Picturesque, Romantic, Practical
Selling Santa Fe at the 1883 Tertio-Millennial Exposition
By James E. Snead
Susan Elston Wallace was not impressed with Santa Fe.
“It is the small boast of the citizens of this place that this is the oldest city in the U.S.,” she wrote a cousin in March 1879. But the town itself resembled “nothing so much as a collection of brick kilns.” The wife of Territorial Governor Lew Wallace, she had come West from Indiana under protest, bringing along the preconceptions of her time and class. Nonetheless, the historic associations seen in the streets and countryside exerted a subtle appeal. “Still,” she concluded, “we must not despise adobe. Babylon was built of it.”
Santa Fe as experienced by Elston Wallace was deep in the throes of an identity crisis. Bypassed by the railroad and with the local mining industry failing, the city’s business elite struggled to promote the town and its assets. In The Myth of Santa Fe, Chris Wilson called these circumstances “boosterism in the face of decline.” Dire economic news was compounded by pervasive bias against Hispanos, Native Americans, and the Catholic Church. Despite vigorous defense, racist diatribes in the national press complicated any effort to tout the city as a tourist destination. Any promotional campaign would have to skillfully weave business and culture together.
Efforts by Santa Fe’s business community to “boost” the town in the 1880s were an early attempt to establish what came to be called the “three cultures” myth. Indigenous and Hispano heritage were recast as positive cultural assets. In effect, this approach attempted to counter prejudice—and make the region more economically attractive—by embracing cultural differences, stripping them of their nineteenth-century context and wrapping them in Eurocentric romance. Such a strategy allowed the Anglo territorial elite to position themselves as heirs to such refashioned history.
In November of 1882, Santa Fe’s Board of Trade turned away from a plan to build a new smelter in favor of a new promotional scheme. In the words of Arthur Boyle, secretary of the organization, the idea was to host an event but one that would not simply be “an agricultural fair, or a mining exposition. These things are all the same,” he opined. As for a theme, a “prominent railroad man” had “suggested a celebration recalling the customs of the Aztecs, the ancient games of the inhabitants of the country in the early days.” Others in the room offered a “tri-centennial of the European occupancy of Santa Fe.” A committee was established under Boyle’s guidance, with a mandate to “lose no time.”
Arthur Boyle’s English accent and unusual history would have made him a distinctive character on the streets of Santa Fe. Born in Staffordshire, he had come to Santa Fe as the husband of Blanche Blackmore, whose family had extensive real estate holdings in the American West. Boyle, identified by The Santa Fe New Mexican as “Santa Fe’s enterprising capitalist,” dabbled in various schemes and identified himself as “Agent for British and Australian Investors.” He was a fixture on the numerous civic boards and committees that “improved” the town.
After some deliberation, the exposition was dubbed Tertio-Millennial, signifying the passage of 333 years since the (incorrect) date Santa Fe was “founded.” It would demonstrate that Santa Fe offered “attractions to the capitalist, to the invalid, to the business man,” and induce “capital and immigration… to flow into the Territory to an extent which no other measure would equal.” The committee giddily estimated an attendance of 100,000 visitors. Their mandate was to deliver an event that—as described in the pages of the Lincoln County Leader—would be “picturesque, romantic, practical!”
The American public had felt the appeal of “expositions” since at least 1876, with the huge success of the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia. In the Western states and territories, where competition for capital and immigration was keen, such celebrations offered the chance to tout local resources and achievements. Denver’s “Mining and Industrial Exposition,” inaugurated in 1881, demonstrated the potential of expositions to draw tourists and promote economic growth.
New Mexico’s participation in expositions had been modest. A collection of Indigenous ceramics, textiles, and antiquities intended for Philadelphia was displayed in Santa Fe in 1874 and included a Navajo blanket with “1776 U.S.A. 1876” woven into the fabric. These materials were ultimately dispersed, and a plan to take “a large delegation of Indian chiefs” to the Centennial collapsed. Lack of funding doomed the Territorial commission and associated county advisory boards.
It was only with the Denver Exposition of 1882 that the business community in Santa Fe grew alert to the opportunity of such events. New Mexico’s representative was Judge W.B. Sloan, a newspaperman and correspondent for The New Mexican, who traveled the Territory, cajoling cooperation and specimens from the mining districts. The seeds of the Tertio were clearly planted in Denver, perhaps by Judge Sloan himself, who was one of Boyle’s colleagues on the Board of Trade.
