Solomon Bibo, Jewish Indian Chief
by Sandra Lea Rollins
SOLOMON BIBO IN 1925
— Photo courtesy of Carl Bibo
IN THE MULTITUDE OF DUSTY ARCHIVE that comprise the world of the historian, many a strange and wondrous deed of man may be found on record. After one has brushed aside the cobwebs, blown off the dust, and inhaled the musty fragrance of yesterday, one is faced with the demanding chore of 'separating fact from fiction, and pride from prejudice. Every man contributes historically to the world in which he is born. The historical significance of most men, however, ends abruptly at this population statistic. One of the exceptions to this generalization was Solomon Bibo.
The Bibo family has added much to the underlying history of the old Southwest. There were several members of this family who came to this area. They were engaged in trading, mining, and ranching, surviving against the hardships that were found aplenty in the Southwest of the later nineteenth century. This land was rich in Hispanic culture, in sun, sand, and cactus, and in bands of marauding Indians. The Bibos were drawn to this land as many before them, and many after them would be, by the call of El Dorado. Solomon Bibo came west to join his brothers in this quest.
The following is the life of Solomon Bibo and the story of why he stands apart from the hundreds of other pioneers of his time. It is the story of a Jewish immigrant who became an Indian chief in the Territory of New Mexico.
Solomon Bibo was born at midnight, on August 29, 1853, in Brakel, Westphalia, Prussia. He was the sixth of eleven children born to Blumchen and Isak Bibo. There is very little available information on Solomon's early life in Prussia. It is known, however, that his father was a cantor and a teacher. So one may assume that Solomon received religious instruction and a good education for his time. The only other known fact is that he received training in mercantile practices.
In 1869, Solomon obtained his father's consent to petition the Prussian government for permission to leave the country. On April 27, he received the necessary document granting his request. This document also contained the forfeiture of his Prussian citizenship. On October 8, he was issued his passport and on October 16, 1869, Solomon Bibo, sixteen years old, set sail for the United States.
Solomon left his native land for many reasons: to seek greater religious freedom; to look for business opportunities; to avoid Prussian conscription; and maybe most important of all, to seek El Dorado. This El Dorado he sought was not to find gold literally, but to find a gold mine of chance and opportunity, and a kind of freedom unknown in Europe in the nineteenth century. He was not the first of his family to make this arduous journey. He had been preceded by his maternal grandfather, some fifty-seven years before.
In 1812, Lukas Rosenstein left his native Prussia and the turmoil of Napoleonic Europe to come to America. He left to avoid army conscription. Rosenstein spent the next eight years of his life in the United States. In 1820, he returned to Prussia to marry his childhood sweetheart, with the intention of bringing her back to his new land. The young bride, however, could not be convinced to leave her family and friends to make the long, dangerous journey, to settle in a strange new country. So the Lukas Rosensteins remained in Prussia. 1 On December 27, 1822, they had their first child. This child, Blumchen, was the future mother of Solomon Bibo. 2
In 1843, Blumchen Rosenstein married Isak Bibo, and in May, 1844, gave birth to her first child, Nathan. Of the Bibos' eleven children, ten lived to maturity. The early years of the older Bibo children were greatly influenced by their grandfather. Lukas Rosenstein had never returned to the United States, but the years he had spent there had left a very marked impression on him. It was through his reminiscing and storytelling that. he was able to pass on to his children and grandchildren, his great love for America. Another influential factor was the news of other Prussian Jewish families who had found opportunity and success in the new world. Among these was the Spiegelberg family, personal friends of the Bibos, and now quite successfully engaged in mercantile trade in and around the Santa Fe area.
About 1860, Joseph Rosenstein, the youngest son of Lukas, became the second member of the family to come to America. Joseph, unlike his father who had remained on the East Coast, arrived in New York and immediately journeyed west to settle in the Santa Fe area. It is probable that he was acquainted with the Spielgelbergs and 'sought them out for employment and advice. Joseph Rosenstein died only five years after his arrival. He was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Santa Fe.
In 1866, Nathan and Simon, the two oldest Bibo children, also journeyed to the new world. Simon immediately continued west, but Nathan stayed in the East long enough to master the English language. In 1867, he joined his brother in Santa Fe. At first, the Bibo brothers were employed by the Spielgelbergs, but soon, by seizing the right opportunities, they were on their own.
It was not long before they became involved with the Indians of the area. They saw the opportunity to help the Indians, combined with the chance of making a profit for themselves. By 1869-70, they owned a trading post in Cebolleta and were. (Simon in particular) closely involved with the Navajos of that area: This was the land to which Solomon Bibo came. He arrived in New York and remained there only long enough .to secure transportation to the western frontier and to his brothers. Upon reaching New Mexico he joined them in business and was a partner for the next few years.
