Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Seventy-seven Year Old Letter From Auntie - part two.

Now for the last two pages recounting the Legend of Isleta as told by Auntie - Anna McDonnell.

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As the years went by other missionaries took up the work of the martyred one – they built a church, which still stands although more than two centuries have intervened.  When the church was finished the Indians wanted to bury the body of their beloved priest within its walls, but when they started to dig on in the sands to bring up the body for reburial, they found to their amazement that the trough, or rough coffin they had buried the priest in had risen to the surface of the earth.  This legend was oft repeated by the Indians, so Bishop Daeger of Santa Fe, one of the few Franciscan Bishops in the United States decided to have an investigation made.  He accordingly called together a number of the clergy, newspaper men, lawyers, and towns people of Albuquerque and nearby territory, and I will tell you of the Phenomenon, just as the Father related it to me that day.

     He told me that the trough, made from the cottonwood tree, was as well preserved as though it had recently been buried, although according to science the soft wood of the cottonwood tree should have rotted and crumbled away after it was under ground for a good length of time.  When they opened the trough they found the body of the priest in a mummified state, which means an unusually well preserved condition of the dead body.  He was buried in the clothes he had been murdered in.  The cloth in his clothes was of a very coarse weave, like basket cloth, and was immediately confiscated by the people assembled there, to be treasured as a relic of this martyred priest who lost his life in the cause of religion.  Father (blank) showed me several pieces of the cloth that he had encased in a little golden reliquary – he told me that he was delegated by the Bishop to wash the body of the priest and prepare him for a Christian burial in priestly vestments, so he brought a basin of water and some clean linen cloths and proceeded with the washing of the body.  When he told me this I exclaimed, Father, you don’t mean to tell me that a body buried 350 years was still intact and that you were able to wash it?  Yes he said, he was I a perfect mummified condition.  He said that he raised one arm and washed it, then the other and finally turned him over so as to wash his back – all this being done in the presence of City Officials and Newspaper Men, who had gathered there with the clergy and people to witness the investigation.

     He said that when he went to wash his back, he noticed a small hole right under the left shoulder blade where the poisoned arrow had entered and pierced his heart.  Out of this hole three little red worms wiggled – he took them I the palm of his hand and showed them to the bishop – he then crushed them and gave them no further thought.  After finishing the washing of the body, he dressed it in new priestly robes and they enclosed it in a new casket and buried it down 10 feet, putting large stones on top, to weight the casket down, hoping that after this Christian burial his body would rest at peace.  I have been told that the church officials have since started an appeal to Rome, to have the martyred priest canonized a Saint.

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     The little Father told me that three days after this Phenomenon took place, his hand and arm began to swell and a bad case of blood poisoning set I – they rushed him to the hospital and the doctors despaired of saving his arm, or even his life.  He begged them not to amputate his arm and he prayed very fervently to God to spare him so that he could go back to work among the Indians, with whom he had been for over thirty five years.  He spoke their language fluently and was a great favorite with them.  He was a young French Priest, whose health was failing him in the old world, and the doctors ordered him to go to where the climate was high and dry and he would overcome the lung trouble he had; hence his arrival in New Mexico among the Indians with whom he remained all these years.

     After a long siege the doctors were able to save him without having to amputate his arm.  He returned to Isleta and began to ponder on what caused his illness.  He remembered the three little worms and figured one of them bit him, when he held them in his hand while washing the priest’s body.  He finally concluded, however, that he was afflicted because his hands were unworthy to touch the body of a Saint, which the martyred priest undoubtedly was.  Be this as it may, the worms originating in the hole where the poisoned arrow entered, must have been deadly poison for the Indians in those days used to extract poison from the head of venomous snakes to poison their arrows with -  that poison never dies; consequently the worms were poison.  There is a law in the Western Country that anyone killing a rattler must bury the head, so that nothing can come in contact with it.  As far as the little priest being unworthy I think that a priest who could live among the Indians for thirty five years, speaking their language and teaching them the word of God must be a pretty good saint himself.

     Before I departed he showed me a “Special Decoration” he had received, a few months previous, from the King of Belgium, who with his Queen visited the United States shortly after the World War was over.  The King and Queen heard Mass in this same little Indian Church and was so impressed that he presented the “Special Decoration” to the pastor – he was very proud of this honor from the King.

     I thanked him for his kindness in giving the information I sought and after receiving his blessing joined my friends who were waiting on the outside.  On our way back to Albuquerque I gave serious thought to things that had been told me, and I shall never regret my trip over the Old Indian Trail to Isleta.  A few seasons later I learned that this little Father had lost his sight entirely, and shortly thereafter passed away on to his eternal reward.  May he rest in peace.

     And now dear Gloria, I will bid you good night, thankful for the opportunity of refreshing my memory regarding one of the most interesting experiences of my life.  When you read this little story in the years to come think kindly of your Aunt and remember me in your prayers.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Seventy-seven Year Old Letter From Auntie

Last Monday evening a storm came roaring through as we were intently watching an episode of Walander (subtitled).  It arrived suddenly and with only a few moments of warning.  The power popped off and on three times before my house settled into a permanent darkness.  Since I am not on city water, this means I was also without water which is the more difficult of the two. . . no water = no bathrooms!  This condition lasted for 3 days!

