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Neal W. Ackerly, Ph.D.


January 1998

ã Dos Rios Consultants, Inc., 1999, Silver City, NM.

All Rights Reserved.




Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Geology 1

Research Methods 2

Early Historical Records: Negative Evidence 3

Late Nineteenth Century Descriptions-The Kneeling Nun is Named 6

Early Twentieth Century-The Kneeling Nun Becomes Established 10

Alternate Forms of the Kneeling Nun Legend 14

Historical Basis for the Kneeling Nun Legend 22

Summary and Implications 24

References Cited 29

Appendices 36









 List of Figures

Figure 1 Bufa del Cobra (ca. 1853) 5

Figure 2 Extract of Wheeler's (1877) Map 8

Figure 3 Extract of Powel & Kingman's (1883) Map 9

Figure 4 Extract from U.S.G.S. (1909a) Santa Rita Quadrangle Map 11

Figure 5 Extract from 1910 County Map 11





This report summarizes available historical information regarding the Kneeling Nun monolith near Santa Rita, NM. The Kneeling Nun has become the focus of considerable controversy as a result of Chino Mine Company's (CMC) proposed expansion of the Santa Rita mine. In particular, opponents of the mine expansion have argued that the Kneeling Nun is a historically significant landmark and, further, that it is, in effect, sacred ground.

To address these concerns, CMC has contracted with e2M, through Human Systems Research, Inc., to prepare a review of the Kneeling Nun's importance to the local community. The purpose of the report that follows is fourfold:

1. To determine when the rock monolith acquired the name "Kneeling Nun;"

2. To compile information about any legend(s) surrounding the Kneeling Nun;

3. To compile information about any activities, religious or otherwise, that may have taken place at the Kneeling Nun; and

4. To evaluate the potential importance of the Kneeling Nun as a culturally important focal point for communities in the region.


Specific findings regarding the Nun's history are prefaced with a brief summary of the geology of the Kneeling Nun. The Kneeling Nun is a large rock monolith located on the north side of Ben Moore Mountain east of the Santa Rita open-pit copper mine operated by CMC. The geology of the Nun has been described in detail by Eveleth and Osburn (1985), and the following summary is taken from this source. The authors note that the monolith consists of a single volcanic unit composed largely of ignimbrite (Eveleth and Osburn 1985:57). Varying to upwards of 400 feet in thickness, this deposit is routinely characterized by vertical fissures caused by shrinkage (Eveleth and Osburn 1985:57).

During the period for which documents are available, the Nun is known to have been shaken by earthquakes twice-once in 1885 and again in 1887 (Eveleth and Osburn 1985:57). In both cases, upper parts of the Nun were broken away from the main column, falling to join other boulders surrounding the Nun's base (Eveleth and Osburn 1985:57-58). What is most notable is Eveleth and Osburn's (1985:58) inference that the Nun, and perhaps the altar, are not simply erosional remnants, but may be pieces of volcanic tuff already separated from the underlying bedrock of which they were once a part. They are, in effect, "floating" in the talus at the base of Ben Moore Mountain. Despite this apparent instability, Eveleth and Osburn note that the Nun had not been adversely affected by nearby blasting from Chino's mining operations (1985:57).

Research Methods

Social scientists-anthropologists, historians, folklorists, or sociologists-are rarely around when myths or legends first become established. There is generally little first-hand information regarding the circumstances of a myth's origin or the manner in which a myth becomes established among the inhabitants of a region. Accordingly, myths and legends have to be reconstructed using a wide variety of different resources.

These kinds of constraints are equally true of the myth of the Kneeling Nun. The myth's origin has faded into obscurity, and the period when the myth was attributed to the rock monolith facing Ben Moore Mountain is not clear. It would be surprising if one could locate an article or document in which someone sat down and wrote something to the effect of: "Beginning today, this rock monolith will henceforth be known as the Kneeling Nun and this is the story of why we call this monolith the Kneeling Nun." Instead, the timing, character, and general adoption of the Kneeling Nun myth by the region's inhabitants has to be reconstructed from careful analyses of folklore, and of newspapers, maps, and other documentary sources. Only by using such diverse materials is it possible to reconstruct how the Kneeling Nun came to prominence in the region's lore.

One of the first avenues explored during this inquiry was the massive body of literature regarding New Mexico folklore. The review of this literature included the Journal of New Mexico Folklore (1946-1980), the Journal of American Folklore (1888-1961), and Western Folklore (1942-1997). None of these mainstream folklore journals contained any information regarding the Kneeling Nun legend.

