The Soldiers’ Monument

The upper part of the Soldiers’ Monument was toppled by vandals in October 2020. Its base remains on the Plaza, covered by an unsightly brown box, three and a half years later because the city has been unable to arrive at an acceptable resolution. Given the way it was  damaged, I see no alternative to restoring the monument to the Plaza.

Protestors have said that the Civil War-era Soldiers’ Monument represents imperialism, Manifest Destiny, and white supremacy. One can deconstruct its meaning ad infinitum, and people have, but the fact is that the Soldiers’ Monument is a cenotaph, a memorial to the dead, and not an endorsement of the causes for which they died. Conflating fallen soldiers with policies developed and implemented by high-ranking political and military leaders is a common mistake, but soldiers do not make policy.

On Santa Fe’s West Side, a black granite memorial honors the 18 Santa Feans who died in Vietnam. One of the men named on the memorial was a 21-year-old draftee killed by friendly fire in 1967, and even now, 57 years after his death, his surviving siblings and a few friends gather at the memorial on Veterans Day to remember him. They celebrate a lost brother, not American foreign policy, the bombing of Cambodia, or the war crimes at My Lai. Like the Vietnam Memorial, the Soldiers’ Monument is simply a monument to fallen soldiers.

It is also true, however, that a community cannot sustain a memorial to those who died in a conflict if the descendants of those on the other side of that conflict live in the same community. There are no memorials in Santa Fe to Americans who died in the Mexican-American War, and I would expect the city’s Hispanic residents to object if there were. It is therefore hardly surprising that Native American New Mexicans objected to language honoring those who died in the campaigns against their ancestors that resulted in the Long Walk and internment at Bosque Redondo.

Like many Santa Feans, I was patient during the protests in the spring and summer of 2020 because I understood that the Soldiers’ Monument’s reference to the Indian wars was offensive to some Native people, even if the word “savage” had been gone for decades. I hoped the promised Truth and Reconciliation Commission would lead to a community solution, perhaps replacing the offending panel or maybe even moving the monument to another location. I was not prepared to see it destroyed by outsiders.

The New Mexican recently ran a story about the Soldiers’ Monument and referred to the people who toppled it as “protestors.” This is a misnomer. The members of the Three Sisters Collective and Red Nation who gathered on the Plaza in June 2020 were protestors, but they were not responsible for the destruction of the monument the following October.

The principal organizer of the monument’s destruction on Indigenous Peoples Day was a 33-year-old woman from Pennsylvania named Lily Sage Schweitzer. Using a pseudonym, Schweitzer promoted her plan on the Facebook page of an organization called SURJ (Stand Up for Racial Justice), which bills itself as “A Home for White People Working for Justice.” Schweitzer mobilized the activists and brought to the Plaza the equipment used to topple the monument. Some locals were caught up in the moment and helped pull it down, but it would not have happened without Schweitzer and her out-of-town accomplices.

Kewa Pueblo cartoonist Ricardo Caté was right when he wrote, “I would rather there was dialogue and communication over the matter, but for some reason, too many people who don’t live in Santa Fe needed the obelisk removed immediately.…They have moved on to other causes, but those of us who live here are left to pick up the pieces.”

But how do we pick up the pieces?  Some people, including the editorial staff at The New Mexican, say the best course is to remove the base of the monument and leave the Plaza open for dancing during Bandstand events, and a few have even suggested that removing the base will end the controversy. This is wishful thinking. Many people in Santa Fe have strong feelings about the Soldiers’ Monument, and they will not be silenced by removing its base.

The Hispanic cultural organization Union Protectiva entered a float in last year’s Fiesta parade that featured a facsimile of the Soldiers’ Monument. It was the first time in decades that the organization participated in the parade, and a spokesman said the group created the float to convey its support for returning the monument to the Plaza. Members of Union Protectiva feel strongly about the Soldiers’ Monument because most of the fallen soldiers it honors were Hispanic.

It is not just Hispanic veterans who mourn the monument’s destruction. Santa Fe native and Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry currently lives in Washington state. Like many New Mexicans, Petry has an amalgamated heritage — he has an Anglo surname but recognizes his Native American and Hispanic ancestry. In a recent interview, he said it “crushed” him to hear of the toppling of the Soldiers’ Monument, which he said, “was there to honor our veterans and military and everyday patriots who were in New Mexico from the 1800s to today.”

It should also be noted that a majority of participants in the CHART process supported restoring the Soldiers’ Monument. They agreed that its destruction “was not only illegal but took place without the consideration of a potential public process that could address objections.” Most wanted it restored. Of the seven possible responses in the survey relating to the monument, the first three advocate returning it to the Plaza — with its original language (11.5%), with its original language and new language (31.7%), or with all new language (11.4%). Taken together, these responses total 54.6%.

