Thursday, January 31, 2008

Estebán of Azemmour

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca who walked across America in the 16th century. Cabeza de Vaca was one of four men who survived from the original 600 souls who populated Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition to North America in 1527.

Estebanico el Negro, John HouserPhoto of "Estebanico el Negro" by the sculptor, John Houser, courtesy of Borderlands, El Paso Community College Local History Project

Another one of the four, the Moroccan-born Estebán (variously known as Estebanico el Negro, Estebán de Dorantes, Little Stephen, Black Stephen, and Stephen the Moor) has his own interesting history.

I had planned a post about Estebán when I finished the Cabeza de Vaca post. Only a few days after that post, I happened to see the movie National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. I had decided to see the movie after reading in Rick Beyer's history blog about the accuracy and detail of the many historical references in the movie. (Click here to read the details.)

So imagine my surprise to find that Estebán (and by implication--though not by name--Cabeza de Vaca) were also featured in the movie, which theorizes that the city of Cíbola, as visited by Estebán, still exists in the US (though there is no evidence that Estebán ever traveled further north than New Mexico).

Estebán was born in Morocco ca. 1503, and sold into slavery to Andres de Dorantes during a devastating drought and famine in his native country in 1520-21. Dorantes treated him well, and Estebán proved himself a smart, strong, and trustworthy servant. When Dorantes joined Narváez's expedition, he brought Estebán along. During their travels through Indian country in Texas, Estebán demonstrated exceptional language and relationship skills, learning numerous Indian dialects, and impressing the natives as a friendly, trustworthy giant. Because the group were also seen as powerful medicine men, Estebán was also the recipient of two sacred gourds and an engraved copper medicine rattle from the Arbadaos tribe in Texas.

Chakwaina, Zuni, Duane DishtaWhen the travelers arrived in Mexico City in 1536, Estebán became a well-known figure about town. He liked to adorn his arms and legs with bright bells and feathers, and had acquired two handsome greyhounds who accompanied him.

The Viceroy of Mexico bought Estebán from Dorantes, and appointed him as guide and interpreter to an expedition seeking the "Seven Cities of Cíbola" (or the "Seven Cities of Gold"). The myth/rumors/legend about these fabulous cities had existed since the 12th century in Spain, and had been fueled by the accounts of Cabeza de Vaca and his companions of the pueblo cities they had seen and heard about.

Chakwaina, Zuni, Duane DishtaThe priest Fray Marcos de Niza was put in charge of the expedition which departed Mexico City in 1539. Estebán went on ahead of de Niza, and sent his own advance runner, carrying his special gourds and rattle, to announce his coming.

When Estebán reached the first Zuni pueblo in New Mexico (believed to be the pueblo of Hawikuh), he believed that he had found the cities of gold (or at least that was the word he sent back to de Niza). Some have theorized that the straw mixed in the adobe glittered like gold in the clear mountain air and strong sunlight (or glowing sunset light) of New Mexico.

But Estebán was not as well received by the Zunis as he had been by tribes throughout his journeys. They may have mistrusted his symbols (unfamiliar medicine rattles), or resented his demands for turquoise and women, or been angered by his crossing a sacred cornmeal line during a tribal ceremony. Perhaps it was a combination of all three.

In any case, he and his companions were arrested and kept in a small hut near the pueblo for several days while the Zuni council members debated what to do. In the end, Estebán was killed by arrow fire.

But he lives on in history in a variety of ways: in the figure of a black giant/monster/ogre Zuni kachina named Chakwaina, as a historical black figure (the first black man in America), and in the vision of contemporary artists like John Houser of El Paso, who created the bronze shown above, or Duane Dishta, a Zuni artist, whose images of Chakwaina are also shown here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

So Santa Fe

Illustration courtesy of

About once a month I have lunch at a restaurant called Counter Culture. The name is a play on words--you order your lunch at a counter, and it's served to you in the dining room when it's ready. But the menu and the decor also support the 60s and 70s hippie manifestations of counterculture. There's a big pot-bellied stove belching fire in the corner; the tables are rough-hewn wood; there's a concrete floor and lots of brushed aluminum; seating is moderately communal; sprouts, espresso, and Thai soups appear on the menu; and service is rude to middlin'.

