Seeking Frederick Grace
By Herman C. Grace Sr.

2nd version

Growing up Hispanic in Santa Fe with the surname Grace was often an impediment to asserting my identity. My father, Augustine “Tinnie” Grace (1904-1973), and I were very close companions, and when he took me hunting deer, elk, or turkey in Dalton Canyon, the Canjelon Mountains or the Pecos wilderness, he would sit by the campfire after dinner and down a few shots of Old Charter. He was not much of a drinker, but the stimulant encouraged him to loosen up and tell many stories about his father, Julian Grace (1858-1930) and his grandfather, Frederick Grace (1828-1898).

These stories never satisfied my curiosity – only whetted it - because he would always stop short when the name Vigil came up. He said the Graces were related to the Vigils from Santa Cruz, and his Uncle Hipolito had changed his name to Vigil and moved to Santa Cruz, but when I asked my father to tell me more about the Grace/Vigil connection, he would change the subject or insist, “It’s better you don’t know. If you did, you wouldn’t understand.”

I vividly remember a scene which occurred in our living room on West Manhattan when I was about 11 years old. As usual, I came home from St. Michael’s school in high spirits, anxious to tell my dad about my day’s adventures, but when I arrived, I found him talking to a very distinguished looking older gentleman with silver hair, dressed impeccably in suit and tie. “Hijo, venga aqui,. I want you to meet my godfather. I walked up to him, and shook his hand and said in English, “Hello, how are you.” My father said, “ Hijo, habla con el en su lengua.” With a cocky, sarcastic stance, I stuck out my tongue, tightly held it between my finger and thumb and, in English, garbled the words, “Hi, how are you.” Dad stared at me with deep disappointment and disgust, and then gruffly whacked the back of my head. The gentleman laughed and told my dad, “Don’t get mad Tinito, he’s just like you.”

The gentleman was Epifanio Vigil (1885-1976), my dad’s first cousin, who was undoubtedly there to discuss Tinnie’s upcoming campaign for Santa Fe County Clerk. Augustine Grace was elected twice as a Republican serving from 1951 through 1954. In all, my father worked for the county clerk’s office over 10 years, after which he changed his party affiliation to Democrat.

Later I learned that Epifanio owned a tailor shop in San Pedro near Espanola. He was the son of Melisendro Vigil (b. 1859), and my father’s aunt Gabriela Grace nee Vigil (b. 1856). I don’t know whether or not Epifanio’s parents were related, but it is possible they were cousins descended from different branches of the Francisco Montes Vigil family of Santa Cruz de la Canada. Melisendro and his father, Epifanio (b. 1834), both were printers for a Santa Fe newspaper.

When my father died, whatever stories he kept secret died with him. My family remembered a few stories we had been told about our heritage. Tinnie vehemently insisted that Frederick Grace, his grandfather, had been a German carpenter from Pennsylvania who built the Miracle Staircase at the Loretto Chapel assisted by his apprentice sons, Hipolito and Julian.

Over the years, I never could be satisfied with the scant family history handed down to us. As I grew older, it seemed my passion increased to discover my roots – to answer those most basic questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? My wife, Charlet, agreed to help me unravel the mysterious stories surrounding the Grace family. Needless to say, the facts turned out to be quite different from what we expected.

We discovered that Frederick’s parents, Sebastian Grau and his wife, Louisa, emigrated from Germany in about 1830 and settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with their son. According to military records, Frederick Grace (alias Grau) enlisted in the U.S. Army in Colombia, Pennsylvania in 1848 at the age of 20. He stated that he was a cabinet maker, born in Wurttemberg, Germany. He re-enlisted in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1853 and was discharged in 1858 with the notations “Sergeant” and “Ft. Defiance.” On the 1860 census, he is listed as a carpenter for the Quartermaster living at the U.S. Garrison at Ft. Marcy. In 1866, the U.S. IRS Tax Assessments records Frederick Grace and Mr. Dofflemeyer as partners in the furniture manufacturing business. They paid the IRS 6% of the “value on account,” which totaled $6.42.

The 1870 census reveals that Frederick Grace lived in Santa Fe with his wife Refugio Vigil and three children. With this information and the 1860 census record, which revealed that Refugio and her mother were “market women,” we were able to discover that Refugio was born March 9, 1826 in La Puebla and was baptized March 10, 1826 in the Santa Cruz de la Canada church: Father: Jose Santos Vigil; Mother: Maria de la Luz Martin; Vecinos de: Puebla, PGF Francisco Vigil, PGM, Maria Gertrudix Abeyta; MGF: Vicente Martin; MGM: Maria Manuela Garcia; Padrino: Lasaro Gomez; Madrina: Maria Dolores Gomez.”

