Taos’ 4th cul­ture: The hip­pies


So it was some­thing of a shock when I re­turned in 1969 and found that par­adise had be­come a com­mu­nity con­vulsed by the lat­est wave of new­com­ers — the dreaded hip­pies. It was ru­mored that 5,000 coun­ter­cul­ture crea­tures had al­ready set­tled in North­ern New Mex­ico and 25,000 more were on their way. The ma­jor­ity of Taoseños wanted to rid the county of the ones al­ready here and stop any oth­ers from com­ing.

A res­o­lu­tion by the Taos Mu­nic­i­pal Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion summed up the pre­vail­ing sen­ti­ment: “Be­cause of their known ex­cesses in drug ad­dic­tion, sex­ual and ob­scene be­hav­ior, per­sonal filth and gen­eral ex­hi­bi­tion­ism, the hip­pies’ pres­ence among our peo­ple poses a real and ver­i­fi­able dan­ger to the moral health of our youth.”

The sit­u­a­tion be­tween lo­cals and hip­pies was best de­scribed to me by a pudgy Chi­cano in­tel­lec­tual one af­ter­noon in La Cocina, where all the prom­i­nent dead­beats hung out. Af­ter sec­ond drinks we dis­cussed the so­cio-eco­nomic his­tory of Taos. I said that Taos had al­ways been based on farm­ing and ranch­ing, and de­spite the art colony and the ski re­sort and the cu­rio shops, agri­cul­ture still de­fined it. “Taos is,” I an­nounced, “con­ser­va­tive in the best sense of the word.”

He didn’t dis­agree, but said that what we new­com­ers didn’t un­der­stand is that Taoseños, de­spite their ru­ral ways, had al­ways con­sumed a lot of al­co­hol and mar­i­juana, and New Mex­ico as a whole al­ways ranked high in teen preg­nancy, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and above all (lead­ing the na­tion year af­ter year) driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence. He seemed qui­etly proud of these achieve­ments. The long-hairs, he added, have just joined the back of the pa­rade, adding some new short­com­ings like nu­dity and LSD. “The dif­fer­ence,” he said, “is they do it openly. That’s their mis­take.”

Af­ter a third round he con­cluded, “Deep down, Na­tive Amer­i­cans be­lieve that the His­pan­ics will some­day go back to Spain, His­pan­ics be­lieve that the An­g­los will go back to Chicago and An­g­los be­lieve that the hip­pies will get bored and drift back to the Haight. In fact, be­cause this is Taos, no one is go­ing any­where.” He was right about the hip­pies; they had def­i­nitely thrown a wrench into the Land of En­chant­ment. Not that any­one re­ally be­lieved the myth of tri-har­monic cul­tures. In re­al­ity, Na­tive Amer­i­cans, His­pan­ics and An­g­los did busi­ness with each other, joked with each other, even played on the same soft­ball teams to­gether, but lived in an un­easy re­la­tion­ship of bedrock mis­trust. The hip­pies added a fourth cul­ture, one slower than the oth­ers to rec­og­nize the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hard work and sur­vival. They in­fested

When my mother brought my two sis­ters and me to Taos for our va­ca­tions — this was five sum­mers be­tween 1948 and 1952—life here for a boy was a sen­su­ous and joy­ful par­adise.

the hot springs and clogged the food stamp of­fices and clut­tered the high­ways in a va­ri­ety of cos­tumes: the preacher who said there were tun­nels from Ar­royo Hondo to Los Alamos; the young cou­ple with three filthy chil­dren; the old doper-poet who was drink­ing him­self to death; the Ph.D. who had dis­cov­ered Rumi; the pey­ote Chris­tian; the tall girl in cal­ico with two dogs. It was a high time in North­ern New Mex­ico, and my wife and I got caught up in it. Over the win­ter we went to wild hip­pie dances held in lo­cal halls, danc­ing crazily to a lo­cal band play­ing their ver­sions of Cree­dence Clear­wa­ter and The Who and Ja­nis: “Suzie Q” and “Pin­ball Wiz­ard” and “Bobby McGee.” Heads spin­ning, we stag­gered out of the halls into the win­ter nights wiped out from danc­ing and dope and smoke, stum­bled out at mid­night into 10 de­grees below, the stars on top of us, the snow crunch­ing un­der­foot, dogs bark­ing, pick­ups cruis­ing by, taunts, shouts … then, back into the dance, the drugs kick­ing in: “Nights in White Satin,” “Bad Moon Ris­ing,” “Honky Tonk Wo­man.” I was con­sumed with lust for the hip­pie girls, es­pe­cially the beau­ti­ful 22-year-old twins who it was ru­mored slept with every­one; in­no­cent and pure an­gels dis­pers­ing joy.

