Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Poverty Preserves

The town of Las Vegas, New Mexico is as different from its glitzy Nevada namesake as it is from its sixty-five mile down-the-road neighbor, Santa Fe.  In fact much of it is more similar in appearance and architecture to a pair of east coast cities in which we have spent some time – the late 19th century Victorian communities of Cape May, New Jersey and Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

We made the one-hour drive to Vegas to take in the “Holiday Home Tour” put on by the Las Vegas Citizen’s Committee for Historic Preservation (LVCCHP) on a recent Saturday from five to nine p.m.  Since, as we have mentioned in other posts, there are basically no street lights anywhere in northern New Mexico – and since all the roads involved in this adventure were unfamiliar to us (including that portion of the seventy-five mph Route 25) – we opted to spend the night there at the Plaza Hotel, the exterior of which should be recognizable to fans of the Netflix Series “Longmire” as the front of the sheriff’s office.
 


Located along the edge of the eastern plains of New Mexico, at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Las Vegas was established by a Mexican land grant in 1835.  It was originally named “Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes” (“Our Lady of Sorrows of the Great Meadows) by the original settlers whose roots in the area went back to the early 1600’s.   Initially, the settlement was designed to be battened down for attacks by the Apache Indians with one-story adobe houses circling a large, central plaza where livestock could be driven to safety.   The soldiers later moved up the road twenty-six miles to Fort Union.
 

In 1846, during the Mexican War, General Stephen W. Kearney led his “Army of the West” to Las Vegas.  The 1,500 residents quickly surrendered.  By then the Santa Fe Trail had become a major trade route, and as the first town of any size east of Kansas the city eagerly began supplying whiskey and women to the traders, pioneers and prospectors who stopped by.  When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reached the settlement in 1879, Las Vegas became the largest city between San Francisco and Independence, Missouri rivaling Denver, Tucson and El Paso in size.

“Overnight, a new town was born on the east banks of the Gallinas River, a mile east of the Plaza. At first, a settlement of tents, sheds and makeshift shelters were built, but within just a few short years, many permanent buildings had been established, as well as a competing commercial district…The six trains that stopped there daily opened up yet another era of prosperity, bringing with it both legitimate businesses, but also introducing even more new elements into the town’s already distrustful environment. Before long, outlaws, bunko artists, murderers and thieves were becoming so common that the eastern part of the settlement had become utterly lawless,” according to LegendsofAmerica.com

“It was during these notorious days of Las Vegas’ history that the town was called home or visited by the likes of Doc Holliday [who had a dentist’ office in town], Big-Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Bob Ford, [and] Wyatt Earp… In 1881, after Billy the Kid was killed at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, his index finger was sent in a jar to the Las Vegas newspaper.”


 (Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings aka Big-Nose Kate)

To maintain control of development, the railroad established a station and other buildings one mile east of the Plaza, creating a separate, rival “New Town,” just as it did elsewhere in the Old West in places such as Albuquerque. The train station itself was built in 1899 as a two-story brick station building designed in the Spanish Mission style and featuring a red tile roof, ornate metal brackets and a curving parapet.

The railway also brought entrepreneurs such as Fred Harvey whose “Harvey House” chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality industry businesses situated alongside the tracks in the western United States catered to the growing number of traveling train tourists.   In Las Vegas Harvey built the Hotel Castañeda where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders held their first reunion in 1899.

“Railroad Barons” and other successful businessman constructed many large Victorian style homes along various streets on the city’s east side.  Andrew Carnegie endowed one of his public libraries to the town – this one designed in a Neoclassical, Palladian style similar to Jefferson’s Monticello.  Fin de siècle Las Vegas featured all the modern amenities, including an electric street railway, the "Duncan Opera House,” and the New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University) – all on the east side of town.

The separation point between the east and west, along the banks of Galinas River, was known as the Tortilla Curtain.  The two sides finally unified into one town in 1950 but each one retains its own distinct characteristics and separate, rival school districts.

