Late in the summer of 1670, five traders crossed what is now called the Jornada del Muerto on their way to present-day Chihuahua. One of them strayed from the group and soon called out that he had found human remains. After taking a look, one of the men declared they were the remains of Bernardo Gruber, a German merchant who was wanted by the Holy Office of the Inquisition for witchcraft.
Gruber's story has perplexed today's historians as much as it did his contemporaries. Did he commit a crime against the church and religion? Did the place names of the Jornada del Muerto (Dead Man's Journey) and the ghost town of Alemán (the German) come from his death along the arid terrain as he attempted to escape the Inquisition?
Dr. Joseph P. Sánchez, director of UNM's Spanish Colonial Research Center, explores the case against Gruber and his daring flight from his accusers when he delivers the 2011 Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture, "Death Along the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, 1670: The Bernardo Gruber Story." The lecture takes places at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, in the History Museum Auditorium. Attendance is free to members of the Palace Guard; $5 others. Come early: There are no reservations, and seating is limited.
The case against Gruber began with his arrest "by order of the Holy Office of the Inquisition" in April 1668, based on an accusation that he had given church-goers a magic formula to protect them from harm. From his grazing site in the community of Quaraí in the Manzano Mountains, Gruber was taken to a cell in Abó, where he was held for two years before plotting his ill-fated escape.
With the discovery of Gruber's body, his contemporaries considered the story closed. But it quietly resurfaced in New Mexico lore, and the name Jornada del Muerto has haunted every colonial and modern map of New Mexico since. It became one of hundreds of stories that emerged from the development of the Camino Real between Santa Fe and Mexico City.
Sanchez wrote about Gruber - one of the last colonists accused by the Inquisition before the Pueblo Revolt - in his Albuquerque Museum History Monograph, The Rio Abajo Frontier: 1540-1692. Superintendent of Petroglyph National Monument as well as the Spanish Colonial Research Center, Sanchez is founder and editor of the Colonial Latin American Historical Review. He has written on the history of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Utah and Northern Mexico. His forthcoming book, compiled and edited with Bruce A. Erickson is From Mexico City to Santa Fe: A Historical Dictionary of Geographic Place Names along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, to be released late this summer.
He has taught at the University of Arizona, University of New Mexico, Santa Ana College in Southern California, and the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara in Mexico. In April 2005, he was inducted into the prestigious knighthood order of the Orden de Isabel la Católica by King Juan Carlos of Spain. In 2006, he was appointed to the History Commission of the Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia headquartered in Mexico City and affiliated with the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C.
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