And, of course, there are those of us who have studied and written about Santa Fe and who resent having the city’s physical heritage attacked by vandals. We recognize the Soldiers’ Monument’s great historical and aesthetic importance to the city. It predates the Statue of Liberty and all the monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  It is also the centerpiece of the Plaza. The Victorian benches and Plaza Bandstand complement the monument and reflect the time in which it was erected. And its undisguised Territorial Era appearance proves that our city is more than an adobe Disneyland.

I do not accept that the fate of Soldiers’ Monument should be left to vandals. If after its reconstruction a legitimate public process calls for moving the monument to some other place, then so be it, but it must first be returned to the Plaza. It is the only legal option and it is the only way to right a great wrong.

THE CURSE

Alan Webber in Santa Fe

Lew Wallace was already highly accomplished in 1878 when he was appointed governor of the New Mexico Territory. The Union army’s youngest major general in the Civil War, Wallace was a successful lawyer and author when he was sent to New Mexico by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Wallace finished editing his novel, Ben Hur, while serving as governor but failed in every other endeavor. Immensely frustrated, he left the territory complaining that “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.”

Lew Wallace’s lament has become a warning to overconfident newcomers to New Mexico. “The Curse,” as it is known, is most often an inside joke — the fan club of a New Mexico soccer team calls itself The Curse — but it is also a good explanation for Alan Webber’s failures as mayor of Santa Fe. His many mistakes are best understood as “calculations based on experience elsewhere.”

Webber boasts a varied resume. He attended a private school in St. Louis before graduating from Amherst College. He worked in city government in Portland, Oregon, in the 1970s and as an assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the 1980s. After a stint as managing editor of Harvard Business Review, he co-founded Fast Company magazine in 1995. He became wealthy when the magazine sold for $340 million five years later.

In 2003, Webber and his wife moved from Boston to Santa Fe, where they bought a large house on a gated property. While many who retire to Santa Fe have visited for decades and studied New Mexico history, Webber knew little about the city before relocating. He said he liked the dog park and the library.    

Despite having never held elected office and being a virtual unknown in New Mexico, in 2013 Webber announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor. He lost the race but said he enjoyed campaigning. In 2018, he ran for mayor of Santa Fe.

During the campaign, one of his supporters said a town the size of Santa Fe would be lucky to have a mayor as accomplished as Alan Webber. Many people did admire him. After selling his business, Webber traveled the world giving talks and writing books about business leadership. His best-selling book, Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, advises readers on how to become game changers, thought leaders, and social innovators.  One of the blurbs on the back of the book refers to him as “a giant among pygmies, a big thinker at a time when we desperately need one.”

But Santa Fe is not all pygmies, and Webber’s accomplishments are not so giant in a city where self-made millionaires and other highly creative and accomplished people are commonplace. When he moved to Santa Fe, it was not unusual to see Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell Mann at a coffee shop, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy at the post office, or Academy Award-winning director Robert Redford at a restaurant. Most of these accomplished people, at least those who have been in town for a while, seem to recognize that success in their own field does not necessarily qualify them to make suggestions about their adopted home. Lucy Lippard, who moved to New Mexico in 1992, is an internationally known art and culture critic who has written 21 books and been awarded nine honorary doctorates. Talking about new arrivals, she said, “If you’re smart, you shut up for a while.”

Alan Webber had been in Santa Fe for many years when he ran for mayor, so it was assumed that he understood the city’s cultural nuances. He is an articulate progressive, and Santa Fe is a progressive city, regularly vying with Boulder, Colorado, as the most liberal place in the Rocky Mountain West. His campaign was well-financed, with his own money and generous contributions from wealthy friends, and he won the election.

He made a few mistakes early on. Soon after taking office, he encouraged residents to conserve water so that Santa Fe might be recognized as the most water-wise city in the country. Not long after, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the new mayor’s own water consumption was eight times the city’s residential average. Webber blamed the problem on an old irrigation system. “On the acre that’s being irrigated,” he wrote, “we have 19 fruit trees, over 80 deciduous and evergreen trees, and over 20 pinion [sic] trees.” Santa Feans accepted the mayor’s explanation for his water consumption, but the aberrant spelling of piñon was a red flag, particularly coming from a writer and editor who at that point had been in a historically Hispanic city for 15 years.

A few months later, The New Mexican printed an article about Webber’s wardrobe. The mayor had been seen wearing a hat in public, and the local paper asked him about it. Webber said he read in The New York Times that cowboy hats were back in fashion and decided to start wearing one. The New Mexican reported that his custom-fitted hat, shaped in the Open Road style favored by presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, came from a high-end Santa Fe store and cost $1,800, after a $500 mayoral discount.   

Santa Fe has what is called an “hourglass” economy, with many wealthy people, many poor people and an ever-shrinking middle class. Resentment against well-to-do newcomers has been evident since the 1980s, when wealthy retirees and second-home owners began pouring into the city and displacing locals. The mayor should have been more discreet about spending as much on a hat as some of his constituents spend on a car. 

Misspelling a Spanish word and overspending on a hat are minor infractions, though, compared to Webber’s errors in judgment surrounding the Civil War-era Soldiers’ Monument and his gratuitous labeling of political opponents as QAnon sympathizers and antisemites.

