Olivas V. Aoy

 
Olivas V. Aoy, The Castellar of New Mexico

O.V. Aoy as imagined by Lillian Padilla, whose grandfather appears in the 1880 census at La Bonanza

On February 13, 1880, a group of eastern newspaper men made a trip from Santa Fe, south to the Cerrillos mines. Among them was D.A. Millington, of the Winfield (Kansas) Courier, who wrote: “At Carbonateville we made the acquaintance of a Spaniard named Aoye, who exhibited such wide knowledge, such progressive and radical views and eloquence of expression, that we christened him ‘the Castellar of New Mexico.’ From him we derived much valuable information. He is an editor, has been the leading one of Santa Fe, and now publishes the CERRILLOS PROSPECTOR, at Carbonateville.” 

Two days later, on the 15th, the Millington party continued from Carbonateville a couple of miles south down the arroyo to “the Cerrillos station” where he provided what is the earliest eyewitness account of railroad tracks under construction there. Just a week before Millington’s visit the first railroad train had pulled into Santa Fe, and two months afterwards (April 15) the rail line reached the small Rio Abajo town of Albuquerque.

But this story is not about the coming of the railroad. It is rather about the life of that most uncommon and estimable of men, the Carbonateville intellectual, the Castellar (Lord of the Castle) of New Mexico, the Southwest’s unheralded secular saint, Olivas V. Aoy.

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Aoy was born in March of 1823 at Mahon, on the island of Menorca, Spain. Thirty years later, in 1854, he appeared in Havana, Cuba, a soon to be ordained and uncommonly well-educated Franciscan.

The Franciscan temperament – poverty, celibacy and service – was the constant of Aoy’s life, even if obedience to the Franciscan Order was not.

Another constant for Aoy was his self-effacing nature. He sought obscurity by regularly disguising his name; Jaime Aoy Olivas Vila, Jaime Vila, Olivas Villanueva, Olivas Villa Aoy, Olivas de La O, etc. It was said of him at the time of his death that no one was ever able to learn his real name. As well, for all that he did and for all the lives he touched, there are no known photographs or likenesses of him.

After several years in Cuba Aoy and the Franciscan Order parted ways. As he later wrote of this period of his life (Aoy’s orthography): “I was concated [consecrated] to be a catholic priest but was never ordained on account of the vow of Chastity, on which topic several conferences took place between the vicar General and myself, I supporting that Celibacy as practiced in the Catholic church as chastity was just the reverse of it, and also it was a rebellion against of God’s command in His first and greatest law of “Grow and multiply” &c—In vain I observed him and the bishops too, that instead of celibacy a scientific matrimony ought to established by the Catholic church: a Matrimony of Continence, [Conscience] Seasons and Conditions, both physical, intellectual and Spiritual or psychological. These remarks were taken as an insult by the prelate, and after a severe reprimand, I was not only denied ordination but also an “Excommunication” with all its anat[h]emas  followed—Since then I have investigated the different protestant churches and in them all I find too much Popery-“

Aoy left Cuba for Yucatan, where he lived for two years among the Maya. According to a short biography written after his death, Aoy grew disillusioned with the pervasive violence he found in the Yucatan and, ironically, on the eve of the Civil War sought solace in the United States.

In the early 1860s he was a resident of New Orleans, where he was employed as a school teacher. He later wrote: “During the war I took an active part in behalf of colored people; instructed in searving and writing four negro regiments in Louisiana and a I acted as chaplain for the 75th Regt.”

After the war he was lured upriver to St. Louis, where he taught at the College of the Christian Brothers.

Aoy is first documented in New Mexico in the census of July 1870 as a resident of Lower Las Vegas, where he was recorded as single, a 44 year-old school teacher. (He was 47.)

A year later (July 1, 1871) this item appeared in the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican:

“The Advertiser, a new paper published at Las Vegas by Mr. Aoy, has come to hand.  It is published in English and Spanish, and supports Mr. [Jose Manuel] Gallegos for delegate.” [Gallegos won.]

