While in Santa Fe for a photographic workshop several years ago, a friend and I wandered into a small adobe gift shop and museum on East De Vargas Street. Inside, an artist named Bobbie Garcia was creating crosses by cutting and pounding pieces of tin he had rescued from the roof of an old fallen-down mission. In the center of each cross he affixed three pieces of turquoise with thin wire.
From under his black pork-pie hat, he eyed our cameras which were slung around our necks. “You’re most welcome to take photos as I work,” he said. We, of course, were delighted and snapped away. A three-inch long, wispy goatee floated from his chin as he explained his process. After awhile, we asked about the museum. “Ah yes, there is a story about this house that I must tell you,” he said.
We were standing in the oldest house in the USA, he told us. I know that people from St. Augustine might beg to differ. But this adobe structure was built at the beginning of the 17th century and rests on the foundation of an ancient pueblo which dates back to around 1200. The history of the house itself is interesting, but the legend of a couple of its inhabitants makes it the perfect subject for my October/Halloween blog.
The tale begins somewhere around 1692 following the Spaniards’ reconquest of Santa Fe after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, Garcia said. Juan Espinoza, a mounted soldier, was one of the young men to return to Santa Fe. Somewhere along the road, he had caught a glimpse of a young woman named Catalina Monroy. She had beautiful dark eyes and long black hair. Juan was immediately smitten, but Catalina was a flirt, and she teased many of the young men.
Catalina had several suitors, including Juan’s best friend Pedro Pino. Other accounts have Pedro being Juan’s commanding officer. Whatever the relationship, Juan and Pedro were opposites. While Pedro was tall, handsome, and flashy, Juan was short and pudgy and easily overlooked.
Juan had worked hard and saved his money, and he was determined to marry Catalina. As was the custom of the day, he took an older person with him to ask Catalina’s father, Don Vicente Monroy, for her hand in marriage. He was brokenhearted to learn that she was not interested in marrying him. Instead, she had fallen in love with Pedro.
Stricken with grief and jealousy, he went to visit two witches Doña Filomena and Doña Lugarda, who lived in the Old House in the Barrio de Analco (neighborhood on the other side of the river). The two old crones steadied themselves on canes while tending their herb garden as he approached them. Much to his amazement, they already knew his name.
Juan confessed his feelings for Catalina to them and asked if they could mix a potion that would make her love him in return. The witches said indeed they could. They began mixing herbs and chanting as they brewed a tea in a pot over a fire in the corner fireplace. As the old hags handed the finished potion to him, they cautioned that he must do two things to assure the spell would work. The first was to kill a pig and eat its heart raw. They told him after he had accomplished eating the pig’s heart to take the tea to Catalina and have her drink it.
Juan thanked the old witches and paid them in gold. He took the precious tea, but the thought of killing a pig and eating its raw heart was repulsive. He decided if the tea didn’t work he would then kill the pig.
Tea in hand, he went to call on Catalina and her father. Don Vicente Monroy was most impressed with the present. All three of them sat and drank the delicious liquid from fine china cups. But then Catalina became ill all at once and had to leave to the room.
For the next several days, Juan heard nothing. He had no idea whether the potion had worked. Then one day he happened across Pedro who was all smiles and had a light step. Juan asked what made him so jovial, and Pedro told him that Catalina had consented to marry him.
Juan was so taken aback that he stumbled to his horse and climbed up on the animal’s back. He rode as fast as he as he could to the witches’ house. Once there, he jumped from his horse and pounded on the door. “You lied!” He screamed when Filomena opened the door. “The potion didn’t work!”
“Did you do what we told you?” the black-clad hag asked.
“Yes. I did exactly as you instructed.” The lie flew out of his mouth. “And it didn’t work, I tell you. I want my gold pieces back!”
Knowing that Juan had not followed their instructions, the witches refused to give the money back. At their refusal, he drew his sword against them. He seemed to have forgotten about their canes as one of them swiftly hit him with hers. He fell and his sword went skittering.
One of the witches—and legend does not tell which one—seized the long sharp sword. With one swift strike, she came down on Juan’s neck. His head fell away from his body and left a bloody trail as it went rolling down De Vargas Street.
One story claims Juan’s headless body jumped up on his horse and road down the street trying to scoop up his head. Some Santa Feans say the sound of hoof beats can be heard and a headless horseman can be seen on East De Vargas Street on moonlit nights.
Bobby Garcia told us that the old witches sat his body up in a chair outside their door as a caution to anyone who would cross them. And the headless body sat and rotted.
Happy Halloween, everyone!