Tuesday, 06 December 2016 18:43

Lady of Guadalupe

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Tuesday, 06 December 2016 18:41

Lady of Guadalupe

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GALISTEO--IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS is an historical novel based on my family's history starting in 1692 when my ancestors accompanied Don Vargas back to New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt (Part One:  A Legacy Founded by Men) and ending nearly 300 years later upon the return from Spain of my mother Reynalda Ortiz y Pino de Dinkel and her cousin Concha Ortiz y Pino de Kleven where they presented a plaque honoring our ancestor Don Pedro Bautista Pino (Part Two:  A Legacy Fulfilled by Women).  The following chapter chronicles the family's involvement in the Civil War and Don Nicolas Pino's meeting with Archbishop Lamy. I submit this to our Voces plebe for your preview and feedback.



GALISTEO – in the scheme of things



The rancho at Galisteo provided an idyllic respite for the Patron Nicolas and his brothers from their involvement in matters of state.  Don Facundo had just been elected President of the Legislative Council.  Don Nicolas and Don Miguel served in the legislative assembly, and at the same time were both officers in the volunteer militia.  Talk was of the rebellion of the southern states for secession and the argument over slavery.  The Pinos had supported the antislavery resolutions of the Territorial Legislature in 1848 and 1850, and were enraged when, in 1859 Miguel Otero, the New Mexican delegate to Congress, pushed the adoption of a slavery code.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, New Mexico suddenly found herself in the path of Confederate expansion.  Northern New Mexicans saw little to be gained by joining in the political argument.  They just wanted to be left alone.  In the lower part of the territory, especially among ranchers out of Texas, there was a growing faction of Southern sympathizers.

The regular army no longer occupied the small fort at Galisteo.  The militia under the command of Nicolas used the barracks and storerooms. Regular military troops had been reassigned to defend the larger Fort Marcy in Santa Fe.  Most of the ranking officers serving in the military Department of New Mexico defected to the south, including U.S. Army Major Henry H. Sibley.  A volunteer force, the men who comprised the Galisteo militia were part time soldiers and full time workers for Don Nicolas.  On September 9, 1861 Don Nicolas Pino was commissioned a Brigadier General in the New Mexico Volunteers.  Don Miguel Pino was commissioned a Colonel in the Second Regiment.

Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, commander of Federal forces in New Mexico relied on General Nicolas Pino and his militia to protect the Galisteo basin from Confederate intrusion to Santa Fe.  The colonel’s strategy was to consolidate regular soldiers and volunteers from throughout the territory at Fort Craig on the west bank of the Rio Grande, a few miles south of Socorro, and hold a defensive position.

In late February 1862, a young soldier from Miguel Pino’s regiment rode into Galisteo with word that a Rebel brigade led by now Brigadier General Henry Sibley had engaged Canby’s troops at Valverde Ford outside Fort Craig.  Colonel Miguel Pino and Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Antonio Chavez saw bloody action with the Second Regiment at Valverde.  General Pino asked the young soldier to tell him all that happened.

Si General,” the young man spoke with pride.  “Having the honor of being a soldier in the Union army of the volunteer force of Nuevo Mexico under the command of your esteemed brother Colonel Miguel Pino, I will attempt to give you an account of all that transpired.” 

The young soldier then described how Confederate troops captured Fort Fillmore then moved north and engaged Union forces in several skirmishes near Fort Craig.  The main battle developed when the Confederates on the east side of the Rio Grande attempted to cross at Valverde. 

“On the morning of the twenty-second of February, three companies of the Third United States Cavalry, and about as many more of Colonel Valdez’s regiment under the immediate command of Major Louis Baca, and the whole command of Colonel Benjamin Roberts, were ordered to proceed north on the west side of the river, and prevent the Confederate troops from getting down to water at the river at the place known as Valverde.  The moment that our troops reached that place, they were met with cannon fire from the Confederate troops that were already at the rive on the Valverde side, and our troops unlimbered their guns at once and both sides cannonaded each other until it was evident to Colonel Roberts that they had been driven toward the bluffs away from the river.  He then crossed his command to the east side of the river, and sent for reinforcements to Fort Craig.  At eight in the morning Colonel Kit Carson’s regiment was ordered to re-cross the river from the eastern bluffs where they had passed the night, and proceed after fully supplying themselves with ammunition to the battle field and to report to Colonel Roberts for orders.  Soon thereafter a battery of twenty-four howitzers arrived from the fort, and an order was given to Carson’s regiment to furnish one hundred volunteers to help cross the battery over the river.  They were furnished, and the battery was duly and safely crossed.  Some desultory fighting was going on all that day on the east side of the river, and the Confederate troops were driven up against the bluffs and kept from reaching the water.  It was the opinion of everybody that it was only a question of a short time when the Confederates would be compelled to surrender or be vanquished.  During this time we had no more than fifteen casualties.”

The soldier paused to take a drink of ale that Don Nicolas had ordered be brought to him.  Don Nicolas said, “Please continue, I want to know everything that happened.”

“At about three in the afternoon,” the young man continued, “Colonel Canby reached the field of battle with the additional re-enforcement of Colonel Miguel Pino’s Second Regiment of New Mexico Volunteers, and assumed chief command. The First Regiment of New Mexico Volunteers, Colonel Carson’s, was ordered to cross the river and take position as the right wing of the line of battle.  An advance was ordered made against the Confederate troops, and they in turn charged the regiment that was supporting the twenty-four pounder battery of howitzers.  The First Regiment of New Mexico Volunteers successfully repulsed their charge.  It was repeated twice thereafter by the Confederate cavalry, and as many times gallantly and successfully repulsed by the regiment.  We thought we had won.”  The young soldier sounded dejected.

“What happened next?” Don Nicolas asked.

“It all changed at about five in the afternoon,” the weary soldier continued.  “The Confederate troops under the cover of trees charged Captain McRae’s artillery battery on the left, and captured it, killing the gallant man and his lieutenant as they gallantly stood by their battery to the last; whereupon a panic seized the troops, both regular and volunteer, and they fled indiscriminately into the river, the Confederates firing into their backs.  Many of the Union soldiers, doubtless but slightly wounded were drowned in the waters of the Rio Grande.  Twice upon that same fateful afternoon for the Union troops, orders from the commanding officer were to retire across the river, because of the capture of McRae’s battery, but they were disobeyed, because neither the officers nor soldiers of the regiment believed they were defeated.  Your brother, Colonel Miguel Pino tried to convince Colonel Canby to stand and fight.  But Colonel Pino’s aide-de-camp brought another preemptory order, and the regiment was ordered to march off the field left on front to the river.  Most of us were not aware that the union cause had suffered defeat until fired at by the Confederates with the same guns which they had captured from us.”

“And what of my brother?” Don Nicolas asked.

“He was gallant and loyal to his troops, sir,” the man replied.  “We lost the battle, but only because we were ordered to abandon the field at once and proceed to the fort.”

The Confederates, three thousand strong, had overrun a battery of Federal artillery and killed many Union troops, but Canby still held a strong position inside Fort Craig.  Sibley’s Rebels, low on provisions and munitions, did not attempt a siege on the fort.  They were making their way to Alburquerque in search of supplies.  That message had reached Alburquerque in time for Federal troops to load most of their military supplies on wagons and move them up north, further demoralizing the Texas volunteers.