Second, the collected works of many eminent Southwestern folklorists were examined to determine whether a regional tale such as the Kneeling Nun appeared in these works. Included in this review were Juán Espinosa's (1937) Spanish Folk-Tales of New Mexico, Gilberto Espinosa's (1972) Heroes, Hexes, and Haunted Halls, and Aurelio Espinosa's (1990)The Folklore of Spain in the American Southwest. Again, none of these compilations contained any reference whatsoever to the Kneeling Nun.

Two conclusions are evident from the negative results obtained during these literature reviews. First, it is clear that the Kneeling Nun legend may be of local importance, but the legend has not achieved regional or national prominence sufficient to warrant being published in mainstream folklore journals. Second, it became quite clear that the history and character of the Kneeling Nun legend would have to be reconstructed using such unconventional sources as (1) narratives of travelers and military expeditions, (2) early maps of the region, and (3) newspaper articles. In effect, the Kneeling Nun legend would have to be reconstructed from the ground up. Information about the Kneeling Nun legend was gleaned from reports of early military expeditions (e.g., Bartlett 1857) and early maps that depict the Kneeling Nun (e.g., Powel and Kingman 1883). Local newspapers including The Borderer (1871-1875), Mining Life (1873-1875), Thirty-four (1878-1881), The Grant County Herald (1875-1881), Daily Southwest (1880), Mining Chronicle (1880-1882), New Southwest (1880-1883), Sentinel (1882-1883), Silver City Enterprise (1882-1917), Southwest Sentinel (1883-1896), The Eagle (1894-1900), and Silver City Independent (1896-1917) were systematically reviewed to locate articles about the Kneeling Nun. The remainder of this report presents the results of these inquiries.

Early Historical Records: Negative Evidence

Early historical records consist primarily of traveler's descriptions of the Santa Rita vicinity. These accounts span the period between 1798-1846 and provide the first descriptions about the area that might contain references to the Kneeling Nun.

The earliest description of the Santa Rita region derives from José Cortés' narrative of a traverse made in 1798. Cortés noted only that, "In New Mexico we know of copper mines of rare purity, where not even a fifth of the ore is lost as dross" (John 1989:23). Although "El Cobre" apparently was a known landmark as early as 1785, the Kneeling Nun monolith had not acquired a name toward the close of the eighteenth century.

The earliest Spanish operators of the Santa Rita mine, José Manuel Carrasco and Francisco Manuel Elguea, have left no memoirs describing the Santa Rita vicinity at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Despite this lack of documentation, legend has it that an Apache Indian told Carrasco the location of a copper outcrop, remarking that a "A peculiar rock formation marked the mine's location" (Rickard 1923:756, Sinclair 1997:90, Sully 1916:1-2). Legend also has it that Carrasco was responsible for naming the monolith the "Kneeling Nun" (Weigle and White 1988:306). Later accounts have perpetuated this story; Morey, for example, suggests that the Kneeling Nun had been named sometime in the 1830s (1938:7, see also Silver City Enterprise [SCE] 25 July 1968). Still, there is no documentary evidence to support this story.

The earliest description of the Santa Rita area was provided by the American James Ohio Pattie in the 1820s. Pattie, not a chronicler of folk tales, assuming that they even existed, simply noted (Thwaites 1905:118-119):

Within the circumference of three miles, there is a mine of copper, gold and silver, and beside, a cliff of load [lode] stone. The silver mine is not worked, as not being so profitable, as either the copper or gold mines.

Recurring Apache raiding caused the mines at Santa Rita finally to be abandoned in 1838 (Rickard 1923:755, but see Sully 1916:np). There apparently were no Europeans situated at Santa Rita for a number of years.

The next descriptions of the region coincide with the arrival in 1846 of American troops under the command of Stephen Kearny. While Kearny's chronicle contains no information about the district, two reports by soldiers in Kearny's command do provide some information about the region. Henry Turner reported that Kearny's column marched to the "copper mines," camping 2 miles west of them (Clarke 1966:85-86). No other details emerge from his narrative.

However, Turner's compatriot, William Emory, provides in his 1848 report what is perhaps the first detailed description and naming of any of the topography near Santa Rita del Cobre (Calvin 1951:97-98):

We passed at the foot of a formidable bluff of trap, running northwest and southeast, which I named Ben Moore, after my personal friend, the gallant Captain Moore, of the 1st dragoons. In many places the path was strewed with huge fragments of this hard rock, making it difficult for the mules to get along. Turning the north end of Ben Moore bluff, we began to drop into the valley of what is supposed an arm of the Mimbres, where there are some copper mines. . . .There are the remains of some twenty or thirty adobe houses, and ten or fifteen shafts sinking into the earth.

What is notable, of course, is that Emory completely fails to mention any monolith near the north side of Ben Moore Mountain where the Kneeling Nun is, in fact, situated. Ben Moore is, however, the first named topographic feature to appear in the historic record other than Santa Rita itself.

