From explorers to artists, from revolutionaries to slaves, local history professionals name seven whose contributions to this region merit greater recognition.
With the approach of Santa Fe’s 400th anniversary (which may already be upon us, given the uncertainty surrounding this city’s official birth), we at Santa Fean were inspired by the story of Juan Martinez de Montoya, the little known second colonial governor of Nuevo Mexico who, as some evidence indicates, may have been the true founder of Santa Fe, at least as it has existed since the arrival of the Europeans, although the distinction is generally given to its third governor. Don Pedro de Peralta Martinez de Montoya was appointed to replace Don Juan de Oñate, following Oñate’s forced resignation, in 1607, when the failure of his venture for gold was certain and he was arrested for abuses of power. (Oñate was responsible for the brutal massacre at Acoma Pueblo, but he was arrested primarily for mistreating Spanish settlers who joined him from Mexico.)
During that time, Martinez de Montoya served in New Mexico for just over a year, although the cabildo, the area’s ruling council, refused to recognize him as governor, apparently due to his lack of military experience. According to Spanish documents first uncovered in 1944, however, but not closely examined until 50 years later, in that time he founded a settlement and built a plaza in a place given the name Santa Fe. although the town was not officially declared a “villa” until 1610.
But the story doesn’t end there. Martinez de Montoya created those documents after returning to Spain, as part of an effort to acquire the Spanish nobility title of hidalgo. Founding a town would have made him eligible for this honor, so it was in his own best interest to make the claim. This is part of why many historians, including Adrian Bustamante, a member of the city’s Task Force for the Commemoration of the Founding of Santa Fe, don’t accept the theory that Martinez de Montoya was its true founder.
Bustamante does, however, point out that through genealogical studies, Jose Antonio Esquibel has found evidence that people were residing and being born in Santa Fe as early as 1604. Perhaps, he says, the City Different first served as a military camp. But without surviving documents, further clarity may never be possible.
In honor of this story’s long and still heavily obscured path through the fog of time, Santa Fean approached seven local history professionals in different areas of expertise, with the aim of probing the shadows of Southwestern mythology, asking each to name one person whose influence in this region has gone far beyond the recognition he or she has received. Spanning from the Old World to the art world, their choices reveal the depth of our city’s mysteries and shed light on the uneven process through which history is recorded and remembered.
Juan Bautista de Anza
Juan Bautista de Anza (1736-1788), colonial governor from 1778 to 1788, explored and mapped more than 11,000 miles of New Spain’s northern frontier between 1774 and 1777, including around the area between New Mexico and San Francisco that would become the Spanish Trail.
Why is he important? Anza is one of the most intriguing characters in New Mexico history, and his explorations were, in fact, as important as those of Lewis and Clark. Don Garate, a historian from Arizona, has written that Anza accomplished much more than Lewis and Clark. His explorations gave the Spanish Crown enormous geographic and strategic information about the terrain and the Native peoples of the area, from Culiacan, Mexico, to San Francisco, and from Santa Fe to the Great Basin. He came to New Mexico in the spring or summer of 1777 and found that the area was being attacked repeatedly by bands of Comanche. He led a decisive battle against them in 1779, and secured a lasting peace with the Comanche in February 1786. In negotiating the peace, he showed diplomacy and military strategy in equal measure, and established a fur trade system for the Comanche, Pueblo, and Hispanic people that was observed for centuries. The treaty also provided New Mexicans with a period of peace that allowed them to expand settlement east into the Pecos drainage.
Why did he never receive appropriate recognition? United States history has largely been told and learned from an East Coast perspective—and there is little recognition in the U.S. of the vast importance of the Hispanic history of the nation.
– Frances Levine, director of the Palace of the Governors
Stephen Watts Kearny
Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny (1794 1848) was one of the most intelligent and capable officers in the U.S. In 1846. Kearny led 1,600 men from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Santa Fe in one of the longest military marches in American history, and conquered New Mexico without firing a shot. Showing consummate diplomatic skill with New Mexicans and Native Americans alike, he offered amnesty to all his new subjects and displayed a cultural sensitivity rare among American officers of his day or any day.