From my jour­nal:

Sun­day af­ter­noon in Ar­royo Hondo and noth­ing to do. Blue sky trav­els over­head like news-sheet. Mar­cos Or­tiz is fix­ing the hy­draulic lift on his trac­tor. The dope dealer comes by in his VW. Mrs. Chacón opens the gro­cery store. Matthew is split­ting cedar for his cook-stove. Cave Dave is sit­ting on a rock in the canyon. Two hawks float over the cot­ton­woods. Den­nis Long’s band is start­ing a new piece in the shed be­hind his house. The pey­ote feast is be­gin­ning at New Buf­falo. Ida Martínez has her self­help women over to sew. Three cars of Chi­canos block a pickup full of hip­pies and beat them on the head with twoby-fours. Vil­lage boys shut off the ace­quia Ata­laya and are snatch­ing fish up from the mud. Ruth is kiss­ing Fast Ed in a teepee. Fa­ther Pri­eto is go­ing over par­ish ac­counts with Clodoveo Chacón. Morn­ingstar is play­ing bas­ket­ball against a Raza team from Ar­royo Seco. Tony Gar­cia has eluded his wife and is headed for Celso’s bar. Three hip­pie kids sneak into Mrs. Chacón’s store to steal candy. Fin­ley is beat­ing his horse. Tahiti is blow-torch­ing bronze discs to­gether. The bleed­ing hip­pies are at Dan and Peggy’s get­ting ban­daged. Al­bert Chris­tian­son is il­le­gally ir­ri­gat­ing his car­rots and peas. Justin is re­pair­ing his old Mercedes. The Río Hondo is flow­ing to­ward the Río Grande. Nick’s dog Spark is sniff­ing San­dra’s dog Wind­sock. Toby is pulling tufts of hair out of his own face. The dope dealer has ar­rived at Re­al­ity. Non­nie, Car­los and Ra­mon are teas­ing an old cock be­hind the church. Jack­son is lay­ing a Mercy trap for the skunk that has been eat­ing his chicks. Mrs. Or­tiz is pulling in white sheets off the line. The winos are re­turn­ing to Morn­ingstar in tri­umph — they scored some bour­bon!

If I were asked to sum­ma­rize the hip­pie in­va­sion of Taos, I would say they were far from home and ig­no­rant as dust balls. The first wave, in the ‘60s, tended to be ed­u­cated and ide­al­is­tic, more into dope than al­co­hol. They shared their dope be­cause pay­ing for it was just not cool. Housewives, gu­rus, po­ets, trust-ba­bies — they were young Amer­i­cans who had torn them­selves from their roots and came look­ing for any­thing au­then­tic, as long as it didn’t re­sem­ble their up­bring­ing.

The next wave, in the early ‘70s, was less ed­u­cated and thus more apt to be mind­less and neg­li­gent about cul­tural dif­fer­ences. They used as much al­co­hol as drugs, and it was this steady stream of drop-outs, draft-dodgers, nud­ists and booz­ers that so alarmed lo­cals.

The fi­nal wave, which gave the coup de grâce to the move­ment, was mostly so­ci­ety’s dregs who were more or less crim­i­nal or men­tally in­sane.

In any case, most hip­pies moved on be­cause the win­ter nights dropped below zero and spring winds turned snow to mud, then mud to dust, fol­lowed by snow that turned the dust back to mud. The ones who stayed learned from In­di­ans and His­pan­ics how to sur­vive the win­ter, how to scav­enge the hills for fire­wood, how to de­lay plant­ing un­til the lilacs bloomed, how to avoid the cen­sus for ei­ther in­stinc­tual or good rea­sons, and much else. The strange thing, which no one pre­dicted, is that many hip­pies are still here. They (or is it we?) now make art, sell real es­tate, barter wood and wool, cre­ate web­sites, even run for of­fice. Peo­ple from the four cul­tures live in town, on the mesas, in the moun­tains, every­one keep­ing their heads down, find­ing ways to co­op­er­ate while still main­tain­ing a healthy dis­trust. A veil is drawn over past hos­til­i­ties. All is for­given or for­got­ten, and each cul­ture has mo­ments of nos­tal­gia that get or­ga­nized into fes­tiv­i­ties to cel­e­brate the par­adise of the good old days.

Cour­tesy of Ir­win B. Klein Es­tate

In­spect­ing a Hog, Taos, circa 1967-1971. ‘The hip­pie's pres­ence among our peo­ple poses a real and ver­i­fi­able dan­ger to the moral health of our youth,' pro­claimed the Taos Mu­nic­i­pal Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

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