Ortega, Jose RamonJose Ramon Ortega, Santa Fe Soldier
by Linda Tigges
In 1825, Jose Ortega, Second Corporal of the National Company of Santa Fe executed a will declaring his faith, providing for his burial, and disposing of his property. His will, combined with information from other sources, offers us a glimpse of his life, a life similar in many ways to the lives of other early 19th century Spanish Colonial soldiers. His story is significant because he was representative of his age and station, even though his life was not necessarily unique or remarkable.
His 1801 enlistment papers, identify him as Josef Ramon Ortega, age 21, born in 1780, the son of Sebastian Ortega and Maria Suaso. Both his mother and father were descendents of colonists who came to New Mexico after the Pueblos Revolt, a common circumstance among Juan Ramon’s contemporaries. His father, Sebastian Ortega was the youngest of the large family of Geronimo Ortega and Sebastiana Gonzales Bas. Sebastian’s mother was the adopted daughter of Sebastian Gonzales Bas and Luisa Ortiz. Sebastian Gonzales Bas had lived in Santa Fe before the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, and he returned with the Reconquest. He was a part of the Santa Fe cabildo (municipal council) until he died in 1726. Sebastian’s grandfather, Simon Ortega also returned with the Reconquest.
When Jose Ramon enlisted in 1801, at 21years of age, he was five foot two, barely meeting the military requirement that recruits be at least 20 years old and five foot two inches in height. The 1732-1820 recruitment records show that he was only somewhat under the average height at the time, the tallest recruit being five feet six inches. His occupation is listed as farmer and he was able to sign his name. He is described as having dark chestnut hair and eyebrows, brown eyes, fair skin, aquiline nose and a thin beard.
In the same year as his enlistment, and maybe on the strength of it, he married Maria Manuela Rodriguez. He, like many other soldiers, married a daughter of a soldier and a descendent of an original colonist. Maria’s father was Pedro Felipe Rodriguez, a sergeant, and her grandfather was Melchor Rodriguez, one of first settlers of Las Trampas. Her maternal grandmother was Maria Josefa Ortiz, a daughter of Turbidio Ortiz, a sergeant in the military. Turbidio was a son of Nicolas Ortiz, a teniente of the presidio, a colonist who had been commended by Vargas for his valor and appointed as alcalde of Santa Cruz. Because Jose Ramon’s great-grandmother, Luisa, was also an Ortiz, he would have been a distant cousin of his wife’s, not an uncommon occurrence in the small Santa Fe community. Maria Manuela and Jose Ramon had three children together who lived: Maria Nicolosa, Jose Alejandro, and Maria Manuela.
Some time before 1817, Maria Manuela died and Jose Ramon married Maria Guadalupe Sandoval in that same year. The pattern of second marriages was common in the Santa Fe community due to the fact that women often had many children and child birth was often perilous because of the lack of medical facilities and staff. Jose Ramon’s grandfather Geronimo, for example, had 11 children by his first wife and three by his second. Geronimo’s grandmother, Luisa Ortiz, was the 17th of 21 children of Turbidio Ortiz by this first wife.
When Jose Ramon married Maria Guadalupe, he again married into a military family. His wife’s father was Antonio Jose Sandoval, a soldier killed in combat in 1804. Antonio Jose’s enlistment papers from 1769 describe him as a weaver: handsome, with reddish hair. Documents show that Antonio Jose’s great grandfather, Juan de Dios Sandoval Martinez, had come to Santa Fe in 1693 with the Velasco/Farfan group of colonists. In 1825, Jose Ramon lists his children by Maria Guadalupe as Jose Macimo and Juan Pablo.
In 1825 when Jose Ramon Ortega was 45, he made a will, his second. It is a simple document that, like the other Spanish wills of the time, contains religious as well as legal language. The will follows a prescribed format and, in the initial religious section, much of the same language used in wills from Santa Fe during the 18th and 19th century is used here, suggesting that the notary or escribano was following this prescribed form.
The religious portion of the will is part of a Catholic ritual associated with death, and is more or less the same in every will. This section is often considered to be unimportant but the literature on Spanish wills shows it to be part of a religious tradition intended to give the dying comfort as well as direction on how to leave this life in a dignified and godly way. The religious section of Jose Ramon Ortega’s will and other wills written in New Mexico is similar to the mid-16th century wills of Madrid, studied by Carlos Eire in 1995, and in some cases, the religious section of these wills is word for word from the mid-16th century wills of Madrid. The notaries and makers of these wills may have seen this religious language as just boilerplate, but in the eyes of church, the religious portion was there to help the dying persons “settle their souls,” whether nobility or humble soldier on the frontier.
