Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Himself, c. 1930

My father would be 113 years old today.

He was born July 5, 1901, in what was then a vibrant Mississippi River railroad town, a transhipment point for crops and hogs and lumber and such from the vast "New Northwest" of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

He was a patriot. Being born on the 5th of July, the day after Independence Day, was always thought significant by his family. He was always considered an Independence Baby.

As he got older, he took up the patriotic cause. He signed up for service in a battalion that was never sent overseas in WWI. As the battalion's 17 year old second lieutenant, he drilled the troops around the town square and took them on bivouacs into the wilds of the Mississippi River islands. By the time his drills and the expeditions were completed, however, the war in Europe was over.

He was drafted for service in World War II.  By then he was a middle aged lawyer, though still quite enthusiastic to serve. He never went overseas. Instead, he was assigned to domestic Army Air Corps bases where he conducted investigations into problems and practices of training which he reported to his HQ at Wright Patterson Field in Ohio before being reassigned to the Office of Contract Settlement of the War Mobilization and Reconversion Office where he spent the rest of the War. He remained in the ready reserves until the end of the Korean Conflict, though he was never called for that one --
so far as I know.

As this is the anniversary of his birth, I did a little research, as I usually do, into his ancestors and their lives before and after they came to America. The Google is sometimes useful but often not when it comes to finding out about one's ancestors. I've tried many times to find out more over the years by plugging in the names of known ancestors only to be led on wild goose chases or coming up against a pay wall -- or coming up blank.

But this year, I encountered for the first time the obituary of my German great-grandfather, and a detailed biography (up to 1911 anyway) of my Irish-American grandfather that explained for the for the first time what had happened to his mother, and why his father was listed on Census rolls as married to someone else.

Transcription of my great-grandfather Reinhold's obituary: (I'll redact the last names merely because it's what I do...)

July 20, 1901: 
Reinhold S_______, an old and respected citizen of C__________, died at his home at 312 9th Avenue about four o'clock Friday afternoon after a long illness. Mr. S_________ lived in this city for a long time and was in the employ of the North Western Railroad continuously for 28 years.
He was born in Weibstadt, Germany, July 21, 1840. He came to this country in 1855 and settled [here] in 1861. In 1863, he married Miss Veronica C_________ . He is survived by his wife and seven children, four daughters, Mrs Anna K__________, Mrs. George F. S_________, Mrs. W. H. C________ (note: she my grandmother), and Miss Josephine at home; and three sons, Frank J., John W., and William P., all of this city. He also leaves one sister, Mrs. A. Dietz of Chicago. He was a member of the Roman Catholic Mutual Protective Association. Funeral services will be held at the German Catholic Church, Monday morning at 8 o'clock.

Brief, to be sure, but it tells me a lot that I didn't know. First, that his date of death was July 19, 1901, the Friday before the obit was published. It was two weeks to the day after my father's birth. I didn't know his address in town, and from what I'd been told, I thought he lived on the bluff above the river, not down by the river essentially next to the railyard. That house is no longer standing as the whole block has been taken up with a supermarket. I didn't know that he'd worked for the railroad itself for nearly 30 years, as I'd been told he was alternatively a carpenter or a banker. He may well have been a carpenter for the railroad, but no one in the family ever mentioned the railroad. I learned much later that his son John had been a banker, and that may have been where the story came from that Reinhold was a banker. I didn't know about his sister in Chicago. I'd been told he was a Roman Catholic converso born in Bavaria or "Germany" -- which didn't exist when he was born -- but I didn't know exactly where or when. I thought from some of the stories I heard that he was born in Frankfurt which was a free city before it was absorbed by Prussia. Weibstadt apparently is -- or rather was -- a village outside of Heidelberg; it has apparently since been absorbed by Heidelberg and no longer exists. Heidelberg is in Baden-Wurttemberg, not Bavaria, so the origin of the origin of the story of Reinhold being born in Frankfurt or Bavaria is something of a mystery. I may have confused stories about him with other German ancestors, or the stories I was told were... wrong.

I didn't know that he had emigrated to America when he was fifteen, in 1855. I had assumed he left Germany after the Revolutions of 1848 and that he was an adult when he left. I didn't know when he was born, however, and thought he was probably born about the same year as my other great-grandfather James, who I knew had been born in Ireland (though exactly where -- County Meath is hardly exact -- I still don't know) in 1833. The  information about James came from census records, but I could find very little about Reinhold in the census records I looked at.

Reinhold died at the age of 61, and I thought he was older. I have found very little information about his wife Veronica, though she was apparently German, born in 1840 as well, and died in 1918.

Their daughter Elizabeth Veronica was my grandmother. She married my grandfather, William Henry in 1899, and in 1901 had their second son, my father, Raymond J.

My father's father was a relatively prominent man in that part of Eastern Iowa, maintaining law offices with his brothers in two towns simultaneously and having lots and lots of children on poor-suffering Elizabeth Veronica. I never knew more than a few of these people -- my grandparents were deceased long before I was born -- so I only heard stories about most of them, and most of those stories were incomplete or, as I would come to find out about the "ancient ancestors", inaccurate. As in... Blarney.

So, when I come upon stories in print/online that I hadn't known before, as I did yesterday, it's with more than a little interest.

This is an excerpt of a story about my grandfather published in the County History in 1911.
"Through struggle to triumph'' seems to be the maxim which holds sway for the majority of our citizens, and. though it is undoubtedly true that many fall exhausted in the conflict, a few, by their inherent force of character and strong mentality, rise above their environment and all which seems to hinder them, until they reach the plane of influence toward which their faces were set through the long years of struggle that must necessarily precede any accomplishment of great magnitude. Such has been the history of William H., one of the most popular attorneys of [this] county and one of her most public spirited and honored citizens.
Mr. C_____ was born ... April 16, 1869. He is the son of James and Alice (O'Brian) C______. The father was for a number of years a prosperous farmer...  He is now living retired in the city and is highly respected by a wide circle of friends and accquaintances. His wife passed to her rest on October 17, 1870.
William H.  grew up on a farm ... and attended the rural schools, and he was graduated from the Dixon Normal School in 1888, receiving an excellent education. He began teaching in Scott County, also continued to teach after coming to [this] county, having been principal...for a period of one year, giving the greatest satisfaction to both pupil and patron, being both an instructor and an entertainer in the school room. Had he continued teaching he would doubtless have become long ere this one of the notable educators of the state, but believing that the legal field held especial inducements for him, he entered the law department of the State University of Iowa in 1892, where he made a splendid record and from which institution he was graduated in 1894.
He soon afterward entered the law office of his brother, [Alexander], in [this city], and has remained in the same office until the present time....  As a trial lawyer he has few equals and no superiors, and he is always a very busy man, his services being in great demand at all times. Owing to his ability and his interest in public matters, he was soon singled out for offices of trust and for the past six years he has filled to his own credit and to the satisfaction of all concerned the office of assistant county attorney. ...Fraternallv, [he] belongs to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Knights of Columbus, being a charter member of the latter and is past grand knight. He is also a member of Sheridan Club.
Among the many things I learned from this bio was that his mother, Alice O'Brian (alternatively spelled O'Brien), died in 1870, when William H.  was barely one year old. This helps explain why James's wife is sometimes named "Margaret" in subsequent census records I've seen. Sometimes she's not mentioned at all, and in one record, Margaret claims that James has died, though the census worker found him quite alive a few doors down the street and made note of it in her book. I guess James and Margaret didn't always get along, hm? But you know what? Until I saw the census records, I never knew "Margaret" existed at all.

