Thursday, April 30, 2020

Doña Ana, Las Cruces & Mesilla

The Great Flood begat Doña Ana, whose overcrowding begat Las Cruces, whose change of citizenship begat Mesilla. The railroad triggered the growth of Las Cruces and put an end to any thoughts of Doña Ana’s or Mesilla’s expansion. International territorial squabbles both enlivened and exacerbated the situation.

But before all that the Mesilla Valley of southern New Mexico was inhabited by the Manso Indians along with the nearby Mescalero Apache dropping in periodically for an economic raid or two.
In 1598 Juan de Oñate claimed all the land north of the Rio Grande for New Spain and created what became known as El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road of the Interior Lands) – beginning in these southern NM lowlands, and continuing north through Santa Fe to San Juan Pueblo near Espanola.

For almost 250 years, travelers between Mexico City and Santa Fe passed through the valley along El Camino – yet other than for small isolated groups the area was never formally seZled. In 1821 Mexico took over sovereignty of the entire NM territory from the Spanish – while at the same time Texas asserted its own claim on this part of southern New Mexico. But it was not until 1843 that the valley's first permanent settlement was established – the Doña Ana Bend Colony (El Ancón del Doña Ana,).

The village’s founding was prompted by the great Rio Grande flood of 1829 – which destroyed croplands from Tomé south along the floodplain to the Mexican state of Chihuahua, displacing those working the land and shifting the river’s course for thirty miles below El Paso del Norte.

In 1839, 116 of these dislodged people petitioned the Mexican government for the rights to a stretch of unoccupied land fifty miles north of the flood area to establish what became Doña Ana Bend Colony. The north end of the proposed grant was the site of a colonial-era paraje (rest stop) on El Camino Real reported
to  have been the ranch of Doña Ana María de Córdoba – about whom not much more seems to be known.

1848 the Mexican War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – but tensions between the Governments of Mexico and the United States continued to simmer over the next six years, with each country claiming portions of the Mesilla Valley as theirs. Mexico demanded compensation for Native American raids in the region saying the Treaty called for the U.S. to guard against such incursions. The American government refused to pay, saying that while it had agreed to protect the Mexicans, it had not commiyed to any recompensing.

Almost immediately a rush of settlers looking to claim portions of the un-deeded land poured into the new territory, forcing Doña Ana Bend Colony’s Alcalde (Prefect) Don Pablo Melendres to call upon the U.S. military to bring order – and to lay out a new town a few miles to the south.

The Army sent Lt. Delos Bennett Sackett who – with his men, and using rawhide ropes and stakes – laid out residential lots, a plaza and a church covering eighty- four city blocks, each with four plots of land. 120 residents then drew lots for their new home sites and immediately began digging up mud from the streets from to create adobe blocks for their houses – until Judge Richard Campbell ordered them to stop, and to refill the resulting holes.

Not everyone was that enthusiastic however. Sixty Mexican families, unhappy with now being in American Territory, packed up their belongings and moved west of the Rio Grande into what was then still part of their homeland, where they settled on a mesita or hill, and formed the village of Mesilla ("Little Tableland”).

The tensions between the two countries inhibited efforts to find a southern route for the new transcontinental railroad. Then in 1853, Mexican officials evicted Americans from their property in the Mesilla Valley. The U.S. Government did not react – but Governor William Lane of New Mexico countered by declaring the entire Mesilla Valley part of the U.S. territory. Mexican President Antonio de Santa Anna responded by sending troops to the area.

President Franklin Pierce then ordered James Gadsden, the new U.S. Minister to Mexico, to negotiate a solution. Santa Anna needed money to fund an army to put down ongoing rebellions. 

The U.S. needed land. The two men worked out an agreement under which the U.S. paid $15 million for 45,000 square miles south of the New Mexico territory. The treaty was signed June 8, 1854. Three decades later the railroads were expanding through the southwest and approached the now American village of Mesilla for a right of way. Fearing a change to their way of life, the town’s citizens rejected it.

