24. San Juan

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The ancient Tehua pueblo of Caypa received the baptism of its new name of “San Juan de los Caballeros” on the same day that we count as the birthday of New Mexico—July 12, 1598. This complimentary title from Oñate, came, as we are told in the epic of Villagrá, as a recognition of the courtesy and hospitality shown by the Indians of Caypa to the Spanish colonists, in vacating the houses on the west side of the Rio Grande for the accommodation of the strangers.

There is in the folk-lore of the Indians an ancient legend according to which this coming of the Spaniards really reunited the whole family of the Tehuas of San Juan. It tells us that in the time of “Long Ago,” when the Indians were migrating by slow stages from the far Northwest, the Tehuas were divided into two great classes, known as the Summer People and the Winter People. In passing down the valley of the Rio Grande, part of the nation chose to remain in the wide valleys near the mouth of the Chama River, while others went to similar locations below the Santa Cruz, and still others preferred the hilly region farther to the east. Of those who settled in the fertile valley near the Chama, the Summer

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People chose the west side of the Rio Grande, in Yuque Yunque, and the Winter People, the east side, at Caypa. In order that there should be no division, the good spirits built a bridge by laying a long feather of a parrot from one side of the river and an equally long feather of a magpie from the other. As soon as they met, the people began to cross, and so continued to live in brotherhood until a wicked spirit of evil caused the feathers to turn over, and the bridge was destroyed. But when the Spaniards came and desired to make their capital at Yunque, the Indians welcomed them and gave them all the houses of the Summer People for their own, and those at Caypa brought their brethren back across the river and gave them half of their houses and their fields, and so reunited both the Summer and the Winter People in the one pueblo of San Juan.

To change from tradition to history, we have already learned the narrative of the settlement at San Gabriel, of the building of the first church and of the great festival that succeeded. We know that seven years afterward, the seat of government was moved to Santa Fé and the pueblo of San Juan resumed its position of preëminence, which had been somewhat overshadowed by the brief glories of San Gabriel. One of the first churches was erected there and it soon became the permanent residence of a priest, with its convento and all the facilities for missionary work. At all times it was to be counted among the prosperous pueblos and the only charge lodged against its people was that they were proud and apt to be overbearing to their Indian neighbors.

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When, in after years, the grievances of the Indians became acute and revolts against ill treatment only brought defeat and punishment, everyone recognized that the two requisites for success were leadership and organization. In the excitement which followed the punishment of forty-seven Indians for alleged witchcraft in 1675, there suddenly came into public notice the man apparently best fitted to control. He was from this pueblo of San Juan, and his name was Poe-pec, abbreviated in general use, to Po-peé. He was a man of great ability, and his zeal in the cause of his people was so intense that on a mere suspicion that his son-in-law, Nicolas Bua, who was the governor of the pueblo, was disloyal, he killed him with his own hand.

Thus San Juan became the center of the great conspiracy which culminated in the Revolution of 1680; and on the general uprising there was the same destruction of the church and its property here as in all the rest of New Mexico.

The new church, erected after the reconquest, was the one which with slight changes endured down to the present era, and is the subject of the illustration, reproduced from an official photograph by Hillers taken nearly forty years ago.

This church was long and narrow, like all of the older ones in New Mexico, where the width is always limited by the length of the vigas, or cross timbers, as one timber stretches directly across from side to side. For this reason the interior of the churches cannot exceed twenty-five feet in width, and that is the usual distance from wall to wall in the larger religious


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edifices. Any augumentation in size has to be made by an increase in length. The vigas in nearly all the important old churches are carefully selected logs of uniform size, in some cases round as they are naturally left when the bark is removed, and in others hewn to a square. Sometimes they are left with a plane surface, and in others are ornamented by carvings from end to end; but in almost every case the short timbers which project from the walls on either side as supports, are quite elaborately carved, being frequently cut into the form of a graceful curve and add very much to the architectural effect of the interior.

No better example of this style of architecture existed in New Mexico than in this old Mission at San Juan.

The large vigas are generally about two and a half feet apart, and in this church the number which supported the roof, from the door to the chancel, was thirty-seven. As is usual, there was one very elaborately carved riga of great size, and a photograph showing the central decoration of this, and specially made for the purpose, is reproduced here in order to give a correct idea of this class of ancient New Mexican work.

For more than a generation the history of the old Mission of San Juan has been identified with the life work of its faithful pastor, Rev. Camille Seux, universally known as Padre Camilo. He is now almost the only survivor of the young clergymen brought from France by Bishop Lamy in the early days, and

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he has remained during his long ministry in this one parish devoting his entire life to its people.

Unlike many of the clergy, he came from a family of ample means, and it has been the delight of his life to pour out of his abundance to the Mission entrusted


to his care. His first benefaction was in the renovation of the old church and the improvement of its roof; then he erected the beautiful Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes, built of the rare reddish volcanic

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rock found west of the Rio Grande,—an architectural jewel set down on the edge of a desert. This was dedicated on the 19th of June, 1890. His next work was to embellish the plaza between the old church and the new chapel with a charming statue


of the Virgin Mary, as the Immaculate Conception, brought from Paris and artistically placed on a lofty pedestal of appropriate design.

“Yo soy la Concepcion Inmaculada”

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An engraving of this is presented to illustrate the generous offerings of this beloved pastor. Not satisfied with all this, he next built a parish house, corresponding to the old Spanish convento, not only sufficient for local needs but sufficiently commodious to accommodate all the priests of the diocese; and here at frequent intervals, he welcomes all who come, especially the French priests, who rejoice in these reunions from isolated fields of labor; and with most generous hospitality provides for every want. Within the last few years, as the culmination of his work of faith and love, and with such assistance as others chose to give, he has built an entirely new parish church to be a special memorial of his life of devotion.

Regretting, as we must, that this entailed the destruction of the old historic Mission, where the Indians were first taught to pray and generations have joined in Christian worship, yet no one can fall to revere the devotion which has thus laid its gifts upon the altar, and has made of this little Indian pueblo a center of ecclesiastical artistic beauty.

The pueblo of San Juan is one of prosperity and happiness; its people are industrious, well governed, and progressive. Its population has increased in the century from 1805 to 1905, from 185 to more than double that number.

Its principal festival, on June 24th, is the occasion of a vast influx of visitors from the vicinity and from abroad, and should not be missed by any tourist who can arrange to be present. The exercises

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are alternated from year to year, there being a ceremonial tabla dance at one festival and races and games at the succeeding one. No one who can attend will fail to receive a welcome, for whatever other change may have taken place during the three centuries since the coming of Oñate, there has been no diminution in the unvarying cordiality and courtesy of the simple people of this ancient pueblo, which then brought to them the title of “Los Caballeros.”

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