Legends, lovers and lawyers spike stories of Old Santa Fe – Visitors get more than points of interest when Ramona Argueta Allocca conducts a walking tour of Santa Fe. She spices everything with facts about food, music, dance, famous fandangos and Spanish folklore. Walking along the river, she’ll tell stories of La Llorona (the wailing woman), devils, witches and ghosts. This is particularly fun for the young and old when they are walking at night.
With nostalgia, Ramona describes Santa Fe when it was truly a Spanish town. Sunday mornings were spent celebrating Mass at the Cathedral. Sunday afternoons, the community converged on the Plaza, where musicians played into the cool evening. Old folks and married couples came to chat with friends and neighbors after a hard work week, while the children frolicked. Teens and young adults promenaded around, boys walking clockwise and girls counterclockwise; then they partnered off to dance.
Ramona begins her walking tour in front of the heavy bronze doors of the St. Francis cathedral where small, carved panels mark New Mexico historical events. Inside the church is the oldest Madonna in the United States, La Conquistadora de Almas, the Conqueror of Souls and Patron Saint of Santa Fe, brought to New Mexico in 1625. This beloved saint has an extensive wardrobe of silk and velvet dresses, fine lace mantillas and jeweled crowns much like Spanish royalty.
Like all Santa Feans, Ramona speaks lovingly of La Conquistadora. She shares her childhood memories and those passed down for generations of the Fiesta processions in honor of La Conquistadora that have been held since 1693. In June of each year, the Madonna is taken from the cathedral in a procession to Rosario Chapel. Then once again, in procession, they bring her back a week later.
The statue was stolen in the 1970s by two teenage boys. Santa Fe was devastated. Ten days later the FBI found her in a cave in Grants, NM. Citywide, bells rang, people cried, prayed and sang when La Conquistadora was returned to the cathedral.
Walking along the famous Canyon Road, Ramona points out the house where she grew up. She tells how her grandmother and all the neighbors lost their homes and Spanish land grants to enterprising lawyers and businessmen who controlled the economic and political life. They were robber barons known as the Santa Fe Ring.
When the group reaches the PERA building next to the state capitol, Ramona tells who is haunting the government building and why. Another haunted place, according to local lore, is La Posada Hotel, formerly the Victorian home of Abraham Staab and his wife, Julia, whose restless spirit returns from time to time. Legend has it that Julia’s lover was a rich and dashing Spanish colonel. Abraham was outraged when he found out about the affair. Julia took refuge in her room and died of a broken heart.
Visitors learn about the reminiscences of Ramona’s ancestors regarding Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny who marched into Santa Fe in 1846, raised the United States flag and proclaimed New Mexico as a territory. It divided the community; some welcomed the new government, others deplored the action.
Soldiers never got paid on time. Doña Tules Barcelo, proprietor of a notorious gambling house, would lend Kearny money (with interest, of course), to pay his men. In turn, the general had to provide her with the best-looking,highest-ranking soldiers to escort her to the high society affairs where only rich Spaniards and Anglos were invited.
Ramona tells of the infamous Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy who came to Santa Fe in 1850, changing Spanish Catholic traditions and practices. In a show of power, the ignoble Frenchman excommunicated many Spanish priests, among them Padre Manuel Martinez of Taos and Padre José Gallegos of Albuquerque. Further, he denounced the penitentes, who had for centuries kept Christianity alive because of a lack of priests in New Mexico. Lamy catered to the rich, multicultural merchants who financed his Romanesque cathedral.
In 1862, the United States brought the Civil War to Glorieta Pass in New Mexico. When Ramona’s great-grandmother was a little girl, the Confederate soldiers marched into Santa Fe. She happened to be inside a store on the Plaza when a group of soldiers stormed in, pilfering, vandalizing and intimidating everyone. With the butts of their rifles they broke open vats filled with wine. To get home, the terrorized child had to jump over puddles of wine along San Francisco Street.
In 1880, when New Mexico was still a U.S. territory, the Santa Fe Ring brought James Dunnigan from Brooklyn to work as a policeman in Santa Fe. Six-feet nine inches tall, this giant put the fear of God into everyone. He made it a practice to insult and initiate fights with the Spanish locals. Later in an investigation it was revealed that Dunnigan had belonged to the Jesse James gang.
One night Ramona’s great-grandfather, José Antonio Griego, a policeman, broke up a fight between the locals and Dunnigan. Griego was escorting Dunnigan out of The Exchange Hotel (now known as La Fonda) and to jail, when Dunnigan turned around and shot him in the back, killing him instantly. Like Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna, the city of Santa Fe came out in force, broke into the jail, dragged the cold-blooded murderer to Burro Alley and lynched him. A shocked President Ulysses S. Grant was visiting Gov. Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur.
Ramona is a descendant of Santa Fe’s Spanish settlers off our centuries past. Ramona’s ancestors, the Riveras and the Griegos, came to New Mexico with the original colonizers. Many of these settlers were Sephardic Jews, who spoke a 16th century dialect of mixed Spanish and Hebrew called Ladino, and Christian conversos. In the year 2000, a mixture of Ladino and Spanish is still spoken in the Land of Enchantment.
– by Jo Roybal Izay
This article is only a taste of the combination of history, folklore and storytelling that goes into Ramona Argueta Alloca’s walking tour of Santa Fe. She specializes in small groups and can be reached at MonaGr8@aol.com. Her friend Jo Roybal Izay is a historian/lecturer/playwright residing in Albuquerque, whose Ladino ancestors came with the colonizers and settled in Trampas. In 1785, her family founded the village of Llano de San Juan, east of Peñasco.
This article appeared in HighCountry 2000.