SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After decades of protest, vandalism and heated debate, the city of Santa Fe’s Mayor Alan Webber is ordering the removal of several public monuments tied to New Mexico’s historical figures and battles of the past. Signing an emergency proclamation Thursday, Mayor Webber is targeting the removal of two obelisks honoring American soldiers of the 1800’s and one statue honoring a Spanish conquistador.
The monuments include a statue of Don Diego de Vargas, an obelisk commemorating the life of Kit Carson and another obelisk honoring U.S. Union soldiers of the Civil War. In a nearly 13-minute video statement posted to Facebook Wednesday, Mayor Webber said it was time for Santa Fe to “come to terms” with its past, values and present.
“My belief is that we must take these steps now because they are the right thing to do, it is a moment of moral truth and we’ve been called to do it by our Native American colleagues, friends and family members,” Webber said. “It is long overdue.”
The Don Diego de Vargas statue was removed by city workers early Thursday morning, hours after Webber posted his online statement. For years, the statue has sat in Cathedral Park near the corner of Cathedral Place and E. Palace Avenue, next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. De Vargas was a Spanish conquistador who leads the deadly reclamation of Santa Fe territory after the Pueblo Revolt of the 1680s.
The Mayor also wants to remove the 136-year old Kit Carson Obelisk which sits in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse on S. Federal Place. The obelisk was recently spray-painted with the phrase, “stolen land.” According to an emergency proclamation, the city “shall contact the proper officials with jurisdiction over the Obelisk dedicated to Kit Carson, to determine a course of action for removal of that monument.”
The third monument slated for removal is the giant obelisk at the center of the Santa Fe Plaza. The obelisk was constructed in 1868 and features a phrase of text describing Native Americans as “savage.” In the 1970s, someone erased the word from the monument. KRQE News 13 heard from several area residents Thursday with mixed thoughts on the city’s proposal.
“We think that these are a valuable part of our history, worth preserving just like all of the other elements, not failing to recognize that this was native land way before the Spanish came here,” said Josh Gonze. “All of this is worthy of preserving, protecting and remembering.”
Lorri Noon-Beauchamp told KRQE News 13 she believes the monuments should undergo some changes. She suggested the Plaza obelisk could be turned into a fountain.
“Something that we all can enjoy,” Noon-Beauchamp said. “I just feel like to repurpose such a thing would make everyone happy.”
The obelisk on the Plaza is registered as a National Historic Landmark, a designation that may complicate its removal. Ernest Barela of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo told KRQE News 13 Thursday he felt mixed about its pending removal.
“I would hope that they would move it to a museum or somewhere instead of dismantling it,” Barela said. “When they took the name savages off … it made it that we were regular people, we weren’t savages.”
City crews aborted an effort to remove the Plaza obelisk early Thursday morning over fears they would damage it. The city now says it will “begin the legal processes for removal” for the monument on the Plaza.
Mayor Webber is promising the monuments will be reviewed by a newly created “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” which will determine if the monuments will be replaced, left alone or something else.
In 2017, former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales ordered a review of more than 60 controversial monuments, mural and public art pieces across the city. However, Mayor Webber shelved the results of the effort in 2018. Webber said at the time he was more focused on bringing the community together.