A variety of tasks faced Boyle’s Tertio committee. Subscriptions were solicited, excursion rates arranged, color brochures drafted and printed. A joint stock company was established in the anticipation that the Tertio-Millennial might ultimately prove profitable. But the most critical element of the program—promotion—was already in capable hands.
L. Bradford Prince was one of Santa Fe’s most skillful boosters. A New York politician who had been appointed as Chief Justice of New Mexico’s Supreme Court, Prince had recently resigned from that position in an unsuccessful effort to gain the Republican nomination for Territorial Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. In early 1883 he was in the East, pondering his political future, which was entangled in the fortunes of his adopted home. For Prince, the success of the Tertio-Millennial Exposition had both personal and civic implications.
Prince began the Tertio-Millennial campaign via a “conversation” arranged with a reporter from the New-York Tribune. Over the next six weeks, this interview and others like it were reprinted across the country. While in New York, Prince also boosted New Mexico in his capacity as president of the Immigration Bureau, setting up shop in an office on Broadway to dispense information and advice. Described as “a free and easy talker, and fully in love with the Southwest,” Prince proved a talented ambassador for the cause.
By the time he returned to Santa Fe in March, the exposition grounds had been demarcated around the old Territorial Capitol building—a stone structure that had languished unfinished for years only two blocks north of the Plaza. Some of the building’s space would be roofed for office and exhibit space, and a “grandstand” for performances was also installed within the walls.
That Territorial Capitol remained unfinished. After a new structure was built across the river, elements of the older building were reconstituted as a courthouse, today the Santiago Campos U.S. Courthouse on Federal Place.
Bids were solicited for an additional, temporary building in an “Alhambra or Moorish style of architecture.” Preparing the grounds required developing a system to supply water for fountains, fire prevention, an ornamental lake, and thirsty tourists. Pipes for gas lamps would also be required. A racetrack one-third of a mile long was planned; indeed, the curiously oval walkway wrapping around the present-day courthouse and the main post office traces the Tertio’s racetrack, but all other vestiges have been erased.
Women were distinctly absent from the Tertio’s organizing committee. This had not been the case elsewhere; women and had been deeply involved in assembling Colorado’s collections sent to Philadelphia, and had organized the art exhibits at the Denver Exposition. Any roles taken by Blanche Blackmore Boyle, Mary Prince, and others among the Santa Fe elite in planning for the Tertio-Millennial were either elided by the organizers themselves or ignored by newspaper coverage.
Boyle hoped to delegate much of
the planning to Charles W. Greene, who came up from the mining town of Lake
Valley to take the position of “general manager.” The two men spent the spring holding meetings throughout the Territory. Local audiences were assured that promoting Santa Fe would have benefit beyond the city limits, and wide participation was encouraged.
Making the Tertio “work,” however, required cultural entrepreneurs who were already invested in promoting the image of the Southwest. Some—like Judge Sloan—emerged from a floating class of newspapermen, already adept at the mechanics of promotion itself. Greene had only recently been editor of The New Mexican itself, having departed to establish the Lake Valley Tribune. He was described as understanding “exactly the relation which judicious advertising bears to the celebration.” Among other tactics, Greene sent complimentary tickets to newspapers across the country, which garnered favorable publicity, if not necessarily greater attendance. “Subscriptions will have to come in a little thicker before we can go way out there,” apologized the editor of West Virginia’s Shepherdstown Register.
Collectors and curio dealers were the foremost boosters of Southwestern history and culture, and they were tapped in support of the Tertio. Arrangements for Indian dances also required the skills of cultural entrepreneurs. Such events were increasingly common in Santa Fe; in April, two different curiosity shops on San Francisco Street hosted dancers from San Ildefonso and Tesuque for tourists in the hotels. These communities were relatively close to Santa Fe, but additional recruits were sought, including Matachines dancers from Taos. Indian “agents” among the Apaches, such as W.H.H. Llewelyn, promised to assist. Dancers from Zuni were particularly desired, and so Tertio organizers contacted the mercurial Frank Hamilton Cushing for assistance.
The debate over Cushing began shortly after he arrived at Zuni in 1879—and continues today. Considered a genius by his mentors in the then-new field of ethnology, cozened by patrons, and reviled by many for his pretensions to cultural authority, he occupied a central node in the evolving relationship between Indigenous and Euro-American perspectives. Phil Hughte’s A Zuni Artist Looks at Frank Hamilton Cushing presents a sharply humorous community perspective on the pueblo’s unwanted guest.