Before moving on to oversee the final stages of the conquest of California, he and his officers drew up a progressive new constitution for the New Mexico Territory, called The Kearny Code.
Why is he important? If we had more officers like Kearny, the early-American period in the West could have been significantly more enlightened and less brutal than it was. Kearny was disciplined, honest, level headed, and progressive minded. A New Yorker who had studied the classics at Columbia, he’d spent most of his long and varied career on the Great Plains, where he was widely regarded as a friend and advocate of the many Native American tribes with whom he constantly dealt. This sense of pluralism characterized his governance of New Mexico, as well. Many of the ideas and even some of the phrasings of the Kearny Code live on in the New Mexico constitution of today. It’s also worth noting that Kearny, as the “father of the American cavalry,” was far ahead of his time with respect to the treatment of horses. (Soldiers then generally treated their mounts like dirt.)
Why did he never receive appropriate recognition? One reason is that he died a rather gruesome death by yellow fever just a few years later, before he could rise to the Army’s very highest echelons. Another is that for the most part he carried out his campaigns with little drama or bloodshed. And he had little inclination toward self promotion in the press. His biographer said there was about him a “distinct absence of swashbuckling,” and that pretty well sums up the quiet, competent spirit of this true gentleman of the American West.
– Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West
There are some amazing Pueblo women painters who are not often included in Santa Fe art history. One is Tonita Peña (1893-1949), from San Ildefonso Pueblo. She was a Pueblo easel painter, shown all over the country, though mostly in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. There was a group of painters, called the Self-Taught Artists, who came out of the Pueblos, and they were all men except for her. She’s commonly mentioned, but she’s rarely focused on, and her paintings are beautiful, just beautiful. I guess you’d call her an emblematic figure of an entire era of painters, both men and women.
Why is she important? She was the first woman Pueblo artist to completely throw off the restricted notions of what Pueblo painting “should” be and follow her instinct—her own aesthetic. She was also a great guide and mentor for younger Pueblo women, as well as a personal friend to them. It has been said that Peña advanced Pueblo art more than any other Pueblo artist. She really was a phenomenon, because she had no one to guide her; she found her way alone and became a role model for generations to follow. She was the mentor of the next great female artist Pablita Velarde, of Santa Clara, who was born in 1916 and is much better known than Peña. But to me, Peña is really the star.
Why did she never receive appropriate recognition? By the time Santa Fe began to recognize both its Pueblo and Euro-American painters, Peña was very old. Velarde was the one who burst onto the scene as a painter—she was larger than life, incredibly self-assured. But if not for Peña, Velarde would not have made those enormous leaps. Peña stood her ground with the San Ildefonso Self-Taught group, but maybe that’s a period we don’t take so seriously anymore, although it was an important contribution and the foundation for what came after.
– Diane Karp, director of Santa Fe Art Institute
There are certainly many noteworthy individuals; however, this way of thinking about the past is, at the core, problematic and one that I don’t subscribe to. In it, we either gravitate toward a sort of hero worship, or, worse, neglect to remember the many people whose contributions have been completely omitted, erased, or misrepresented. When I think of the people who have most contributed to the making of Santa Fe, rather than thinking of individuals, I think of the marginalized. Among these are the Tlaxcaltecas People, who came from northern Mexico as auxiliary forces with the Spanish. They are said to have possibly occupied the Santa Fe area even before its official European settlement, and certainly post-settlement. Some are starting to say they were here as early as 1598, when Oñate came and settled in Ohkay Owingeh—they may have stopped and started building here.
Why are they important? The Tlaxcaltecas perhaps built many of the early Santa Fe structures, including Mission San Miguel, among many others in the Barrio de Analco. (Analco is a Tlaxcaltecas word that literally meant “the other side of the river.”) But there hasn’t been official documentation to prove this. Yet the Tlaxcaltecas—along with others on the bottom rung of the ladder: women, slaves, and other indigenous peoples—have participated in making this place for the past 400 years. It is their knowledge, wisdom, and work that built and maintained the churches, government buildings, and homes, as well as the fields and acequias. It is also our identity that was shaped over many generations by the mixture. This is a foundational legacy in Santa Fe.
