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Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

Memories of Guadalupe

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Am I haunted by an old place or just by forgotten spirits?
Guadalupe sits in the hot sun by the edge of the river.
La Senora Guadalupe: Wind, cold, sand, sun and rain
have sucked the town dry leaving only a fading husk.

A wandering poet with a camera is sometimes a dangerous thing. We get into troubling places with troubling thoughts and sometimes find ourselves where we don’t belong. Such was my experience on a recent brilliant January day. I was in pursuit of an idea and ideas are hard to pin down. Eighty miles is a long way to go chasing an idea and it is a long way back again – find it or not. On this day I didn’t capture the one I was after but was captured by another. Finding a ghost town in the desert opens a new Pandora’s box.

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La Ojo del Padre: the father’s spring provided fresh water.
And the water brought wildlife and hunters and Indians.
And then the Spanish soldiers and the friars and the settlers.
And then the sheep and cattle. A common story in New Mexico.

I vaguely knew it was there. I had heard stories and there is more than one lost colony out in the unforgiving desert. For some, we know how they were born and why they died. That is not so much the case with Guadalupe. Now empty, it was once home to a couple hundred people. Maybe they came for the scenery – it is stunning – but I doubt it.

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I was a man possessed, but by curiosity, and I stumbled backwards
through the dusty years. In 1870 the place was a speck by the spring
on the banks of the Rio Puerco. A few skinny cows, some goats,
and maybe a wandering Diné poet chasing an idea?

I was looking for something else entirely: an old pueblo ruin perched high on a mesa. It was elusive that day and for my own good I stopped climbing. It was a long way down and I was by myself. I have tumbled off cliffs before and was always lucky but this time I was spooked. I don’t bounce like I used to.

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The ghost town called me back from the edge.

The town, Guadalupe, is named after Our Lady of Guadalupe but it was also known as Ojo del Padre after the spring and was named Miller at one point by the all-knowing postal service. No idea why. The last Postmaster was named in 1952 so there were people living there in my lifetime. There are people alive who hold memories of this place.  Just a few miles away there was another village: Casa Salazar, also mostly invisible today. It seems to have been more substantial than Guadalupe or at least known. John Wesley Powell showed it on one of his maps drawn in 1880. The Salazar family goes back to 1610 in New Mexico. But Guadalupe has a presence and a few melting adobe structures.

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Who lived here?  The town, now dead, was once home
to herders, farmers and “cow punchers” and something else.
The Ladies of Guadalupe: were they fact or mere rumor.
Who knows? They are all dead. Mostly forgotten...and gone?

There are stories about the loose women of Guadalupe. It seems like a very unlikely place for a brothel but who knows. I combed the records that I could find but there were no hints of the story. There were a number of widows with children listed in the census record with no obvious means of support. There might be a story there, maybe not.  One remarkable thing was the staggering level of infant or child mortality. There must be a camposanto somewhere full of tiny graves.

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Senor Cordova ran the General Store and the dancehall out in
back. There were a couple musicians by trade. Antonio was the
blacksmith. Manuel was born nearby in 1800, first under the Bourbon,
Carlos IV, and then Joseph, the Bonaparte, and then the Anglos.

That old Manuel saw the long march of history, but nothing changes. Hardly ever. The townsfolk spoke Spanish, probably the sixteenth-century dialect common in northern New Mexico. All were born here or close by. Few could read or write but some could and there were postmasters and burro-riding boy mail carriers. How letters found this place is a miracle. There was a teacher now and then – and a school for the few kids that were sent…very few. There was no priest or padre but there is evidence of a church, of sorts. Perhaps it was a Morada maintained by Los Hermanos Penitentes or a chapel visited by a circuit-riding padre. This was someone’s hometown for several generations.  It would be a hard place to love as a home, but times change and so do expectations.

