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August 29: Chief Bibo

August 29, 2013
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASolomon Bibo, a Prussia-born Jewish trader who became the tribal leader of the Acoma Pueblo Indians of the New Mexico territory — the only non-Indian ever to lead a Pueblo — was born on this date in 1853 (other sources say July 15). He came to the U.S. in 1869 and with two brothers operated a trading post near Santa Fe. In addition to speaking English, Spanish, Yiddish, and German, they become conversant in several Indian languages, including the Keresan language of Acoma Pueblo, who had suffered conquest and slaughter by Juan de Onate in 1599 and had been seeking to regain land taken from them ever since. In 1876 and ’77, Bibo helped represent the Acoma in a land dispute with the Department of the Interior and a rival tribe. He also married into the Acoma tribe (his wife converted to Judaism), which made him a tribal member (the Acoma lived with a matriarchal system). A decade later, “Don Solomono,” as he was known, was recognized by the Acoma as their chief. His leadership was a mixed blessing: During his four years as chief, he helped install a “modern” education system, which helped force assimilation into white culture. He was also accused by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of defrauding the Acoma of profits from their land through an outrageously suspicious land lease — but the tribe refused to issue a complaint against him and considered him to have been fair and protective of their interests. The conflicts that accompanied Bibo’s leadership caused him to move his family to San Francisco in 1898. He has many descendants in New Mexico today, including Jews, Hispanics, and Indians. “Endowed with soft Jewish hearts, the brothers hated the tendency of their fellow westerners to take advantage of Indian naiveté. They interceded in numerous land disputes and tried to prevent whites from buying land at cutthroat prices. This got them a reputation as meddlers and troublemakers.” —Fascinating Jewish History