Where the present meets the past
Là où le présent rencontre le passé
Donde el presente se encuentra con el pasado

… reveries, meditations, and speculations …
… thoughts, anecdotes, excerpts from the book, and more …

The first European to set foot in New Mexico was a Frenchman, Marc de Nice (Marcos de Niza)
Watch a short movie HERE.

Napoleon III and New Mexico
January 9, 2022, marks the 150th anniversary of the death of French Emperor Napoleon III. This is a sweet spot for me, as my gg grandfather headed his electoral committee when he ran for president before becoming emperor.

Surprisingly perhaps, the Napoleon III leaves a legacy of families in New Mexico.

In 1864, Napoleon III established an archduke from Austria as Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico. In January 1866, after a series of setbacks and political intrigues, Napoleon III withdrew his troops. Most of the French soldiers fighting in Mexico returned to France (nearly 30,000 troops). Most of the others, about 10,000, were killed in action or by disease. President Juárez came back to power. Maximilian was executed on June 19, 1867. But some soldiers stayed behind (mainly in Mexico), but a few ended up in New Mexico and founded families still among us.

One of them was Joseph Girard, “El Francés” (1838-1927), traveling with others including Antoine Large and another man named DuPont. Girard was in Taos around 1866, gambling with Padre Martínez and Kit Carson. Antoine Large also moved to Taos, then went to Colorado while still doing business in New Mexico. There were others, such as Joseph-Louis François (who had seven sons), French John, John Villepigue, John Collier, and Alfred Rossier.

Urban sprawl overlooks culture
As I was perusing the list of street names in Santa Fe and Santa Fe County, I was struck by the lack of cultural diversity in these names. An increasing number of names is made-up by developers for streets born from the ancestral dust, because it is easier and less controversial to name streets after flowers or animals than to do some research and involve the community.

Take the example of names of people of French origin (my pet subject, but a similar analysis could be made for names from Germany, Italy, Greece, the Middle East, etc.).

During the 18th and 19th century, the French formed a strong community in Santa Fe. About 300 graves bear French names in the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Still, I could spot only few streets or locations commemorating French ethnicity (Archbishops Lamy and Chapelle, Gurule, Tixier, Johnson Ranch, Frenchy’s Field).

What happened to the memory of Juan Archibeque, Dominique Labadie and his grandson Lorenzo Labadie, Francis Aubry (the skimmer of the plains), the Mercure brothers, the Robidoux brothers (two of them were mayors of Santa Fe), Adolph Bandelier, Jean Bouquet, George Herbert, Auguste Lacome, the Bonal family, Donald Beauregard, Alexander Girard, Philippe Register, Renée Johnson (old-timers might remember the restaurant “Chez Renée”)?

And of course, there were legions of French Archbishops and priests, and artisans, builders and architects who came in their wake: Quintus Monier, William Coulloudon, Etienne Lacassagne, Antoine Mouly and his son, Michel Machebeuf, François Mallet, Auguste Mignardot, François Rochas, etc. And outstanding women, mostly Sisters and spouses, have all practically been swallowed by the “macho” culture.

There is plenty of room left for street names!

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Christmas in Madrid, New Mexico
Pierre Ménager made quite an impression in Madrid in 1940. Ménager was a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor, best known for his landscapes and genre scenes of New Mexico, California, and New Orleans. He had settled in Santa Fe in 1927. In 1940, he orchestrated a “Nativity in Panorama” at the “Christmas Madrid light spectacle,” attended by tens of thousands of visitors. On 6,000 square yards of canvas, Ménager painted twelve major biblical scenes, made a 33-foot-tall wooden figure of Christ, and installed a toy land and miniature railroad in the nearby baseball park. In its last issue of the year and in the midst of World War II, the magazine Newsweek consecrated almost a page and two photos to the event. Christmas in Madrid is still lively today.

Counting ballots, one man dead, French priest flees disguised as a woman.
In November 1888, Capt. Dumas Provencher, a French Canadian, and his brother-in-law, Father Brun (a Frenchman), were supervising the election vote tally in San Rafael, New Mexico. There were rumors that the Republicans were planning to destroy the ballot boxes to avoid losing the election. After the polls had closed, Provencher was watching the tallying of the ballots. Suddenly a shot was fired through the window, killing him almost instantly. Shortly after the tragedy, Father Brun also had his life threatened. The story goes that he fled San Rafael during the night, disguised as a woman. In spite of a $500 reward offered at the time, the shooter was never found. Read more about old San Rafael HERE.