I also learned that my grandfather had been a teacher, something I didn't know previously, and that he had even been a principal for a time. He would have been 19 in 1888 when he graduated from the (quite rural) normal school, and he started law school in 1892 when he was 23, graduating in 1894, when he was 25. Quite an accomplishment given what are said to be the rigors of legal educations today. I didn't know that he served as assistant county attorney, though I knew he was prominent in Democratic Party politics, something that isn't mentioned in this bio. I knew he was a Knight of Columbus but not that he was an Elk or a member of the Sheridan Club (not sure quite what that is come to think of it... does it have something to do with General Sheridan? Dunno.)

Stories of ancestors were limited when I was young, partly because the dead tell no tales. A good deal of what I was told was simple fabrication, too. Sorting it out has not been easy, as it has never been easy to find records. I'm not sure the ones I've found recently are particularly reliable in any case. The living do tell tales, and not all of them are true.


Cheers, Dad!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How The Past Trembles in the Hands of Historians

Union Traction Company service map, Indianapolis to Muncie, c. 1910. (Clickage will make the image larger)

He was my mother's father, her natural father. She knew that he had died in Indianapolis when she was very young, died "in a streetcar accident," but didn't know the details until much later. She found out some of it from her mother, but she would find out most of the story from a half-brother she learned about when she was an adult -- but whom didn't meet until I was about 7 or 8 years old and she was well into middle age.

She found her half-brother when we were living in Los Angeles. He was living not very far away in San Dimas and came to visit. I remember one visit quite clearly and he may have come by several other times that I don't remember as well. His name was Frank King; his father's name -- my mother's father, too -- was Frank Olive. He said he'd taken a different name partly because of what had happened in Indianapolis. It wasn't his step-father's name, it was a name he had chosen himself. How my mother had found him, I don't recall in any detail, but it had something to do with military records and I remember she had been calling anyone with the same name she found in those records for years.

Frank Olive was a streetcar conductor for the Indianapolis interurban transit company, and he was also a union organizer who had had an increasingly important role in all the strikes that had hit the system since the early 19-teens. He was well-known to the company as an agitator and a troublemaker. He died on the job, yes, but it wasn't an accident (and he didn't die in one of the riots). After one of the strikes was settled, I believe it was around 1915 though the date was always a bit hazy in my mind, so it may have been earlier or a bit later, he was told that there was something hanging off the front of his car, and to go get it before he began his run. When he got to the front of the car, another conductor or motorman started the car moving forward and it struck the car ahead, crushing Frank between them, killing him. Everyone knew what had happened. He had been murdered in a way that made it look like a careless accident. As were a number of strikers and strike leaders who went back on the job that year.

His funeral was huge, apparently, and at that funeral, Frank's widow, my mother's mother, found out about his other widow, Frank King's mother. Oh. Yes, Frank had two wives who lived at opposite ends of the interurban line, in this case, one household in Indianapolis and one in Marion. Apparently the discovery was quite the scandal at the time. One of Frank's close friends at the transit company took it upon himself to marry my mother's mother quite soon after Frank's demise, and thus make her an honest woman again. He had been fired from the transit company due to the most recent strike, and figured it was the perfect time to move out to California and start over, which they did. He ran Flying A filling stations and sold Dodge cars on the Central Coast, then retired around 1940 and bought a motor court up in Willits where my mother's mother died not long after, and he passed within a few months of her death (or maybe the sequence was the other way around... I wasn't there, and my mother was always pretty anguished about it).

Frank King's mother also remarried fairly soon after her Frank Olive's death, but they stayed in Marion. Frank King moved out to California on his own after WWII. My mother didn't know about them at all until she was well into her twenties, and she said she was shocked when she found out her natural father was a bigamist who had another household and family. When she learned about her father's union activities and the strikes and the violence that went with them, and how her father had actually died, she was horrified. She had no idea it was like that, she said. But she developed a greater (albeit grudging) respect for him. She said she got a much greater understanding of why she herself felt the need to stand up for the downtrodden, to fight for her own rights, and to try to change bad situations she or others found themselves in -- though that didn't always include her own relations.

I didn't realize until much later myself how pivotal the Indianapolis transit strikes had been -- I hadn't even heard of them at all before my mother's half-brother told the stories to us at our house in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Much of labor history in this country has been suppressed or forgotten, just as civil rights history has been. We may have romantic notions of what happened and believe in stories and myths of "heroic struggles," but have no idea at all of what really happened. The Indianapolis and other transit strikes were essentially disappeared from history, just as so much of civil rights history was disappeared.

An example was just last night on PBS. We were watching the "1964" program -- it was a pretty big year for both of Ms Ché and me, after all. That was the year Ms saw the Beatles at the Cow Palace, and one doesn't forget things like that, and I was mesmerized by the Civil Rights marches and Free Speech Movement in Berkeley -- and for the most part, it seemed the program was pretty good. It tried to show how events were linked together and not just discreet incidents, the way so much "history" is presented. The premise was essentially: "Everything changed on November 22, 1963, and the '60s as we remember them really began in 1964." True enough. I've been saying pretty much that for years and scholars have been making the same point though somewhat less stridently than people like me. But it was odd how much was missing -- and who was missing -- from this program. One huge absence really stuck out to me (for reasons I may get into another time). Stokely Carmichael was never mentioned. Huh? Whut the...?  He appeared in a picture or two of civil rights events, and SNCC was mentioned briefly, but his name was never breathed.  I could not believe it. You cannot have a history of the Civil Rights Movement, even in 1964, without Stokely Carmichael -- but apparently he's been disappeared, as if he were a Soviet dissident.

Todd Gitlin was all over the place last night being interviewed about this and that, his title changing depending on the topic, but what he was doing in 1964 and where he was was never mentioned; it was implied he was at Berkeley in 1964 and had some role in the the Free Speech Movement, but so far as I know he wasn't there. He was at Harvard (or maybe Columbia, he moved around a lot back east) -- and he was running the SDS (which also was never mentioned.)  There was some well-coifed and manicured woman  (wish I could remember her name [looked it up, it was Stephanie Coontz, listed as a "Berkeley student," which I guess she was in 1964]) describing FSM events accurately enough but with little seeming interest, though she claimed she was part of the struggle, and "stood up and walked out of" [Sproul Hall] (though the iconic name of the administration building at UC Berkeley was never used) rather than being dragged down the stairs as so many were, and I thought it would have been more interesting if they'd had Alice Waters yakking "spiritually" about it instead. She may not have complete memories, but they're both more fun and more personal.

Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that what we think we know about historical movements and events is definitely not the whole story, and in many cases, it's not even close to what was really going on. It's often a highly romanticized and cleansed version that leaves out many important aspects and people, and which declares "X" result, when the result was actually "Y". Or the result might have been something else altogether.

The Indianapolis and other transit strikes in the early 19-teens were pivotal in part because though they were declared to be settled in favor of the workers, they were failures, despite the huge number of people participating and supporting them. They literally brought the city and a good deal of transport in the region and the country to a halt, and though the official violence which was brought to bear against the strikers -- and the many murders that occurred as a result -- were widely condemned, the strikers did not win much of anything despite their enormous sacrifices. This was the pattern of the labor movement of the time. While discreet incidents may be recalled, and minor victories celebrated, the pattern of failures leading to tiny advances often isn't. I've read transcripts of the investigation into the conditions that led to the Indianapolis transit strikes, and it was horrible. It didn't get much better, despite the struggles, not until after World War I, and even then, victories were reversible. My grandfather lost his life in the struggle, but for what? A noble sacrifice? Maybe. But he was a flawed human being, and so, like the largely failed strikes themselves, largely forgotten.

1964 was a pivotal year for the American consciousness, but even as close as we are to it now, only fifty years on, it appears that key people and important events are being disappeared and whitewashed for some purpose, perhaps to enhance an official mythology, to simplify the record, to glorify certain aspects, diminish others -- on behalf of...? Well, that's the question, isn't it? Always the question. What are we being led to believe? On whose behalf? Or on behalf of what objective?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


New Mexico landscapes have served as settings for innumerable movies and television shows for many years and they continue to do so today. Often when we go into town, we encounter some crew setting up for some movie or show, and even out in some parts of the country we've seen movie location crews hard at work. There's a very active native film and television community -- local people who work in the business and who make their own movies and videos as well.

