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CAESAR OF SANTA FE
A Novel from History
by Tim MacCurdy
LA PAQUITA sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep out of her
eyes. Could it be morning already? She got up and opened the
shutters of the single window in the room. She blinked as the
rays of the sun, rising over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains,
gleamed on the whipping post and the gallows in the center of the
plaza. Across the way, at the entrance of the Palace of the
Governors, two sentries yawned at their posts. Then she saw the
night watchman, Telesforo Abeita, enter the plaza.
Abeita climbed the steps of the gallows platform and called
out, "It's six o'clock, the 19th of April of 1637 and the inauguration day of His Catholic Majesty's Governor and Captain General of the Kingdom of New Mexico, Don Luis de Rosas - and
all's well in the Villa Real de Santa Fe."
As Abeita descended the steps, the bells of the parish church,
La Parroquia, tolled the call to matins. A few women, their
heads covered with black rebozos, began crossing the plaza in
the direction of the church. Watching them pass by, La Paquita
remembered that she had planned to attend the Mass later in the
day to celebrate the Governor's inauguration. A new Governor,
a new beginning. She could already feel a change in the air. Her
business at the Inn of the Humpbacked Cat, known locally as
the Meson del Gato Jorobado, had never been better.
La Paquita's smile rounded into a yawn. For the Past week
she and her two female employees, La Giralda and La Gallega,
had been kept busy from dusk to dawn by the muleteers and
drovers who arrived with the mission supply caravan, the same
caravan which brought Governor Rosas to his new post. Now
La Paquita turned from the window and sat on the edge of the
bed. What should she wear for the inaugural parade and Mass?
Ah yes, her hoop skirt, of course. She had not worn the farthingale since she had been in New Mexico, but now that a new
wave of prosperity was coming to the province, nothing could be
She removed the farthingale from an armoire and brushed the
brocade skirt against her cheek. How regal it felt! She closed her
eyes, recalling the first time she had ever worn it. It was in
Seville on Palm Sunday. She had had difficulty in squeezing
through the cathedral door because of the six-foot width of the
skirt, but once inside every eye in that vast temple had been on
her. Admiring her. Envying her. She smiled wistfully, then
opened her eyes.
La Paquita tried to adjust the wire framework that expanded
the skirt but, unable to manage it alone, she decided to wait until
La Giralda and La Gallega woke up to help her dress. Later,
when they saw the farthingale, their eyes brightened as they
remembered the great ladies who used to flounce about in their
billowing skirts in the Plaza del Triunfo in Seville. Suddenly, La
Giralda's memories of her native Seville precipitated a flood of
tears which ran down her cheeks. "Ay! Ay!" she sighed.
La Paquita put her arm around La Giralda's shoulder to comfort her, then invited her and La Gallega to wear any of her
clothes they wished for the inauguration. Too tall to wear any of
La Paquita's dresses, La Giralda chose a pair of green satin
chopines whose cork soles, nearly three palms high, added
another foot to her already lofty figure.
La Gallega beamed when she discovered in the armoire a
gossamer garment seldom seen in Spain, much less in New
Mexico - Turkish harem pants. "Ah," she purred, imagining
herself lounging on a pile of rich oriental carpets, her head and
limbs propped up on gold damask cushions. And she imagined
she was attended by a big-bellied eunuch whose face looked
familiar. Wasn't it the face of the loathsome sheriff, Hector
Griego, who demanded free services at the Humpbacked Cat
because of his office? "Ahhh!"
When the three women finished dressing, La Paquita
approved her companions' appearance, then examined herself
in the mirror. How splendid they were! She felt a surge of pride
as she gazed at her caparisoned figure in the mirror. "Ah, Francisca Perea," she said aloud, using her legal name, "you are a
breath-taking lady!" La Paquita had no doubt that Don Luis de
Rosas, a widower said to be more interested in weapons and horses than in wine and women, would become a regular patron of
the Gato Jorobado.
