This homepage is used as a place for recent writings. These currently include two letters to the editor of The Santa Fe New Mexican and an article about the 1926 Fiesta written for the Old Santa Fe Association newsletter.
BACKGROUND -The Soldier’s Monument
The Soldier’s Monument, also called the Obelisk, was erected on the Santa Fe plaza in 1868. Though primarily devoted to the memory of those who fought in the Civil War, one of four plaques was dedicated to soldiers who fought “savage Indians.” In 1974, an unknown sculptor chiseled out the word “savage.”
The Obelisk was toppled by protesters, including a few Native Americans and many more Anglos, on Indigenous People’s Day in October 2020. Mayor Alan Webber and the Santa Fe City Council were criticized for their actions before the vandalism and their failure to take action on the critical day.
Over three years later, the base of the Obelisk still sits in an ugly box in the center of the Plaza, with no good resolution in sight. The following letter to the editor was submitted to The New Mexican as a My View piece for inclusion in the November 12, 2023 edition.
LETTER to the EDITOR
Recent opinion pieces in The New Mexican have advocated removing the base of the Soldiers’ Monument (the Obelisk) from the Plaza and leaving the space open. While I understand the frustration behind this idea, I believe the monument can and should be returned to the Plaza.
The original language was offensive to Native Americans, even with the word “savage” removed. A community simply cannot sustain a memorial to those who died fighting on one side of a conflict if descendants of those who fought on the other side live in the same community. I suggest that the Soldiers’ Monument be reinstalled on the Plaza, just as it was physically, but with new language that honors all New Mexico veterans and not the causes for which they fought.
The MAIN PANEL could read: “SOLDIERS’ MONUMENT. This monument honors New Mexicans of every race, creed, and culture who died in the service of their country. Dedicated May 30, 1868. Rededicated November 11, 2024.” (It would be fitting to rededicate the monument on Veterans Day.)
THE OTHER THREE PANELS could read as follows:
One PANEL: “Dedicated to the Hispanic New Mexicans who died for their country, including those lost on San Juan Hill, on the Bataan Death March, and on other battlefields around the world.”
another PANEL should similarly honor Native Americans, “from every Nation, Tribe, and Pueblo, including those who served as Navajo Code Talkers,” and
another PANEL should honor African Americans, “including the famed Buffalo Soldiers who paraded on this Plaza over 150 years ago.”
There are other good reasons to return the monument to the Plaza. One of them is that it is what people want. While the CHART report made no recommendation regarding its disposition, the surveys conducted as part of the CHART process are instructive. Of the seven possible responses regarding 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 represent a clear majority of 54.6%.
The Soldiers’ Monument is of historical and aesthetic importance to Santa Fe. It predates most of the nation’s other Civil War monuments, as well 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 designed by John Gaw Meem and the Plaza Bandstand designed by Beverley Spears 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.
The history of the monument itself is important, but it need not be told on the Plaza. A permanent sign near the monument could direct people to an exhibition in the History Museum that tells the entire story, from 1868 through the monument’s toppling in 2020 and its rededication in 2024. The story can also be told on a website.
I urge the Santa Fe City Council to consider returning the Soldiers’ Monument to its rightful place in the center of the Plaza, with new wording that should help reconcile the divisions in our diverse community.
BACKGROUND – Artful Life
Some months after the Obelisk was toppled, the mayor and council contracted with an Albuquerque company called “Artful LIfe” to conduct the CHART (Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation, and Truth) process, which included interviews and surveys of Santa Feans about the city’s cultural problems. Artful LIfe submitted its CHART report on August 30, 2022.
LETTER to the EDITOR
This letter was submitted to The New Mexican as a My View piece for inclusion in the March 19, 2023 edition. The paper did not print it, and I am not sure why. The New Mexican generally presents Santa Fe in a good light, so it may be that the letter is perceived as too critical of the city administration.
CHART Report is Flawed
Throughout the many discussions about the Obelisk, Santa Fe’s mayor and city council have touted the CHART report produced by Artful Life. This is a mistake. The report is deeply flawed, and that is most evident in its treatment of the tricultural model.
The report recommends that the city abandon the idea that New Mexico is composed of distinct Native American, Spanish, and Anglo cultural components. The tricultural model has been out of in favor for years, so the report’s discussion of the issue is largely moot. It does, however, say something about the report’s authors.
In describing tricultural model, the authors acknowledge that it is based on historical realities, but their description of the three cultures is misleading.
[Santa Fe’s] cultural story began long ago, with the Puebloan people, and was enriched by other area tribes–Apache, Navajos, Utes and others. Then came the Spanish colonizers–with cultures of their own–followed by White/Anglo settlers from a myriad of countries and cultures of origin, many spurred on by the ideology of U.S. Manifest Destiny.
It is true that the Pueblo people were here first and that Apachean bands (today’s Apache and Navajo) came later, between 1300 and 1500 AD by most estimates. It is, however, a striking mischaracterization to say that the Pueblo people were “enriched” by strangers who wandered onto their land and raided their towns. One wonders whether the Irish felt enriched by the Vikings
One also wonders why the authors think White/Anglo settlers were “spurred on by the ideology of U.S. Manifest Destiny.” The Anglos who settled in New Mexico came for personal reasons. Teenager Kit Carson came down the Santa Fe trail in 1826 after running away from a saddler’s apprenticeship. Thomas B. Catron came after the Civil War because he knew his service in the Confederate army would impede his career as a lawyer in Missouri. Tuberculosis patients came by the thousands because they hoped to live a few months longer than they would in a city back East. No Anglo ever said that he or she came to New Mexico to fulfill America’s Manifest Destiny.
Soon after the report’s release, Councilor Villarreal noted its recommendation “to address the ‘tricultural myth’ of Santa Fe and how it is used by the city’s tourism department.” More recently, Mayor Webber, citing the report, said, “the tricultural story is a myth, and we shouldn’t embrace it.”
The councilor and mayor need not worry. I visited the tourist information booths for the State of New Mexico and the City of Santa Fe to see how the tricultural idea was being promoted. The people staffing the booths had never heard of it. I then called Randy Randall, Santa Fe’s director of tourism. He said he first heard of the tricultural model when the CHART report came out. He also said
that removing it from city advertising would be easy since it has not been there in his nine years as director.
Valerie Martinez. director of Artful Life, recommends that the city sponsor many more months of discussion, facilitated by an organization like hers, before again addressing the Obelisk problem.
The Obelisk was toppled almost two and a half years ago. Artful Life gathered information for 11 months, and it has been six months since their CHART report was released. A resolution will require more work, but this is a job for Santa Fe’s elected leaders. It cannot be outsourced to “experts” like those at Artful Life.
I 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