Albert Charles Escalante – Sara Cecilia Higuera – Part V

Hello all. I had a short hiatus. We have had some family land near us. Okay! It’s my parents! It is wonderful to have them here, but it has taken a bit of time from my family hunting and my blog site. I finally hid myself away to get some time to write, so let’s get started.

This entry is about Albert’s third wife, Sara Cecilia Higuera. I have a virtual plethora of family who come from this union. I love them all. I had never anticipated this entry as being very long, but interest is high in the history I can find for her extended family. And frankly, I was surprised to have found so much.

When I first started this post, I hardly had any information. Then it started pouring in. I was able to research Sara’s great-grandparents. 3 sets. Wooh hooh! You know I had to chart it out. The visual is so much easier to wrap your brain around. There are many  siblings in each family, but I followed the simple version of direct line. There are quite a few Martinez’s running around this chart. Relations? Common name in the Sonora/Arizona territory area? We may never know. (Unless there are tornado warnings one night and I get bored…)


Chart time! Grandma Sara’s full family that I have discovered. So far.

I will start the narrative with Elisario Higuera, Sara’s paternal grandfather. Elisario was born July 14, 1844. He seems to have lived in the Arizona territory for a while. He married one Gregoria Martinez. They had 10 children. Elisario was quite the entrepreneur. He owned a boarding house in Yuma in the 1870s. He owned property in the Yuma area and is considered a Yuman Pioneer. He is on the porch in the far left of this picture.


*Updated 2019:

After the boarding house, Elisario was still quite the land owner in Yuma. He applied to the United States Land Office for a Homestead Land Grant in October, 1905. It was granted in December.


Homestead Grant to Elisario Higuera – December 20, 1905.

According to official Bureau of Land Management maps, here was his property.


Looks like the middle of Yuma to me!

He sold the 80-acre ranch to one John Syverson in March 1910.*

Meanwhile, in Caborca, Sonora, Sara’s maternal grandmother, Carmen Martinez was born. This area was settled by the Spanish in 1688. The predominate Native American tribe here was the Tohono O’odham people (Papago – Spanish slang name). While I would imagine that these families were part Native, the Spaniards were open to intermarriage with the locals. The blending and transformation to Mestizos were a part of the history of this area.

Carmen Martinez had a daughter named Innocencia Noriega on Dec. 28, 1890. I make note of this birth name with several caveats. Innocencia was born 2 years before her mother married Bernardo Esperanza. On several documents, Innocencia put her maiden name as either Esperanza OR Noriega.

This caused me consternation. How did the woman not know her name? I did find that Carmen’s sister, Maria Angelita Martinez, married a man named Noriega. There was a chance that a Noriega relative took advantage of Carmen thus producing Innocencia while Carmen was only 13. Carmen did find a wonderful husband in Bernardo Esperanza when she was 15. He took Innocencia in as his own child.

carmelaesperanza - Copy

Caremela Martinez de Esperanza with one of her Esperanza granddaughters – circa 1932. (Nana’s mom!)

Meanwhile, back in Yuma. One of the 10 Higuera children was Juan Higuera. He was born in 1884.


Juan Higuera – on left. Sara looked much like him.  Above – Elisario Higuera. Below: Gregoria Martinez Higuera –  Small photos, but the best images I could find for his parents.

He  married Innocencia Esperanza on April 7, 1904. She was known to us all as Nana. By the 1910 Census, a few things had changed. Juan and his little family included 3 daughters. They were living with Elisario and Gregoria. Elisario was now a wood hauler instead of boarding house owner. Juan had very cool job of Deputy Marshall.


Higuera family at home. Yuma, April 1910.

Like clockwork, the newest baby arrived. Sara Cecilia Higuera was born on July 28, 1911 in Potholes, Arizona. Potholes, a mining town which no longer exists, was only viable for a brief period. It’s townspeople appeared with the building of the Laguna Dam and the All-American Canal. Sara’s adopted grandfather Bernardo Esperanza died here in 1910.

