Soldiers' Monument (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Coordinates: 35°41′14.7474″N 105°56′18.6714″W / 35.687429833°N 105.938519833°W / 35.687429833; -105.938519833
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Soldiers' Monument
35°41′14.7474″N 105°56′18.6714″W / 35.687429833°N 105.938519833°W / 35.687429833; -105.938519833
LocationSanta Fe Plaza, New Mexico
Typeobelisk and plinth with engraved text
Height33 feet (10 m) (including obelisk)
Dedicated date1868
Dedicated toCivil War soldiers and U.S. soldiers who battled with Native Americans
Dismantled dateOctober 12, 2020

The Soldiers' Monument is a controversial memorial monument at the center of the Santa Fe Plaza. It was erected as a 33 feet (10 m) stone cenotaph, consisting of an obelisk and a plinth during 1867–1868. During the late nineteenth century, the monument was used for annual Memorial Day events, a place for Union veterans to gather, decorate the cenotaph, and hear brief presentations.[1][2]

The square plinth includes four inscribed panels, three of which memorialized Union soldiers who died on the battlefields of New Mexico Territory in the American Civil War. The fourth panel on the monument memorialized US soldiers who died "in the various battles with savage Indians." The word "savage" was chiseled-off by an anonymous person in 1974.[3] On October 12, 2020, Indigenous People's Day the obelisk portion of the monument was toppled by protestors.[4]


The plaza and monument as depicted on two postcards from the 1930s:
The plaza's extents are seen from above the southwest corner; a jalopy is seen on the left
From an East San Francisco Street balcony;
A linen postcard shows ten people variously sitting or walking in groups on the Plaza; old cars are parked in front of the Palace of the Governors' portal in the background
From the southwest pathway.

The Soldiers Monument is located in the center of the rectangular Santa Fe plaza.[5] Its site is at the crux of eight walkways that radiate to the four corners and four sides and connect to a perimeter walkway.[6]

The present siting originates with an 1860s re-design of the town square in a neoclassical style of the prior plaza grounds design.[7] The plaza has native shade trees, grass, flower beds and replica Victorian iron benches and fences designed by John Gaw Meem in his 1967 plaza renovation plan. Stone banco seating border a flower bed at the monument.[8]


a photograph of several people sitting on a banco surrounding a stone obelisk, with pigeons all around
The monument in 2012, with chiseled section visible near base on left-facing side
an etching of seven people in various late-nineteenth century garb walking among trees, grass, and a water fountain surrounding a stone obelisk
The monument in 1890

The monument consists of a stone obelisk with four engraved marble panels on the stone base commemorating U.S. soldiers who died in battles in New Mexico. It is located in the central area of the Santa Fe Plaza in downtown Santa Fe.[9] The monument has a stone foundation; a locally produced brick and lime core plinth; local stone inscribed panels; imported Italian marble trim with marble columns and marble wreathes (Victorian funerary motifs), and marble obelisk. The cenotaph, with its Egyptian architectural associations, is 33-feet tall.[7][10] Builders were McGee & Brother (John and Michael McGee), architects, master stone cutter Tomas Baca, and local craftsmen.[11] The stone panels were inscribed by local craftsmen.[12]

A time capsule was added October 24, 1867[13] containing coins of the period, local newspapers, legislative journals, and other commemorative items.[14]



On January 29, 1868, the territorial legislature dictated the wording for the four stone panels to be inscribed on the monument.[15] Inscribed on the four sides of the cardinal directions of the plinth:





Soldiers' Monument South-facing panel#2 with 'February' misspelled as "Febuary"

The inscriptions contain minor errors.[12] The word "April" was corrected but the word "February" was left misspelled without the first "r." In 1909, in response to complaints, legislators proposed replacing the word "Rebel" with "Confederate," but the measure failed to pass.[16]

On August 8, 1974, the word "savage" was chiselled out of panel 4.[17] In June 2020, the panel was further damaged. In October 2020, the panel 4 was broken out from the plinth.[18] The panel that contained the words "savage Indians" faced towards the Palace of the Governors where local Puebloan artisans sell arts and crafts under the portico.[19][20]