150 years anniversary of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and its consequences in New Mexico.
Did you know that a migration of French entrepreneurs to southern New Mexico in the 1870s is a consequence of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870?

First, the Prussians defeated France and took Emperor Napoleon III prisoner with more than 100,000 of his soldiers. Then Paris was under siege. People ate most animals available in the city, rats, dogs, cats, and even the animals in the zoo. Shortages of food, however, did not halt French gastronomy: at an elegant dinner at Christmas, the menu offered stuffed donkey’s head, elephant consommé, roast camel, kangaroo stew, antelope terrine, bear ribs, cat with rats, wolf in deer sauce, and dog liver brochettes. A brutal French government, the Commune, took over, during which more than 20,000 people were executed. Perhaps up to 100,000 people were killed in the conflict and its aftermath.

Thousands of people left France, going mostly to North Africa, but some went to New Mexico. They created businesses along the Rio Grande, mainly in the agriculture and wine industries. They mostly came from the regions of Auvergne and the Cévennes, in the mountainous center of France, the Massif Central, where New Mexico was a familiar name. This was because, under Bishop Lamy’s impetus, legions of French priests had come to New Mexico during the previous 20 years. More than a third of them came from Auvergne, the birthplace of Bishop Lamy. They wrote to their families in France and sometimes visited them in spite of New Mexico’s remoteness.

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Remembering Jean L’Archevêque / Juan Archibeque
It happened on August 20, 1720 … Jean L’Archevêque / Juan Archibeque was killed in battle. L’Archevêque was then a successful trader nearing age 50, living in Santa Fe. In his youth, he had been with the René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle expedition in Texas, perhaps helping set La Salle up to be murdered, and lived with Native Americans in what is now Texas, with his companions Jacques Grolet (Santiago Gurule) and Pierre Meusnier. They finally surrendered to the Spanish, were jailed in Mexico, and Spain, sent back to Mexico and joined the Velasco-Farfan expedition to New Mexico. They settled in New Mexico. Gurule and Archibeque are the founders of the well-known New Mexico families.  Jean l’Archevêque was killed during the battle depicted on the Segesser Hide paintings now in the New Mexico History Museum, and his body was left on the banks of a river.

The Segesser Hide is an amazing artifact to be found in the Palace of the Governors. Tanned and smoothed hides depict a battle which took place on August 20, 1720, in today’s Nebraska.  The center of the painting portrays 37 French soldiers, identified by their European-style clothing—conical hats, coats, breeches, cuffs and leggings—firing long arms at the Spanish military expedition.  Some accounts state that 39 Frenchmen had been seen nearby, and that during the battle Pawnees and French began taking scalps of the Spaniards or pueblo natives they had killed.

The battle was the culmination of a military expedition launched from Santa Fe. Its purpose was to verify the rumor that the French had encroached upon the colonial boundaries. It ended up in a major catastrophe for New Mexico, and casualties amounted to a third of the province’s best soldiers. From Santa Fe, the Governor reported that “two hundred Frenchmen had fired, supported by a countless number of Pawnee allies.”

Nearly two centuries later, archaeologist Adolph Bandelier described L’Archevêque’s character as follows:

His youth lends favor to the suppositions that he may have acted ignorantly or thoughtlessly when he led the great discoverer [La Salle] into the ambush. But his whole character, as it has afterward unfolded, indicates an early maturity of mind, a considerable capacity, and great resolution, as well as unusual sagacity. His handwriting, which I have often read, shows that he had been taught in school; and he could have received his instruction only in France. The manner of his death is very suggestive of a later requital for his earlier offense …

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The French-speaking Lebanese of New Mexico
Did you know that French-speaking Maronites, the largest Christian sect in Lebanon, part of the Roman Catholic Church, settled in New Mexico in the 19th century, and their positive legacy is felt to present times? They came from Mount Lebanon, a mountain range parallel to the Mediterranean coast. The French legacy in Lebanon originates with the Crusades in the 12th century; French Jesuits built schools and seminaries in the 19th century; and the area had a favored status under a 20-year French Mandate established after World War I. French is the second language in Lebanon, and it appears on bank notes, road signs, vehicle registration plates, and public buildings, alongside Arabic.