From Alburquerque, Sibley sent half his brigade toward Santa Fe.  The supplies he needed to feed and equip his troops and horses he planned to purchase from the New Mexicans.  Squads were dispersed to settlements along the way to obtain whatever they could.

In mid-March of 1862, a squad of Confederate troops comprised of young Texas volunteers occupied the fort at Galisteo without resistance. Their orders were to gain the cooperation of the population by purchasing supplies. They were met with a polite albeit cool reception.  In the preceding weeks Don Nicolas had depleted his food stores, making them available to the Federal Army at Fort Marcy.  Also, he refused to accept Southern currency as payment for the few head of cattle, sheep and mules that he offered the Confederates. He told them, “Should you be victorious and make New Mexico part of the Confederate Empire, I will expect payment in full.  However, should you fail in your quest, it will be of little consequence.”  The squad departed Galisteo within the week to rejoin the larger Confederate force preparing to invade Fort Marcy in Santa Fe.

Governor Henry Connelly, along with other territorial officials, and the small Union force at Fort Marcy managed to escape Santa Fe just days ahead of Sibley’s invasion.  They made it to the relative safety of Las Vegas and Fort Union beyond the mountains.  Sibley declared victory over the Union in Santa Fe, but his real objective was to secure the Federal arsenal at Fort Union in the northeast corner or the state.  This fort was the gateway to Kansas and a Confederate victory.  To get there, the Texas volunteers left Santa Fe and marched through a canyon in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains called Glorieta Pass fifteen miles east of Santa Fe.

General Sibley seriously underestimated the strength of the Union Army in the north.  On March 27 and 28, 1862, Union troops from Fort Union, supported by volunteers from Colorado, engaged the Rebels at Glorieta Pass.  After two days of bloody battle, the Confederates were in control of the canyon and sensing victory.  Colonel Manuel Chavez and Colonel Miguel Pino led their detachment of New Mexico Volunteers and joined Major John Chivington’s Colorado Volunteers in a maneuver that took them behind the battle in the pass.  Fate smiled upon them as they discovered the Confederate supply train, which was poorly guarded.  Chivington, Chavez, and Pino drove off the Rebel guard, slaughtered eleven hundred mules, and burned sixty-four wagons.  With his provisions gone and a well-equipped Union force facing him, Sibley withdrew down the Rio Grande in humiliation back to Texas.

General Nicolas and Colonel Miguel Pino and their Regiment of volunteers joined other New Mexico forces in re-establishing control over Fort Marcy and Santa Fe. 

Battle tested in their engagements with the Confederates, the New Mexicans were now faced with defending their settlements and their territory from Indian raids.  Over the succeeding months bloodshed continued in New Mexico and other western territories.  The military’s uncompromising intention was to force the Indians to choose between unconditional surrender and extermination.  Don Nicolas Pino and his brothers were abhorred by this policy.  Generations of their family had co-existed with the Indians.  Nicolas’ father Pedro Bautista Pino had encouraged his son to learn as much as he could about and from the Pueblos and the Comanche.  Of course, he had had to defend Galisteo and other properties from hostile raiding parties, but defense of property was not justification for annihilation of an entire people.

 Exhausted from months of military campaigns and legislative business, Don Nicolas returned to Galisteo for several days of rest prior to resuming his post in the Legislative Council.  His brother Miguel accompanied him.  Don Facundo, who was serving as President of the Legislative Council, was ill, and although Nicolas urged him to come to Galisteo to recover his health, he refused, preferring to stay in Santa Fe.  Nicolas held his newest child, Herman, who would soon be a year old, and spoke to him as if he could understand.

“The Texans have been driven from New Mexico,” he said wearily.  “General Carleton is trying to subdue the Navajos and the Apaches and concentrate them on a small reservation at Bosque Redondo, under the walls of Fort Sumner.  The territory is also under attack from the east by the Kiowas.  And it is only just beginning, mi hijo,” his voice trailed, “your Papa has many duties to discharge.”

He handed the baby to the nursemaid, and turned to Juana exclaiming, “But this is time for family.”


 On January 28, 1863, Don Facundo Pino died at Santa Fe.  He was forty years old.  The Rio Abajo Weekly Press eulogized his passing: “It is worthy to mention, as proof of the estimation in which his character and talents were held by that body, to say that, with the exception of one session, when a member, he was always chosen to preside over its deliberations as President of the Legislative Council.  He was well educated, and an accomplished gentleman; and, had his life been spared, there is no telling the honors that might have been conferred upon him, not only by the people of the Territory, but by the United States, whose institutions he loved with an ardor equaled only by one born and bred under them.  His widow was Maria de la Luz Ortiz, who was also his cousin.  Requiescat in Pacem.”

The daughters of Nicolas de Jesus Pino were growing up faster than their father desired.  Trinidad, or “Lala” as she was called, was fifteen, genteel and fine featured.  She fancied herself her father’s favorite.  Margarita was thirteen, and coquettish.  Onofre was eleven, somewhat gawky, and ever studious.  The older sisters doted on Concepcion or “Conchita”, as she was known. The girls all bore a strong resemblance to each other, a blend of the best features of Pino and Rascon heritage.

That they were children of wealth and prestige was evident in the manner of their treatment.  Each morning, after being awakened by the resounding strains of the Alba, a servant served them their desayuno in bed.  For the older girls, this consisted of coffee and a bolillo.  The younger girls were served chocolate and a bizcochito.  Later, after dressing taking their reading lesson from their tutor, they gathered in the dining room for the almuerzo, a substantial breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, chorizo, tortillas, papitas, and red or green chile, depending on the season.

Lessons were held throughout the day.  Sewing, music, catechism, and English conversation were interspersed with play.  They loved to play cards, especially with their father.  The girls were treated very differently from their brothers.

The eldest sibling was Facundo, the first born in 1842, named after his uncle.  At 20, he was active in both commerce and politics, and served in the volunteer militia that his father commanded.  Independent, and somewhat headstrong, he was often at odds with his father and determined to make his own way.  Ambrosio, who was 18, loved the ranch.  He was happiest working with the livestock.

Helped by her older sister Lala, Concepcion put on her First Communion outfit for the second time in as many weeks.  The white slippers were only slightly scuffed, and the dress with lace at the neck and a ribbon sash looked like it had never been worn.  Lala fastened the wreath of artificial flowers on her head as her little sister looked at herself in the full-length mirror.  “You must hurry now,” Lala said.  “The funeral begins soon.”

Concepcion hurried, as fast as her eight-year-old legs could go, to the house of the angelito, the little angel.  Angelito was what the people called a baby who died.  Concepcion entered the room where the baby, looking like a big waxen doll, was lying cradled in a silk lined wooden box.  There was a white flower placed in the baby’s mouth.  This was customary because the baby’s mouth was open.  Solemnly Concepcion eyed the makeshift coffin as she sat with other little girls waiting for the funeral to start for the church.

Concepcion noticed that people didn’t weep like when a grownup died.  They believed that one more angel had joined the heavenly choir.  Even the baby’s mother seemed comforted because her child was in heaven. 