"The Battles of Cañon del Apache and Pigeon’s Ranch" mentioned in panel 3 refers to events of the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass, "La Glorieta," March 26–28, 1862.[21]

From the 1880s, use of the word "rebel" in panels 2 and 3 was considered by some, an insult to the South. In 1908–1909, the New Mexico governor offered to fund a change in wording while the legislative council passed a resolution supporting inscribing "confederate" in place of "rebel." In opposition, former governor L. Bradford Prince and veterans gained support for leaving the monument "sacred and unmutilated."[22] Governor Prince saw the monument not only as a memorial but a symbol of an historic era, to be preserved in memory of the territory's loyalty to the Union. The monument was left unchanged.[23] In the 1930s, another effort by Texans to have the monument removed because of the word 'rebel' failed to gain support.[24]


The obelisk was of standard design from Edgar Warne & Company marble works, St. Louis, the contractor for the monument material.[25][26][27] In the spring of 1868, the five marble components of the obelisk – four tapered shaft segments and a pyramidal capstone – were placed atop the plinth's tiered stone cap.[28] Construction was completed in June 1868.[29] In 2020, city workers removed the capstone while examining the monument's structural stability for relocation plans.[30]

Brass plaque[edit]

On the south side of the monument, a concrete stand with interpretive brass plaque prepared in 1973 by the State Cultural Properties Review Committee explains the context for monument wording:[31][32]

"Monument texts reflect the character of the times in which they are written and the temper of those who wrote them. This monument was dedicated in 1868 near the close of a period of intense strife which pitted northerner against southerner, Indian against white, Indian against Indian. Thus, we see on this monument, as in other records, the use of such terms as ‘savage’ and ‘rebel’. Attitudes change and prejudices hopefully dissolve."


Like other similarly named monuments, it was erected in the aftermath of the American Civil War.[33] The inscription on the brass interpretive plaque makes reference to the New Mexico Territorial Legislature, precursor to the post-statehood New Mexico Legislature, as being instrumental in the planning of the monument. In 1866, after complaints that Union graves were being robbed in New Mexico's Civil War battlefields,[34] the 1866-1867 territorial legislature passed an act to fund the care of Union soldiers’ graves and to build a monument to memorialize dead Union soldiers from New Mexico.[35][36]

The monuments committee was chaired by Judge John P. Slough, former Union commander at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. The committee selected the site, hired architects and workers, and contracted with a marble works for a cenotaph of modest design.[37] At the October 24, 1867 cornerstone laying, Slough inserted a time capsule into the cornerstone.[14] Discord and partisan politics of the time interfered with the construction; Slough was killed in December 1867 in Santa Fe by a political rival.[28][38]

A new committee was formed to revise the intent of the under-construction monument. The next legislature, 1867–1868, passed an act January 29, 1868 that stated:[39] "Whereas no provision has been made for honoring the brave victims who have perished in the various wars with the savage Indians surrounding us, and this Legislative Assembly desires that a slab perpetuating the memory of those be included." The fourth panel text was revised. In March workers cut slabs from a local stone quarry and inscribed the text dictated in the 1868 act.[12] On May 30, 1868, the first nation-wide Memorial Day, a ceremony dedicated the nearly-completed Soldiers Monument (it was completed with the placing of the capstone a few days later in June 1868).[40][41][42]

Proposed modifications[edit]

During the 1910s-1960s, efforts emerged to remove the monument and replace it with either a gazebo or with a statue of a Spanish colonizer, Don Diego de Vargas.[23] Local Hispanic groups offered to remove the obelisk and install a de Vargas statue on the plinth.[43]

During the 1950s, Oliver La Farge and other preservationists opposed the removal of the obelisk, supported a city architectural preservation ordinance for the downtown's historic core and the nomination of the plaza (including the Soldiers Monument) as a National Historic Landmark.[44][45] A proposal to replace the monument with a festive gazebo was also opposed by preservationists.[46][8]

Public responses and actions[edit]

Santa Fe Soldier's Monument, temporary plaque (previous plaque removed), 2022

The monument has been described as racist[47] due to the derogatory references to indigenous people in the area then known as New Mexico Territory and now known as New Mexico[33] There were complaints during the 1950s[48] to remove or replace it, that continued for decades. During the 1960s, too, the words 'savage Indians' became the focus of criticism. In his 1960 column, Oliver La Farge had noted the wording, stating that the words 'savage Indians' meant Navajo and Mescalero Apache and the "rebels" meant these Native elements and Confederate soldiers from Texas.[49]

