Ruperta with her son, Antonio Jose Martinez, and family in 1894. Courtesy of Elaine Martinez


Traveler: Ruperta Martinez (1822-1911)

When and Where:  In 1843, Ruperta Martinez and family traveled over the Old Spanish Trail from New Mexico to California

Submitted by:  Elaine Martinez, Ventura, California

Relationship:  Second great grandmother


Ruperta Martinez was born March 01, 1822, at Plaza Blanca, New Mexico, located just north of Abiquiu, NM. Plaza Blanca is described as a “narrow strip facing Abiquiu.” In 1789, the population census included Ruperta’s maternal great grandfather, Lucrecio Martin. Today, the area is known for its beautiful white cliffs, and was often used as a backdrop in paintings by the famous artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. Ruperta’s birth came one year after the transition from Spanish to Mexican rule. Her parents, were Santiago Martin(ez) and Maria Manuela Martin(ez) y Larrañaga. Ruperta’s surname and that of her entire family is spelled in various documents as Martin, Martines, and Martinez.

Ruperta & son AJ Martinez. In this old tin-type picture, she is sitting next to her son, and appears to be wearing a widow’s attire.Tin-type photography was prevalent in the 1860’s and 1870’s, and because Sixto is missing from the photo, this picture may have been taken sometime after her husband died in 1871. Courtesy of Elaine Martinez

In 1837, Maria Ruperta Martinez married Jose Sixto de Jesus Martin (aka Xisto, Sisto and Cisto). Sixto was born in Abiquiu, New Mexico, March 28, 1813, into a wealthy and influential family. His father, Don Jose Manuel Martin(ez), was granted nearly 600,000 acres of land known as “Tierra Amarilla” used for raising churro sheep and other animals. Except for the duties of a shepherd, the family did not live on the grant because of the dangers of the frontier. Many Native American people living off the land for centuries were angered by the intrusion of the Spaniards (later Mexican citizens) which made living there unsafe. Yet, the Martinez were still able to form business relationships trading with members of the Ute, Comanche, Navajo, and other tribes.

It is assumed that Ruperta and Sixto traveled west from New Mexico to California in 1843 over the Old Spanish Trail, arriving in December. Her family, which included two young children at the time, probably lived near or with Ruperta’s father, Santiago Martinez. These early years must have been a difficult time digging wells and irrigation ditches, planting crops for food and defending against lawlessness.

Ruperta’s family, now with three children, moved again with her father, Santiago, some time prior to 1850, approximately 40 miles westward to live and work at Rancho La Puente. Ruperta and her family were still living on Rancho La Puente when their son, Antonio Jose Martinez was born September 1, 1854.  Ruperta and Sixto moved to Agua Mansa in 1868. This is the same year that Workman and Rowland split their grant between them, which may explain why Ruperta and her family moved once again.

Ruperta and Sixto had four children:

  • Jose Benigno (also spelled Venigno):1838 – 1898; Born in New Mexico
  • Teodora:  March 1841 – ?; Born in New Mexico
  • Peregrina: 1844 – 1918; Born in California
  • Antonio Jose: September 1854 -1909; Born in California

Ruperta’s husband, Sixto, managed a store in Agua Mansa until he died in 1871, and is buried at Campo Santo (now a park) in San Bernardino. It is believed that Ruperta’s father, Santiago, died about 1872.  Little is known about Ruperta’s life other than what is found in the various documents recording births, baptisms, residences, a couple of pictures, and her death certificate. The 1880 census notes Ruperta living with her son, Antonio Jose Martinez and his wife, Filomena Bustamante-Martinez, in Agua Mansa.

Martinez Adobe drawing painted by Eva Scott Fenyes. Courtesy of Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum, Los Angeles; FEN.180


Ruperta was a citizen of Mexico until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848, leading to California statehood in 1850, at which point she became an American citizen. It is presumed that she managed her life with the traditions of her Catholic faith and the customs of the time for women. Census records tell us that she spoke Spanish and may have attended some school. In 1879, her son Antonio Jose was elected Constable of the “Township of San Salvador” (Agua Mansa area) to be paid “500 dollars gold coin.” His rifle with his inscribed initials remains in the Martinez family today. Ruperta lived a long life of 89 years. She was born on a somewhat isolated land grant in New Mexico where everything was precious and mattered for survival. She lived long enough to see the first trains, the first cars, the first light bulbs, and listen to a radio. She appears in her photos to be a strong woman who must have known–out of experience and necessity–how to manage hardship. If only we only knew more of her personal stories. Maria Ruperta Martinez died on June 7, 1911, and is buried at the Hermosa Cemetery, Colton, California.

More Information: 

Your interest:  Little is known about the women who traveled along the trail. Ruperta’s pictures hung in our family den after my grandfather, Guido Orlando Martinez, died in 1964. I can recall the elders at my grandfather’s funeral telling me that I came “from a pioneering” family. I was 7 years old at the time, thus could only imagine covered wagons with pioneers as seen on TV. Over the years, I dismissed the talk of “pioneers” because it didn’t make sense to me.  Nothing prepared me for the surprise when I discovered the story of the Old Spanish Trail nearly 50 years later during genealogy research. The history of the Old Spanish Trail “pioneers” needs to be told to a wider audience to ensure that it is not lost to future generations.

Where did they settle:  Ruperta Martinez and her husband, Sixto Martinez settled in Agua Mansa.

Unique story or fact:  Ruperta Martin(ez) married Sixto Martinez in 1837. Sixto was the 2nd cousin once removed of Ruperta Martin(ez). On January 31, 1837 in Abiquiu, Vicar Ortiz granted special dispensation to marry, “Dispensed, 3rd with 4th degree consanguinity.”

Today, the Santiago Martinez adobe, which no longer exists, is recognized by the City of Walnut with a historical marker located at the Vejar Elementary school near Lemon Ave. Ruperta’s father, Santiago Martinez, built this adobe in the 1840’s. Ruperta and her family lived near her father’s adobe when they lived on Rancho La Puente during the early 1850’s.


Ingersoll’s Century Annals 1769-1904

Abiquiu baptismal records

1850 Los Angeles County census

Papers of Abel Stearns,

San Bernardino County Census 1880

1910 – Colton- Census; Living with daughter-in-law and family

1911 – Colton-(Agua Mansa) – Death Certificate