What do an author who fostered culture, a mysterious murder suspect and a progressive teacher-administrator have in common?
Local residents viewed these three women — Cleofas Jaramillo, Teresita Ferguson and Josephine Córdova — as “remarkable women” during this year’s celebration of the Remarkable Women of Taos. A common underlying theme in each of their lives involves the topic of witchcraft through writing topic, suspicion and victimology.
Cleofas Martinez Jaramillo’s 79 years enriched the lives of many people who read her work. She was born in Arroyo Hondo in 1878 to influential parents Martina Lucero and Julian Antonio Martinez. Her dad owned sheep, cattle, farming and mercantile businesses.
Back then, not too many females received an education past grade school, but Cleofas attended Loretto in both Taos and Santa Fe. Her cousin Venceslao Jaramillo fell in love with Cleofas and proposed marriage. The young woman provided him with an unheard-of answer for that time in history. She told her suitor she would marry him under the condition he allow her the opportunity to complete her education before the wedding. He agreed. The couple married July 27, 1898. To the outside world, the family lived a comfortable life, made possible through Venceslao’s wealth, business and political connections and Cleofas’ family connections. Venceslao was a businessman and a legislator. However, heartbreak occurred when two children died at a young age. Then, when the only surviving child Angelina turned four years of age, Venceslao died. Despite his wealth, Venceslao left his finances in turmoil, thus leaving Cleofas in debt. The astute businesswoman survived and thrived. However, tragedy struck again when Angelina was murdered at age 17.
Cleofas turned negative into positive through her work as a writer. She recorded the happenings of the day: religious ceremonies, holidays, courtships, weddings, funerals and the beliefs in witchcraft prevalent during the times. She wrote Romance of a Village Girl, Spanish Fairy Tales, The Genuine New Mexico Tasty Recipes and Shadows of the Past.
The book Nuestras Mujeres described the author’s work as follows: “Cleofas Jaramillo’s work is remarkable for her concern and production in a time when most Hispanic women had little leisure or encouragement to write. Her narratives and stories are valuable because they preserve folk life and, in particular, the customs of a woman thought important to record.” Cleofas Jaramillo died in 1956.
Local communities love to resurrect tales of their infamous citizens such as Teresita Ferguson, whose name is shrouded in suspicions of murder and unsolved mystery.
Teresita was born in 1890, to Columbus Ferguson and Juanita Medina Ferguson. She grew up in the mining camp at Elizabethtown (outside Eagle Nest) where her father shared a partnership with Bill Wilkerson, William Stone and Arthur Manby in the Mystic Mine. Teresita was very much “a mother’s girl,” and along with her matriarch, received Manby as a visitor from Taos to their cabin when he went to the mine. The visitor compared the little girl to her mother — quiet and demure with black hair, black eyes and strong inner strength.
As Arthur Manby became enchanted with young Teresita, despite the 31-year difference in their ages, he began to consider her future. During a talk with Columbus Ferguson, Manby suggested the purchase of a tourist camp on Taos Canyon Road. Eventually, the young woman achieved this goal.
Teresita’s life in Taos included frequent interaction with Arthur Manby. People regarded them as a couple, although after his death, she referred to him as “something like an uncle or a grandfather.” As an unmarried woman, Teresita gave birth to four children throughout the years. Her longtime association with the older man included a life of intrigue and mystery. Manby once possessed the Martinez Land Grant, the Maxwell Land Grant and other acreage and furnishings. He owned the Colonial Bond and Security Company and served as the President. Teresita was the Vice President. As affiliates of the U.S. Secret and Civil Service Society Self Supporting Branch, Teresita filled the role of President. Members donated money and fulfilled unusual duties such as following businessmen all day. Teresita’s new lover Carmen Duran, named a Special Messenger, demanded more money from members without Manby’s knowledge. She was also convicted, along with others, of robberies. Teresita served five months of a four to six year prison sentence and gained a release because she served as a model prisoner.
After Manby’s murder in 1929, Teresita and Carmen moved into the Manby house to dig for Manby’s riches and sell furnishings and artwork.
Officials did not discover the identity of Manby’s killer, although Teresita was long considered a suspect. After her release from prison, Teresita lived a simple life, one that some locals deemed “like a witch.” She raised her children and earned her living by reading cards (as she did for Arthur Manby) and palms and seeing the future in her crystal ball for those who sought her counsel. She survived the turmoil of the times.
When a youngster exhibited tendencies toward left-handedness in the early 1900s, that child was considered “bewitched.” Such was the world when Josephine Martinez was born in Arroyo Seco May 1, 1907. As the little girl grew her parents Maria de las Nieves and Francisco Martinez worried about the child. According to custom, the parents tied her left hand behind her back so little Josephine would eventually favor her right hand as the dominant one. The experiment didn’t produce the desired results…at least on the surface. In the end, Josephine felt that the childhood hand-tying shaped her philosophy to try hard with any of her undertakings and it taught her strength.
She called upon that strength as a young girl whose father passed away, causing her mother to move to Tres Piedras as a homesteader. During her formative years, she lived among people who shared stories about evil witches and discussed their fearful beliefs. She lived during the Depression as a young teacher in Cerro where her landlord warned her about the witches in the community. She never encountered these creatures.
She eventually married and Josephine and her husband Willie Córdova raised four children. Once again, she called upon her inner strength in career matters. In the 1950s, school systems seldom promoted women to positions such as principal or superintendent. Evidently, the Taos Municipal Schools recognized Josephine Cordova’s strength. She received the position of teacher-principal of the El Prado School and served in this capacity for 15 years. She was the first female administrator in the school system.
Josephine retired after a forty-year teaching career. In 1976, she published No Lloro Pero Me Acuerdo, her memoirs, which included vignettes about education, family, customs, superstitions, stories and life in general. She passed away February 11, 1998. Hundreds of community members, her family and her former students attended her rosary, funeral and burial.
We continue to consider the three women discussed above as remarkable in life, despite beliefs in witchcraft and the ideas of the times in which they lived. Prominent and outstanding in life and death, they are remarkable — gone but not forgotten.
Biographer Dr. Kathryn Córdova is a retired educator and a freelance writer. She is an award-winning member of the NM Press Women and recently presented at the National Latino Writers’ Conference. She is currently at work on Crossroads, a family history of the Quintana family of Santa Fe.
This article appeared on page 16 of the 2012 High Country Visitor Guide.