The lid was slipped in place over the coffin.  The baby’s father gently lifted and placed the coffin on the wooden lift, and each of four little girls, including Concepcion, took a handle, raised the boards with coffin on it and proceeded towards Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, followed by the rest of the people.  At the church, a few prayers and hymns were offered and then the procession once more set out, this time up the hill toward the cemetery.  This was the part Concepcion did not like.  Once at the gravesite the lid was nailed shut and then the little coffin was lowered into the hole.

There were many things Concepcion took in her stride.  Like the matter of her First Communion Day just a week before.  She was well prepared, but it had been drummed incessantly into her that the devil had been known to carry off children who uttered bad words and did bad things.  She decided to test the tale.  When they came out of their first confession, all the way home she uttered the worst of the bad words she had ever heard just to see if the devil showed up. She knew how to send the devil away if he appeared.  You crossed your fingers to form a cross, and the sign of the cross would send him on his way. He failed to appear.  Then she remembered hearing that if you were very bad the devil overlooked you because he was already sure of you.  This troubled her greatly.  Determinedly she turned back to the Church and startled the priest who was preparing to leave by asking to go to confession again.

Shortly after the girls returned home from the funeral they sat in the patio of the hacienda describing their feelings about heaven, death, and sins.  After hearing Concepcion’s tale of testing the devil, the older sisters, Lala and Margarita shared their own experiences. 

“I think a lot of those stories are just to scare us into being good,” Margarita said.  “Remember the story Mama told us about your hand drying up if you hit your parents or another older person?  Well I tested that one last year, and nothing happened.”

“What did you do?” Concepcion asked.

“I went to Senora Anaya’s house to pick up the laundry one day and there was an old man sitting on the porch.  He is always just sitting there, and he says to me, ‘Here comes my pretty girl.’  He smiles that toothless grin, and taps his cane on the porch.  I don’t like this old man, so I decided to use him for a test.  I pretended to stumble and kicked him right on his leg.  All day I examined my foot but nothing happened.  I knew it was wrong to kick the old man, but I didn’t know what commandment I broke, so I never told it in confession.”

Lala said, “Those are just silly sins.  Mine are the kind that broke a commandment and you knew exactly which.  My worst one was breaking ‘Thou shall not steal.’  I stole a dime from Facundo and then lost it.”

“Shame on you,” Concepcion said.  “You can go to hell for stealing unless you make restitution.  Did you give it back?”

“I slipped a dime in his pocket that Mama gave me for the collection.  So, it’s okay, you see.”

“What about you Onofre?” Concepcion asked. 

“What bothers me is going to confession,” Onofre said, “and not knowing the name for my sins.  If we could merely say, ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned.  I have done bad things,’ that would be easy.  But we have to say exactly what we did, like ‘I have been disobedient.’  That’s all right too, but I’ve done things I can’t find a word for, and I don’t know what commandment they break.”

The girls did not realize that their father had overheard their conversation about challenging the devil. Nicolas walked up to his daughters to tell them how proud he was of the way they conducted themselves at the funeral.  “I am very proud of each of you,” he said.  “You are real ladies.  But I miss my little girls.”

Vamos a la sala,” Nicolas directed the girls.  “I want to tell you a story.”  The girls eagerly ran to the spacious parlor.  They loved these moments with their father.  Nicolas was never happier than when he had willing listeners to his tales.  To his children he was the hero of the family who had escaped innumerable adventures unscathed. 

Fixing his eyes upon Concepcion, Nicolas began abruptly.  Brujas work in a mysterious way,” he said.  “One time, years and years ago, with my very own eyes I saw what I am going to tell you.  There was an old woman, Jacinta, who was known as being an accomplice of the Evil One.  Many were the stories of her practices with potions and magic spells, practices that resulted in much bad for the ones she had a grudge against.”

Concepcion nervously shifted her position as her father stared at her.

“This particular evening,” Don Nicolas continued, “I was at my comadre Juana’s.  They had invited me to eat supper there.  Dona Jacinta sent over a cheese.  My comadre set it in a cupboard and forgot all about it.  Soon after supper, Jacinta came to the house and inquired if we had enjoyed the cheese.  My comadre replied that we had not eaten any of it yet.”  Nicolas paused to light a cigar.

“It so happened,” he continued, “that before I left, Juana had to go to the cupboard for something and noticed that the cheese had grown considerably.  She called for us to come and see it.  We decided right then that the woman had tainted the cheese.  I offered to throw it out as I left.  I flung the cheese into some weeds on the side of the road.  It grew some more and started hopping about.  To this day I know not what the woman compounded into that cheese.”

The girls sat transfixed as their father flicked an ash from his cigar, drew another puff, and began once more.  “That woman Jacinta was evil, and people feared her.  But I did know another poor old woman who was misjudged and called bruja simply because she was hunchbacked and ugly.  Her name was Carmen.”

“It seems a young girl in the village was fading away.  The curandera who was called in couldn’t diagnose her case, so she told the parents their daughter was probably cursed.  She instructed the girl’s parents to burn sticks in the four corners of the bedroom.  The face of the maligner would appear in the ashes.  Whose face should appear but Dona Carmen’s.  The villagers were informed and poor Carmen was horsewhipped.  Coincidentally the girl recovered.  Her fading away was nothing more than worry because her father had refused to let her marry.  Soon after the lashing, the father gave his consent to the marriage and the young woman recovered.”

“So mi hijitas,” Don Nicolas concluded, “when you hear that someone is a bruja take it with suspicion.  Ugly faces don’t bespeak evil hearts, no more than pretty faces, such as yours, enshrine clean hearts.  Look at the ugly cactus.  It has beautiful flowers, eh?  Cactus . . . that reminds me.”  Nicolas was off again.

“You’ve heard me speak of The Brotherhood, the Penitentes.  Years ago, my brothers and I decided we would spy on them and watch their penances.  They were stricter then than they are today about being watched, I believe.  We had what we thought was a good hiding place, but the Penitentes had scouts on the lookout for just such meddlers as we.  They caught us and made us sit on cactus for hours.  That’s what meddlers deserve.”

“I knew a meddler,” he continued.  “She didn’t get sat on a cactus though.  She was passing by a house when she heard a man tell his wife that he had just killed one.  ‘I killed one,’ the man said, just like that.  Well, the woman passing by had big ears and heard it.  She hurried on to the next house and told them what she had just heard.  The woman in this house told some other woman, and by the end of the day the man had killed many and even a hiding place had been contrived for the bodies of his victims.  I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said they had even thought of a good tree to hang the man on.  If the busy body with the big ears had listened a little better or longer she would have heard the man say ‘I killed one,’ and his wife reply ‘That settles it.  We take all the mattresses out and clean the beds.  That makes one too many chinches.  The bedbugs have to go.’”

Conchita, Conchita,” Nicolas said, “You can’t trust your ears too much.”

“Now girls,” Nicolas said in a commanding tone. ”I am pleased that you are so involved in learning the tenets of your faith.  We are preparing to host a most notable visitor, and he may well test you on your knowledge of the commandments and your prayers.”

“Who is coming, Papa?” Conchita asked.

“Bishop Lamy will be arriving shortly,” he answered.  “He has accepted my invitation to spend a few days in Galisteo.  Also, your uncle Miguel will be accompanying his reverence.  When you are presented to the bishop, genuflect as you would when entering the church, and kiss his ring when he extends it to you.  Only address him if he speaks to you, and call him ‘Your Reverence,’ understood?”