But my favorite "so Santa Fe" indicator is a sign on the door from the restaurant to the outside patio:

For the safety and comfort of our customers, there will be NO barking or growling dogs allowed on the front patio. Extremely mellow dogs only.

Don't you love it? First of all, they have a patio where dogs are allowed. Well--OK, you see this a lot in urban sidewalk cafés, etc. So no sign at all would have been one option--people would assume dogs were OK. But obviously other customers were affronted by badly behaved dogs (as someone who's not a dog person, I get this!) so these dogs needed to be excluded. Another option would have been a sign that said "no barking or growling dogs" or "barking or growling dogs will be asked to leave"--a more rule-oriented posting.

But the "mellow dogs only" bit is perfect--it so fits with the "counter culture" image (perhaps these dogs have taken a puff or two of the weed?) and the combination of rules, politeness, direction, indirection, and chattiness in the sign just made me laugh!

P.S. The food is excellent, and they have "Arnold Palmer"s on the menu!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

In Praise of the Sidecar, Part 1

Photo courtesy of

I ate at Jinja in Santa Fe this week--a lovely, warm, and welcoming spot with cozy booths, upholstered bar stools, terrific food, and friendly service. According to their website, they "feature a fresh, inventive Asian menu and a bar that will transport you to the tropics with vintage drinks of the 1930s and 40s." I was delighted to see that on their drink menu they were featuring:

Sidecar   7.95
Created at the Ritz in Paris during WWI when a regular customer arrived on his motorcycle, replete with sidecar, and asked the bartender for a cocktail that would take off the chill, this celebrated cocktail blends brandy, triple sec and fresh lemon & lime juice.

When the drink arrived it was just about perfect, and got me thinking about sidecars and my history with, and appreciation of, this truly excellent cocktail.....

When I was in college I probably drank what you drank in college--beer, wine, and frat party mystery punch. When I turned 21, and was presented with the rare opportunity to order a drink in a bar or restaurant setting, I would request a scotch on the rocks with a twist. I didn't really like it (was alcohol supposed to taste good?) but it seemed like a sophisticated and grown-up drink.

The summer after I graduated from college I got a job working in a Cape Cod seafood restaurant, and learned about cocktails from a knowledgeable bartender there. I was particularly intrigued by gin alexanders, bloody mary's, and, in particular, the sidecar, which has become my favorite cocktail.

There was a long wine-dominated period in the 80s when I had to explain to bartenders how to make them, so I developed a business card that had the recipe on the front and a rating scheme on the back. If I had to tell the bartender how to make it, I gave them the recipe:


If I didn't have to explain, then I scored the drink on the rating side, and presented my rating to the bartender.

TASTE (0-2) ____ QUANTITY (0-2) ____ SUGAR RIM (0-2) ____
ICE (0-1) ____ COLOR (0-1) ____ GLASS (0-1) ____ LIME (0-1) ____
EVALUATED BY _________________________ ___/___/___

Let me explain my criteria.

Taste goes without saying--and here the dominant factor is the quality of the sour mix. There are some commercial mixes that are very tinny-tasting or have an unpleasant chemical after-taste, or are too sweet or too sour. There are some other good commercial mixes, but the best is when a bar makes its own with fresh lemon and lime juice, sugar, and water.

Quantity needs to be adequate--a drink you can finish in a few sips just isn't satisfying.

Sugared rim: I often have to remind the bartender about this. The best drink has a slightly sour tang offset by the sugared rim. And I love working my way around the glass, drinking a bit from each part of the rim--when the drink and the sugar run out at once, that's perfect!

Ice: I like my sidecars on the rocks and I like the ice cubes to be big. When the ice cubes are too small, they dilute the drink too fast. Don't shake the drink and then just dump it ice and all into the cocktail glass! Shake it with ice, then strain it onto fresh cubes.