While the residents of the Inn of the Humpbacked Cat
waited eagerly for the inaugural parade to begin, a tall man
stooped to enter the side door of the Casa del Cabildo, adjacent
to the parish church on the east side of the plaza. He was surrounded immediately by a group of councilmen and militia
officers. Captain Antonio Baca spoke to him first. "How did it
go, Salazar? Is everything arranged?"
The tall man nodded. "Everything went according to plan.
We'll soon know just how tough Rosas really is."
"I bet he'll turn tail and run," said Captain Juan de
Archuleta, a lean man with a hawk nose and shifty eyes. "You
know how these gachupines are. Just because they were born in
Spain they put on a lot of airs. A lot of talk and little action."
Antonio Baca shook his head. "Don't bet on that, Juan. From
all reports Rosas is more than talk. They say that in every battle
in Flanders he was involved in he left heretics' bodies piled high
around him. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but we know that
when the Marques de Cadereita became the Viceroy of Mexico
he wanted Rosas to be the captain of his guard because he was
familiar with his record."
Archuleta's lips tightened. "Damn it, I'm tired of the
Viceroys sending their cronies up here as Governors to lord it
over us. You can bet that just because Rosas was a captain in
Flanders he'll try to boss our militia around and run the Cabildo.
It's time that they appoint one of us Governor. After all, our
families came from Spain, too, and we've kept the colony
"Let's not waste time going over that again," Baca said.
"Right now we'd better see that everything is in order so that we
can catch Rosas unawares. Salazar, maybe you should take
another look to be sure that everything is clear."
"I'll go with him," said one of the councilmen. "I want to see
the surprise we've prepared for His Excellency."
The two men left by the side door and soon returned.
"Everything is ready," Salazar reported, "but there are a lot of
Indians gathering in front of the Humpbacked Cat. I don't know
what they're up to but I don't think they'll get in the way."
"So much the better," Baca said. "If Rosas disgraces himself, we want the Indians to see it, too. They'll spread the word
around, and he'll be laughed out of every pueblo. Now let's sit
down and wait."
At noon a trumpet sounded in the plaza. In a chamiso field a
few hundred yards to the southwest, Don Luis de Rosas
straightened in his saddle. It was time for him to make his official
entry into the Villa Real to be inaugurated as the Governor and
Captain General of the Kingdom of New Mexico.
As Rosas adjusted his black leather breastplate and silver-plumed hat, a crow cawed. Rosas glanced up at it. A breeze
sprang up, carrying the stench of the local tannery to his nostrils.
He wheeled his horse around and signalled to his mounted
ensign-bearer and four guards to follow him. When they rode
into the plaza the crow hovered overhead cawing raucously.
The trumpet sounded again. Rosas shielded his eyes to see
where the trumpet blast was coming from. There, on the gallows
platform, stood the trumpeter. He was dressed in black as if he
were the public executioner. Rosas stiffened, then spat on the
ground. He had never been daunted by sight, sound or smell, no
matter how foul. He would not start now. He urged his horse into
But where, Rosas asked himself, were the pipes and drums to
welcome him? The salvos? The admiring crowds? He had heard
that new Franciscan prelates were always greeted by councilmen from the Cabildo and by military officers dressed in full
regalia. Now, no councilmen, no magistrates, no militia officers
were in sight. Only the outgoing Governor and a small official
party were assembled on the portal of the Palace of the Governors. On the opposite side of the plaza, Rosas saw a group of Indians crowded around the entrance to the Humpbacked Cat.
Were the arrogant criollos, the descendants of the original
Spanish settlers of New Mexico, responsible for his poor reception? If so, Rosas promised himself, he would squash them
underfoot as if they were insects.
As Rosas and his escort approached the Gato Jorobado, the
Indians crowding its entrance began chanting in their native
languages, creating a bedlam of Tlaxcalan, Tiwa, Tewa, Keres
and Zunian. Abruptly, they switched to Spanish. "Viva su
Excelencia! Viva Don Luis! Viva!"