The Plaza Hotel where we spent Saturday night was built in 1882 on the West Side of town by a group of Hispano businessmen led by Don Benigno Romero at a cost of $25,000. It is a three-story brick building with an Italianate façade, grandly decorated, with high-ceilinged guest rooms. The lobby is connected to the second floor by towering twin staircases.  It was advertised as the finest hotel in the Nuevo Mexican territory, and frequently referred to as the "Belle of the Southwest.”
 

Like many other 1800s railroad boomtowns however, Las Vegas did not fare as well in the twentieth century.   In 1905 a new rail line was built in New Mexico between the towns of Clovis and Belen, cutting off Las Vegas in the north.  The Great Depression hit the community hard, and the postwar rise of automobile and truck travel and the accompanying decline of the railroad industry pretty much sealed its economic fate.

But as M, the former Assistant Director of our Historical Society in Wethersfield, Connecticut, used to say, “poverty preserves.”

The New York Times agrees.  “Las Vegas’s ill fortune in the 20th century is its good fortune in the 21st. Because the economy collapsed in the early part of the 1900s, no one was tearing down old buildings to make way for new ones. Now many buildings have been restored, but Las Vegas hasn’t been covered in stucco in an attempt to adobify it.”

Today, Las Vegas is home to over 900 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of the highest per capita in the nation.   “So many of these historic buildings are still standing here because no one had the money to tear them down” after Las Vegas’ boom town days ended, according to the LVCCHP – the sponsor of the House tour that brought us here.

There were six stops on the excursion – four residences (two eastside and two west) and two hotels, likewise east and west.  One of the stops was the Plaza, our home base for the weekend.

The West Vegas homes were located in a neighborhood replete with 130 year old adobe houses.  The first one however was originally a single-wide mobile home expanded into an eight room bungalow in which every surface of every room was filled with Christmas decorations.  Each area was organized by theme – Nutcrackers, angels, a Christmas Village, a working carnival – with trees of the same motif.  Something the owners of the house have been doing for the past ten years – five as a part of the house tour.



The next west-sider was in fact an old adobe that had been more than doubled in size to accomodate two offices, a greenhouse, and more.  The decoration here was of the less-is-more style but the house was the show.  Another one of the New Mexico houses whose size cannot be understood from the outside.



The “New Town” homes were both two-story, 3,200 sq. ft. plus, Victorian style buildings with large porches and cellars built in the late 1800s  – one by a “Railroad Baron.”   Either residence would have fit perfectly into the Cape May Historic District, the Victorian streets of Bellefonte – or Hartford, Connecticut’s Nook Farm area.

The other east side stop on the tour was the El Fidel Hotel.  Built in 1923 as a community project initiated by the Commercial Club of Las Vegas and originally called “The Meadows,” the Spanish Colonial revival style structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Two years after it opened, the inn made headlines as the site of a shooting involving Las Vegas Judge David Leahy and Carl Magee, founder of the now-defunct Albuquerque Tribune.  Prohibition was in full swing when the hotel opened, but that didn’t stop their bar there from selling liquor. Individuals wanting adult beverages would enter through the alley “as a nod to respectability,” the hotel website noted.  The business was purchased in the 1940s by the Syrian immigrant Fidel brothers who re-named and renovated it.   It was sold again in 2016 and is in renovation – although open for business.

Several of the older buildings in town are being, or recently have been, restored including the Hotel Castañeda, which has been closed since 1948, but is, as we speak, being renovated by developer Allan Affeldt and partners who have already bought, refurbished, and re-opened the historic Harvey House hotel La Posada in Winslow, Arizona.         

The owner of the “Railroad Baron” Victorian house mentioned that a friendly apparition, whom she believes to be the former live-in cook, haunts her abode.  In that same spirit, the town of Las Vegas is trying to rehabilitate itself by resurrecting more of its ghosts from the past – and sharing them once again with the touring public.