Color: Usually a gauge of whether there's enough (or too much--though this doesn't happen often!) brandy in the drink. Should be a warm golden color.

Glass: Double rocks glass is the right size. Have been served this drink in a variety of different glasses, and I prefer an interesting glass with a flat bottom. Please don't serve it in a highball glass or a brandy snifter!

Lime: I like a fresh large wedge of lime--not those 1/64th size pieces they serve on airlines (did you know you could cut a lime that small?) and not something that's been dried out sitting on the bar for the last week.

Jinja's sidecar got a score of 9 in my book--pretty good! Their only failing was a maraschino cherry on a plastic stick in lieu of the lime wedge.

In a later post I'll talk more about history (you knew I'd get to history eventually!)--both the sidecar's and mine.....

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Chile/i in New Mexico

Photo courtesy of the Hatch, New Mexico website

The peppers in New Mexico are chile peppers (with an "e"); the semi-official state question is "Red or green?" (The bill designating this as the official state question was passed by the NM legislature some years ago, but vetoed by former Governor Gary Johnson as "lacking merit".) If you can't decide, you order "Christmas" (a mix of red and green).

The dish (with beans, meat, tomatoes, etc.) is chili, though it's much more popular in Texas (where it is the official state dish--do you think the state legislatures might have better things to think about?) than it is in New Mexico. (However, the last words of Kit Carson, who spent much of his adult life in New Mexico, are reputed to have been: "Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.")

I've been a chili lover my whole life (it was a favorite recipe of my Anglo-Irish mother)--and love to try different versions of the dish (different meats, with or without tomatoes, different kinds of beans, etc.).

Just came across a wonderful poem by New Mexico poet Simon Ortiz, who hails from the Acoma Pueblo. Here's about half of the poem to give you the flavor (so to speak):

How to make a good chili stew--
this one on July 16, a Saturday,
Indian 1971

It's better to do it outside
or at sheepcamp
or during a two or three day campout.
In this case, we'll settle
for Hesperus, Colorado
and a Coleman stove.
Chili (Red, frozen, powdered, or dry pods. In this case,
just powdered because that's all I have.)
Beef (In this case, beef which someone who works in a
restaurant in Durango brought this morning,
leftovers, trim fat off and give some to the dog
because he's a good guy. His name is Rex.)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Onion (In this case, I don't have any, but if you do have
some around, include it with much blessings.)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Put chile and some water into a saucepan with bullion,
garlic which is diced, and salt and pepper and onion
which I don't have and won't mention anymore because
I miss it and you shouldn't ever be anyplace without it,
I don't care where.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the meantime, you can cut the meat (which, in this case,
I should mention, was meant for Rex the dog but since
it was left over from just last night and it's not bad--
I know 'cause I tasted it--that's alright, but if you
can afford it, cut the lean meat) into less than inch
pieces and you don't have to measure, just cut it so
it looks like cut meat.
Make sure you smell the chili in the saucepan once in a
while and think of a song to go along with it.
That's important.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Smelling and watching are important things, and you really
shouldn't worry too much about it--I don't care
what Julia Child says--but you should pay the utmost
attention to everything, and that means the earth,
clouds, sounds, the wind. All these go into the cooking.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Further Directions to Make Sure It's Good
Don't forget about the chili.
Look all around you once in a while. (In this case,
the La Plata Mountains in southern Colorado. It's
going to rain soon on them and maybe here too
if we're lucky.)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Waiting For It To Get Done
Oh, maybe about two hours for the chili to simmer
and then put in the hominy and cover with water
and simmercook for another two hours.
It's also good to have someone along,
and in case they don't know how too good
you can teach them, slowly and surely,
until they're expert. It will take more than
one time but that's okay and much better.
It's best to do anytime.
At Last
Well, my friends, that's all there is to it,
for the chili stew part, but as you well know
there is more than that too. So good luck.
And you can eat now.

Friday, January 18, 2008


It's very cold here in Santa Fe--down to near zero degrees the last two nights. Things are looking up for the daytime though--temps may actually rise to 32 today!