Rosas halted his stallion and glared at the strange group of
well-wishers. What a motley bunch of savages, he thought; no
Roman conqueror was ever hailed by more bizarre creatures
brought in from the four corners of the Empire. Then he noticed
an albino Indian standing in the center of the group, moving his
arms with the measured strokes of a choirmaster. Obviously the
albino was directing that weird chorus.
Rosas' frown dissolved into an uncertain smile as the novelty
of the scene struck him. Intrigued, he stared at the milk-white
Indian. A sudden thought came to him: if His Catholic Majesty
Philip IV enlivened his court with dwarfs and jesters, why
shouldn't he, the Governor and Captain General of New Mexico, have his own human menagerie in the Palace of the Governors? Tomorrow, for sure, he would arrange for that albino to
enter his service, perhaps as armor-bearer.
When Rosas resumed his ride, the albino gestured to the
chanting Indians to open their ranks. Two men stepped
forward - Sebastilin Sandoval, recently cashiered from the
Spanish army and banished to New Mexico, and Romulo, the
village idiot. Sandoval was smartly attired in the uniform of the
imperial infantry. Romulo wore a tattered uniform and was
barefooted, but for the first time in anyone's memory his hair
and beard had been washed and brushed.
"Viva su Excelencia!" Sandoval shouted.
"Viva su Excelencia!" Romulo echoed.
"Viva el Gobernador!" Sandoval yelled.
"Viva el Gobernador!" Romulo parroted.
"Viva! Viva! Viva!" shouted the Indian chorus.
Rosas' smile broadened as he warmed to the welcome of the
small but enthusiastic crowd. Just as he raised his arm to acknowledge the reception, the double doors of the Humpbacked
Cat swung open. Out stepped La Paquita, resplendent in her
farthingale which covered an area as wide as a man's
outstretched arms could reach; La Giralda, lofty and graceful
on her chopines; La Gallega, seductively fetching in her harem
pants. Rosas' eyes widened. What a stroke of luck, he thought,
that the three lovely ladies lived just across the plaza from the
Palace of the Governors.
La Gallega stepped forward and showered Rosas and his
horse with mayflower petals. La Giralda tried to lasso him with
a chain of pink daisies but missed the mark. Then La Paquita
swept forward, her hoop skirt brushing the ground. Moistening
her lips, she handed Rosas a bouquet of red trumpet flowers.
The three women then curtsied, shouting, "Victor! Victor!
Waving to those assembled in front of the Meson del Gato
Jorobado, Rosas rode on toward the Casa del Cabildo. As he
passed the building and continued circling toward the Palace of
the Governors, he looked back where the Indian chorus and the
women from the Humpbacked Cat still cheered. Distracted, he
paid no attention to the pounding hoofs rushing in his direction.
A cry of alarm went up from those in the plaza. His horse shied.
Rosas looked behind him. A huge rust-colored bull, released
from the side street between the Cabildo and the Palace, came
bearing down upon him. Rosas wheeled his horse. He waved his
escort away, rode to the center of the plaza, and dismounted.
The panicky horse bolted way. Rosas drew his sword.
When the bull charged, Rosas dodged behind the whipping
post. The animal's momentum carried it several yards beyond
the post, but it turned around and charged a second time. Again
Rosas sought refuge behind the post, but this time the bull's aim
was true. It plowed into the post, ripping it from the ground, then
horned Rosas' left arm. Blood soaked through the sleeve of his
doublet and dripped from his hand.
"Bicho del demonio!" Rosas bellowed. He dashed to the
gallows steps and began shouting the traditional yell to
challenge a bull to combat, "Huchocho, foro, huchocho!"
The bull pawed the ground, started toward the man in a slow
trot, picked up speed, lowered its head, rooted away at the steps.
Rosas raised the broadsword and dealt a crunching blow to the
animal's withers, cutting through the vertebral column.
Torrents of blood spurted from the wound. The bull did not fall
but staggered backwards.
