The Impact of the Frontier On a Jewish Family: The Bibos

The Impact of the Frontier on a Jewish Family: The Bibos
By Floyd S. Fierman

Originally published in print by the Southwest Jewish Archives, Fall 1988.

A lone rider was on his way to Cebolleta. His mission was an urgent one so he decided to take a short cut over the rolling country. As he took the fork to the right, he suddenly saw fifteen or twenty horses standing unmounted in the road. They had been ridden hard and were in poor condition. The rider, a short stocky man, was on his guard. His name was Nathan Bibo. This was badman country and he had been assaulted just a few days before. He felt for his revolver. To feel it gave him added courage. Suddenly, he saw a man sitting in a saddle move slowly from the rear of the horses. The man's face was covered with a sarape. Nathan could faintly see that the man was wearing a blue cavalry coat. The man was unaware that anyone was near him. Nathan drew his revolver and called out "Uncover your face." The command was obeyed. As the man removed the sarape, a shudder ran through Nathan Bibo. This was the same person who a few days earlier had "held him up." He thought, "I must kill him or he will kill me." Quickly, Nathan came to a decision. "Dismount!" he ordered. The man dismounted expecting every moment that the gun Nathan was pointing at him would discharge. In fear he kneeled down in the frozen snow and begged Nathan to spare his life. Crying like a baby he pleaded "Por la vida de su mamá, y de los que quiere más préstame la vida." Nathan Bibo, in his "Reminiscences of New Mexico," vividly describes this episode

At this moment Casimiro Garcia [my compañero] ... came up to us in an excited manner and insisted that I should finish him. I told him I could not kill a man in cold blood and we listened to the pleading fellow who promised he would leave the country and never come back to the Rio Grande. I am sorry to say we let him go, because we could have saved the lives of nearly a dozen people who were killed by this one desperado. Within two years after this, before he was killed.... 1

Who was this man Nathan Bibo? What was his place in New Mexico? There is a town called Bibo, 2 New Mexico. Was Nathan Bibo a member of the same family from which this town derived its name?

Nathan Bibo was not born in the United States. He had migrated from Germany. Many years before his arrival, his grandfather, Lucas Rosenstein, had come to America to avoid Napoleon Bonaparte's Army draft. Furtively leaving Borgentreich, Westphalia, Prussia, he and his neighbor, S. Kleeberg, surreptitiously crossed the border to the Low Countries and at Antwerp they took passage for the United States. After traveling in a sailing vessel for seventy-five days they arrived in America in September, 1812.

Frequently, pioneers returned to their homeland for a wife and Lucas Rosenstein was no exception. Embarking for Prussia in 1820 with plans to sail back to the United States, he was unable to induce his bride to take the long, arduous journey across the Atlantic and, perhaps more so, to leave her family. But eight years in America left Lucas Rosenstein with many impressions. Nathan Bibo recalls that whenever he would visit his grandfather during vacation periods, his grandfather would muse about America. From their early childhood the Bibos were exposed to the challenge and opportunities of America.

Enchanted by his father's anecdotes, Lucas Rosenstein's son, Joseph, departed for the States in 1859 or 1860. Instead of lingering on the eastern seaboard, he traveled overland to New Mexico. But, sadly, five years after arriving in Santa Fé he died and he was buried in the Odd Fellows' cemetery. We can only speculate what attracted Joseph to come west. His father had not visited the western United States so that he could not have influenced him. Maybe Joseph knew the prominent Santa Fé merchants, the Spiegelberg Brothers. They were old friends of his nephew Nathan. Nathan's reminiscences relate that when Nathan came to Santa Fé he was met at the old La Fonda Hotel by Willi Spiegelberg. It is possible that Joseph Rosenstein was also acquainted with the Spiegelbergs, or else he could have heard of their daring adventure to America's undeveloped southwest. Immigrant success traveled rapidly back to the homeland and the news of the economic progress of the Speigelbergs could have motivated him to settle in Santa Fé. Solomon Jacob Spiegelberg, who had fought with Colonel William A. Doniphan, had been appointed sutler3 of the regiment under Doniphan. By 1868 Solomon's four brothers, Willi, Emanuel, Levi and Lehman had joined Solomon in Santa Fé. 4 Perhaps Joseph dreamed of being a merchant prince much like the Spiegelbergs.

Conceivably the promise of a repetition of the success of the trail blazers4a before them, also beckoned Nathan Bibo and his brother Simon to these shores. Nathan arrived in 1866 and in 1867 he departed for the west, staying in the east only long enough to master the new language. Simon crossed the plains twelve months earlier. He rode in the same coach as Bautista Lamy, the brother of John B. Lamy,5 the man who was destined to become the Archbishop of Santa Fé.

Soon after arriving in Santa Fé, Nathan Bibo found work with the Spiegelberg Brothers. In business in Santa Fé along with the Spiegelbergs were the Staab Brothers; Elsberg and Amberg; the Ilfeld Brothers; Johnson and Koch; and Simon Seligman. These firms controlled the market and their sales amounted daily to thousands of dollars. 6 Lack of capital, plus a preponderance of wholesale dry goods firms, discouraged Nathan from competing with the established businesses. He was convinced that his opportunities must be found elsewhere in the territory. An opportunity to leave Santa Fé came in the form of an offer from the Zeckendorf 6a firm, which had been doing business on the west side of the Plaza in old Albuquerque. They, too, had discovered that there were too many firms of their type concentrated in Santa Fé, and, in 1867 they moved to the new business center in Tucson. Nathan's employment with the Zeckendorf firm, however, was of brief duration. When Willi Spiegelberg was appointed Post Trader at the new Fort Wingate, 7 Nathan eagerly accepted Willi's invitation to be the Fort manager.