The Spanish-language portion of Aoy’s Las Vegas newspaper was titled el Anunciador.

In the August 25, 1871 Advertiser Aoy editorialized, expressing some very progressive, un-Franciscan views:

“From the present National idea of non-sectarian Schools, has to spring forth, the future Holy Infallible Church, of the Great Occidental Republic, whose Creed will be ‘Science’s Intuitive Axioms,’ with demonstrative Knowledge instead of blind Belief and the genuine Prayer of Deeds, instead that, a meanless Talk.”

The teachings of the public schools and the Catholic Church in America were destined be based on knowledge rather than beliefs, on deeds rather than talk.

Four years later the New Mexican said of Aoy:

“It is with pleasure that we acknowledge a pleasant call from Mr. Aoy, and with still greater pleasure that we can record him among the fearless outspoken progressive editors of New Mexico. He has a bonafide interest in the substantial development of our material resources; in the wiping out of ancient prejudices passions and bigotries, the learning of the masses of our people their right as duties as freemen and their general elevation in the scale of American progress and civilization. There is need of a few more publishers of newspapers in New Mexico, who are imbued with that same generous spirit of onward and upward development – backed by the same unselfish, fearless, outspoken spirit in driving home the truth that characterizes the efforts of Mr. Aoy.” [SF Daily New Mexcian June 4, 1875]

For eight years Aoy served as a publisher, a school teacher and a Spanish language tutor in Las Vegas. Then, just as the tracks of the advancing railroad neared Las Vegas, as if to stay ahead of them, he transferred his newspaper to other Las Vegans, who renamed it La Independencia, and he moved to Santa Fe, if only momentarily.

By June 4 1879 Aoy had established himself at Carbonateville, the main camp in the booming Cerrillos Hills mining region two dozen miles south-southwest of Santa Fe. There he started the first newspaper in that region; the Cerrillos Prospector. He remained in Carbonateville for a full year, turning out the weekly Prospector. For a brief period it was a daily. No copies of the Cerrillos Prospector newspaper are known to have survived.

Carbonateville, July 1879:  “The little camp of seventy or eighty souls [many more were scattered throughout the nearby diggings] boasted of a weekly newspaper commensurate in size – two sheets about twelve inches square – carried on by a picturesque editor, who was called Padre Aoy. He was a dark-skinned little man of nervous manner and voluble speech who was generally referred to by the Mexicans as a gachupín – that is to say, in English, of Spanish birth. Because of a camp tradition that he had been formerly a priest, he was commonly called ‘Padre’. Now the Padre made a scanty living by camp subscriptions and by advertisements, the latter coming largely from Santa Fe business houses” [Pioneer Surveyor – Frontier Lawyer. The Personal Narrative of O.W. Williams]

On July 10, 1879 Aoy became the first and last postmaster of Carbonateville, and on April 5, 1880 he became the first postmaster of Turquesa, New Mexico. Carbonateville for postal purposes had become Turquesa, a technical distinction as the only thing that changed was the postmark. After almost a year, on June 22, Aoy was succeeded as postmaster of Carbonateville/Turquesa by Samuel W. Bonner.

Aoy was a local character at Carbonateville, and a popular one. He had neither skills nor interest in mines or mining, but was included, presumably by friends, as one of the “discoverers” and owners of the Mollie F. lode claim, on the north side of the Cerrillos Hills in the Gonzales Mining District.[April 2, 1880, Locations & Mining Deeds B#15406 p.425]  Including him in their enterprise was apparently a gesture of affection, as there is no evidence that Aoy ever worked the claim nor that the Mollie F ever produced anything of significant value.

The Mollie F appears to have been a location upon a much older mina, possibly a pre-Spanish green pigment (obtained from copper ores) excavation associated with the people of the adjacent La Cienega Pueblo.