The little family lived together for a few more years until tragedy struck. On December 30, 1913, Juan Higuera was killed. It was reported in two ways. One rumor is that he was shot while running from a husband who found him with his wife. I prefer the official report.


Official news release from the Arizona Sentinel, January 1, 1914.

This link is a more detailed notice in the “Yuma Sun” January 2, 1914.


Official Death Certificate of Juan Higuera.

Elisario died about a year later.


These two tragedies were nothing but bad news for Innocencia and her daughters. They are now very much alone in the world. It was 1915. She was a widow with four children to feed. Careers were not plentiful for women at this time. While I do not know the details of Innocencia’s life after this, I do have an inkling what happens to Sara and her sisters.

Stick with me here.

Less than a month before Elisario’s death, his family registers for a U.S. Indian Roll Census on June 30, 1915. The Higuera’s are all listed under Elisario – the head of the family. The roll has them listed as Unalotted and a part of “Mohave, Chemehuevi, and Other Indians.”


Sara (#168) and her eldest sisters now “officially” Native American.

This is a very interesting development. Elisario has never been a very traditional Native American. Remember, that Native Mexicans are much more assimilated to the culture than American Indians, which were kept segregated. As a business owner in Yuma, he was not living off the land, hunting, living in indigenous housing, etc. His Death Certificate calls him Mexican, not Indian. But at this moment in time, he did get his family listed; almost as “generic” Native Americans.

This decision was a double-edged sword. Sara and her sisters were virtually orphans.  Possibly because of their now ambiguous status as Native American, they qualified to go to an Indian School. More specifically, they qualified to go to St. Bonafice School in Banning, CA. By 1916, the girls were at this school, 187 miles away from home. How do I know this?


Father Benedict Florian Hahn burial at the St. Boniface Indian/Industrial School in Banning, California.

At the far right of this photo are three little girls in white to the left of the nun. The little one is Sara, the next is Eloisa, and the tall one right behind is Gregoria. Amalia was also there, but I cannot identify her. So Sara is a 5 year-old away from her mother. This priest was supposed to be quite a proponent for Indians rights, but obviously his tenure was short. He’s the one in the ground. I do not know many more details of the sisters’ stay here. I have heard that it was not pleasant. Abuses happened to her sisters.



She is still there in 1920.

When her tenure was over at St. Bonafice’s School, I do not know. Her mother, Innocencia had moved to Calexico, California, where Carmen Esperanza had settled. Innocencia eventually met and married one Eduardo Martinez (there it is again) Othon. She had two children with Othon, Rosalia (born 1922) and Francisco (1934).


Within the next seven years, Sara went to Calexico to be near her mother. She was a lovely blossoming young woman. Updated 2019: At 17 years old, Sara found an admirer in one Jose Perez. He was 9 years her senior. He was very smitten with her. I found a few love letters she had kept all these years. I can’t read Spanish well, but I can tell his words are quite passionate.  His handwriting/signature was so distinctive, it allowed me to confirm his identity via his travel manifest.


Jose Perez-Estrada

Their union produced one David Perez in May 1929. As she was so young, and not quite ready for motherhood, a wonderful family in Yuma adopted David as their own. He became David Olaeta Avilez.


David Olaeta Avilez – Sara’s eldest child. 1929 – 2006. Photo courtesy of C. Callaway.

Her life continued in Imperial Valley. She had another relationship with a prominent man from Mexico, Colonel Cristóbal Limón. Their union produced a fabulous son, still living. [Remember I keep living family anonymous.]

For more information on Colonel Limón:

After this time, Sara made a major change and moved to the bustling world of Monterey, CA. According to legend, she met the author John Steinbeck while she was a waitress. She was also a cannery worker.


Sara Higuera – 1932. Photo Courtesty of R. and D. Escalante.