It was through Nathan's Fort Wingate position that he made valuable connections with the military administration in the area. Three years after he had rejoined the Spiegelbergs, Major DeWitt Clinton, who was then acting as superintendent of Indian affairs, requested him to act as his sub-agent with the Navajo Indians. "Quite a number of the Navajo Indians and particularly those who had served the government as guides and scouts during the Navajo Indian wars from 1862 to their captivity, were allowed to take lands on the east side of the confirmed reservation."8 Nathan's responsibility was to take a census of these Navajos who lived outside the reservation and to distribute to them, under Major Clinton's direction, agricultural implements and articles such as knives, hatchets, axes, and spades. Nathan was impressed with this offer. Also, by 1870, his brother Simon was already established in the region, at Cebolleta, and he was a witness to an impoverished Indian population. Simon Bibo had been perceptive enough to recognize a chance to help the Indians as well as to benefit himself. Because the Indians were distant from a market where they could exchange or sell their products Simon acted as their intermediary. Capitalizing on his Navajo associations, Nathan joined Simon in the enterprise. Stimulated by the needs of nearby Fort Wingate, the Indians began to plant larger areas of land. Nathan recalls,

We raised the price to one dollar per barrel for corn or cobs, and we gathered them as high as 5,000 barrels during the months of October and November. From that time a new era opened for these frontier towns as Solomon Barth,9 at Cubero and the Bibo Brothers at Cebolleta occupied every ox team available to freight the corn out from the Indian Pueblos.... Fort Defiance and Fort Wingate, New Mexico were the first markets for all kinds of products, grain, fruit, vegetables, also meat, thus encouraging farming and stock-raising in that section.10

Nathan Bibo was ambitious and the military installations in the area which required supplies were one of his targets. Furthermore, he still retained his interest in the Bibo Brothers' store in Cebolleta. In addition, his friend Lehman Spiegelberg, encouraged him to bid on a corn order required by the First Cavalry. The First Cavalry and a number of other companies were located in the White Mountains, in the Fort Apache area, along the Arizona border. The bid which called for 100,000 pounds of corn was won by Nathan. But to win the order and to make delivery were two different matters. The location was very difficult to reach and delivery was to be made at the end of October or the first of November, a time when the ground was miry. After many trials Nathan met his contract, although he had to build a bridge to do so. In later years he regretted that he had been so inexperienced, for he could have petitioned the government to build a bridge for him over the boggy terrain.

There were many problems incidental to supplying the forts with provisions. Some of these problems were created by nature, other pitfalls were the result of human dishonesty. In 1871, Nathan Bibo sublet a contract from the government to two men, Howard and Leonard, who were to supply a hundred tons of hay to Fort Apache. His partners, however, were as crooked as the roads which carried the hay. A special messenger from Captain K. Upsham, the quartermaster at Camp Apache, warned him that the two men were privately collecting for every pound of hay they had delivered, without divulging in their transactions that Nathan Bibo was also a partner. After a hurried investigation, Nathan learned that not only were his partners in this contract not giving him what was due him, they were also using his hay cutting machines to cut the hay. By the time Nathan arrived at Fort Apache, Howard and Leonard had already taken flight. Yet, Nathan was still responsible for fulfilling the contract. At this juncture, with courage as his primary asset, he borrowed money, bought four ox wagons and four yoke of oxen and started all over again. To cut the hay and to deliver it so late in the year was hazardous since snow was imminent. Nonetheless, Nathan started out with his teams. It was not too long after he started that he was caught in a mountain snow storm. It soon became apparent to him that he was faced with the decision of saving his life rather than protecting his investment in the wagons and the teams of oxen. Luckily he was rescued by two young friendly Apaches who were hunting and who were also impeded by the snow. They escorted the half-frozen Bibo to the fort, where he related his predicament to Thomas Ewing, who was then in charge of the post trading store. Nathan was in a state of despair. He had not made delivery of the hay as he had contracted to do. He also was in debt for $2,500 for the wagons and oxen he had purchased. Ewing met the immediate problem by inviting Bibo to his quarters to warm himself and to change his clothing.

Captain K. Upsham, the quartermaster, was concerned about the hay that his fort would need for the winter months. He also desired to help Nathan Bibo. Consequently, he made a sage suggestion which Nathan accepted. He advised Nathan to purchase twelve to fifteen dozen knives in Albuquerque. Within ten days, the distance being 280 miles plus the necessity of a side trip to Santa Fé, the knives were delivered. Nathan then engaged squaws to work for him, to cut and deliver the hay. They took the knives and began a constant procession, cutting the hay and returning it to the fort. "They carried from sixty to one hundred pounds on their backs bundled up with strings of soap weed strapped around their forehead and, besides the heavy burden, carried their papooses on top of the hay. 11

While the hay was being gathered, Thomas Ewing, the post trader, took Nathan into his confidence. He informed Nathan that he had sold his store to a man in Cubero, but that this man was unacceptable to the commanding officer. Noting that Nathan was in strained circumstances, he suggested to Nathan that he attempt to buy the store. (As a matter of interest, there is little doubt that the man who was unacceptable to the commanding general at Fort Apache was the notorious trader and freighter, Solomon Barth.) Nathan ruminates:

Such is life. I had come into the post almost helpless. I lost all my investments by the cruel elements within twelve days after I had to purchase the ox teams and had to draw on my friend Lehman Spiegelberg, then president of the Second National Bank [Santa Fé] for payment. I had sent him my note for $3,000 for sixty days, which I could have met easily if I had succeeded in delivering [all] the hay ...

The transfer of the stock of merchandise by Mr. Thomas Ewing was made at once. About October 10, 1871, I took charge of the business for my account. It was under President Grant's administration and all the officers of the fort signed my application for fort tradership which was then forwarded to Secretary of War, Belknap.My appointment came after two months ... The result was that I paid the total sum due to my predecessor within sixty days amounting to $24,000 including what he owed to the party in New Mexico. 12

Sometime in the fall of 1871, Nathan Bibo sold out to a Mr. Cronley and decided to settle in Bernalillo. Francisco Perea, one of Bernalillo's former delegates to Congress, prevailed upon Nathan to build a store adjoining Perea's fine vineyard and home in the middle of the town.13 Perea also gave him as an inducement the privilege of buying 120 yards of land at a very reasonable price. Nathan seized upon the opportunity. He built a home, a store, and across from his home he also built a government station with large stables. These stables were leased to the mail contractor and the owner of the stage coach line. He also became the Bernalillo postmaster.