For the 1880 census Aoy served as the enumerator for District 42, counting everyone from La Cienega in the north to the brand new Cerrillos railroad station in the south. His District included Pino’s Ranch, Roger’s Bend, Delgado’s Ranch, Bonanza City, Hungry Gulch, Purdin’s Camp, Carbonateville, Poverty Hollow and Poverty Flats. On his census sheets the clarity of his handwriting and his organization and attention to detail are offset somewhat by the number of miners he is known to have missed. Traveling from camp to camp during the first twenty days of June 1880, he recorded probably between half and two-thirds (by comparison with other records) of the District’s dispersed population.

The census entry for himself, done on June 8, lists him as 54 (actually 57, but 54 is consistent with the age he gave in the 1870 census), single, and that both he and his parents were born in Spain.

The sketch of Aoy [Historical Sketch of Aoy School, B.A. Schaer, El Paso Public Schools, 1951], written a half-century after his death, has him moving in mid-1880 the short distance down the arroyo to Cerrillos Station, taking his newspaper operation with him. Subsequent evidence has shown this to be incorrect. An item in the New Mexican over two years after the date Aoy left Carbonateville [Oct. 24, 1882] promised that “Cerrillos Station will soon have a weekly newspaper.” In fact it would be several more years before Cerrillos could boast of its very own newspaper, the Rustler. That, coupled with documentation showing Aoy as the editor-publisher of the weekly WALLACE WATCHMAN, which was published between May 1880 and October 1882 [New Mexico Newspapers, UNM Press 1975], strongly suggests that after Carbonateville Aoy moved directly to Wallace. Wallace Station in 1880 had every chance of being a bigger and more important town than Cerrillos Station anyway.

And since his census and postmaster responsibilities required his presence at Carbonateville through June 22, 1880, for a couple of months Aoy probably had a foot in both places. Wallace and Carbonateville, by train and a short hike, were about two hours apart.

Finally, there are no contemporaneous references supporting that Aoy ever resided in Cerrillos Station.

In early December 1879 Aoy, still in Carbonateville, entered into correspondence with Rev. L.M. Peterson, the Mormon missionary in Manassa, Conejos County Colorado. On March 26, 1880, Rev. Peterson wrote to John Taylor, then the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, that Aoy was “now convinest [convinced] that Mormonism is true and ready to be baptized and if faithful he would be a useful men in the great work among the Natives of the country.”

To Taylor, Rev. Peterson enclosed Aoy’s recent letter of February 27 wherein Aoy wrote:

“I think that the L=d.S’s church must be Also established somewhere in this territory of New Mexico, where despite all the obnoxious influence of the Jesuits  man are disposed to embrace the true Gospel of Progress. Since I am in this locality on the capacity of printer and Post Master, I have received several invitations from the leading citizens of Cena [Peña] Blanca, the Seat of the Co. of Santa Ana, in this neighborhood, to go there to establish a permanent school both in Spanish and English for boys and girls. … They the Jesuits are two ignorant, vicious and greedy natives, who have a very high tariff for the value of sacerments, indulgences, funerals blessings &c. The school kept by the protestant (Presbyterian minister, or rather his wife) is the only permanent one in the whole county and it is over 20 ms. From the Co. seat. [Bernalillo] … Again:  A stake of Zion in santa ana Co. with a model farm and model school for both sexes. This I think is the view of God. addressed to me. I pity these Mexicans: though too ignorant they are realy very good people—Santa Ana Co. also contains about one fifth of the whole pueblo Indians of New Mex. or the towns of 1st Cochita, 2nd Santo Domingo, 3rd San Filipe 4th Jemez. 5th C-a[Zia] 6th Santa Ana  These Indians are very peaceable and industrious, they govern themselves. Why not try to convert them[?]” [John Taylor Presidential papers, Church History Library, SLC]

Santa Ana County had been merged into Bernalillo County in 1876 but nearly everyone, including Aoy, continued referring to the county as if nothing had changed.

The soon-to-come spectacular railroad-driven growth of Albuquerque brought the county back into existence in 1903, this time named Sandoval County. As the seat of Sandoval County the city of Bernalillo was able to continue to run a county but now without interference from upstart Albuquerque.