In 1961 an elder of Tesuque Pueblo stated that his first realization he was a second-class citizen was when he read the words 'savage Indian' on the panel as a child. He added, the word should be changed: "why should future generations of American Indian children continue to have this insulting reminder that the conquerors considered them little more than blood-lusting beasts, not notable martyrs fighting for their homes?"[50]

By the end of the decade Native and non-native people were increasingly discontent about such symbols of conquest as the monument. In 1973, the American Indian Movement leadership wrote the governor of New Mexico to change the wording of panel 4 or remove the Soldiers Monument.[51] The governor asked the city, which first passed a motion to remove it, then faced local opposition by old families and preservationists. Because of an earlier federal grant the state had also agreed to preserve the monument for a set period. The city reversed its decision.[52] The state government proposed a plaque be added to explain the context of the words "Rebel" and "Savage Indians". Native organizations were advised, with agreement at the official state level, but concerns remained that the plaque was not enough.[31]

The GI Forum in Taos sent a message to the governor stating that the panel 4 wording was disturbing and should be obliterated: "no explanation in favor of the phrase can be sufficiently convincing."[53] After meeting with Pueblo elders, the state revised the text again.[54] By the end of 1973, the growing controversy superficially appeared resolved.[55]

In 2000, Wanda Ross Padilla (then president of the Santa Fe chapter of the NAACP) spoke out about the derogatory wording.[32] City management was hesitant to make changes because the plaza received federal aid as a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s and 1970s.[56]

By June 2020, the Three Sisters Collective, a Santa Fe organization, whose "vision is to reclaim and celebrate Pueblo Indigenous identity and culture through the arts and activism," wrote on social media "This racist monument against indigenous peoples has got to go."[57]

Local indigenous activists had planned a peaceful protest to support the removal of the monument. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Alan Webber stated that he planned to have the monument removed in addition to two others that symbolized glorification of conquest and violence. After the mayor's announcement, protest organizers announced that instead of the planned protest a celebration would be held to mark the city's intent to remove the monument. A diverse crowd of several hundred people gathered at the plaza for two hours of talks focusing on reconciliation, social justice and a new era of civil rights. The crowd was made up of Native Americans, Anglos, Hispanic and African Americans of all age ranges. The celebration was organized by Jade Begay of NDN Collective, along with The Red Nation and the Three Sisters Collective.[58] The plaza rally was peaceful and free of conflict, although two attendees marked the obelisk with red handprints. Less than one day before, the monument had been damaged by a state-contracted crew in an unsuccessful attempt to remove it. However the tip of the obelisk was removed by crane due to safety concerns.[59]


Detail of plaque engraving with the word 'savage' chiseled off

On August 8, 1974, the word "savage" was chiseled off.[17] The chairman of the All-Indian Pueblo Council, Del Lovato, stated "I'm happy it's off [the word 'savage'] and I hope it stays off, period." It was reported that a young man wearing a hard hat walked into the plaza and chiseled out the word "savage" from the monument.[60] His identity has never been confirmed, although a woman claims it was her father.[61] The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that the man was described as being "in his 20s and having long blond hair" worn in a pony tail. A witness stated that no one questioned the man because he "looked official."[17] At the time of the incident, the state historian, Dr. Myra Ellen Jenkins, said her "immediate reaction was that I doubt it was an Indian [who performed the chisling] but some Anglo kook." She went on to add that "Vandalism is not an Indian characteristic. Protest, yes; vandalism, no."[60]

The reference to Native Americans as 'savages' in panel text #4 had long been a sore point to Native community groups who felt that the entire monument was an affront to their people because it "paid homage to Union soldiers who helped cement a claim to the territory for a nation that believed its [manifest] destiny stretched westward."[62]

Subsequently, various unauthorised alterations have been made to the obelisk, including the markering of 'courageous' in 2014 over the area where 'savage' had been previously chiseled, and in 2020 further blunt damage to the side of the obelisk previously chiseled along with spray-painting over other parts.[63][18]