Nathan's move to Bernalillo appeared to be an advantageous one. The store, the stables, being postmaster, and the bargain land purchase were sound investments. It is conceivable that Nathan had also been given some inside information that the transcontinental railroad might come through Bernalillo. If it did, Bernalillo would become the most important city in the territory. This meant that the 120 yards of land that he bought could be very valuable. Nathan was in the best economic position of his career.

In the meantime, Nathan continued to have varied interests. He owned a flock of sheep with his brother Solomon Bibo and he still had old accounts to collect back in the Fort Apache country. Whenever he bad to leave Bernalillo on a business matter, his sister Lina, the widow of I. Weiss of Martinez, took charge.

On April 29, 1876, Nathan was notified by his brother Solomon that during a snow storm their sheep herd had been scattered and that the Navajo Indians had driven them down the mountain of San Mateo to where they had been tracked. On the first day of May, Nathan and another man, mounted on horseback, started down the trail from Bernalillo to follow the sheep trails. Near Las Tusas13a they found a trail and within a few hours they came to a Navajo settlement. 14 When they observed eight or ten Navajo squaws busily cutting the earmarks of a small flock of sheep, Nathan asked the squaws: "Why are you a disfiguring the earmarks?" Receiving an evasive answer he threatened to report them to the commanding officer at Fort Wingate. Only then was he able to recover 350 of the stolen sheep. When he returned to Bernalillo he made claim to the Indian Agent at Fort Wingate for the rest of his flock. Nine years later, after forwarding his claim to Washington, he received $1,029 for his loss of property.14a

Nathan Bibo was a restless, venturesome person, but he possessed a sense of history as well. In a handwritten statement written on the back of an old stove catalogue he describes an important event that took place in Bernalillo. It concerned the route of the rail road.15 Proximity to a railroad in the 1800's could catapult a community into prominence. To be distant from the railroad could make a once-prominent community on obscure one. In February,1878, a Concord coach stopped in front of Nathan Bibo's store and about five gentlemen representing the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé railroad alighted from the coach. Accompanied by Don Francisco Perea, Nathan's friend, these five gentlemen went to visit Don José Uandro Perea. Nathan Bibo was later instructed that Bernalillo had been designated as the main division point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé railroad line. Construction of a transcontinental line due west from Bernalillo had been contemplated. Francisco Perea related to Nathan Bibo that his uncle José Leandro had placed an impossible price on the land required by the chief engineer. As a consequence of the railroad's inability to purchase the land that it required in Bernalillo, the representatives looked elsewhere. "What happened that memorable Friday afternoon was the setback for the town of Bernalillo and the making of the new town of Albuquerque.16 The decision of Don José also prevented Don Francisco and Nathan Bibo from amassing a fortune had Bernalillo become what Albuquerque is today.16a

In 1884 Nathan Bibo had concluded that Bernalillo, being by-passed by the railroad, no longer had a potential growth. He decided to leave the territory. A scrap of paper written in his own hand in German type script reports that he left for California. He had spent twelve years in Bernalillo and he was now going to seek his fortune along the west coast. He went to California with considerable capital. His brother, Joseph Bibo, and two sisters remained in Bernalillo. As in his past ventures, Nathan still retained interests in Bernalillo. He never burned his bridges behind him, except in San Francisco where they were burned for him.

The available records are silent in connection with Nathan's marital status. A fair conclusion would be that be did not marry until he came to the west coast. We do know that in San Francisco he married Flora Abrams and had two children, Ruth Bibo, now Mrs. Jesse Amshel of Pittsburgh, and Irving Bibo, now residing in Southern California. Irving Bibo reports:

I regret to tell you that all of the documentary letters, clippings, citations, etc., that were left to me were sold with an old desk, by my mother, when my mother and sister sold the household in San Francisco to join me in Chicago. As I recall this happened in 1914. In this desk were chunks of ore containing gold and others, silver, very old and fine Indian rings, bracelets, etc., many of them given to my father by chiefs as an expression of gratitude on their part. Most important were letters from Kit Carson, Gen. Sherman, President Grant, the bandit Geronimo and many others.17

Even though Nathan Bibo had left the frontier for the more sophisticated San Francisco, he could not forget his old ways. The correspondence with his son exposes his father's frontier personality.

My father was an inveterate gambler and I have been told lost or won as high as $5,000 a night in poker. He came to San Francisco in 1889. The first potent memories I have of my Dad's persistent connection with his Indians was going to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to visit the Indians who were at that time incarcerated in the government prison on the Island. My father acted as interpreter and as I recall he spoke Apache, Navajo, Zuni.... I do know that he was responsible for the release of many Indians who by talking with him were able to prove their innocence or perhaps convince the authorities that they would be good boys from then on. 18

Irving Bibo in his communication alludes to a legend concerning his father that has had currency in the Southwest for the past ten years.

I assume that you know my father went back to New Mexico after the quake in San Francisco [1906] and stayed there, always prospecting for gold until the day he died. There are other certain very interesting developments that happened in his later years that I cannot put on paper; perhaps you may come this way some day and if you do, I should like to tell you in confidence a certain thing, that could really, if we could verify it make the saga of the Bibos one of the most fantastic written.19

What Irving Bibo is alluding to is part of the southwest folklore. In 1906, according to this tale, Nathan, Bibo was wiped out by the earthquake-fire in San Francisco20 His penchant for gambling, the lure of his old haunts in New Mexico, and his financial losses all combined to destroy his marriage to Flora Abrams Bibo. He left San Francisco to venture again in New Mexico. There the folklore teller spins his yaxn and weaves the story that Nathan married a native woman. They had a son. The son, now a mature person, is reputed to have been one of the highest officials in the federal administration of Old Mexico. He is today a millionaire, living in Old Mexico. Attempts have been made to verify or repudiate this information for ten years. Only blind alleys and smiles have been the result of inquiry. Yet the legend still persists.