But there are little buds on the trees--just noticed them when I went outside this morning to take the picture for this post. It's possible that spring may come again! (Don't you love the way the snow looks blue in the cold shade in my front yard? The backyard is much sunnier and cheerier, but doesn't look as COLD!)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Cow's H.

Since I moved to Santa Fe, I've noticed there are a lot of people here with an unusual last name: CDeBaca. Sometimes there's a period or an apostrophe or a space after the C--and sometimes not. Capitalization of individual letters also varies.

A little research yielded the information that CDeBaca was originally Cabeza de Vaca. Over time in this country the Vaca became Baca, and the Cabeza was shortened to C. (The most common current version of the name is simply Baca.)

A little more digging led me to the story of Martin Alhaja, a shepherd who had played a pivotal role in a battle that Spain undertook against the Moors in 1212. Alhaja offered to show the Spaniards a path that would circumvent the mountain passes held by the Moors, and used a cow's skull to mark the trail. As a reward for his service, he was given a noble title, and took the name Cabeza de Vaca (cow's head).

Three hundred years later, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, by this time a member of a well-established noble family in Seville, sailed for North America as an officer and second in command under Pánfilo de Narváez in 1527. Their group of 600 (which included 10 women and a handful of African slaves) manned a number of ships, but the fleet was destroyed off the coast of Cuba. After finding a new ship, Narváez sailed to the Tampa Bay area in Florida, and claimed it for the Spanish crown. He divided his forces into two--a land and a sea expedition. Both Narváez and Cabeza de Vaca were part of the land contingent--the sea forces were never heard from again.

Lost and starving, the land forces were sheltered for a time by the Apalachee Indians of North Florida. After being chased away by the Indians, they lived in a coastal swamp for a period, and were reduced to eating their horses while they constructed five barges. They began their travel hugging the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, but were once again struck by a hurricane. By this time, the size of the force had dwindled to about 80. Narváez and some of his men eventually headed back out to sea and disappeared.

Cabeza de Vaca and the few men left with him struggled to stay alive on the Gulf Coast, near where Galveston is today. According to Southwest Crossroads, "Indian groups variously befriended, fed, killed, and enslaved the Conquistadors." During this period, most of the party died of Indian attack, illness, and starvation.

During his six years of slavery, Cabeza de Vaca and also his companions, began to be seen as powerful medicine men. He had a little knowledge of medicine from his Spanish education, and he was also a faith-healer, employing indigenous remedies with Christian religious ceremonials. Apparently, he honed his medical skills over the time he spent in Texas, and actually developed and refined real surgical procedures like making incisions to pull out arrowheads and giving stitches.

Eventually, Cabeza de Vaca and his three surviving companions (two Spaniards and a Moroccan slave named Estebán) escaped, and resolved to walk west and south until they reached the Spanish Empire's outpost in Mexico.

They survived in part by trading, and in part because of their reputation as healers. On their journey they were often accompanied by hundreds of Indian guides and well-wishers; according to various analysts Cabeza de Vaca appeared to have been unusually sensitive to the Indian tribe members, and an advocate for their humanity--he is said to have prevented a number of them from being captured by a slave-taking expedition when they first entered Mexico.

Nine years after that first Cuba shipwreck, in 1536, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions walked into Culiacán, in Sinaloa, Mexico.

From there he was able to travel to Mexico City, and return to Spain, where he wrote an account of his adventures originally entitled La Relación, and now known as Náufragos. (The latter title translates to "The Shipwrecked".) The work was published in 1542, by which time Cabeza de Vaca had already left for the New World again, where he had been awarded the position of Governor of the settlements on the La Plata river (an area in present-day Paraguay and Argentina).

Apparently, he was a much less successful governor than he was an explorer/survivor, and a revolt against him led to his return to Spain as a prisoner. He was convicted of the charges, but finally pardoned, and occupied an honorable and lucrative position (possibly as a judge) until his death ca. 1557. He wrote a second book on his career in South America called Comentarios which was published in 1555. His books are valuable for their first-person history of Spanish colonization, and his observations (in the first book) of the customs and manners of North American Indians. (In Texas alone, Cabeza de Vaca named and located 23 Indian groups and their clothes, language, eating habits, rituals, homes, and migrations. )

More recently, the local Cabeza de Bacas are descended from Luis María Cabeza de Baca, who was born in Santa Fe in 1753, and fathered somewhere between 15-29 children with three wives. (The latter number probably includes a number of children who were stillborn or died in infancy.)

