March 15 came and went a month and a half ago, unnoticed and uncelebrated except by a few Civil War buffs. It was the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Picacho Pass, the westernmost engagement of the American Civil War.
Actually, “Skirmish at Picacho Pass” might be a more accurate term. A small group of Confederate soldiers from recently-occupied Tucson ran into the California Column of the U.S. Army and exchanged shots. Two Union soldiers and their officer were killed, and both sides retired. The California Column went on to retake Tucson, and the Confederates retreated to their base in Mesilla, in present-day New Mexico. Swiftly over, but not forgotten, the skirmish is re-enacted annually, with more people in attendance than there were on the spot in 1862.
However, there’s a good story connected with Tucson’s Confederate occupation that deserves retelling. It concerns Don Esteban Ochoa, a prominent businessman and co-owner of the Tully and Ochoa freighting and mercantile firm, which was one of our town’s few means of getting supplies before the railroad came in. When the Confederate soldiers arrived in Tucson in February, 1862, the following conversation is said to have taken place between Don Esteban and the Confederate commander, Major Sherod Hunter:
HUNTER; Mr. Ochoa, you realize, of course, that the United States no longer exists. I trust, therefore, that you will yield to the new order, and take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy and thereby relieve me of the necessity of … expelling you from this city.
OCHOA: 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 all my prosperity and happiness. When, sir, do you wish me to leave?
HUNTER: Immediately. You may take your favorite mount, together with arms, ammunition, and such provisions as you can quickly collect.
And he did so, returning after the arrival of the California Column. Don Esteban went on to become Mayor of Tucson and a member of the House of Representatives in the Ninth Arizona Territorial Legislature. His freighting business could not compete with the railroads when they arrived in Tucson in 1880. He died in Las Cruces in 1888, and is now buried in Tucson, in Holy Hope Cemetery.
I’ll admit that the formality of that conversation is a bit hard to believe, but that’s what the books tell us, and those were formal times (as well as formal chroniclers).
For an account of the Confederacy in Arizona, I recommend Confederate Pathway to the Pacific: Major Sherod Hunter and Arizona Territory, C.S.A., by L. Boyd Finch. Tucson: The Arizona Historical Society, 1996. The conversation between Don Esteban and Major Hunter appears on page 131.