So the railroads went northeast to Las Cruces bringing that town more prosperity. By 1900 the population tripled to nearly 3,000 residents and it was formally incorporated in 1907. Most historians agree that the town’s name – El Pueblo del Jardin de Las Cruces (the City of the Garden of Crosses) – came from the abundance of these death markers left along the Camino in memory of either: (1) a massacred party made up of a bishop, a priest, a Mexican Army colonel, a captain, four trappers and four choir boys; (2) a group of forty travelers from Taos, NM; (3) lots of victims of Apache raids; (4) all of the above; (5) something else entirely.

Today Las Cruces is New Mexico’s second largest city, the county seat, and home to New Mexico State University.

Doña Ana has remained a small agricultural town (2010 population of 1,211) while retaining much of its original architecture in an area now designated an Historic District.

Mesilla (2,196 in the 2010 census) likewise preserved its historic acequias and farming traditions allowing it to quietly return to its agricultural roots – while evolving into a tourist site with historical attractions, boutiques, galleries and restaurants. 


George and Billy

Twas on the same night when poor Billy died,
He said to his friends, “I am not satisfied;
There are twenty-one men I have put bullets through,
And Sheriff Pat Garrett will make twenty-two.”
Now this is how Billy the Kid met his fate:
The bright moon was shining, the hour was late,
Shot down by Pat Garrett, who once was his friend,
The young outlaw’s life had come to an end.
There’s many a man with a face fine and fair
Who starts out in life with a chance to be square,
But just like poor Billy, he wanders astray,
And loses his life in the very same way.

When the two of us retired in 2005 and were looking for volunteer opportunities our good friend J urged us to join our local Wethersfield (CT) Historical Society. We took his suggestion. And over the next twelve years – until we relocated to Santa Fe – we had the enjoyable experience of working and socializing with a group of interesting, intelligent and just plain nice people. And do some fun stuff along the way. Marsha was a member of the Collections and Exhibits Committees, and an event volunteer – while Jim served on the Governing Board, helped at events, and edited/wrote for the society’s “Articles from the Community” website.

His initial piece concerned short-time Wethersfield resident Thomas Hickey – executed for "mutiny, sedition, and treachery" due to his part in a plan to assassinate General George Washington. Most of the essays however did not deal with events that (could have) “changed the course of history” – but were more about individual townspeople such as whalersa female entrepreneur millinerwomen who “came to do the laundry,” a case of familicideseed merchants“free negro men,” three-legged sideshow performers, homebuildersCivil War combatantsItalian immigrants, et al – each of whom influenced the culture and history of the town, and helped create the character and tone of today’s community.

To our pleasant surprise, working and socializing with the society’s members and staff – and learning some of the ground-level history of our hometown – made us feel more a part of the community. So in our new locale we were seeking something similar to help engender the same “at home” feeling. We found part of that in our volunteer work at El Rancho de los Golondrinas – another group of interesting, intelligent and just plain nice people.  But we also needed some folks from day-to-day old Santa Fe to round out the picture.

But who to start with?

After two-plus years of on-site learning about New Mexico’s past, and some Googling, we settled on Henry McCarty, better known outside of the City Different as William Bonney, or Billy the Kid.


Because of his similarity to George Washington of course.

Out here in the Land of Enchantment many towns and villages claim least one Billy the Kid tale in their past. It reminded us of the way our first president “slept here” in virtually every northeastern  village – including our former hometown. But his stay-over in  Wethersfield was the real deal – a fully documented part of the  collective consciousness of the town – a tale that did not need to be told by Articles from the Community.

In May 1781 the then-leader of the American Revolutionary Forces met with Comte de Rochambeau of the French Army at Joseph Webb’s house in Wethersfield to plan their joint Yorktown Campaign. (Today the residence, built in 1752, is part of the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum located in the center of Connecticut’s  largest historic district – across the street from the historical society.)  GW spent at least one night slumbering on the premises. 