Some claim that Luis María was a direct descendant from Alvar Nuñez, though others feel there is not enough evidence to support that claim. It is still generally assumed, however, that all of the C deBacas and Bacas originated from the Spanish noble family named for their sheepherding ancestor.

Ezequiel C De Baca (1864-1917) was elected the first Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico in 1911, and became governor on January 1, 1917, but died the following month.

A perusal of the Santa Fe phone book yields the number of local residents with some version of this name:

BACA 148

Illustration Credits and References

The painting of the young Cabeza de Vaca and the map are courtesy of the American School of Lima web site.

The surgical illustration is entitled Cabeza de Vaca Performing the First Recorded Surgical Operation on the North American Continent by Tom Lea; courtesy of the Moody Medical Library, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The 5 peseta stamp was issued by Spain in 1960, on the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Florida by the Spanish.

Sources used for this post include:

Research from the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University; if you're interested in more detail on Cabeza de Vaca's North American adventures, the two research articles included here are very thorough.

A review, in the California Literary Review, of a new book about Cabeza de Vaca by Andrés Reséndez entitled: A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza De Vaca : The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Sixteenth Century.

Southwest Crossroads, a site discussing cultures and histories of the American Southwest

The Sharlot Hall Museum, a museum of human and natural history in Prescott, Arizona

The University of New Mexico's e-library

The Catholic Encyclopedia

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Deer and the Antelope Play

(Not to Mention the Buffalo and Eagles)

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, armed with lots of warm clothing and earnest instructions on behavior (No applause! No asking questions! No photographs!) we visited three Indian Pueblos to watch ceremonial dances. It is truly phenomenal that these dances have been going on in much the same place and the same way for hundreds of years.

Because of the season, the Pueblo dancing in December is typically animal-based (most harvest dances take place when things are still growing). Originally, the dances were part of a winter solstice celebration, but the Spaniards forced the Indians to integrate the dancing (when they still allowed it) with the sanctioned Christian holidays.

We saw buffalo dances at Laguna, Jemez, and Santa Ana; eagle dances at Laguna and Jemez; deer dances at Jemez and Santa Ana; and an antelope dance at Santa Ana. We also saw a corn dance at Laguna.

First, let me describe the settings.

As mentioned in the the previous post, the Laguna dancing was held inside the 400-year old San José Mission Church, immediately after midnight Mass. The pews had been moved out of the right side of the church, leaving a small but adequate space for dancing on the hard-packed mud and straw floor. It was easy to imagine the setting looking much the same in 1699, except that the brown-robed Franciscan was probably not sitting watchfully at the side of the altar. Parishioners sat in the pews on the left side, and in the choir loft. Some older teens and young adults stood outside the front doors of the church smoking--just out of sight of their parents and grandparents inside.

Dances were performed sequentially--with 8-10 drummers setting up shop first, who were then joined by about 10 corn dancers. When the corn dance was finished, all left and the drummers returned with the buffalo dancers (two buffalo, a maiden "buffalo mother", and a hunter). After the buffalo dancers exited, the eagle dancers (two adult men and two young boys) arrived. During part of this time I was upstairs in the choir loft, and the big window overlooking the front of the church was the site of much excited murmuring of "Here they come!", as they watched and waited for new groups of dancers--much like children waiting and watching for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

At Jemez, we were told that the Christmas Day dancing started at 8 or 9 in the morning, and went on non-stop until mid-afternoon. It was certainly continuous the whole time we were there (roughly 10-11:30 a.m.). Unlike the sequencing at Laguna (which may have been attributed to the confines of the church space), all of the dancers were dancing at once--buffalo, eagle, and deer. The dancing took place in a dirt plaza surrounded by adobe village homes. This was quite a large space--maybe the length of a football field, though much narrower. The drumming cadre consisted of about 30 men, three-deep--the front row of men drummed and chanted, and from time to time would pass the position and drum to one of the other men in the group.

