Wednesday, 04 April 2012 15:15

De Vargas pageant ca 1911

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Date and location definatively unknown. However, most likely George Washington Armijo in the first 1692 Devargas Pageant taken in 1911. Date and location definatively unknown. However, most likely George Washington Armijo in the first 1692 Devargas Pageant taken in 1911. Personal photo from my grandfather's estate.





The history of the De Vargas pageant in Santa Fe and the Seligman influence


Arthur Scott



   The pageant which portrays the entry of de Vargas to Santa Fe in 1692 actually began in 1911, as New Mexico was preparing for statehood; and contrary to what many now believe.  In the beginning, it had nothing to do with the Santa Fe Fiestas. The pageants were first held in conjunction with the town’s Fourth of July festivities. The pageant was intended to emulate the popular pageants being held in eastern cities and Europe at the time.


   The idea for the De Vargas pageant was reportedly hatched at my great aunt Ruth’s house around 1910.  She was born in Utah in 1873 and married my grandfather’s (Arthur Seligman) brother James Seligman.  They lived in a large wood-sided house on the hill across from the little triangular park where Hillside and Marcy streets intersected. In a 1963 interview published by Beatrice Chauvenet in 1982 in “Hewett and Friends: A Biography of Santa Fe’s Vibrant Era,” and published again in 1997 by Chris Wilson in “The Myth of Santa Fe.”  She states:


   “. . the real idea of a town fiesta came from the Episcopal minister named James Mythen -a very brilliant young man who preached the most marvelous sermons. . . .

    … Mr.Mythen got to talking to us and he said, “You know, I don't sec why Santa Fe doesn’t have some yearly historical event as they do in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Santa Fe is so full of history.”.

   So Jim and I were very much interested, and a few days after Mr. Mythen left to return east, Jim asked a few men to come up to the house. We sat around our dining table ; and Jim suggested that one of the best things to start with would be the reconquest by De Vargas.

   The men fell for it right away. There was Sam Cartwright. I think he was president of the Chamber of Commerce, but it might have been called the Men's Board of Trade. I’m very sure Celso Lopez was mayor at the time.

We had the mayor, anyway, and four or five other men Jim thought might be interested.

    This is how the De Vargas pageant got started. We didn't call I it that; we called it the Reconquest…. or really we didn’t call it much of anything.   I think that was in 1910, though lm not quite sure. We got Jesse Nussbaum interested. He was always a help with everything. Jesse got all the Indians to come in, and George Armijo was the first De Vargas. Of course they didn’t know what sort of costumes they should wear, and his costume was too elaborate, with feathers,---a plume and all that. Soldiers having been on road for months wouldn't be dressed like that, you know.


That's the way it started, right there in our use. In those days all the lithe towns had Fiestas. They used to have cock fights in Agua Fria and things like that, but in Santa Fe they only had a small religious remembrance each year. For a few years we just had the De Vargas parade…

   It was Jimmy Mvthen's idea to have some historical event and Jim Seligman's idea to have De Vargas. After a few years it was Mr. Twichell's idea to have a fiesta--they called it 300th or whatever year it was, but in all the years I'd lived here we'd never before had one.“


    My aunt was of sound mind and able to walk from St. Vincent’s geriatric ward, where she lived at the time, to the plaza to visit friends and back unaccompanied. Her son, Captain Morton Seligman (USN Ret.) later moved her to San Diego to be closer to him. She died in San Diego in 1968. I now sincerely regret that I did not take the opportunities to discuss early Santa Fe with her.

   It should be noted that there are a few errors in her memorys. Celso Lopez was actually Santa Fe City Treasurer from 1910-12 and her brother-in-law, Arthur Seligman, was Mayor. Bloody reenactments of De Vargas’ 1693 battles with the Pueblos had been held in 1883, 1912, 1922 and 1924. George Washington Armijo portrayed De Vargas in 1911, 1912, 1919, and 1920. James Seligman was first Chair of the “Fiesta” committee (later Council) in 1911, Edgar Hewett in1919 followed by Ralph E. Twichell in 1920 and 1921.

   The De Vargas “reconquest” pageant was held as a part of the town’s Fourth of July festivities in  in 1911, and 1912 and then discontinued until  1919 when it was included as part of a September Fiesta. The 1919 Fiesta was divided into three parts, each one day long and entitled “Before Santa Fe,” “Santa Fe Antigua” and “Santa Fe Moderna.” On the first day were dances and games of various Pueblos, The second day was the De Vargas Pageant, and the third was a reenactment of the surrender, to the United States, of Santa Fe by Mexicans to General Kearny. Later “Santa Fe Trail Days” was added to the third day.  According to Chris Wilson “The last “Progress of Transportation” was staged in 1920, the final “Santa Fe Trail Days” in 1921 and the last Kearny pageant in 1927.” The De Vargas pageant from 1911 has endured in some form even through modern times.

   I grew up believing that the Santa Fe Fiestas was a continuously celebrated event since 1712. During the forties and fifties this was widely perpetuated by various Fiestas Councils. In reality, also from “The Myth of Santa Fe” by Chris Wilson; “The 1921 Fiesta program stated it was “first celebrated in A. D. 1712.” The following year the program claimed, contrary to what every native resident knew, that it had been “celebrated annually since A. D. 1712.”  In 1924 the program more diplomatically called it the “212th Anniversary Fiesta.”  But by 1938 it was again called the “233 Annual Santa Fe Fiesta.” and has been ever so: in 1992, as this is being written, the 280th Annual Fiesta.”   



Read 5208 times Last modified on Thursday, 14 November 2013 16:25


  • Comment Link Allan MacGillivray III Thursday, 05 April 2012 00:57 posted by Allan MacGillivray III

    The historical development of the Santa Fe Fiesta pageant, to my knowlegge, has
    never been presented so clearly..good job Pete

  • Comment Link Mike Lord Wednesday, 04 April 2012 16:29 posted by Mike Lord

    This is really great, Pete! What you've done is help separate fact from legend.

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