Category Archives: Folklore

The Bride of the Gallinas

Contributed by Judy Beil Vaughan

I lived on my parent’s horse and cattle ranch in the Gallinas Canyon near Las Vegas, New Mexico.  School was an hour’s drive down a mountain road that wound along the Gallinas River, its rapids sometimes hundreds of feet below.

Judy, Nynette and Cathy beside a cabin in the Gallinas Canyon, 1956.

Judy, Nynette and Cathy beside a cabin in the Gallinas Canyon, 1956.

For a few precious weeks in the summer, I had friends. I had horses to share with Cathy from Chicago and Nynette from San Angelo, Texas, whose families had vacation homes in the canyon. Even when we were only twelve and thirteen, the three of us rode for hours through the Ponderosa woods and grassy valleys near the ranch. We stopped to explore the adobe ruins of abandoned farms. We saw deer, wild turkey, and bear.

But Nynette’s Great Aunt and Uncle insisted that we spend some time at their cabin ten miles up the canyon from our ranch. At first, we balked. We would miss horseback riding! The specter of “nothing to do” was soon banished by lively Aunt Nyne and Uncle Bill Taylor and our play in the pristine Gallinas down the slope of the hillside.

One evening, we spread our sleeping bags on the porch. The cool night glowed with the Milky Way. We had to look almost directly overhead to see the stars. The stream where we had played flowed through the mountains with just enough room in its canyon for the creek’s rapids and the road beside it.

We were just getting drowsy when Uncle Bill sat in the wicker rocker beside us. The light from the living room was just enough for us see his face. Uncle Bill lit his pipe. “Do you know why the campground up the road is called ‘Bride’s Camp?’” We didn’t. The old man’s eyes met ours. He cleared his throat.

“A young man worked as a surveyor for the first road in the canyon in the 1890’s.  He found the place so beautiful he brought his new wife there for their honeymoon. Unfortunately, she got sick and died after only a few days of utter happiness. He buried her in her wedding dress near Bride’s Camp.”

“How sad!” Nynette said.

“She haunts this canyon, you know.” He furrowed his brow. People see her ghost. She still wears her bridal gown. Why, just last week on a gloomy morning, I was standing here…and a white shape, not a cloud I’m sure, rose up from the road and disappeared into the trees…just over there.”

He pointed across to the opposite canyon wall. His finger trembled. Our eyes widened as we struggled to see through the gathering mist. A scuffle ended our stunned silence as the three of us wrenched our frozen gaze from the site of the drifting ghost. We dragged our sleeping bags into the house for therest of the night. I’m not sure we slept even then.

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In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Judy Beil Vaughan lived with her parents, Wallace and Elizabeth Beil, on a horse ranch located near the village of Gallinas . She is writing her memoirs Adolescent From Shangri-La about her coming of age. She lives in Elk Grove, California, which is not as beautiful as the Gallinas Canyon.

Penitentes and the Legend of Smith’s Grave

A Penitente Morada

A Penitente Morada

At the base of  Hermit’s Peak, near the trailheads branching off to Beaver Creek and to Hermit’s Peak, there is the grave of a humble man, well-loved and never forgotten;  gone now at least half a century, known to us only as “Mr. Smith.”  Growing up in the area with summer hikes in the mountains, passing Smith’s Grave near the beginning of the Skyline Trail, stopping respectfully was always part of the hike.  When people were with us that didn’t know the legend, we always told it once again and kept the memory of Mr. Smith alive.  Sometimes, a rebellious camper would want to step on the grave or even to spit on it.  We told them that the grave was guarded by his friends, the Penitentes, who would not allow any desecration and would teach a lesson to any who dared to show disrespect.
From time to time, a naughty camper would touch the grave.  Later that night, some of our camp counselors would ride into camp in a group on horseback and, as arranged in advance with the camper, pluck him from his bed, toss him on the horse and ride out of camp, in a blaze of hooves and dust.  The staff and camper would come up with a tale to tell after returning.  The camper would be returned about an hour later, long enough for everyone to have had a good scare, and seeming to be properly chastised, with a tall tale about what happened for not showing proper respect for Smith’s grave. By all accounts, Smith was a quiet man but he is remembered for being a good friend to his friends.  He was a keeper of confidences, valuing the men he counted as his true friends more that any reward or notoriety that might be his if he were willing to expose the secrets or identities of his friends.  If he was with us today, he could be that rare friend of someone famous or rich and he would never be bought with a million dollar book deal or his own 15 minutes of fame.  Today, such friends, such people, are rare indeed and honoring the loyalty of a true friend is not a tale heard often in our days.  Smith’s story is simply a story of friendship.
I never knew much about the man called Smith.  I knew of his friends, a group of men that were members of a secret religious path, the Penitentes.  The Penitentes expressed their faith through acts of extreme penitence.  When I was small, there were still crosses,larger than a man, handmade of wood, along the trail leading to Hermit’s Peak and the three large crosses that were always up at the top of the Peak.  It is said that that the brothers would carry these heavy wooden crosses the many steep miles up  the trail especially on Good Friday, walking barefoot, often in snow, to reenact the carrying of the cross of Christ before His crucifixion, stopping at the stations of the Cross along the way.    It is said that they walked up the trail to Hermit’s Peak, each man scourging the bare back of the man before him with ropes or whips made  of yucca fiber, to humble themselves and honor the suffering of Christ.  One man would be chosen to represent Christ by being lashed with ropes or whips made of yucca fiber or, in earlier times, nailed, to the largest cross on Good Friday and taken down the following morning. It is also said that the chosen one would find a pair of shoes on his porch the morning of the final services which began in the morada, or meeting place.
penitente-pic-cross-bearingThe Penitentes are known as Los Hermanos Penitentes or as Hermanadad de Nuestro Padre Jesus, and trace their origins as a lay brotherhood back to the third order of St. Francis de Assisi, established in Italy in 1221 and are also known as the Tertiaries.
Juan de Onate was himself a Tertiary and was one of those who brought the brotherhood from Spain to New Mexico.  After Bishop Lamy publicly condemned the brotherhood around 1850, the practice of the faith went underground and accounts for the secrecy surrounding the members and their meetings.  Finally in 1947, Archbishop Byrne recognized the Penitentes and a Hermano Supremo was approved by him and traveled to the groups to grant a charter to those willing to worship under the guidelines set forth by the Archbishop.
Old ways die hard and the tradition of secrecy and the fervor of the old meetings has not been forgotten.  Just remember, should you ever be entrusted to know the name of any member, the location of any active morada or somehow come upon a ceremony not meant for your eyes, choose the path of Mr. Smith and follow his example of silence and friendship.  Remember too, to tip your hat or stop for a moment of silence at Smith’s grave should be hiking up our way.  You never know who might be watching.