In 1864, a deed in the Avery collection at the New Mexico State Archives states that Federico Grace sold land in Santa Fe to Maria Jesus Duran for 50 pesos. However, other deeds revealed much more about him. On May 28, 1890, Frederick filed a deed in English, transferring land in Arroyo Seco to Maria Refugio Vigil which states: “Know all men by these presents, that I, Frederick Grace, of the County of Santa Fe and the Territory of New Mexico, in consideration of the natural love and affection which I have and bear for my wife, Maria Refugio Vigil, and her three children, Polito Vigil, Maria Gabriela Vigil, and Julian Vigil, minors respectively of the ages of seventeen, fifteen, and thirteen years…do give, grant, convey, and confirm, unto the said Maria Refugio Vigil, in trust and for the benefit of the said minor children all my personal property and real estate situated in the County of Santa Fe aforesaid and measuring one hundred and forty varas in width and five hundred and fifteen varas in length, and the following personal property, to wit: two American cows, three heifer calves, two yoke of oxen, one burro, one mare, one wagon, a lot of farming implements and carpenter’s tools, also one turning lathe, and one morticing machine, to have and to hold…for her and them to enjoy all the said property during her lifetime ….” The land was about 4 ½ miles wide and 6 miles long and originally was situated in Rio Arriba County. Jose Trujillo, a renown soldier of the garrison, received the Mesilla of San Ildefonso grant in 1700, and the “Arroyo Seco grant in 1707, “in the name of his majesty.” After he died, his widow petitioned for the right to divide the grants and distribute them to her heirs.

I don’t know how Frederick Grace gained possession of the land, but Refugio’s sister, Maria Juliana Vigil, was born in Polvadera in 1837 indicating her parents were among the early residents. During this period, it was reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican that “Frederick Grace left by wagon today to build the schoolhouse in Santa Clara,” indicating that his expertise as a skilled carpenter was well known, and, that he had personal connections in Santa Clara, the area of the Arroyo Seco land grant.

In 1880, the Grace family lived on Camino de la Morraya.. After his marriage on April 29, 1880, Hipolito’s bride, Francisca, joined the household. A few years later, on March 6, 1882, a deed shows that Frederick purchased property in the City of Santa Fe on Manhattan Ave. and College St. next to the Brothers College. Apparently, the property became a family compound. In 1888, the parents deeded a six room house at that location to Gabriela, now married to Melisendro Vigil.

Between 1882 and 1889, life probably went on as usual for the family—maybe they attended church at St. Francis Cathedral and listened to Sunday concerts on the plaza; maybe they took part in Fiestas, took buggy trips, gathered pinon in the hills, or walked along the river where water still (unlike today) rushed down from the melting snow caps of the Sangre de Cristos—unaware of events to come.

Maria Refugio Vigil nee Grace died sometime in late 1889. After her death, Frederick quickly arranged for the sale of the land he had put in trust for the children. It was deeded on January 2, 1890, to the Santa Cruz Land and Irrigation Co. for the sum of $300, and the proceeds were distributed to Refugio’s children as promised in the 1870 deed.

After this transaction, Frederick deeded a house and lot located on Manhattan Avenue and College Street (presently known as Paseo de Peralta and the Old Santa Fe Trail) to Julian Grace, and on July 26, 1890, he granted property at the same location to Hipolito Vigil. Eight months later, Frederick Grace married Monica Martinez on March 30, 1891 in the cathedral and brought her home to live in the house he had shared with Refugio. The same month Frederick married Monica, Julian Grace sold the house he inherited to Rudolpho and Jesusa Ribera Muniz. Ironically (or coincidentally), my mother, Maggie, was the granddaughter of Rudolpho and Jesusa, and her parents, Herman Zinsser and Cesaria Muniz, lived in the same house in 1910, a few years after their marriage. The address was 523 College Street, a spot now covered by a small shopping center.

In the 1880 census, all family members are clearly “Grace.” But when Julian married Luz Mares Salcido on August 1, 1892 in St. Francis Cathedral, he gave the name, “Julian Vigil.” He states his mother is Refugio Vigil, however, he does not name his father. The 1900 census shows Julian Vigil living with his in-laws, Agustin Salcido, a musician, and Francisca Mares Salcido. Ten years later, the 1910 census shows him as Julian Grace, the name he stuck by for the rest of his life. His brother, Hipolito, kept the name Vigil.

Julian Grace--Julian Vigil? How perplexing! Am I a Grace, or am I a Vigil? Was Frederick Grace my grandfather’s real father or his step-father? Frederick and Refugio married in St. Francis Cathedral in 1867, after her children were born. Would the fact that Frederick was an American soldier and non-Catholic have delayed their marriage? The question remains, but my father and grandfather said they were Graces by blood relation and that’s what I believe.

In the book, Santa Fe, An Autobiography of a Southwestern Town, by Oliver LaFarge, an excerpt from the Santa Fe New Mexican on December 6, 1890 tells about a corrupt election in which Democratic leaders tried to steal an election from the weaker Republicans. Two commissioners hid out so they wouldn’t have to confirm the vote. LaFarge reports Acting Governor Thomas “appointed …two honest and well known citizens, G.W. North of Cerrillos and Frederick Grace, of this city, to the vacancies” to replace the missing county commissioners.

The political rivalry and down right chicanery between the Democrats and Republicans--between the well-heeled, influential Anglo-American lawyers and land speculators and the cash-strapped descendants of the colonial Spaniards--was soon to strike the heart of Frederick Grace. It was to estrange him from Julian for the rest of his life and pit father and son against each other in sworn court testimony.