Likewise our new southwest home base has a legitimate claim to the presence of Billy the Kid. The iconic outlaw not only grew up in Santa Fe. He also spent time in its jailhouse. And might (just might!) even be buried here.

There are many versions of his story. So here is the most widely accepted one.

Named Henry McCarty at birth and born on the lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City in 1859 – Billy the Kid was the second son of poor Irish immigrants Catherine and Patrick McCarty. After her husband’s death in the late 1860s Catherine moved to Indianapolis, Indiana with Henry and his older brother Joe.  

There  she met and married William Atrim, and began traveling around the country to wherever they could find work. After a while they  settled  in Santa Fe where they ran a boarding house, washed laundry, and worked in various businesses associated with the Santa Fe Trail. The couple were married in town at the Presbyterian  Church on March 1, 1873. Their sons signed the witness book.

Henry most likely received formal education in the City Different. Public schooling began in New Mexico in 1803, but qualified teachers were scarce, and parents kept pulling their offspring out of school to help with family work. By 1821 most schools had closed. Then in 1844 Governor Mariano Martinez used his own money to establish a public school in Santa Fe – reportedly bringing two teachers from Europe, Spaniard Francisco Gonzalez and Englishman Edward Tatty. When it became a state in 1912 New Mexico (population 328,000) had 1,000 free public schools.

Local history says that Henry was smart, charming, literate, and a natural leader who loved books and music. He is described as having a slight build, with blue eyes and lightening fast reflexes. His front teeth were large – but not “buck.” (This is an important distinction to many of his biographers.) Henry learned to speak  fluent Spanish. As a young teen he worked at odd jobs such as singing for tips in bars/restaurants and washing dishes at the La Fonda hotel (Established in 1821 the inn was the preferred lodging option for trappers, soldiers, gold-seekers, gamblers and politicians.)

In other words, Henry was a lad of whom his family and community could be proud.

In 1874 however that family moved to Silver City in lower NM and Henry’s life went south also. Catherine died of tuberculosis. Then Henry was separated from his stepfather and brother (who were off grub-staking) – and placed in a series of foster homes while he worked in a butcher shop, as well as washing dishes and waiting tables in a hotel. In 1875 his life of crime – and of jailbreaking – began when he helped a local street tough known as “Sombrero Jack” steal clothes from a Chinese laundry. Henry hid the loot in his boarding house – and was arrested after his landlord turned him in to the sheriff.

Although the crime only carried a minor sentence Henry shimmied up the jailhouse chimney and escaped – traveling to southeast Arizona and finding work as an itinerant ranch hand, sheepherder, and eventually as a civilian teamster at the Camp Grant Army Post. 

On August 17th 1877 the encampment’s blacksmith, Frank “Windy” Cahill, who enjoyed bullying young McCarty, attacked him and threw him to the ground. Henry in turn drew his gun and shot Cahill, who died the next day. Once again Henry was in custody, this time in the Camp’s guardhouse, pending the arrival of the local marshal. Once again Henry escaped. Later that year he adopted the alias “William H. Bonney” – and a circa 1877 wanted poster identifies him for the first time publicly as “Billy the Kid,” although his full name is listed as “Wm. Wright” on the broadside.
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“He is about five feet eight or nine inches tall, slightly built and lithe, weighing about 140; a frank, open countenance, looking like a school boy, with the traditional silky fuzz on his upper lip; clear blue eyes, with a roguish snap about them; light hair and complexion. He is, in all, quite a handsome looking fellow, the only imperfection being two prominent front teeth slightly protruding like squirrel’s teeth [but not buck], and he has agreeable and winning ways,” according to the December 27, 1881 Las Vegas Gazette

Popular folklore says he killed twenty-one men. But it is generally believed that he was solely or partially involved in a total of “only” nine deaths – one of them Sheriff William Brady.

