The obelisk marking the center of the Santa Fe Plaza is no more.

Activists or vandals — choose your word — took it down Monday, appropriately on Indigenous Peoples Day.

Appropriately because, in addition to dedications to soldiers who fought in New Mexico Civil War battles, one side of the monument praised the “heroes” of the Indian wars in New Mexico Territory fallen in battle against “savage” Natives.

That language is and has been unacceptable, so much so that someone scratched it out back in 1974 while no one was paying attention.

Yet the monument remained, controversial up until the moment it was toppled. In rubble, it continues to divide.

We have said, more than once, delays in addressing the questions of Santa Fe’s past would be a mistake. Earlier this year, Mayor Alan Webber had promised activists the Plaza obelisk would be removed — workers attempted it during the dark of night, only to see the effort fail because of the structure’s weight.

It came down fast Monday, but its wreckers had no interest in preservation. They were intent on destruction. That can happen quickly, while the difficult work of discussion, removal and coming to consensus on a better way to honor the past takes time, long conversations and hard work.

Webber did have the statue of Don Diego de Vargas taken from Cathedral Park, likely preserving it, given the climate of the times. A third controversial monument, to Kit Carson — scout, soldier, killer — remains by the federal courthouse downtown.

We said at the time that unilateral removals generally are against the best interests of the community but that in this season of unease — racial unrest, pandemic, isolation and a harsh economy — protecting public safety was paramount.

But we urged city leaders to hurry toward a resolution, writing as recently as Sept. 21, “It’s important to show people on all sides that movement is happening.” As we also wrote, “Santa Fe must get to work figuring out what to do about public monuments and statues, not for symbolic purpose, but as a way to unite the city before its people turn on each other.”

That process will begin now; it’s important and essential. History can help guide us with perspectives from our past.

Several Santa Fe luminaries of yesteryear had wanted the obelisk gone or altered over the years. Famed architect John Gaw Meem, back in 1967, preferred a bandstand in the center, just as in earlier iterations of the Plaza. Historian Myra Ellen Jenkins called that idea bunk, writing in October 1967 in The New Mexican that “the soldiers’ monument … has been a historical landmark of Santa Fe for 100 years. With the interest aroused in recent years to save historical structures and street patterns, it seems scarcely fitting to destroy the character of the plaza.”

By 1973, when the City Council voted to remove it, Meem had changed his mind and believed it should stay put. Priest and historian Fray Angélico Chávez wrote in 1974 that the obelisk should be kept but statues representing the cultures of New Mexico added — he envisioned Pueblo, Spanish, Mexican and American figures to tell a fuller story.

By 1981, a city committee again wanted it gone, preferring a gazebo. Jenkins was still engaged in the battle, reminding all involved that property titles in Santa Fe are based on the obelisk since it was used as the center of the Santa Fe land grant in the 1890s. Removal also could mean the loss of the Plaza’s status as a National Historic Landmark, historians have argued.

And so the conversation has gone, over and over, into a new century. Inertia, federal and state protections, and a strong preserve-our-history sentiment had kept the monument intact. Until 2020 that is, when people demanded that during this year of Black Lives Matter that now — not later — is the moment to confront the sins of the past.

The removal of the obelisk has caused jubilation among some. Others are heartsick. Some are furious, wondering why police did not step in to stop the vandalism.

We want more answers, obviously, but do want to offer thanks for no one being severely injured or killed. A monument is not worth a life. By disengaging, our police did not turn on citizens, surely something to celebrate.

What next? There will be legal consequences, as investigators take apart the timeline of what happened and identify who took the monument down. That’s separate from what the rest of us need to do, including as a community turning down the flames of anger. Racist, ugly language has no place in this discussion.

The people of Santa Fe already have missed the opportunity to discuss collectively how best to honor our shared, difficult and often bloody past. We missed the opportunity to listen and collaborate. We missed the opportunity to preserve intact the Soldiers Monument, the original name, perhaps at a military or history museum.

Now, let’s decide — together — what happens next. Something beautiful can emerge. And it must.