Emory's name for the mountain, which also appears on the map accompanying his report, apparently stuck. Three years later, William Hunter, a '49er passing through the region on the way to California, noted (Robrock 1992:125):

On scrutinizing near us to the north, we thought we could distinguish signs of water near the base of the mountain. One of our party accordingly descended in that direction and found plenty in a rocky ravine about a mile from our encampment. . . .Could old "Ben Moore" have found a tongue he could have told us many a wondrous [sic] tale.

Again, however, Hunter fails to mention the presence of a prominent rock monolith or, for that matter, any feature called the Kneeling Nun.

The first direct reference to a stone monolith corresponding to the Kneeling Nun appears in Bartlett's report of the Boundary Commission survey in 1853. Arriving at Santa Rita del Cobre with the intention of establishing a base camp for the boundary survey, Bartlett (1965:232) commented:

The height of the little valley where the mines are was [sic] found to be six thousand two hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea; and the height of the mountain, which rises abruptly from it, and to which the name of Ben Moore has been given, is eight thousand feet. This mountain is the beginning of a range of bold, rocky bluffs of trap, of a grayish hue, which extend some twenty miles to the south, and gradually drop off into the plain. On one side of this bluff, a portion of the rock is separated from the mountain, and stands detached from it like a column.

This description corresponds almost perfectly with the general character of the Kneeling Nun. Bartlett's interpreter, John Cremony, also recognized Ben Moore Mountain as having been named by Emory, but fails to describe the rock monolith noted by Bartlett when both were at Santa Rita (Cremony 1868:29).

Bartlett's description is important for three reasons. First, it accurately describes both the location and character of the monolith that has come to be known as the Kneeling Nun. Second, a drawing from this same period accurately depicts the monolith now known as the Kneeling Nun (see Seth Eastman's 1853 painting on the cover, original at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence). Finally and most importantly, Bartlett is well regarded by historians, anthropologists, and other scholars as a diligent chronicler of native customs, beliefs, and myths. It is extremely unlikely that Bartlett would not have recorded any legend associated with Kneeling Nun or, for that matter, the fact that the monolith he so accurately describes was named the Kneeling Nun. From this, it is reasonable to infer that, in 1853, the name and the legend of the Kneeling Nun had not yet been ascribed to this rock monolith.

Still other evidence suggests that the monolith remained unnamed into the late 1850s. In 1857, for example, William Emory completed a resurvey of the U.S.-Mexican boundary. His narratives, while somewhat drier than those of Bartlett, contain no mention of any rock formation resembling the Kneeling Nun. Similarly, Samuel Cozzens' (1858:51-52) narratives from 1858 accurately describe the Santa Rita region, going so far as to mention the presence of a number of "sandstone" monoliths, but completely fail to mention any monolith or other topographic feature named the Kneeling Nun. Finally, Carleton's 1864 map of New Mexico, when carefully scrutinized, contains no reference to the Kneeling Nun, although the Santa Rita Copper Mines are noted. Considered together, this evidence suggests that the monolith was not named at least as late as 1864.

Late Nineteenth Century Descriptions-The Kneeling Nun is Named


The earliest description of the Kneeling Nun as the Kneeling Nun appears in 1873 in a newspaper description in Mining Life (Mining Life [ML] 20 September 1873). The article contains a poem about the Kneeling Nun prefaced with the following comments (complete poem appears in Appendix A):

LEGEND OF SANTA RITA-Santa Rita is an enormous rock resembling a kneeling, female figure, about 15 miles northeast of Silver City, and from that distance seems about 12 or 15 feet tall, but in reality nearly 150 feet. It kneels facing a precipice some 200 feet high, and is the most prominent feature in the whole country, except Cook's Peak. The legend, of an early day, is that a nun, in one of the numerous Jesuitical convents, committed an offense for which she was condemned to death, and her soul banished to this rock, to remain until the action of the elements released it to join the blessed throng of the redeemed.-Editor

That this poem was the first in a long series of poetic efforts was confirmed when the poem was reprinted in 1912 in the Silver City Enterprise (SCE, 23 August 1912) with the annotation that:

For years the curious rock formation at Santa Rita known as the "Kneeling Nun" has inspired the poetic muse of residents and tourists alike and some very beautiful verse has appeared from time to time, based on the legend which has been handed down by the conquistadores. The following is the earliest known poem connected therewith. It was published in "Mining Life," a Silver City paper, now extinct, on Sept. 20, 1873. The initials J.W. stand for John Wood, a miner and prospector who lived in this section at that time and possessed considerable poetic ability judging from the effusions which appeared in nearly every issue of the paper.