With all of this time on my hands, what could I do?  A two drawer file cabinet that had a hodge-podge of genealogy records and photos called to me.  I did not need water or electricity to sort and organize and the room had two large windows for light.  Piled haphazardly inside were a few forgotten photos, a college scrapbook, newspaper clippings, and lots of letters from my high school and college years.  Buried in the middle of all this was a letter written in 1936 by Anna McDonnell to my mother when she was twelve years old.  Anna was always known as “Auntie” and I have written about her before here, and here.  In the letter, Auntie recounts an experience that she had sixteen years earlier while o vacation in New Mexico.

Warning!  This letter is quite lengthy and the opinions, characterizations, and terminology are strictly those of my long dead great aunt and the 1920 time period she lived in.

                                                                                   November 5th,
Written from memory at the
Request of my Niece-

     Dear Gloria you asked me to write an account of the “Legend of Isleta” an Indian Village about thirteen miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

     In the summer of 1920 I was visiting at Mountain View Ranch, the beautiful home of some former Chicago friends.  My hostess, Mrs. Booth, told me that about a month before my arrival in Albuquerque, there had been an official investigation made, regarding the body of a Missionary Priest (do not remember his name) who has been murdered by a hostile tribe of Indians, some three hundred and fifty years ago, and whose body kept coming to the surface of the earth, as if in supplication for some one to take notice and give him a decent Christian burial.

     The last time his body came to the surface was in the Spring of 1920, the year I was there, so the little French Priest who was pastor of the church at Isleta called the Indians together and asked the oldest one of them, who was supposed to be around a 115 years if he could remember any other time the body had come to the surface. He said he remembered well – said that it was about 80 years before, adding that the was one of the Indians who helped bury the body at that time, and could show them right where it had been placed.  It was this legend that prompted the little priest to conduct the investigation which took place shortly before my arrival there.

     My friends at the Mountain View Ranch, being non-Catholic, thought it would be of interest to me to drive out to Isleta and see the church where the phenomenon took place.  Accordingly one bright day we drove out the old Indian trail to Isleta – we followed a mud road for 13 miles, as there were no paved ones leading there.  Once we struck a rut in the road and were given such a jar that I had the back of my head injured, and it was about two years before I got over the effects of that bump.

     When we arrived at the Old Mission Church, we saw a sight I shall never forget – there were about 100 Indiana women and girls engaged in building an Adobe mud fence, about four feet high, around the church yard. They were dressed in their native costume, with Red Plaid Shawls and White felt wrappings around their legs.  A few men were standing around overseeing the job, one of whom was their Governor.  He was a tall stately Indian, who made the laws for the village and ho was responsible to the state of New Mexico for seeing that the laws were kept.

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     When we got out of the machine, the Indians eyed us critically – so I approached the Governor and asked permission to go into the church – upon assuring him I was a Catholic he allowed us to pass through the gate.  It was a surprise to me to find no pews in the church – however, I was told that the Indian custom is to sit on the floor and listen to the “White Father” during the service.  The walls of the church were decorated very fantastically, and it would be a strange place indeed if it were not for the Sanctuary Lanm burning before the Tabernacle, warning all comers that the Divine Savior was present there.

After a hurried inspection of the church my companions went back to the car to wait while I made a visit to the pastor.  On crossing the church yard I encountered a young Indian girl, so I asked her if the Padre was home – she told me he was and she showed me to a door that opened through a high board wall and bade me enter.  The wall was about 8 foot high and painted white and hid from view the pastor’s home on the other side.  The church yard was a desert sand, without a blade of grass anywhere – the Indians used the church yard for their burial ground and many are the dead Indians beneath that burning sand.  You can imagine my surprise, upon passing through that door to find on the other side a beautiful Oasis – there were trellises covered with roses and the White Magil, or Wood Dove was flitting about from place to place.  There was a long veranda the full length of the house, and walking up and down the veranda, with his arms folded was a young Indian as if keeping guard.  The house, which I presume was originally built for a fort, was but one story high, and the narrow horizontal windows were located near the roof, to afford a safe lookout, if any enemies were near.

     I asked the young man if he would please notify the Padre that I would like to speak to him – he lead me into a comfortable room with a large fire place and andirons that were indeed antique.  A warm Navajo rug was spread in front of the fire place – the furniture was plain, but good, and the place had all the appearance of comfort and refinement, such a contrast to the Indians on the other side of the wall, in their native costume.

     When the pastor came into the room I introduced myself, telling him I was from Chicago, and that I would like to learn something definite about the occurance that took place when the priest’s body was reburied in his church.  He was very courteous and after asking me to be seated told me of the “Legend of Isleta”

     Some 350 years ago the Mission Fathers of the Catholic Church worked very hard to advance civilization among the Indians.  Father (blank) was a favorite with a tribe he had converted, but while they were traveling overland, near Santa Fe, they were attacked by a hostile tribe and their beloved Padre was struck by a poisoned arrow, causing his death.  After the battle the survivors carried the body of the dead priest along with them a distance of 60 or 70 mes – they settled at the place now known as Isleta a short distance from the Rio Grande river. They cut down a huge cottonwood tree, hewed out the center and placed the body of the martyred priest inside.  They then buried him beneath the sands where they formed their village.

Because of the 4 page length of the letter, I will post the last two pages tomorrow.  See you then . . . .