De La O, Part 1

De La O: From Spain to Guajoquilla

Elijio De La O Chavez’s mother was Rita De La O, who was born in New Mexico in 1875.  The De La O name is Spanish in origin and refers to the Os used as exclamations in spiritual hymns, such as the O Antiphons, which in Latin are: O Sapienta (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Dawn), O Rex Genium ( O King of Nations), and O Emmanuel.  Although the O Antiphons are sung before Christmas and are associated with the expectant mother Mary (the Virgin of O) and the Catholic advent season, they are rooted in the “Old Testament” and have Jewish roots.  Allen Cabaniss, A Jewish Provenience of the Advent Antiphons?, Jewish Quarterly Review, pp. 39-56 (July 1975).  Here is one of the “Great Os”:

(Translated: O Lord, and leader of the house of Israel who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and gave him the law on Sinai – Come and redeem us with an extended arm.)

In Spain and Portugal, with the rise in the belief of the mystical Mary among Catholics came another antiphon – O Virgo Virginum.  The expectant Mary (expectant, as in pregnant, expecting a baby and savior) is Lady of the O, because, as one priest put it, “after Vespers, the clergy in choir used to give voice to a loud and protracted ‘O’ to express the yearning of the universe for the advent of the Redeemer.”  Anyone familiar with traditional Iberian music (Flamenco and Fado) can imagine how a protracted O would sound like out of church — like a heartfelt wail.  In Spain, many churches are called Nuestra Señora De La O.  In Seville, the Nuestra Señora De La O church was built in about 1700 on a former Moorish temple in the Triana district; every year a procession takes place for Lady of the O led by the Brotherhood of the O, men who wear purple satin hoods.  Perhaps, you can hear the protracted O in the video below.

Many persons in Spain and Portugal took the De La O surname.  As for Spain, search results show De La Os living in Albacete, Valladoid, Murcia and other regions in the 1600s.  It should be noted that the De La O name was taken by some conversos, persons of the Jewish faith who converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition.  At least one person with the De La O name was charged by the Inquisition in Spain for practicing Judaism — her name was “Maria De La O.”  See Renee Levine Melammed, Heretics or Daughters of Israel? The Crypto_Jewish Women of Castille, pp. 158-164 (Oxford University Press, 1999).  It would make sense that crypto-Jews would take a surname based on the O-Antiphons because, by doing so they could (for their safety) take cover in Catholic culture while celebrating the lessons of the scripture (Old Testament).

As for Mexico, search results show that, in the 1580s, De La Os lived in Mexico City and Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico.  Eventually, persons with the De La O name branched out geographically and lived in several regions in Mexico, starting in the late 1600 and 1700s.  Although the De La O name is intriguing, it is not rare or unusual.  Since the mid-1600s, there have been numerous persons of various backgrounds with the name De La O name in Mexico, particularly in what was once considered the northern frontier. For example, in 1660, a “esclava negra (negro slave) by the name of Maria De La O was given her liberty at the age of sixty in Parral.  In a twist, ten years later in Parral, another woman by the name of Maria De La O purchased a 50-year-old female slave.

Based on a review of historical sources, including church records, the De La Os of Elijio’s line lived in the Valle de Guajoquilla (Guaxuquilla or Huaxoquilla), which is present day Jimenez, Chihuahua.  In 1753, the Spanish established a military Presidio in Guajoquilla, which was called Real Presidio Santa Maria de las Caldas de Valle de Guajoquilla.  Before the founding of the Presidio, a few Spanish families had established ranches in the immediate area.  In 1760, Guajoquilla had about seventy-six soldiers and twenty-one vecinos (village neighbors).  The Presidio itself, according to a plan, was made of adobe walls with earthen roofs and consisted of a house for the captain, courtyards, a guardhouse, a storeroom for gunpowder, a church, and kitchens and rooms for the soldiers with doors leading to the outside. The soldiers dressed according to their own discretion, and many looked like laborers.  The larger region — known as Nueva Viscaya — was known for violent conflicts between colonists and indigenous people.  Presidios were established to protect the increased Spanish encroachment and the growing mining industry in the region.

1757.Guajoquilla Marriage Book

The writer of this article has examined the baptismal and marriage books on microfilm for the Guajoquilla church, which date back to 1757.   Based on this review, most of persons living in Guajoquilla in the 1700s were from other villages and towns, predominately from Valle de San Bartolome, and also from San Francisco de Conchos, Parral, Pueblo Santa Ysabel, Chiquaqua (Chihuahua), Tomochi, Pueblo de Mozonilco, Valle Casas Grandes, and other places.

