18]

Another New Mexican family who played an important role in the development of the Santa Fe trade were the Yrizarris. Mariano Yrizarri also owned several stores, one of which was at Ranchos de Albuquerque, and at least until the 1870s he was heavily involved in bringing wagon trains of merchandise from Missouri. One surviving invoice from 1854 demonstrates the similarity in the buying strategy of the Yrizarris and the Chavezes. Mariano bought merchandise from 19 different suppliers—hats and caps from H. & K. Whittemore, fabrics from Eddy Jamison, ribbons from Pittman & Tennent, bandannas from T. W. Hoit, shoes from R. C. Shackleford and E. C. Yoste, pantaloons from Young Brothers, lace from Weil & Brother, miscellaneous items from A. J. McCreery & Co. and Hanford Thayer & Co., and dishes from Noonan Tooly & Co. and O. S. Filley & Co. Like Chávez he purchased his groceries from Glasgow Brothers, who also handled his account. Yrizarri also was collecting substantial credit from American sources, but it is not possible to identify how he obtained these funds. [19]

Credit reports on Mariano Yrizarri between 1868 and 1875 indicate that he also was considered one of the richest men in New Mexico with a total assessed wealth of $500,000 and 100,000 sheep. In 1873 he was described as, "carrying stock of $60,000 to $75,000. . .a small mercantile business. . .owning real estate valued at $75,000. . .has $50,000 or $60,000 in cash on deposit with Glasgow Brothers of St. Louis all the time and bushels of it buried." His estimated wealth was $400,000 to $500,000 and apparently he was "too mean to have any less at any time." [20] The same report indicated that his son, Manuel, although worth only about $30,000, was a good businessman, prompt, reliable, and fair. Those who rated Mariano were quite accurate since the 1860 census information confirmed his economic status—he was the second-richest man in the territory with $213,000 in assets. Ten years later he no longer listed himself as a merchant, but as a farmer. Nevertheless his reported assets grew slightly to $215,000. A substantial portion of his fortune was tied up in personal estate (two hundred thousand dollars), evidence that the change in the occupation recorded in the Census schedule does not necessarily indicate a change in his economic activities. [21]

His son, Manuel appears to have lost some of the family assets within a decade. In 1860 at 20 years of age he held property valued at $17,400, higher than the $15,000 which was the average Hispano merchants reported that year. A decade later the value of his real estate had declined by half to $1,000; his personal estate had even dropped more dramatically from $15,400 to $3,000. Manuel also had changed his declared occupation—from merchant to freighter—another indication that the loss of assets paralleled a decline in status. [22]

The Armijo family needs little introduction to students of the Santa Fe Trail. Manuel Armijo is probably the best known New Mexican merchant, but Manuel was not the only entrepreneur in the family. [23] The Armijo name appeared regularly among the lists of merchants associated with the Santa Fe Trail, and particularly with those bringing American goods to New Mexico after the Mexican War. Cristóbal, Rafael, Nestor, and Juan Armijo owned five percent of all the wagons reported through Council Grove in 1856. Their caravans combined also for 327 mules and 74 tons of merchandise. [24] Fifteen Armijos were listed in the 1860 census. Their reported assets ($458,500) were the largest for any one family. A decade later the family's wealth remained high. Although only nine Armijos were listed as merchants, their declared property was over a quarter million dollars. [25]

Surviving documents suggest that the business strategies of the Armijos were quite similar to those of other Río Abajo ricos. Brothers Rafael and Manuel were reported to have had the largest store of goods in Albuquerque during the 1850s. The 1860 census data confirm the information as each brother reported $74,000 in assets. Rafael, who apparently preferred to live in the southern part of the territory, also had retail and wholesale businesses in Mesilla and Las Cruces. The records from one of his stores, very much like the one owned by José and Mariano Chávez and operated by Pablo Delgado in San Miguel del Vado, reveal that during 1856 Armijo kept a blue notebook where he recorded the amount of grains several individuals owed him. Most of the notebook included a series of promissory notes like the following:

I, Seferino Quesada, will befiador (security, safety) for Juan Reyes for the sum of 13 costales (bag, sack) of corn from next year's crop [1857] and for this purpose I sign the present document before the witnesses below. . . having understood that I ensure the said sum with my personal property and that if I were to lose my property I would work for the said gentleman [Armijo] until the obligation was fulfilled. [26]

The notebook periodically displayed the total amount of the debt. Though most of the entries were for very small sums, by the end of the year the total amounted to over $1,000. [27] This was not a significant sum for a wealthy merchant, but it is indicative of one type of operation that helped entrepreneurs, like the Armijos, to acquire hard cash or credit with eastern commission merchants. It entailed limited risks and furnished a substantial amount of produce, likely used to supply United States Army troops stationed in western posts and to be distributed among the various Indian reservations. The revenues from these contracts and sales would become an important source of monetary exchange.