By 1883, the “Smithsonian young man” had achieved some prominence in territorial and national circles, in particular via articles published in The Century and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Adolph Bandelier stayed with Cushing at Zuni that spring and was delighted by the information his colleague had acquired. But he also described resistance to Cushing within the pueblo, noting—prophetically—that his “enthusiasm might take him too far.”
Extensive plans for commercial exhibits were unveiled. Philadelphia’s Best Brewing Company promised to send “an immense bottle, made from the ordinary bottles of their celebrated beer.” Purveyors of pianos, agricultural implements, undertaker’s supplies, and an “automatic gold panning machine” would all be present. Hopes were also raised for more modest exhibitors at the Tertio. One Harry Gosney of Albuquerque gained permission for a lemonade stand, although the Albuquerque Journal suggested that Gosney—perhaps disillusioned about opportunities in the territory—planned to retreat east once the event was over.
The Tertio-Millennial Exposition opened with a flourish on July 2, 1883. Early visitors witnessed Mme. Rosette’s highwire act and a Zuni footrace. The temporary building, having survived a windstorm a few weeks earlier, proved adequate shelter for decor that placed “the visitor in a happy frame of mind.” The first notable delegation to attend, arriving by train that evening, was “a visiting party of Missouri and Kansas commercial men” and their families, heralding the economic ambitions of the fair’s sponsors.
The organizing committee set up shop in the newly roofed section of the old capitol building, along with the “antiquities department.” By the early 1880s the term “cliff-dwellers” had joined “Aztecs” as popular (and grossly inaccurate) references to the ancient inhabitants of the Southwest. “The cliff-dwellers,” noted The New Mexican, “will not be present at the Tertio-Millennial,” but their artifacts were well-represented. Competitions of all kinds were scheduled, including a “burro race” for boys and a skills challenge pitting the various “hose companies” of the territory against each other.
July Fourth featured a grand parade led by Territorial Governor Lionel L. Sheldon. Marching bands, mounted troops, and carriages filled with dignitaries wound down Palace Avenue, past the cathedral, and on along San Francisco Street before returning to the grounds, where Prince and Rafael Romero gave speeches in English and Spanish. The afternoon featured a competitive drill. Events culminated in a public ball, a banquet, and “the greatest display of fireworks ever seen west of the Missouri River.”
If women were underrepresented among the Tertio’s planners, they were engaged in the fair itself at every level. One of the more successful commercial exhibits was the “Art Parlor” managed by photographer Frances Emma Luse Albright. It was somewhat of a family affair for the women of the Luse family. Sarah Luse Larimer had taken up the trade during the 1860s, working all across the high plains. Albright began her own career in photography in the mid-1870s in Elk County, Kansas. She set up shop in Santa Fe in 1881, when her husband, John G. Albright, took over the local Santa Fe Democrat. “Mrs. Albright’s Art Parlor” removed to Albuquerque in 1882, but she returned to the Tertio with acclaim. Assisted by her younger sister Nettie, Albright took portraits of many of the visitors to the fair, including babies, Territorial legislators, mining commissioners, and General Manager C.W. Greene himself.
Another enterprising woman who garnered attention at
the Tertio was Nellie Boyd of Nellie Boyd’s Dramatic Company. One of the West’s
premier traveling theater groups, the company had been contracted for the
duration. Melodramas like A Celebrated Case, Miss Multon,
The Planter’s Wife, and Led Astray
were staged for the Santa Fe audience. The company marched in the July Fourth
New Mexican described
Boyd’s performances as “chaste and refined,” urging residents to
“patronize the company and encourage them to visit again.”
Women visited from throughout the country, often together or in small family groups. Laura Thomas of Emporia, Kansas, traveled to Santa Fe with her niece, Pearl Stuckey. According to her hometown Weekly News-Democrat, “Miss Thomas has earned this respite from… her position in the City Book store, and we trust she may enjoy it to the fullest possible extent.” That such “average” tourists made the effort to visit Santa Fe demonstrates that the promotional industry of Prince and others had reached some of the intended audience.