Primarily young single men from Mount Lebanon started to come to America in the mid-1880s. A few of these new migrants ended-up in New Mexico, after a long saga masterfully documented in Monika Ghattas’ book “Los Árabes of New Mexico.” Their successes and influence grew, from foot peddlers, to settlers, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and elected officials. Their legacy is found all over New Mexico. For instance, one among many, Nathan Salmon built the famous Lensic Theater in Santa Fe and other landmarks.  The Fidel brothers established the El Fidel hotels in Las Vegas and Albuquerque; George Maloof created businesses and opened the Maloof Kiva Theater in Las Vegas. John Hanosh reopened the St. Vrain Hotel in Mora; other still-familiar names include Moses, George, and Joseph Abousleman, Naguib Bellamah, Joseph Budagher, Anton Couri, Elias Francis and his son Narciso, Rasmieh Hindi, Rasheed Michael, Elias Tabet, George and Joe Salome, and others.

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Women voting
There had been opposition for decades. For example, in 1886, French Bishop of Colorado Joseph Machebeuf, long-time associate and friend of Bishop Lamy in New Mexico, said in a speech that “The class of women wanting suffrage are battalions of old maids disappointed in love.”

 As quoted in my book,

Tough strong-minded women who are not satisfied with the disposition of Providence and who wish to go beyond the condition of their sex, profess no doubt to be Christians, do they consult the Bible? Do they follow the Bible? I fear not. Had God intended to create a companion for man, capable of following the same pursuits, able to undertake the same labors, he would have created another man; but he created a woman, and she fell. The class of women wanting suffrage are battalions of old maids disappointed in love—women separated from their husbands or divorced by men from their sacred obligations— women who, though married, wish to hold the reins of the family government, for there never was a woman happy in her home who wished for female suffrage.”

There is a Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver. Watch the video on its website to see how times have changed.

French, New Mexico, and the Red Planet
Did you know that NASA launched a new rover today – it is on its way to the Red Planet – and that the French in New Mexico are deeply involved? A breathtaking French American cooperation in New Mexico is the Mars 2020 Rover Project studying the planet Mars’ history and habitability, and preparing for future human missions. The SuperCam component of the project examines rocks and soil with a camera, laser, and spectrometers to seek organic compounds that could be related to past life on the planet. The project is directed by an American principal investigator in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and by a French deputy principal investigator in Toulouse, France. They are assisted by a team and various collaborators of over 50 people (as of December 2018), over half of whom are French.

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Bastille Day: Flags, Thomas Paine, and New Mexico
We have been talking a lot about flags lately. July 14th is the French “Fête Nationale.” Did you know why the colors of the US and French flags are the same? According to some scholars, it is probable that the French flag was inspired by the American one, as many French revolutionaries took the American independence as a model. Heroes of the time included Thomas Paine (then a parliamentarian in France in 1792), and of course La Fayette. There is more about this story in a recent post on the France-Amérique website.

There is an interesting connection between Thomas Paine and New Mexico. From late 1856 to 1860, Benjamin Bonneville, a Frenchman, and a very controversial figure then and now, was in command of the Army Department of New Mexico, headquartered at Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Benjamin Bonneville’s father, Nicolas Bonneville, was a member of the French National Convention (the French governing body during the French Revolution) and was a friend of many of the intellectuals of the time, including Lafayette and Thomas Paine. The latter lived for some time with the Bonneville family in France. Nicolas Bonneville had reproduced Thomas Paine’s essay on the origins of Freemasonry, and the two became close friends. After Napoleon’s coup d’état that ended the French Revolution in late 1799, Nicolas Bonneville published an article calling Napoleon the “Cromwell of France.”  He was jailed, and upon his release was not allowed to emigrate to America. With Paine’s help, however, he could send his wife and son Benjamin to live on Paine’s farm near New York.

Through Paine’s influence, in 1813, Benjamin Bonneville became a cadet at West Point. He died in 1878 at age 82, the last survivor of the West Point Class of 1815. He led an extraordinary life, too long a story to chronicle here, including being the secretary of General Lafayette. He explored new lands in the West and was familiar with the famous fur traders of the period, many of them French, and from late 1856 to 1860, Colonel Bonneville was in command of the Department of New Mexico, headquartered at Santa Fe and Albuquerque. In the spring of 1857, the United States launched a military expedition during the so-called Apache Wars, a series of conflicts mostly between 1849 and 1887. Bonneville was in command of an expedition during the so-called Apache Wars, which drove the Western Apache into Arizona.

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French place names  of New Mexico

As places bearing the names of “villains” are in the news, below are a few places which commemorate French and French-Canadians people or places. More is under the PLACES tab. Chapelle, Charette Lake and Charette Mesa, Clairmont, Clovis, De Armand Spring, French Henry Ridge, Gascon, Jardin, La Lande, Lamy, Ledoux, Los Febres, Pendaries, Pigeon’s Ranch, Saint Vrain, Socorro ’s French Quarter. 