Like his brothers, Solomon, too, became interested in the affairs of the local Indians. Through his trade negotiations, he became closely associated with Acoma Pueblo and the governor, or chief of this pueblo, Martin Valle. It was through these associations that Solomon became interested in the land problems of the Acomans.
Solomon Bibo became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1875. He never completely mastered the English language, but he did speak Spanish quite well and through his trade with the Indians, he became fluent in the Keres language of Acoma. This in itself was a feat which few white men could claim at that time.
Acoma Pueblo was one of the most difficult for the white man to deal with. The Acomans had been trying for years to regain land taken from them under Spanish rule. This land question was one of many problems inherited by the United States under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848. For the most part, the Acomans were distrustful and bitter toward all white men, an attitude which can be traced to the slaughter of the ancestors of these Indians in 1599, by the men of Juan de Onate, conqueror of New Mexico. This long remembered attack, coupled with the lack of satisfaction with the white man's efforts in solving their land problems, indicates that Solomon must have been of a special breed of man to have won the friendship and confidence of Acoma Pueblo.
In 1882-83, Solomon was granted a license to open a trading post at the Acoma village. He had petitioned for this license several times, but the Department of the Interior did not grant it immediately, possibly because Solomon had tried previously to help Acoma, and had earned the reputation of a troublemaker for the Department. 3
A government survey was made of the Acoma grant in 1876. The Indians were not pleased with the results, however, and through Solomon's help were able to petition for, and receive another survey in 1877. The second survey pleased them no more than the first. Bibo and the Acomans petitioned once more and this time were rewarded with a government investigation in 1881.4
At this time, Pedro Sanchez was Indian agent of the area and acted as official interpreter for the government in this investigation. However, his mastery of the Acoma language left much room for improvement. Sanchez appeared on all but the last day of the investigation.
The Indians were asked to delineate their boundaries on the government map. This, of course, was quite hard to accomplish for two reasons. First, the language barrier presented a difficulty, as there was bound to be something lost when translating Acoma to Spanish to English. Solomon's attempted intervention on behalf of the Acomans in this situation, earned for him the reputation of a meddling Jew with the authorities, and did not help the Indians at all. Second, the single most important heritage of any tribe of American Indians was their land. They knew the exact boundaries of what was considered their tribal land. This information was not on any map, nor were there necessarily any physical boundary markers, since this was part of tribal knowledge which was passed on verbally to each generation. The Acomans were no exception to this tradition. They knew exactly how much land they owned and where the boundaries were, but to put this information on a white man's map was difficult. The Acomans were unable to say how many miles it was from one boundary to the next, as the Indians at this time, did not deal in distance by miles. 5 Had the government men been willing to ride the circumference of the land with the Acomans, the Indians could have easily pointed out their boundaries. The officials would not do this, however. The results of the 1881 investigation left Acoma no better off than before, as the government declared that the grant must stand on the basis of the 1877 survey.6
Bibo continued his efforts on behalf of the Acomans and in 1884, was able to get the government to reopen the grant question. This time, the Department of the Interior issued a patent to the Acomans, in order to close the door to any further efforts they might try to make. This action was recommended by Benjamin Thomas, the local superintendent of Indian affairs. Thomas was unable to do anything at all with the Acomans, and was bitter toward Solomon Bibo because of the latter's friendship with these Indians.
In that same year, 1884, Solomon signed a thirtyyear grazing lease with the pueblo.7 His lease was for the entire Acoma patent of approximately 95,000 acres, and was to prove to be one of the most confusing and controversial acts of his life.
The contract was drawn up by Bernard Rodey, one of the most prominent attorneys in Albuquerque at that time. Martin Valle, governor (chief) of the pueblo, entered into the contract with the alleged consent of the entire pueblo. The contract stipulated that Solomon Bibo or his agents would pay the pueblo a sum of $300.00 per year for the first ten years, $400.00 per year for the second ten years, and $500.000 per year for the final ten years, making a total of $12,000.00 the pueblo was to receive over a thirty-year period. The lease further stated that Bibo would keep all squatters, cattle rustlers, and stray cattle off the leased land, and that he would be responsible for the well-being of all Acoma cattle. Bibo was also granted mining rights to the land, and agreed to pay ten cents per ton for any coal that was taken out. One final important condition of this lease stipulated that Bibo could at any time sell his interest in this lease to a third party. The contract was legally signed and witnessed on April 7, 1884. Governor Martin Valle, being unable to read or write, made his mark, thus leasing the Acoma Pueblo land for thirty years.