Since his arrival in New Mexico in 1851, the French prelate had done much to re-vitalize the Catholic faith in New Mexico.  Priests, most recruited from Europe, especially France, once again served vacant parishes and missions.  In 1852 he brought the Sisters of Loretto to establish a girls’ academy in Santa Fe.  The Brothers of the Christian Schools arrived from France in 1859 to found El Colegio San Miguel to educate the young men of Santa Fe.  Schools were founded in Alburquerque, Bernalillo, Las Vegas, and other major towns. 

Don Nicolas supported the pastoral and educational efforts, but held serious reservations about Bishop Lamy’s attempts to change the thinking of the native clergy and his outspoken attempts to discourage many of the local church practices.  He looked forward to this visit as an opportunity to influence the thinking of the bishop.

On a pre-arranged signal, the mayordomo of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios began ringing the bell of the church signaling the approach of the Vicar Apostolic.  The villagers lined the road to greet Bishop Lamy as his carriage entered Galisteo.  Many knelt as the bishop extended his hand and blessed them with the sign of the cross.  Others simply stared in awe at the thin clergyman with the aristocratic air.  They paid little notice to the accompanying priest who drove the carriage, nor to Don Miguel Pino who sat behind the bishop.

As the bishop stepped down from the carriage, Don Nicolas was struck by the similarity of the bishop’s mannerisms and appearance to that of his father Don Pedro Bautista Pino.  The black cape, the horse-drawn carruaje, the walking stick – Nicolas thought “How pleased my father would be to welcome the bishop to our home.  He worked so hard to make this happen.”

As they made their way into the hacienda, Don Nicolas introduced Bishop Lamy to Dona Juana, the children, and each servant in turn by name.  The bishop acknowledged each introduction with a nod of his head and extended his hand with the expectation that each would acknowledge his office by kissing his ecclesiastical ring. 

Don Nicolas personally escorted the bishop to a room that had been prepared for him while a servant escorted the bishop’s aide, Father Joseph Machebeuf, to another room.  Don Miguel was left to tend to himself.

Dona Juana directed the servants in preparing a substantial meal for their esteemed guest.  There was roasted pork and roasted lamb; calabacitas made with squash, corn, riquezon, and chile verde; frijoles con chicos; chile Colorado; and fresh baked bread.

Bishop Lamy ate sparingly.  He avoided the meat, and allowed himself only small portions of calabacitas and frijoles.  Father Machebeuf, seated next to him, was not so reserved.  Befitting his rotund size, he ate ravenously, pausing occasionally to compliment Dona Juana, fill his glass with wine, and then return to his plate.

Don Nicolas and Dona Juana, seated at opposite ends of the long table, exchanged approving glances.  Don Miguel, seated across from Bishop Lamy, broke the relative silence.  “Dona Juana, as always you have seen to our needs in a style that exceeds our expectations.”

When the dishes were cleared from the table and coffee was served, Bishop Lamy spoke.  “Senora Pino, you must not think me rude for eating sparingly.  It is only through self-discipline that I gain the strength to toil in the moral and spiritual fields that have lain fallow for so long in New Mexico.  Don Nicolas, you have the gratitude of this humble servant of Christ for your hospitality and generosity.”

“Your Reverence,” Don Nicolas replied, “my father Don Pedro Bautista Pino worked tirelessly as the representative of Nueva Espana to get the King of Spain to establish a bishopric in New Mexico.  That we now have you as our resident bishop is an answer to the prayers of several generations of our family, who proudly served our two masters, God and King, and today support our God and President.”

Don Miguel added, “Reverend Bishop, my brother and I, our late brother Facundo, our father and grandfathers before us, have dedicated ourselves to developing this distinctive place.  As the northern-most province of Nueva Espana we were the neglected stepchildren of the Crown.  During the few years as a Department of Mexico we were immune from the revolutionary changes that ravaged the country.  In these early years of adjusting to our place as a Territory of the United States, we are dedicated to helping our democratic society grow strong.  While we have witnessed many changes and challenges to our society, we have held fast to our Catholic faith and our Spanish traditions.  We are grateful that you are here, and pledge our assistance and support.”

“When Mexico declared her independence from Spain in 1821 and the Franciscan Friars withdrew from New Mexico, a religious pall fell over this place,” Bishop Lamy said.  “The native clergy, for thirty years, have ministered without discipline and guidance, ignoring the fundamental tenets of our Catholic faith and the leadership of our Holy Father.  I am pleased that you offer your help.  There is something you can do to help me.  I know of your close association with Padre Antonio Jose Martinez of Taos.  His constant opposition to my rule is undermining my efforts.  As a result of his strident opposition through his writings and publications I have found it necessary to relieve him of his sacramental powers. Perhaps you can speak with him and help his to see the error of his ways. “

“With all due respect, Your Reverence,” Nicolas said, “Padre Martinez has long been a persistent champion of justice and democracy for the people of New Mexico.”  Carefully choosing his words, Nicolas continued.  “The people to whom he ministers are poor, and he has long been an advocate on their behalf against what many feel are excessive tithes and burial fees imposed by the diocese.”

“I should not need to remind you Don Nicolas,” Bishop Lamy interjected sharply, “but in America there is separation of church and state.  The clergy has no business interfering with the jurisdiction of the government.  Furthermore, the clergy is obligated to abide by the jurisdiction of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and that responsibility rests with me.

 “Perhaps we should retire to la sala and continue our discussion there, Your Grace,” Don Nicolas said.  “Dona Juana should see to the children, and we will be more comfortable there.  A glass of sherry and a cigar will add dignified punctuation to my discourse.”

“As you wish, Don Nicolas,” Bishop Lamy replied.  “There is more I need to say to you about our native clergy, my programs for reformation, and, lest I not forget, I want to speak with both you and Don Miguel about involvement in the Historical Society of New Mexico.  Your lovely wife need not be party to such talk.”  Turning to Dona Juana, the bishop said, ”Senora Pino, you are a gracious hostess and a woman of considerable elegance.  Please kneel so that I might give you a special blessing.”

Dona Juana blushed at having such attention drawn to her.  Lifting her skirt slightly, she lowered herself to her knees.  With eyes downcast to the floor she awaited the bishop’s blessing.

“O most gentle child of God,” the bishop prayed, “having lived in obedience together with you Holy Mother and Saint Joseph, consecrate this home and listen to our supplications.  We implore you to help Dona Juana be faithful to her matrimonial obligations.  Bestow upon her the grace to remain an exemplary parent in her obligation to fulfill her human and Christian responsibility.  Give her the dignity of your presence in her home, guard her from indecent ways, selfishness and all other vices unworthy of a Christian home.  Grant many blessings to the Pino family so that they may imitate your family, the Sacred Family of Nazareth.  For this we pray, in the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

The bishop extended his hand to Dona Juana.  She kissed his ring, and allowed him to help her rise to her feet.

Bishop Lamy, led by his male entourage, exited the dining room and walked the short distance to the parlor where a warm fire greeted them.  Once seated, Don Nicolas resumed their discussion.