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Charles Blanchard, a man ahead of his times
In our times of soul searching about historical villains, let’s honor a hero who has no statue yet, Charles Blanchard, a French-Canadian entrepreneur in New Mexico, ahead of his times. In his memoir (1868), he wrote: “ […] the Indians should be absolved of their crimes, and the greed of white people made responsible for their acts of cruelty […] Pillage and plunder foremost in all transactions with the Indians […] In order to carry out their diabolical plans, in the removal of the Navajos four years before, the handful of speculators had enlisted the services of the military heads of Fort Union and Sumner, cheerfully assisted and were made beneficiaries in the plunder […] Our Indian wars were needless and wicked, the North American Indian was the noblest type of a heathen man on the earth […] These memoirs being written for the benefit of my children and grandchildren […]”

Below are longer quotes from Charles Blanchard’s memoir.

There are but few men in the west who have suffered more than myself at the hands of the Indians, and I shall persist in saying to the last day of my life that the Indians should be absolved of their crimes, and the greed of white people made responsible for their acts of cruelty.

Pillage and plunder foremost in all transactions with the Indians; public security being of secondary importance, if at all considered. In order to carry out their diabolical plans, in the removal of the Navajos four years before, the handful of speculators had enlisted the services of the military heads of Fort Union and Sumner, cheerfully assisted and were made beneficiaries in the plunder.”

Near the end of his memoir, he quotes testimonies taken from official records about women and children killed, scalped, and mutilated, about cutting fingers off and scalping dead Indians, breaking women’s arms with sabers, cutting a woman open with her unborn child within, practicing target shooting on children, and other atrocities. The memoir concludes with these sobering considerations:

Nations, like individuals, reap exactly what they sow; they who sow robbery, reap robbery; the seed sowing of inequity, replies in a harvest of blood. The Indian Bureau represents a system, which is a blunder and a crime. Our Indian wars were needless and wicked, the North American Indian was the noblest type of a heathen man on the earth. He recognized a great spirit; he believed in immortality; he had a quick intellect; he was a clear thinker, brave and fearless, and until betrayed, he was true to his plighted faith; he had a passionate love for his children, and counted it joy to die for his people. […] These memoirs being written for the benefit of my children and grandchildren […]”

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Culinary divinities
Did you know – you would have guessed it – that many French chefs, cooks, inn keepers and restaurant owners, are part of New Mexico’s history. Vignettes about 15 of them are below, spanning the years 1795 to 1973. If you know of more, please let me know. For today’s food gurus, click here. Enjoy this and many other stories in my book.

In early 1795, two Frenchmen were taken into custody in New Mexico. Domingo Labadie, a French Basque, and another Frenchman, Pierre Labouré, who had been a former cook for the viceroy.

The “Pastry War,” fought between France in 1838/1839, started after a French pastry cook, Remontel, claimed that Mexican officers had looted his shop in Mexico City ten years before. A long story! It is during the Pastry War that Antonio López de Santa Anna (also known as “The Napoleon of the West”) led Mexican forces against the French. Santa Anna was wounded in the left leg by French grapeshot and was amputated.

In the 1840s, Charlotte, nicknamed “Chipita,” worked at Bent’s Fort. Traveler and author Lewis Garrard called her “the culinary divinity.”

Antoine Deslauriers was a cook with author Francis Parkman during his voyage in 1846.

Alexandre Valle, alias Pigeon, owned and operated “Pigeon Ranch,” the largest hostelry on the Santa Fe Trail, which was at the center of the Battle of Glorieta.

In the 1870s, Alexandre Le Beau was a cook in the US Army. He was killed in an Indian raid.

Henri Lambert (founder of the legendary St. James hotel in Cimarron around 1880) worked as a cook with a Spanish circus troupe, and entered the service of the US Army, again working as a cook. It has been written that for some time he cooked for Union General Grant, and that he became the chef in President Lincoln, but this is not substantiated.

Gold was discovered in Pinos Altos, north of Silver City, in 1860. Louis LeGros, born in Alsace-Lorraine, and his wife, Emma, from French Switzerland. operated a rooming house, restaurant, and bakery, hosting visitors for years.

Sometime in the mid-1800s, Jean Bouquet established a fruit ranch near Pojoaque Pueblo, a few miles north of Santa Fe. It was a stopping place with frequent visitors. Captain Bourke, in his notes of 1881, often mentions visits to Bouquet and his Mexican wife. Jean Bouquet’s ranch, El Rancho de Bouquet, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

George Hudon served in the U.S. Cavalry and became a chef after his discharge. Capt. French (not French!) employed him as a cook around 1883, and told at some length anecdotes about him being drunk. His final “offence” had been to disappear in his quarters for two days, until visiting ladies found him there drunk and naked, causing great commotion.

