Editor’s note: The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?,” a twice a month column in which staff writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.
An Albuquerque street blanketed by thousands of cars every year fittingly bears the name of a man who owned one of the city’s first motorized vehicles.
He also had ties to the Mexican Revolution.
That man was Mexican native and physician Eligio Osuna (sometimes spelled Elijio). Anyone who has lived here for even a short amount of a time has most likely had to use the road, which runs from east to west in both the North Valley and Albuquerque’s East Side although not contiguously. The road starts at Fourth Street and passes under Interstate 25 where it curves and becomes San Mateo. It starts again a few miles south along San Mateo and goes east just past Eubank where it finally ends. There are homes, businesses, restaurants, a golf course and several well-used parks along the route.
Osuna is a noble Spanish surname derived from the word Osa, which means “bear.” The Osuna name began appearing in the United States in the mid-to-late 1800s.
Osuna moved to Albuquerque from Nuevo León, Mexico in 1896 set up practice in Downtown Albuquerque. He traveled to Monterey, Mexico in 1897 to get “himself a fair bride” according to a June 19, 1897 Santa Fe New Mexican article. That fair bride was Aurelia Martinez, who became Aurelia Martinez de Osuna after they married. The couple had nine children together, although one died at a very young age.
He owned the fourth car in Albuquerque with the power of 10 whole horses. Horsepower in today’s automobiles ranges from 120 for smaller vehicles all the way to 600 for something large, like a semi truck.
The car purchase made the Aug. 3, 1905 edition of the Albuquerque Citizen with a headline reading “Dr. Osuna Purchases Handsome New Auto.” The car was a Stevens-Duryea and cost him $1,200. The color remains a mystery.
“This is the fourth automobile to be owned by Albuquerque parties, and shows that the horseless carriage is becoming popular in this city, and that people are getting extremely metropolitan,” the article stated. “Dr. Osuna will use the machine in making his professional calls and also for pleasure.”
Before his 10-horsepower car he used actual horse power to make his house calls. He rode in a buggy pulled by a horse he named Old Bones according to the book “Stories Behind the Street Names of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, & Taos” by Donald A. Gill.
The car wasn’t the only thing cosmopolitan Osuna did. He purchased a strip of land in the North Valley that the family nicknamed the shoestring because of its long, narrow shape, and developed it. Although not considered extremely valuable, the family was able to build homes on it. The city created a road alongside the developed property in 1945 and named it for Osuna.
Now the land might not have seemed very noteworthy by the standards of those times, when many in the valley owned acres of fertile land they ranched and farmed, but the family certainly was something worthy of note.
Osuna was close personal friends with José Venustiano Carranza De La Garza, a major figure in the Mexican Revolution who commanded the Constitutionalist Army. Both were prominent landowners in their native Mexico. Carranza was the first chief of the Constitutionalists and would eventually become the 44th president of Mexico. He appointed Osuna chief surgeon of the central division of the Constitutionalist Army in July of 1914. He also acted as consul for Carranza in the bordering state. Osuna still considered Albuquerque his permanent home and traveled back and forth as he was needed.
In 1903, Osuna started the Hormiga de Oro Publishing Company. He was a director and the company published a newspaper called La Hormiga de Oro along with offering printing services. He would go on to start a mining company in 1907 with fellow doctors who hoped to set up operations in the Sandia Mountains searching for silver and lead.
He may have accomplished more, but Osuna’s life was cut short. He died June 2, 1916 from a “malady of the brain” when he was only 51-years-old. This left his children responsible for financing their own educations. However, that didn’t seem to be a deterrent. Many of them went on to great success.
His daughter Anita Osuna Carr obtained her master’s degree from Stanford University. She was the first Hispanic woman on the faculty at the University of New Mexico where she taught French and Spanish. She was a great supporter of bilingual education and believed in the preservation of area’s Hispanic and Latin American cultures. She founded the New Mexico Folklore Society and created the Albuquerque Pan American Round Table.
Ben Osuna became a probate judge in Bernalillo County and president of the local LULAC council, which is an organization that works to better the lives of Hispanics across the United States.
In 1967, the Albuquerque Public Schools district named one of their four new elementary schools Osuna, referencing the street name. Anita, Ben and Eligio’s other son Eduardo Eligio Osuna (known as E.E.) attended the school’s grand opening on March 4, 1968.
Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseño at email@example.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”