One of the most highly regarded persons in Guajoquilla in the 1700s was Doña Margarita De La O (Margarita Petra Peres De La O), based on the large number of children for whom she was madrina.  She was the madrina for infants of different backgrounds (for mestizo, mulatto and español, and for children “padres no conocidos” or parents not known). Most of the church records refer to her as “Margarita De La O” or “Margarita De Lao.”  Margarita may have been related to Juan Peres De La O, an early settler at Guajoquilla.  She married Don Juan Perú, originally from France, who after being imprisoned with other French soldiers in New Mexico, enlisted in the Spanish military company at Guajoquilla in 1752 and rose in the local military ranks.  (Perú eventually commanded Spanish forces against Apaches, particularly at the Janos Presidio between 1772 and 1774.)

Another prominent person in Guajoquilla was Don Joseph De La O, a “Sargento” of the Presidio in the early 1760s.  He was the son of Don Juan Joseph De La O and Doña Josepha Diaz Marroquin, according to his marriage record.  In 1761, he married Maria Salaises, the daughter of Don Sancho Salaises and Doña Maria Lopez Montaño of the Valle Buenaventura.  Their padrinos were Doña Margarita De La O and military commander Don Juan Perú.  It is highly possible that Joseph and Margarita were related, possibly siblings or cousins or aunt/nephew.  Other local military leaders who attended the younger Joseph’s wedding were Capitan Don Bernardo de Bustamante, Don Pedro Ronquillo and Francisco Gonzales de Rueda.

A man by the name of Joaquin De La O was an alferez of the soldero compañia in or near Guajoquilla.  He was the godfather for one of the children of Margarita De La O and Juan Perú.  This is probably the same Joaquin De La O, who, as a “teniente” (lieutenant) in 1773 and 1774, led troops that transferred 145 captive Apache “criminals” to Mexico City.

In November and December of 1770 at Guajoquilla, a man named Matheo De La O served as a witness at the wedding of George Bustillos and Maria Petra Mendoza, at the wedding of Don Vicente Bejaz and Ana Antonia Muñoz, and at the wedding of Joseph Victoriano Albidinas and Rosala Bustillos.  At the time, there were at least two men named Matheo De La O in the region, both were married in San Bartolome: one married Maria Luisa Xaquez in 1759, and the other married Gabriela Mariana Garcia in 1771.

There was also a Tiburcio De La O in Guajoquilla, who was married to and had children in the 1780s with a woman named Josefa. This is probably the same Tiburcio, whose son Santiago would become an armorer in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

It should also be noted that several persons with the De La O name lived at San Bartolome, a largely agricultural town about forty miles away that was established by the Spaniards in about 1569.  Many of the residents and soldiers from Guajoquilla were from San Bartolome.

By about 1774, most of the Guajoquilla’s military activities shifted to the newly established Presidio of San Elceario, which is present day San Elizario, Texas. The Presidio of San Elceario was established to defend the largely indigenous villages of Isleta, Socorro and Senucú (all near present day El Paso) and to establish a colony of pacified Apaches.  (There were already a few pacified Apaches living in Guajoquilla, according to the baptism book for the period.)  Although some De La Os of Guajoquilla would move, at least some of the De La Os remained in Guajoquilla for a time.

On July 30, 1791, Elijio’s second great-great grandparents Cristobal De La O and Gertrudes Covos were married at Santo Cristo de Burgos in the Guajoquilla.  A microfilm image of Cristobal and Gertrudis’s marriage record is below:

1791.De La O Covos Marriage Microfilm

Although the priest described Cristobal De La O and Gertrudis Covos as “español,” there were relatively few “full blooded” Spaniards in Mexico, and even fewer in the frontier of Nueva Viscaya.  Persons of “mixed blood” were often times identified as español.  As the process of “mestizaje” (intermixture) advanced, it can be assumed that the De La Os in the northern frontier become more and more “mixed.”

At this writing, records have not been located yet to establish that Cristobal De La O was related to Margarita De La O, Juan Perez De La O, Joaquin De La O, Joseph De La O, Matheo De La O, or Tiburcio De La O, but it is very possible that he was related to one or more of them based on the same surname and the relative small population of Guajoquilla.  Unfortunately, Cristobal’s and Gertrudis’s marriage record does not reflect the names of their parents.  But this writer is optimistic that, after more research is performed, more information about Cristobal and Gertrudis will be discovered.

More later in De La O, Part 2, which will provide updates and information about later generations.


In addition to the references cited above, see also:

Oakrah L. Jones, Jr., Los Paisanos: Spanish Settlers on the Northern Frontier of New Spain (University of Oklahoma, 1979);

William Griffin, Apaches at War and Peace: The Janos Presidio, pp. 42-43 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1988);

Lance Blyth, Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence, p. 63 (University of Nebraska 2012);

Max L. Moorhead, The Presidio, pp. 132, 185, 224 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).


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