“Your Grace,” Don Nicolas began, “We New Mexicans have a reputation for resilience and determination in governing ourselves.  Just prior to, and during the Mexican rule, my relative, Padre Juan Felipe Ortiz was Apostolic Vicar here for the Bishop of Durango.  He, along with Padre Martinez and his protégé Padre Jose Manuel Gallegos supported us in our attempts to foil the United States takeover of our land.  Our native priests are among the most educated, influential and popular citizens.  I tell you this to help you understand that, by nature, we Spanish are accustomed to join together to resist those who would forcibly subject us to their will.  The preservation of our Catholic faith and religious practices has, by necessity, drawn our esteemed clergy into the political arena.  It is extremely unfortunate that Padre Gallegos refused to yield to your office and was thereby dismissed as a priest.  However, he continues to serve the people as a legislative leader.  He even served as our delegate to Congress.”

“Don Nicolas,” the bishop replied, “Jose Manuel Gallegos may be a loyal New Mexican and citizen of the United States, but he abandoned his role as a priest long before I dismissed him.  The Church has set the rules for what we are to believe, and how we are to practice our faith, and I am charged with seeing that those rules are followed.  I will not tolerate any priest who goes against my will, which is the will of the Church.  Religious practice has been allowed to grow frivolous.  Many of the religious practices of you Spanish are medieval, and I will not allow them to continue.”

“While I am not intent on arousing your ire, Your Reverence,” Don Nicolas said, “it will be a long time, if ever, before native New Mexicans and our Catholic brethren in the Pueblos abandon their local church practices.  These practices are as much a part of our culture as our language and our devotion to our patron saints.  Through your leadership our parishes and our missions are once again served by priests.  The girls’ academy of Loretto and the Colegio San Miguel in Santa Fe, and the many new churches that have been built throughout New Mexico will ensure that our Catholic faith will thrive and our children will be educated.  You will prevail with the help and support of all of us.”

“I do not question your allegiance to me, as representative of the Holy Father, nor your devotion as a Catholic Don Nicolas,” Bishop Lamy said.  “Just as you accepted American rule, American civilization must be accepted in New Mexico, and this will be accomplished through cultured activity.  That is the other thing I wanted to speak to you and Miguel about.  I want you both to participate in the Historical Society of New Mexico.  This scholarly body will help you to preserve what is worthwhile of your culture, and expand your knowledge of the ways of the future.”

It was after midnight when the men ended their conversation and retired for the night.

Don Nicolas was impressed by the fortitude of Bishop Lamy.  He was indeed a strange man, yet one could not doubt that his zeal and religious fervor would transform New Mexico, and bring the children the language and culture that would make them truly American.


Friday, 04 November 2016 21:23

Turkey in New Mexico

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Friday, 04 November 2016 21:19


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Friday, 14 October 2016 15:27

The Wizard by Raven Q. DeVille

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The Wizard

by Raven Q. DeVille

There are still magical people in the world today but they are often disguised to look like everyone else.

This was probably the introduction to the magical part of the journey, moving aside the thick green leaves of the trees as they hung down over the sidewalks. Each brushing of the branches released a perfume of pine and mountain air that wafted downward, like the anointment before a ritual.

I had dreamed about visiting a wizard but the setting was different. It was by the large secluded area below the sacred cliffs of Black Mesa in the northern half of New Mexico. The trees had been cottonwoods, not Pines and Elms like the ones that lined this street in the city of Los Alamos. Funny how this residential neighborhood had such a neglected bit of greenery among all the finely manicured lawns and bushes. But the dream feeling was the same and the overgrowth of this particular neighborhood block had reinforced the imagery for a weird feeling of deja-vu. Since the day he left town around 1975, I would never notice the foliage again. It wasn’t like it had been cut down. It was like it had never been there at all. No dips or lumps in the ground, no tree stumps—nothing. But how familiar it was that day, because I had done all this once before in a dream.

Yes, I had dreamed of the wizard and somehow knew of his existence, before ever seeing him.

He was an ugly man.

He weighed three hundred and forty unhealthy pounds and had long, dark, greasy hair. He wore thick, coke-bottle glasses. I first saw him sitting in a restaurant with his wife. I was between high school and college and working as a waitress, out of necessity for the money. At the time, I was convinced that I could do nothing more in life than menial labor and that I should expect nothing more. I hated the job but had to smile and pretend to be happy, after all no smiles equaled no tips. I would be doing this for the rest of my life. I guess I was thinking this (it was a common thought). I stood there taking his breakfast order among the clinking of dishes and the murmur of dozens of conversations within the room.

“We’ll each have the French toast,” he said, handing me the menus. As I took the menus from him something odd happened in the next couple of seconds. His hand went over mine, a subtle gesture, hidden from the view of his wife by the size of the large menus. The heat from his hand actually touched me before his flesh, and the feeling from it was the drug to which I have since been addicted.

He said, “Things change, you know. Other things are waiting.” An awkward silence followed.

“Why don’t you do her horoscope?” a female voice whispered to him. It was his wife. She was blond and stylish and I wondered why she was with him. Apparently, his clandestine hand touching was not such a secret to her.

“Yes, that would be a good idea,” he said. “Why not?”

Of course I was flattered and blurted out my birth information. All this, before I finished bringing out their breakfast. It was a rush of sudden escapism—from the drudgery of anonymous work and aching feet to the personally mystical and unexpected.

I had hungered for many years to know more about astrology and all the new revivals of ancient wisdoms. I had tried to find as much as I could in bookstores, but not nearly enough had yet been printed. In the early 70’s, there was precious little reading material and even that was vague and simplistic in description. Every week I would steal away to the bookstores in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but so very little was on the market then. Since I was sixteen, I had been studying astrology on my own but was so frustrated at the lack of meaningful books and resources on the matter that I had almost given up. Nothing existed but silly books about generalized sun signs and love matches. In those days there was a severe drought of information on the subject and I often had to order books from Albuquerque. Mostly I found the best books and information from California and New York. Many phone calls later, I had ordered only a few of the books I needed.

But right at that moment, there was this live intelligent man who obviously had experience and subject knowledge. I have heard that anyone would sell their soul to the devil if they got what they wanted. Well, I hope I am never desperate enough to deal with the devil but specific knowledge is something I crave out of all proportion to other things in this world. I felt as if I had won the lottery that day.

A lot of my first impressions of him changed before they left that morning. He was certainly nothing to look at, but when he opened his mouth, liquid gold flowed forth. He was skilled in social contacts judging by the number of business people and politicians who would stop by his table and shake his hand, but he was also traveled and erudite, he was impossible to ignore. He had that skillful edge of blasé boredom that nibbled at the edges of conversation, labeling him a person from another place. His clothes were nothing impressive, just the usual uniform of the computer nerds at the local Lab. Dark pants, white shirt and a pocket protector for a variety of pens and pencils. The small round gold earring he wore was almost invisible, given his proportions and that awful greasy hair that was too long—even for 1972. Nevertheless, the more I looked at him that day, the more I decided there was really something unique and interesting about him. He was compelling, because he seemed so comfortable with himself and who he was. More athletic men would always be initially attractive, but their beauty soon wears thin as their lack of gray matter begins to show and their insensitivities came to the surface. With Thomas, it was just the opposite. His beautiful wife seemed to adore him and some of the other women in the room would give him a little pinch on the cheek as they passed his table. He would delightfully groan as they walked away.

