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A Mexican American mayor’s test of loyalty

Before he was Tucson’s first Mexican American mayor, this Arizona business and Wells Fargo agent chose exile instead of betraying the Union during the Civil War.
Two images. The first is of Estevan Ochoa posing for a bust portrait. He has a beard and mustache and is wearing a black suit with white shirt. The second is a street scene with large freight wagons parked along the right side. Both are historic black and white photographs.
Featured photo caption: Estevan Ochoa and freight wagons on Main Avenue in Tucson, Arizona, in the 1870s. The Tully, Ochoa & Co. office is located behind the freight wagons. Photo Credit: Arizona Historical Society (photo of Ochoa)

Estevan Ochoa is best known as a businessman and politician who advocated for the creation of the Arizona Territory. He was also a Wells Fargo express agent in Pantano, Arizona.

But one of his most defining moments was in the spring of 1862, when he was forced to decide between love of the business he had built and loyalty to his country.

Building his business

Ochoa was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, in a Spanish Mexican family. As a young boy, he traveled with the wagon trains of his brother’s freight business from Mexico to Missouri. After being exposed to the business from a young age, Ochoa eventually began to organize wagon trains of his own across the American Southwest.

By the 1860s, Ochoa had settled in the bustling town of Tucson, Arizona, and he and his partner, Pinckney Randolph Tully, operated one of the largest freight businesses in the region. Tully, Ochoa & Co. hired hundreds of employees, operated stores in multiple towns, and shipped millions of tons of supplies for ranchers, miners, and U.S. Army soldiers.

Political divisiveness

As the Civil War began in 1861, the people of Tucson were divided. Some sought a continued relationship with the Union, while others felt abandoned by the U.S. and believed the Confederacy would offer them more opportunity. Confederate sympathizers in Tucson unified and announced their intention to join the South.

On February 14, 1862, Jefferson Davis claimed Tucson and what was then known as the Territory of Arizona. Over 100 soldiers from Texas, with some volunteers from Arizona, occupied Tucson. All residents in town were directed to either take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy or leave immediately.

A map of Arizona and New Mexico. Arizona is outlined in blue, and New Mexico is outlined in red.
An 1867 map of Arizona and New Mexico. Before the Civil War, Arizona didn't exist — there was only the Territory of New Mexico. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Reportedly, Ochoa answered, “It is out of the question for me to swear allegiance to any party or power hostile to the United States government; for to that government I owe my prosperity and happiness. When, sir, do you wish me to leave?”

For his loyalty to the Union, Ochoa was stripped of his property, given a horse, and told to go. As he traveled hundreds of miles across the desert landscape to his family in Mesilla, New Mexico, he didn’t know whether he would ever return to Tucson or the business he had built. When Union troops expelled the Confederate forces from Tucson just a few weeks later, Ochoa returned home with little lost, and a newfound reputation as a local legend.

A large rock with a pointy peak loom high above travelers passing by in a wagon train. Several large Saguaro cacti are dotted across the landscape and more peaks and a sky full of clouds are in the background.
Picacho Peak in the 1860s. In April 1862, Union and Confederate forces met at this landmark northwest of Tucson, Arizona. The Confederates won the battle, but ran short of supplies and withdrew. A month later, the Union forces sent from California took Tucson without a single shot. Photo Credit: Public Domain.

“One of the coolest and bravest men”

In 1875, Ochoa was elected Tucson’s first Mexican American mayor. While in office, he oversaw the establishment of Tucson’s first public school. He donated the land for the building, provided thousands of dollars for the construction, and even put the shingles on himself.

A map showing several blocks of Tucson.
An 1886 map of Tucson, Arizona. The public school Estevan Ochoa helped create was located between 6th and Scott Avenues on Congress Street. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

After his time in local government ended, he managed Wells Fargo’s business for a year at the newly opened express office in the nearby railroad town of Pantano, Arizona. Ochoa died in 1888 while visiting family in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

A yellowed newspaper with a title that reads: Wells, Fargo & Co.’s Express List of Offices, Agents and Correspondents.
A list of Wells Fargo agents in the 1880s. Tully, Ochoa & Co. is listed as a Wells Fargo agent in the Arizona Territory. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Union Army Capt. John G. Bourke said of Ochoa in 1891, “This rather undersized gentleman coming down the street is a man with a history — perhaps it might be perfectly correct to say 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.”

Today, Wells Fargo recognizes Ochoa’s contributions in serving his town and the nation.

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