(27) comments

Dan Three

"The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth." Orwell

Nicoletta Munroe

Has anyone written about the fact that the "protesters" were possibly George Soros paid agitators whom did not even know the history of this place. In other words people from other states possibly drove in and posed as concerned people, and started the process of taking down a three centuries old obelisk. The obelisk represents all of us here in Santa Fe. The obelisk is us. The obelisk was used in a national conversation about race and became a scape goat mechanism. The obelisk was cast into the role as "the problem" when in actuality the issue is not the obelisk. The obelisk did not harm any person, instead we harmed it. The words on the plaque are a product of its time period and the term "savage indians" may not mean what people are claiming, because I found a passage in Blackstone Commentaries, Book II, where the Normans in 1066 used the term "savage monarchs" to describe the kings of early England. Have we considered that we may have mis-interpreted the language on the plaque of the obelisk? Because we do not have an academic discussion organized concerning the obelisk, we have missed an opportunity to discuss the issues. And we were co-opted by the Soros people who stole our obelisk.

Arnold Mayberg

How about some evidence to back up your conspiracy theory. Actually, I heard that Martians found The obelisk found offensive to their planet, and paid the protesters to remove it, if in fact they were not actually Martians in disguise who tore it down.

"Has anyone written about the fact that the "protesters" were possibly George Soros paid agitators whom did not even know the history of this place."

Anita McGinnis

It is a fact that several cities have suffered severe damages from itinerant mobs. Often these agitators do come from out of town. The two suspects that are currently being held came from out of state. The others are probably just acting as useful idiots. It is a common Marxist method to create discord and unrest in the name of someone being offended. Santa Fe is a famous town so it is attractive to activists and political miscreants.

Jim Klukkert

Anita McGinnis- Substantiate your your outrageous charges, or join Lee DiFiore in the Falsehood Penalty Box!

Stefanie Beninato

Really, that whole thing about George Soros is a alt right rant. Please get your facts from reliable sources or you will lose any credibility you have.

Anita McGinnis

I don't think that Nicolleta's view comes from a far right rant. We can all clearly see that the terrible damage to large cities in this nation has been in far left cities where socialist city leaders have enabled rioters while failing to protect their citizens. And it's not too far a leap from reality to wonder about the involvement of George Soros who has clearly stated his goals which includes ceding power from the people to the government.

Jim Klukkert

Anita McGinnis- Really have to stay away from the the alt-right media, or perhaps broaden and update your news feed. Get with it Ms. McGinnis, no one has been blaming George Soros for at least a month now.

Andrew Lucero

We can't even start having discussions or planning anything, until Webber is gone.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup]

Mike Johnson

It needs to be rebuilt, as it was before except for the word "savages" removed of course. All those soldier died to preserve the Union, free the slaves, keep NM from being a slave state, and make it safe for settlers, businessmen, and families to live and build a prosperous culture here. In that regard, we of the August 18th Society also feel that recognition of the brave soldiers who sacrificed to liberate NM and Santa Fe from the evil, corrupt Mexican Army also be recognized. They contributed just as much to NM and Santa Fe history as all the other brave soldiers did.

William Nevins

The brave Union soldiers who fought against the enslaving scum of the rebel "confederacy" deserve to be remembered and honored. One hopes a monument to them will be put in place again somewhere in the city. As for the racist words on that monument that came down, they are best forgotten. Let's move on.

Lupe Molina

I like the previously mentioned idea of having the space that the obelisk once occupied as open space. Yes, to better allow events and view of the bandstand. But more importantly, we can build four monuments around the edge of the plaza to genuinely represent multiculturalism and the misdeeds of the past. Even obelisks have four symbolic sides, so it can be referential to that if you please. The thing I like best about this idea is it diffuses the focus outwards. In order to project anger at one of these symbolic, inanimate sculptures, we would have to physically turn our backs on each other.

Mindy Paul

I appreciate Inez’s call to create something better out of the rubble, and we will. However we also need to look at how we ended up here, so that we don’t continue to walk the same path over and over again. It was painful enough that our community experienced a mayor making unilateral decisions to remove historical statues in the middle of the night, without consulting even our community’s city councilors with the exception of Councilor Villarreal, but It was unforgivable that our community was drug through another display of intolerance and hate in the heart of Santa Fe, while our mayor waited for funding so that a paid city staff member could oversee the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continue his absolute control over the outcome rather than allowing our community to come together and find a solution. Regardless of your views of the plaza’s obelisk, it remains a fact that the process for making changing on our city’s historic plaza this year was a monumental failure of leadership.

Sadly the inability for public participation in our city’s direction under Webber’s administration is being felt in virtually all directions. Obvious examples include: significant development in our community without consideration for supporting infrastructure, ignoring fallout from increased development and tourism, Webber’s administration providing a document on the quality of life for our neighborhoods written by developers, a recent survey sponsored by the city resulting in residents asking our city to focus on basic city services that’s being ignored, growing public safety issues from homeless still being ignored and blamed on a former governor, and the list goes on.