Red handprints marked on the monument in June 2020

Brass plaque removal[edit]

The brass interpretive plaque was removed in 2020.[30]


In summer and fall of 2020, there were a series of protests on the plaza. On October 12, 2020, protesters who had been at the plaza for the previous weekend toppled the top three components of the obelisk using ropes. Some arrests were made prior to the toppling, although it is not clear if they resulted in immediate bookings; some injuries were reported.[64][4][65] [18]

In anticipation of protests on the Plaza, city workers had gathered plywood to board off the obelisk; however, it was not assembled before the toppling occurred.[66]

The following Sunday, the Santa Fe New Mexican published the weekly combined op-ed/letters to the editor/editorial page section solely on the toppling of the obelisk; various New Mexicans opined, including cartoonist Ricardo Caté[67] and the author Hampton Sides.[68]

In February 2021, another person was arrested and charged with criminal damage to property.[69] As of 2022, eight people had been charged for destroying the obelisk,[70] and all but one has participated in community/restorative justice programs in exchange for charges being dropped.[71]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilson, Chris (1997). The Myth of Santa Fe, Creating a Modern Regional Tradition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 185–186. ISBN 978-0826317469.
  2. ^ "Flowers for All". Daily New Mexican. 31 May 1894. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  3. ^ Chacon New Mexican. Retrieved 19 February 2021., Daniel (23 June 2020). "Obelisk in Plaza Vandalized". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 20 February 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
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  5. ^ Mather, Cotton (1995). Registered Places of New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Mesilla: New Mexico Geographical Society. pp. 43–45. ISBN 0964384108.
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  7. ^ a b Wilson, Chris (1997). The Myth of Santa Fe, Creating a Modern Regional Tradition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 58. 60. ISBN 978-0826317469.
  8. ^ a b DeVolder, Arthur (July 1979). "John Gaw Meem, F. A. I. A.; An Appreciation". New Mexico Historical Review. 54 (3): 209–225. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  9. ^ "Plaza and Soldier's Monument Santa Fe, New Mexico". New Mexico Santa Fe Trail Scenic Byways. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  10. ^ "Elevations". Santa Fe Daily New Mexican. 20 August 1889. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  11. ^ Laws of the Territory of New Mexico passed by the Legislative Assembly, session 1867-68. Santa Fe: Manderfield & Tucker. 1868. p. 136. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  12. ^ a b c "The Monument". The New Mexican. 24 March 1868.
  13. ^ Twitchell, Ralph (1925). Old Santa Fe, The Story of New Mexico's Ancient Capital. Santa Fe: New Mexican. p. 393. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  14. ^ a b "Corner Stone Laying". The New Mexican. 5 November 1867. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  15. ^ Laws of the Territory of New Mexico passed by the Legislative Assembly, session 1867-68. Santa Fe: Manderfield & Tucker. 1868. p. 72. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Majority in House Votes". Albuquerque Citizen. 5 March 1909. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  17. ^ a b c Schubert, Joe (8 August 1974). "Monument's Word Removed". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  18. ^ a b c Gerstein, Michael (27 December 2020). "Obelisk Long-time catalyst for Rancour". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  19. ^ ""El Portal" at the Palace of the Governors". Collectors Guide. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  20. ^ "New Mexico: Palace of the Governors". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  21. ^ "Battle of Glorieta Pass". Pecos National Historical Park. National Park Service. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  22. ^ Prince, LeBaron (1909). Soldiers' Monument in the Plaza of Santa Fe: Remarks of Hon. L. Bradford Prince in Opposition to the Resolution to Cut the Word "Rebel" in Three Places and Insert "Confederate". Santa Fe: np.
  23. ^ a b Rothman, Hal (1998). Devil's Bargain, Tourism in the Twentieth-Century West. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. pp. 81–112. ISBN 0-7006-0910-5.
  24. ^ Johnson, Dana (19 July 1935). "The Plaza Monument". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  25. ^ Sketch Book of St. Louis. St. Louis: George Knapp & Co. 1868. p. 392. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