Solomon soon sold his interest in the lease to the Acoma Land and Cattle Company.8
In the interim, Indian Agent Pedro Sanchez, had heard of this business deal between Bibo and the pueblo, and between the land company and Bibo, and considered it a violation of Bibo's trading license, and also illegal. Sanchez wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on June 4, asking to be advised on the situation. The Department of the Interior took immediate steps to revoke Solomon's license. On July 21, however, they received a petition from the pueblo asking that Bibo be allowed to remain as their trader.9
Solomon Bibo retained his trader's license, but the government filed suit against him on behalf of the pueblo, and on November 4, 1884, Bibo was subpoenaed to appear in court.10 The case was involved, and it was four years before the matter was adjudicated in a federal court. The government stated that Solomon Bibo had entered into the contract without the common consent of the pueblo. They said he was defrauding the Indians for personal profit. An affidavit from Governor (chief) Martin Valle was produced stating that he understood the contract to be for three years and not thirty.
The government requested a meeting of the principal members of the pueblo, and asked them if they had consented to this grazing lease. Their answer was negative. The United States Indian Inspector signed a statement declaring that Bibo got this lease for practically nothing and had soon sold it for a profit. He further stated that the lease was clearly a fraud. Solomon Bibo, seemingly, did enter into this contract for the sole purpose of selling his interest to the Acoma Land and Cattle Company.
Fifty-three days after he signed the lease with the Acoma Pueblo, Bibo sold his interest to the company for the sum of one dollar. On the same date, however, Bibo also sold to this company two parcels of land that he owned adjoining the western boundary of the Acoma grant. He received $16,000.00 for this property. Solomon's brother, Nathan, likewise sold the company a piece of property on that same date for the sum of $1,000.00.11
These three parcels of land comprised approximately three hundred and twenty acres, and were good grazing land with an adequate supply of water. The water supply was an important factor on the unfenced range of the frontier. Bibo had sold his own land and the Indian land lease for the sum of $16,001.00. Thus, Acoma Pueblo had sold the use of their land indirectly to the cattle company for the sum of $12,000.00, to be doled out over a thirty-year period.
Bibo was required by the Acoma Land and Cattle Company to put up a bond of $40,000.00 to insure continuance of the lease. The company used the land for seven or eight years and then went bankrupt. The lease reverted to Solomon Bibo, and he used it until it terminated.
A court decision was finally reached in 1888:
... a suit must be brought directly by their (the 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. 12
It took four years to determine that the government could not sue on behalf of the Indians if the Indians did not wish to sue. Bibo was thus legally cleared of the accusation of defrauding the Indians for personal profit. By the time the case had been concluded, the Department of the Interior had appointed W. C. Williams as the new Indian agent for the Pueblos. To pacify the situation and to eliminate any possible repercussions in the future, Agent Williams appointed Solomon Bibo the new governor or chief of the Acoma Pueblo. The text of the appointing document is as follows:
Pueblo Agency Acoma, October 9, 1888
To the people of the Pueblo of Acoma, having confidence in the ability, integrity and fidelity of Solomon Bibo, and by virtue of the authority vested 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 my order and I also appoint Junice Sanches Kasique, in place of Antonio, dismissed.
[Signed] W. C. Williams, U. S. Indian Agent
The office of governor, or more specifically, the title of governor among the Pueblo Indians, can be traced to the arrival of the Spanish. As Onate came north along the Rio Grande Valley in 1598, he went through the ceremony of passing out a rod of office to the chief of each Pueblo. Onate did not change the power structure of the Pueblos, only the title of chief to governor.l3
BIBO AND TRIBAL OFFICERS IN THE 1880's
Chief Solomon Bibo, shown standing at the extreme right foreground,
with his Acoma tribal officers. Pedro Sanchez, Indian Agent, is shown
second from left.
— Photo courtesy of Carl Bibo
Thus, it was that in 1888, a Jewish immigrant became an American Indian chief. Moreover, there is some indication that Bibo had been chief prior to 1888. On the top of an old photograph, in his own handwriting, Bibo states that he was governor in 1885 and 1886.14
There is, however, some question concerning his governorship for part of the year 1885. On May 1 of that year, Solomon Bibo married Juana Valle. His bride was the granddaughter of the old governor of the Pueblo, Martin Valle. By this marriage, Bibo and his heirs were received forever as children of the Pueblo. This marriage probably helped his case against the government, because he was now officially a member of the Pueblo. In any event, one of the witnesses to his marriage signed as Jose Berendo, governor of Acoma.15
Solomon Bibo married Juana Valle on two different occasions: first, on May 1, 1885, in an Indian ceremony at Acoma, and the second, on August 30, 1885, in a civil ceremony before Justice of the Peace, Juan F. Montana.