The Soldiers’ Monument was toppled by protestors in October 2020, and its base remains in an unsightly box in the middle of the Santa Fe Plaza three and a half years later. The troubles with the monument began in the spring of 2020, in the first phase of the COVID pandemic and at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd. Across the country, demonstrations against police brutality morphed into demands for the removal of Confederate statues.

New Mexico has few African Americans and no Confederate statues, so protests were instead directed at monuments deemed offensive to Native Americans. In Santa Fe, activists objected to a statue of Don Diego de Vargas, who led Spanish soldiers in the 1692 reconquest of New Mexico after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt; a memorial dedicated to frontiersman Kit Carson, who led a campaign against the Navajo in 1863; and the Soldiers’ Monument. Thirty-three feet tall and situated in the middle of the Santa Fe Plaza, the Soldiers’ Monument was much larger and more conspicuous than the DeVargas statue in a city park or the Carson memorial outside the federal courthouse.

The problem with the Soldiers’ Monument was that it once contained an offensive word. The monument was erected in 1868 to honor New Mexicans, most of whom were Hispanic, who died fighting Confederate “rebels” in the Civil War. But one of its four panels also cited those “fallen in various battles with savage Indians.”

The monument’s wording has been controversial for decades. In 1935, a visitor from Texas objected to the word “rebel.” In 1960, after a complaint about the word “savage,” New Mexican columnist Oliver LaFarge noted that the Indians thus referred to were Apache and Navajo raiders who preyed on Spanish villages and pueblos alike, and that “savage” was used to differentiate them from the peaceful Pueblo people. (LaFarge knew what he was talking about — he was a Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke Navajo, and was a fierce advocate for New Mexico Indians.)

In 1973, after another protest against the word “savage,” the Santa Fe City Council considered removing the Soldiers’ Monument from the Plaza. After some research, however, it was determined that because the Plaza is a National Historic Landmark, the city did not have unilateral authority to remove it. Instead, the city council voted to install a plaque explaining that, “We see on this monument, as in other records, the use of such terms as ‘savage’ and ‘rebel.’ Attitudes change and prejudices hopefully dissolve.” This solution was not universally accepted. The next year, in 1974, a mystery sculptor, whom onlookers mistakenly assumed to be a city worker, chiseled out “savage.”

By 2020, the word “savage” had been absent from the Soldiers’ Monument for 46 years, but, according to the protestors, its “echoes” were still offensive. The protests peaked in the third week of June. On Monday, June 15, the county commissioners of Rio Arriba County, just north of Santa Fe, removed an equestrian statue of Don Juan de Oñate. Oñate was the first governor of Spanish New Mexico and was known for his cruelty to Native Americans. Knowing that a protest was planned and fearing that the statue might be damaged, the commissioners had it removed for safekeeping.   

On the same day, activists in Albuquerque attempted to take down another statue of Oñate. That protest became violent and ended with a shooting. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller ordered the statue removed to keep it from being damaged and to prevent further mayhem.

In both cases, it was clear that the statues were being removed temporarily to protect them and to avert violence, and so that their ultimate fates might be a community decision. Rio Arriba’s county manager said, “That statue is the property of the citizens of Rio Arriba.” Mayor Keller said, “Our art is a public community decision. No single elected official can make permanent changes.”

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber was bolder. On Wednesday, June 17, on the eve of a planned protest, he appeared on the Plaza with the activists and called for the Soldiers’ Monument and the Kit Carson memorial to come down and for the statue of DeVargas to be removed to some other place. He said, “It is a moment of moral truth … and it is long overdue.” He also called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to “create the future we want for our children and grandchildren.” While more experienced leaders in neighboring jurisdictions emphasized that the fate of their monuments would be a community decision, Webber arbitrarily decreed that the Soldiers’ Monument and the Carson memorial were morally offensive and should be removed permanently.  

He is not the first Santa Fe mayor to face conflicting representations of local history relating to Native Americans and Hispanics. In 2015, protestors disrupted the Entrada, the opening ceremony of Santa Fe’s annual Fiesta, because it portrayed the reconquest of New Mexico after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt as peaceful when it was not. Then-mayor Javier Gonzales brought together the various stakeholders, including representatives from the All-Pueblo Council of Governors, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and the Caballeros de Vargas, who sponsored the Entrada, and they negotiated a resolution. In 2018, the Caballeros agreed to drop the Entrada from Fiesta. The New Mexican called it “a great day for Santa Fe.”

Webber was mayor at the end of those discussions, so he knew the representatives from the stakeholder organizations. The 2020 monument protests were led by a few urban Indigenous women, members of relatively new activist groups like Red Nation and the Three Sisters Collective. Webber knew they did not represent any of the organizations involved in the Entrada negotiations or any of New Mexico’s 22 Indian nations, tribes, or pueblos. He has never explained why he so quickly and publicly aligned himself with them, but it was a serious lapse in judgment. It may have stemmed from an imperfect understanding of Santa Fe’s unusual history.

