Solomon Bibo, Jewish
Sandra Lea Rollins
SOLOMON BIBO IN 1925
— Photo courtesy of Carl Bibo
IN THE MULTITUDE OF DUSTY ARCHIVE
that comprise the world of the
historian, many a strange and wondrous deed of man may be found on record.
After one has brushed aside the cobwebs, blown off the dust, and inhaled the
musty fragrance of yesterday, one is faced with the demanding chore of
'separating fact from fiction, and pride from prejudice. Every man
contributes historically to the world in which he is born. The historical
significance of most men, however, ends abruptly at this population
statistic. One of the exceptions to this generalization was Solomon Bibo.
The Bibo family has added much to the
underlying history of the old Southwest. There were several members of this
family who came to this area. They were engaged in trading, mining, and
ranching, surviving against the hardships that were found aplenty in the
Southwest of the later nineteenth century. This land was rich in Hispanic
culture, in sun, sand, and cactus, and in bands of marauding Indians. The
Bibos were drawn to this land as many before them, and many after them would
be, by the call of El Dorado. Solomon Bibo came west to join his brothers in
The following is the life of Solomon
Bibo and the story of why he stands apart from the hundreds of
other pioneers of
his time. It is the story of a Jewish
immigrant who became an Indian chief in the Territory of New Mexico.
Solomon Bibo was born at midnight, on
August 29, 1853, in Brakel, Westphalia, Prussia. He was the sixth of eleven
children born to Blumchen and Isak Bibo. There is very little available
information on Solomon's early life in Prussia. It is known, however,
that his father was a cantor and a teacher.
So one may assume that Solomon received
religious instruction and a good education for his time. The only
other known fact is that he received training in mercantile practices.
In 1869, Solomon obtained his father's
consent to petition the Prussian government for permission to leave
the country. On April 27, he received the necessary document granting his
request. This document also contained the forfeiture of his
Prussian citizenship. On October 8, he
was issued his passport and on October 16, 1869, Solomon Bibo,
sixteen years old, set sail for the United States.
Solomon left his native land
for many reasons: to seek greater religious freedom; to look for business
opportunities; to avoid Prussian conscription; and maybe most important of
all, to seek El Dorado. This El Dorado he sought was not to find gold
literally, but to find a gold mine of chance and opportunity, and a kind of
freedom unknown in Europe in the nineteenth century. He was not the first of
his family to make this arduous journey. He had been preceded by his
maternal grandfather, some fifty-seven years before.
1812, Lukas Rosenstein left his native Prussia and the turmoil of
Napoleonic Europe to come to America. He left to
avoid army conscription. Rosenstein spent
the next eight years of his life
in the United States. In 1820, he returned to Prussia to marry his
childhood sweetheart, with the intention of bringing her back to his new
land. The young bride, however, could not
be convinced to leave her family and friends to make
the long, dangerous journey, to settle in
a strange new country. So the Lukas Rosensteins remained in Prussia.
1 On December 27, 1822, they had their first child. This child, Blumchen,
was the future mother of Solomon Bibo. 2
In 1843, Blumchen Rosenstein married Isak
Bibo, and in May, 1844, gave birth to her first child, Nathan. Of the Bibos'
eleven children, ten lived to maturity.
The early years of the older Bibo children were greatly influenced by their
grandfather. Lukas Rosenstein had never returned to the United States, but
the years he had spent there had left a very marked impression on him. It
was through his reminiscing and storytelling that. he was able to pass on
to his children and grandchildren, his great love for America. Another
influential factor was the news of other Prussian Jewish families who had
found opportunity and success in the new world. Among these was the
Spiegelberg family, personal friends of the Bibos, and now quite
successfully engaged in mercantile trade in and around the Santa Fe area.
About 1860, Joseph Rosenstein, the
youngest son of Lukas, became the
second member of the family to come to America. Joseph, unlike his father
who had remained on the East Coast, arrived in New York and immediately
journeyed west to settle in the Santa Fe area. It is probable that he was
acquainted with the Spielgelbergs and 'sought them out for employment and
advice. Joseph Rosenstein died only five years after his arrival. He was
buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Santa Fe.
