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WAS THIS ONCE THE JEWISH INDIAN CHIEF’S RING? Believe it or not, we’re serious about this. It does sound

completely improbable or totally made up, but it’s historically accurate. The German-born son of a Rabbi, Solomon Bibo (1853-1934), a Jewish merchant and Indian trader actually became the Governor of the ancient, remote Acoma Indian Pueblo in New Mexico for fourteen years from 1885-1899, the only known Jewish Indian Chief ever in America and not only that he married the previous Pueblo Chief and Governor’s daughter or grand-daughter making him an official member of the Acoma Tribe. Now we don’t really know if this ring was actually made for Solomon Bibo, but it certainly could have been or for one of his several brothers or for one of their many children. There is a long and storied history of Jewish presence in New Mexico beginning in the days of the early Spanish Conquistadors, Francisco

Vazquez de Coronado in 1540 and Juan Zaldivar de Onate in 1598 and Don Diego de Vargas in 1692 and running straight through to the present day.

The ancient Hebrew word for God, “Yahweh”, is carved into a stone frieze set over the main interior doors of the historic Santa Fe Cathedral in acknowledgment of the substantial financial contributions made by Santa Fe’s Jewish merchant and other families, such as the Spiegelbergs, to help build the cathedral.

At left, photo source and © The Santa Fe New Mexican. At right, photo source and © KUNM

A selection of the historic “Lincoln” canes of Pueblo authority.

Photo source and © The Santa Fe New Mexican

A historic, c. 1885-90, Ben Wittick photograph of  Acoma Pueblo Governor, Solomon (Don Solomono) Bibo, America’s only Jewish Indian Chief, and his Acoma Pueblo Indian wife, Juana Valle, daughter or grand-daughter of the previous Acoma Governor, Martin Valle.

Acoma Pueblo Governor Solomon Bibo, at second from left above, holding one of Acoma Pueblo’s canes of authority. Such canes were given to all Pueblo Governors in 1863 by American President Abraham Lincoln in official affirmation and recognition of Pueblo tribal sovereignty.

Photo source and © Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, Santa Fe

Photo source and © wikiwand

The Spiegelberg’s quickly became successful and prominent local business people and social and political pillars of the Santa Fe community. In turn, they subsequently sponsored the arrival of the German Bibo family and helped them become established by giving them jobs at their various trading outlets. So the truth is that this ring could have easily been made for one of the many various Spiegelbergs in addition to one of the numerous Bibo’s or other Jewish trading families in the territory, such as the Danoff brothers or Charles Ilfeldt of Gallup, NM which is much closer in proximity to the Zuni Pueblo, but either way it was clearly a special commission for a special Jewish someone and a living link to a marvelous and little known nearly 500 year old history of Jewish presence in New Mexico and the Southwest.

The ring itself is a beautiful Zuni Pueblo made piece entirely evocative of its time and place. Made of a hammered out silver coin or slug, the ring is done in the newly-developed (at that 1920 time frame) chip inlay style in which various small chips of turquoise and in this case red coral are inlaid into the ring’s face in sections divided by silver channels. In the case of this ring, the silver bars or channels were fabricated in the form of the iconic six pointed Jewish star of David to make the ring’s decorative design which was then inlaid with chips of blue turquoise and red coral. The ring’s face measures 7/8” in height and 3/4” in width and the ring measures a size 11 to 11 1/4 on a professional graduated ring sizer. The ring weighs a perfectly comfortable and easy to wear 19 grams or 5/8 of an ounce. The ring is in good original condition with a considerable amount of age-appropriate wear. This ring has been loved a lot over its century or so of life and shows it proudly with a fine surface patina. There are two very tiny dents in two of the corners and an even tinier chip out of the inlay next to one dent. Also the ring shank is just slightly out of round likely due to its having been worn so much but this is of no real consequence.

This ring is a special piece, initially made for and well-appreciated by a special someone. And now you can give it to one

of your special someones, possibly even to yourself.

Price $675

Inquire                                                                    Purchase

The earliest Jewish people here were the so-called “Conversos” or “hidden” jews, those who had escaped the horrors and persecution of the Spanish Inquisition beginning in 1492 by concealing their Jewish identities and enlisting in Spanish and Portuguese expeditions to the New World which were widely seen as dangerous adventures roughly equivalent to death sentences.

They hid their Jewish identities and essentially smuggled themselves to the New World, in the expeditions of De Soto, Ponce de Leon, Pizzaro and Balboa eventually making their way north to New Mexico or New Spain as it was known beginning in the 16th Century. Unbelievable though it might sound even today, (and we have witnessed this personally on a number of occasions in our remote high Mountain northern New Mexico villages), there are people who light candles at Hannukah without knowing why except for the fact that their families have always done this. Our acquaintance, Ossemio Guillermo Martinez of the tiny hamlet of Arroyo Hondo just north of Taos is one of these many Conversos.

In more modern times there was a second influx of Jewish arrivals in the form of European Jewish merchants, traders, bankers, soldiers, miners, ranchers and others coming to the New Mexico territory in the latter half of the 19th Century for economic opportunity and settlement. The most prominent of these was the Spiegelberg family who started arriving in Santa Fe beginning in 1848 at the end of the Mexican war by wagon train over the Old Santa Fe Trail.

A historic Zuni Pueblo coin-silver chip

inlay signet-style ring with a Jewish Star

of David design, c. 1920

Aerial view of the ancient “Sky City” at Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico,

continuously inhabited from approximately 1150 AD.

Photo source and © Getty Images