The Armijos appeared also to have acted as an informal lending institution. An account book for 1859 listed more than one hundred individuals who owed Rafael and Manuel close to $4,000. The amounts tended to varied substantially from $3.00 to $704.51. Similar records for 1860 and 1861 indicate that lending continued and that the sums involved increased. [28]

Manuel Armijo also continued to have very close economic ties to Mexican firms in Guadalajara. Early in 1859 the firm of Alvarez Araujo remitted him 154 boxes with almost $12,000 in merchandise. [29] The two surviving invoices demonstrate that the Mexican War did not put an end to commercial transactions between New Mexican merchants and their counterparts across the border. The Armijos' commercial skills are quite evident as they successfully recuperated from the total loss of their property as a result of their support for the Confederacy. [30]

Salvador Armijo, a cousin of Manuel and Rafael, was another influential member of this family. An astute and successful businessman, he became one of Albuquerque's wealthiest and most influential citizens and developed a reputation for political savvy. The owner of a major store in the Albuquerque plaza, he was a progressive farmer and merchant who became involved in a variety of mercantile operations and who profited by selling provisions to the American troops stationed in the province after the Mexican War. [31]

In spite of the losses he suffered at the onset of the Civil War when his merchandise and stock were seized by the Confederate forces, his holdings remained substantial. In 1864 he announced the formation of a partnership with his son-in-law Santiago Baca with estimated assets of $100,000. Baca possibly helped with some of more time-consuming activities and allowed Armijo the opportunity to expand his business by opening stores at Cebolleta, Cubero, Jarales, and Peralta. The census of 1870 shows a moderate increase in his personal property, from $15,000 to $26,000. [32] These census declarations, however, do not provide an accurate assessment of Armijo's wealth and influence.

Other wealthy merchant family names were Luna, Baca, González, and Barela. With combined assets of over half a million dollars ($514,744) these families rounded up the wealthy New Mexican elite. Below them in terms of reported wealth in 1860 were Delgado, Vigil, Ortiz, Gallegos, Sandoval, Gutiérrez, and Sánchez. Merchants of means also included Miguel Córdoba, Manuel Garcia, Prudencio Lopez, Pablo Pino, and Antonio Ribera. A decade later their numbers and overall reported wealth declined dramatically, but the same family names headed the list of the wealthiest merchants (see Tables 6 and 7). [33]

In addition to differences in the geographic distribution of hispano merchants noted in chapter V (see Tables 6 and 7) the census data suggest a consolidation in the position of the extremely wealthy and a substantial loss in the reported wealth of those immediately below them. For example, there was a dramatic decline in the number of merchants who reported between one hundred thousand and ten thousand dollars, from 44 to 14. There was also a decrease in the proportion of merchants' assets tied up in personal estate, at least in part a surrogate for the value of their merchandise. In 1860 almost 81 percent of their wealth was in personal property; 10 years later it had declined to 76 percent. [34] The decrease in the combined assets (almost $900,000), if it is a true indicator of conditions in the territory, suggests major modifications to the economic circumstances of the Hispano mercantile establishment. [35]

There are several potential explanations for this change. Hispano merchants, as they reached middle-age, might have been reluctant to continue the complex and risky activities required of successful Santa Fe trade entrepreneurs and might have devoted more of their energies to agricultural activities while allowing their sons to acquire experience in commercial enterprises. For example, Mariano Yrizarri listed his occupation as farmer in 1870 even though it is obvious from the size of his personal estate that he continued to engage in mercantile activities. It is possible that his son Manuel continued to help him with the family enterprise. The sons of other individuals who declared high personal property were enumerated as store clerks, freighters, or "working in warehouse." Such were the situations of Juan Maria Baca from Las Vegas (San Miguel) and Antonio José Otero from Peralta (Valencia). Baca at 52 years of age reported $5,000 in real estate and $40,800 in personal estate. Fifty-eight-year old Otero and his wife Mercedes claimed combined assets of $24,000. No property was reported for their son Adolfo who worked as a store clerk. But there are numerous similar cases. Given the range of values in personal estate declared in the New Mexico 1870 schedule it seems safe to assume that those with more than $5,000 in personal estate were seriously engaged in other commercial activities besides agriculture. And their number was substantial. Sixty-nine individuals fell in this category. With a combined personal estate of $889,379 it is possible that these individuals took the place of the "missing" 1860 merchants. [36]