In 1866, Nathan and Simon, the two
oldest Bibo children, also journeyed to the new world. Simon immediately
continued west, but Nathan stayed in the East long enough to master the
English language. In 1867, he joined his brother in Santa Fe. At first, the
Bibo brothers were employed by the Spielgelbergs, but soon, by seizing the
right opportunities, they were on their own.
It was not long before they became
involved with the Indians of the area. They saw the opportunity to help the
Indians, combined with the chance of making a profit for themselves. By
1869-70, they owned a trading post in Cebolleta and were. (Simon
in particular) closely involved with the Navajos of
that area: This was the land to which
Solomon Bibo came. He arrived in New York and remained there only long
enough .to secure transportation to the western frontier and to his
brothers. Upon reaching New Mexico he joined them in business and was a
partner for the next few years.
Like his brothers, Solomon, too, became interested in the
affairs of the local Indians. Through his trade negotiations, he became
closely associated with Acoma Pueblo and the governor, or chief of this
pueblo, Martin Valle. It was through these associations that Solomon became
interested in the land problems of the Acomans.
Solomon Bibo became a naturalized citizen of the United
States in 1875. He never completely mastered the English language, but he
did speak Spanish quite well and through his trade with the Indians, he
became fluent in the Keres language of Acoma. This in itself was a feat
which few white men could claim at that time.
Acoma Pueblo was one of the most difficult for the white
man to deal with. The Acomans had been trying for years to regain land taken
from them under Spanish rule. This land question was one of many problems
inherited by the United States under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in
1848. For the most part, the Acomans were distrustful and bitter toward all
white men, an attitude which can be traced to the slaughter of the ancestors
of these Indians in 1599, by the men of Juan de Onate, conqueror of New
Mexico. This long remembered attack, coupled with the lack of satisfaction
with the white man's efforts in solving their land problems, indicates that
Solomon must have been of a special breed of man to have won the friendship
and confidence of Acoma Pueblo.
In 1882-83, Solomon was granted a license to open a
trading post at the Acoma village. He had petitioned for this license
several times, but the Department of the Interior did not grant it
immediately, possibly because Solomon had tried previously to help Acoma,
and had earned the reputation of a troublemaker for the Department. 3
A government survey was made of the Acoma grant in 1876.
The Indians were not pleased with the results, however, and through
Solomon's help were able to petition for, and receive another survey in
1877. The second survey pleased them no more than the first. Bibo and the
Acomans petitioned once more and this time were rewarded with a government
investigation in 1881.4
At this time, Pedro Sanchez was Indian agent of the area
and acted as official interpreter for the government in this investigation.
However, his mastery of the Acoma language left much room for improvement.
Sanchez appeared on all but the last day of the investigation.
The Indians were asked to delineate their boundaries on
the government map. This, of course, was quite hard to accomplish
for two reasons. First, the language barrier presented
a difficulty, as there was bound to be
something lost when translating Acoma to Spanish to English.
Solomon's attempted intervention on behalf of the Acomans in this situation,
earned for him the reputation of a meddling Jew with the authorities, and
did not help the Indians at all. Second, the single most important heritage
of any tribe of American Indians was their land. They knew the exact
boundaries of what was considered their tribal land. This information was
not on any map, nor were there necessarily any physical boundary markers,
since this was part of tribal knowledge
which was passed on verbally to each generation. The Acomans were no
exception to this tradition. They knew exactly how much land they owned
and where the boundaries were, but to put
this information on a white man's map was difficult. The Acomans were
unable to say how many miles it was from one boundary to the next, as the
Indians at this time, did not deal in distance by miles. 5 Had
the government men been willing to ride the circumference of the land with
the Acomans, the Indians could have easily pointed out their boundaries. The
officials would not do this, however. The results of the 1881 investigation
left Acoma no better off than before, as the government declared that the
grant must stand on the basis of the 1877 survey.6
Bibo continued his efforts on behalf of the Acomans and in
1884, was able to get the government to reopen the grant question. This
time, the Department of the Interior issued a
patent to the Acomans, in order to close
the door to any further efforts they might try to make. This action
was recommended by Benjamin Thomas, the local superintendent of Indian
affairs. Thomas was unable to do anything at all with the Acomans, and was
bitter toward Solomon Bibo because of the latter's friendship
with these Indians.