Up in Santa Fe and Taos, of course, there have long been film-people colonies. Greer Garson was one of the first movie stars I associated with New Mexico, but there are many, many more. Some have ranches, some carry on in their urban/suburban compounds, some even make movies in New Mexico. It lends a superficial glamour to the place quite apart from the artist community which has its own sense of glamour.

Our place is in the unglamorous central region of New Mexico. This is such an unglamorous area that is typically ignored altogether when mention is made of New Mexico in the travel and tourist press, in the Tamalewood listings (Abq is known as "Tamalewood" by some of the film folk), and often enough, it's ignored even by locals. You could think of it as New Mexico's Empty Quarter. Not many people live in the area, something like 15,000 or so in the entire county. It's not the smallest population county in NM, but close to it.

Nevertheless, we live in a pioneer ranch house, one of the first, if not the first, Anglo houses built in these parts, the original wing dating to about 1900. Ironically, we were told that Toney Anaya grew up in this house -- I don't believe it, and I've never had the chance to ask him directly -- which somehow doesn't seem to fit his Hispanic heritage at all. This house is a very Anglo adobe. The Anaya Ranch is not far away, to be sure, and there are plenty of Anayas in the area (Toney himself lives in Santa Fe these days), but I've been unable to make a connection between this house and the former New Mexico governor. (To be clear, I don't know Toney Anaya, though I have met him. His family is an institution in New Mexico.)

Neighbors know nothing about it. Typical.

Given how early non-Indian settlement started in New Mexico -- Coronado's exploits in the 1540s, Onate's in the 1590's, Santa Fe itself founded adjacent to an Indian pueblo in 1610, Albuquerque in 1706, etc. -- and given the fact that there are pueblo ruins all around this area, from Galisteo in the north, Pecos in the east, Abo and Grand Quivira to the south, and numerous pueblos in the mountains to the west, the literal absence of people in this area during the 19th century when New Mexico became part of the United States is striking.

I shouldn't say complete absence, because there were a few people in these parts through most of the 19th century, though they were very widely scattered and were seemingly quite isolated from the Rio Grande communities. Communications weren't impossible. There are rather easily managed passes over or through or around the central mountain chain to the Rio Grande Valley, and the route to Santa Fe from here is no great challenge.

The isolation was mostly, I think, due to the fact that this is very different country, geologically, environmentally, and in nearly every other way than either the foothills of the Sangres where Santa Fe is situated, or the broad expanse of the Rio Grande Rift where the silvery river flows and cities, farms and ranches spread out against the dramatic backdrop of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains.

I'm just getting to know about the Rio Grande Rift, one of the true geological wonders of the United States (and part of Mexico) -- or it would be if anyone were paying attention. When you first encounter it, it is breathtaking. But you don't necessarily know what you have encountered. It seems strange to think that that tiny silver river, shallow, lazy and sometimes nearly gone, carved a 40 mile wide valley extending from the western mesas to the Sandias and Manzanos on the east. Well, it didn't.

The Rio Grande Valley is a rift zone, where the land is being pulled apart by forces from below, well below, and its spread of forty or more miles is the consequence of the uplift and extension caused by rising magma from the interior. There are volcanoes on the western margin of this rift, some active fairly recently, and one, the Valles Caldera, an explosive monster that rivals the Yellowstone Caldera.

In the far west, residents of Albuquerque can see Mt. Taylor, a sacred mountain to the Navajo and other Native peoples, which is a huge stratovolcano, its top blown off long ago. Not far from Mt Taylor is El Malpais, a flood volcanic region that goes on for miles.

Once you realize that the Rio Grande Valley is actually a rent in the fabric of the land and not (for the most part) a feature carved by flowing water, the implications of what we see today are quite profound.

The Rio Grande Rift is comparable to the East Africa Rift, one of the most striking geological features on the globe. Dramatic as it is, particularly around Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Rift is not quite as obvious as the East Africa Rift, however, in part because so much of it is filled in with miles deep layers of debris washed off the mountains. There is a layer of light-colored limestone at the top of the Sandias, for example, now at an elevation of some 11,000 feet. That same layer of limestone is found some 8,000 feet below the current level of the Rio Grande River. The mountains rose, while the valley fell, leaving a vertical span of nearly five miles between sections of what was once a flat layer of limestone laid down at the bottom of a broad shallow sea that once covered the interior of the continent. Fascinating.

The Rio Grande Rift borders the Colorado Plateau on the west; eastward of the mountains, the central portion of the Continental Plate gradually descends and flattens into the Central Plains, once known as the Great American Desert. Traveling east on the Interstate, the change in altitude and the flattening of the horizons becomes very apparent as does the change from mountain and forest to grasslands and plains.

Our place is in an area that is something of an introduction to the plains landscapes further east. It looks very much like the plains of Texas or Oklahoma or Kansas or Nebraska or what have you, but the elevation is still quite high (6,200 feet), about 1,000 feet higher and Albuquerque and 1,000 feet lower than Santa Fe.

We have pretty spectacular mountains on the north and west, somewhat less spectacular peaks on the east and south. It is very clear we live in a valley. What's not so clear is that this valley was once a huge mountain lake that dried up not that long ago; in fact, remnants of it are still apparent to the south and east as Las Salinas, the small salt lakes that have been mined for centuries.

When people first came to this area, perhaps 20,000 years ago or more, the lake was apparently at its full extent. The lake level rose and fell many times over the next several thousand years as water drained from beneath it to the south while fresh water flowed into it mostly from the slopes of the mountains to the west.

Exactly when the lake almost completely disappeared -- and why -- is not fully understood, though consensus seems to gravitate to the notion of climate change at the end of the last ice age significantly reduced rainfall, leading to much reduced runoff from the mountains, leading to much more rapid evaporation from the surface of the lake, while tectonic forces from below opened channels beneath the lake for water to drain to the south as if from a bathtub. By the time the native pueblos were first being established, perhaps 1,300 years ago, the lake was gone or nearly so, with only the salt pan remnants in the east of the valley pretty much as they are found today.

But I wonder. All of the main pueblos were established on the west margin of what was once the lake. Some were established well above the highest lake level, others were close to the shoreline of the supposedly absent lake, while much later, it is thought, one small or perhaps a few tiny pueblos were established near lakebed springs after the lake disappeared.

The "near shoreline" pueblos were the only ones that lasted after the arrival of the Spanish. They are now all abandoned and in ruins, but they were occupied until the 1670's -- just a few years before the Pueblo
Revolt -- and some pueblos to the north were reoccupied for a time after the Pueblo Revolt, finally being abandoned in the 1740's or even later.

The abandonment of the pueblos in the 1670's was due to drought and starvation. The abandonment after the reoccupation of some of the northern pueblos was due to raiding by Plains Indians and population decline due to disease.

By the time this area became part of the United States (at one time, it was claimed by Texas), there were only Plains Indians who had no fixed settlements in the area (though they used some of the abandoned pueblos for shelter from time to time), and a very few Spanish cattle and sheep ranches.

There were a number of competing Spanish land claims in this area to be sorted out by the Anglo land commissioners charged with certifying Spanish land grants -- or stealing the land from the Spanish claimants if that seemed feasible, which it so conveniently often was.

This area, however, was mostly closed to Anglo settlement due to the competing land claims by both Spanish grantees and some Anglos who purchased grants from them. There were a few Anglo squatters, but not many.

The claims were eventually settled by denying all of them and opening the whole area to homesteading and settlement in 1900. The railroad came through promptly thereafter, opening stations all along the new line from the Santa Fe tracks in the south to Lamy in the north starting in 1903.

I've counted about 8 original adobe houses relatively near our place. Ours may not be the oldest, though some neighbors say it is. I suspect one about half a mile away is older, but not by much, though I haven't asked the people who live there, and even if I did, they might not know.

The railroad ceased operations and the tracks were torn up many years ago -- I believe it was in the 1940s 1970's -- but it's still easy to trace the line of the tracks when time was. The town site that once existed here is pretty much gone, though. The depot has been restored, and one of the warehouses is still standing and there are maybe two or three of the original town buildings still existing -- though they are abandoned. Most of what once formed the town, however, has long since been demolished or burned down. There is almost no sign there ever was a town as such there. There are a number of other townsites along the former railroad line that are just as nearly-not-there -- if not more so.

Our place was originally not in town, but it was not far out of town, either. It was an easy walk or buggy-ride to the depot and the shops in town, less than a mile. I've found some artifacts on the property from that era, though surprisingly few. Some time in the 1950's or early 60's, the ranch that this house had been the center of was broken up and subdivided into residential lots, streets were laid out, graded and paved and suburban houses were built. Our house is now in pretty much the center of a familiar seeming suburban residential district. Well, except it's out in the country, surrounded by range land. There is a "new town" a couple of miles away that was first established when Route 66 was realigned in the 1930's, but there really isn't much from that era still standing (again, much of what once was there burned down or was demolished.) A "new-new town" was then built to service the Interstate which was run parallel to Route 66. There are two truck stops on the Interstate, soon to be three.

It's not remotely glamorous; it's the opposite. It's dusty, gritty, and real.

But there are stories here, oh my are there stories!

The King and the Anaya families are legendary in the area and in New Mexico for that matter, but there are other area ranching families that have a growing reputation and who may become legends in the near future. Cowboying and ranching is a way of life out here, and like everything else, there is nothing glamourous about it. It's hard and sometimes crippling work. Some of the ranches are being turned into... civilian, school kid or tourist destinations of one sort or another. There is one ranch up the road to Santa
Fe that was intended as a movie ranch, or at least that is what I was told, but for years now it's been idle because its owner is in jail, or so they say. That story is murky at best.

Much to learn, very much.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Annual Green Day Post

[This is crunch month for me, so posting is liable to be infrequent at least until September ends. Here's Green Day to lighten the mood... er...]

Ah, I can't just leave it at that, so here's Walter Huston's definitive version of Kurt Weill's and Maxwell Anderson's "September Song."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lost Civilization

Percival Lowell's view of the Solis Lacus region of Mars, c. 1896
Telescopic view of the same region from 2005 by D. Peach, Bucks, UK
Note: At just about the limit of visibility, many people will see straight lines
on the surface of the telescopic images that strongly evoke the Lowellian canals.
It's not an optical illusion, as these lines are visible in all three telescopic images.
What they actually are and what causes them to appear is a mystery.

Like many youths, I was something of a science fiction fan during those awkward pre-teen and early-teen years, but I particularly enjoyed science fiction movies and television shows from the 1950s and early 60s both for their utter cheesiness and for their often very strong message of civilization's self-destruction. Who can forget "Science Fiction Theater," "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet," (on ViewMaster no less!) and the early "Twilight Zone?" There was much more than that.

Science fiction at the time could almost always be relied on to be a bracing counterpoint to the kind of hyper-American patriotism young people were being indoctrinated into every day of their lives.

I've mentioned Disneyland a few times in reference to my youth and the more recent events in Anaheim. I was a pretty frequent visitor from soon after the park opened until we left Southern California in 1959. Two of my favorite attractions were the Rocket to the Moon and the House of the Future both in Tomorrowland. The notion of a Future of Unlimited Possibilities was the American cultural counterpoint to the constant drumbeat of nuclear holocaust -- a holocaust that would destroy any hope of "civilization" forever.

Mars figured heavily in the science fiction of the era, as it had for generations, at least since the advent of the Martian Canals that later observers would insist were nothing but illusions -- as they pointed to spacecraft images of the surface of the planet that showed.... something like canals. Forbidden Planet -- a take-off on Shakespeare's The Tempest -- was set on a planet that resembled Mars, Angry Red Planet, Flight to Mars, Red Planet Mars, were just some of the pictures released in the 1950's that dealt with the Mars of imagination, sometimes touching on the fundamental Lowellian notion of a "Dying Civilization."

Of course Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury, among many other authors, would pick up on and elaborate the themes of rough going civilizations facing extinction, many of which were set on Mars or on a planet like Mars, but perhaps the most influential take on the Dying Civilization of Mars trope was that of H. G. Wells' brilliant "War of the Worlds," from 1898. 

Of course I saw the 1953 movie. In the theater. I was too young to understand it, but still it made a tremendous impression on me, especially the scenes of the destruction of Los Angeles. Given the constantly whipped up fear of Soviet attack during the era, such scenes were terrifying and too true to life.

Many years would pass before I read the novel and comprehended what Wells was getting at by positing the invasion of London by Martians and their essentially casual destruction of everything the British held dear. It was an allegory of the British Imperial behavior toward Natives everywhere, but at the time particularly in Africa. They arrived, they destroyed. It was quite the counterpoint -- and in some ways a complement -- to Kipling.

Be that as it may, the notion that Mars either has hosted or currently hosts an alien civilization -- whether dying or not -- is strong among the Planetary Anomalist community. It remained strong even after the the iconic Face on Mars was rather cruelly debunked. I say "cruelly" because there are so many claimed artifacts on Mars and supposed evidence of Civilization, some of which is faked, but there are so many real anomalies as well. The Face, while perhaps not being carved into the landscape by Martian artisans, is most definitely worth further study -- as is the case with the rest of the mesas and buttes in the Cydonia region -- because how it formed is not understood at all, and how the rest of the formations in Cydonia came to be the way they are is a mystery.

Planetary scientists do not know very much about how Mars "works" -- or if they do, they're not saying.

Interestingly, after 36 years of rigorous official denials that Viking Landers found evidence of biology at the surface in 1976, there have been some recent studies that suggest the early denials were in error. Yes, well, that would be typical of Mars study. Error is the rule in Mars study, no matter who is doing it, nor how rigorously they deny their own error! (Lowell comes to mind as setting the standard for that behavior.)

Given the way Mars has been studied, especially since the early space craft exploration era, it would be almost impossible to recognize the presence of a Lost Civilization on Mars if it ever existed. After decades of exploration and investigation, after all, there still no definitive conclusion regarding the presence -- or absence -- of biology on Mars. Many of the investigations that might support or refute hypotheses about biology on Mars are not done. It's as if, perhaps, the planetary science community doesn't want to know one way or another but only wants to extend the study indefinitely.

Some of the Anomalists -- and a few planetary scientists such as Gil Levin -- claim cover-up and worse, but I suspect it's not that. Science, especially the planetary sciences, often works on the Big Man principle, and progress in understanding is often a matter of the prominence and position of those who hypothesize and theorize, not necessarily a matter of skilled and insightful observation and coherent presentation. It's human nature, especially in institutional settings. Politics, in other words, always plays an important role in "what we know." Who is making a claim and in what venue matters.

It's Civilized!

The fact that the study continues, now in Gale Crater with Curiosity, but it cannot be conclusive about Martian biology -- if there is or was any -- or anything else for that matter, is no doubt deliberate, but not necessarily conscious. Gale is thought to have been a lake at one time,  just as Gusev was (the site of the Spirit Rover landing not far away). At the present time, however, Gale is dessicated and dry -- just as Gusev is -- and there is unlikely to be any evidence of recent water or other fluid on the surface; there is unlikely to be any evidence of biology either, at least none that could be recognized without endless dispute. The Opportunity Lander possibly imaged fossils at its landing site in Meridiani, but those images have never been accepted as definitive nor could they be because of the nature of the study itself.