We next find Nathan Bibo's historical tracks when he commences to speak out and to write letters in behalf of the deprived and disease-ridden Indian. The letters that are extant report the problems of sanitation in the Pueblos and the need to ameliorate the dreaded eye disease, trachoma. He also makes references to the internecine conflicts of the Indians. He claims that the internal Indian government is not popularly elected and that the young educated Indians are in the minority. He emphasizes that the Indian agents listen only to the old majority. Consequently, the young Indians who received their education outside the Pueblos cannot and axe not permitted to introduce improvements in the Pueblos. He asserts that the young, when they are progressive, are persecuted by the older uneducated Indians in a fanatic manner. He affirms that the only exception to this practice is in the Laguna and Acoma Pueblos.21

Isaac Bibo and Blumenschen Rosenstein were the parents of ten children. Besides Nathan, there were Simon, Solomon [Salomon], Joseph, Samuel, Benjamin, and Emil. There were also three daughters, Lina, Clara, and Rica.22

The careers of Emil, Simon, and Solomon were equally as colorful as that of Nathan. They, too, particularly Emil and Solomon, were involved with and devoted to the Indians. Nathan Bibo describes the character of his brother: "[Emil's] life and soul were to a great extent devoted to the emancipation of the Acoma Indians, who regarded him as their honest advisor and best friend. 23 Yet, it is the life of Solomon that further portrays the hazards and problems which confronted a pioneer living in the midst of an American Indian civilization in the southwest during the last half of the nineteenth century. There were many more risks of life, and danger to one's character, living among the Indian natives than there were as a resident in the relative civilization of the community of old Santa Fé.

Solomon Bibo married a woman who was a member of the Acoma Tribe. Like his brother Simon, who also married out of his faith, he was faced with the obstacles that any person of the Jewish faith would meet were he to make the southwest his permanent home during this period. To find a girl of his religion it was necessary to go wife-hunting on the east or west coast, or to go back to Germany and bring back a childhood love, if this was possible. His maternal uncle, Joseph Rosenstein, attempted the latter approach, but his new wife refused to return to America with him., The Spiegelbergs, one by one, after achieving their fortune, retired to the east coast to manage their New Mexico interests remotely. 23a The Lesinsky family of southern New Mexico and El Paso fame did the same. Even if a Jewish wife was attainable, as in the case of Michel Goldwater,23b the likelihood of the couple's children marrying within the faith of their parents was remote. Although the Goldwaters are proud of their Jewish heritage, such families are for the most part, lost to Judaism. The town of Mora, New Mexico, is a forceful example of such intermarriage and acculturation. Henry Ballon of Clayton, New Mexico, regretfully relates:

Mora had about thirty Jewish people before the Santa Fé railroad came this far west. Then Mora was a trading point for goods which were shipped by ox-cart and wagon train from Kansas, which was then the western terminus of the road ... some of these men settled there.... But due to the fact that there was no Jewish community there, they married native women with few exceptions, and their children grew up in the Catholic faith and today their descendants carry their German-Jewish names, but that is about all .... 24

The family destiny of Solomon25 and Simon Bibo was no exception to those Jewish pioneers who elected to remain in the southwest. The fact that Solomon was married into the Acoma tribe, however, was an unusual situation. This marriage, in addition to being bizarre, also has relevance to Solomon Bibo's controversies with the United States Indian Service. Solomon's principal activity was as a post trader at the Indian reservation. To obtain a license to trade with the Indians, and in this case with the Acoma Indians, could be troublesome. It was vexatious. Three applications submitted by Solomon Bibo to the United States Indian Service for the years 1882, 1883, and 1884 are recorded in the National Archives. A perusal of these applications documents the legal steps and the internal politics that prevailed. 26 In the year 1883 alone, Solomon Bibo applied three times for a Trader's License. It was also necessary to post a bond of $10,000 with the application. In the September, 1883, form, Solomon Bibo's request is written on the stationery of Z. Staab and Brother. Was it possible that the Staabs had an interest in this Bibo venture? It is highly conceivable that the Staabs extended credit to Solomon Bibo just as the Spiegelbergs through their banking interests and wholesale business often supported Nathan. Actually, as we shall see later, Solomon had connections with the Spiegelbergs as well as possibly with the Staabs. This was sound business practice on the part of these prominent distributors in Santa Fé. However, one gains the impression as he reads the correspondence, that more than a profit was involved in these associations. The Spiegelbergs and the Staabs were custodial in this relationship. Whenever the Bibos were in a state of emergency, their Jewish friends, often at a high risk, would come to their rescue.

Solomon was just as courageous as his brother Nathan. Besides being a Post Trader, Solomon had, previous to his 1883 applications for renewal of his license, embarked on a business deal that involved the Acoma reservation. This side venture precipitated problems with the Indian Agent, Pedro Sanchez. Sanchez was of the opinion that Solomon Bibo was violating his Trader's License by engaging in an arrangement with the tribe. In Sanchez' mind this was illegal. A letter written by Pedro Sanchez to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on June 4, 1884, expressed his opinion:

I have been informed that Solomon Bibo, U. S. Ind Trader at Acoma, availing himself of the influence that by his sagacity he has acquired in that Pueblo - has induced the Governor, thereof (it is said at least) to enter into and sign for him (Bibo) a lease of all the Acoma grant with all its grazing land, water, etc., as you will readily find by perusal of enclosed copy of lease ... to which . . . Bibo pretends to have obtained the common consent of said Pueblo. Until convinced to the contrary I hold that the will of the Pueblo in common is not expressed in the said pretended lease ... I do not consider apropos to their welfare as it opens a broad field to speculation who come among them and seeing their blindness make them a prey to their sagacity ... Therefore with a view to stop a calamity or rather prevent it timely so immanent [sic] on this Pueblo, caused by this prejudiced lease, I ask very respectfully, to be advised on this matter, as to the manner in which I should proceed. 27

Solomon Bibo's application which originated as an almost routine matter finally was adjudicated in a Federal Court. The United States attorney was of the opinion that since the suit was not initiated by the Indians themselves concerning the lease, but introduced by the government, the suit had no validity. Joseph Bell, the United States attorney, stated his opinion:

But a suit must be brought directly by their [Indians'] authority and not as claimed by the authority of the general government, without regard to their wishes in the matter, by virtue of the relations existing between the government and the Pueblo tribes. 28

The government concluded in their case that the lease with Solomon Bibo was drawn up with the common consent of the Acoma Pueblo.