The city was founded by the Spanish in 1609 and was one of the most remote European outposts in the New World for over 200 years. A unique culture, with its own version of Catholicism and its own version of the Spanish language, developed over this long period of isolation. New Mexico was annexed by the United States in 1846, but most Anglo immigrants have recognized Santa Fe as a Spanish city. Mayor Webber seems not to have anticipated that his Hispanic constituents, many of whom trace their resident ancestry to the city’s founding, might resent a relative newcomer making decisions about how their heritage should be commemorated.

Webber could have had the monuments removed for safekeeping, as in Rio Arriba County and Albuquerque, or otherwise protected them without publicly stating his preference for their permanent removal. He made other mistakes in the following months, but his statement of June 17 was the original sin, the first and best evidence that he did not understand his constituency, or the limits of his authority.

That same Wednesday evening, he had a phone conversation with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Who initiated the call and exactly what was said are unclear, but a state-contracted crew arrived at the Plaza later that night with a large crane. In attempting to remove the Soldiers’ Monument, the workers dislodged the capstone, the pyramidal top of the column, then left at 3:00 a.m. when they realized their crane was too small to finish the job.

On Thursday morning, Webber said the botched attempt was “not an undertaking of the city.” A city spokesperson added, “The governor offered state assistance in the inspection of [the Soldiers’ Monument]. The state contractors determined the top of the monument was unstable and removed [it and] verified the remaining portions were stable.” This statement was transparently false. The workers themselves told the press that they were there to remove the Soldiers’ Monument, not inspect it, and the “unstable” capstone had been in place for 152 years.

The same Thursday morning, workers addressed the other two monuments. They successfully lifted the statue of Don Diego DeVargas and took it to an undisclosed location for safekeeping. The Kit Carson memorial was left in place because its sits on federal property but it was covered with a plywood box to protect it from vandals.

The protests planned for later in the day became a celebration as demonstrators met on the Plaza and rejoiced at the removal of the DeVargas statue and the attempted removal of the Soldiers’ Monument. During the festivities, the monument was splattered with red paint and the 1973 plaque regarding the offensive language disappeared.

Mayor Webber’s troubles with the Soldiers’ Monument were just beginning. Carrie Wood, a leader of the Three Sisters Collective, one of the groups that advocated removing the monuments, contacted the mayor a few days after the celebration. In response to her question about when the monument would be removed, Webber said, “There are apparently layers of law we have got to find our way through.” The Three Sisters Collective contacted him again a few days later, saying, “We would like confirmation that [the monuments] are coming down, per your announcement and commitment to the Native community.” Webber did not respond. Roughly six weeks later, in early September, the group reached the mayor by phone, and he referred them to the city attorney, who cited various legal complications.

Webber was soon feeling pressure from two sides. On September 15, he had an impromptu encounter with a spokesman for the city’s Hispanic community. Virgil Vigil, president of Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, a 105-year-old fraternal organization devoted to protecting Hispanic culture, ran into the mayor at a downtown restaurant and asked him when he intended to form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Webber said he was trying to get funding, to which Vigil replied that a commission could easily be formed with volunteers. The exchange ended badly, with shouting and finger-pointing. Vigil, a retired Army colonel, said, “It was a nice conversation up until I told him that the feelings are that you don’t like our culture, our Hispanic culture, and don’t support our Hispanic culture.”

The Soldiers’ Monument remained on the Plaza, defaced and devalued, through the summer of 2020, until Monday, October 12. That day, previously known as Colombus Day, had been redesignated Indigenous Peoples’ Day by the City of Santa Fe in 2016. Some of the activists opposed to the monument planned a three-day “occupation” of the Plaza over the long weekend culminating on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Saturday and Sunday were peaceful enough. Two people chained themselves to the monument, but there was no attempt to take it down. The atmosphere changed on Monday when a city-contracted crew arrived with materials to erect a barricade around the monument. A few protestors interfered with the workers, and the six police officers on the Plaza attempted to arrest one of them. The officers backed off when the crowd became agitated and left the Plaza when ordered to do so by a police captain. The protestors attached chains and ropes and about 40 people pulled down the obelisk, the upper part of the monument.

Mayor Webber and the police chief issued a statement condemning the vandalism and deflecting blame. Asked why the police were so ill-prepared, with only six officers among a crowd of about 150 people, they said that there had been no indication that there would be trouble. Still, they were criticized. City Councilor Renee Villarreal said that having the officers leave the Plaza was a failure on the city’s part. Union Protectiva spokesman Virgil Vigil said the police should have been better prepared.  One of the protestors blamed the mayor himself — he said the monument would not have been taken down by the crowd if it had been removed as promised. “The mayor shouldn’t have stalled,” he said, “It’s tough to be a leader, but you have to act.”