Landing at a site known to be dessicated and dry -- such as anywhere near the Mars equator -- will be unlikely to show any evidence of recent fluid flow or biological activity. On the other hand, a few years ago, a lander plopped down at the margin of the northern polar region, landing on a patch of ice no less, and it appears that fluid droplets were promptly imaged on the landing struts. They remained for many days, but in most of the images released by the Phoenix Mission, the presence of those droplets was either ignored or consciously cut out.

Mars Water -- droplets deposited on Phoenix lander strut, 2008
It became something of a running gag among lay observers that the evidence of water at the surface of Mars that for so long had been sought so eagerly was right there in front of the investigators but it was being ignored. The problem was actually more complex. The droplets were on a landing strut that there was no way to get to for experimental purposes, just as the ice upon which the Phoenix landed could not be directly probed because there was no equipment that could reach it.

A problem with the drops on the Phoenix lander also theoretical. For decades, it has been conventional wisdom that there cannot be liquid water on the surface of Mars, period. Any liquid water at the surface would almost immediately freeze or sublimate/evaporate, because temperatures and atmospheric pressures are too low to sustain liquid water at the surface. This conventional wisdom has been challenged for years, but it has been treated as Iron Law in the planetary science community because -- as Carl Sagan was often wont to say -- "calculations show" that liquid water can't exist at the surface of Mars for more than a few minutes, which was extended to mean that it can't exist at all.

The droplets which you see in the pictures above are not only obviously there, they lasted for many days, and from those three images, it's clear that they are growing, moving and changing over the course of several days. This is, according to the Iron Law of Conventional Wisdom "unpossible." It can't be happening. (At the same time, of course, NASA and JPL and Malin Space Science Systems have routinely announced evidence of current surface water flows when presenting images of recent gullies.)

The article that's linked, however, describes means and mechanisms that make such an "unpossible" thing not only possible but likely, indeed certain to have occurred.

IMNSHO, biology is possible on Mars, and evidence for its active presence was likely found by the Viking Landers in 1976. That evidence was misinterpreted, I suspect to some extent maliciously. There has never been any follow up to the hypotheses that were presented to explain the conflicting results from the Vikings -- which is one of the reasons why I suspect that those involved in the furor actually understood the data to indicate biology rather than "exotic chemistry."

There is most certainly fluid at the surface of Mars, and there is much fluid underground, but how much of it is "water" in the sense we would understand it is an open question. I suspect there is very little pure liquid water anywhere on Mars.  More than likely, almost all liquid water on Mars is in the form of very salty brines, or -- as I came to realize Opportunity Mission in Meridiani -- actually dilute (in some cases concentrated) sulfuric acid. I suspect there has never been an actual "water regime" on Mars, and the images of an Ancient Watery Mars we sometimes see are as much fantasy as any Lost Civilization idea from science fiction literature.

It is highly unlikely that there has ever been any kind of civilization on Mars, not so much because it is "unpossible" as it is because the emerging understanding of the history of Mars will demonstrate there's never been an opportunity for a civilization to develop or become established, in part because of the continuing chaos of the Martian environment.

Despite terrestrial tribulations nowadays, the Earth has been a calm refuge by comparison.

If I continue with this Mars series, I may get into some of that "emerging understanding of the history of Mars.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Slavery Time and Other Things in the Land of Enchantment

Some time back, I wrote a post about a talk I attended at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe on the topic of slavery in New Mexico. Most of the people there, like me, had no idea there was institutionalized slavery in New Mexico, though in hearing about it, many seemed to think it wasn't all that outrageous.

But before I (finally) left California for this trip to New Mexico, I was chatting with a neighbor in California who told me that his father was born in New Mexico and his mother was born in southern Colorado. I asked him where in New Mexico his father had been born, and he said it was a little town out in the middle of nowhere that doesn't exist anymore. It's just a collection of adobe ruins melting back into the earth... I told him I was well aware of all the ruins in New Mexico; they're part of the landscape. I asked him again the name of the town, and he said it as if it were an Indian name: "Oh-ka-teh."

I thought that was interesting. I'd never heard of anyplace in New Mexico called that, and I asked him where in New Mexico it was, and he said he didn't know. All he knew was the name and that the land round about had been owned by "one of those rich guys" who decided to use it for grazing, so everybody left. Nobody lived there anymore and it wasn't even on the maps these days.

Now this neighbor is well up into his seventies, probably getting close to 80, and he's been in California since 1941 he said. He was born in Colorado but came out to California when he was a teenager, joined the military and never looked back. He said he didn't know the location of "Oh-ka-teh" because it was no longer there. Like any number of other places in New Mexico.

But I got to thinking... what if it is "Oh-kah-tay?" That town I thought I had heard of, but I could not for the life of me pin point how or why. So I fired up the Google Machine and what do you know:


Ocate is a populated place located in Mora County at latitude 36.176 and longitude -105.048. Ocate local area photos.

The elevation is 7,208 feet. Ocate appears on the Ocate U.S. Geological Survey Map. Mora County is in the Mountain Time Zone (UTC -7 hours).

And there is a streetview in Google Maps:

Ocate NM looking southwest on Highway 120
Octate, NM looking southwest at the junction with Highway 442

Well. It turns out Ocate isn't entirely uninhabited. I found at least two or possibly three inhabited structures in while cruising the virtual highways via Google Maps, but yes, it is mostly abandoned, and parts of it are falling into ruin -- like so many other places in New Mexico.

I've never been up there, but the land looks very familiar, oh yes, and so do the scattered buildings and the incipient ruins. It is what you find in rural New Mexico. After a while, it stops being a surprise. New Mexico has one of the smallest populations of any state, and efforts to settle here have proved difficult for thousands of years.

When a Hopi woman was asked why the Anasazi (among her ancestors) abandoned Chaco Canyon, she is reputed to have said, "The elders said it was time to leave." And that was that.

So it appears to have been for Ocate.

Still, the name kept rattling around in my brain. Why was it so familar?

And then Teh Google turned up this:

Romero, Rosario

By Any Other Name: A Story of Slavery and Her Legacy

By Estevan Rael-Galvez

In Ocate, New Mexico, sometime between 1910 and the late 1920s, a young girl named Dora Ortiz often visited with an old woman known as Rosario Romero. During those visits, she listened carefully as Rosario’s stories drew Dora in as close as whisper. For Dora, Rosario may have seemed like the oldest woman in the world, with a memory as long as her wisdom was deep. She was, after all, believed then to have been well over a hundred years old. Ma-Ya-Yo was what Dora called the old woman, for she was like a grandmother to her. Although she had held the name Rosario for decades, she still remembered her first name, Ated-bah-Hozhoni, Happy Girl, a prophetic gift perhaps given with quiet ritual and intention. Her Diné name was one of the last vestiges that revealed from where she had come and who she once was. Although that name may have sounded to her like beauty and loss all wrapped together, it was a name that told her that she was once a happy girl.

In a story where indigenous names and origins were almost always irrevocably lost, this exception is significant. Rosario’s life was part of an old story in villages throughout New Mexico, a story whose telling was perhaps not meant to be passed on. It was after all, a history that had been quieted over the years by whispers as much as by silence, hushed aside even by those who have inherited the story—carrying, as it is, if not its geography in their faces and hands, certainly its memory in an aching consciousness—unknown perhaps, but still there. It is the story of American Indian slavery, an institution that while perhaps obscured, certainly existed and through it, thousands of individual lives passed.

[There's much more at the link and a wonderful picture of Ated-bah-Hozhoni (Rosario Romero)]

Of course. That's why it was familiar. This was one of the stories told at the talk I attended in Santa Fe. Rosario Romero was a Navajo slave captured probably during the American military campaigns against the Navajo and sold into slavery with her infant daughter (who was actually sold to a different buyer) in Northern New Mexico. Padre Martínez, Cura de Taos was her buyer, and apparently when he realized her despair at losing her daughter to another buyer, he arranged to purchase the girl and return her to her mother's care.