By the time the case was adjudicated in 1888, a new United States Indian Agent had been designated for the Pueblos. To give additional authority to the United States attorney's conclusion and in an effort to terminate the matter, the Indian Agent sent a general letter to the Acoma Pueblo:
Pueblo Agency
Acoma, October 9, 1888

To the people of Acoma, having confidence in the ability, integrity and fidelity of Solomon Bibo and by virtue of the authority invested in me, as Indian Agent, by the United States, I hereby appoint Solomon Bibo, Governor of said Pueblo to take the place of Napoleon Pancho, the former Governor and I also appoint the said Napoleon lieutenant governor and Yanie [?] assistant lieutenant governor to take the place of Manuel Concho who is dismissed by order. And I also appoint Junice [?] Sanches, Kasique in place of Antonio dmissed. 29
Signed, W. C. [?] WILLIAMS,
U. S. Indian Agent

Solomon Bibo, elected by the Acoma Pueblo as Governor with the imprimatur of the Indian Agent, now had the authority in civil matters to lease or sub-lease the Acoma land. His name was now cleared. The accusation that he was acting to the detriment of the Pueblo, having been brought to the attention of Federal authorities, had no legality.

In an effort to evaluate Solomon Bibo's position in this situation, it is necessary to take into consideration not only the final legal dispensation of the case, but to consider the case in the light of frontier ethics and Acoma practices.

First of all, if Solomon Bibo was guilty of sharp practices, which we have already shown he was not, he was not a lone violator. C. C. Rister in his article, "Harmful Practices of Indian Traders in the Southwest, 1865-1876," describes the prevailing conditions:

From the time our earliest colonists came in contact with the Indians of the Atlantic seaboard until the disappearance of the last frontier, trade relations between the two races have been accompanied with irregularities. White traders have capitalized on the Indian's ignorance of trade values to the extent of ruthless exploitation.30

A perusal of the reports from the Bureau of Ethnology substantiates by inference that Solomon Bibo could not have persuaded the Acomas to do what they did not desire to do.31 Solomon Bibo was accepted by the Acomas and was trusted by them. If we accept the authority of Leslie A. White, to be trusted by the Acomas was not an easy accomplishment.

Acoma's early reputation for vigorous unfriendliness to the whites has been maintained to this day [1929] ... Government officials and employees, representatives of religious organizations, and tourists well know the difficulties which confront a white man or woman at Acoma. The Acoma people are suspicious, distrustful and unfriendly. In addition to their constant fears that they may have their land taken away from them ... they are even on guard to prevent any information concerning their ceremonies from becoming known lest they be suppressed (or ridiculed) by the whites.32

Neither was Solomon Bibo's marriage a fraud. There are documents available that attest to the validity of his marriage.33 The documents verify that he married his wife twice: once in the presence of the Pueblo on May 1, 1885, and a second time by a Justice of the Peace on August 30, 1885. This marriage in the light of our information about the Acomas would establish that Solomon Bibo held an unusual position in the Pueblo. Concerning marriage, White succinctly states:

Regarding marriage with non-Acoma persons I received the impression quite decidedly that marriage outside the pueblos, and marriage with whites or Indians is disapproved of.34

As one examines the Acoma religious practices, one comes to the conclusion that it was not necessary for Solomon Bibo to undergo marriage rites. "Frequently a man and a woman live together as man and wife and without any formal ceremony...."35

Leaving the Acoma tradition, Arthur Bibo of Albuquerque offers additional information indicating that there were many facets to the problem at hand:

His [Solomon's] thirty year lease with the tribe in 1884 was drawn up by one of the foremost attorneys here in Albuquerque at that time, Bernard Rodey. Solomon really made this lease for the Acoma Land and Cattle Company who made immediate use of it. The reason they wanted a lease from the Acoma Tribe was that they were running Cattle on a range that adjoined the Acoma Grant and could not easily prevent their stock from grazing on a portion of the Grant. The contract agreed to protect the Acomas in the way of assuming responsibility to keep other stray stock from grazing on the Acoma land. The individuals representing the Acoma Land and Cattle Co. were from Albuquerque.... The foreman in the field was a Mr. Wilson and he immediately notified the Laguna Indians to remove their livestock from trespassing on the Acomas. This of course brought Mr. R. G. Marmon, who had married in the Laguna Tribe, into the picture to defend the Lagunas. At that particular time there was quite a land controversy between the Lagunas and the Acomas as the Interior Department had allowed the Lagunas to use land that the Acomas had claimed as theirs aboriginally. Pedro Sanchez, being an employee of the Department of the Interior, sided in with Mr. Marmon and the Lagunas to the detriment of the Acomas. Uncle Sol, Uncle Simon, and Dad [Emil] all were trying to help the Acomas in what they saw as unjust decisions against the Acomas ... though I do not know how long the Acoma Land and Cattle Co. continued use of the area, Uncle himself made use of the lease until it expired.36

The saga of Solomon, the Acomas, the Lagunas, and the Indian department was a complicated one. There are many strands to the episode. Not only the decision of the court, but all the peripheral evidence that Solomon was not guilty of fraud, compel us to commend him for his interest in the welfare of the Acoma tribe.

Living in the midst of Indians that were hostile to one another like the Acomas and the Lagunas, and harassed by an Indian Agent who was prejudicial, made life in the grazing lands of New Mexico a precarious one for a pioneer. There was also a Mexican population that had to be considered as well. Land distribution and ownership were fundamental factors in the unfenced southwest. It was not only a dispute between Indian and Indian, as in the case of Acomas and Lagunas, but a controversy between the aboriginal claims of the Indians on the one hand and the holders of Spanish grants on the other. This was enmeshed more deeply by subleasing.

