Americans have always been fascinated with the “Old West.” Hollywood has produced some of its biggest stars and profitable movies telling the stories of the brave early pioneers seeking a their fortune, a fresh start, or new opportunities in the Western United States. In most of these stories, the pioneers are eastern-based Americans or recently-arrived European immigrants, and their narratives normally involve homesteading, mining, or a noble effort to bring law and order to a wild environment under harsh conditions – the perennial “good guys.” And until the revisionist Western movies beginning around the 1980s, the native inhabitants of the land, the Chinese railroad builders, and the Mexican laborers were nearly always depicted as dirty, savage, lazy, and foreign – the evil “others” of the lawless frontier. Certainly these depictions by now have been exposed for being simplistic at best to utter nonsense at worst. And as general population trends since the 1970s have seen swaths of Americans moving from the Northeastern and Midwestern United States into the Southwest, there is renewed interest with the origins and stories of the early settlers of the of the “Wild West.”
A Mule Train hauling ore in an early Arizona mining camp. Photo courtesy of Mining World
Unfortunately there is a dearth of scholarship regarding non-traditional early settlers, such as the early Mexican immigrant pioneers in the Southwest, United States. We know the stories of those who trekked thousands of miles West, but what of those who trekked thousands of miles north to contribute to the founding of early settlements in the Southwestern? My GGG grandfather Jose Maria Jordan was one of those early pioneers that went first north, and then west to seek a better life for himself and his young family. He was a fourth generation Mexican whose family originated in the southeastern region of Murcia, Spain. In the early 1860s, while the United States was embroiled in its great Civil War Jose Maria became the first of the Mexican branch of Jordans to trek north across the Rio Grande. With him went his young bride, Clara Hermosillo Jordan, whose family had lived in Chihuahua city since the mid 1700s. From the birth records of their children, we know that the family lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico beginning at least in 1863.
Over the next 20 years, the Jordans were some of the earliest residents of several Southwestern U.S. boom towns – from Las Cruces and Silver City in New Mexico Territory to Clifton in Arizona Territory. It is likely that Jose Maria was familiar with mining, particularly as significant operations existed at the time in the Mexican border states of Sonora and Chihuahua, some with partial investment from U.S. mining companies. He is noted as an overseer of a coal pit in Silver City in the 1880 U.S. census and later as the owner of a freighting operation hauling mining ore and supplies between Lordsburg, New Mexico and Clifton, Arizona. Tax records denote that he owned dozens of horses, mules, and oxen, as well as four wagons and an ambulance. For many years, Jose Maria was employed directly by the Longfellow Mine, the first mining operation in Clifton. As an important and respected businessman in town, Jose Maria was chosen to serve as a trial juror on several cases in Clifton’s inaugural session of the Graham County District Court. This almost certainly implies that he spoke fluent English. Records indicate that he naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1873 in New Mexico and that he paid taxes on the aforementioned wagons, horses, oxen, and mules.
So while this short biography does not include saloons, prostitutes, or gunfights, it does reflect the true life account of a hard working pioneer who sought a better life for his family and contributed to his society and whose descendants continue on in Arizona and throughout the United States some 150 years later.