It is thought that Rosario was captured in the early 1860s, likely 1861, the year of the start of the American Civil War, a war conducted supposedly to end slavery. According to the account linked above, Rosario watched from hiding as her husband, her father, and her two sons were killed before her eyes, and then she was captured with her daughter and placed among the other Navajo captives in what amounted to a slave coffle somewhere in Navajo Country to the west of Taos. She and the others were then brought and sold into the slave trade at Taos.

Her owner in Taos, Padre Martinez, was quite a character, a Catholic priest of the New Mexico tradition, which meant he fathered children and worked many wonders on behalf of the people. It is how things were in this isolated frontier outpost, Nuevo Mexico regardless of which flag flew over the plaza.

Rosario ran away three times but was always recaptured and eventually she resigned herself to her fate as slave to Padre Martinez and then to his son George Romero. At the talk in Santa Fe it was pointed out that Indian slavery in New Mexico was not precisely the same thing as Negro chattel slavery in the American South. For one thing, enslavement of the Indians by the Spanish had been specifically prohibited  by the Spanish crown from very early days. Of course, the crown couldn't do anything to stop it, but still... On the other hand, the Indians of New Mexico had a long tradition of slave raiding particularly of the Plains Tribes, and those tribes likewise raided the Pueblos for slaves. It was not uncommon for slaves held in one tribe to be redeemed by another. After the American conquest, Anglo missionaries also went about redeeming slaves.

It was said that Indian slaves in New Mexico literally became part of the family of their owners, and for all intents and purposes, there was no social or physical distinction between them and anyone else of their social class -- which was, of course, that mysterious and exotic class below peon.

And yet Rosario Romero became an honored elder, regarded as a family grandmother in Ocate.

For someone at the bottom of the social ladder, she certainly was held in great esteem. (Yes, well, so was Mammy in "Gone With the Wind," so let's not get carried away.)

It is rumored that there were slaves held by some of New Mexico's prominent -- and not so prominent -- families until well into the 1940's, and there may still be slaves held today, though if there are, they would be very old, wouldn't you think?

So Ocate was not a simple little farming town out in the middle of nowhere at all. The offspring of Padre Martinez of Taos brought at least one slave, the Navajo captive called Rosario Romero, out to Ocate as early as 1867, there to serve in his household until she died in 1930.

Abe, my neighbor in California mentioned above is the son of a man whose name I don't know who was born in Ocate, NM sometime in the early 1900's or late 1800's (if dates of my father's birth and that of his siblings are any indication. Abe is older than me, but not that much older, and my siblings, if they were still alive, would be in their late seventies or early eighties now...)  Ocate had quite a complex history after the American conquest in any case, not unlike that of the area where I am right now. The area was granted by Governor Armijo to Manuel Alvarez in 1837. Alvarez never actually occupied the Grant, but claims by Alvarez and his descendants continued to be made until the matter was finally settled on behalf of homesteaders in 1893. How Padre Martinez's son George Romero came to Ocate in 1867 is, like so much else in New Mexico, something of a mystery.

Nevertheless and so on and so forth.

In the squabbles over the land, the fate of individuals like Rosario Romero can easily be overlooked, but the struggles over proper ownership of the land in New Mexico have never really ended. The land (and water) struggles are never ending, but the stories of slavery time in New Mexico are still largely unheard and unknown. It is a very uncomfortable story for many New Mexicans.

Then there is the story of the Crypto-Jews. Oh yes, many of New Mexico's prominent Spanish families are of Jewish ancestry, and the stories are told that despite their outward Catholicism, some of them still practice Jewish rituals of faith. It was always known but rarely mentioned. Like so many other things...

And then there is Joanne Bodin's novel "Walking Fish." 

I've only just scratched the surface of New Mexico characters and history.

Here in New Mexico

The Road to Santa Fe
Yes, I finally made it, weeks late, and I can only stay until July 4th when I have to scoot back to California. Then plans are under way for another expedition to NM in August, then back to California, then the Big Move sometime before the end of September. Of course, we've been moving bit by bit for the last several years.

Meanwhile, the effects of the continuing drought in NM are obvious. Drought and not-so-dry periods alternate around here, but droughts can go on for a very long time, and not-so-dry is never wet to any substantial degree. This is really high desert country, and the severity of the desertification waxes and wanes. Our place is technically in the East Mountains, but we're actually about 10 miles from the Manzanos and Sandias in a valley that was once a lake. This is farming and ranching country, and there is a good deal of land under irrigation around here. So the farms are green. Most of the rest isn't. When this area was first settled around 1900, the pioneers set out to dry-farm beans, relying on summer rains to water their crops. It worked OK until the drought that brought on the Dust Bowl. There was no rain, thus no crops, thus no way to survive, thus a rather rapid depopulation -- not that the population was ever very high. There was a sort of recovery in the 1940's, but then there was another drought in the 1950's, which led ultimately to nearly everyone leaving. Now the population hovers around 1,500 more or less (mostly less lately) and it is the metropolis of the county. People have to commute to Albuquerque or Santa Fe for employment, and that's rough when gas prices are as high as they are (the supposed drop in gasoline prices really depends on where you are. Around here they're pretty much as high now as they were in April.)

Ground water pumping is available for irrigation which has stabilized the farming and ranching community somewhat, and there is a fairly constant trade along the interstate, so there is a sense of economic stability for those who are adapted to that sort of thing.Those stabilizing factors have to be juxtaposed with the effects of the Endless Recession, however, and those effects have been severe. Many people we became friends with have left; it cost them too much to live here. Some have just walked away from their homes. Others found better places in town. This sort of population churning goes on all the time, of course, but in a small town like this, it's very stark.

There's a somewhat romantic Wild West story that serves as the foundation of current settlement in this area, and I doubt more than a few historical specialists know about it. The better known past is that of the Pueblos round about that were finally abandoned in the 1600's and 1700's due to drought, disease and predation. But there's another more recent story -- a number of them, truth be told -- that I might play around with.

Stories upon stories...

And for history buffs, yesterday was Little Big Horn Day, the 136th anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn. When I'm driving, as I was yesterday, I tend to listen to the Native American broadcasts on the radio when I cross over into New Mexico. And the Native American program I listened to yesterday featured  a recording of the story of Little Big Horn told from the Indians' perspective. It was pretty good!

Monday, May 14, 2012

In Which I Blame It On Carlos Vierra (Santa Fe Style)

Carlos Vierra, Painter
He was a small and dapper man, at least so far as I can tell from the one photograph I have seen of him ostensibly painting away on a mural intended for the St. Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.

Carlos Vierra has been called Santa Fe's "first resident artist," which is something of a stretch given the fact that Native and Spanish artists as well as the occasional Anglo were resident in Santa Fe for centuries before "California" Carlos Vierra purchased himself a photography studio on the Plaza for $280.00 in 1905 and commenced to paint. Let's put it this way: He was, perhaps, the first commercial artist to take up residence in Santa Fe.

I doubt anyone actually called him "California" Carlos, but he was from California, born in Moss Landing in 1876, reared in Monterey, schooled in art in San Francisco, there could hardly be a more quintessentially "California" artist at the time, even though he went out to New Mexico from New York -- where he had gone to make his fortune as a young illustrator on the rise, contracted tuberculosis and was told to take the cure in a drier climate.

New Mexico was the preferred destination for tuberculars, and Carlos wound up in a rustic cabin on the Pecos where he did not get better, and ultimately he had to retreat up to Santa Fe where he was cared for and cured by the Sisters of Charity in a relative twinkling.

Carlos Vierra's parents were what was called in his day "Portagee" -- his father a Portuguese sailor, his mother a Portuguese beauty -- which was not at all uncommon in California, but it wasn't so typical of New Mexico where the old Spanish families still held sway. Thus he no doubt was considered somewhat of an exotic.

