Book Review: Treasure Of The Sangre De Cristos

Treasure Of The Sangre De Cristos:  Tales And Traditions Of The Spanish Southwest, by Arthur L. Campa with paintings by Joe Beeler

I received this book on Thanksgiving by some people who were trying to get rid of books to help in de-cluttering their house, and admittedly I have been a good place for people to dump books for the entirety of my life.  At any rate, I did not have any particular expectations about this book, seeing as it is about New Mexico and the interactions of the Anglo and Spanish culture.  And yet this book still managed to be Nathanish, discussing vagabondish people meeting unpleasant ends because of misunderstandings, people with the schizoid approach of seeking company and intimacy and yet solitude and isolation, people seeking treasure of one kind or another, including bringing books with them to far flung places [1].  Again, this book is a strange sort of confirmation that when someone reads as much as I do that nearly every book, even books about places one has scarcely seen and knows little about, has the opportunity to be Nathanish because one is such a literary person to begin with.  That which we fill our lives with is what we resemble, and that is something worth considering and reflecting over.

In a couple hundred pages, the author, who appears to be some sort of New Mexico folk historian, manages to insert himself into the history that he is writing about lost treasures.  The book is a fairly loose collection of somewhat interconnected tales, but the theme that connects them is that they are treasures related to the local Spanish culture.  Fifteen “chapters” take the reader through discussions on the climate of treasure and legend, the lost mines of the Organ Mountains, treasure hunters and prospectors, the treasure of “El Chato,” the gold on smelter hill, the fate of who treasure belongs to, treasures hid in the fields, the Jesuit treasure of Bamoa, the author’s involvement in the search for treasure, the lost Dupoint mine, the growth of legends about natural phenomena, a couple chapters on the Hermit of Las Vegas, Indians and Spaniards, and heirlooms of tradition.  And although this book is perhaps a bit too self-referential it is actually a deeply enjoyable book for anyone who enjoys reading about the Spanish roots of New Mexico.

Actually, there is something worth commenting here about the historical value of the book, even for those who have no interest in prospecting for gold or silver.  The author notes that New Mexico is not the best translation of the Spanish Nuevo Mexico, but rather that the Spanish were expecting the American Southwest to be another Mexico, as full of gold and other loot as the Valley of Mexico, which is what connects these stories together of treasure seekers.  The author even manages to uncover an early collection of religious plays from the fantastic Spanish playwright Calderon.  This book ends up proving to be a treasure in all kinds of unexpected ways, by showing the roots of treasure seeking in the exploration and culture of the area, and the way that folk historians who record the traditions of others and investigate their factual basis manage to find treasures, even in the lives of eccentric and surprisingly cultured hermits and various bandits whose ill-gotten gains become the lures to future explorations and future violence.  This is the sort of book that appears rather slight on its surface but contains surprising depth about our own disinclination to work for wealth when there is the expectation in every cave or every mine of silver and gold beyond one’s comprehension or imagination, or even trunks full of valuable old books from 17th century Spain when there is no more obvious treasure to be found.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: Treasure Of The Sangre De Cristos

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Homeland And Other Stories | Edge Induced Cohesion

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