12. Santo Domingo

Up: Contents Previous: 11. Pueblo of Cochití Next: 13. San Felipe, Santa Ana, and Zia

[page 150]

Santo Domingo is one of the most interesting of the pueblos. To those who desire to see the best example of an Indian ceremonial dance it is the most important of all, for there is no dance elsewhere to compare with that of the 4th of August at Santo Domingo. This has become so well known that travelers from the east arrange the time of their western tours so as to be in central New Mexico in the beginning of August, and make their attendance at this famous festival the central point of their travels.

The dance itself does not differ materially from the “tabla” dances in several of the other pueblos, but the greater population of Santo Domingo affords a large number both men and women from whom to select the dancers, and a much longer line of participants. While the number of those taking part in the dances varies from year to year, it will average about eighty from each estufa, or 160 in all; with orchestras or bands of about forty each, and nearly or quite ten Koshare or Delight Makers; so that altogether the number engaged in the ceremonies reaches 250. The orchestras are composed of the older men, whose dancing days are over.

Another reason that this is the most satisfactory

[page 151]

dance to see is that in Santo Domingo the public authorities control all of the proceedings and preserve perfect order; whereas in some of the pueblos situated in the midst of large Mexican populations—like Isleta or Santa Clara—the town is overrun by young men and boys on the festival day, and the occasion becomes more a Mexican holiday than a Pueblo one.

No festival is more easy to attend than that of Santo Domingo. The distance to Domingo station is not great, and usually extra trains are run between Santa Fé and Albuquerque and the nearest point on the railroad to the pueblo. The carriage roads from both north and south are excellent, and the most satisfactory way in which to enjoy the occasion is to arrive at the pueblo on the preceding afternoon and have the benefit of the preliminary ceremonies during the evening and early morning.

The pueblo is situated on the east bank of the Rio Grande a little above the mouth of the Galisteo. For its own good it is even too near the Rio Grande del Norte, and if we were accurately to give the locality of the old town we should have to say that it is situated one half in the river and one half on its eastern bank. For a number of years ago, in one of those occasional seasons when the sudden melting of the Colorado snows sends the water down in a great irresistible torrent, the river overflowed its banks, swept away hundreds of acres of land and buried half of the great pueblo beneath its waters. These calamities are not like the overflowing of low lands,

[page 152]

which may be used again when the water recedes. The spot on which Santo Domingo is built is high above the stream, but the torrent washing against the bank caused it to fall as it was undermined—the place which yesterday was covered with houses becoming today a part of the bed of the river. And so in less than a week a half of the pueblo was absolutely destroyed, the very soil on which the houses stood being carried down by the swift water towards the Gulf of Mexico.

The result is curious and makes this pueblo one of the most interesting to the visitor, for on the bank of the river stands one half of the old pueblo, composed of rows of houses built in the ancient style, two stories high and terraced, entered by ladders, and without entrance to the lower rooms from the street.

East of this, with an irregular plaza between them, is what may be called the new town, composed of the residences of those who lost their houses in the flood, and who have rebuilt in more modern style. The houses here are generally one story high, entered by doors from the street, many of them having “portales” or balconies, and some with a little yard enclosed with a neat “tapia” or wall of adobes in front. So that in the two sides of the town we have represented the architecture of centuries ago, when wars prevailed and convenience had to give way to safety, and the controlling idea was that of making the house a fortress; and the improved style of more modern days, when the fear of invasion or attack has

[page 153]

passed away, and ease of access and comfort of living are the points specially to be provided for.

The town covers a space stretching a little over a quarter of a mile from the river to the line of corrals which form its eastern border and about as much in width, and is built in long lines of houses extending from west to east at right angles with the river and separated by streets that vary from fifty to one hundred feet in width; there are five of these rows of houses, ranging from twenty to one hundred feet in width, all those in the new town with not more than two exceptions one story in height, while the older part of town is very irregular in its architecture. Like several others of the larger pueblos Santo Domingo possesses two estufas, one near the center of the old town and the other a little east of the central plaza among the newer houses. Each is approached by a staircase or set of steps made of hard adobe and stone, extending from the ground to the roof of the estufa, and leading to a square opening from which descends a ladder to the floor within, which is as hard and level as though made of cut stone. Each estufa is about fifty feet in diameter and about ten feet high.