In California in the latter half of the 19th Century, what was left of Spanish and Indian heritage was being torn up root and branch or driven into or left to ruin. By the 1880's, Los Angeles, previously a dusty Mexican adobe town of a few hundred or a thousand souls, like many in the Southwest, had blossomed into an Anglo resort city, filled with Business, railroading, suburban orchards and people from Iowa and Indiana. San Francisco had long since lost its Spanish character, nearly every trace of which was swept away in the Gold Rush of 1849 and thereafter, during which, infamously, "the world rushed in."

However, Monterey, California's Spanish and Mexican capital, uniquely had preserved quite a bit of its antiquity -- the old Presidio was still there, the old Capitol, and some of the old families still lived in their adobe houses so there was still an air of Spanish grandee gentility. The Anglo gloss on the town was slight and to an extent beneficial, as most of it came via the military installations. In some sense it's not all that much different today, for a visit to Monterey is still in many ways a visit to another time and another world. (Actually, I shouldn't say that. I haven't been there for 20 years or so, and things may well have changed. The last time I was there I recall walking along the waterfront from the Aquarium, shadowed by a very playful and extraordinarily cute otter.)

When Carlos was coming up as an artist, first in Monterey and then in San Francisco, there were a number of artistic and cultural movements afoot, one of which was preservation -- especially of the historic California Missions, most of which had fallen to ruin after secularization in the 1830's. California's Spanish heritage, even knowledge of its heritage, was being lost at a furious clip, and with few exceptions (such as in Monterey itself) even the physical evidence of that heritage was melting back into the earth.

When I was a boy in the 1950's and learned about the Missions, they had all been restored, more or less well, more or less accurately, though some were built entire from practically nothing that remained of what used to be. Those that were still used as parish churches had survived fairly well, but many were abandoned to the elements, and some, like La Purisima, had simply disappeared.

Rebuilding, renovating, restoring, and "oldening up" the California Missions was one of the many cultural causes under way when Carlos was learning Art at the Academy. Some of the surviving Missions, as well as quite a few of the old Spanish haciendas, had been acquiring gingerbready ornament since California became a province of the United States of America.

Par exemple, the Workman ranch house in Southern California as it is today, originally constructed in adobe in 1841, expanded and gingerbreaded in the 1870's:

Workman House
The point, of course, was to get rid of any signs of the "primitive" Spanish frontier colonial appearance of the old buildings and bring them up to date. If this ruined the integrity of the Spanish frontier colonial architecture, Oh. Well.

This enraged the historical purists, of course, who demanded -- and after the publication of Ramona bit by bit got -- restoration "as it used to be" of many a Mission, hacienda and outbuilding in California, most of which are maintained to this day "as they once were." More or less.

I have to think that these movements in California to preserve and in some cases to recreate what used to be -- or at least an image of it -- had a profound influence on Vierra as he set out on his artistic and cultural journey from one of California's most historic cities, Monterey.

And I think it would have an effect on his historicism in New Mexico.

Historicism which resulted in the "Santa Fe Style."

His first project, so far as has has been reported, was the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously used public building in the United States.

Construction started for a military and governmental quarters on the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza in 1610, or possibly 1609. It was an extensive enclosure, much larger than the current Palace which extends east to west along Palace Avenue from Washington to Lincoln Avenue, with wings extending less than half a block north from each corner. The extant 'Palace' consists of only part of the Plaza-side range of buildings that once constituted the Presidio of Santa Fe.

This is a color transparency of a military formation outside the Palace (which was at that time used for government offices and the Territorial Governor's official residence) taken in about 1900. Whether it is an actual color photograph or it was hand tinted, I can't say.
Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, c. 1900


This is approximately what Vierra could see from the studio he bought on the west side of the Plaza in 1905, and obviously, it's not a particularly "Spanish" looking colonnade. It's almost Victorian, especially with those clever little urns ranged along the top of the gallery railing.

Nor do the telephone and telegraph poles add much to the ambiance of the scene. Vierra must have been very upset that a building that was started in 1609 or 1610 would wind up looking like this nearly 300 years later.

But throughout its history, the Governor's Palace had changed its appearance many times. Like most of the ancient structures in New Mexico, it had evolved over the centuries, never settling on one "look" as its permanent appearance. In a land where constant maintenance and renovation of adobe buildings is required, changes in their appearance are taken for granted. They might maintain the same general appearance over the centuries, but details would be constantly evolving, color schemes would change, perhaps another story would be added or removed, the portal would be rebuilt over and over, changing styles depending on needs and availability of lumber and so on.

In the case of the Governor's Palace in Santa Fe, by the time this picture was taken, 2/3rds of the ancient Presidio of which the Governor's Palace formed a part was already gone. Much of it had fallen into ruin even before the Anglo conquest. What was left maintained the general appearance the building had had for centuries, but inside or out, it was never exactly the same for more than a few years at a time.

Vierra wasn't satisfied. He wanted something permanent, a "once and for all" version of the "historic" Governor's Palace, and this is what he got in 1913:

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, (with Burros) c. 1913

Which -- minus the burros -- is pretty much exactly what's there now. For almost a century now, the exterior appearance of the Governor's Palace in Santa Fe has remained identical to the neo-Pueblo applique seen in the picture above, whereas prior to 1913, the appearance of the Governor's Palace and its use had been constantly evolving.

The idea that a building has a permanent appearance that is set for its whole existence is quite a new one, especially in the context of New Mexico where buildings, especially made of adobe, require constant maintenance and renovation.

As others have pointed out, Vierra's neo-Pueblo portal appliqued onto the Governor's Palace is completely ahistorical. Nothing like it is documented to have ever been part of the Governor's Palace or the Presidio in all the centuries prior to the Vierra Portal. Which it still has.

What is documented abundantly is a series of very simple portals, leading up to the 'fancy' one seen in the first color picture. All of them were more or less similar, and their similarity is reflected in the portals of the buildings all around the Plaza from time immemorial.

Corner of Lincoln Ave and San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, c. 1860's (Note Ghost at Right)
For example:This is a picture taken in the 1860's of the southeast corner of the Plaza and the range of shops across San Francisco Street (where the 5 and 10 is now -- where Woolworth's used to be).

Fascinating that the picket fence around the Plaza (an Anglo conceit) encloses corn stalks and possibly other crops. Even now, corn and squash and beans are grown in the city planters all over downtown Santa Fe. The portals on the south side of the Plaza vary somewhat in style, but they are very simple, and they do not in any way resemble what was applied to the Governor's Palace. Even today, the portals on the buildings surrounding the Plaza more closely resemble the ones in the picture above than they do that of the Governor's Palace.

However, the redo and "oldening up" of the Governor's Palace was such a success that Vierra quickly decided on a more ambitious project: "oldening up" the whole town -- partly by building new structures in the "old" style, partly by retro-renovations of buildings that had been modernized, and partly by layering a jacket of ersatz mud plaster and false vigas onto some of the newer buildings.

His next major project would be the New Mexico Museum of Art in 1917. It is, needless to say, still a sensation.

The New Mexico Museum of Art is built in the neo-Pueblo style on section of Palace Avenue directly across Lincoln Avenue from the Governor's Palace. It's on a section of land that was once part of the Presidio of Santa Fe and had for centuries hosted another range of simple buildings much like the Governor's Palace. But the Museum of Art looks nothing like the Governor's Palace or any other historic building in Santa Fe for that matter.