The Santa Fe New Mexican was flooded with letters to the editor in the days following the Soldiers’ Monument’s destruction. While there were varying opinions as to whether it should have been altered to eliminate the reference to the Indian wars, moved to a museum, or left as it was, there was near universal agreement that it should not have been torn down by vandals, and that the mayor contributed to that outcome.

A recurring theme in the letters is that the Soldiers’ Monument was destroyed by outsiders. Ricardo Caté, a cartoonist from Kewa Pueblo whose work appears regularly in The New Mexican, spoke for many when he wrote that the Soldiers’ Monument was problematic, but, “I would rather there was dialogue and communication over the matter, but for some reason, too many people who don’t live in Santa Fe needed the obelisk (Soldiers’ Monument) removed immediately.” Many letter-writers identified the mayor himself as an outsider.

The outsider theme was reinforced when eight people were charged for their part in the incident. One of them, a 33-year-old woman from Pennsylvania named Lily Sage Schweitzer, was identified as a principal organizer of the vandalism. Posting on the Facebook page of an organization called SURJ (Stand Up for Racial Justice), which bills itself as “A Home for White People Working for Justice,” Schweitzer mobilized the protestors and shared her plan to bring to the Plaza the equipment used to topple the Soldiers’ Monument.

Webber’s claim that he had no advance warning of trouble was contradicted on November 18, five weeks after the event, when The New Mexican discovered an email from Carrie Wood of the Three Sisters Collective. On Sunday, October 11, the day before Indigenous People’s Day, Wood warned Webber that there would be an attempt to topple the Soldiers’ Monument.  Although she stressed that she would not be on the Plaza herself, she said she had discerned through social media and her contacts among the activists that something was planned. She urged the mayor to have the monument removed immediately — she was sure, she said, that it would come down one way or another and that it would be better if the city did it. If protestors removed it, she wrote, “The narrative of you lying to Native people will be further pushed …  and this would sabotage any attempts to find truth and reconciliation in Santa Fe.” The mayor acknowledged receiving the email but said he did not take it as a specific warning and so did not notify the police.

In June 2020, Webber unilaterally decided which of Santa Fe’s public monuments were acceptable and which were not. This antagonized the city’s Hispanic community. Over the next four months, he failed to remove the monuments as promised and so lost the trust of the Indigenous activists. In October 2020, he allowed the Soldiers’ Monument to be destroyed, and this cost him the support of many of the city’s leading Anglos, particularly those interested in Santa Fe history.

Many of the preservationist-minded Anglos in the Old Santa Fe Association had voted for Webber and most were generally sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter protestors. They understood that the Soldiers’ Monument’s reference to the Indian wars might be offensive to Native Americans, even if the word “savage” had been gone for decades. They were patient during the June protests, hoping that the promised Truth and Reconciliation Commission would lead to a community solution. They envisioned keeping the monument on the Plaza and replacing the offending panel or maybe moving it to another location. They were not prepared to see it destroyed by vandals.

Many believed the mayor undervalued the Soldiers’ Monument and thought he confirmed this in an interview when he said, “The monuments are less important to me than the conversations they create.” To the preservationists, the Soldiers’ Monument was very important, both historically and aesthetically.

Erected in 1868, it was older than all the monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; the Statue of Liberty; and the Confederate statues that stood on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. The members of the Old Santa Fe Association knew this. They knew that the word “savage” was removed in 1974 and that “February” was misspelled on one of its panels. And they knew that the Soldiers’ Monument symbolized an era.

In 1997, University of New Mexico professor Chris Wilson published The Myth of Santa Fe. Wilson’s thesis is that early twentieth-century Anglo merchants purposely set out to “Hispanicize” the city’s appearance to make it more attractive to tourists. He cites the many buildings around the Plaza that have been painted adobe brown and had portales, porches, added to make them appear less American and more Spanish. Wilson calls this “adobe camouflage.”  

The Territorial-era Soldiers’ Monument was without any such pretense. It was clearly of its time, as is the Plaza itself, whose Victorian streetlights, benches, and bandstand were designed to complement the Soldiers’ Monument. The monument’s very presence on the Plaza, the center of the city and a place visited by virtually every tourist, was an important counter-point to The Myth of Santa Fe.

The Winter 2020 issue of El Boletín, the Old Santa Fe Association newsletter, is largely devoted to the Soldiers’ Monument. Members of the group wrote essays explaining its value and lamenting its destruction. The organization’s official stance was to endorse the newly announced Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Mayor Webber had renamed “CHART,” for Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation, and Truth. (The mayor has an affinity for memorable acronyms, though critics questioned how reconciliation could come before truth.) The president of the Old Santa Fe Association wrote, “We have high hopes and expectations that such an inclusive, representative group will review, discuss, and recommend appropriate actions to repair the damage to what was the heart of the Plaza and our historic city.” 

These were the opinions expressed in public. But many of the attorneys, architects, and historians in the preservationist community also had ongoing relationships with the city, either as contractors or as board members of civic organizations, and were constrained in their public criticism of the mayor. They were more candid in private. Some members of the Old Santa Fe Association believed that, despite his statements to the contrary, the mayor was secretly pleased by the destruction of the Soldiers’ Monument.