In June, 1898, Charles F. Lummis, editor of The Land of Sunshine, visited Acoma Pueblo, and in an article concerning his visit, printed in August, 1898, he states:
. . . and my friend Solomon Bibo (who married into the tribe, has been six times its governor, speaks the Queres language better than any white man ever did, and has done more for his Pueblo than all of the Indian Agents in a lump) 16
A nephew of Solomon's, Arthur Bibo of Albuquerque, states that "... he was elected governor on at least four different occasions" 17 Acoma Pueblo members today can point out the house were Bibo had lived, and the rooms of the old church where he had had his trading post. Even though it is very difficult to ascertain the exact number of years that Solomon Bibo held the office, there can be no questioning the historical distinction he achieved in becoming chief of the Acoma Indians. Except for this, Bibo was quite typical of the trading pioneers of his time.
Shortly after his marriage in 1885, he moved his trading post to nearby Cubero. The first four of his six children were born in this little Hispanic town. In late 1898, Bibo moved his family to San Francisco for the better education of his children.18 From that time until 1906 he was an active partner in a fine quality grocery store in San Francisco.
1. Floyd S. Fierman, THE IMPACT OP THE FRONTIER ON A JEWISH FAMILY, (Texas Western College Press, El Paso, 1961), p. 4.
2. Bibo Family Records, KOWINA Cultural Research Foundation Incorporated, Great Lava Flow, Grants, New Mexico.
3. Arthur Bibo, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Interview, October 3, 1968.
5. Donald C. Cutter, HISTORY OF THE SOUTHWEST: A Syllabus, (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico. 1968).
6. Arthur Bibo, "Solomon Bibo," unpublished manuscript, November 6, 1967.
7. Valencia County District Court Records, Book "A" 5 of Deeds and Documents, pp. 543-548.
8. The Acoma Land and Cattle Company was a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Missouri. The financial backing came from a grocery firm in Kansas City owned by Ridenaur Baker. The company representative in Albuquerque was J. E. Saint, and the foreman in the field was a Mr. Wilson.
9. Fierman, op cit., p. 14.
10. State Archives. Santa Fe, New Mexico, file numbers 574, 575.
11. Valencia County District Court Records, Books of Deeds and Documents.
12. Fierman, op. cit., p. 15.
13. This policy of the rod of office was continued into the time of the Anglo, via the so-called Lincoln cane.
14. The original photograph is in the possession of Carl Bilbo, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Carl Bibo is Solomon's youngest son.
15. Bibo Family Records, op. cit.
16. Charles F. Lummis, "Three Weeks in Wonderland," The Land of Sunshine, Los Angeles, August, 1898, p. 117.
17. Arthur Bibo, op. cit.
18. Arthur Bibo, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Interview, November 8, 1968. LeRoy Bibo, Solomon's oldest son, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Ohabai Shalome (the Bush Street Synagogue) in San Francisco, in 1912. Carl, the youngest son, attended religious school at Temple Emanu-El of San Francisco. LeRoy Bibo, Interview, February 21, 1969, Carl Bibo, Interview, March 3, 1969, by the editor.
19. LeRoy and Carl Bibo, sons of Solomon, recited Kaddish for their father at Temple Israel, San Francisco.
20. Solomon Bibo and his wife were cremated and the ashes interred at the Home of Peace Mausoleum, Colma, California.
A Western States Jewish History Anecdote
THE BONNHEIM SCHOOL -‑
THIS SCHOOL HONORS BY ITS NAME
SON OF ALBERT AND FANNIE BONNHEIM.
FOLLOWING HIS DEATH AT THE AGE OF SIXTEEN,
HIS PARENTS ENDOWED IN HIS MEMORY, IN 1897,
THE JOSEPH BONNHEIM
TO PROVIDE SCHOLARSHIPS TO AID STUDENTS OF
PROMISE PREPARE, THROUGH HIGHER EDUCATION,
FOR THAT FULL AND USEFUL LIFE DENIED THEIR
ONLY CHILD, FOR THOSE HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS
RECEIVING THESE SCHOLARSHIPS, FROM 1897 TO
COUNTLESS YEARS IN THE FUTURE, THIS PLAQUE
IS PRESENTED TO THE SCHOOL UPON THE DAY OF
ITS DEDICATION AS A GRATEFUL TRIBUTE TO THE
LOVING KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY OF
THESE BENEFACTORS OF YOUTH
SEPTEMBER 22, 1952.
-- Dedicatory inscription on the bronze plaque hanging in the hallway
of the Bonnheim Elementary School in Sacramento, California,
one of three schools in the city named for local Jewish citizens of note.