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  27. ^ "Advertisements". Leavenworth Times. 21 July 1867. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  28. ^ a b "The Monument". Santa Fe Weekly Gazette. 13 June 1868.
  29. ^ "Soldier's Monument". The New Mexican. 9 June 1868.
  30. ^ a b Chacon, Daniel (19 June 2020). "Demonstration and Celebration". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  31. ^ a b Grimes, Ronald (1992). Symbol and Conquest, Public Ritual and Drama in Santa Fe. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 47–50. ISBN 08263-1372-8.
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  34. ^ Journal of the Legislative Council of the Territory of New Mexico, Of the Session Begun and Held in thee City of Santa fe, Territory of New Mexico, on Monday the Third Day of December, A. D. One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-Six it being the Sixteenth Legislative Assembly for the Said Territory. Santa Fe: Manderfield & Tucker. 1867. pp. 21–23. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
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  45. ^ Wilson, Chris (1997). The Myth of Santa Fe, Creating a Modern Regional Tradition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 315–317. ISBN 978-0826317469.
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  48. ^ Wilson, C. (1997);The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition (Albuquerque, NM:University of New Mexico Press)
  49. ^ LaFarge, Oliver (14 February 1960). "Record Put Straight on Odd Folk-lore of Misinformation". The New Mexican. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  50. ^ Johnson, Spud (1 July 1961). "Gadfly Solves Obelisk Problem". The New Mexican. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  51. ^ ""Savage" Not Easily Removed from Monument". Las Vegas Optic. 10 August 1973. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
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  55. ^ ""Savage" Indian an Honor?". The New Mexican. 25 November 1973. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  56. ^ Terrell, Steve (August 9, 2000). "City councilor agrees wording on monument is objectionable". Santa Fe New Mexican.
  57. ^ ChacEon, Daniel (June 18, 2020). "Activists protesting controversial statues turn focus to Santa Fe Plaza obelisk". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  58. ^ Chacón, Daniel; Martinez, Amanda (19 June 2020). "Demonstration and Celebration: Plaza event embraces reconciliation as city moves to remove controversial monuments". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  59. ^ Chacón, Daniel; Martinez, Amanda (19 June 2020). "Demonstration and Celebration: Plaza event embraces reconciliation as city moves to remove controversial monuments". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  60. ^ a b Steinberg, Dave (10 August 1974). "Police Search for Vandal of Monument in Santa Fe". Albuquerque Journal. Archived from the original on 15 October 2020. Retrieved 13 October 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  61. ^ A Long Time Coming, 2020-06-18
  62. ^ Gerstein, Michael (27 December 2020). "Obelisk monument (article continued, page C-8)". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  63. ^ Bennett, Megan; Oswald, Mark (19 August 2017). "Santa Fe to review markers, monuments". Albuquerque Journal (North). Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  64. ^ Last, T.S. (12 October 2020). "Native American activists tear down Santa Fe obelisk". Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  65. ^ Attanasio, Cedar; Fonseca, Felicia (12 October 2020). "Protesters topple monument in Santa Fe Plaza, part of Indigenous Peoples Day demonstration". Las Cruces Sun News. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  66. ^ Haywood, Phaedra. "A year later, Santa Fe obelisk fallout remains". Santa Fe New Mexican.
  67. ^ Caté, Ricardo. "The obelisk is down; now we pick up the pieces". Santa Fe New Mexican.
  68. ^ Sides, Hampton. "After the obelisk: We can do better". Santa Fe New Mexican.
  69. ^ "New arrest made in Santa Fe obelisk destruction". KRQE News 13 Albuquerque - Santa Fe. February 19, 2021. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  70. ^ Haywood, Phaedra (March 2, 2021). "Judge finds probable cause to try gallery owner in Santa Fe obelisk destruction". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  71. ^ Proctor, Jeff (2022-02-15). "Four Restored". Santa Fe Reporter. Archived from the original on 2022-02-17. Retrieved 2022-02-20.

35°41′14.7474″N 105°56′18.6714″W / 35.687429833°N 105.938519833°W / 35.687429833; -105.938519833

External media[edit]

External videos
video icon The toppling videographed by then Albuquerque Journal reporter Joni Auden Land, Twitter video
External videos
video icon The toppling videographed as part of KOAT 7 reportage, YouTube video