Alan Webber was reelected in 2021, defeating Republican Alexis Martinez Johnson, who had virtually no chance in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, and City Councilwoman JoAnne Vigil Coppler, a fellow Democrat who ran a lackluster and underfunded campaign. There was widespread belief that he had mishandled the Soldiers’ Monument issue, and he did admit to waiting too long to convene a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the monument was not the central issue in the election. The overriding concern in 2021 was the COVID pandemic. Governor Michelle Lujan Grishan, a Democrat, took an early and proactive stance, ordering business closures and mask mandates, and Mayor Webber endorsed her policies. This met with near-universal approval from Santa Fe’s overwhelmingly progressive majority.

The Soldiers’ Monument was discussed, but its impact on the election was diminished by two factors. The first was that even those who faulted the mayor for his role in the affair saw no alternative to the CHART process, and that process was barely underway in 2021. Webber’s Hispanic critics derided CHART as an acronym for “Cancelling Hispanic Arts, Religion, and Tradition,” but most Santa Feans saw it as the only hope for a good resolution. Second, the issue was grossly mishandled by his opponent, JoAnne Vigil Coppler, who claimed to have heard from a police officer that the mayor himself had ordered the police to withdraw from the Plaza on Indigenous People’s Day. Webber denied it and demanded that she produce her source, which she failed to do.

Webber’s campaign rhetoric in the 2021 election provided more evidence of his lack of appreciation for Santa Fe’s unique history. The mayor had a commanding lead in fund-raising and a relatively weak opponent, so his overly aggressive rhetoric struck many as both unnecessary and oddly disconnected from local realities. New Mexican columnist Milan Simonich took note when Webber issued a statement saying, “MAGA and QAnon are real in Santa Fe and they will stop at nothing to take over the Mayor’s office.” Simonich responded, “Webber’s evidence is nonexistent that radical and dangerous right-wingers can somehow grab control of liberal Santa Fe. His claims would sound like a joke if he weren’t using them as an insidious campaign tactic.”   

Given the history of Jewish people in Santa Fe, a dispute with the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees was equally discordant. Gil Martinez, vice president of the union, circulated a drawing of a man with cartoonishly large features sitting in front of a computer, and Webber’s campaign immediately objected to what it said was an antisemitic drawing of the mayor, who is Jewish. Martinez said he meant to depict a random city employee and did not anticipate that the drawing could be construed as an insult to Jewish people.

Most people believed him because antisemitism was and is almost non-existent in Santa Fe. Former mayor Sam Pick, the son of an Austrian Jewish immigrant, said he never once experienced it — as a child, as a businessman, as a city councilor, or as mayor.

This is due in part to the feelings of good will engendered by the Jewish merchants who settled in the city in the late nineteenth century. They were business and civic leaders who contributed generously to the building funds of St. Francis Cathedral and Holy Faith Episcopal Church, which recognized their contributions with a Star of David in a stained-glass window.

The Crypto Jew phenomenon is an even bigger factor. After Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the last of the Moors in 1492, they decreed that Spain would henceforth be an exclusively Catholic country, and the sizeable Jewish population was required to leave or convert to Catholicism.  Of the several hundred thousand conversos who chose to stay, many became Christian in name only and continued to pass down Jewish traditions within their families. This was a dangerous ruse in the days of the Spanish Inquisition. The Crypto Jew theory holds that many secret Jews migrated to Mexico, and eventually to New Mexico, to escape close scrutiny.

Most Hispanic people in Santa Fe are familiar with the Crypto Jew theory and many believe they have Jewish ancestors. In 2015, the Spanish Parliament offered descendants of Crypto Jews a right of return and a path to Spanish citizenship if they could prove their heritage, and so many New Mexicans applied that the Spanish government ended the program earlier than anticipated. It makes no sense for Gil Martinez or anyone else to cast aspersions on the basis of Jewish ancestry in Santa Fe, where so many people are convinced of their own Jewish heritage.

The Soldiers’ Monument issue has festered since Webber’s reelection in 2021. The much-anticipated CHART report, which finally came out in August 2022, was a disappointment, long on aspirational verbiage about healing but with no specific recommendation for the monument.

In March 2023, four city councilors introduced a resolution to rebuild the Soldiers’ Monument on the Plaza. They proposed that the fractures in the stone be emphasized as a physical reminder of its destruction and that new signage be used to explain its controversial history. The proposal would have also created a new city Office of Equity and Inclusion.

Mayor Webber was not involved in the drafting of the resolution but did make suggestions. One was that the reconstructed Soldiers’ Monument somehow incorporate a water feature. Another was to replace the name of the proposed Office of Equity and Inclusion with the acronym IDEA, for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access. His proposals were largely ignored by the sponsoring councilors and the public.