In that same year, 1884, Solomon signed a thirtyyear
grazing lease with the pueblo.7 His lease was for the entire
Acoma patent of approximately 95,000 acres, and was to prove
to be one of the most confusing and controversial acts of his life.
The contract was drawn up by Bernard Rodey, one of the
most prominent attorneys in Albuquerque at that time. Martin Valle, governor
(chief) of the pueblo, entered into the contract with the alleged consent of
the entire pueblo. The contract stipulated that Solomon Bibo or his agents
would pay the pueblo a sum of $300.00 per year for the first ten years,
$400.00 per year for the second ten years, and $500.000 per year for the
final ten years, making a total of $12,000.00 the pueblo was to receive over
a thirty-year period. The lease further stated that Bibo would keep all
squatters, cattle rustlers, and stray cattle off the leased land, and that
he would be responsible for the well-being of all Acoma cattle. Bibo was
also granted mining rights to the land, and agreed to pay ten cents per ton
for any coal that was taken out. One final important condition of this lease
stipulated that Bibo could at any time sell his interest in this lease to a
third party. The contract was legally signed and witnessed on April 7, 1884.
Governor Martin Valle, being unable to read or write, made his mark, thus
leasing the Acoma Pueblo land for thirty years.
Solomon soon sold his
interest in the lease to the Acoma Land and Cattle Company.8
In the interim, Indian
Agent Pedro Sanchez, had heard of this business deal between Bibo and the
pueblo, and between the land company and Bibo, and considered it a violation
of Bibo's trading license, and also illegal. Sanchez wrote to the
Commissioner of Indian Affairs on June 4, asking to be advised on the
situation. The Department of the Interior took immediate steps to revoke
Solomon's license. On July 21, however, they received a petition from the
pueblo asking that Bibo be allowed to remain as their trader.9
Solomon Bibo retained
his trader's license, but the government filed suit against him on behalf
of the pueblo, and on November 4, 1884, Bibo was subpoenaed to appear in
court.10 The case was involved, and it was four years before the
matter was adjudicated in a federal court. The government stated that
Solomon Bibo had entered into the contract without the common consent of the
pueblo. They said he was defrauding the Indians for personal profit. An
affidavit from Governor (chief) Martin Valle was produced stating that he
understood the contract to be for three years and not thirty.
requested a meeting of the principal members of the pueblo, and asked them
if they had consented to this grazing lease. Their answer was negative. The
United States Indian Inspector signed a statement declaring that Bibo got
this lease for practically nothing and had soon sold it for a profit. He
further stated that the lease was clearly a fraud. Solomon Bibo, seemingly,
did enter into this contract for the sole purpose of selling his interest to
the Acoma Land and Cattle Company.
Fifty-three days after
he signed the lease with the Acoma Pueblo, Bibo sold his interest to
the company for the sum of one dollar. On the same date, however, Bibo also
sold to this company two parcels of land that he owned adjoining the western
boundary of the Acoma grant. He received $16,000.00 for this property.
Solomon's brother, Nathan, likewise sold the company a piece of property on
that same date for the sum of $1,000.00.11
These three parcels of land comprised
approximately three hundred and twenty acres, and were good grazing
land with an adequate supply of water. The water supply was an important
factor on the unfenced range of the frontier. Bibo had sold his own land and
the Indian land lease for the sum of $16,001.00. Thus, Acoma Pueblo had sold
the use of their land indirectly to the
cattle company for the sum of $12,000.00, to be doled out over a
Bibo was required by the Acoma
Land and Cattle Company to put up a bond of $40,000.00 to insure
continuance of the lease. The company used the land for seven or eight years
and then went bankrupt. The lease reverted to Solomon Bibo, and he used it
until it terminated.