Why did they never receive appropriate recognition? In a colonial order, the presence and contributions of indigenous peoples and women are almost always negated—left out of the written record. For instance, we know there were probably 2,000 people traveling on Coronado’s expedition, and to date a historian working on it has been able to document only 300 Spanish soldiers. That says to me that more than three fifths of those who were brought in were probably indigenous, slaves, and women, including Tlaxcaltecas. The work I have done has been to recover these kinds of histories, little by little.
– Estevan Rod Galvez, state historian of New Mexico
Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco
Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco (1710s or ’20s-1785), a politician and mapmaker who lived in Santa Fe, made some of the earliest maps of New Mexico. He also created a master plan for the Mexican government to expand northeast into California, and he was an artist. He carved the altar screen at Cristo Rey Church in 1761; it was originally on the Plaza. Some of his santos and other artworks are now in New Mexico museums and at the Smithsonian.
Why is he important? I would call him a Renaissance man of the frontier. He contributed knowledge through his maps, which are invaluable today. There are very few mapmakers who actually lived in New Mexico, and he was the only one doing so in that period working from firsthand knowledge. He went on some major expeditions, and that information then made its way to Mexico City and Spain. But probably his greatest legacy, which we’re still benefiting from, is his artwork. The altar screen is a masterpiece. It is carved out of stone and is one of the more valuable Colonial pieces in the country now.
Why did he never receive appropriate recognition? There’s no biography on him. He was part of the 1776 Dominguez-Escalante expedition, and this has been published in the expedition’s journal, but he didn’t leave a lot of papers. Without a journal, most of his life is going to have to be pieced together from what he left behind, like his maps. People who study cartography know him, but a lot of what we know about him has been discovered only recently, in the last 10 to 20 years. The Palace of the Governors has one of his original maps—it arrived 30 years ago—and his work was shared in a dissertation by Michael Weber, but dissertations don’t make it to the public. Then there was the discovery, 15 years ago, that he had carved the altar screen, but that’s still not widely known.
– Thomas Chavez, former state historian of New Mexico
Archaeologist William Witkind (1913-2004) ran most of the Works Progress Administration’s excavations at the Pecos church and convento between 1938 and 1940. He uncovered the foundations of the big pre Pueblo Revolt church in various holes he dug, but hadn’t figured out what those traces were. He was trying to work out its plan when the project ended because of the war.
Why is he important? Witkind was tracking the outline of the early church under the present standing ruin. Had he had more time, I think he would have recognized the early church in 1940, rather than the building being found by Jean Pinkley in 1967. Instead, historians settled on the concept that the pre-Revolt period [before 1680] was simpler and less sophisticated than the post-Revolt period. The huge Pecos church indicates otherwise, and forced us to reevaluate the evidence about other aspects of pre-Revolt New Mexico, leading to a major revision of our view of that time. Had Witkind succeeded, that revision would have revitalized the study of New Mexico history for the rest of the century.
Why did he never receive appropriate recognition? Subsequent researchers did not understand the limitations the WPA placed on their excavators—the excavator was supposed to stop at the first or most representative floor of a mission, rather than digging it out to its full depth—but the National Park Service thought Witkind had excavated the entire convento, and were horrified when they found the much larger, older convento buried under the later building. He kept a good journal and he took a large number of photographs, but because of World War II, he was never able to write up a final report. Most of his maps and plans disappeared; the photographs were separated from his journal or photo record book and are now unidentified; and archaeologists following up with his work were unable to make sense of what he did. As a result his work was seriously undervalued and misunderstood, and was harshly criticized within the offices of the NPS.
– Jama Ivey, architectural historian, National Park Service
Thank you for reading articles in The Vault: The Best of Past Issues. The Santa Fean magazine will not be updating these articles with current information, as these articles are posted as originally published.