The “Lincoln County War” was a bloody feud between two factions vying for control of the eponymous county seat. The Murphy-Dolan group – part of the “Santa Fe Ring” of powerful attorneys and speculators who amassed a fortune through political corruption and fraudulent land deals – pretty much controlled things and had lucrative supply contracts with the U.S. military.  They were opposed by the McSween-Tunstall group of merchants.  Both had hired guns in their employ. The sheriff signed on  with  Murphy-Dolan. Billy with the other side.

In the Spring of 1877, Brady was beaten up by two men, believed to be John Tunstall’s cowboys, in the middle of the main street of Lincoln. Shortly thereafter he organized a posse, tracked down and killed Tunstall.

Following their boss’s death, the Kid and several other former employees organized themselves into a vigilante group called “The Regulators” and swore revenge. On April 1, 1878, some of them, including Billy, ambushed Brady and four of his deputies on the main street of Lincoln. They fired on the five men from behind an adobe wall. Brady, died of at least a dozen gunshot wounds.

The Lincoln County War was ended later that year with the help of federal troops, many of them Buffalo Soldiers  stationed at nearby Fort Stanton. Over the next twenty-four months several arrests were made – including Billy for the murder of  Sheriff Brady. He was captured by now-Sheriff, and onetime friend, Pat Garrett. (The two had been saloon  buddies  while  Garrett was tending bar – and were known as “Big Casino” and “Little Casino.”)

Billy was jailed in Santa Fe, and this time did not escape.
In 1880, after three months in jail he was brought to southern New Mexico, tried for the Brady killing, found guilty and imprisoned at Fort Sumner pending his execution by hanging. Then-governor (and author of the novel Ben-Hur) Lew Wallace offered the Kid a pardon if he gave evidence against three men accused of the brutal murder of a one-armed lawyer named Huston Chapman.

“Mr. Bonney kept his end of the bargain by testifying before a grand jury against the men who murdered attorney Huston Chapman on February 18, 1879. Governor Wallace did not keep his end of the deal, which was to pardon Mr. Bonney for all outstanding charges, including the pending indictment related to the death of Sheriff William Brady. This injustice should be corrected,” argued lawyer/historian Randi McGinn in seeking a posthumous pardon 131 years later from Bill Richardson, NM Governor at the time.  Three of Pat Garrett's grandchildren and two great-grandchildren personally met with Richardson to voice their objections.  The pardon was not granted.

So, once again Billy the Kid busted out of jail – for the final time. In January 1880 he took the life of Joe Grant at Hargrove's Saloon in Fort Sumner, NM. And was tracked down and killed in the same town by Garrett on July 14, 1881. He was twenty-one. 

Ironically, seven months earlier the name “Billy the Kid” hit the big time, when both the Las Vegas (NM) Gazette and The Sun of New York carried stories about his crimes. Five days after his death, under the headline “A Notorious Outlaw Killed,” the New York Times reported that the fugitive “terror of New Mexico cattlemen,” had been shot dead.

But this was not the end of his legend.

The Kid was buried in a graveyard in Fort Sumner among American soldiers who had died while on duty at the fort. Then the Pecos River overflowed washing away several grave markers and plot borders. Records were incomplete. So when the gravestones were replaced most of them were labeled as “unknown but to God.” 

Billy’s new memorial however was inscribed with his name – but, according to some, it was placed twenty to thirty feet away from where it should have been. To further confuse the issue, in 1906 forty-five graves in the flooded area of were dug up and re-interred at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe – all of them under markers labeled “unknown.” Many maintain that Billy’s remains from his initial burial site were in that group.

Henry McCarty spent what may have been his best years in Santa Fe – started “out in life with a chance to be square” (as his ballad tells us.) Perhaps now he is back.
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The grave labeled as Billy’s at Fort Sumner is locked inside a steel cage because its headstone has been stolen twice – in 1950, missing for twenty-six years, found in Granbury, TX; and 1981, recovered a week later in Huntington Beach, CA. It is set in iron shackles attached near Billy’s (or whoever's) feet.