We are operating in a democracy that requires community engagement, and our mayor is failing at this most important task, and it’s time that our residents speak up. Our mayor needs to get behind the people of Santa Fe, not the other way around.

Roxanne Barber

How about removing all the offending statues and monuments and putting them in the N.M. History Museum with historical context so people can learn why they were first erected, how the world has changed, and why they were removed. Education is key to understanding these kinds of issues.

Donald Apodaca

We all know that many angles call Santa Fe home. They could live anywhere in the world but they choose to live in The City Different. Santa Fe, New Mexico is a special place how about creating an ANGEL out of bronze made by a local artist to watch over the Plaza. I believe in angels. And I have discovered over my life time that most religions believe in angles too. An angel might be just what we need right now.

Paula Lozar

My humble opinion: Remove what's left of the monument and make the center of the Plaza an open space. This would make it an even better community gathering place, while preserving the spirit of the Spanish and Pueblo plazas that preceded it. (The plaques commemorating the Union soldiers could be put in another location.)

Alfonso Duran

Just what have we learned, I would say nothing, the emotional changes in the Santa Fe I grew up in have changed it forever. It is not the city different but fast becoming a city much like where those who are moving here make it feel like their old home town.It has been pasteurized and homogenized to make our beloved community unrecognizable. It's a foreign place for us who have lived in this area for centuries. We were a land of cousins with feasting together, intermarrying and most of all respecting each other. Arnold Vigil was right to criticize the changes for the worst for us.

Anita McGinnis

[crying][thumbup]

Paul Davis

How is this a Santa Fe story? These changes are happening all over the US, all over north, central and south America, all over the world. As human mobility has increased (whether or not you think it is a bad idea), the idea that there are going to continue to be places that just carry on, isolated from change, has become less and less tenable.

The pasteurization and homogenization has more to do with US corporate culture than the people moving here - the steady rise of national chains that have destroyed local businesses not just in Santa Fe but across the country.

I'm a newcomer to Santa Fe, but the history I've read so far doesn't really support your glowing recollections of the past. Maybe if you were a part of the right subset of Hispano culture it might have seemed that way? But what about everybody else who was here (not least the many different branches of the Pueblo peoples)? Were they all feasting together and intermarrying?

Four years ago, I spent an extended visit around the Mediterranean coast of Spain (Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia, Catalonia). Just like so many other totally different places (Alaska, London, Northern California, Greece to name just a few), community after community there laments the loss of "the old", the loss of certain connections, the loss of traditions and culture.

If you really want to stop this from happening, you need a wider vision than "it's all caused by newcomers". The changes afoot in the world go far, far beyond the borders of Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Americas. They have roots much deeper than people wanting Santa Fe to "feel like their old home town". I won't lecture you on what I think those deeper, wider and more powerful forces actually are, but I encourage you to think bigger rather than lamenting just the changes here in Santa Fe.

Anita McGinnis

You're correct Mr. Davis. I get the impression though, that many residents feel the cold reality of an anarchist presence in the city. It's as subtle and friendly as a Trojan Horse- a communist Trojan Horse. And others are giddy about the next art and beauty project on the plaza.

Jim Klukkert

Anita McGinnis continues her Trumpian Dis-Information Campaign.

Hogwash.

Khal Spencer

Its a little late to ask for calm and reconciliation, Inez. A mob took matters into its own hands. As far as Mayor Webber and the SFPD, one expects them to deal with an obelisk during a pandemic when thousands are hungry, out of work, dealing with kids out of school, and lacking health insurance and worrying about contracting an inscrutible but deadly illness? Suggesting we put that all aside and deal with a stupid piece of concrete is idiotic.

This should have been left to wait till the global crisis was over with. No statue or monument went hungry tonight or needed emergency assistance. These clowns who put this first and foremost had too much money and time on their hands. The SFNM should be criticizing them rather than making excuses. Out of the rubble, we need to put our priorities in order. If people are sick, hungry, out of work or out of home, we need to deal with them first. The wokesters, if they really are useful, should be lending a hand with reality rather than pompously demanding that we apologize for stuff that is long gone and can wait.