Who was this guy?

He called me when he finished my horoscope but it took me a long time to screw up enough courage to go over to his house. Almost a year later I found myself knocking at his front door.

He greeted me at the door dressed in a stunning purple wizard’s robe with gold stars, planets and moons that were silk-screened on the surface. It would pass for a man’s lounging outfit for after work but I’m sure that Thomas would know that I would get the message. I was impressed. He introduced me to about four of his seven children (the older ones were out for the evening) and his wife and I spoke briefly. I gave him a small painting as a gift (no southern lady goes without a gift to a first visit), which he carefully tucked behind what seemed to be a stash of similar tokens that had also (obviously) been offered to him.

We sat at the round little table in his kitchen and talked about everything under the sun and beyond the universe. His wife sat in the living room, watching television while she knitted. About five of the kids would quietly pass into the other side of the kitchen fixing themselves snacks and saying their polite “hellos.” It was a perfect little family house of harmony and tolerance.

He interpreted the details of my horoscope in wondrous and horrible ways. Never had anyone paid such close attention to the sensitive details of my nature before. Never had anyone cared. I was only the big ugly girl with the black hair—that was how people usually described me. The first impression people have of me—is usually on the same level as my first impression of Thomas.

That was not his real name, by the way, but it is what I will call him. He was descended from the mysterious Basques and he could often read minds and tell what would happen in the future. He was good friends with the local witch in town and knew many secrets of local residents, which he delightedly shared with me. The most unnerving moments were when we almost didn’t have to talk to each other. He answered my questions before I verbally asked them and was always three steps ahead of me in any direction. Of course it was not controllable—this peculiar gift of clairvoyance.

“You have it too, don’t you?” he asked.

“Well, sometimes, but of course I can’t control mine and it doesn’t happen very often . . .”

“It becomes stronger with age,” he said. (And it did).

He then described the bracelet I had bought for my best friend a few months before. She lived in another town and I never saw her wear it, so I knew he had no actual knowledge of it.

I tried to be brave as he relentlessly exposed the chinks and weaknesses of my psychological armor. As usual, I did not believe anything good he had to say about me, because I was sure it was a lie. But now I wanted to believe that I could actually fly and soar at greater heights, they way he said I could. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all his clever assumptions about my persona were true? I mean, what if I was as intelligent as my chart portrayed me to be? And the adventures that were to happen, what if they really did wait for me in the future? But then that would mean all the other things—would also be true. My life would be filled with many things, but never love or children. Friends would desert me and frustrations would overwhelm me. What if he knew what he was talking about? What if he could predict my life? A slight tremor welled up in me because I knew deep down he was hitting right on all the things I knew to be true about myself already. Perhaps he was only reading my mind. His thoughts were almost clear to me, and apparently my thoughts were very clear to him. Maybe he was just one of those trick mind-readers like they have on television and in Las Vegas. Maybe I was being naïve.

A breeze came in through the open patio door and my horoscope flew off the table onto the floor. Thomas said “Oops,” laughed a little and started for it but it was closer to my side so I bent down to get it from under the table. When I retrieved it and came back up to the sitting position in my chair Thomas had the most horrible look on his face, as if he suddenly saw something he didn’t like. His thoughts were suddenly shrouded from me, as if a heavy curtain had dropped.

Suddenly, a large black mass of feathers hopped into the kitchen behind Thomas. It was a raven as large as a German Shepherd dog. It clacked out a metallic sounding noise and crooked its head to look at me sideways. It was like we almost knew each other. It kept staring at me with those strange blue eyes. Ravens don’t have blue eyes.

In the next second or two, thoughts flashed through my mind, “Do these people know that’s a wild scavenger?” I stupidly thought, “They might not even know it’s in their house!” Although I was trying desperately to remain calm, there was this basic primal urge telling me to get out of the way of this huge monstrous thing that could not possibly be a bird.

“Caugh,” it sounded, “Popcorn. I want popcorn. Caw, caugh.”

Thomas turned around and smiled.

“Okay,” I thought, “it must be some sort of pet or mascot or something.” But now my main area of disbelief was that the damn thing was talking to us.

While I was doing the frightened fool bit (and with good reason I thought), Thomas got up from his chair and propped open the large kitchen door. The bird remained almost motionless in the middle of the kitchen floor but watched Thomas’ movements intently as he moved to the refrigerator and opened a pack of baloney. He threw a slice at the bird. The raven caught it gleefully in mid-air, hopped back out on the porch and flew away into the darkening skyline.

“You know, Thomas,” I said, “Those things aren’t supposed to be domesticated—they carry plague and rabies plus they can be mean.”

“Yeah,” he said, “We know all about the hazards but that bastard comes in through the dog door and raids our garbage. We found that if we just give him something to eat, he’ll leave peacefully and not tell his friends. That way, we never get mobbed by a bunch of hungry Ravens.”

“How can he talk like that, did you guys teach him?” I asked.

“We sort of inherited him with the house. The people who lived here before got so attached to him they had a vet do something to his tongue so it could be taught it to speak.” Thomas bent down to lock the dog door and only then did I notice his hand trembling a bit as he fastened the lock. “Sometimes the kids forget to lock up the dog’s door. They worry more about the dog exploding from not going to the bathroom for a couple of hours, than about that raven hopping around in here on the cabinets. The kids think he’s kinda neat.”

Thomas walked back to the table and sat his large and mostly unconcerned form back down in a comfortable chair at the round table.

“You know, you did give him baloney instead of popcorn,” I said.

“He may be able to talk, but that doesn’t mean he’s a rocket scientist.”

The evening carried on and Thomas continued telling me about loneliness and the desperation of self. He offered no consolation as he took my hand in the warmth of his and addicted me to the drug of hope. When the flesh of his hand pressed against mine, he spoke to me silently with his mind,

“Do it.” his thoughts said.

“What! Tell me!!” my mind replied.

In disgust, he released my hands and changed the subject. I wanted so badly to take his hand again and feel the warmth and press it against my cheek. It was not just him, it was something within him I wanted. I suppose I only wanted to be one of his children that night, or his wife so I wouldn’t have to go home. So I could stay here and talk with him forever.

He was a very loved man. His four-year old daughter with flaming red hair would stick her head in the kitchen occasionally and express her worry that her Daddy was up past his bedtime and he would look back at her lovingly. The television murmured in the room beyond the closed kitchen doors and the antique pendulum clock quietly ticked off the seconds during the lulls of our conversation. I felt so grateful that I finally had someone sitting in front of me who had all the answers to my astrology questions. Although he stroked my ego, his knowledge sent me on future ventures to find greater astrological truths within society, government, and well … everything. Life was now categorized in an understandable format.

It is almost laughable now because eventually there were whole buildings full of these types of books and even special rooms for different interests such as astrology, meditation, tarot cards and so on. Now we all have the Internet—but sometimes even it is lacking. When I studied astrology, I had to learn all the computation by hand, no automatic computers. That was a good thing—because now I can almost see in an instant if someone’s calculations are wrong. I have learned rule of thumb tricks for figuring out the first three parts of a chart in my head (without any electronic devices). It makes me look like a genius to my mathematical friends—unknown to them that I am a total mathematical failure. Finally, about midnight, I noticed everyone else in the house had already gone to bed. All the other human sounds were silent now and I was beginning to worry that I had overstayed my welcome. I stood up from the table and mentioned that I needed to be going. Thomas looked relieved. I gathered up my things and he walked me to the door. Poor Thomas, I know I must have worn him out.