George Washington's final resting place is in a family plot on his Mount Vernon estate – along with the remains of his wife, Martha Custis, and twenty-five other family members. There is an empty burial vault below the Rotunda of the United States Capitol building – part of the 1793 original design,  and  intended for the  first President’s use, if he so chose.

But GW declined the honor. Unlike his peripatetic younger years, deceased George is doing his “big sleep” at home.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Marsha's Thunderbird

Although it is now postponed, Antiques Roadshow was scheduled to come to Santa Fe in June, 2020. We entered the online lottery, but we were not selected. However AR provides a Plan B for wannabe participants – a chance to win tickets through their “Knock Our Socks Off!” contest by telling “the story behind the object [including] at least one photograph.” Thus, the tale of Marsha’s Thunderbird necklace.


One of the nineteen Native American Pueblos of New Mexico – Santo Domingo Pueblo (“Kewa” to its 2,500 residents) lies along the Rio Grande between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. According to the American Museum of Natural History, the village "is admired for clinging strongly to its traditions. Its pride, conservatism, and relatively large size, have produced a solid core of traditionalists committed to maintaining the old ceremonies and beliefs.”

It also has a distinguished history of jewelry making – with a style very similar to that found in 1,000 year old digs at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. Ancient necklaces might contain thousands of beads. Each of which began its life as a rough fragment, then was drilled with a cactus needle and sanded along with hundreds of other fragments on a foot-powered stone wheel. 


Because of their proximity to the Cerrillos turquoise mines the Santo Domingos are perhaps best known for their small disc- or tube-shaped heishi beads ("hee shee") made from the semi-precious stones, or organic shells.

(Interestingly turquoise gets little note in the journals of the Spanish Colonials, Mexicans or U.S. Territorialists – all of whom considered it relatively worthless. 

Then in 1857 geologist William P Blake learned that the greenish-blue gems used in Navajo jewelry were not mined by that tribe but rather by Puebloans at Mount Chalchihuitl in the Cerrillos Hills – one of the most extensive prehistoric mining operations known on the American continent. "I was so much struck with the extent of this singular excavation that...I could [not] believe that it was the work of men alone [done] centuries ago.” )

At the time of Oñate’s 1598 colonizing expedition into New Mexico several Pueblo communities were located along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro main travel route – including Santo Domingo, which became one of the headquarters of the colonial mission system in the newly established province. And later a major force of Pueblo resistance against the Spanish during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and 1692 Re-conquest. Oñate purportedly gave the pueblo its name because he arrived on “Holy Sunday.”

In 1607 head Friar Juan de Escalona, Franciscans and Indian laborers built what (ninety-three years later) became the “head office” of Spanish NM missions. The religious community was one of the largest in New Mexico, but the buildings were destroyed by a devastating flood from the Rio Grande in the late 1800s. The river continued to encroach on the heavily damaged adobe until its foundation finally crumbled in 1886.

After the Mexican-American War the Pueblo had to adapt to another foreign nation. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached New Mexico in the 1880s. The AT&SF promoted the Pueblos in its advertising, bringing attention to their arts, crafts and cultures. Trains let off passengers near Santo Domingo – which by the 1920s was a major tourist destination and as close to “Indian Country” as many sightseers could get.


Also, during the Pueblo’s traditional August 4th feast day, organizers of the annual Santa Fe Fiesta organized trips to Kewa. Crowds of tourists traveled by car. While trains called “Limited Pullman Specials,” dropped visitors off near the Pueblo for an hour of Native traditions and retail. The community soon began producing pottery and jewelry specifically for this new market – setting up stands at intervals along the nearby road from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.

Now, let’s jump forward in time – and the story of Marsha’s Thunderbird necklace.