Pierre Girard founded the Girard House in Albuquerque and in 1886, was working as a chef at the College of the Christian Brothers of New Mexico.

E. Bullard was a chef in San Pedro, now a ghost town in Santa Fe County. He operated the successful Delmonico restaurant, serving the mining community in 1887.

Charles Blanchard and Jean Pendaries built the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas. It hosted prominent guests such as Theodore Roosevelt.

Petrus A. Guillon, a Frenchman from Lyons,  worked in Albuquerque as a chef for Fred Harvey in 1896. Later and until 1910, he leased the Savoy Hotel in Albuquerque, a showpiece featuring double-storied rows of protruding bay windows with turrets at each corner.

Parisian Renée Johnson (born Lefebvre), started Santa Fe’s first French restaurant. In 1947, worked as a hostess at a Los Alamos social club and ran the Doghouse Café in Española. In 1957, the Johnsons bought a bar on Cerrillos Road and remodeled the old bar into a restaurant called Chez Renée. Her husband left, and she managed the restaurant alone. It was one of Santa Fe’s best restaurants until it closed around 1973.

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A Frenchman nearly killed Kit Carson
Santa Fe mayor Alan Webber called for the removal of the Kit Carson obelisk. Did you know that Kit Carson was nearly killed by French-Canadian trapper Joseph Chouinard, known as the “bully of the mountains.” They had their eyes on the same girl! Read more below, and enjoy this and many other stories in my book.

Quote from the book:
In the summer of 1835, five years after his first California expedition, Carson, then 25, was attending the annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in Wyoming. While there, he allegedly became interested in an Arapaho woman, Singing Grass. Singing Grass had also caught the attention of a French-Canadian trapper, Joseph Chouinard. Chouinard was known as the “bully of the mountains,” and he had the reputation of being a splendid shot. What exactly happened is not known for sure, but soon Carson and Chouinard were charging each other on horses, brandishing their weapons. Carson and Chouinard apparently fired at the same time. Carson’s shot hit his opponent’s arm or thumb, spooking Chouinard’s horse. Chouinard’s bullet barely missed, grazing Carson below his left ear and scorching his eye and hair. Chouinard’s fate is not clear, as different authors, including Kit Carson himself in his memoirs, have told different versions of the story, sometimes giving such precise detail that it is hard to believe that they were not exaggerated or romanticized. In one version, Chouinard survived; in another, Carson killed him with a second shot; a third suggests that Chouinard may have died of an infection caused by his wounds.

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French politicians in New Mexico
Over the last 200 years, there were over 20 politicians of French origin in New Mexico. For instance, French Canadians Antoine Robidoux and his brother Louis were the first  “Alcaldes” (mayors) of Santa Fe (1830 and 1831).

More about French politicians:
Saturnino Pinard was the sheriff who shot and captured train robber Black Jack Ketchum in 1899. Tranquilino Labadie held at least twelve official positions between 1878 and 1911, including member of the Constitutional Convention (1910) and member of the First State House of Representatives (1911). Joseph A. DesGeorges was mayor of Taos in the 1950s and a New Mexico State Senator (the library at Taos High School is named in his honor).

Tranquilino Labadie’s official positions included: interpreter in the House of Representatives in Santa Fe (1878), Deputy County Clerk for San Miguel County (1879-82), first City Clerk for Las Vegas and at the same time reappointed interpreter in the House of Representatives (1882-85), Deputy Sheriff, postmaster, and ex-officio collector for San Miguel County (1885-90), Regent of the New Mexico Normal University (1893-96), Deputy Probate Clerk and office manager for Guadalupe County (1905-07), member of the Constitutional Convention (1910), and member of the First State House of Representatives (1911).

In alphabetical order and not in order of importance, politicians included Adolph. P. Barrier, Claude Blanchard, Etienne de Pélissier Bujac, Seferinot Crollot, Louis-Joseph Darras, Gisèle Gatignol, Joseph Des Georges, Hess Dunand, Charles-Francois Guillon, Michel Harriett, William H. Henrie, Tranquilino Labadie, Jose Elogio Lacome, Fred Lambert, Michel (Mike) Mandell, Tony Mignardot, Marguerite Pendaries, Pierre-Leon Pinard, Antoine and Louis Robidoux, Saturnino Pinard, Joseph Frank Tondre III, and Henri Toussaint. My apologies to the families of those I have missed.

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