By Teresa L. Benns
LA GARITA — The grandson of native settlers Jose Adolpho White and Julianita Atencio (White), Frank A. White, Jr. is requesting the return of a wooden cross over 100 years old — La Cruz — that was visible to those traveling along Carnero Creek Canyon on County Road G.
The cross stood high atop a hill on what once was the White ranch until its disappearance about two months ago. Jose Adolpho told family members he erected the cross to mark a sacred burial ground for the “natives.”
In a letter addressed to the community, Frank White recalls his grandfather erected the cross soon after he bought his Carnero Canyon ranch in 1894. Until his death in 1929, Jose Adolpho checked regularly to see that it was still standing upright between the two stones where he placed it. After his death, family members and other locals always checked to make sure it was standing.
Other stories also circulated, Frank White noted, including one which claimed his grandfather used the cross to mark a spot where he buried a “a strong box,” acquired from a Susan Trujillo. Another story circulating ran that Jose Adolpho placed the cross there to honor the Penitentes for whom he had a high regard and respect.
Frank White recalled that during Holy Week, when the Penitentes would practice their rituals in the traditional morada, his grandfather would donate two of his best mutton sheep to the sect for food, as a gesture of his help and support. A morada is a stone or adobe meeting house without windows. Near each morada generally is erected a small church or chapel.
Most of these moradas have long since crumbled back into the earth, taking their secrets with them. It was in those windowless moradas that those subjected to the crucifixion process, which some believe took place in Penitente Canyon, either recovered or died.
Following their death, crosses are erected in various place to memorialize the “martyrs.” On hills, atop rocky ledges — all across these southwest desert lands at one time stood crosses large and small, witnesses to the reality that was once the self-inflicted suffering of the Penitente brotherhood.
One cross stood for many years on Starvation Peak west of Las Vegas, along the Santa Fe Trail. Even today some are still visible on the road from Santa Fe to Taos.
It is not known whether or not the “native” honored by the cross on Jose Adolpho’s hill was a Penitente. Sect members took the secrets of their practices to the grave with them. But whether the cross honored a fallen Valley Penitente native or simply Native Americans who once roamed freely across the Valley landscape, Jose Adolpho would want his carefully tended cross returned to its original home.
“It means a lot history-wise to the community,” White said in a telephone conversation over the weekend. “I hope to appeal to the people’s goodness and sharing to bring the cross home.”
Those with information about the cross can call Bill Baca at 719-680-7070 or email him at [email protected] Frank White can be reached at 303-587-6832. His email is [email protected]