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The Lincoln Canes

The Lincoln Canes
I carry a lot of jewelry from Santo Domingo (Kewa) and other Pueblos along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The Nineteen Pueblos in New Mexico were built by descendants of Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and other cliff dwellers starting around 800 A.D. Unlike the nomadic Plains tribes and the government created reservations, the Pueblo people have lived for hundreds of years on their land. When the southwest was under Spanish rule the Pueblos were given land grants.

“New Mexico’s first Indian agent, James S. Calhoun, recognized the special problem created with the push west by settlers as early as 1849. He informed Washington that the industrious Pueblos were model subjects and urged that they be extended voting rights and that their land grants, given by Spain, be protected. The last point was particularly important, because the Indians, holding some of the best-irrigated agricultural lands in the territory, were constantly bothered by trespassers and squatters. The U.S. Surveyor General did confirm original Pueblo grants after 1854, a ruling reaffirmed by Congress. But the duty of the federal government to intervene actively to protect Pueblo Indian lands from encroachment, the policy Spain had pursued, would not be recognized until 1913.

By and large, the Pueblos had to wait until the opening decades of the twentieth century before much notice was taken of them, but Abraham Lincoln offered one small gesture acknowledging their existence in 1863. As early as 1620, the Spanish government had presented silver-tipped canes, or staffs of justice, to the Pueblo Indian governors as a symbol of authority. The canes, carefully preserved, continued to be passed down from one official to another long after Spain had given up her hold on New Mexico. President Lincoln, hearing of the custom and wishing to honor the Pueblos for remaining neutral during the Civil War, prepared a new set of canes, each with a silver crown upon which was engraved the name of the pueblo, the date of 1863, and the signature "A. Lincoln". These gifts were honored alongside the original Spanish staffs. Even today, when the Pueblos inaugurate their governors each January 1, both canes are ceremoniously conveyed to the new officials.”

From: New Mexico Museum of Art Tells New Mexico History: Statehood

There is a wonderful documentary film titled “Canes of Power” that tells the story of Pueblo sovereignty along the Rio Grande. It is at once a fascinating history lesson and a passionate argument for Native Americans’ control over their own destiny. I highly recommend it.
  • Post author
    Georgia Fischel