How New Mexico’s “Peons” Became Enslaved to Debt

A System Inherited From Colonial Spain Kept Americans in Servitude Even After the Civil War

Imagine a time and place where a small debt—even just a few dollars—could translate into a lifetime of servitude not only for the debtor, but also for his or her children. For much of the 19th century, the American Southwest was just such a place. There, a system commonly called debt peonage relegated thousands of men, women, and children to years of bondage to a master.

This system of unfree labor came into existence in the 1700s, when the region was still a colony of Spain. By the time that American …

More In: New Mexico

Train From New Mexico

In the Lamy train station, passengers lean stiff
hips against wooden benches. Hear that old creak.
An attendant heaves my green trunk onto an antique
scale made of wood and …

Manifest Destiny, That Atrocious Ideal

A Wintertime Visit to a Onetime Nuclear Test Site Reveals the Lengths Americans Go to Own Whatever They Please

On the outskirts of Tularosa, New Mexico, I drove among sacred mountains. It was three days before Christmas, 2014, and it was over 70 degrees. With the A/C cranked, I …

A Young Bride Among the Roustabouts of Santa Fe

My Great-Great Grandmother Missed the Gentle, Green Valleys of Germany, But Our Jewish Family Needed a New Start

When my great-great-grandmother set out for New Mexico territory in 1866, she spoke no English. Nor did she speak any Spanish.

German was her native language; Yiddish as well. Julia …

Saying Goodbye to Rush Hour on the 405

Teaching Yoga in Roswell, New Mexico Ain’t Glamorous. But There’s Something Magnificent About Living in a Place Where There’s Nothing to Do But Think.

Today looks like this. Up at 6 a.m. for a dog walk to beat the sunshine. Out the door by 7. See the city firemen training with weights at the …

Why We Keep Saying ‘Geronimo!’

When It Comes to The Most Famous Native American, It’s the Myth, Not Reality, That Survived

In the public mind, Geronimo is the best-known Indian of all time. Why? He was not a chief. He was not a leader in the same league with Mangas Coloradas, …