The person who currently owns the house that Dionicio Ortega and his wife Sarah Jane Taylor lived in recently contacted me in hopes of learning new things about the house. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cool stories for them but was very happy they contacted me with new information. They provided me with some of the paperwork that listed Sarah Jane Taylor and Dionicio Ortega as the deed owners of the house which I took as evidence their story was true.
They asked me not to share any of their identifying information which I agreed to withhold for their privacy (I am using the singular pronoun they/their to speak of this person). This person was such a great storyteller that I’m going to share their words with you verbatim.
They started out with some interesting questions such as, “When I first moved here, an elderly man said that an Irish woman married a man from Tesuque Pueblo and moved into our house long ago. That sounds like it could have been Dionicio, and if so, he would have been Native American. Does any of that ring true? Do you have any idea what brought Sarah to the rough ’n tough New Mexico of the 19th century?”
I told them I didn’t know for sure, but on the 1860 census, she was five years old living with her father, her older full brother Isaiah, and her father’s second wife Geraldine Dennison in Missouri. We know that Isaiah died in his childhood, up to that point they were the only living children from her father’s first marriage to Mary Ann Brummett, daughter of William Brummit and Sarah Evans. On the 1870 census, she was about 15 years old living with her father and stepfamily in Cañon City, Colorado (as mentioned in the book History of Howard and Chariton Counties, Missouri). Her stepmother Geraldine Denison died there in 1875. My guess is she was coming of age in this radically different place and met Dionicio at some point as he was traveling. Another cousin who rescues horses and mules has told me Dionicio was a muleteer on the Santa Fe Trail, but I haven’t verified it. I do think they met in Colorado though. On the 1880 census, she was living as Juana Ortega with Dionicio and their child Crisostimo in Cordoras, Taos, NM. Almost all of the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire. Sarah and Dionicio are in Santa Fe on the 1900 census. Sarah Jane died in 1927, Dionicio died in 1936. I think Sarah Jane Taylor learned early to roll with the punches and was rather adventurous. It seemed she was a curious person and was eager to embrace new places and cultures; I like to think I inherited that from her.
The person who contacted me about the house was an out-of-towner who immediately liked it and was lucky to have noticed it during a price-drop.
“A little investigation and it turned out it was because this was a “haunted house”. Neighborhood children wouldn’t go near it, and throughout the 70’s and 80’s no one owned it for more than a year or two before selling, due to all the bizarre things happening there. It was common knowledge that these ghosts were mischievous and frisky.
That was a great stroke of luck for us because we didn’t believe in ghosts. We bought it and the neighbors would shake their heads and say “You won’t stay long – nobody does”.
So that was [many] years ago, and we never experienced anything the least bit unusual, nor have any of the many guests who have stayed here.
What is now the main living room area was the original one-room adobe house. We did an extensive renovation, and when the floorboards were pulled up temporarily to put a heating system under there, I did some digging. A couple of inches down I found a lime-coated floor, and that was probably what was there when Sarah Jane and Dionicio moved in. They may have later put in the wood planks that are still there because they are very old. Two inches beneath the lime floor was another floor made of animal blood mixed with dirt, which makes for a linoleum-like surface. Nobody knows how old this place really is.
Our guest room used to be a detached stable, and when it rained we could still smell the animals that your ancestors kept there. I carved a niche into one of the adobe walls and found a donkey’s jawbone embedded in it.
Although plumbing had been installed by the 1950’s, the original outhouse for the house was still standing in one corner of the property when we moved in. We had to remove it to build [further]. You can still see the remains of a well that was the main water source for the house all those years ago. But you would have to lift the brick pavers in our courtyard and dig down about a foot to find it.
I also found a horseshoe and some smaller animal bones in that wall. All of the old adobe walls are 2 feet thick, so who knows what else is in there?”
I forgot to mention that when I dug down and found those 2 layers of flooring, I kept digging. About 2 feet down I found pottery shards in typical black and white patterns for Native Americans in this area. So people have been living on this spot for a VERY long time.”
I asked about using their stories on this blog:
“Using this info on your blog is okay if there is some way to discourage people from googling around to find me and then show up at my door.” So I am not giving out the address or the name of the person who contacted me, just passing along the story.
I can’t express how grateful I am to have been able to receive these stories as it’s put a little more flesh on my ancestors’ bones. I feel a little closer to knowing them and their personalities now.