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“Solomon Bibo”

by Marc Simmons

Historian Marc Simmons’ newspaper column, “Trail Dust,” is regularly published in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. This article is about the Bibo brothers, Nathan, Simon and Solomon, who came to the Southwest from Germany just after the American Civil War. The brothers became successful merchants and traders among the Acomas, Lagunas and Navajos. Young Solomon Bibo married an Acoma woman and was involved in pueblo affairs.

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Solomon Bibo, born in German Prussia in 1853, was one of eleven children. Right after our Civil War (1861-1865), two older Bibo brothers, Nathan and Simon, immigrated to the United States.

Rock Formation Near Acoma“Rock Formation Near Acoma,” Carlos Vierra (Photographer)

They came to Santa Fe, where Nathan worked for the Spiegelbergs, among the most prominent merchants of the capital. Later when Willi Spiegelberg won appointment as post trader, or sutler, at Fort Wingate, Nathan went with him in the position of business manager.

In 1870, he and Simon started their own trading post at Cebolleta, near the pueblo of Laguna. About that time, sixteen-year-old Solomon left Germany and joined his brothers in the new business.

The Bibos, through trade, acquired farm products and livestock from the Lagunas, Acomas, and Navajos. Under Army contracts they then supplied food and other provisions to Fort Wingate and Fort Defiance.

The brothers dealt squarely with the Indians and gained their trust. Young Solomon became enamored of pueblo life and was soon a great favorite of the Acomas. Having learned their language, he established a branch store at the village in 1882.

The move led to his involvement in Acoma’s internal affairs. For example, he joined the tribe’s ongoing legal fight to win back from the government more of its traditional lands.

On May 1, 1885, there occurred the first of two events that exemplified Solomon's extraordinary relationship with the pueblo. On that day, he married an Acoma woman, Juana Valle.

Ordinarily, the Acomas strongly opposed marriages to whites. Bibo’s, however, was not only approved, but sanctioned with a native ceremony.

Probably wanting to ensure the whole thing was legal, Solomon got a justice of the peace to marry him and Juana a second time the following August.

On January 1, 1888, Soloman Bibo took office for the customary one-year term as governor of the pueblo of Acoma. That an outsider should assume this office by election was unprecedented, and it has to serve as a measure of the prestige he enjoyed among the Indians.

Pueblo governorships had been created by the Spaniards in the 1620s for the purpose of having a “front man” who could speak for all the Indians in political and other matters.

Solomon evidently filled that function well. The cacique, or main religious leader, who was always the real power behind the scenes, in effect told him what to do.

Irving Bibo, one of Solomon's nephews, told Rabbi Fierman in 1961 that his aunt “became a Jewess and brought their children up in the faith.” He also remembered visiting her on Jewish holidays, which he claimed “she observed religiously.”

“Wishing the children to receive a formal Jewish education, Solomon moved the whole family to San Francisco in 1898.”

Wishing the children to receive a formal Jewish education, Solomon moved the whole family to San Francisco in 1898. There he operated a fancy food shop and speculated in real estate.

It was all a far cry from the life he had known in New Mexico. Although I can find no direct evidence of it, we must suppose that he and Juana returned occasionally to Acoma by train to maintain their slender ties there. Solomon died in 1934, and his wife followed him seven years later. They are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Colma, California.