Among the old parish registers still in existence are many records which throw light on the life of the inhabitants of Santo Domingo more than a century ago. One of these record books now preserved at Peña Blanca contains nearly an equal number of entries of “naturales” (Pueblo Indians) and “vecinos”

[page 154]

(Spaniards), the first certificate being of the marriage of Luiz Quiteria and Maria Caieza on the 17th of February, 1771, “en esta mission de N. P. Sto. Domgo de los Queres”—“at this mission of Our Father St. Dominick of the Queres.” As at other pueblos at that time, the surnames are all Indian, while the Christian names are Spanish, as appears above. In a baptism early in 1772, the child receiving that sacrament is mentioned as Jacinta, legitimate daughter of Agapito Chitaxa, and the godmother was Ignes Quehaza.

The people seem to have been scrupulously particular in their outward conformity to the ceremonies of the Church, nearly every record of burial stating that the deceased made his confession and received extreme unction, and the register of the exceptional cases carefully mentioning that the last sacraments were not administered because the death was too sudden. In this a great change seems to have taken place during the next century, as at present it is quite rare for any Indian of Santo Domingo to come to the confessional, and even in times of sickness they are averse to receiving Christian ministrations. In this connection we may mention some of the ceremonies which it is believed are usually performed in infancy and after death, even when Christian baptism immediately follows in the former case.

It is said that on the fourth day of its existence each child is taken from its mother by a woman who is a near friend and carried to the summit of a neighboring hill at the time of the rising of the sun.

[page 155]

Then, as the great luminary appears, the woman holds up the child and scatters sacred meal toward the east, using a form of invocation and dedication, and finally puts meal into the tiny hand of the new born child and causes it also to throw it toward the brilliant object of their ancient worship.

The sun, the moon, the evening and morning star, and the rainbow, seem to be more or less sacred objects in many of the pueblos; and in several the vibora or rattlesnake is held in veneration which is akin to worship.

Four days seem to constitute the important period at both the beginning and the close of life, for there is a general belief that the soul after passing from the body remains around its old abode for four days before taking its final departure to the spirit world. For this reason the door of the house of death is not closed during that period, a blanket being hung over the entrance, so as not to interfere with the return of the lost one to seek the shelter of its old home; and within are placed bread and meat, water and tobacco, that the spirit may eat, drink, and smoke.

The original settlement of the ancestors of the Santo Domingo Indian was in a place called Guypuy, the ruins of which are still to be seen about two miles east of Domingo station on the banks of the Galisteo River. Tradition states that the town was destroyed by an extraordinary flood in the Galisteo, and the people then moved to the present location on the Rio Grande. This was long ago, as Oñate, when traveling up the valley of the Rio Grande in 1598,

[page 156]

found the pueblo located as at present, except as since washed out by the river floods.

After the establishment of the colonial government at San Gabriel, when the territory was divided into seven missionary provinces, Santo Domingo was named as the headquarters of the province of the Queres, and Fr. Juan de Rosas was placed in charge. Less than ten years thereafter, in 1607, the first church was built by Fr. Juan de Escalona, then the official head of the Franciscans, who remained in Santo Domingo until his death and was buried in the church which was a monument to his zealous labors.

At the time of the Pueblo Revolution, Santo Domingo was the scene of more martyrdoms than any other town, for it was the headquarters of a district which included San Felipe and Cochití and had a large convento which afforded ample accommodations for the three priests who lived there together—Fathers Lorenzaria, Talaban, and Montes de Oca. All three were killed on the first day of the uprising, August 10th; and when Governor Otermin on his retreat to El Paso, just two weeks later, stopped at Santo Domingo, which he found deserted, with his sad caravan of 1,500 men, women, and children, they broke open the doors of the church, which were securely fastened, and saw a great heap of earth in the middle of the floor; and on removing this discovered the dead bodies of the thrée priests buried in that hastily made tomb. Each was clad in the habit of the Franciscan order; and there Otermin was compelled to leave them, to continue his hasty flight.

[page 157]

Strange to say, the Indians had not taken anything from the church; all the vessels, ornaments, and pictures remained intact, and were taken possession of by the priests from Santa Fé and carried down to El Paso.

The old Mission Church was one of the largest and finest in New Mexico, but unfortunately, like much of the original town, it now lies at the bottom of the Rio Grande. After the first great flood had carried away nearly half of the houses, the river continued to encroach, little by little, every year at the time of the spring freshet. It was a gradual process of undermining and the line of destruction soon approached the location of the church. The Indians made desperate efforts to save the great building, of which they were justly proud, from destruction. Each spring they brought great trees and multitudes of evergreens, with which to make a barrier that would withstand the rush of the waters and prevent any additional erosion of the cliff. But the end was as inexorable as fate. Each year saw the line of the perpendicular wall move nearer and nearer to the cherished structure, and at length, in 1886, further resistance was useless, the foundations fell into the seething torrent, and soon not a vestige remained of the massive walls and the sacred precincts which had been hallowed for generations.