In 1869, Solomon and Simon Bibo were caught between the rock of the Indian and the hardplace of the Mexican. At Cebolleta (Seboyeta or Ceboyeta) the Mexican population was to be dispossessed of land that they felt was rightfully their land. They appealed to a priest, who took it upon himself to defend the Mexican population from losing what they already held. He attempted to halt the projected redistribution. Unfortunately, the priest Juillard made uncomplimentary references about the religion of some of the people involved. Solomon Bibo was not only an Indian Governor, but be was also classified as a Jew. In this contention, this made him doubly vulnerable. A circular printed in Spanish was distributed by the Body of Commissioners of the District (or Grant) of Cebolleta. It is entitled "Protest" and, in part, reads:

We the undersigned and commissioned by the (district) in the name of the heirs of said district hereby protest against the projected division of the district and against the efforts which are being made to attain the signatures of some (people) under. false and deceitful pretense to obtain such division...

Suppose they divide the district. Let us see what will happen. The district consists of two hundred and twenty thousand acres. The illegal injunction claims one hundred seventy thousand. In addition a rich Jew wants to defraud us of twenty-five thousand of what will be left....37

Simon Bibo, who was in business with his brother Solomon at Laguna, New Mexico, was alarmed by both the circular and the accusation of the priest. Once again the Bibos appealed to the Spiegelbergs. To Willi Spiegelberg he reports:

DEAR SIR: At a meeting held at Ceboyeta a few days ago, the encl. Protest was drawn up. It certainly don't amount to nothing before the count [?] but as it was drawn up by the Catholic priest Juillard [it shows in that same] item!! un rico Israelito!! [a rich Jew] that he wants to inspire the people with hatred not alone against you but against the Jewish race....38

It is probable that Solomon Bibo and Willi Spiegelberg owned land jointly in this area; it is also probable that Solomon was a "sheepdog" for Willi Spiegelberg, and it is conceivable that Solomon sensed trouble so that he desired to stop it before it became rampant. It was Simon's opinion that the best method of neutralizing the antagonism was for Willi Spiegelberg to write the Archbishop in Santa Fé. you have always helped the Catholic Church at Santa Fd you should write to the Archbishop a few lines in regard to this protest....39

The Spiegelbergs, as did other Jewish merchants of Santa Fé, had an open-door relationship with the Archbishops of Santa Fé.39a During the tenure of Archbishop John B. Lamy, there were also a number of priests who acted unilaterally and arbitrarily. They were disciplined by Lamy. Juillard might have been such a priest who had evaded the discipline by Lamy's successor. At any rate, an outbreak such as this alerted the Bibos. They knew how and where to seek help.

Apparently nothing that was consequential came of this episode. The sources are mute. There is no further correspondence on this subject available. The problem, nevertheless, still persists. The contention over land-ownership in the southwest is under scrutiny to this day.

Twitchell's history of New Mexico in five volumes refers generously to people of the Jewish faith who were closely identified with the development of New Mexico. But Twitchell makes no reference to the Bibo family. There is only obscure mention made of the Bibos in other published southwest studies. Perhaps the reason that the sources are scanty is that the Bibos were not located in the central centers of activity. They were not active in Mesilla, Santa Fé, or Las Vegas. They were located primarily in remote areas. It is difficult to evaluate the Bibos' contribution to the southwest. Their contributions escape any of the customary classification. There are no banking or giant mercantile institutions which they created or inspired. But this we can conclude: they came to the southwest and grappled with conditions which at times were overwhelming and would have discouraged people with lesser grit. They married within the faith of their fathers where conditions were friendly to such a marriage. When conditions were not conducive to such a union, they married out of their faith. The chromosomes of the Bibos can be found among groups designated as Indian, Roman Catholic, those of Mexican descent, and in their descendants who still adhere to Judaism. Seven brothers and three sisters have left their lasting impression on the southwest, not in enduring institutions, but in people and in legend.40

Appendix I  |  Appendix II  |  Appendix III  |  Appendix IV  |  Appendix V   |  Appendix VI   |  Appendix VII   |
Appendix VIII  |  Appendix IX   |  Appendix X  |   Appendix XI   |  Appendix XII   |  Appendix XIII


1Nathan Bibo, "Reminiscences of Early New Mexico," Albuquerque Sunday Herald, June 4, 1922; June 11, 1922; June 18, 1922; June 25, 1922; July 2, 1922.

2Bibo, Valencia County, New Mexico. This was formerly a trading post owned and operated by the late Ben Bibo, and was at one time the post office for the Spanish-speaking communities of Seboyeta and Moquino, and was located fifteen miles north of Laguna. It was named for Mr. Bibo. It has now been abandoned. Allen A. Carter, March 3, 1937, Files of the Federal Writer's Project, Ina Sizer Cassidy, Chairman of the New Mexico Place Name Committee, Correspondence, June 3, 1952.

3There is a distinction between a Trader and a Sutler. A Post Trader occupied a position similar to that held by a Sutler during and previous to the Civil War. Sutlers were under the control of the post commander. Post Traders were appointed by the Secretary of War. They had a monopoly of all business on the post. Sutlers were abolished at the close of the War.

4Flora Spiegelberg, "Reminiscences of a Jewish Bride on the Santa Fé Trail," Southwest Jewish Chronicle (Southwest Jewish Publishing Company, Inc.), Dec., 1933; Aug., 1934; Oct., 1934.

In 1848, a second brother, Levi Spiegelberg, arrived here and during that year the name Spiegelberg Brothers was adopted ... Emanuel came in 1858 ... Lehman came in 1857 and Willi in 1861. Daily New Mexican, Santa Fé, Oct. 28, 1881, vol. X, no. 206, p. 130. Hester Jones, "The Spiegelbergs and Early Trade in New Mexico," El Palacio, vol. XXXVIII, April 10-17-24, 1935; nos. 15-16-17, pp. 81-89, Published by School of American Research, University of New Mexico and the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fé, New Mexico. Microfilm, "Documents Relating to the Spiegelberg Family of New Mexico,1870-1880," General Services Administration, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D. C., March 12,1954. Microfilm, "Spiegelberg Collection," Columbia University Library, New York, New York.

4aConsult Floyd S. Fierman, Some Early Jewish Settlers on the Southwest Frontier (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1961).