The resolution to rebuild the Soldiers’ Monument was introduced at the Santa Fe City Council meeting of March 8, 2023. It did not go well, as public comment devolved into angry outbursts from all sides. Hispanics and veterans argued that the Soldiers’ Monument should be restored exactly as it was and objected to emphasizing the cracks as a reminder of its destruction by vandals. Virgil Vigil said, “I’m not denying that … tearing it down is part of history … but you have the right to put your history someplace else.” Native protestors saw the re-installation of the Soldiers’ Monument in any form as an affront. Carrie Wood of the Three Sisters Collective called it, “anti-Indigenous and racist to Native people.” Taken aback by the anger on both sides, the beleaguered councilors voted to table the idea until their next meeting. They later decided to drop it altogether.

It has been three and a half years since the Soldiers’ Monument’s destruction in 2020. The failed March 2023 proposal was the only real attempt to resolve the issue, and the monument’s base still sits in an ugly box in the middle of the Plaza.

Alan Webber’s popularity is at an all-time low. A September 2023 forum of candidates for Santa Fe City Council asked the six contenders to rate the mayor’s performance. Two candidates gave him a C, one gave him a C-minus, one gave him a D, one gave him an F, and one gave him an F-minus. He was booed when introduced at the beginning of Santa Fe’s 2023 Fiesta and again the next day at a mariachi concert. City Councilor Miguel Garcia said he was surprised at the volume and length of the booing. “It was coming from all angles,” Garcia said, “It seemed like it lasted forever.” Webber’s predecessors, former mayors Larry Degado and Sam Pick, said they had never been booed.

The low ebb came in February 2024, when Webber antagonized Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Union Protectiva, the Hispanic cultural group headed by Virgil Vigil, had sued the city over the destruction of the Soldiers’ Monument, and the mayor was deposed. In his deposition, he talked about the conversations he had with the Governor Lujan Grisham in June 2020, just before the attempted removal of the Soldiers’ Monument, and implied that he was following her advice. The governor characterized his comments as an “egregious mischaracterization,” and said “Instead of leading on this issue, Mayor Webber is attempting to pass the buck and spread blame. That gets us nowhere, and he should be ashamed of himself for not owning his inaction when asked about it. There is an obvious leadership problem at the City of Santa Fe.”

Santa Feans have different theories to explain Webber’s failures as mayor. He is intelligent, articulate, and by all accounts, affable in person. Yet his bad decisions in the Soldiers’ Monument dispute, injudicious public statements, and gratuitous labeling of opponents as QAnon sympathizers and antisemites have alienated constituents and political allies. Some Santa Feans believe he has a bias against Hispanics. Others cast him as an autocrat who will not take advice and cannot tolerate criticism.

The real reason for his failure is simpler. Alan Webber may have made a fine mayor in his hometown of St. Louis, where there is no centuries-old Hispanic culture and where there surely are QAnon sympathizers and antisemites. His experience as a bureaucrat and business leader might have been useful there. But Santa Fe is in New Mexico, and “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” Alan Webber is, clearly, a victim of The Curse.  

am contemplating a book about the artists and writers who came to Santa Fe in the early 20th  century and the effect they had on the city’s art and architecture. To that end, I am writing a few essays on topics of interest. The following article, which appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of El Boletin, the Old Santa Fe Association’s newsletter, is the first of these essays.

Whose Fiesta Is It?

Most members of the Old Santa Fe Associationknow that the organization was formed by the city’s artists and writers in response to a planned Chautauqua, or seasonal cultural colony. A group of Texas clubwomen, estimated at 3,000 in number, planned to acquire land in Santa Fe and build summer cottages to live in while they attended lectures and concerts. The OSFA was formed in April 1926 to protest the Chautauqua, and by July of that year, the Texas clubwomenhad dropped their plan to come to Santa Fe.

It is not well known, however, that the Old Santa Fe Association played a significant role in another controversyimmediately after the Chautauqua affair. In this case, the disagreement was about the Santa Fe Fiesta, and the OSFA once again protested an attempt to market the city to outsiders.

Fiesta, which has its roots in a 1712 celebration of the 1692 reconquista by Don Diego de Vargas, was revived in 1912. The School of American Research took responsibility for it in the late teens, and in 1920, SAR director Edgar Lee Hewett took personal charge of the program.

For the next few years, Fiesta was heavy on “cultural” education, with Indian dances, lectures, and staged musical reviews. Hewett meant to draw paying tourists — the Plaza was blocked off, and spectators had to pay admission to watch the program.

Santa Fe’s artists and writers disliked Hewett’s formal Fiesta. They were particularly bothered because, although it was supposed to be a community celebration, most of the city’s Hispanic residents could not afford to attend. In 1924 and 1925, poet Witter Bynner and Dolly Sloan, wife of artist John Sloan, created a free community celebration that took place in conjunction with Fiesta’s formal program. They called it El Pasatiempo de la Gente, “Past-time of the People.” Pasatiempo included a Hysterical Parade to offset Hewett’s serious Historical Pageant and street dancing in the evening. Unlike the formal Fiesta, Pasatiempo was free and included the city’s Hispanic residents.