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There is a mystery in the earliest census pages. A curious number of persons are living in families as “adopted” or tagged as “wards”. These were sometimes listed as servants or as farm laborers. Some were Indians. Slavery, as known in the American South, was a different sort of thing from what happened here. Genizaros were an ill-defined group of people who were held captive by the Indians but were purchased (or ransomed) by the Spanish settlers most often from the Comanche or Apache traders who passed through the area. They worked the farms and herds or were servants and their existence was somewhat akin to indentured workers but there were no hard and fast rules. The early census taker apparently paused and wondered what to write and settled on “adopted and “ward”.  After seeing the place and looking at the records I think these people could have left on their own if they chose to and maybe did -- they disappear in later records.

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I’m taken back to consider the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years. Forty years is a long time – generational time. Those that came out of the desert mostly knew Egypt and the time of bondage from stories passed down. They experienced great hardship. They went hungry, ate quail and other wild things. They lived off the land as best they could. They left a trail of those they had to leave behind. They got into trouble, but they found their way. The people of Guadalupe found their way. Cattle and sheep herding were their primary occupations. They liked to dance and make the best of things. They had a hard life and it got harder. They survived two world wars and the depression. There was a CCC camp nearby. There were some Anglo workers from Oklahoma during the dustbowl years. The place is a ruin now. Somehow there was the last straw and people moved away. It is going back into the soil. The desert owns everything.

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The Home Place – 2020

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
All that history and silent presence in the atmosphere and the winds swirling around Guadalupe! You make it so vivid. I believe it... Read More
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 18:59
Ken Hartke
Thanks for the comment. Much of our history here is filtered through religious fervor and mysticism. Nuesta Senora is depicted ve... Read More
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 22:45
Nicholas Mackey
Hi Ken, I was enthralled with your writing and pictures of my favourite state in the USA: New Mexico. Thank you for sharing these ... Read More
Friday, 03 April 2020 19:10
5214 Hits

In the Camposanto


Padre Felipe was laid to rest in the Camposanto.
He was a good man – from just over the mountain.
Not far – He knew this place. He was one of us.
Time passes slowly and he was never in a hurry.

We came to this place, our families did, long ago.
How many generations after three hundred years?
We know the names. They, too, are in the Camposanto.
Many still live among us but our numbers are few.

Old family names are remembered there. A few new ones.
The Costa and Lopez people lie quietly together
but they never got along. Nobody remembers why.
There are a lot of stories like that.

Maria Galvez, she was really a Vigil, is all by herself.
She was married three times. She had one daughter
who married and moved to Santa Fe, in 1922, we think.
Roberto was killed in the war – it’s a long, sad story.

The Romeros always had the best sheep in the valley.
The Luceros were weavers – Antonio was the best.
If you needed anything fixed, always go see a Torres.
The best carpenters were always Medinas or Cortes

Amalia Gomez was the best baker when I was growing up.
She only had boys but taught Rosa, her daughter-in-law
(Pepito’s wife) how to bake. That Pepito had a bad
heart attack and couldn’t work much so the baking helped.

Things are a little different now. We travel farther
and we need more things than we used to. We got by
with very little when I was young. There is a WalMart
in Taos and some of us can even get stuff from Amazon.

Young people started moving away twenty years ago,
but now some come back with their own families.
We see new faces and think “Is that maybe a Lucero?
Oh, maybe that is Gilberto’s boy, Devin”.

They all turned out at the Camposanto today.
Young and old were there for Padre Felipe.
He was laid next to Padre Estevan, who rebuilt
the church. That young Father Roy did the service.


                                     *     *     *

The Home Place – 2019

Recent comment in this post
Rosy Cole
Tapping into the soul of another culture is a particular gift. These are vivid and timeless snapshots, all on a deeply human level... Read More
Sunday, 29 December 2019 17:57
1531 Hits
1 Comment

A Winter's Walk

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I was on an unintended winter walk
through a quiet streamside forest.
We call it a Bosque in these parts;
that’s the old Spanish name. 
I had nowhere to go and on this day,
no Frosty promises to keep.

This season has a bony feel to it
when nature is falling into sleep.
The lay of the land is discovered.
Muscle and bone are revealed
as the golden leaves fall and curl,
the grasses turn brown and brittle.