We will miss what could have become a regular visit to Cape May and the early morning walks on the beach.  As well as our annual trip to Penn State University for Coach Denise’s Golf Camp – and a day in nearby Bellefonte.

But now we know, should we start to get an attack of adobe-phobia requiring a quick dose of Victoriana, that relief is just an hour away.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

It Was All About the Feathers


The combination of an email from a dear Wethersfield friend, and the recent holiday has prompted me to write a short essay on the prominent role played by the turkey in New Mexico history.

It probably should have occurred to him before.  To our surprise, most of the talks and lectures on our new home state’s past have included something about the large North American members of the Phasianidae family and their importance to the evolution of the Land of Enchantment.  Oddly the only one that did not was a “Foodways” talk at the Office of Archaeological Studies about “The First Thanksgiving” where the only mention of the wattled avian was that it was not part of the menu.  (In social science “Foodways” are the cultural, social, and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food. Wikipedia.com)

The email contained part of an article from “Science’ magazine the point of which was that (to quote the magazine) “Mayans raised and managed wild turkeys – the same species as the Butterball on your table – more than 2300 years ago, making them the first vertebrates to be domesticated on the North American continent.”

Likewise for the Pueblo Indians who were here long before the 1500s when the Spanish began their exploration of what was to become Nuevo Mexico.

But the Puebloans – and in general the Mayans also – did not raise the birds as a source of food.  Analysis of human hair found at various New Mexican sites show a diet where approximately 80% of the protein and calories were from maize.  Other foods included amaranth, rice grass, pine nuts, squash and some red meat such as mountain sheep and deer. 

More evidence comes from the turkey bones themselves that have been found during archeological digs in New Mexico.  The condition of these ancient hard issues indicates that virtually all of these feathered animals died intact – with no signs of having been roasted or having their drumsticks gnawed on.  Some actually look to have been deliberaely buried.  One or two indicated that the turkey might have broken a leg, which the Natives seem to have attempted to set or splint in order to keep it alive.

So, if not nutriment then what?  It seems it was all about the feathers.

Pueblo Indians made prayer sticks, masks and headdresses out of the feathers, which were “live-plucked” from the short layer of the bird’s tail.  Bristles from the “beard” (the coarse black hairs that grow on the breast of adult males) were also added to the thin pieces of carved wood.

But principally the turkey feathers were used to make clothes, pouches, ornaments, necklaces – and turkey blankets.

“The making of turkey feather fabrics consisted of stripping the large wing and tail feathers from live turkeys, wrapping the feathers around feather cords, and weaving the cords into robes and blanket…Humans because of their particular needs continued to favor live turkeys as a source of ritual feathers for sacrifice, and in the production of textiles.” according to “More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality” by Karen Davis.

At the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo at present day Coronado Historic Site in Bernallilo, N.M. we were able to see structures that formerly were used as enclosures for the domesticated turkeys.  And, after hearing so much about these birds, with not too much imagination we were able to picture a phantom profusion of partially plucked Phasianidae parading pathetically in the Pueblo.

Or maybe it was just the altitude.


 

This photo illustrates why woven, woolen Navajo blankets were a bigger hit with the tourists.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The fabrics of New Mexico’s lives


 
One of the joys of volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum is hearing visitors wax nostalgic about memories evoked by buildings and settings from their or their families past.  (El Rancho has structures dating from the early 1700s into the late 1800s – many of whose real world likenesses were still in use in the 20th and even 21st centuries.
             
Recently in Sierra Village (c. 1890) Jim had the pleasure of talking to a woman whose grandfather lived on a doppelgänger of this family compound-farm in Southern New Mexico where he was a successful commercial cotton grower.  Among other things, she wistfully and proudly remembered how buyers would come from the east specifically to bid for his bales of the white, fluffy crop.
             
Since moving to Santa Fe we have become aware that the Navajo, now weavers of woolen objects, practiced their craft with cotton prior to the arrival of the Spanish, and their churro sheep, in the 16th century.   

We also heard at the Botanical Garden that a type of this fiber-producing shrub (along with quinoa, amaranth and other grains) grew wild at the high elevations of New Mexico, and that the natives harvested and learned to grow and use these plants for their clothing or dietary needs.
             
But we did not know much of anything about the story of New Mexican cotton either before or after the Navajo switched from that material to wool for their weaving.
             
“The most precious commodities of southwestern prehistory were turquoise, macaws, copper bells, seashells and cotton and the textiles woven from it.”  (Grasshopper Pueblo: A Story of Archaeology and Ancient Life By Jefferson Reid, Stephanie Whittlesey
             
Fortunately for historians, New Mexico is one of  “four known areas in the world where perishable textile material, preserved by excessively dry conditions, has survived in appreciable amounts to the present day.” The others are Inner Mongolia, Egypt, coastal Peru. (Kate Peck Kent, “The Cultivation and Weaving of Cotton in the Prehistoric Southwestern United States)   
             
While most evidence comes from the years between 1000 and 1400 A.D., the artifacts indicate that there was loom weaving with cotton in New Mexico as early as 700 A.D.  Among the relics recovered were corpses wrapped in cotton blankets sometimes with tools for spinning (the process of making thread out of raw fibers), cotton yarn, cottonseeds, seed beaters (instruments used to remove seeds), loom parts, weaving tools, and cloth bags.  The quality of work showed the “same skill in spinning thread and the same proficiency in weaving that appear in fabrics of later periods.”
             
Peck Kent concludes that the cotton plant was not indigenous – more likely a pre-Spanish import from northern Mexico believed to be what is now called Gossypium Hopi – a fast blooming (84-100 days) species that grows at high altitudes in arid conditions.
             
Similar finds occurred in Arizona and Utah.   Walter J. Fewkes wrote in 1909, “Fabrics made of cotton are common in the ruins of the Red-rocks, and at times this fiber was combined with yucca.”  Francisco Vázquez de Coronado mentions seeing natives of the region raising cotton and Pueblo Indians wearing cotton blankets and giving his 1539 expedition presents of cotton cloth. 
             
And writing in the Santa Fe New Mexican, historian Marc Simmons reported,  “Hernán Gallegos, accompanying a small expedition to New Mexico in 1581, wrote that the Pueblo Indians ‘have much cotton, which they spun, wove, and made into blankets for covering and clothing themselves.’”  For example two cotton blankets were sewn together to form the basic Pueblo woman’s dress.  The other frequently used material for clothing was finely tanned buckskin called gamuza.  This was quite a pleasant surprise to the Catholic but Puritanical Spanish who, in Mexico, had been exposed to Indians who were “scantily dressed, if at all.”
            
 “In addition to using native-grown cotton, early Pueblo weavers worked with apocynum (Indian hemp), yucca leaf fiber, fur, and feather cord,” according to the Michael Smith Gallery website.  “Tools found in many of the prehistoric sites indicate that cotton was spun with the same type of stick-and-whorl spindle still in use today. The resulting yarn was fashioned by finger processed into socks, bags, nets, and braids or was woven into cloth on a wide upright loom or a horizontal backstrap loom in which one of two beams holding the warp yarn is attached to a strap that passes across the weaver's back. Weaving on the loom was a man’s art and continued to be so until recently. Anasazi [ancient Pueblo] weavers knew a limited range of natural dyes, including brick red, brown, black, yellow, and pale blue.”
             
The Navajo learned about cultivation of cotton as well as weaving on the loom from the Pueblo Indians with whom they had a sometimes fractious, sometimes affable relationship.  They also learned the Pueblo technique of gathering cotton by pulling the bolls from the plant and drying them in the sun.  The dry seeds were then “ginned” either by placing the bolls on clean sand, or between blankets, and beating them.
             
Cotton was known in Europe by the 1400s, but was not commonly used until the 18th century.  But Columbus may have first discovered the textile’s practacality as explained in this footnote from Charles C. Mann’s book, “1491.”
             