A court decision was finally
reached in 1888:
a suit must be brought directly by
their (the Indians')
authority, and not as claimed by the authority of
the general government, without regard to
their wishes in the matter, by virtue of the relations existing
between the government and the Pueblo
It took four years to determine
that the government could not sue on behalf of the Indians if the Indians
did not wish to sue. Bibo was thus legally cleared of the accusation of
defrauding the Indians for personal profit. By the time the case had been
concluded, the Department of the Interior had appointed W. C. Williams as
the new Indian agent for the Pueblos. To pacify the situation and to
eliminate any possible repercussions in the future, Agent Williams appointed
Solomon Bibo the new governor or chief of the Acoma Pueblo. The text of the
appointing document is as follows:
Acoma, October 9, 1888
To the people of the Pueblo
of Acoma, having confidence in the ability, integrity and fidelity of
Solomon Bibo, and by virtue of the authority vested in me, as Indian
Agent, by the United States, I hereby appoint Solomon Bibo, Governor of
said Pueblo, to take the place of Napoleon Pancho, the former Governor
and I also appoint the said Napoleon, Lieutenant Governor, and Yanie,
Assistant Lieutenant Governor, to take the place (of) Manuel Concho, who
is dismissed by my order and I also appoint Junice Sanches Kasique, in
place of Antonio, dismissed.
[Signed] W. C.
Williams, U. S. Indian Agent
The office of governor, or more
specifically, the title of governor among the Pueblo Indians, can be traced
to the arrival of the Spanish. As Onate came north along the Rio Grande
Valley in 1598, he went through the ceremony of passing out a rod of office
to the chief of each Pueblo. Onate did not change the power structure of the
Pueblos, only the title of chief to governor.l3
BIBO AND TRIBAL OFFICERS IN
Chief Solomon Bibo, shown standing at the extreme right foreground,
with his Acoma tribal officers. Pedro Sanchez, Indian Agent, is shown
second from left.
courtesy of Carl Bibo
Thus, it was that in 1888, a
Jewish immigrant became an American Indian chief. Moreover, there is some
indication that Bibo had been chief prior to 1888. On the top of an old
photograph, in his own handwriting, Bibo states that he was governor in 1885
There is, however, some question
concerning his governorship for part of the year 1885. On May 1 of that
year, Solomon Bibo married Juana Valle. His bride was the granddaughter of
the old governor of the Pueblo, Martin Valle. By this marriage, Bibo and his
heirs were received forever as children of the Pueblo. This marriage
probably helped his case against the government, because he was now
officially a member of the Pueblo. In any event, one of the witnesses to his
marriage signed as Jose Berendo, governor of Acoma.15
Solomon Bibo married Juana Valle on two different occasions: first, on
May 1, 1885, in an Indian ceremony at Acoma, and the second, on August 30,
1885, in a civil ceremony before Justice of the Peace, Juan F. Montana.
In June, 1898, Charles F. Lummis, editor of
The Land of Sunshine,
Acoma Pueblo, and in an article concerning his visit, printed in August,
1898, he states:
. . . and my friend Solomon Bibo (who married into the
tribe, has been six times its governor, speaks the Queres language
better than any white man ever did, and has done more for his Pueblo
than all of the Indian Agents in a lump) 16
A nephew of Solomon's, Arthur Bibo
of Albuquerque, states that "... he was elected governor on at least four
different occasions" 17 Acoma Pueblo members today can point out
the house were Bibo had lived, and the rooms of the old church where he had
had his trading post. Even though it is very difficult to ascertain the
exact number of years that Solomon Bibo held the office, there can be no
questioning the historical distinction he achieved in becoming chief of the
Acoma Indians. Except for this, Bibo was quite typical of the trading
pioneers of his time.