5Archbishop John B. Lamy was born at Lempdes, France, October 11, 1814. He was ordained in December, 1838. In 1839, he volunteered to join Bishop Purcell for the Ohio mission. In 1850 he set out for his vicariate in Santa Fé, reaching Santa Fé in the summer of 1861. Lamy died on February 14, 1888. There are many stories circulating throughout the Southwest concerning his friendship with the Jewish pioneers

6 Nathan Bibo, op. cit., June 4, 1922.

6a The Zeckendorf brothers came from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fé in the year 1854. Louis, Aaron and William Zeckendorf were born in Hanover, Germany. The Zeckendorf firm became firmly entrenched in Santa Fé. Aaron Zeckendorf came to Santa Fé first and later he was joined by his brothers, Louis and William. They opened a branch at Albuquerque and another at Rio Mimbres (Deming, New Mexico). In 1872, when Aaron died, the business was continued by Louis and William as the Zeckendorf Brothers. In 1878, when William retired, the business was continued as L. Zeckendorf and Co. During the deflation which followed the Civil War, the brothers found themselves with too much merchandise. They had heard about the little town of Tucson from passing immigrant trains. They were told that the town was prospering. Consequently, Louis left Albuquerque for Tucson with a train of twelve wagonloads of merchandise. It took four months to traverse the long stretch across the Apache country to Tucson. A scarcity of merchandise made it a simple matter for Louis Zeckendorf to sell the entire shipment. In 1868, the Zeckendorfs decided to repeat the shipment and they started for Tucson with sixteen wagonloads of merchandise. However, the situation had changed in Tucson. There were no buyers. They were compelled to open a store to sell their merchandise. They rented a small adobe room and opened for business. Thus the A. and L. Zeckendorf firm was born. By the time the Southern Pacific Railroad had reached Tucson in 1880, Albert Steinfeld, the nephew of Aaron Zeckendorf, at the age of twenty-six, had already become manager of the firm that was to become Albert Steinfeld and Company. May Hughston, "Albert Steinfeld, Merchant," Arizona Highways, 1950, pp. 4 ff. Correspondence of Elizabeth Smith with William Zeckendorf III, November 16, 1951.

7Nathan Bibo, op. cit., June 11, 1922.


9Solomon Barth was a native of Prussia. He was born in 1842. In 1855, he came to America and drifted from the eastern states to California. In 1860, he came to La Paz on the Colorado river, from there to Weaverville, and in 1863, to Granite Creek. He engaged in mail contracts and merchandising, the latter business being carried on in New Mexico. In 1873, he moved to St. Johns. Barth claimed ownership of the Grand Canyon through an Indian grant. Thomas Edwin Farish, History of Arizona, vol. VI, Pbl. and printed by the direction of the Second Legislature of Arizona, C. 1915.

10Nathan Bibo, op. cit., June 11, 1922.

11Ibid., June 18,1922.


13Handwritten note. See Appendix I.

13a This is above the present Bluewater Dam and Lake, known as Valle de Las Tusas, which is Spanish for "Prairie Dog Valley."

14 Navajos are a nomadic tribe and lived at that time, as now, mostly in small groups of families in hogans (small huts made of posts and plastered with mud, or of rocks and mud). These few hogans are erected in an area best suited for the climatic conditions that prevail and are scattered, never very close to each other.

14aU. S. Senate Bill for relief of Nathan Bibo, dated June 10, 1912. See Appendix V

15This reference describing the incidents leading to the decision of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Railroad to go through Albuquerque instead of Bernalillo was written in longhand by Nathan Bibo on the back of an old stove catalogue. Bibo was seventy years old when it was written. See Appendix I for the full text of the reference.

16 See Appendix I

16aThe Railroad Company chose Albuquerque as its Main Division point and erected there its depot, main offices and roundhouse. But the railroad was also built through Bernalillo, which powibly lost its opportunity to be the main division point because of the high figures placed on land values by the parties mentioned by Nathan Bibo. Correspondence with Arthur Bibo, January 19, 1961.

17Correspondence with Irving Bibo, Chatsworth, California, July 8, 1953.



20A New Mexico newspaper, a clipping, carries the news item, "Mr. Bibo, who since he lost his well-known business establishment at San Francisco, by the great fire following the disastrous earthquake, has returned to this state. He has been particularly identified with this western New Mexico." American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.

21A letter to David Starr Jordan, Stanford University, May or June, 1925. A letter to Grace Thorpe Baer, President of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, written from Bernalill, June 7, 1925. A letter from the Indian Rights Association in Philadelphia, February 5, 1925. American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio. See Appendix VIII.

22Lina Bibo married Isidor Weiss of Martinez, California. Clara Bibo married Herman Block and lived in Oakland and San Francisco. Rica Bibo married David Beerman and lived in San Francisco. Emil Bibo was born in Brakel, Germany, February 10, 1862 and came to America in 1877. He married Elizabeth Weisskopf in San Francisco, Jan. 24, 1897. She was born in Molinetz, Bohemia, Nov. 4, 1869 and came to America in 1888. Emil Bibo died March 23, 1925. Emil was in the mercantile business first at Bernalillo with Joseph Bibo from 1897 to 1900. From 1900 to 1902 he was in business at Laguna, New Mexico and from 1902 to 1916 at Cubero, New Mexico. In Cubero he operated under the name of the Cubero Trading Company. In 1915 he bought Simon's interests at Grants, New Mexico and sold both the Cubero and Grants stores the following year to the Bernalillo Mercantile Company operated by Joseph Bibo and the Seligman Brothers. Emil had two herds of sheep which he had out on shares until 1923. Emil moved to San Francisco in 1916 where his children attended school. His three children are: Irma Belle Floerscheim, Philip and Arthur Bibo. Irma Belle is married to Ben Floerscheim. They live at the Jaritas Ranch in Springer, New Mexico. They have a daughter who is married to Dr. R. Seligman of Albuquerque. Their son is married and lives at the Jaritas Ranch. Emil's second son, Philip, is married to Marie Sumner of Hayden, Colorado. They have three children. Emil's third son, Arthur, is married to Nell D. Heard of Oklahoma. They have no children, but his wife has two boys by a former marriage. Philip Bibo is in the mercantile business in Cubero, New Mexico and Arthur Bibo is a rancher and runs cattle south of Grants adjoining the Acoma Reservation.