Events associated with the Tertio demonstrated a tactful weaving-together of myth and romantic fancy to establish a historical narrative of Santa Fe calibrated for audience appeal. In light of kneejerk bias, particular care was taken to project a positive image of the Territory’s Indigenous communities. The circular announcing the event emphasized the “respectable” history of these people as reflected by ruins in the region, casting them as “direct descendants of the Aztecs… tilling the soil and living under wholesome laws.” Indigenous history was thus whitewashed for visitors, who could enjoy the fair and ignore troubling issues facing this community in contemporary context. A different bias thus emerged: framing Native American history as economically and spiritually exploitable, apt for use to the benefit of Anglo settlers.
The most complex myth-making
at the Tertio was a three-day “street pageant,” offering a fanciful version of
history to the public. With the support of “Madame Purcell” of St. Louis, who arrived with fifteen trunks loaded with costumes, participants took on the roles of characters from the city’s past, with pronouncements and presentations to highlight “general progress and advancement” over time. On the evening of July 21, a “Knight’s Court” was held for an estimated 500 guests to capitalize on the romantic imagery. The costumes were perhaps the greatest attraction, loaned to the participants and used for dress balls held during the summer. Eventually Madame Purcell, hoping to return to St. Louis, had to publish advertisements in the papers imploring that the costumes be returned.
Some paid attention to the careful image-building of the exposition. The Leavenworth Standard published five dispatches from a special correspondent, “Tranquillo,” whose perspective contrasted with the casual racism and anti-Semitism of other witnesses. “Mingling and blending of ancient civilizations with modern refinement and culture interest me more than the rocks, the carbonate, the story of the shafts,” he observed. He wondered from what he saw in Santa Fe “whether the Indians of… New Mexico would not have been in better condition had they never seen a white man.”
Observers who traveled a greater distance were also attracted by the Indigenous cultures on display. The New-York Tribune devoted several paragraphs to describing the dances. Cushing, who found time for several interviews, provided complementary interpretation. As intriguing as such events were, however, the Tribune’s reporter remarked that “it does not appear that the irrigation of New Mexico’s soil by eastern capitalists has been materially enhanced by thirty-three days of Indian dances and horseracing.”
As July wore on, Tranquillo also grew more skeptical
about the Tertio’s “success,” writing: “The want of attendance is
deplorable, humiliating, grievous, especially when it is the fact that the exhibition is a good one.”
Not all of his Kansas associates agreed. “It only takes about 15 minutes to view the town and the ancient wonders that have accumulated there in the past 333 years,” noted a letter in the Halstead Times. “Truly Santa Fe would take the cake for the greatest humbug of ’83.”
The Tertio-Millennial Exposition officially closed on August 5. Within a few weeks, boys and girls of the neighborhood could be seen “paddling around” the ornamental lake. Some of their peers amused themselves by breaking the windows of the empty exhibit building, which was gradually dismantled and re-used for other projects, including as a roller-skating rink on Palace Avenue. The grounds slowly evolved into an informal park, with benches for strollers and a baseball field. Efforts to convert the unfinished capitol building into an Indian School were debated, but never realized.
Predictably, no profit was realized from the Tertio, leaving Boyle and the other stockholders scrambling to pay bills. Bradford Prince had taken the opportunity to publish a widely advertised history of New Mexico, although his financial gains were uncertain. Some entrepreneurs vanished, but others turned their Tertio experience into a more lengthy engagement with fairs and expositions. Mrs. Albright returned to Albuquerque, but—as “Franc Luse Albright”—went on to exhibit photographs in the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and serve as one of the Territorial Commissioners.
If it was difficult to evaluate the impact of the Tertio-Millennial on national perceptions of Santa Fe, the legacy of the Exposition for residents of the town itself was profound. Not yet “Santa Fe Style,” the impact of Tertio on the town’s identity was dramatic. The “three cultures” myth proved to be a powerful promotional tool, embellished thereafter via literature, pageants, and countless related attractions. The manipulation of Hispano and Indigenous culture for such commercial ends shaped the idea of Santa Fe, but more than a century was to pass before the cost of such appropriation for these communities themselves was to be reckoned by Anglo culture in any significant way.
It is thus the written record that best captures the significance of the Tertio in context. The New Mexican Review summed it up a week after the gates closed: “It was an experiment,” the paper noted. “Dealing with the past as well as the present… a complete historical picture… of a land whose past is full of strange and romantic incidents…. These are the peculiar features which attracted interest.”
James E. Snead is professor of anthropology at California State University, Northridge. A 1980 graduate of Santa Fe High School, he is an archaeologist and historian with diverse interests concerning the U.S. Southwest.