Rosas threw the sword down, walked around the hemorrhaging animal, seized it by the horns and tried to bulldog it to the
ground. For a moment, man and beast formed an inseparable
convulsive mass. Then, suddenly, the bull shuddered and
collapsed. Rosas, drenched in blood, retrieved his sword. He
stood over the carcass, then carefully, tenderly, as if he were
carving a leg of lamb for dinner, cut off the testicles. He climbed
the gallows steps and held up his trophy for all to see - as David
had held up the severed head of Goliath for the admiring
A blanket of silence fell over the plaza. After a few seconds,
exclamations in a babel of Indian languages and Spanish went
up from the aroused spectators. "Que caballero!" La Paquita
said to her companions. "Anything the Governor wants at the
Gato Jorobado is on the house." La Giralda and La Gallega
Meanwhile, inside the Casa del Cabildo, Captain Juan de
Archuleta stood at a window staring at the bull's carcass. He
turned around abruptly and said to his companions, "Maybe
we made a mistake in turning the bull loose on him because, after
this show, he's going to be something of a hero. He may be a
match for a dumb animal, but we'll find other ways to bring
While Archuleta and his fellows scowled at the turn of
events, in the Palace of the Governors the outgoing Governor's
wife, Dona Teresa de Baeza, and half a dozen women guests
chatted excitedly about the bloody spectacle they had just witnessed through the open shutters. A young woman in the room,
Dona Maria de Bustillas, remained standing, peering through
the window. Her eyes stricken with alarm, she stammered,
"The poor man is going to... going to bleed to death." She
rushed out of the room to get a towel from a servant.
Minutes later Don Luis de Rosas still stood on the scaffold,
his left arm dripping blood, his right hand holding on high the
bull's scrotum. He wanted that moment to be etched on the
memory of the onlookers, friends and enemies alike. He turned
around slowly for all to see his prize. A spontaneous roar
swelled the thin air of Santa Fe. "Viva Don Luis! Victor!
Rosas descended the steps and, suddenly, felt faint. He
clenched his fists. He must never show a moment of weakness,
he admonished himself. He held on to the cottonwood sapling to
steady himself as Dona Maria de Bustillas rushed up with a
towel to stop the flow of blood. Rosas motioned for her to back
away. "No, senorIta, you'll get blood on you. Give me the towel."
"I don't care about the blood. Your Excellency is hurt. Please let me do it."
Rosas did not protest again. When she leaned over to bind his arm, his eyes lingered on her hair and face. God in heaven! he thought. He had not seen such light auburn hair and such finely
textured porcelain skin since he campaigned in Flanders with His Majesty's army. After Dona Maria finished her task, his
dark eyes met hers - blue-gray eyes that reflected cool determination. He smiled. "Senorita, I shall never forget your kindness. I pledge that from this day on I shall dedicate myself to
On the portal of the Casa Real Governor Baeza and Fray
Cristobal Quiros, the Father Custodian and Prelate of New
Mexico, looked at one another anxiously. Slowly at first, then
increasing their pace, both men began walking toward the center
of the plaza where Rosas remained absorbed in the presence of
Maria de Bustillas. Rosas shook his head when Baeza proposed
that the inauguration be postponed. Absolutely not, Rosas
insisted; the usual Mass could be put off until tomorrow but the
inaugural ceremonies, though shortened, must proceed as
Half an hour later Rosas stood pale but steady on the portal of
the Casa Real. He now wore a clean purple doublet and knee-breeches. Only his boots still bore traces of blood. At a signal
from Governor Baeza, the black-garbed trumpeteer returned to
his post on the scaffold and sounded the call for attention. The
Secretary of Government and War, Don Leopoldo Morales,
read Viceroy Cadereita 's proclamation appointing Don Luis de
Rosas Governor and Captain General of New Mexico. Because
of Rosas' injuries, there were no speeches. After the proclamation was read, Baeza handed his successor a polished black
cane, the symbol of his office. Rosas was now the tenth Spanish
Governor of Coronado's empty dreamland.
In the plaza, as the ceremony was ending, the crow which had
hovered over Rosas' head when he made his official entry into
the Villa Real pecked away at the bull's carcass. Every now and
then it paused to caw through its bloody beak.