Rather than adapt the standard one or two story more or less cubical Santa Fe building style to the Museum of Art, Vierra and the architects chose to adapt the style of the mission church at Acoma together with a pastiche of elements from other mission churches around New Mexico (most of which were falling into ruin at the time). The result was this:

Art Museum and Palace, Looking East, Santa Fe, c. 1917
The building is constructed of steel and concrete block with a skin of stucco meant to resemble the traditional mud plaster. The museum isn't complete in the image above; cranes and construction debris litter the scene, and the prismatic edge of the nearest tower will soon be softened considerably, but the general idea is plain to see. Needless to say, the appearance of the building has not changed in any significant degree since it was opened in 1917. And periodically, the weather edges of the museum need to be re-plastered with stucco, much as a genuine adobe and mud plaster building needs to be maintained, though not as frequently as the genuine article.

As I say, the appearance of the Museum is based on the Acoma mission church (which dates to the 1600's) with elements from other mission churches around New Mexico.

Helpfully, Vierra himself wrote an illustrated article for Art and Archaeology that details much of the influence and the rationale for the appearance of the New Mexico Museum of Art.

His illustrations are particularly useful to get an idea of what he saw when he traveled around New Mexico in the early 1900's.

For example, the mission church at Acoma (San Esteban) looked like this:

San Esteban, Acoma, c. 1915
Another inspirational mission church (San Felipe) looked like this:

San Felipe, c. 1904
Both of these churches express the honesty of place and time, something the Museum still struggles with. San Esteban at Acoma was at the time in near-ruins, and there was reason for it. San Felipe, on the other hand, was in much better condition, in part because of the care the people of the Pueblo took of it.

The problem at Acoma, of course, is just the difficulty of maintaining any structure at the top of the mesa, given the fact that at the time, the only way up was on foot or burro-back. Even water had to be carried up the mesa side in jars. Taking elaborate care of a huge mission church was not a priority of the Acomans, and in fact, San Esteban at Acoma stayed in near ruinous condition.

By the turn of the twentieth century the condition of the church had reached a critical level. Contemporary photos show that the erosion of the towers and the spalling of the mud plaster from the south wall had caused considerable deterioration. The tower bases were severely eroded by water and wind. With funds from the Committee for the Reconstruction and Preservation of New Mexico Mission Churches, restoration work commenced under the supervision of Lewis Riley and Sam Huddleston acting in conjunction with architect John Gaw Meem in Santa Fe.[20] At that late date the nearest railroad stop was still fifteen miles away at Acomita, which meant that the final part of the journey—and the lifting of building materials to the top of the peñol—had to be accomplished by human and animal strength. First priority was given to the roof, which leaked seriously and threatened the destruction of the nave.
Even in 1924, Riley reported, the younger men of the village lived, not in the Sky City, but in the surrounding settlements at Acomita and McCarty's. The rebuilding was undertaken cooperatively, with a "community effort which could hardly be duplicated among our own people."[21] The water was transported in five-gallon casks and steel barrels and was hauled on donkeys the two miles from the nearest spring. (Acoma still does not have a regular source of water.) The women augmented these efforts in the traditional way by bearing water to the precipice in buckets and ollas. The roof work was completed in six weeks using lumber from Arizona and roofing materials from Denver, both brought via rail. "The convento is rapidly falling into ruins, but it preserves as yet most of its former beauty and could be restored with comparatively little expense," Riley wrote.[22] He had also hoped to repair the towers and the exterior plastering, but these had to wait until the works of 1926–1927.
The 1926 restoration was a community effort with cooperative decisions determining the allocation of human resources. On September 12, 1926, it was decided that all members of the pueblo would assemble and for three days pack and carry dirt up to the church site. From September 15 onward there would be a crew of fifteen men, to be rotated each week, who would work on the repairs until the winter weather intervened. On September 9 a large herd of burros was discovered by B. A. Reuter, who had succeeded Lewis Riley as superintendent, and these were commandeered to haul earth. Thus, drawing on the ageless tradition of human and animal labor, the church reconstruction began. Source
But at San Felipe, the situation was different, in that the mission church was rebuilt several times in different locations, starting in 1605, the latest rebuilding in 1808 or thereabouts, with constant refurbishing right up to the present. Of course it helps that the church is on the plain below the mesa top now, and maintenance isn't such an arduous task.
I've written before about he prevalence of ruins in New Mexico, and one of the reasons there are so many of them is the difficulty of maintaining some of the old buildings. At Acoma, for example, maintaining an enormous church (San Esteban is huge) on a mesa top where few people were living at the time was a task not worth bothering with. Letting the church go to ruin while other matters took priority made perfect sense.
And so it is in many other instances then and now. Vierra was interested in preserving and extending the style of buildings in the traditional manner while reducing or eliminating the necessity of continuous maintenance and renovation. Thus the New Mexico Museum of Art was built of modern materials, with all the modern conveniences, in the style of the old days. It was a remarkable building then, as it is today.
Shortly, it would be followed by others in a similar style, such as the El Onate Theatre, La Fonda's re-conception as a neo-Pueblo fantasy, and many more:
El Onate Theatre, Santa Fe, c. 1921

La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, c. 1927

US Post Office, Cathedral Place, Santa Fe, c. 1925
US Post Office, Cathedral Place, Santa Fe, New Mexico, c. 1925

For his part, Vierra commenced work on his own house, somewhat out of town on the Old Pecos Trail in 1918. I noticed that at the height of the real estate boom, it was listed for sale by Sotheby's for very much money, not an unheard of amount in Santa Fe, but still substantial. Of all the many "mud mansions" in Santa Fe, I found it the most charming.
Carlos Vierra House, Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe, originally constructed c. 1918

Carlos Vierra House Interior, Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe. Constructed c. 1918
While I called John Gaw Meem the "godfather" of Santa Fe Style architecture in a previous post, it was actually Carlos Vierra who was the leading advocate and proponent and who served as Meem's teacher when he came out to New Mexico in the 1920's.
Vierra was not an architect himself, he was a painter and a photographer who was an informed amateur archeologist. He was not the first to rediscover the traditional architectural forms of New Mexico but he was their most vocal, tireless and successful advocate in Santa Fe for years, and it's largely through his efforts and those he was able to convince that so much of Santa Fe today adheres to the Santa Fe Style (well, of course, and the ordinances that require it.)
Vierra was a founder -- some say, the founder -- of the Santa Fe Art Colony whose work would begin the process of establishing Santa Fe and eventually New Mexico as a leading art market in the United States and the world. Other artists in that founding group include Sheldon Parsons, Gerald Cassidy, and Warren E. Rollins. Many others would come to New Mexico over the years to join the vibrant local arts scene, some of them from California like Vierra.
Where I differ with Vierra and other preservationists is in the insistence that historic buildings cease evolution or -- as in the case of the Governor's Palace, "revert" to an appearance they never had in history. Buildings that are used will by necessity evolve and change and adapt to the times. Buildings that are not used or are used only for display and pageants -- like the Governor's Palace since its conversion into a museum and backdrop for the Plaza and its numerous events -- can, I suppose, be preserved unchanged, like a painting, a sculpture, or other work of art.
Whether it is wise to maintain traditional architectural forms when building in modern materials for modern needs, I'll leave up to the reader. I know I can go outside my door in California, and looking to the right is a fair imitation of a historic Monterey hacienda but built in the 1920's -- it's lovely -- and to the left, is another though more traditionally Spanish or Mexican than California in style. And directly across the street is a brick Georgian house built -- I would guess -- in the early 1930's. They each seem to serve today's living requirements just fine, as I think we'd find most traditional architectural styles will, whereas some of the more cutting edge modern styles don't and can't in that they're not meant for use so much as for show.
Many people adore the Santa Fe Style of art and life, so much so it has become a matter of gentle ridicule:
The Style itself becomes a matter of history, as I see fewer and fewer of its victims these days.
Nevertheless, I blame it all on California boy Carlos Vierra, the historicist movement of the early 20th Century, and the still astonishing visions of the Land of Enchantment.
San Felipe Mission Church, by Carlos Vierra, c. 1914