IN EL PASO!
The World's Largest Blue Horse as White Elephant
"Plutoed" is a recent dictionary entry meaning "unceremoniously relegated
to a lower position," as in the demotion of the former planet Pluto. "Plutoed"
was named word of the year for 2006 by the American Dialect Association.|
Juan de Oņate, (AKA) Juan de Oņate y Salazar was to be the official name for this
gargantuan statue that now stands outside El Paso's airport. Instead, it is slowly
becoming known simply as "The Equestrian." A noble name, yes - but too generic
for such a titanic work.
Since the name Juan de Oņate y Salazar rolls
off the tongue, Juan would probably be on the fast track to household-name-recognition
by now, if it wasn't for some pesky historical research and vandalism to another
statue in New Mexico that bears Juan's name.
Juan de O y S had been a
Spanish conquistador and explorer. His explorations in the New World extended
from modern-day Kansas to Baja California - but he is best remembered in the Southwest
as being the region's colonial governor for what was then New Spain. The term
"gauchupine" is a mild pejorative noun applied to non-Mexicans from Spain. The
name means "one who wears spurs." Americans might've become gauchupines - but
the Spanish got there first so we got stuck with "gringos." If you look closely
at the photo - you will see that the sculptor included spurs.
(formerly known as Don Juan de Oņate)
Photo courtesy Barclay
Gibson, January 2007
Why is Juan
de Oņate y Salazar famous?
it is believed that the VERY FIRST Thanksgiving in the New World, was celebrated
under Juan's authority. The date is unknown, but it is believed to have been held
some twenty years prior to the slightly more well-known feast held in New England.
When this up-staging factoid was brought up in the 1990s (and who in
the Southwest can resist a chance to upstage New Englanders?) a statue was immediately
proposed. It was the proverbial "slam-dunk" crowd pleaser. After all, Juan was
an explorer and he even had a hand in the founding of present-day Santa Fe. Furthermore,
he was a big man, he rode horses and he wore one of those round, pointy, metal
hats - a shoe-in for bronze immortality.
But when someone started looking
into Juan's past, what they found didn't exactly describe a benevolent Spaniard
passing the green bean cassarole to native guests. Juan's tenure as a New World
governor had gotten off to a rocky start. Juan, like many colonial governors,
found the natives of his assigned province revolting. This wasn't merely class
distinction - I mean to say that the natives were literally having a rebellion.
It was quashed immediately - but in a brutal manner. How brutal? Brutal enough
for Juan to be relieved as governor in 1609 and tried on charges of misconduct.
His "alleged" cruelty (including cutting the feet off of subjects who misbehaved)
extended to non-native colonists as well. That may have been what led to
After a trial in 1614, Juan was banished from New Spain
(much to the delight of his former peons). He was granted a pardon in the mid
1620s - just about the time the Pilgrims were eating turkey and not cutting the
feet off of their Native-American neighbors. Back in Spain, the pardoned Juan
was given a bureaucratic position as inspector of mines - or some such office
and died there in 1626. In some circles he is still known as "The Last Conquistador"
- for what that's worth.
Mr. Oņate y Salazar's descendants can still claim this beautiful statue as representing
one of their kith and kin, the El
Paso statue will officially be known as "The Equestrian." The unveiling of
the statue was set to be in the Spring of 2007. Installation was quietly completed
October 25th 2006. Instead of becoming synonymous with the birthplace of the VERY
FIRST Thanksgiving in the New World, El
Paso has inherited what Roadside America has described as "a giant, unofficial
statue of an anonymous guy on a horse. "But it is my hope that it is appreciated
as a beautiful statue of "an anonymous guy on a horse."
statue may be the first in Texas to honor Juan, but it isn't the first in the
U.S. A statue by sculptor Reynaldo Rivera was erected in 1991 at the Oņate Monument
Visitors Center in New Mexico to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Juan's arrival.