It was here that she met a German-born, but now naturalized citizen, Sergeant Bernhard Fengel. He was stationed in Monterey, CA, in the “E” Battery, 2nd Battalion, 76th Field Artillery. He became her husband. Updated with new photo:


Bernard Fengel – Handsome guy.



The Santa Cruz Sentinel: January 3, 1934.

There were no children from this marriage. Her son from Colonel Limón had the nickname “Fingo” when he was younger. My mom asked him how he got it. He said Sara’s husband was named Fengel. The kids messed with it and “Fingo” stuck.


Sara posing. Photo courtesy of J. Escalante and C. Callaway.

While I can produce no actual wedding date/license, I’m 95% sure this took place. In all documents, Bernhard states he’s married. Sara is later called Sara Fengel in the Calexico Directory as well.


But that was going to change.

My grandfather moved to Calexico with his wife and two girls somewhere around 1945. Sara also appeared to have been in the area with Bernhard. My aunt told me Albert always loved Sara from when they were children. Decisions were made. Two marriages ended, making way for a new one with each other.

Bernhard was 3 months from being released from service. He had been in Imperial County and married. But, in November 1945, he re-enlisted to go to a post in Hawaii. He left his marriage with Sara behind. Eventually, he remarried a woman with German roots. Lieselotte was from Frankfurt. I tried to contact her last year, but she had just passed one month before I my letter reached her. Bernhard was a career military man. He died on April 30, 1963 at Fort Hood, Texas.

Sara and Albert were embarking on their new lives together. There was a delay to their marriage. Possibly due to divorces going through. The couple found themselves at Yuma’s Wedding Chapel on Oct. 5, 1946.


Later to be called the Gretna Green Chapel, Albert and Sara had a ceremony in Yuma.



Interim Marriage Certificate for the New Mr. and Mrs. Albert Escalante.

Grandma Sara had sent me this in 1990. It wasn’t until I read it yesterday that I realized it read “Interim.” I’m sure they officially got their licensing somewhere. But this is the only documentation I could find – via Arizona or California.

Random Factoid: R.H. Lutes was a Justice of the Peace in Yuma. He was also the coroner.

Sara and Albert started their lives together in Calexico. They had custody of his two daughters from his marriage to Manuela. By November of 1947 though, Sara and Albert were finding themselves with more children. From 1947 until 1958, 6 boys joined the household. Sara gave birth to 5 boys. The last son was adopted. His story is pretty wonderful. This baby’s mom died in childbirth. The father couldn’t take care of a newborn. Albert and Sara knew of a couple that could raise him. By the time they got the couple’s house, Albert knew that the boy belonged with them. My youngest uncle was chosen. He got to be the last baby in the house. Ahhh, the days when you could just love someone so much, and then take them home.


Various pictures of Sara. Photos courtesy of J. Escalante, C. Callaway, and R. and D. Escalante.

She supported Albert’s adventures into various businesses. (The last of Albert’s blog posts will be about his business ventures and the end of his life.) They worked hard. Being in the Escalante family of Calexico must have been hard work, especially with Tia Panchita looking you over and judging. Often. But Sara handled it well. When Albert decided to start a bar and restaurant in Tecate, Mexico, they moved to the cooler climate between San Diego and Mexicali.

As a couple, they had tons of friends. There were family parties and good times. They had vacations in Rosarito. On the beach. Not at the hotel of his first cousins, the Barbachanos, whom he never got to meet. As far I as I can tell.


In the Campo, Tecate, Potrero area, the boys ran around: setting the house on fire; feeding one brother’s cut off toe to the dog; lying on the ground, pretending to be dead so buzzards would come eat them; harvesting their own meat from the backyard (chickens or rabbits) in various ways; and ruining their cousin-in-law’s toaster. (They REALLY should pitch in and buy her a new one – just sayin’.)