In December 2013 we were in New Mexico to spend Christmas with Monica and Bram in Santa Fe. Two years earlier Marsha had serendipitously discovered that J, her Wethersfield High BFF, now lived in Albuquerque. (During the planning of their 50th reunion, one of the organizers had shared J’s email with Marsha. Neither went to the event.) Now we regularly dropped by to see her on our trips to NM.

On this visit J happened to be showing us some of her southwest folk art collection – including a necklace with a brightly colored bird pendant, which she said the parents of her late husband had purchased on a 1930s trip to the area.

The piece was a Santo Domingo Pueblo “Thunderbird” necklace, and was made out of materials like plastic and car-batteries because traditional ones were not available in the ‘30s. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry, which evidently made a strong impression on Marsha. But the conversation moved on to other things.

Several days later we were in Santa Fe and browsing in the flea market at the Railyard while waiting to meet Monica, Bram & some of their friends for Sunday Brunch at a nearby restaurant. And in a glass case Marsha recognized a similar-but-different version of J’s necklace. She inquired. The price was right – but Marsha was concerned if her high school BFF would be upset at her “stealing her thunder,” so to speak. 

After pondering the issue over breakfast, and deciding, “if it was still there, then it was meant to be,” we went back and bought it. She was cautioned by the vendor that the cotton thread holding the piece together was stretching, and should be replaced before it was worn. 

J was pleased when she heard about the purchase – and happened to know someone at Santo Domingo who could repair it properly. (Her grandmother had made some of the original ones.) We left the Thunderbird with Monica & Bram in Santa Fe, who got it to J in ABQ, who got it to her contact at Kewa, who restrung it and mailed it to us in CT. Good as new, but in a traditional way.

J followed up by sending an article from the Albuquerque Journal about a Thunderbird necklace exhibition “Ingenuity in Adornment” at that city’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The show ended before we got back to NM, so we were not able to see it. But the newspaper piece did tell us more of the necklace’s history, and is one of the sources for the rest of our story.

For which we leave Marsha wearing her necklace, and jump back in time to the 1930s.

Traditional materials such as turquoise, shell and jet had grown scarce. But plastic and rubber were becoming more common. So jewelers began harvesting their materials from abandoned automobile battery casings (which at the time came in a rainbow of colors, including red, blue and yellow), tire tubes, discarded toothbrushes, broken 78 rpm records, hair combs, kitchenware – and, most popularly, red Woolworth’s plastic dinnerware or (in the 1940s) Dairy Queen spoons of the same color. As well as sun-bleached animal bones – and incorporating previously unusable tiny chips of turquoise for inlay.


Why a “Thunderbird?” In Pacific Northwest Native cultures the thunderbird is an enormous creature that produces thunder, lightning and rain. But not among the Kewa. IPCC exhibit curator Deborah Jojola said, “’[in most tribes] birds are the spiritual carriers of prayers,’ but the Pueblo people ‘never gave us an exact meaning of the thunderbird.’”

As the economy improved, materials such as turquoise, coral, spiny oyster, mother-of-coral, jet and pipestone were added to the mix. And adhesives progressed from pine sap to cement.

Today, Kewa artists are making contemporary variations of the classic thunderbird style that their grandmothers once made. But now, “black onyx stands in for the phonograph records; natural apple coral instead of red coral, and all the materials are composed in a stunning, modern design.”

Fortunately for us Santa Fe already had its own small scale version of Antiques Roadshow. Once a month the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (MIAC) holds “Let's Take A Look with MIAC Curators,” who will “attempt to identify and explain any artifact or historic object presented to them [but] Federal and State regulations prohibit the curators from appraising any artifact.”

While Monica and Bram were holding the necklace pending its re-stringing, she brought it in for them to “take a look.”
The results.

(1) It is an authentic Depression Thunderbird. (Whew!) 

(2) As to the materials: the heishi were most likely dog bones; red pieces came from plastic combs, black from 78 rpm records; and some kind of small bones outlined the T-bird head, which itself is made from a battery. Plus tiny turquoise chips.