“I dreamed I would meet a wizard like you,” I said. I knew this was a pretty wild statement to throw at someone who programmed computers for a living and listened to an FM station that played golden oldies from the 50’s, but I had to try anyway.

Thomas smiled, and pulled out an old wood cut from a drawer in a cabinet next to the door. Someone had given it to him as a gift. It was a stylized medieval depiction of a man in a long robe with a wand and wearing a conical hat. Moons and stars and comets swirled around the central figure—just as the symbols on his robe. It didn’t at all resemble Thomas, but the interpretation was exact.

“And by the way, did you notice the omen of the night?” Thomas asked.


“The raven’s visit. He only pops in about once every few weeks. Your tocaya, in a way.”

“Oh,” I said, “Yeah.” I hadn’t heard that bit of Spanish culture in many years, but when someone else also has your name then you can call them your tocaya. It certainly seemed to be a piece of mystical serendipity.

“How did you get tagged with a name like that, was your mom an Edgar Allen Poe fan?” he asked.

“Everyone else in my family has lighter colored hair than I do. I’m sort of throwback to some of my French ancestors about 150 years ago. In fact, I somewhat resemble my Great-great-grandmother, only she was very dainty and pretty with big round eyes. She had this blue-black hair that some guy wrote a poem about. He compared it the plumage of a raven. She was pretty flattered by the poet’s comparison and even took it as her nick-name, Raven. So when I came along, my coloring made me sort of a good candidate to carry the tribute of our heritage.”

“What ever happened to her?”

“I don’t know, sort of a mystery. She disappeared without a trace when she was in her 30’s.”

Thomas then stroked my hair in an embarrassingly intimate fashion. Those wonderful hands with that strange warmth and magnetism radiating from them, surely they were magic things that healed and made things grow. No ordinary mortal appendages were these hands.

“Maybe she turned into a raven and flew away, “ he said.

I did not know what to make of his statement, but that strange rush of hope gushed throughout my entire being again. Even with the euphoric feeling of it, I hated it, because I knew my vague indistinguishable hopes would not be fulfilled, as always. It was that horrible drug of anticipation of unknown delights, whatever they were. No, life is not a dream, it is a grueling job of drudgery and labor—at least that was the way I saw it then.

We said our good-nights and his door swung closed behind me, dutifully clicking its tumblers to a final and heartless “good-night.”

The moon was fully round and bright and the night air was filled with the faint perfume of sleeping flowers and slumbering trees. The euphoria rushed though me again like a wave of water, for no real reason. It was again the drug of hope. I would be lying if I told you I believed in it then, but over the years I find I have but to remember the feeling as I walked down the stone steps of Thomas’s house into the richness of the night that I was changed, perhaps even born again into the realm of possibilities. To occasionally remember this night, is the opiate of my life.

I doubt Thomas ever understood how important he was to me and how much I had learned from him in those few short hours. He did not know he made me tremble with his knowledge.

In the safe, small town in which I lived, I took my time about walking home that night. I heard the talking raven above me on the way. I could not really see him, but I could hear his black feathered wings lift his heavy body through the air from one street lamp to the next. Great rushing sounds of air as he gracefully glided from tree to tree. He followed me almost to my door and perched on the roof of my neighbors house.

This would probably be a good place to end this little story, but it doesn’t quite end here. You see that particular raven, the talking one, is still around. I don’t know how long they live, but he still seems quite healthy and strong even now—over 40 years later. He doesn’t use human words unless no one else is with me, but he is always vocal. He has this thing for the color blue. He really gets excited when he sees I am wearing a royal blue color. He hops up and down on telephone poles and produces a caw that sounds almost like a laugh. About every two months he leaves me one of his black feathers (usually about 6 or 7 inches long) and something blue next to it on my front porch. Usually it is a piece of blue paper or plastic but I did once find a dangle earring with a blue rhinestone in it. I just hope the owner lost it and the Raven didn’t actually take it out of the poor woman’s ear—in midflight.

He does not like to gather with the other ravens in town and he can be quite active after dark, when he should be quietly roosting in a tree. He can be bothersome at times, flying by the house or hanging under the eaves and cawing loudly into my bedroom.

I’ve tried to understand why he stays with me and exhausting all logical explanations, I have decided that this must be a something unnatural. Perhaps he is not even a raven. Maybe he is a playful spirit instead. Maybe he is a guardian, or even a companion of sorts. Maybe he has even protected me from all sorts of dangers I was never even aware of. His existence is a puzzle.

However, it is the sight and the sound of him that sometimes generates my lust for my private goals. With each feathered sweep of his wings, with every brazen noise from his throat and every floating shadow of him that crosses me upon the ground, ... I am reminded of other, more important things, and then I am at peace, once again.

The raven clacks its bird-talk and then switching to human speech, in words I have never spoken, it calls softly down to me when no one else is listening,

“Tocaya, Tocaya, Tocaya . . .”


Monday, 03 October 2016 23:27

San Miguel Chapel

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Thursday, 22 September 2016 20:29

Peña Blanca Summers - by Jim Baca

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Peña Blanca, the home of my father and his ancestors, is a small village that lies between the Pueblos of Cochiti and Santo Domingo on New Mexico highway 22, about an equidistant drive north from Albuquerque or south from Santa Fe. In my childhood it was a place of summer daydreams, aromatic kitchens, ringing church bells, nightly visits to neighbors, homesickness, and the loving care of my Grandparents, Delfin and Lenore Baca.

In the summers, and sometimes at Christmas, my parents, Fermin and Dixie Baca would pack us kids off for ten days to this small and humble village to stay with “Grandma and Grandpa”. My identical twin brother Tom, and my big sister Carlota and I would travel the old highway 85 in one of Grandpa’s trusty but dilapidated trucks or cars. He worked as the supervisor for the Cochiti district of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, an agency I would serve as General Manager for a short time some 25 years later.

The ride to Peña Blanca was always an adventure to be anticipated. In the 1950's the old two lane Highway, which was to spawn I-25 some years later, was as good a ride as anything one could hope for at Disneyland. There was a particular section between Bernalillo and San Felipe that provided a stomach churning topography for any vehicle. We came to call that section “the dips”. We looked forward to it and Grandpa never let us down. He worked the accelerator just precisely enough that we were weightless at the top of the mound and then picked up g-forces at the bottom.

Once we left Highway 85 at the old Domingo trading post we were onto the washboard dirt road into the village. This is where Grandpa taught us his method of singing. He would let out a single tone hum and every bump in the road would cause the car to buck and hence force a new note from Grandpa. The effect was especially impressive as he traveled on the ditch roads as he made his daily rounds of the main irrigation system from Cochiti to Agnostura. There was a strange and haunting melody that formed when he did this, much like chanting of the pueblo dancers.

The next obstacle to arriving at Peña Blanca was the old Galisteo arroyo crossing. If it was dry, there was no problem. If it had been raining hard anywhere north of the crossing it was downright dangerous. I recall a three foot wall of water hurtling down the arroyo after one violent thunderstorm near La Bajada. The water ran for a day before the crossing was passable and the antiquated bridge was declared safe for a few more months. Years later a modern structure was built there and that adventure was forever removed.