Benjamin Bibo married a Celia [last name unknown] and he operated a small merchandise store at Bibo, New Mexico. He had a Post Office in the store that served the Indian village of Paguate, and the Mexican settlements of Cebolleta, Moquino, and Cebolletita. The name was really applied to the Post Office location which has been moved a short distance since Benjamin Bibo died. Bibo, New Mexico, is between Cebolletita and Cebolleta, which are only two to three miles apart on the Southeast slope of Mt. Taylor. Benjamin died about 1910 or 1911 in Albuquerque. His widow married Nathan Barth and they lived in California. Nathan Barth was the brother of Solomon Barth, whose merchandise store is still operated by his son Jacob, and Jacob's two sisters who never married. Benjamin has no children.

Simon Bibo married Ramona Candelaria of San Mateo, New Mexico, and had eighteen children. Those who lived to maturity are: Oscar, El Paso, Texas (died in 1959); Leopold, Santa Rita; Herbert, San Ysidro, California; Rica Bibo Morgan, Vallejo, California; and Nathan Bibo, Old Mexico. Simon Bibo died in January, 1922. Leopold Bibo was the father of Eddie and Harold Bibo. Leopold married Mimmie Maisel from Germany. Leopold, or Polo, as he was known, was in business in Cubero, New Mexico, with his Uncle Emil in 1903. After owning a butcher shop for a short time he left Cubero and moved to Albuquerque. He obtained a position in Albuquerque with the Rosenwald Brothers and he traveled the state collecting accounts for them. Leopold then moved to Silver City. Sometime during this period he and his wife separated. He moved to Santa Rita. She remained in Silver City and operates a fine ladies' shop in that city. Eddie Bibo lives in California. Harold is a Colonel in the Army.

Samuel Bibo married a Pauline Mack from San Francisco. He was in the liquor business there until he passed away in 1907 or 1908. His wife Pauline died about ten years after his death. They had no children.

Correspondence with Arthur Bibo, the son of Emil, July 25, 1953, and December 24, 1960, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Consult the microfilm on the Floerisheim Family (1906-1959) in the possession of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.

23David Starr Jordan, op. cit.

23aTo illustrate how judicious was the decision of the Spiegelbergs in this regard, we have only to examine a news item in the New York Times. Levi Spiegelberg's son, William I. Spiegelberg, became Secretary of the Board of Trustees of Temple Emanuel in New York City. He did not leave Judaism. William I. Spiegelberg died while on a European trip in 1932. New York Times, January 19, 1932.

23bMichel Goldwater was the grandfather of Barry Goldwater, incumbent senator from Arizona. Michel Goldwater was born in Russian-Poland in October, 1821. He married Sarah Nathan in London, England in 1850, and was naturalized as an American citizen in Los Angeles in 1861. He lived in California from 1852 to 1862. In 1862 he and his brother Joe were attracted to the mining town of La Paz. With the arrival of Federal troops in the area in 1863, they engaged, for more than a decade, in bidding on Army contracts to supply grain and provisions to the military forts in central and Northern Arizona. Prescott Arizona Miner, Oct. 29, 1870. In 1872, Joe and Mike [Michel] Goldwater opened a branch store in Phoenix. Michel Goldwater would arrange his buying trips to San Francisco so that he could attend Jewish Holiday services in that city. "Mr. Michel Goldwater, one of our successful merchants, we learn from a telegram received of Morris, his son, arrived in San Francisco today, where he intends to remain four or five weeks and be present during the Jewish New Year and participate in the festivities thereto. He will also purchase a large stock of goods for the company's stores at Ehrenberg and Prescott." The Weekly Arizona Miner, September 7, 1877. A letter frcm Bert M. Fireman, Vice-President, Arizona Historical Foundation, Phoenix, Arizona, Oct. 6, 1961, advises:

... The children of Michel and Sarah Goldwater were Morris, Caroline (Mrs. P. N. Aronson), Henry, Annie (Mrs. Ralph Prager), Samuel, Benjamin, Elizabeth, and Baron. Benjamin [Ben] and Samuel [Sam] both died around 1897 or 1898, at the ages of roughly 35 and 40. No children died during infancy. Elizabeth never married.

24Correspondence of Henry Ballin, Clayton, New Mexico, with Dr. Jacob Marcus, American Jewish Archives, November, 1951.

25Solomon Bibo's steamship ticket discloses that he traveled from Bremen, Germany, on October 16, 1869, and paid 55 thaler (about $40.00) for his passage. An official document reveals that Solomon had been dismissed from the German Army, and that he had his parent's permission to emigrate to America. It is signed April 27, 1869. In addition to these documents, there is a birth certificate noting that Solomon Bibo was born August 30, 1853, in Brakel, Germany. His father is listed as Isaac Bibo, a teacher, who was born in Graetz, Posen.

26Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Letters received. Special Case no. 132. Bibo Lease of Acoma Land. General Services Administration, Washington, 1954.

26Office of Indian Affairs, no. 22791, received Dec. 18, 1882; no. 13350, received July 23, 1883; no. 18015, received Oct. 1, 1883; no. 22817, received 1883.

26bOffice of Indian Affairs, no. 14662, received August, 1884. Petition of the Pueblo de Acoma Indians that the trader's license granted Mr. Solomon Bibo not be revoked. Also enclosed is a letter from an Indian, James H. Miller, recounting Solomon's help to the Acomas and requesting that the license be granted Bibo.

27Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, op. cit., Washington, 1954.



30C. C. Rister, "Harmful Practices of Indian Traders of the Southwest, 1865-1876," Reprint from the New Mexico Historical Review, 1931, pp. 231-248.

31Leslie A. White, "The Acoma Indians," Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1929-30. U. S. Printing Office, 1932, pp. 23-125.


33See Appendix IV

34White, op. cit., p. 38.

35Ibid., pp. 135,136.

36Correspondence with Arthur Bibo, December 24, 1960.

37See Appendix VII



39aConsult Floyd S. Fierman, "The Triangle and the Tetragrammaton," Password, (Ed. Dr. Eugene Porter), Spring Quarter, El Paso County Historical Society, 1961.

40This study was published in a modified form by the Texas Western College Press in 1961.