Here again, the buffalo dance included two buffalo and a buffalo mother, but there were many deer and eagle dancers--both adult males and children of both sexes (though the little girls' costumes were much less lavish). The resident non-dancers had set up their folding chairs in front of homes along the long sides of the space--quite a lot of the chairs were empty, and I'm assuming that people came and went during the dancing, which goes on for three days at the Christmas holidays.

At Santa Ana, the setting was similar but the space was squarer. Again, the residents had set up chairs, though not as many, and some sat on benches in front of homes. Here again the dancing was going on when we arrived, with buffalo, deer, and antelope dancers and a large group of drummers and chanters which included both men and women. The buffalo dance was in the same configuration as the other two pueblos, and there were about 20 deer and antelope dancers--adult and older teen males. There was also a time when all the dancers and drummers left for 20 minutes or more--we were just about to leave when they returned and started dancing again.

The Buffalo Dance

The buffalo dancers all wore realistic buffalo headdresses and black body paint (probably why the Indians referred to the African-American regiments in the Civil War as "buffalo soldiers"). At Jemez, the buffalo dancers had black chests but red forearms, faces, and legs.

The "buffalo mother" (whose ceremonial job it is to drive the buffalo down from the hills so they can be killed) was attired in white--wearing her hair long and loose at two pueblos, and a complex feather headdress at the third. Buffalo dancing is often accompanied by Indians wearing plains Indian headdresses (what you will immediately conjure up mentally if you think of an Indian chief headdress from the cowboy and Indian movies of your childhood). These feather headdresses are not typically worn by Pueblo Indians, but since the New Mexico Indians had to travel to the plains to find buffalo, they often encountered Plains Indians en route.

The Deer and the Antelope Dance

As in the illustration above, the deer dancers (and also the antelope dancers) use short sticks in their hands to simulate the four-legged animals. Here the attire was very different in the two dances we saw.

At Jemez, the dancers wore evergreen headdresses and embroidered kilts--much like the illustration. The kilts were white with blue or green patterns--some (especially those of the young boys) looked to be of a pre-printed material, but most were embroidered or made of pieced fabric--some cotton, some wool, some felt. They wore turquoise-colored deer heads with antlers, and turquiose arm bands.

At Santa Ana, the deer and antelope dancers wore ceremonial clothing realistically depicting deer and antelope--what looked like simulated hides, worn almost like body suits over white thermal underwear.

The Eagle Dance

The eagle dancers at Laguna were attired in feathers and headdresses much like that in the illustration. They wore black pants and shirts, and were accompanied by young girls representing butterflies. One of the images that really stayed with me was that of a young boy--maybe 8 or 9 years old, carefully executing his dance with one luminous dark eye glued to the adult dancing next to him--moving his wings and head carefully to achieve the desired result.

At Jemez, the eagle dancers wore white kilts with red and black decoration. Their torsos were painted black, and their wings and headdresses were much less lavish than those at Laguna.

And Later. . .

After the dancing we had dinner at the Hyatt Tamaya Hotel on the Santa Ana Pueblo--quite a modern contrast to the ancient village traditions we had just observed!
Photo courtesy of

Illustration Credits

The illustrations are all by Velino Shije Herrera (also known as Ma-Pe-Wi, or "Oriole Egg"). He was born at Zia Pueblo in 1902, and educated at the Santa Fe Indian School. During the Depression, he was employed by the School of American Research in Santa Fe to depict his people's customs and traditions. His work appears in major collections in Phoenix, Santa Fe, and Tulsa.

The drawing at the top of this post was taken from a series of elementary school readers in English, sometimes Spanish, and Native American languages that was produced for Pueblo, Navajo, Sioux, and Hopi students in the 1930s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It appeared in a book entitled The Young Hunter of Picuris.

Note the art deco bottom border in the eagle dance illustration--another interesting culture combo!