Listen, and feel, as you stray off the trail
to the crunch of the grass under your feet.
Deer tracks cross your path, just hours old,
and a large Coyote. The stream pulls them.
It never freezes over – an artery flowing even
in the coldest heart of winter.


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Nature’s engineering is exposed to those
who stop to look for it. Tree trunks display
their common design. Seed pods open to
the wind as parachutes sail off to a new life.
Grassy seed heads bend but do not break.
I pass by and scatter the seeds.

The canyon walls have specks of white.
We are in December, our coldest month,
and have had a taste of snow. It never lasts.
The sun chases it away in hours, or a day.
It lingers only where the sun can’t find it;
protected by the shade and the cold nights.

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The weather rules this time and place.
There is a change in the air. It seems
something Is always coming or going.
Off in the distance the clouds
trek over the mountain wall as the
winter sun turns frail and sets.

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The Home Place – 2019 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Enjoyed the clarity of the writing, Ken.
Monday, 09 December 2019 23:50
Ken Hartke
Thanks. It's always an amazing transition from the grand show of October to the quiet of early December. I love sharing this place... Read More
Tuesday, 10 December 2019 17:37
Rosy Cole
A vivid taste of December in distant latitudes. Thanks so much for sharing.
Thursday, 01 December 2022 18:43
5296 Hits


Laying bricks is honest work. Hard, straight forward work.
It is repetitive. You do one thing and then the next and so on.
It can almost rely on muscle memory. Almost like a rosary
or working prayer beads. That’s honest work too.
Thoughtful work. Your mind can be exploring other things.

Brick, mortar, brick, mortar, brick, mortar, repeat…
Or – mortar, mortar, mortar, brick, brick, brick…
Thoughts and ideas come and go. Worries, too.
Some are considered and rejected like misbegotten bricks
too broken or misshaped to fit the allotted place.


I once lived in an old brick house in an old brick city.
Almost everything was laid brick as far as you could see.
Think of all the thoughts and worries sealed up in the mortar
and the brickwork. Plans made or discarded. Acres, no, miles
of bricks and thoughts and worries all laid out in rows.

My brick house was over 100 years old. It was an honest
house built to last. A lot of thought went into that house.
It could easily stand for 100 years more on Main Street.
Built for a German family in 1904. It was solid, no frills.
Modern for its day with a cistern, wood stoves. No fireplace.


This was the trolley man’s family. He drove the trolley
up Main Street, many times a day. First horse drawn and
later motorized (Wonder of wonders!) He probably glanced
at his house at each passing – thinking, in German, no doubt,
of the future and the past. His wife. His kids His good fortune.

The family spoke German much of the time at home. On Sunday
they went to the German Evangelical Church and worshipped,
also, in German. The school was four doors down the street
where the kids spoke English. They were a bit rambunctious.
Their initials are still carved on the cellar joists. Ah, immortality!

The old man stayed with the trolley company. He liked doing
some mechanic work when needed. He bought an automobile,
a "machine", and built a sturdy garage for it off the back alley.
His wife made room for it among the sweet peas and the grapes.
It was a good life. He smoked his cigars, had some wine, read books.


My tenure in the house came much later. Even those kids had likely
turned to dust. In all those years there were only three owners.
I moved on so now another young family lives there, with a baby.
Living alone, I can remember on quiet nights, reading in the old parlor,
I would sometimes be aware of a faint hint of the trolley man’s cigar.

The trolley man might still be there - bound up somehow in the
old bricks and mortar. If he's a happy spirit I would not be surprised.
He has a new family. Somethings change but somethings never do.
Some months before I moved away, a city crew was digging in the
street by the house and found relics of the old trolley line.

JC Trolley





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Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
The trolley man’s cigar - wonderful image.
Sunday, 03 November 2019 01:06
Ken Hartke
It caught me by surprise the first time I noticed it. After the trolley man, the house was owned by the state Governor's cook so ... Read More
Tuesday, 05 November 2019 17:36
1522 Hits

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