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Treasured Lincoln Canes – a Living Spirit of New Mexico’s Tribes

President Lincoln stirs many historically vivid moments: The Gettysburg Address, abolitionism, his murder. But did you know this New Mexico fact? Out of over 500 Indian Nations across the burgeoning union, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was the first President to acknowledged the sovereignty of New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos.

Photo courtesy the Smithsonian Institution
Photo courtesy the Smithsonian Institution

In 1863, Dr. Michael Steck was appointed as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the New Mexico Territory. He was a lone advocate for the tribes in New Mexico and recognized the Pueblo people for their peaceful culture and support for the Northern Army’s efforts in the southwest. In following the tradition of Canes originated by Spain and Mexico, Lincoln approved 19 silver tipped Canes, one for each Pueblo. This was meant to symbolize a perpetual commitment of the United States to honor Pueblo sovereignty. The Canes were presented by an Indian Agent to each Governor, inscribed with the year 1863, the name of each Pueblo, topped with the signature of ‘A. Lincoln.’ For each of the tribes, it was a new birth for their inherent dominion and freedom for their communities. The canes were viewed as a living spirit representing leadership and self-governess.

Photo of Candido Herrera, Tesuque Pueblo Governor, courtesy NM History Museum
Photo of Candido Herrera, Tesuque Pueblo Governor, courtesy NM History Museum

Portrait of Mariano Carpintero, Governor of Sandia Pueblo, 1899, Smithsonian Institution.

Portrait of Mariano Carpintero, Governor of Sandia Pueblo, 1899, Smithsonian Institution

Portrait of Jesus Antonio Moya, Governor of Santa Ana Pueblo, 1899, Smithsonian Institution.

Portrait of Jesus Antonio Moya, Governor of Santa Ana Pueblo, 1899, Smithsonian Institution

Photo courtesy Library of Congress
Photo courtesy Library of Congress

The “Lincoln Canes” remain potent symbols of continuing sovereignty, historical trauma notwithstanding, passed along to each new governor. For more on Lincoln canes, the Santa-Fe-based nonprofit Silver Bullet Productions, where much of this information was sourced, produced a beautiful documentary entitled ‘CANES OF POWER,’ available online.