Erminio Martinez: The side you don’t know about

Story and photos by Laurie Celine The Taos News
Posted 8/26/16

When Erminio Martinez pulls his Jeep into his Arroyo Seco driveway, a menagerie of animals greets him. It’s a little like a scene from “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” with Jim Carrey.

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Erminio Martinez: The side you don’t know about


When Erminio Martinez pulls his Jeep into his Arroyo Seco driveway, a menagerie of animals greets him. It’s a little like a scene from “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” with Jim Carrey.

A solid black, half-wild mustang whinnies and runs across the field toward him. Then comes a mule. Meanwhile, two quarter horses grazing freely look up in his direction from tall grass. Two border collies, one yellow lab and three cats quickly appear near the barn where Martinez parks. Add in a chorus of about a dozen sheep and two calves.

While his day job might be over, his work at home has just begun.

Martinez’s favorite horse to ride is the mustang, who is named Highway. Martinez rescued Highway from the side of the road. “His hooves were worn down so low from being dragged on the highway he couldn’t move. He was so sensitive,” Martinez said. His theory is that Highway fell off the truck of a wild-mustang wrangler who sells them for profit. Martinez thinks Highway was dragged and then left after his mother was taken.

Highway runs to Martinez with great whinnies when he pulls a trailer down the driveway with two other horses in tow.

Martinez retired in 2005 after 16 years as a magistrate judge and four years as a probate judge in Taos. After decades in court, he would have been more than justified to truly retire. But he operates his ranching business as a way to offer his family grass-fed beef and sheep to eat. And it’s in his blood.

Martinez hasn’t bowed out of the criminal justice industry entirely. The year of his retirement, he began working for Tony Madrid Bail Bonding and launched a side business — Erminio’s-EMTZ (electronic monitoring and tracking systems) — with his daughter, Amy Romero. This year, he secured a contract with the Eighth Judicial District Court to conduct GPS monitoring.

Martinez at 12,000 feet

Twenty of his cattle – the Greek-German breed Gelbvieh, used for good milking and in high altitudes – roam free in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness area. Thirty cattle are off U.S. 64 in Taos Canyon. In the winter, Martinez moves them to a lower altitude in Ojo Caliente to graze. On Aug. 16, Martinez saddled up two equines, a 10-year-old quarter horse named Red and a gentle 20-year-old quarter horse named Rusty, for a ride with this reporter. We traveled a 12-mile loop that he has known and traversed since he was a child. We set out to check on his cattle. He knew his herd would be at a pasture at about 12,000 feet.

The horses stepped carefully up the Bull of the Woods trail to Gold Hill. The decline on the return trip is challenging, following a creek down the mountain. The horses and the dogs seemed to know the way by heart, having come up this trail their entire lives. Red, the horse Martinez rides, was one he bred himself and raised after he helped birth it. Rusty was bought at auction as a colt.

In the pasture at the top, Taos Ski Valley towers behind us. The musty scent of cows wafts through the air. On 60,000 acres, the cattle are sometimes not easy to find.

“They’re here. I can smell them,” Martinez says in his heavy Spanish accent. Fresh cow dung and hoof prints are scattered across the valley.

“They are probably down in the trees,” he says. Through the pasture he stops, overlooking Goose Lake and what became the Columbine Hondo Wilderness in 2014, part of his Deer Creek grazing allotment.

“They couldn’t have done it without me,” Martinez proudly says of the wilderness designation. For years, he worked closely with stakeholders to help secure the Columbine Hondo Wilderness designation.


Martinez went to Washington, D.C., twice — sent by a group affiliated with the Wilderness Society, he says. The first time was in 2014 with a Mora County commissioner and the mayor of Questa. The second was this past June. “The point of the trips were to promote and encourage the congressional delegation to secure the Columbine Hondo Wilderness designation in the Deer Creek [grazing] Allotment and to show appreciation to the delegation for the Río Grande del Norte — and promote the Ute Mountain as wilderness,” he says.

Once land is designated as wilderness, nothing mechanical is allowed in it. Mining and timber harvesting are also prohibited.

“Every government needs to be educated at every level, especially our delegation — representatives and senators. They need to be informed as to what is going on in our communities and the concerns of their constituents,” Martinez says.

Meanwhile …

At the end of a 12-mile ride, Martinez answers his cell phone and arranges a cash pickup from a bail bond client’s fiancé.

He’s fiercely protective of his horses and likes the saddles and gear placed and removed just so. He removes the bridles, unbuckles the saddles and loads the horses into the trailer. The dogs follow and we head down the mountain to Arroyo Seco, where he meets the woman with the cash to bail out her fiancé.

The young woman smiles at the sight of him. He hands her a sandwich that he never ate on the ride. “Is this because I’m fat or because I’m pregnant?” she jokes.

“You just witnessed the love of a woman who is going to marry a criminal,” he says to me as he pulls his trailer out of the Taos Ski Valley parking lot where the ride began.

Martinez calls the jail and goes home to fax the paperwork.


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