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War at la Estancia

Joel P. Whitney, the purchaser of the Sandoval grant, and his brother, James G. Whitney, came to the valley and began telling the sheepherders scattered around it, whom they called “squatters,” that they would have to leave. They had been to Albuquerque and obtained a court order of eviction. Of course it wasn’t long before word of this development reached the Otero family.

Manuel B. Otero, the son of Don Manuel Antonio Otero, set out with two of his cousins to see what was happening at the Estancia ranch. He was a truly elegant scion of his patrician family. He was a graduate of Heidelberg University in Germany, and he had married a lovely young heiress of the other rich family in the area, the Lunas of Los Lunas.  

James B. Whitney was already at the headquarters, along with his brother-in-law and a friend. The six men met in the house and parleyed. Before long someone got tired of talking and started shooting. Seconds later, Whitney’s brother-in-law was dead, and Whitney was badly wounded. As for Otero, I’ll let Editor Kusz tell the story. He could be as maudlin as he was droll:

“The Priest, Rev. L. Bourdier, was at once summoned to administer the rites of the church to the dying Otero, but he arrived too late; he was beyond human help; his lips were already sealed and the icy hand of death had already touched the lower part of his body, and as the sun was sinking behind the mountains to light up a new world, his spirit took its flight to the hands that gave it, passed the valley of the shadow of death and entered that great undiscovered bourne whence no traveler returns….”

There’s more of that, a lot more. I can imagine the man with his composing stick in hand, furiously selecting each tiny italic letter from his font box as he constructed his grand eulogy.

The opposing parties retreated to tend their wounds and bury their dead, and the validity of the competing land grants became a matter for the courts to decide. They took their time. Finally, as if to usher in a new era for the Estancia Valley in the 20th Century, they decided that neither claim was valid.

The land was opened for homesteading, a railroad was built across the valley, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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