El Palacio magazine says the Thunderbird, “was born of...a community cleverness about resources and materials during financially challenging times, and [a] shared knowledge about how to best to work those new materials – invention integrating the past. Its vision and creativity elevate it to another level from curio shop silver jewelry.”

In their day they sold for 50 cents to $4.00. Today they are collector’s items – with a provenance that has to be seen, to be believed.

So look for us in 2021 on Antiques Roadshow. We figure that’s got to be the next thing in the string of fortunate coincidences that brought this unusual and beautiful piece of New Mexican folk art into our home.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Jornada del Muerto

In twenty-five years of visiting, and almost three years of residency, we had never gone farther south in the state of New Mexico than the Albuquerque Sunport. 
So we eagerly accepted when Connecticut friends D & P invited us to join them and their Las Cruces NM amigos (S & Pt) in February for a few days of R & R down south.  He had a great time and learned more about our new home state’s history – some of which I would like to share with you in a series of "history vignettes.”  

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road of the Interior Lands) – the main trade route between Mexico and Santa Fe – began in Las Cruces and, before continuing north, crossed ninety miles of flat desert with no water or forage known as Jornada del Muerto ("journey of the dead man.”)


Although quite flat, the Jornada del Muerto took the earliest Spanish travelers – traveling on foot, with carts or wagons pulled by oxen – as long as a week to cross. (“It passed not a single spring or stream, not a single dependable waterhole. It offered little forage for mules, horses and oxen. It left the thorns of its cholla and prickly pear cacti embedded in the flesh of travelers,” according to 

I recently came across some interesting information on the etymology for this deadly no man’s land’s macabre moniker.  We figured that it had to do with the extremely harsh landscape and/or the sheer number of fatalities. But Noooo!  

You too will be surprised  – because (as the Monty Python comedy group has taught us) "NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!"
So here is the story.

Bernardo Gruber, also known as "El Alemán," was a German immigrant and itinerant trader from Sonora who did business at the Pueblos and missions along El Camino.  Being European he was undoubtedly aware that in Spain the Catholic Church’s Inquisition could imprison and torture anyone even vaguely suspected of violating the "edicts of the Faith."  
Likewise here.  
 Yet, during the celebration of a Christmas mass at Nuestra Señora de las Purísima Concepción church in Quarai Pueblo in 1666, Gruber wrote a series of seemingly mystical letters (“+. A. B. V. A. + A. D. A. V. +.”) on some small bits of paper. He then told his companions that if they swallowed one of these “papelitos," they would be immune to injury by any weapon for twenty-four hours.

Nineteen-year old Juan Nieto, ingested one, and then, in a public square, seemed to repeatedly stab himself with an awl – all the while exhibiting no wounds. He then proudly proclaimed to the stunned crowd that it was all just a hoax.  Juan Martín Serrano, challenged Gruber to a sword fight – then backed down apparently having no faith in the protective powers of the mysteriously monogrammed recycled rag byproduct that he had just consumed.
Nieto reported the incident to the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Gruber was formally arrested by that institution’s (perhaps overzealous) agent Fray Juan de Paz  – and charged with promising “immortality to Juan Nieto on a holy day inside a church while mass was being said [using] a mysterious formula to work his charm. There would be no pardon…”  

When he lived in Germany, Gruber explained, the poor often inscribed cryptic letters on small notes in order to invoke magic. He pleaded that such a little thing should not be considered a serious offense.  Did his argument convince the court?  
To quote Chief Inquisitor Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin),   "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" (Superimposed caption: 'DIABOLICAL LAUGHTER’)"

Gruber was imprisoned but – after twenty-seven months of confinement – escaped with the help of the Apache servant who was guarding him.  Weeks later his "hair and the remnants of clothing...skull, three ribs, two long bones, and two other little bones which had been gnawed by animals" were found at the site that would thereafter be called "El Alemán," in the area that would become known as Jornada del Muerto.


Sometimes the story of how a place got its name reveals something that NO-body expects.