The statue later had a leg "amputated" by political-vandals who knew of Juan's
cruel streak - and supposedly left a note saying "Fair is Fair." Although the
leg was recast and welded in place, the seam is visible. A true footnote
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we're on the subject of unknown men on horseback, I came upon another in downtown
Mexico City. This one is supposedly of King Carlos V (aka Charles I) of Spain.
According to the legend I was told by my Mexican guide, this statue dates from
the reign of President and/or Dictator Porfirio Diaz. Diaz was "progressive" and
wanted Mexico's capital to look as European as possible. In his quest to Europeanize,
Diaz wasn't going to let petty things like geography or oceans stand in his way.
Massive stone buildings were commissioned in the French style and Mexican architects
and stonemasons bravely put aside their native inclination toward pyramidal designs.
These efforts resulted in some of Mexico's most beautiful buildings (still standing
today). Still, there was something lacking in Diaz' Districa Federal. Diaz might
have simply asked the city's pigeon population, but it didn't occur to him. Realization
had to wait for a rainy day when Diaz was looking through his European postcard
collection. Suddenly it hit him. Mexico City had no statues. Or as the French
would say: It was sans statues. A select statue-purchasing committee was quickly
formed of men who Diaz owed favors to and was dispatched to Paris to buy as many
equestrian statues as their pesos could buy. Arriving on a Friday night in Paris,
(guide Lalo certainly knew the details), the delegation may have failed to allow
for franc-peso fluctuations. More likely, they simply blew the bulk of the money
on wine, women and song. The ugly truth was that when Monday morning (Lundi matin)
came around, the committee found themselves in front of the foundry counting their
centimes.They had about 30% of what they needed for even a single statue. Their
wrinkled and wadded absinthe-soaked banknotes wouldn't even buy a statue of Napoleon
on a Shetland pony.
As luck would have it, just at the very moment they
were deciding between joining the Foreign Legion or having another few hours on
the town before jumping off the Effiel Tower, an equestrian statue was being uncrated
before their very eyes. According to Lalo's (increasingly-hard-to-believe) story,
the horse and rider were being returned from some recently-overthrown African
colony for the scrap value of the metal. Foundries are always reluctant to melt
down their handiwork and since no one in Mexico knew what Carlos the V looked
like - a deal was struck. The heavily-discounted, dented and blood-stained statue
was crated and shipped to Mexico. The committee even had enough left over for
another hour and a half of merriment in Monmartre (or twenty minutes in Place
Pigalle) according to Lalo.
After a refreshing sea voyage, the the committee
arrived in Veracruz where they spent a few days with relatives before returned
to Mexico City where they were greeted much like government employees returning
from a trip. The unvieling was announced and on a day that everyone (but Lalo)
has forgotten, the statue of some former French or Belgian governor was unvieled
as Carlos V. At least that's Lalo's story. I asked him why Mexicans would want
a statue of a Spanish King and Lalo simply shrugged and mentioned that there was
once a candy bar that bore his name.
|"...and the horse
he rode in on!" |
I'm not already beating a bronze horse, I'd like to close this long-winded story
with the rest of what I know about equestrian statues. I was told (not by Lalo)
that there was once were guidelines for sculptors working with equestrian statues.
According to these guidelines, if the horse was cast with one front leg in the
air - it signified that the rider had been wounded in battle. The horse rearing
on his two hind legs meant the rider had died in battle or as a result of wounds
received in battle, and when the horse had all four hooves on the ground meant
the rider had died of "natural causes" or had become a politician (frequently
the same thing). Both hind legs in the air (quite rare) usually denote a statue
to a circus performer or a novice cowboy.
- Brewster Hudspeth
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
Š John Troesser
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Note: While leaving the air port, there was this huge horseman statue at the
entry. was in the wrong lane and couldn't line up for a shot. I literally stuck
the camera out the window, pointed it backwards in the general direction of the
statute and shot... Turns out it is the largest equestrian statue in the world,
topping 42'. Originally it was to be of Don Juan de Onate. But he has recently
been demoted because of his cruelty to the Indians and Mexicans. The statue is
now simply 'The Equestrian.' - Barclay
Gibson, January 01, 2007