 

They Call Me Montezuma

montezuma-castle1

On the way up to Western Life Camp are some historically significant hot springs that share the name of Montezuma with the neighboring village and, previously, with the hotel, or castle, that is now the United World College.  One sleepy summer, curiosity got the better of me and I researched the mystery of the name (see references below).  After a day or so in the coolness of Santa Fe’s Historical Library, viewing and taking notes from old handwritten bits and pieces of a local legend with many variations, I pieced together the legend with the parts common to most of the old stories.

montezuma-springs-1895It turns out that the Montezuma Hot Springs were sacred to the people of Pecos Pueblo, one of the largest northern pueblos in its heyday.  Not only was Pecos Pueblo prosperous and powerful, it controlled access to and from the Great Plains, making it a center of trade where the hunting tribes brought their hides and dried meat to trade for fruits and vegetables grown by the different pueblos.  Other trade items included shells obtained from the coastal tribes and rare feathers for ceremonial use.  The spiritual leaders of Pecos Pueblo kept the trading fair and had areas that were treated as sanctuary, where members of different tribes who might be in conflict could meet in peace.

One such place was at Montezuma, at the sacred hot springs.  Warriors guarded passage to and from the springs at all times.  The strong spiritual traditions were challenged one day because a spiritual leader, a cacique, was near death but had no apprentice to take his place.  This could mean the loss of sacred knowledge and traditions, threatening the stability of the people.   Death came all too quickly and the people drew lots to select the new cacique.  The lot fell to a young man of 13 summers to lead his people.  Now this young man had already begun having visions and had begun to feel the call of the medicine path.  In his visions, the Thunderbird flew, leading him and his people to a new land and signifying the end of the journey by alighting on a cactus and drawing up a serpent in its beak.  The people heard the vision of the new cacique and accepted his spiritual leadership.  Where he led, they began following him south as he, in turn, followed the path of the Thunderbird.  When the Thunderbird would alight, the people would stop to settle, gather food and hunt to replenish their supplies.  From time to time, they stopped at pueblos along the way, where the local people heard the vision and joined the throng to follow the cacique who followed the Thunderbird.  It has often been reported that many of the southern pueblos look as if they were instantly abandoned, as if the inhabitants rose from their midday meal and left as one.  This was indeed the case as, upon catching the vision of the young and charismatic cacique, they felt the call to follow.  Long months passed as the people would be certain that they were at last at their destination as, time after time, the Thunderbird would land on a cactus.  The cacique would solemnly remind them that the second half of the vision had yet to be fulfilled and they must continue their migration path until the vision was complete.

montezuma4Finally, one day when the people had all but given up that the vision would be fulfilled in their lifetimes, the second half of the vision was fulfilled.  They had been following the cacique who followed the Thunderbird through village after village, growing more and more numerous as each group of inhabitants rose as one and followed.  The cacique called a halt and gathered the people to hear the good news, that both halves of the vision had been fulfilled.  The Thunderbird had come to rest at last, alighting upon the cactus as he had so many times before but this time he had taken the serpent in his beak.  Rejoicing was great as the people knew they were where they were meant to be.  They remained to found a people, a dynasty and a country for the name of the city they built was Mexico City and the name of the young cacique was Montezuma.