The French: A for­got­ten part of NM’s cul­tural stew?


Albuquerque Journal - - JOURNAL NORTH -

The of­ten touted tri-cul­tural her­itage of New Mex­ico, which names the Span­ish and the Na­tive Amer­i­cans, might be miss­ing some fla­vors from the full spic­ing that makes up the state stew by call­ing the re­main­ing third An­g­los.

François Marie Pa­torni is look­ing to rem­edy that with a book ex­plor­ing the sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence of his French com­pa­tri­ots in the state’s his­tory. Af­ter all, when he looked around for in­for­ma­tion, he could find some bi­ogra­phies of ma­jor fig­ures, but noth­ing on the French over­all. So why not write his own?

He gave a quick sum­mary of his re­search to a stand­ing-room-only au­di­ence ear­lier this week in the au­di­to­rium of the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum.

Just think of some of the names you hear in the state: Lamy, St. Vrain, Ca­tron, Le­doux, Gi­rard, L’Archevêque and many more. Or place names, such as the to­tally ob­vi­ous Frenchy’s Field in Santa Fe. Other con­nec­tions are less ob­vi­ous — you might not re­al­ize that Lu­cien Maxwell, who got a land grant for a chunk of north­east­ern New Mex­ico and whose dual wed­ding in Taos was shared with Kit Car­son, was French on his mother’s side (that her­itage grows clearer when you learn his middle name was Bon­a­parte).

French-born Pa­torni, who moved to Santa Fe af­ter re­tir­ing from the World Bank in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in

2004, said all he had to do was walk around down­town to be struck by the French in­flu­ences.

See­ing Santa Fe’s cathe­dral, he said, “I thought it was re­ally out of place to have a French church in the middle of a Span­ish town.” A church in Cler­mont-Fer­rand in France looks strik­ingly sim­i­lar, both in­side and out, es­pe­cially if you take into con­sid­er­a­tion the steeples in­tended for, but never built on, Santa Fe’s Cathe­dral Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi, he said.

And Loretto Chapel? Pat­terned on Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, Pa­torni said.

(By the way, he said a French car­pen­ter, FrançoisJean Roches, con­structed the so-called “mys­te­ri­ous” spiral stair­case in that chapel. Then, he moved to Mud Dog Canyon and was killed in a land dis­pute, Pa­torni added.)

Credit for the Gal­lic ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal ar­chi­tec­ture goes to one of the most fa­mous French­men in New Mex­ico: Arch­bishop JeanBap­tiste Lamy. He not only hired French ar­chi­tects and ar­ti­sans to con­struct those churches, but backed Frenchi­fied ren­o­va­tions on Span­ish-style churches in other parts of the state, such as So­corro — many of which have since been re­stored to their orig­i­nal style, ac­cord­ing to Pa­torni.

But while most ev­ery­one has heard of Lamy, the model for Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Arch­bishop,” not ev­ery­one knows that the first five bish­ops in New Mex­ico were all French, he said. That could be be­cause Lamy, ap­pointed the dio­cese’s first bishop in 1853, re­cruited priests from France to come serve in New Mex­ico — many of them from Lamy’s own Au­vergne re­gion, sug­gest­ing an old boys’ net­work.

“By 1890, 90 per­cent of the priests in New Mex­ico were French,” Pa­torni said.

Why wasn’t Lamy happy with the Span­ish-her­itage clergy, one au­di­ence mem­ber asked on Wed­nes­day.

“Lamy said the Span­ish priests were very cor­rupt. They lived with women and fa­thered chil­dren,” Pa­torni replied. Well, that’s an­other story. Les Français stepped foot in the South­west well be­fore Lamy spread his in­flu­ence, al­though the very first vis­i­tor from that coun­try still had a religious call­ing. Pa­torni iden­ti­fied French priest Marc de Nice, also known as Mar­cos de Niza — it turns out a num­ber of French peo­ple com­ing here ei­ther gave them­selves or were given a Span­ish vari­a­tion of their names — as one of the first Euro­peans to set foot in what is now New Mex­ico.

He was trav­el­ing with the Span­ish in search of the Seven Cities of Ci­bola, ar­rived at Zuni, and wrote an ac­count of the gold and emer­alds he saw there, Pa­torni said. As it turns out, the se­cond ex­pe­di­tion to the area found that he was stretch­ing the truth more than a lit­tle.

But maybe he was telling sto­ries to con­vince the crown to fi­nance many more ex­plo­rations. It wouldn’t have been the only time that a story was ex­ag­ger­ated in a search for bet­ter fund­ing.

The “French Frights” of the 1700s are such an ex­am­ple, he said. The gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico sent re­peated warn­ings to Span­ish of­fi­cials about the French “in­vad­ing,” but he must not have been too wor­ried since the tres­passers were of­ten in­vited to dine and chat with the gov­er­nor, Pa­torni said.

“They (lo­cal govern­ment of­fi­cials) were cre­at­ing noise to get more fund­ing for sol­diers and ex­penses,” he con­cluded.

Still, in 1720, there was a bat­tle be­tween the Span­ish and some en­croach­ing French that was de­picted among the famed Segesser Hide draw­ings on dis­play in the Palace of the Gov­er­nors, he added.

And from 1862-67, French sol­diers did stage an in­va­sion of Mex­ico fol­low­ing that coun­try’s dis­con­tin­u­ance of in­ter­est pay­ments it owed to Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, as well as Napoleon III’s search for sil­ver and free trade. When those troops were with­drawn, some de­cided to stay be­hind in places such as New Mex­ico, Pa­torni said.

But France never did seek the South­west as a colony, he said. The French who did come into the area of­ten were ad­ven­tur­ers (such as François-Xavier Aubrey, who set a speed record of rid­ing the trail from Santa Fe to In­de­pen­dence, Mo., in five days and 15 hours), fur trap­pers (such as An­toine Le­doux, whose name graces a Mora County com­mu­nity), en­trepreneurs (such as Alexan­der Valle, owner of Pi­geon’s Ranch be­tween Fort Union and Santa Fe, where “peo­ple would bring their mis­tresses,” Pa­torni said) and, of course, the religious com­mu­ni­ties of priests and nuns.

Pa­torni is look­ing for more sto­ries and French con­nec­tions in the state. Go to his web­site, newmex­i­cofrench­his­, for con­tact in­for­ma­tion. He said he hopes to fin­ish his book by the end of the year.


Arch­bishop Jean-Bap­tiste Lamy, whose statue is shown in front of the French-style cathe­dral in Santa Fe, is prob­a­bly the best-known French­man in New Mex­ico his­tory.

Jackie Jadrnak


Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe has ar­chi­tec­ture in­spired by Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, ac­cord­ing to writer/re­searcher François-Marie Pa­torni.


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