By Marc Simmons

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In 1868 John H. Beadle was a young lawyer with a serious medical problem A confirmed asthmatic, he was wracked by "an ominous graveyard cough."

At home in Evansville, Ind., he said, he was the despair of his mother and friends and the worry of his creditors, who feared he would die before paying his bills.

In those days, when all else failed, invalids were urged to travel, in the hope that a change of environment might work a cure. Beadle's own doctor advised him to "Go west, young man!" The patient took that advice, went roaming for the next several years, and recovered his health. In the bargain, he wrote a book of his experiences, "The Undeveloped West," which became a best-seller.

One place Beadle visited was Santa Fe, arriving in early May of 1872. Of his brief tour of the city, he has left us some amusing and insightful observations.

To get here, he rode a jolting stage down from Denver. At Las Vegas, N.M., reached in the dark, several Army officers and Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy boarded. "The Bishop," noted Beadle, "exerted himself to cheer us up through the cold and heavy hours of the night."

The passengers descended from the coach on a corner of the Santa Fe Plaza. "No sooner did I touch the ground," Beadle wrote, "than the earth began to rock and I started walking in circles. The distant mountains wobbled and the adobe houses were turning topsy-turvy."

He was afflicted with severe motion sickness. Staggering into the Exchange Hotel (now La Fonda), he collapsed in the lobby. In the traveler's words, "an old Mexican M.D. was summoned, and he gave me 20 drops of laudanum (tincture of opium). After sleeping 11 hours, I was all right the next day."

According to John Beadle's description, the Exchange was the only hotel in the capital suitable for Americans, and even then it left something to be desired. It was a rambling, one-story structure with a large, open placita in the center. There was a walled-off stable yard, "sacred to dog-fights, cock-fights, pitching Mexican dollars, and other manly pursuits."

Evidently, young Mr. Beadle was something of a Puritan. As he said sarcastically, "The fun-loving people of Santa Fe do not take as part of their philosophy that 'Man was made to mourn.'" But he also had good things to say about the locals.

"The residents here are so polite," he reported, "that one rarely knows if he has made a mistake in speaking Spanish." The newcomer, no matter how wretched his grammar or pronunciation, was constantly showered with compliments on his "clear Castilian."

The visitor included an anecdote to illustrate the problems that sometimes arose over ignorance of language. It concerned a newly appointed federal official who came to Santa Fe having learned a few Spanish phrases that he thought sufficient to get him through ordinary business.

"Entering a restaurant," Beadle related, "the official did not know what to order. At length he saw on the wall a rude picture of a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, such as is common in Catholic countries. He took it to be a sign for some game fowl, and asked 'Como se llama eso?' (What is that?)

" 'Un Espiritu Santo, Senor' ('A Holy Spirit, Sir'), replied the waiter.

" 'Pues, do me dos Espiritus Santos, bien cocidos' ('Then give me two Holy Spirits, well done') requested the official, to the horror of the devout waiter."

Beadle found Santa Fe with a population of about 3,000 inhabitants. From a distance, he remarked, the place looked like "a miserable low collection of mud huts."

But things appeared a little better on the Plaza, he said. "There at least is a patch of green, for on the square they grow a crop of alfalfa, called here 'Spanish clover.'"

What really struck his interest were the piles of old Spanish documents, then kept in a room of the Governors Palace. After poring over these, he proclaimed, "To an antiquarian, Santa Fe is a most delightful town."

John Beadle finished his two-week stay. On leaving, he confessed, "After finding so many objects of interest, Santa Fe began to assume new beauties in my eyes, and I could almost forgive the natives for their failings."

Had he remained a bit longer, he might have fully succumbed to the spell of Santa Fe.


Read Marc Simmons's "Yesterday in Santa Fe" (Sunstone Press). Amazon.com

Other Articles by Marc Simmons

Mark Simmons Biography

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