Paul Davis

Several years ago, I was on a ferry crossing the Lawrence River from Quebec City. I was a on a bicycle, and another older gentleman on a bicycle started chatting with me. He bad been born in Quebec but had lived all over the world before moving back to the village where he grew up to live out the last few decades of his life. We laughed and exchanged views about the difference in the way that Quebec and Ontario deal with bilingualism. At some point, he picked up that I had been born in the UK, and immediately switched to make a joke about Guillame (William) the Conqueror, the Norman king who successfully invaded England nearly a thousand years ago. I grimaced a bit, because one of the very first things you are taught in an English school's history class is the story of the Norman conquest - how the French came, transformed the English language, changed the culture, the law, the ruling classes and so much more. This is still a sore point not so hidden under the surface of English culture down to this very day.

Both the French (and their Quebecois cousins) and the English still have strong cultural stories and reactions related to an event that took place nearly 1000 years ago. Perhaps it's not so unreasonable to think that a series of events that began a bit more than 500 years ago in this part of the world might still have some real cultural significance to (at least) the people who lost more as they unfolded (and continue to unfold). It's not about "the wokesters", but about very real grievances concerning relatively recent history.

How much does it all matter during a pandemic? I suppose that depends on how much you think the pandemic matters, really. It seems that we still get professional and (some) college sports to continue in spite of the pandemic, so maybe feeling that dropping concerns about justice during a pandemic isn't necessary is at least a little understandable?

Khal Spencer

I think the Mayor and Council had bigger issues to deal with, period. The obelisk was actually covered over and as far as justice, far more important issues are at hand than a slab of concrete. There are people sleeping on park benches, for example.

As far as England, have the Brits been trashing any statues of William lately?

Paul Davis

I don't totally disagree with you about priorities, but also don't feel comfortable dictating to others what they priorities should be, especially at a time when the country as a whole demonstrates such a wide range of "priorities".

There aren't many 1000 year old statues in that part of the world, so no trashing.

The only real artifact related to the conquest is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is venerated for its age and artistic qualities. The fact that it has never been destroyed is more a testament to the level of integration between Anglo and Norman cultures that William achieved than any lack of animosity or resentment against what the tapestry portrays.

After a couple of hundred years, the integration of the two systems was complete enough that the English effectively became in control again. People who considered themselves English took over the many castles William had built to control the country in the first several decades, to the point where it is now generally forgotten that he had done so.

Which again underlines one of the central differences with the behavior of Europeans in the Americas. William never had the goal of destroying the English. He didn't even really want much except nominal control over the land and the people. The Normans didn't view the English as savages or primitives, just another country to bring to heel and add some order to. In so doing, they changed the place for a 1000 years.

By contrast, the Spanish and then other European countries (notably the British and the French) that arrived in the Americas frequently explicitly adopted the goal of complete extermination of the native population. Yes, not all of them felt this way, and yes, it wasn't always the policy. But enough did, for enough time, that combined with the racist conception of the native population, the results are a lot uglier and there's way more utterly understandable grounds for resentment and revolt.

Khal Spencer

Paul, if revolt is what you want, beware of what you wish for. Both sides can play that game and revolt is by definition violent. I don't see where it solves much, even if its just trashing a monument. To many, monuments are worth fighting for and escalation of tensions doesn't solve age old conflicts.

I don't fault the Mayor for this process lagging. We have been in the middle of a long, slow burning crisis for the entire year. I just read about finally getting the Pete's Place lease renewed. Homelessness is a major crisis as is Covid and the city economy struggling. I imagine the city had a lot on its plate involving keeping our living, breathing population served during this mess.

Most of the protestors, undoubtedly, simply wanted a peaceful protest to keep the fire burning under the Mayor's hind end. That is all well and good. What is not all well and good is destruction. If we want to validate physical destruction, there are plenty of angry people in this nation who think they have an axe to grind and would love to see that sort of behavior validated. Got an abortion clinic in the city? Smash it down on Roe v Wade Day. Got a store that sells furs? Firebomb it. The list can go on.

I don't for a minute deny that people have long teeming gripes, that some monuments are a kick in some people's teeth, and that institutional racism and discrimination exists. What I deny is that we have a right to take up arms, chains, or bricks about it unless we want to deal with the consequences. Its easier to start a war then end one.

As far as monuments, I wrote this a few years ago. Maybe some still applies. Or feel free to critique it. Comments welcome, although I do moderate to cut down on trolling.

https://northmesamutts.blogspot.com/2017/08/war-memorials-arent-created-equal.html

Peace, brother.

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