Changes in residency can help to account for the losses suffered by Hispano merchants. Some individuals probably followed the example of Miguel A. Otero and moved out of the New Mexican territory to Colorado. Others might have gone west. A few, like Nestor and Nicolás Armijo, who married Bárbara Chávez (Felipe Chávez's sister) moved to Chihuahua for a decade (ca. 1868-1878) where they continued the commercial activities of their father. [37]

Some of the losses were the result of marriages. As the daughters of wealthy merchants wed, they received their share of the family's fortune. If they married farmers or lawyers, the wealth would not have been identified as mercantile assets. Furthermore, census schedules seldom identified wives' property as separate. In those few instances where they did, as in the case of Salvador Armijo's wife Nieves, was as a result of marital problems. [38]

The cross-cultural marriages of the daughters of the Hispano elite also contributed to the dispersal of their families' wealth. For example, the 1870 census reveals that among the 50 wealthiest non-Hispano merchants, 19 had Hispano wives (21 were not married and nine had wed non-Hispano women). [39] However, since maiden names were listed for only certain precincts, it is difficult to identify the brides' families and make a definitive linkage between cross-cultural marriages and the decline in the wealth of the Hispano elite.

It is also possible that the creation of three new counties (Lincoln, Grant and Colfax) and changes in county boundaries in the late 1860s might have affected Hispano merchants since foreigners seemed to move into new areas much more easily. The three new counties Colfax, Grant, and Lincoln listed 36 foreign merchants but only two Hispanos, both of them in Lincoln county. [40]

The differences between 1860 and 1870 might be the result of changes in the criteria census enumerators used in their reports, one of the most common problems associated with the use of census data. Although census information is quite valuable as a study tool, it has to be used judiciously; misreporting is probably one of the most common mistakes, but there are additional problems; errors are sometimes committed in transcribing manuscript materials or in adding them up; more importantly for this study it is difficult to compare results across time because of the changing format of successive census questionnaires. [41] In the case of the 1860 and 1870 census reports it is obvious that careless mistakes are quite common. For example, in recording the individual's country of birth enumerators in certain counties just repeated the same information page after page. It is possible that Albert Stephenson and his wife Eleanor, reported living in Mesilla in 1870, might have been born in New Mexico, but it is not likely. The same is the case for Horace and Mary Stephenson and similar examples abound. The census schedule often lists individuals with no assets, but this might mean that the information was not available or not provided, and not necessarily that the respondent owned no property. For example, Ceran and Vicente St. Vrain reported neither personal nor real estate in 1870. The inconsistencies in the census return are very clear in double reporting. In some cases individuals were enumerated twice and neither their declared assets nor their names match. Nathan Eldadt was also listed as Nicholas Eldadt. Because of the names and ages of his wife and children it is possible to establish that there was only one Nathan (or Nicholas) Eldadt living in San Juan in 1870. Louis Clark was reported as a resident of Río Arriba county and of San Juan pueblo. In the former report his assets were one thousand dollars in real estate and eight thousand in personal. As a pueblo resident his property was assessed at four thousand dollars for both real and personal estate. [42]

It is difficult to trace the careers of Hispano merchants from one census to another. The returns indicate that only 34 (30.35 percent) of the 112 comerciantes enumerated in 1870 had been similarly listed in 1860. Thirteen showed an increase in the total value of their property, one remained the same, and the rest registered losses. However, with the exception of Felipe Chávez and José Leandro Perea, the gains were quite small—an average of less than $4,900. Foreigners also experienced great geographical mobility; only 18 (11.25 percent) of the 160 merchants listed in the 1870 census had declared the same occupation a decade earlier. But unlike their Hispano counterparts, most of those who stayed in New Mexico and maintained the same occupation, experienced substantial increases in their reported holdings—an average of $40,000. In 12 cases the value of their property increased, in two cases it declined, and in three cases it showed no change. It is interesting to note that between 1860 and 1870 the distribution of reported wealth for Hispanos underwent a more substantial change than that of foreigners (see Table 7).

The "middling sorts" among native merchants suffered the greatest losses between 1860 and 1870. A systematic analysis of their individual circumstances is not possible, but sporadic records for the Delgado family permit a brief assessment of their commercial activities and reveal that they played a key role in the development of the commercial system that evolved in New Mexico as a result of the Santa Fe trade.

Although influential and fairly wealthy, Manuel Delgado and his sons worked for José and Mariano Chávez during the 1840s, and for José Leandro Perea and Felipe Chávez later on. In his letters to his son Pablo, who was managing the Chávez store at San Miguel del Vado during the early 1840s, Manuel Delgado admonished him to take good care of the interests of their patrón, to whom they owed so many favors. Simón Delgado also advised his brother Pablo to handle the affairs of the Chávez brothers with care, to ensure that the wethers belonging to the store were well taken care of and to appoint someone to collect the debts. Simón, Pablo, and Felipe Delgado continued to have close economic ties with Felipe Chávez. During the 1850s the Delgados formed a partnership with Felipe. Specific details are not available, but the Delgados managed Chávez's store in the capital as well as other business and family affairs, at least through the 1870s. They sent libranzas in Chávez's name, received payment from debtors, and occasionally traveled east to arrange for large shipments. [43]

Figure 9. Felipe Chávez's Store in Belén, New Mexico (1875). Photo courtesy Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico.

Yet the Delgados were merchants in their own right and owned a substantial amount of property. At the time of Manuel's death in November 1854, his assets were as follows—$243 in cash, $3,469 in carts and merchandise, $2,517 in animals, $1,309 in debts, and $441 in real estate. At close to $8,000, this was a substantial sum, but modest if compared to those of the wealthiest merchants. [44] Manuel's children owned sizable assets. According to the 1860 census returns Simón was the leader with $27,000; Felipe followed with $10,000, while Fernando and Pablo reported $6,000 and $5,000 respectively. The family continued to do reasonably well through the next decade with a total assessed wealth of $33,900, a decline from the $48,000 they listed 10 years before. [45]

Delgado family members, like their patrones, participated in a variety of commercial activities linked to the Santa Fe trade. Fernando was selling silver and gold in St. Louis in 1856. Felipe ran a mercantile establishment in Santa Fe, at least through the first decade of the 20th century. He did not purchase his merchandise directly from commission merchants in the eastern United States, but relied on local dealers, like Zadock Staab, for a sizable amount of the goods he retailed. [46] Through the 1880s Felipe also worked for José L. Perea arranging for the sale of produce, like flour and barley, and sheep. He took care of other businesses for Perea, such as requests to find an adequate tailor to fashion a special gift for his son, and making inquiries and remittances to businesses in New York. [47] Felipe continued to have economic ties with businesses on the Mexican border and in the Mexican nation. His correspondence with Sol and Albert Schutz reveals that in the late 1870s his attempt to sell wines in El Paso was not very successful. Scarce U.S. dollars meant that buyers offered only Mexican pesos, which meant a 15 percent loss. Wine sales in large quantities were difficult and the high cost of smaller containers (a small barrel cost five to six dollars) made it impossible to make a profit. Schutz also informed Felipe that an attempt to exchange the wine for efectos del país, like piloncillo and soap, had been unsuccessful. [48]

Juan Delgado also maintained close commercial relations with El Paso merchants like Cecilio Robles. His correspondence reveals that historic patterns of trade along the Royal Road continued through the 1870s, although the volume and nature of the merchandise changed. Delgado was procuring small shipments of efectos del país, such as soap, chicle (chewing gum), chocolate, and piloncillo from Mexico. Had the trains from the Mexican capital to the frontier been running, Robles would have sold Delgado Mexican goods, such as cashmere from San Ildefonso. It is not clear what merchandise, if any, Delgado would have delivered in return, since Mexican import duties priced out foreign goods. Unstable political circumstances within the Mexican nation produced uncertainty and made regular commercial transactions between merchants across the border cumbersome. [49] Juan and Felipe Delgado did not appear to have had adequate information on market conditions at El Paso and within the Mexican territory to make successful transactions. Unlike Felipe Chávez, they appear to have lacked an adequate communication network to keep them informed of local demand, supply, and fluctuations in prices.

As the railroad brought an end to the Santa Fe Trail (1880), the Delgado family continued its involvement in a variety of economic activities, and maintained relations with Mexican merchants and, through wholesalers, with commission merchants from the United States. The Delgados and other merchants like them often acted as agents or intermediaries for the wealthier New Mexicans. Holding moderate resources, these merchants played an important role in the development of mercantile capitalism. Like Damaso Robledo, the agent for Manuel Alvarez in the 1840s, they provided an essential link between the elite mercantile class and the local populations.

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Last Updated: 30-Sep-2005