Of himself, Aoy wrote to Rev. Peterson:

“I have never married do enjoy very good health and good constitution; do not smoke tobacco or drink liquors and even avoid coffee many a time; My age 53 [consistent with his ages reported in the various US Census records] with a hope of living at least 25 years more in good health and this last amount I intend to fully dedicate to Christ: the Christ of progress in the infallible church of L=d.Ss.”

Aoy’s adoption of Momonism and his vision for converts in Santa Ana County, together with the effort to recruit him by the citizens of Peña Blanca, obviously motivated Aoy’s departure from Carbonateville sometime after June 1880. But rather than Peña Blanca he chose to locate in the booming railroad camp a few miles away; Wallace.

Wallace – later renamed Thornton, and today known as Domingo or Kewa Station – was in 1880 a good-sized railroad construction camp, the accumulation center for railroad ties cut in the Jemez Mountains and floated down the Rio Grande to the Cochiti boom. By mid-1882 Wallace replaced Lamy as the Division Point for the AT&SF, the layover station for train crews who had time to kill and money in their pockets. That mix attracted a rough bunch. Contributing to the frenzy was that Wallace was slated to become the regional maintenance facility for AT&SF rolling stock, a designation that soon went instead to the small town further down the river; Albuquerque. (See Sandoval County above.)

The wildness of Wallace – its new justice of the peace, Doc Conway, was an unabashed bunko man – probably contributed to Aoy’s growing dissatisfaction with the place. The last issue of his Wallace Watchman came out in October 1882.

By November 1882 Aoy was in Guaymas, the Mexican port on the Gulf of California. Guaymas was represented as the future Pacific Ocean terminus of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe system, as the Southern Pacific Railroad had already preempted all the good ports in southern California.

By early 1883 Aoy had relocated yet again, and was living in Salt Lake City.

Information regarding his four years in Salt Lake City is contradictory. The evidence points to Aoy (or Oay, as his name was sometimes written), along with Meliton G. Trejo, Daniel W. Jones and James Z. Stewart, translating the Book of Mormon into Spanish. One version of this story has Aoy’s classical, polished Spanish being represented by the Church as a direct communication of the Holy Writ rather than an especially competent translation, contrary to Aoy’s sense of what was proper. In another version it was Aoy’s tendency to speak out about what he saw as inconsistencies and unscientific preachments of the Church that caused his departure from Salt Lake City.

Aoy is credited by the LDS Church today as having had a small role in the translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish.

He may have left Salt Lake City but he didn’t leave the Church. In a eulogy given at the time of his death by an LDS Church elder the long-lapsed Franciscan was characterized as “a member of the Church and died so.”

From Salt Lake City Aoy returned to Santa Fe, and from there to Silver City for a few months, where his Spanish-language newspaper was not a success.

Olivas V. Aoy’s wanderings finally came to an end in mid-1887 in El Paso. There, as the story goes, planning to go on into Mexico but having to wait in El Paso for his baggage, he discovered the plight of the children of that town, and knew instantly what he needed to do. He spent the last eight years of his life to giving the many Spanish-speaking children of El Paso instruction in English that they might succeed in the town’s English-language school system.

The Aoy School of El Paso began in a rented room behind an assay office on San Francisco Street, which Aoy furnished and supplied using money he had earned in Salt Lake City. When his savings ran out Aoy began a night school for adults wishing to learn Spanish, and he used the income earned from the night school to fund his day school.

Starting in January 1888 the local school board began to support Aoy’s Mexican Preparatory School, paying the rent of $15 per month and providing him with a salary of $35 a month. An article written by a former student some years later says that Aoy lived on $7 of the $35 and put the remainder back into his school.

Construction of a new brick schoolhouse was announced, but Aoy didn’t live to see it. He died before construction began, at age 73, on April 27 1895. The new campus was completed in 1899 and was named in his honor the Aoy School.

The Aoy School marked its 125th year on June 6, 2012, the oldest continuously operated school in the El Paso area. The present Aoy School is located on Seventh and Kansas streets, El Paso, Texas.

Altogether a pretty remarkable legacy for a one-time census taker from Carbonateville.

 

 

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