Descendant's quest finds grave of Civil War vet

By OLLIE REED JR. | Albuquerque Journal | Published: July 14, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — Searching for his roots about 10 years ago, Pat Montoya, a retired U.S. Postal Service postmaster, discovered some fascinating details about his great-grandfather, Juan Domingo Montoya.

“I was doing ancestry, trying to trace my ancestors,” said Montoya, 78, a Mosquero, N.M., native who now lives in Amarillo, Texas. “You go through life and you never think to ask your father things like where his father (or grandfather) was buried.”

When Montoya came across Juan Domingo Montoya’s military records, he found that his great-grandfather was among the many Hispanic residents of New Mexico Territory who served with the Union forces during the New Mexico Civil War battles of Valverde and Glorieta Pass in 1862.

More research revealed that in about 1870 Juan Domingo settled in Mosquero Canyon, just south of what is now the Harding County town of Mosquero and had been wounded in a fight with Indians in 1874. His interest piqued, Montoya decided to find Juan Domingo’s grave.

“We knew he was buried in the canyon,” Montoya said during a phone interview from his Amarillo home. “But where?”


Finding Domingo

Juan Domingo Montoya was born near Albuquerque in May 1837. In 1870, he married Esiquia Aguilar of Chaperito, in San Miquel County, and they settled in Mosquero Canyon.

Pat Montoya’s great-grandfather built a mud and rock house there and cleared a two-acre space for a garden. Between 1871 and 1895, Juan Domingo and his wife had 14 children at their canyon home, and the Civil War veteran lived there until his death in 1897.

Juan Domingo’s Mosquero Canyon homestead, known now as the Montoya-Pacheco Ranch, is still in the family. The remnants of Juan Domingo’s house are there, as are what’s left of a little church.

Pat Montoya describes Mosquero Canyon as a miniature Grand Canyon, thick with cedar and mesquite, cliffs that are a hundred feet high and a natural spring that turns into a creek when it rains. Finding military, baptismal and matrimonial records is one thing. But locating an old and lonely grave in untamed country like this is another matter.

“I asked an older cousin if he knew anything about graves in the canyon,” Montoya said. “He said, ‘There is a grave over by the dry creek, maybe 200 feet from the little church.'” It took Montoya six years, 2012 to 2018, and about 10 hunting expeditions to locate the grave.

“About twice a year, we would go out there,” he said. “We even took a drone for aerial photos.”

In the summer of 2018, Montoya was searching with his nephew Lee Edmund Montoya and Lee Edmund’s wife, Marcela.

“We were all looking out there,” Montoya said. “We (Montoya and his nephew) were looking closer to the church. (Marcela) got separated from us and she said, ‘Here it is.'”

The grave, under a cedar tree and surrounded by rocks, is about 300 feet east of the old mud and rock house and 125 feet southeast of the church. The name on the original headstone was nearly illegible, but enough of it could be deciphered to determine that they had found the old soldier’s resting place.


Set in stone

At noon on Aug. 3, Montoya and members of his family will place a new gravestone, made available through the memorial program services of the Department of Veterans Affairs, on Juan Domingo Montoya’s grave in Mosquero Canyon.

The stone includes Juan Domingo’s birth (May 13, 1837) and death (June 14, 1897) dates and recognizes his service with Company B of the 5th New Mexico Infantry.

Montoya said he is inviting military veterans and their families, especially the descendants of Hispanic veterans who served during the Civil War, and anyone else so inclined to attend the stone-setting ceremony, which will include prayers by a priest and last about an hour.

A devotee of history, Montoya sees the ceremony as not only a tribute to his great-grandfather but to all those Hispanic men, many of whom could not speak English, who signed up to serve a country that was still new to them. Montoya said his great-grandfather joined James Lawrence Hubbell’s New Mexico Mounted Volunteers, which was mobilized into the 5th Regiment of New Mexico Mounted Infantry. He said of the 220 men in the 5th Regiment, 191 were of Hispanic descent.

The 5th Regiment took part in the Battle of Valverde, a Confederate victory, on Feb. 21, 1862, in what is now Socorro County, and was at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, near Santa Fe, on March 28, 1862. The Union victory at Glorieta Pass forced the Confederates to limp back to Texas and effectively ended the Civil War in New Mexico. Juan Domingo, according to military records, was honorably discharged with a disability in May 1862.

Pat Montoya said he has not been able to determine the nature or cause of Juan Domingo’s Civil War “disability.” But he said Juan Domingo himself is on record about an arrow wound he suffered during a fight with Indians in 1874.


Honor overdue

Juan Domingo applied for a Civil War veterans disability pension in 1891, and some of what Pat Montoya knows about his great-grandfather comes from the record of the pension examiner’s interview with Juan Domingo.

“He stated to the pension officer that he fought Indians and got an arrow in the right leg,” Montoya said. According to the pension examiner’s report, Mosquero Canyon “was in the most remote and desolate part of New Mexico.”

Pat Montoya said the pension examiner noted that Juan Domingo’s closest neighbors were four miles away and that “they did not speak English either,” which makes Montoya believe that his great-grandfather did not speak English.

Juan Domingo got a pension number, but he never got a disability pension.

Soon, however, he will be getting a stone to mark his service to America and to New Mexico, which was still 15 years away from becoming a state when he died.

Pat Montoya thinks it’s an honor long overdue, one that would not have come about if he had not gone looking for his roots and for that grave. He says now he would be happy to use his experience to help other people find out about their ancestors, especially those Hispanic men who joined the Union cause and may still be waiting for recognition.

“Those Spanish soldiers were good enough to throw into the breach,” he said. “But not to honor.”

©2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
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