Shortly after his marriage in 1885, he moved his trading
post to nearby Cubero. The first four of his six children were born in this
little Hispanic town. In late 1898, Bibo moved his family to San Francisco
for the better education of his children.18 From that time until
1906 he was an active partner in a fine quality grocery store in San
1. Floyd S. Fierman, THE IMPACT OP THE FRONTIER ON A
JEWISH FAMILY, (Texas Western College Press, El Paso, 1961), p. 4.
2. Bibo Family Records, KOWINA Cultural Research
Foundation Incorporated, Great Lava Flow, Grants, New Mexico.
3. Arthur Bibo, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Interview,
October 3, 1968.
5. Donald C. Cutter, HISTORY OF THE SOUTHWEST: A
Syllabus, (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico. 1968).
6. Arthur Bibo, "Solomon Bibo," unpublished manuscript,
November 6, 1967.
7. Valencia County District Court Records, Book "A" 5
of Deeds and Documents, pp. 543-548.
8. The Acoma Land and Cattle Company was a corporation
organized under the laws of the State of Missouri. The financial backing
came from a grocery firm in Kansas City owned by Ridenaur Baker. The
company representative in Albuquerque was J. E. Saint, and the foreman in
the field was a Mr. Wilson.
9. Fierman, op cit., p. 14.
10. State Archives. Santa Fe, New Mexico, file numbers
11. Valencia County District Court Records, Books of
Deeds and Documents.
12. Fierman, op. cit., p. 15.
13. This policy of the rod of office was continued into
the time of the Anglo, via the so-called Lincoln cane.
14. The original photograph is in the possession of
Carl Bilbo, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Carl Bibo is Solomon's youngest son.
15. Bibo Family Records, op. cit.
16. Charles F. Lummis, "Three Weeks in Wonderland," The
Land of Sunshine, Los Angeles, August, 1898, p. 117.
17. Arthur Bibo, op. cit.
18. Arthur Bibo, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Interview,
November 8, 1968. LeRoy Bibo, Solomon's oldest son, celebrated his Bar
Mitzvah at Ohabai Shalome (the Bush Street Synagogue) in San Francisco, in
1912. Carl, the youngest son, attended religious school at Temple Emanu-El
of San Francisco. LeRoy Bibo, Interview, February 21, 1969, Carl Bibo,
Interview, March 3, 1969, by the editor.
19. LeRoy and Carl Bibo, sons of Solomon, recited
Kaddish for their father at Temple Israel, San Francisco.
20. Solomon Bibo and his wife were cremated and the
ashes interred at the Home of Peace Mausoleum, Colma, California.
A Western States Jewish History Anecdote
THE BONNHEIM SCHOOL -‑
THIS SCHOOL HONORS BY
SON OF ALBERT AND FANNIE BONNHEIM.
FOLLOWING HIS DEATH AT THE AGE OF SIXTEEN,
HIS PARENTS ENDOWED IN HIS MEMORY, IN 1897,
THE JOSEPH BONNHEIM
TO PROVIDE SCHOLARSHIPS TO AID STUDENTS OF
PROMISE PREPARE, THROUGH HIGHER EDUCATION,
FOR THAT FULL AND USEFUL LIFE DENIED THEIR
ONLY CHILD, FOR THOSE HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS
RECEIVING THESE SCHOLARSHIPS, FROM 1897 TO
COUNTLESS YEARS IN THE FUTURE, THIS PLAQUE
IS PRESENTED TO THE SCHOOL UPON THE DAY OF
ITS DEDICATION AS A GRATEFUL TRIBUTE TO THE
LOVING KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY OF
THESE BENEFACTORS OF YOUTH
SEPTEMBER 22, 1952.
inscription on the bronze plaque hanging in the hallway
of the Bonnheim Elementary School in Sacramento, California,
one of three schools in the city named for local Jewish citizens of