“Given the choice between their own scratchy wool and the indian’s smooth cotton, the conquistadors threw away their clothes and donned native clothing.  Later this preference was mirrored in Europe.  When cotton became readily available in the eighteenth century; it grabbed so much of the textile market that French woolmakers persuaded the government to ban the new fiber.  The law failed to stem the cotton tide.  As the historian Fernand Braudel noted, some woolmakers then thought outside the box;  They proposed sending prostitutes in cotton clothing to wander Paris streets, where police would publicly strip them naked.  In theory, bourgeois women would then avoid cotton for fear of being mistaken for prostitutes and forcibly disrobed.  This novel form of protectionism was never put into place.”
             
Cotton was however used in Spain for some clothing in the 1540s as evidenced by the 250 Gambeson/Esquipil quilted cotton jackets and 4 quilted cotton head armors that Coronado had listed in the muster inventory for his expedition.
             
And the “Clothing Guide at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum” list the major historically accurate materials as “leather, wool, and cotton”: “the daily costume of New Mexican women was a looses cotton chemise…a long scarf, made of silk or cotton…[and for men] cotton or leather breeches…collarless white cotton or linen shirt…cotton stockings.”
           
            Cotton City (2010 population 388) is a census-designated place in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, named for its cotton gin, which serves the area's cotton farms.
            
 In 1807 the Spanish tried to establish a cotton weaving industry among colonists but cheaper cotton goods from the U.S. brought in on the Santa Fe Trail in ended that idea in 1812. 
             
Then in the early 20th century – during New Mexico’s last years as a U.S. Territory and first years of statehood – the cotton-producing industry of the United States began expanding beyond the “Old South Cotton Belt” of Virginia to East Texas.  They established new production centers in western Oklahoma, the Southern Plains of Texas, and created large irrigated farms in California, Arizona, and in the Rio Grande and Pecos river valleys of southern New Mexico. 
            
 New Mexico’s agricultural experiment stations and land-grant college (now New Mexico State University) contributed significantly to this expansion by developing a variety of Acala cotton suited to these western growing conditions. 
             
The long, winding river valleys tended to be more moderate, with precipitation between ten and twenty inches a year, but sometimes had shorter growing seasons due to the elevation.  Summer temperatures were high and the crop-growing season was generally long, but in these arid lands farmers had to irrigate.  Fortunately, most of the rainfall came between April and June, the best time to give cotton seedlings a good start before the hot summer months ensued. 
            
 In New Mexico the largest areas of irrigated farming occured in the Pecos Valley, from Roswell, New Mexico, to near Fort Stockton, Texas, and in the Rio Grande Valley, largely on the lands of the Rio Grande Reclamation Project, in the Mesilla and Rincon valleys.   The completion of the Elephant Butte Dam in 1916 established control over the Rio Grande, eliminated periodic floods, and made agriculture a more stable and profitable venture.  Cotton fields occupied only 0.4 percent of the total crop acreage in 1919. In 1927 it had expanded to 59 percent. 
             
“By World War II the cotton-producing areas of New Mexico had become fairly stabilized. Of the approximate 133,000 acres of cotton in the state, about 54,000 acres were in the Pecos Valley and fifty-nine thousand were in the Rio Grande Valley. Although New Mexico cotton acreage expanded to over 200,000 acres in the 1950s, even with the additional acreage in the Pecos and El Paso/Rio Grande valleys in Texas, the production of the New Mexico/Far West Texas region was relatively small compared to the rest of the Cotton West. The region has proven to be far more influential for its development of the Acala 1517 cotton variety,” according to Cameron Lee Saffell of Iowa State University.  The 2007 cotton crop was valued at over $38 million with over 98,000 bales produced.  (Texas (25%), California, Arizona, Mississippi and Missouri are the leading producers.)
            
Among these farmers was the grandfather of Jim’s Sierra Village visitor.
             
