|Governor's Palace and Plaza, undated, photographer unknown, |
from the collection of The Governor's Palace Museum, Santa Fe, NM
A marker for the End of the Santa Fe trail was home base for playing tag in the plaza when I was a kid. Back then, I figured it had something to do with cowboys, but my research revealed the trail was all about trade and sales. Spain kept foreigners out for over 200 years, but Mexico welcomed trade. Wagon trains arrived regularly from the East. ‘¡Los carros!’ shouted women, men and boys, all anxious to get first pick of the goods as they were unloaded. Filthy teamsters yelled, ‘Aiiiie, aiiiie,’ and waved their sombreros at the horses, cows, mules and oxen, herding them into nearby corrals. The uneven wooden wheels of carretas, pulled by tiny burros, clackety-clacked on the street. Wandering pigs, goats and stray dogs added to the uproar, and the smell, of Santa Fé.
The Palace of Governors, built in 1610, faces the plaza, and is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the U.S. It’s now a museum. As a child, I stopped in frequently to stare at the mummified baby still in its leather papoose. When I began my research for my historical novel, The Sandoval Sisters, I found a wealth of historical information there, including furnishings in use by the ricos (rich people) of the time. Alas, the baby was no longer on display.
Cottonwood trees planted in front of the Governor’s Palace provided shade for butchers to hang mutton, and under the covered porches of the Palace, bakers and fruit vendors displayed their produce, and Indians brought in venison and wild turkey. I’d once seen the carcass of a grizzly for sale, and bought the fatty parts. Bear grease was useful in herbal remedies; it made hair glossy black, and it lubricated everything from a baby’s rump to carriage wheels. (The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood)
Although I live in Southern California now, there’s a tether from my heart to Santa Fe, so much so that I wrote my heart into the novel through Pilar, one of the Sandoval Sisters:
I long for the comforting ring of mountains encircling Santa Fé like a vow. I want the play of light and shadow, and the subtleties of color, which only a mountain desert can produce. I need the drama of black starry night, and the passion play of electrical storms, charging even the air we breath with its energy.The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood.