Roundup time again


For the last column of the year, it has been my custom to share comments from readers who over the previous months have generously shared their opinions, added new bits of history to what I wrote and corrected me when I made a factual error. I’m in the habit of calling this the year’s “roundup column.” In the cattleman’s West, the roundup was a gathering of livestock in spring for branding new calves and in fall for shipping. The word has also come to mean the pulling together of scattered items or the brief listing of related facts. My sketch of the history of the To’Hajiilee Navajos, until recently known as Canoncito Navajos, brought the most responses of any column this year. Those are the people whose reservation is west of Albuquerque and north of Interstate 40 and who remain little known to the outsiders. As I had written, non-natives have difficulty in pronouncing To’Hajiilee, much less in remembering how to spell it. Frank Turley sent me a letter saying that he has heard native speakers pronounce their name and “the ‘To’ is heavily accented, while the ‘T’ sounds almost like a ‘D,’ something difficult for Anglos to hear.” He adds that “the ‘J’ is pronounced as our ‘S’ in the word pleasure.” Robert Ulibarri, a member of this tribal band, informed me, as follows: “To’Hajiileehe Navajos were not even part of the Navajo Nation until 1949 when the Canoncito Band of Navajos Act was passed by Congress. Even now my people are semi-autonomous from the larger rez.”

Ulibarri adds, “I was told by my elders that we settled the area during the big walk from Fort Sumner.” The Long Walk occurred in 1868 when the Army sent Navajo prisoners overland, back from captivity on the Pecos River to their own country below the Four Corners.

And here is a brief comment on the subject by reader Robert Stuart: “I always wondered about the ‘why’ behind that small Canoncito Reservation. Now I know.”

Regarding my column on San Marcos Pueblo ruins south of Santa Fe, Pattyjo Catanach asked: “I know those ruins are on private property, but I wish they would open them up to allow those of us interested in New Mexico history to wander through them.”

On that possibility, Bill Baxter, the steward of the San Marcos site for many years, advised Catanach to contact the Archeological Conservancy in Albuquerque by phone or online to arrange a tour of the San Marcos ruin. Note, please, that most of the “ruins are covered by grassed over mounds of earth.”

My column on the public had focused upon the Franciscan missionary Fray Juan de Santa Maria with the small Francisco Chamuscado expedition, which reached San Marcos in 1581. The friar — on his own initiative, as I explained — had set out from there alone and on foot to report to religious superiors in Mexico City. Warriors of San Marcos followed him, and at the base of the Manzano Mountains clubbed him to death.

On the face of it, Fray Juan seemed to have acted foolishly by traveling without protection. However, I suggested he might have deliberately “courted martyrdom,” as missionaries often did, in imitation of Christ’s disciples.

Jill Ritz thought it rather extraordinary that men of the church in that day would intentionally choose to be martyred. As she said to me by letter: “It took much bravery to live in their world, so they must have had a lot of inner resources and motivation to draw upon.”

And about my column on rattlesnake lore, Malcolm Morrison recalled that as a kid in Texas, he heard old-timers brag that the Lubbock area had big rattlers, but the ones at Carlsbad were 30 feet long. Then, when he visited Carlsbad to see the caverns, he was told: “Yea. We got big rattlers, but you ought to see the ones by Lubbock. They’re 30 feet long!” Mr. Morrison’s conclusion: “Not only is the grass greener on the other side of the fence, or state line, the rattlers are bigger, too.”

Finally, as this is the last column of the year in which we celebrated New Mexico’s centennial of statehood, it is fitting that we acknowledge the efforts of individuals and organizations who did a splendid job in carrying out the many commemorative activities. Buen trabajo!