Up: Contents Previous: 16. Isleta Next: 18. Acoma, The City of the Sky
With the possible exception of Isleta, Laguna is the best known of all the pueblos to the traveler, as the main line of the
Santa Fé Railroad, until very recently, passed directly through the lower edge of the town, and a full view of the entire
pueblo was afforded to the passengers.
It is sixty-four miles west from Isleta and seventy-nine from Albuquerque along the railroad, but less than fifty miles from
either in a direct line, and is the center of one of the most prosperous and progressive of the Pueblo Indian communities.
That very spirit of progress, however, has been a detriment rather than a benefit to the village of Laguna itself, as the
people who were originally concentrated in the one town have become scattered in various communities in order to carry on
their farming operations to better advantage. In consequence of this, the town is almost deserted in the summer, and even
in the winter many of the old houses are vacant and going to ruin.
The pueblo is built upon a great mass of rock which rises gradually from the San José River on the south, and has been so
smoothed by more than two centuries of constant passing of moccasined feet
that its polished surface glistens in the sunlight. The usual lines of travel are deeply indented in the rock by this same
constant use, and these lead up from all sides to the center of the town where the old church stands with its walled yard
in front. The windows in the houses, where there are any, are “glazed” with sheets of selenite, a crystallized gypsum which
is semitransparent, and affords a fair degree of light, although objects cannot be distinguished through it. Until the introduction
of glass from the United States, all the windows in central New Mexico were filled with selenite, while in those north of
Santa Fé mica was used; in each case the translucent substance most easy to obtain near at hand being employed.
Laguna is one of the pueblos whose whole history is known to us, as it was founded in 1699. Shortly before that time Indians
from Acoma had settled near where Laguna is situated, for farming purposes, and on account of the fine hunting for deer and
antelope in the vicinity. They were joined by residents of Zia, Zuñi, and other neighboring pueblos and were permanently established
as a settlement about the time of the visit of Governor Cubero in July, 1699. A dam in the San José River caused the formation
of quite a lake, from which the town received its name. At one time it contained no less than nineteen distinct clans, but
many of these are now extinct. The population, however, has steadily increased; being 1,384 in 1905; and 1,583 in 1910.
In several respects Laguna differs from other
MISSION CHURCH AT LAGUNA SHOWING CONVENTO
pueblos. It is very progressive and fully half of its population has abandoned the old customs and shown a desire to meet
modern conditions. No doubt this is largely owing to the influence of three young men, all surveyors, who came together to
Laguna about 1870, settled permanently in the town, and married Pueblo Indian girls. They have lived there ever since, engaged
in almost constant official surveys. Each of them in turn has been governor of the pueblo. Their houses were clustered around
the old depot, just below the pueblo, and were surrounded by fruit and shade trees. Colonel Walter G. Marmon died a few years
ago, leaving an interesting family, and Colonel Robert G. Marmon and Major George H. Pradt remain where they settled years
When the new progressive element began to assert itself there were sharp disputes between them and the conservatives, and
a number of the latter emigrated to Isleta. The progressives had strength enough to bring about the abandonment of the old
ceremonial dances, and on the death of the cacique prevented the election of a successor, so that the pueblo has been without
a head to its ancestral religion for a number of years. These changes, and the scattering of the people in search of better
agricultural land, have loosened the hold of the old faith and the multiplicity of different clans into which the people were
divided is gradually dying out.
More than two hundred of the younger generation of both sexes are graduates from Carlisle and other
schools, and many of the men are employed by the railroad company in work of various kinds; this has introduced a considerable
knowledge of English, while the older generation spoke only the Queres language, either here or at Acoma. In this the people
differed from those of the pueblos in the Rio Grande Valley where everyone speaks Spanish as well as his native tongue. This
condition at times leads to surprises and some amusement. A short time ago the writer was visiting the pueblo, making a few
kodak pictures, some of which are reproduced in this volume, and wished if possible to obtain a view of the interior of the
church. But the doors were locked and the only key in possession of the sacristan. Directed by some of the people who spoke
Spanish, he soon found that aged official, but unfortunately the latter understood neither Spanish nor English, while the
writer knew no Queres; so the sacristan indicated that he would go for an interpreter and soon brought out from a house near
by a dusky maiden attired in full Indian dress, showing the shapely ankles and small bare feet characteristic of the Pueblo
girls, who was supposed to know a little English. In very simple words and slow enunciation the writer told what he wanted
and all proceeded to the church, which proved to be very dark within, as it was in the afternoon and the only light came from
the open door on the east. So the writer said, continuing the deliberate style in order to be understood, “It—is—too—dark—here,”
whereupon the pretty maiden looked up and quickly
responded, “Yes, you would need a time exposure here.” Explanations followed the surprise, and it appeared that the girl had
spent five years at Carlisle. A short time after in going the rounds of the houses looking for euriosities, with the usual
question, “Quien tiene cosas antiguas, como hachas de
MISSION CHURCH AT LAGUNA, FRONT VIEW
piedra?” the girl who was addressed answered, “I don't understand you, I don't know any Spanish,” and a similar explanation
The parish church, as in most of the pueblos, is by far the largest and most imposing building, and its commanding position
on the summit of the stone
bluff, makes it especially prominent. The building itself is about one hundred and five by twenty-three feet, built of stone,
and on one side are a number of rooms originally used by the Franciscans who erected the church, for themselves and visiting
brethren. In the front wall above the roof are two openings, in each of which an antique bell is hung, the whole being surmounted
by a plain cross.