Around 1960 though, their family went through a major change. Sara took the boys to Ventura County to live with her mom in El Rio. Second Random Factoid: Nana had become a Jehovah’s Witness. She changed her name legally to Juana Othon. (All of these name changes make for difficult tracking, you know.)

By 1961, the whole family was reunited and they lived in Port Hueneme, CA. The Escalante family was back where it had started 50 years before. Albert and Sara landed in the place where most of us remember as their home.


Sara in Port Hueneme, CA. Photos courtesy of R. and D. Escalante.

My grandfather passed away in 1984. I hardly got to see much of Sara after that. Nana passed away on September 6, 1985. As longevity was a part of her genetics, Grandma Sara lived another 20 years. I believe she stayed in her home until the end. She passed away in Port Hueneme on May 17, 2004, aged 92.

I was at a restaurant a few months ago. I was having a lovely Mexican food lunch. I was startled when the refried beans on my plate tasted JUST like the ones Grandma Sara used to make. It took me back to the house on 5th Street. My heart lifted. It was full.


Grandma Sara, Nana and I. About 1969. Photo courtesy of the collection I stole from my mom.

This couple brought some really amazing people into the world. I have a flock of cousins whom I love. My poor son has only two cousins. I have a virtual plethora. Honestly, Grandma Sara Higuera Escalante’s life was the stuff of a great telenovela. And. It would all be true.


I would like to express thanks to those who donated photos for this post. It was really appreciated. C. Callaway is Sara’s granddaughter via David Avilez. Her research was instrumental in helping me find the Higuera family.

When I do random searches on-line, I find wonderful resources. There is a Higuera family member in Yuma who produced art renditions of her family. Artist Pamela Drapala is a descendant of Elisario and Gregoria. Please follow this link to see her artistic rendition of her great-great grandparents.


7 thoughts on “Albert Charles Escalante – Sara Cecilia Higuera – Part V

  1. Tia Juana

    As usual, you have done a great job of documenting the story of people we loved !! I would like to see our family tree put together. We would need a BIG wall to get everyone on the tree! Thanks for all of your hard work! ❤️❤️

  2. Ashlan Christoph

    Hello! This was SO wonderful to stumble across online…. Ive been wondering for years my lineage, as Sara is my grandmother and I hadn’t seen her since I was 6 yrs old! Ive been diving deeper into my Native American lineage and am so blessed to find this piece. You said you had a whole tree on Ancestry… is that I would love to find it! Best,

    1. murpher2 Post author

      Hi Ashlan! I’m so glad you found my blog site! For such occasions as finding long lost family. 🙂 I will send you a private email and we can chat about the family tree.

    2. Jan Escalante

      Hi Ashlan! I remember when you were born and watched you grow to be six. It’s a shame we lost contact with you. It’s important to keep your family in contact as there are so many stories to be told! We had a family reunion at our house a year ago and will probably have another next spring unless someone else wants to host it. We had 50 of YOUR relatives here that would love to see you. So many of your aunts and uncles and cousins. I wish we had known how to get in touch with you then! But looking forward, we’ll get you to the next reunion and you can meet your family. I am your aunt, Jan, and I’m married to your dad’s brother, Art (married almost 50 years). We live in Spring Branch TX which is a rural area between San Antonio and Austin. I have known the Escalante’s since 1966 when some of the brothers went to school with me. What a family! So happy you contacted us! Send me your address/email and we’ll make sure you come next time! If you are ever in San Antonio or Austin, let us know! Would love to meet you now that you are grown! Send a pic! ❤️ ❤️ Jan

  3. Mariela Sanchez Diaz

    Hello, don’t ask me how I got here but I am the great granddaughter of Sara, granddaughter of “Fingo”. And you have no idea how much I appreciated reading this. ❤
    I just want to learn about my Native American lineage. THANK YOU!

    1. murpher2 Post author

      I am SO glad you found this! I am working to find a more defined tribe for Sara’s children and grandchildren, but it’s a tough one!


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