Before the final catastrophe, everything movable was carried away from the church; but the great structure itself is gone forever.

The only illustration which we can give of this old

[page 158]

historic mission, is a picture of the carved double door which was its entrance. Each side had upon it, in high relief, a large escutcheon with a coat of arms surmounted by a crown, and it was admittedly


the most notable piece of wood carving of its kind in the whole of New Mexico. The photograph from which this is reproduced, was taken in stereopticon form in 1880 by W. Henry Brown, an artist then living in Santa Fé, to whom we are indebted for two

[page 159]

or three other pictures made at that time. That which adds peculiar interest to this illustration is the lifelike figure of A. F. Bandelier, then an ardent worker in the archæological field in which he afterwards became so distinguished, who is apparently studying the heraldic carving.

If we have no engraving of the church, we have a description of it in the journal of Lieutenant Pike, written while being conducted from Santa Fé to Chihuahua, under the orders of Governor Alencaster in 1807. Under date of Friday, March 5th, he writes:


“5th March, Friday, 1807.

“We arrived at the village of Santo Domingo at two o'clock. It is on the east side of the Rio del Norte, and is a large village, the population being about 1000 natives, generally governed by its own chief. The chiefs of the villages were distinguished by a cane with a silver head and black tassell and on our arrival at the public house captain D'Almansa was waited on by the governor of the pueblo, cap in hand, to receive his orders as to the furnishing of our quarters and ourselves with wood, water, provisions, &c.; for the house itself contained nothing but bare walls arid small grated windows.

“After we had refreshed ourselves a little, the captain sent for the keys of the church; when we entered it, I was much astonished to find enclosed in mud-brick walls, many rich paintings, and the Saint (Domingo) as large as life, elegantly ornamented with gold and silver; the captain made a slight inclination of the head, and intimated to me, that this

[page 160]

was the patron of the village. We then ascended into the gallery, where the choir are generally placed. In an outside hall was placed another image of the saint, less richly ornamented, where the populace repaired daily, and knelt to return thanks for benefactions received, or to ask new favors. Many young girls, indeed, chose the time of our visit to be on their knees before the holy patron. From the fiat roof of the church we had a delightful view of the village; the Rio del Norte on our west, the mountains of Sandia to the south, and the valley round the town, on which were numerous herds of goats, sheep and asses; and upon the whole, this was one of the handsomest views in New Mexico.”


We have another glimpse into the life of the pueblo, not indeed of the church, but of the house of the priest or convento which immediately adjoined it, as described by Lieutenant Emory of General Kearny's staff. It was at the beginning of Kearny's celebrated march from Santa Fé to California. The first night had been passed near La Bajada, and on the morning of September 3d the General received an invitation to visit Santo Domingo. On the way they were met by the governor of the pueblo and other officials, and soon afterwards a party of Indians, fantastically dressed, appeared on horseback and performed various evolutions. Soon they arrived in the town, and here we copy from Emory's report:


“We were escorted first to the padre's, of course; for here, as everywhere, these men are the most intelligent and the most well to do, and when the good

[page 161]

people wish to put their best foot foremost, the padre's wines, beds, and couches have to suffer. The entrance to the portal was lined with the women of the village, all dressed alike, and ranged in treble files.

“We were shown into his reverence's parlor, tapestried with curtains, stamped with the likenesses of all the Presidents of the United States up to this time. The cushions were of spotless damask, and the couch covered with a white Navajoe blanket worked in richly colored flowers.

“The air was redolent with the perfume of grapes and melons and every crack of door and windows glistened with the bright eyes of the women of the capilla. We had our gayest array of young men out today and the women seemed to drop their usual subdued look for hearty signs of cordial welcome; signs supplying the place of conversation as neither party could speak the language of the other. This little exchange of the artillery of eyes was amusing enough, but I was very glad to see the padre move towards the table and remove the pure white napkins from the grapes, melons and wine. We were as thirsty as heat and dust could make us, and we relished it highly. The sponge cake was irreproachable, and would have done honor to any good housekeeper. After the repast the general went forward on the portal and delivered a speech to the assembled people of the town which was first interpreted into Spanish and then into Pueblo.”


Since the destruction of the old church, a new one

[page 162]

has been erected, east of the town, and in this all the usual services and ceremonies are held. It is a creditable and commodious building, but of course without historic interest, and cannot in any way be included among the old missions which are the subject of this volume. The only present point of interest arises from the recent return of the Franciscan Fathers to this scene of their early labors and of the martyrdom of three of their brethren more than two and a third centuries ago.

Up: Contents Previous: 11. Pueblo of Cochití Next: 13. San Felipe, Santa Ana, and Zia

© Arizona Board of Regents