The interior of the church is well worthy of a careful inspection. The ceiling is of the usual carved and ornamented vigas,
and the walls are carefully plastered and in good repair. Along both sides of the nave is a line or belt of painting four
feet wide extending from four to eight feet from the floor, made up of many repetitions of two designs, which in bright red
and yellow and green, with heavy border lines of black, are quite effective. The walls of the chancel, both behind the altar
and on the sides, are painted in a kind of arabesque; on the right is a painting of Santa Barbara with her tower, and on the
left one of San Juan Nepomuceno holding a cross in the right hand and a palm in the left. Between these two is a large picture
of St. Joseph on elk skin, undoubtedly the largest painting on skin in New Mexico and perhaps in the world, and above this
is a representation of the Three Persons of the Trinity. The front of the altar, which is nine by four feet in size, is entirely
covered with skin so tightly drawn that without a careful examination the painting upon it appears to be on wood. One single
skin used here is no less than seven feet long.
This and its surroundings are covered with Christian symbols, and quaint images of saints are seen on every side, but singularly
enough on the ceiling just above are the emblems of the older native religion; the sun, the moon, and the rainbow being most
prominent. Near the sun are two white stars representing morning, and near the moon are eight yellow stars representing night)
This curious combination of Christianity and paganism is found in some other Pueblo churches, and is in evidence in many of
the ceremonial dances which are held on Christian saints' days; and it shows the attempt to engraft the new religion upon
the old without too much friction, practiced by some missionaries, in contrast with the system practiced by others of insisting
on the complete eradication of the old.
We present three pictures of this very interesting church, which has experienced no substantial change from the time of its
foundation more than two centuries ago. The largest of these is from a striking photograph showing the church building and
the double storied convento as it appeared thirty or forty years ago. Another is a direct front view taken from the foot of
the steps which lead from the little irregular plaza to the open gateway. The third is taken from a wall on the east side
of the plaza and includes the entire walled “campo santo” in front of the church.
One of the most remarkable lawsuits in the history of jurisprudence appears upon the records of the Supreme Court of the Territory
of New Mexico in
1857, under the title of the “Pueblo of Acoma vs. the Pueblo of Laguna.” It related to a picture which for many years hung
in this very church. While the decision is on record, there are different versions of details, and we give the one adopted
by theChicago Record.
MISSION CHURCH AND CONVENTO, LAGUNA
The lawsuit was brought to determine the ownership of a picture of St. Joseph, which, it is claimed, was brought to Acoma
in 1629 by Fray Ramirez, to whom it was presented by Charles II of Spain. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the pueblo of
Acoma, and this picture was an object of especial veneration by the natives, not only because it was a gift from
the king, but because it was supposed to possess miraculous powers. Whenever an attack from the Apaches was expected, whenever
a drought dried up the water in the irrigating ditches, whenever an epidemic of smallpox or other pestilence prevailed, whenever
the children were ill, and whenever the tribe started upon its annual hunt, St. Joseph in the chapel was always appealed to
as regularly and with the same faith as the incantations of the medicine men. Acoma was prosperous and the peace and health
and wealth of the village were piously attributed to the possession of that picture.
The neighboring pueblo of Laguna was not so fortunate. While Acoma prospered in all respects, Laguna suffered from continuous
evils. The crops failed, cloudbursts destroyed portions of the village, epidemics carried off scores of children, calamity
followed calamity, so that at last they sent a commission to Acoma asking the loan of the picture of St. Joseph, in order
that he might restore prosperity and bring blessing to the afflicted town.
It was a most unusual and momentous occasion, and required many long and solemn councils before the decision could be reached.
The Lagunas enlisted the coöperation of their priest, who had a consultation with the missionary at Acoma. They appealed to
Father Mariano de Jesus Lopez, the superior of the Franciscans, who ordered a season of prayer and penance in both villages,
at the close of which the caciques were to draw lots for the saint, believing that God would direct the result.
The lot decided in favor of Acoma, and the Laguna
Indians were so indignant that they determined to take the saint by force, and while the people of Acoma were celebrating
their victory, a band of Laguna warriors broke into the chapel and stole the picture. When the theft was discovered there
would have been a bitter and bloody conflict but for the intervention of Father Mariano, who persuaded the Acomas to be generous
and let the Lagunas have the benefit of the influence of the miraculous picture for a few months, provided they would agree
to surrender it at the end of that time. His advice prevailed, and the Lagunas made many promises, which they were never willing
to fulfill. There was a change in their condition immediately after, and they prospered immensely, which, of course, was attributed
to the presence of the precious picture, and they feared that if it were returned to Acoma their luck would change. So time
passed and, notwithstanding the admonitions of Father Mariano and the priest at Laguna, the Indians refused to part with the
picture, which was protected by a guard day and night for more than half a century.
Finally, the people of Acoma appealed to the courts and filed a bill for a mandamus compelling the pueblo of Laguna to return
the saint to its lawful owners.
There were few newspapers in those days, and very little information of current interest was published, so that we have to
depend upon tradition for the history of the case. All we know is that it was hotly contested, and that the lawyers' fees
both pueblos poor. Judge Kirby Benedict, sitting as chancellor, decided in favor of the original owners, and ordered that
the Lagunas surrender the precious painting to the cacique of the Acomas.
When the decision became known the latter appointed a delegation to bring the saint home. While they were on their journey
half way to Laguna they found the saint resting against a mesquite tree. They considered this a miracle, and the people still
believe that when St. Joseph heard of the decision of the court he was in such a hurry to get back to his home in Acoma that
he started out by himself. This extraordinary picture still hangs over the altar of the little chapel at Acoma, and the faith
in its virtues has never failed.
Up: Contents Previous: 16. Isleta Next: 18. Acoma, The City of the Sky
© Arizona Board of Regents