Cotton has been part of the fabric of New Mexico’s lives since almost the beginning of those lives.  It is a pleasure to be part of a living museum that helps keep those memories alive for those that experienced them, as well as for those who are learning about them for the first time here at las Golondrinas.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Cuidado con tu cabeza

With one season of volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas under our sashes (no belts allowed) we are starting to get used to being asked the same questions again and again.

Golondrinas is a 200-acre living museum with “unimproved” (i.e. dirt and stone) walking trails and two stairways without railings made up of steps of unequal height to take visitors up and down the uneven terrain.  Many, perhaps most, guests do not realize this as evidenced by, e.g., their choices of footwear such as flip-flop sandals and, in a few instances, high heeled shoes.  Jim normally docents at either El Molino Grande (the “Large Grist Mill”) or Sierra Village (New Mexico in the late 1800s) – both of which are up hill on the “far side” of the property.  Most tourists make there way to these locations after several hours of seeing other sights.  So for him the most common inquiries are: “Are they any ‘real bathrooms’ out here?” and “What is the easiest way back?”  Marsha rarely gets those queries since she is located in the weaving area within Golondrinas Placita – about the length of two skeins of yarn from the “real baños” and the parking area just beyond them.

However the single most asked historical question that we both get is “were the people back then really that small?”  We get that query both directly – and indirectly as in: “why are the doorways so low? or “why is the furniture so short?”

Here is what our Golondrinas training guide tells us about the doorways: “While on average, 18th century Europeans and the New World counterparts were slightly shorter [5’ 6” for men] than we are today, door height [around 5’] was not dictated by this fact.  Rather, the doors are small for a number of other practical reasons.”

Probably foremost is safety.  The Spanish Colonists of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were pretty much constantly under attack – mainly from the Comanche and Apaches who lived at least partially what could be called on a “raiding economy.”

As a result the early New Mexican architecture, which is of Spanish origin, is specifically designed for defense.  The Golondrinas Placita exemplifies this fortress style with a series of thick adobe-walled rooms built around a patio.  The rooms are connected in a row but not all of them have direct passage into the next one.  Some have a large window onto the patio for light.  Others have a tiny (10” x 10”) opening inset with mica up high on the exterior wall.

Access to the courtyard is either through a large wooden gate (portón) made up of two hinged doors – or through a single five feet tall puerta de zambullo (small door) built within one of the larger ones.  The double doors were opened to allow entry to animals, wagons, and groups of people – but otherwise closed and locked with a large metal bar. The Puerto de zambullo, which was only opened for "safe” visitors, allowed entry by one person at a time, at a slow pace, and bent over – preventing someone from storming in in full-on attack mode.



Nowadays las Golondrinas – and all Santa Feans both old and new – are more welcoming, with both gates opened wide to receive our visitors.

Most of the individual rooms have similarly sized five-foot-high, exterior, hinged wooden entryways from the patio – each with a high threshold that forces slow, careful foot movements as well as keeping the windblown rain, snow and dust from entering.

A second reason for the undersized doorways is retention of heat.  A smaller portal helps to maintain the warmth in the room when the door is open.  The early settlers hung animal skins across the doors and window openings to help keep the heat in and rain, snow, and wind-blown dust out.  Additionally smaller doors require less material and labor to construct.  The wooden planks of the doors (hand hewn with an adze) were fastened together with wooden pegs and goat hide glue.  Wooden hinges attached the doors to the frames.  The resulting doors could be quite heavy – so smaller size meant easier opening and closing.

As for the low-slung furniture. – let’s quote again from our Golondrinas training manual, “It is important to remember that the plane of existence in colonial and Territorial New Mexico was much lower than it is today in that everyday life in even well-to-do homes occurred much lower to the ground.”

