Traveler: José Antonio Rafael Garcia de Noriega
When and Where: Traveled over the Old Spanish Trail a number of times starting in the mid 1830’s
Submitted by: Don Garcia, Redmond, Washington
Relationship: José Antonio was my great-great-grandfather
Born in the Rio Arriba area of New Mexico in 1782, José Antonio Rafael Garcia de Noriega was a freighter who transported and sold merchandise. He married Maria Luisa Lucero before 1811 in the village of Plaza de Los Luceros, New Mexico. They had 10 children.
José Antonio engaged in business with the Great Plains Indians, including the Comanches. Conversant in 3-4 Indian languages, he traded blankets and cloth for skins and livestock from the Indians. He also traded woolen items with the Ute and Navajo Indians.
He traveled several times over the Old Spanish Trail with his first trip occurring sometime in the mid 1830’s. On a later trip, he brought sheep and woolen goods to Southern California. There he bought horses for around $2- $5 and brought them back to New Mexico where he sold them for $8-10 in Santa Fe.
José Antonio made two trips over the Trail with his grown sons before he moved his wife and children to California sometime around 1845. His final trip over the Old Spanish Trail occurred when José was 63 years old, while his wife, Maria Luisa was 51. She died before 1850 and he died less than two years later. Both were buried near Agua Mansa, California.
According to family lore, José Antonio was a very independent person and a free thinker in expressing his feelings. One day a conflict occurred between José Antonio and two Spanish-born priests in Abiquiu who were making certain overbearing remarks about José’s occupation as a freighter. The conversation became heated and ended up with José Antonio applying the stick he used with his mules to the backside of one of the priests. José Antonio was brought up for charges in front of the local mayor or alcalde and fined for his indiscretion. The fine was later dropped and the priest reportedly apologized.
José Antonio’s son, Estevan de la Cruz Garcia, helped with the family business and also made several trips over the Old Spanish Trail. He is listed in the 1844 Los Angeles Census (Padron) as 18 years old and living in the San Bernardino area. He later returned to New Mexico and was married in Taos.
Estevan worked as a scout with Kit Carson on Fremont’s expeditions from St. Joseph, Missouri to California. According to his grandson, Estevan loved to display the marks on his chest where he had wrestled with a grizzly bear in the mountains.
Family oral history
Las Vegas Optic newspaper, March 1909
1844 Los Angeles Census (Padron)
1850 U.S. Federal Census