In the New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 59, an article written by Tobias Duran entitled, “Francisco Chavez, Thomas B. Catron, and Organized Political Violence in Santa Fe in the 1890’s,” describes one of the most celebrated and widely publicized murders in New Mexico history – the May 29, 1892 killing of Francisco (Frank) Chavez, a popular politician and former sheriff. The perpetrators were arrested a year later after Juan Gallegos confessed that he declined to be a part of the conspiracy and told the police who committed the crime. He named men aligned with Republicans led by Thomas B. Catron: Francisco Gonzales y Borrego, Antonio Gonzales y Borrego, Patricio Valencia, Laureano Alarid, and Hipolito Vigil, my great-uncle, a city policeman who was the justice of the peace in 1892 when Frank Chavez was killed.

One of the motives for the killing involved a prior murder. In 1890, Faustino Ortiz, a Republican ward politician, was found dead in Santa Fe, his body thrown into an arroyo. A few months later, Thomas B. Catron got tips that certain Democrats were going to kill him. They opposed Catron and his cohorts and claiming they were “common land thieves,” who used “legal technicalities to gain possession of vast tracts of communal land.” Frank Chavez, a leading opponent of Catron, was accused of the Ortiz murder and indicted, but the indictment was thrown out.

Many stories have been written about these events. In the Deadly Dozen: Forgotten Gunfighters of the Old West, Vol. 2, Robert K. DeArment describes gunfighters as “controversial figures. Some called them cold-blooded killers; others called them fearless fighting men.” In this political climate, gun duels often led to the trial and acquittal of the surviving party by the plea of “self-defense.” With the right political connections, a man who had killed several men, been tried and acquitted, could be appointed a sheriff or a deputy U.S. Marshal. Such a man was Tom Tucker.

Tucker was brought in from Dona Ana County and deputized for a special assignment—to assist the new sheriff, William Price Cunningham, break up “secret societies” and arrest the men accused of killing Frank Chavez. Tucker came to Santa Fe with a reputation as a cattle rustler and a “hit man,” having killed at least 2 men in range wars emanating from land feuds in Arizona and southern New Mexico.

On January 9, 1894, Cunningham and his deputies arrested four of the accused men without incident. But, according to the sheriff, Hipolito Vigil resisted arrest, pulled a gun, and was shot dead by Tom Tucker. DeArment writes that “the circumstances of the shooting immediately became a political football.” Some called it a “cold-blooded” killing. Others called it “necessary and justifiable.” A year later, in 1895, charges were brought against Tom Tucker for killing Vigil in “cold blood.” At the coroner’s hearing, a jury concluded that Tucker had killed Vigil…”in an unlawful and illegal manner.”

The same year, the trial began for the remaining accused men. Catron became the defense attorney for the Borrego brothers, Alarid, and Valencia. Testimony was heard from many witnesses over many months. On May 22, 1895, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Frederick Grace took the stand and reiterated his former testimony about Hipolito Vigil coming home about 7 o’clock the night Frank Chavez was killed, “taking off his Sunday clothes and putting on those he wore every day, then going out and not returning till about 10:30 o’clock.” This testimony was “in direct contradiction of the testimony of Julian Vigil, who swore that Hipolito came home about 9 o’clock on the memorable night and went to bed.”

After a lengthy legal battle in which Catron was accused of tampering with witnesses and a move to disbar him was instigated by his rivals, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Catron lost and four remaining men were publicly hanged for the crime on April 2, 1897. The murder charge against Tom Tucker remained open, and, finally, Sheriff Harry C. Kinsell, who had presided over the executions, went to Las Cruces and arrested him. Testimony began April 26, 1898. Eye witnesses stated that Tucker fired at Vigil without giving him a chance to surrender, after which the judge adjourned the hearing, released Tucker on bond, and bound the case over to the next grand jury.

Frederick Grace didn’t live long enough to find out the outcome of the case. He died August 16, 1898. But, in January 1899, five years after Hipolito Vigil was shot, Julian witnessed the trial of Tom Tucker for the murder of his brother and watched as he was acquitted on the plea of self-defense.

Was this the family secret my father tried to hide? We may never know the answer to this question. And, from what I have learned, I have nothing but admiration for my grandfather and great-grandfather, who suffered the horror of Hipolito’s death, testified in the court proceedings, witnessed the public hangings, and endured years of political in-fighting and scandalous headlines.

My grandfather, Julian Grace died March 28, 1930, at the age of 72. He and Luz had six children, two daughters and four sons: Frances (Mrs. Bernabe Romero), Guadalupe (Mrs. Fred Ruiz), Hipolito (Paul), Augustine (Tinnie), and Teodoro (Lalo). His youngest son, Julianito, died as a child. Julian left his mark as a musician who is among those remembered for incorporating the Los Conquistadores Band in 1909. His love of music was passed on to his sons, Tinnie and Paul, who played with the band until it was terminated in 1940 for lack of community support.

Posted here with permission from Herman C. Grace, Sr.