From the eighth to the fifteenth century the Middle-Eastern Moors had a great influence on, and sometimes control of portions of, the Iberian Peninsula of which Spain is a part.  Arabic, for a while, was the official language and many Spanish words are derived from that tongue, such as: alcada (mayor), tambor (drum), entrada (entrance), Churro (the type of sheep brought to the New World by the Spanish), and adobe (the building block of New Mexico).

The Spanish colonials who settled here carried with them this vocabulary as well as other medieval and Mozarabic customs.  This way of life carried well in the 19th century – partially due to preference and also to the cultural isolation of the territory.   “New Mexicans typically sat, ate and slept on cushions and low stools throughout the 18th and 19th century.  [Some were quite lush with soft mattresses, pillows and textiles.]  This Spanish custom waned in the late 19th and early 20th century because of increasing American influence and affordable mass-produced furniture.”

Among these mass-produced items were doors from the east, which were what most of us would consider “normal” height.  The Mora House in Sierra Village, which emulates a circa 1890 home set in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, contains a front door with a mail delivery slot – a nicety definitely not needed before the days of USPS home delivery to such an outpost.


One of the main takeaways from all this – and what we tell our visitors to las Golondrinas even more than the history of the doors – is “Watch out for your head.”  Which is probably the same thing, “cuidado con tu cabeza,” that the early New Mexican hosts also reminded their own guests to do.

Confinement in The City Different


Casa Solana in the northwest part of Santa Fe about a mile from the center of town, where Monica and Bram live, was the site of a World War II  Japanese Internment Camp in which as many as 2,100 Japanese men at a time (4,555 in total) were imprisoned, between 1942 and 1946.  Similar New Mexico detention centers were also set up in Fort Stanton, Old Raton Ranch and Camp Lordsburg in New Mexico.  From the mid 1930s to 1942 the property had been the location of a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Interestingly Allen Stamm – the house builder of Monica's and Bram's home and most of the Casa Solana area – was part of a posse assembled the day after the Pearl Harbor attack to keep watch over the local power company, the railroad bridge near Lamy, and a Japanese gardener in Tesuque (two nearby towns).  Stamm later bought the property for $98,000 in 1953 when it was auctioned off by the New Mexican Prison Board.

Last Saturday we attended a performance presented by the "Confinement in the Land of Enchantment Project," which "documents the histories of Japanese American internment in the state and seeks to inspire thought and conversations about issues of citizenship, identity, and civil liberty."  The play was held at our local branch of the Santa Fe Library in conjunction with a month-long exhibit on the subject.  About sixty people were in the audience.




There were eight performers including the playwright.  The play began with the actors taking turns telling the history of the Japanese immigration to America while photos were projected onto a large screen behind them.  When the narrative came to December 7, 1941 the script changed to a series of personal narratives – some from letters, some from interviews – that told the story of the detainees, their families, and how the surrounding community of Santa Fe interacted with the camp.  One actor told her personal story of how her Japanese parents who lived near Pearl Harbor witnessed the event, and how the Governor came to their house the next day, dumped the contents of their drawers onto the floor and left without saying a word.  The author related that the day the FBI took her father away was the last time that her entire family was together. 

After the play there was a discussion with the audience – which included one of the interviewees for the play, an Hispanic native of Santa Fe, who shared of some of her memories of the "Jap Camp" that she passed by on a daily basis.  And of an instance when incoming prisoners tossed candy to the children who were watching their arrival.  The woman mentioned that today she has a good friend who lives in Casa Solana and how fertile the soil is on her property because of all the gardening work that the detainees did over those four years.  Then became emotional as she described "flowers popping up everywhere" today, and the memories they bring back to her.  Another woman, who grew up in Portland Oregon, mentioned how she discovered that her family doctor back in the Beaver State had been imprisoned at Santa Fe.  And a young man told with pride and sadness how his Japanese grandfather served in the U.S. Army's 442nd Infantry Regiment during WWII, at the same time that the speaker's great grandfather (the soldier's father) was in the Santa Fe camp – a not uncommon situation.

It was a well done, moving, and sometimes wrenching history lesson.