The will of Jose Ramon Ortega begins with an invocation: “In the name of almighty God and the ever Virgin Mary, our Lady, conceived without stain of original sin.” This is followed by Ortega identifying himself as “second corporal of this national company of Santa Fe” and describing his situation; making it clear that he humbly accepts that his illness is part of God’s will: “finding myself ill of a malady which God has deigned to send me.” Ortega states that he is capable of making the will in his “sane and complete judgment” and then professes his faith by saying that he “believes all that our holy Mother the Church believes and confesses, and all that a Catholic Christian should believe and confess.”
In the next section of the will, Jose Ramon Ortega, like so many other soldiers including his cousin and brother-in-law Andre Ortega, states that his body is to be disposed of “in the Military Chapel,” that is La Castrense, located on the Plaza in Santa Fe. Though it is recommended by the Church, Jose Ramon, like most of the Santa Fe soldiers, makes no bequests to the church or to the poor. He does make a provision of four reales (about 12 ½ centavos) for the “mandatory legacy of the Church,” which was required as part of the last rites. In his will of 1821, Jose Ramon’s cousin and brother in law, Andres Ortega, called it a “forcible bequest” and gave one silver peso.
Following the prescribed legal format, Jose Ramon names his lawful heirs: his second wife Maria Guadalupe and his five surviving children. He then lists his property, beginning with his military equipment including: a gun, lance, cartridge belt, saddle, pair of saddle pads, bridle, a pair of stirrups, boots, a rope and a garima. Compared to the 1821 will of Andres Ortega, Jose Ramon lacked the following: spurs, a halter, a scabbard for the gun, and a shield. Perhaps Andre was able to afford more equipment, or he had inherited these extra items from his soldier father, Francisco Ortega, another of Jose Ramon’s uncles. On the other hand, Jose Ramon owned two unbranded mules of the company, a burro, and a horse owed to him by another soldier while Andre listed one burro and a mule and two horses owed to him by others.
The household furniture listed in the will by Jose Ramon is meager, possibly because his wife, Maria Guadalupe, came to the marriage with her own household items, which by Spanish law, belonged to her. Jose Ramon claimed five holy pictures, two mattresses, a blanket, a hide, two boxes without a lock, and one with a lock. In addition, he claimed two rooms in a house of which his second wife’s brother, Felipe Sandoval, had made use. No other real estate, such as the house in which he lived, is listed.
His debts to others and debts owed to him are itemized, mostly in small amounts (nine pesos, eight pesos, two pesos, two sacks of corn); some of them were probably gambling debts. There is no mention of cash, though he somewhat hopelessly declared that his balance in Presidio’s account is, “an amount of which I am ignorant, but it will be known by the account book.” Comments by other soldiers about their accounts are similar or even sarcastic, such as “the amount I am owed by the company, if anyone can collect it.” Andres Ortega’s will stated that he had 1,039 pesos owed to him that had come due in the previous month.
We know that Jose Ramon survived after he made his second will in 1825, as he was named with fellow soldier, Sargento Donaciano Vigil, as a witness for an 1827 will. Vigil, who was not at all a regular sort of Santa Fe soldier, was the second governor of New Mexico during the American occupation. Jose Ramon, Andre, and Jose’s uncles Antonio and Francisco, and most soldiers, rarely achieved a higher position than a corporal, lieutenant, or sergeant. Jose Roman’s highest rank seems to have been second lieutenant.
Jose Ramon Ortega was still in Santa Fe in 1854 when he and his wife, Maria Guadalupe, deeded property west of the Arroyo Caleras, now Gonzales Road, to a son of Ortega’s first marriage, Jose Alejandro. It also appears that Jose Ramon was still alive in 1864 when he signed a power of attorney for his wife. If so, he would have been 84 years old.
In summary, Jose Ramon was part of a military family, of which few if any rose above the level of lieutenant. His Uncle Antonio owned a large amount of land and was probably considered wealthy, but Jose Ramon does not appear to have been prosperous and was probably not much richer or poorer than other soldiers. Like many other soldiers he married more than once and had children by both wives. He appears to have owned some property, at least in his later years. He identified himself as a farmer when he enlisted, and like most of the soldiers, he probably raised crops in addition to his military duties. The military of that time had many characteristics of the present National Guard. In addition, Jose Ramon’s relatives and in-laws were like him, descendents of the original colonists, who came to Santa Fe in the late 1690s or early 1700s with the Reconquest.
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