A few miles further through the Santo Domingo reservation, we passed over a clattering cattle guard and were in Peña Blanca. I always remember the dogs of the village running beside us snapping at the wheels. We children were petrified the car would run over these always emaciated canines, but Grandpa never gave it a thought and the dogs gave up the chase after a hundred yards to wait for the next pursuit.

The next landmark was Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. We would often stop for a visit and while grandma prayed we would look at the beautiful stations of the cross painted by Fray Angelico Chavez. My grandfather and many of his family were said to have been models for these magnificent frescos.
We visiting three children from the big city of Albuquerque were viewed by some residents of the village as “those twins and their sister who don’t speak Spanish”. Ours was not a bilingual household and so when we arrived in Peña Blanca for a visit we were always assured of constant ribbing in Spanish about our lack of language skills. My sister Carlota got the message, she went on to a Ph.D, in French and skills in three or four other languages.
My Grandparents at that time lived in a large and seemingly ancient adobe home with a tin roof. The house was connected to the store yards of the Conservancy district office. The warehouse, tool sheds and vehicle barns were full of trinkets and adventures for us kids and we hung around them much of the time. I particularly remember the tool sharpener in a dark corner of that building. When it was spinning, it provided a shower of sparks that could outdo any July 4th sparkler.

The house was gray colored with thick dappled stucco over adobe. The walls were so thick that you could sit inside the window recesses. Grandma used one of those deep windows on the cool side of the house as an icebox. Even interior walls averaged two feet thick with smooth white plaster. The house had wood floors and old furniture sprinkled with white lace doilies starched hard with a sugar solution cooked up by Grandma.
The first few years we visited the house there was only an outhouse to use. For us city kids that was a hard thing to endure, especially on cool mornings and dark nights. I always feared snakes might be lingering down below those holes in the boards and my visits were swift. Later on indoor plumbing was added and none of us complained.

There can be no doubt that the center of all activities was the kitchen with its wood and coal burning stove. Grandma was a master at using that stove for the incredible meals she would create almost everyday. I specifically remember the wonderful breakfasts. We would go out and feed the chickens the skins from the fried potatoes and onions that were always on the menu, collect eggs from the adobe chicken coop, and return for this meal that grandma insisted was so important to get us through the first part of the day. At least, just until lunch when she laid on another immense feast that might occasionally include her home made tamales. We eagerly awaited that most special of treats, sweet tamales with raisins inside. Dinner was usually leftovers from lunch. Essentially, another feast.

Nothing however could ever compare with grandma’s holiday banquets when relatives close and distant showed up. There were always three or four meat dishes, Grandpa’s spaghetti (a favorite of ours), lots of green and red chile dishes, squash, mountains of mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, beans, empanadas, bread pudding, flan and candy for the kids. It was something to see. Everyone pitched in at these occasions.

I remember another kitchen activity that grandma periodically performed. The making of soap. Lye soap. I don’t remember the recipe but I know there was a lot of mixing and boiling. I recall that the abrasive soap would clean anything. You sort of tingled after using it. I remember she would shave a bar of it and use it in a tub with a washboard for clothes washing. We kids would then wring the clothes out in an old fashion wringer.

We needed all that good food. The days were long and full of work and play. Mostly play. We awoke everyday to the sounds of the church bells from Our Lady of Guadalupe calling the faithful for 6:30am Mass. Grandma went often and we attended regularly too. Sometimes the Franciscans would let my brother and me ring the bells on Sundays.

The mornings were spent with Grandpa in the truck touring the miles of irrigation canals and checking on the progress of the work crews. There were frequent stops at the small general stores for Seven-Ups and ice cream. Often, Grandpa would buy a tin of sardines and eat them for a snack. Nothing grossed us out more.

After lunch Grandpa did office work and we kids took to the pasture next to the house that held the untamable horse Grandpa had bought for us. This was the “Arabian Horse from Hell” and we spent all of our time just trying to get close to him. Carlota was the only one who could deal with this horse. We named him “Wildy”. He lived for many years and we always loved him.

Also, in that pasture were a dozen head of sheep. We would get very excited when lambs were dropped and would try to adopt them as pets. I remember that terrible night when a pack of dogs killed many of the sheep. My grandfather went outside to end the maimed animals lives with a shotgun. It was the loudest and saddest sound I had ever heard. The ensuing hours were spent butchering the sheep. We stayed out of sight that day. Grandma could make a great mutton stew out of the slaughter, however.

We spent a lot of time at Grandpa’s apple orchard. This was my favorite place in Peña Blanca. There were eight hundred apple trees, a dozen cherry trees, and scatterings of peach, plum, nectarine and apricot trees. We learned how to irrigate, spray insecticide, clear underbrush and, in the spring, try to stay away from the beehives he kept for pollination. We also learned how to drive a tractor sitting on Grandpa’s lap.
Very often, the blossoms would freeze in late frosts, and I can remember the adults frantically burning old tires under the trees to save them. I remember my father injuring his back lifting heavy loads of apples onto the semi-trucks that came to buy these wonderfully flavored New Mexico apples. Sometimes there were bumper crops and then Grandpa would hand out ridiculous amounts of money to us kids. (Whenever Grandma and Grandpa visited there was always money handed out. My sister always got more because she was older.)

This beautiful orchard succumbed to the record hard freeze of 1972 and the trees were uprooted and burned a couple of years later. Believe it or not, we were unable to give away the apple wood for firewood. Fireplaces in Albuquerque were not yet in style.

After a full day of activities, which included the massacre of ants and water bugs by my brother’s and my BB guns, we would usually visit relatives in the village. There was no TV, of course, so people had to socialize or die of boredom. We often visited my Grandmother’s sister Ignacita and her husband Godofredo. The men smoked pipes and cigars while we children stayed with the women.

Godofredo’s garden was an extraordinary attraction. It was magnificent. It covered about a half acre and provided vegetables for the whole year. We snacked and munched through row after row of healthy produce.

I remember one particular visit to Peña Blanca at Christmas time. The village’s La Posada celebration will live in my memory forever. The small bonfires that lighted the way cast a surrealistic glow on the procession from home to home as the Joseph and Mary sought shelter. On Christmas night, we all traveled to Santo Domingo Pueblo to watch the dances. I will never forget the dancers covered with deer hides and antlers. I stood in fear as the men of the pueblo discharged their rifles into the air. During Mass all I could think about was the day’s activities and the nonstop banquet.

Grandma and Grandpa moved away from Peña Blanca in the early 1960's after his retirement. They had kept a home for years on South Broadway in Albuquerque and moved there. Our visits to Peña Blanca became less frequent through high school and college. My wonderful Grandparents passed away, Grandma in 1962 and Grandpa in 1979. I wish I had known them better and had spent the necessary time talking to them about their lives and the history of Peña Blanca. Small children don’t do historical research however, and we were no exception. More often than not we were homesick after a while in the village and became impatient and cranky.

I find myself returning often to Peña Blanca now. The family land is still mostly there and more beautiful than ever. In 1972 I had plans drawn for a home I would like to build on the orchard property someday, and I still have those plans in my closet.


--Jim Baca, 2016

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