Biography of Estevan Ochoa
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Estevan Ochoa was a New Mexican by birth. In his early youth he went to Kansas City, where he obtained employment and acquired a fair knowledge of the English language. He started in business on his own account at Mesilla, New Mexico. He made a success of the enterprise, and thereafter started a number of branch stores in both New Mexico and Arizona. The firm of Tully & Ochoa, of which he was a member, was one of the largest mercantile establishments in Tucson. In Bourke’s “On the Border with Crook” is an account of his visit to Tucson, in which he has this to say of Estevan Ochoa:
“This rather undersized gentleman coming down the street is a man with a history – perhaps it might be perfectly correct to say with two or three histories. He is Don Estevan Ochoa, one of the most enterprising merchants, as he is admitted to be one of the coolest and bravest men, in all the Southwestern country. He has a handsome face, a keen black eye, a quick, businesslike air, with very polished and courteous manners.
“During the war, the Southern leaders thought they would establish a chain of posts across the continent from Texas to California, and one of their first movements was to send a brigade of Texans to occupy Tucson. The commanding general – Turner by name – sent for Don Estevan and told him that he had been informed that he was an outspoken sympathizer with the cause of the Union, but he hoped that Ochoa would see that the Union was a thing of the past, and reconcile himself to the new state of affairs, and take the oath of the Confederacy, and thus relieve the new Commander from the disagreeable responsibility of confiscating his property and setting him adrift outside of his lines.
“Don Estevan never hesitated a moment. He was not that kind of a man. His reply was perfectly courteous, as I am told, all the talk on the part of the Confederate officer had been. Ochoa owed all he had in the world to the Government of the United States, and it would be impossible for him to take an oath of fidelity to any hostile power or party. When would General Turner wish him to leave?
“He was allowed to select one of his many horses, and to take a pair of saddle bags filled with such clothing and food as he could get together on short notice, and then, with a rifle and twenty rounds of ammunition, was led outside the lines and started for the Rio Grande. How he ever made his way across those two hundred and fifty miles of desert and mountains which intervened between the town of Tucson and the Union outposts nearer to the Rio Grande, I do not know – nobody knows. The country was infested with Apaches, and no one of those upon whom he turned his back expected to hear of his getting through alive. But he did succeed, and here he is, a proof of devotion to the cause of the nation for which it would be hard to find a parallel. When the Union troops reoccupied Tucson, Don Estevan resumed business and was soon wealthy again, in spite of the tribute levied by the raiding Apaches, who once ran off every head of draught oxen the firm of Tully, Ochoa and De Long possessed, and never stopped until they crossed the Rio Salado, or Salt River, where they killed and ‘jerked’ the meat on the slope of that high mesa which to this day bears the name of ‘Jerked Beef Butte.’ ”
As a member of this firm of Tully & Ochoa, he operated a stage line from Tucson and Yuma to Santa Fe, New Mexico, executed Government contracts, and for about twenty years was the most extensive freighter in Arizona and New Mexico. Most of this merchandise he handled for himself, and it was hauled from Kansas City on his own freighting outfits, which at the height of his prosperity, represented an investment of one hundred thousand dollars. He was obliged to maintain relay stations along his long route, and his fine system won the admiration of everyone. He was liberal and openhanded, spending his means freely, in which respect he was a typical frontiersman. When the railroad reached Tucson, it was to him a personal loss. His extensive investments in wagons, mules and oxen for freighting purposes, were unmarketable, and involved a loss of over a hundred thousand dollars, besides a great loss in merchandise which had cost him a large amount to import. For many years the city of Tucson was his headquarters; Ochoa street therein being named in his honor. The first public school erected in Tucson stood on ground which he donated to the city. He was mayor of Tucson for one term, and he represented the district in one session of the Arizona Legislature. His career came to a close on October 27th, 1888, when he died at his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
He was a typical frontiersman, bold, aggressive and resourceful, laughing danger to scorn, rarely daunted by any obstacle, and, in brief, possessing just those qualities which are essential in the founding of a new State. Force of character was his undoubtedly, yet, withal, his was a kindly and sympathetic heart, and many a time has he shared his scanty meal on the desert or in the mountains with some poor traveler or Indian. While he was held in some awe and thorough respect, his innate goodness of heart was well known far and wide, and, indeed, few pioneers of this great southwest were more widely known from Kansas City to the boundaries of Old Mexico.