Pasatiempo did not take place in the 1926 Fiesta. It was initially on the schedule but was dropped from the program before Fiesta began. The Archbishop of Santa Fe had complained that certain aspects of previous Hysterical Parades were “bawdy,” and Hewett tried to censor parts of the 1926 parade. It seems that Bynner and Sloan withdrew rather than comply with his demands.

Pasatiempo aside, Hewett had big plans for his 1926 Fiesta. He created an “Indian Amphitheater” in a natural bowl just east of the original Cross of the Martyrs. It was an ambitious undertaking — he had a stage built at the bottom of the bowl, had bulldozers create terraced seating areas, installed electric lights, and surrounded the bowl with barbed wire to keep out non-paying spectators. The Indian Amphitheater would be the primary venue for the 1926 Fiesta.

As in previous years, Hewett’s Fiesta program took itself seriously. A wedding ceremony between a Pueblo man and woman was celebrated as “probably the only time such an event has been seen outside a Pueblo.” The main attractions were two “Indian” operas by an Anglo composer named Charles Wakefield Cadman. Cadman was nationally known, and his operas had recently played in Denver and Los Angeles.

The performers were all professional singers. They included a tenor from the Metropolitan Opera, a Mohawk singer named Oskenonta, and two Anglo vocalists “of national reputation.” The lead roles went to a Native woman named Tsianina Redfeather. Born Florence Tsianina Evans to Cherokee parents, she took her Indian name years before when she began touring with Charles Wakefield Cadman. Cadman wore formal attire as he played the piano. Tsianina wore her usual beaded buckskin dress, and the other performers, including the Anglos, were also dressed in Indian costumes.

The 1926 Fiesta did not go well. Opening night started an hour late because of confusion about tickets and parking, and the next day’s activities started an hour and a half late for reasons that are not clear. Worse still, the opera performance was interrupted by a rainstorm. Audience members ran for their cars as Hewett tried to convince them to stay.

It was apparent to everyone that the 1926 Fiesta was a bust, but local criticism was muted. Bronson Cutting, owner of The Santa Fe New Mexican, disliked Hewett intensely, but the paper remained quiet. Fiesta was a big part of Santa Fe’s cultural scene, and the hometown paper was reluctant to criticize it.

A correspondent for the Daily Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper, was less circumspect. He wrote a scathing review of the “Fiasco,” as he referred to it. He wrote:

Money was the thing this year. The decorative ceremonies of the Pueblo Indians were at a minimum; Spanish folksongs and dances were conspicuous by their comparative absence. The artists were nowhere to be seen. The piece de resistance was a pseudo-Indian opera … with the principal roles being sung by outsiders. The Plaza, the heart of the ancient city and heretofore the center of Fiesta, was this year occupied by a sort of second-rate auto show. Where once wit, satire, and hilarity had flourished, there was now dead seriousness about history, with no carnival spirit to relieve it. When Witter Bynner ran Pasatiempo, the plaza was gay with bunting and the sad-faced tourist laughed aloud.

Ten days after the failed Fiesta, the newly formed Old Santa Fe Association announced that it was putting on a separate Pasatiempo celebration. It was scheduled for early September, one month after the Fiesta. All events were to be free and prizes were to be awarded to the participants. Over the next two-plus weeks, OSFA members contributed their time and money to the planned celebration.

The 1926 Pasatiempo was a great success. The New Mexican called it “the most brilliant and picturesque carnival Santa Fe has seen” and noted that it was ”sponsored by the Old Santa Fe Association as an opportunity for the Spanish speaking people of Santa Fe and the nearby plazas to hold their own fiesta.”

The same correspondent for the Daily Oklahoman who panned Hewett’s Fiesta praised the alternative event. He headlined his article: “Pasatiempo is One Great and Screaming Farce.“ He called it “a free community rejoicing, a folk-carnival, just as the expensive Fiesta was “For Visitors Only.””

Will Shuster, with help from Gustave Baumann, created the first public Zozobra, which was burned to dispel gloom. The Hysterical Parade included Shuster driving his Model T “covered wagon” with a mechanical horse pulling it and Witter Bynner dressed as Little Lord Fauntleroy. There was also a wedding between two burros, undoubtedly a parody of the formal Fiesta’s Pueblo wedding.

In February 1927, five months after the Pasatiempo and six months after Hewett’s Fiesta, The Santa Fe New Mexican finally addressed the issue. Its editorial noted that the paper had been quiet about the failure of Fiesta, but now felt compelled to comment because Hewett and his allies were resisting giving up control. The editorial noted that Fiesta belonged to the people of Santa Fe, not the School of American Research, and that it was absurd to think otherwise. Hewett and his allies objected but were ultimately relieved of responsibility for Fiesta.

In both the Chautauqua and Fiesta controversies, the Old Santa Fe Association successfully resisted efforts to sell the city to tourists. Thanks to the OSFA’s founding members, Santa Fe for decades after retained its reputation as a haven for artists, writers, and other refugees from mainstream Americ