In the following year, 1874, an alternate name for this rock monolith, the Kneeling Virgin, appears in a U.S. government publication. In an overview of mining in the West, Raymond (1874:337) commented that:

A bluff of ejected trap-rock strikes across the country southeasterly, presenting a perpendicular wall five to eight hundred feet high above the general level to the northeast. This wall is a conspicuous landmark for a great many miles, being visible from the Burro Mountains, a distance of twenty miles. Its northwest terminus is abrupt, and is marked by a singular perpendicular stone known as the Kneeling Virgin, owing to the resemblance it bears to a draped female figure kneeling before an altar. The Santa Rita mines are two and a half miles northwest.

Again, it is clear that the monolith in question is what is known today as the Kneeling Nun.

Newspaper accounts from 1877 confirm that this monolith was becoming a named landmark, with the added wrinkle that it was in the process of acquiring possible religious connotations. An anonymous article appearing in the Weekly New Mexican ([WNM] 30 January 1877) observed that:

A portion of the copper mines were recently worked but when we passed the silence of desolation reigned. Near here is a peculiar land mark [sic] which can be seen for miles in every direction called Santa Teresa Mountain. That portion fronting the road presents a square face, and in front of this is a stone 90 feet high presenting the appearance of woman kneeling in front of a shrine, and to make the illusion more perfect, someone has painted a cross on the face of the hugh [sic] rock fronting the kneeling figure.

Yet, the gender and the name ascribed to the rock monolith were by no means settled during these early years. In his survey of southwestern New Mexico in 1877, Wheeler noted on a draft version of a map of the Santa Rita region a rock monolith whose location corresponds perfectly to the Kneeling Nun. However, the name appearing on Wheeler's map is "Kneeling Jesus" (Eveleth and Osburn 1985:Figure 2, See Figure 2 below). This map was never published by the government. However, Wheeler's denotation and the other accounts mentioned above indicate that the monolith was, in the 1870s, known by at least three different names-Kneeling Nun, Kneeling Virgin, and Kneeling Jesus.

By 1881, another poem entitled "Legend of the Kneeling Nun Done in Verse" appears in The New Southwest & Grant County Herald with the following comment (Grant County Herald [GCH], 28 May 1881; full poem presented in Appendix B):


A little poem has been handed us. . .the author of which is a resident of Silver City. Some of our readers have doubtless glanced it over hastily, and others, perhaps, have read it with some care, but we endue [sic] to the opinion that but few appreciate its real merits. . . .The little poem covers a local tradition, the details of which the author, as he himself states has supplied his own way.

An 1881 report about mining in Grant County appeared in the Silver City Enterprise. In this report, the purported mission near Santa Rita is repeated as part of local lore (SCE 21 December 1882):

Ages have passed since the Mexicans worked these mines, yet there is a Spanish legend in connection with them to the effect that the mission was destroyed by a terrible storm, and that the mine caved in burying all the workmen. . . .

The Kneeling Nun appears for the first time on published maps of the region in 1883. A careful review of Powel and Kingman's map of Southwestern New Mexico shows the Kneeling Nun as a named landmark, but it remains named "Kneeling Jesus" following, presumably, the naming convention first established by Wheeler (Figure 3 below).



 What is interesting is that the monolith's name was unchanged on this map, despite the fact that myriad poems and articles in the region's newspapers referred to it as the "Kneeling Nun." Why is not clear.

In 1885, a strong earthquake rattled much of Grant County. A local newspaper, The Silver City Enterprise, reported the impact of this earthquake on the Kneeling Nun (26 June 1885):

About thirty feet of the Kneeling Nun at Santa Rita has tumbled down. For years past this has been a prominent landmark in southern New Mexico. A small portion of the needle still remains, but cannot be seen at so great a distance as of old.

Another earthquake in May of 1887 shook much of the Southwest and northern Mexico, including Silver City. Period descriptions appearing in the Silver City Enterprise (6 May 1887) indicate the impact of this tremor on the Kneeling Nun:

Out at Santa Rita the ancient landmark, the "kneeling nun," a large and lofty needle rock, which was visible for a great distance, was broken and the top fell to the depths below. From the precipices thereabouts rocks weighing over a ton went tumbling down. . .

By the 1890s, the rock monolith near Santa Rita appears to have become progressively more established as a named landmark. This is indicated by descriptions of two events in the general area. In April of 1895, The Eagle (10 April 1895) reported:

The normal school picnic last Friday developed into two dances, one at Ft. Bayard and the other at Santa Rita. It was the intention to have a picnic at Santa Rita and most of those who went had signified an intention of climbing to the summit of that widely known monolith called Santa Rita monolith or the Kneeling Nun. . .

Three months later, a fire in the Santa Rita townsite was reported in The Eagle (10 July 1895) as follows:

Last Thursday evening between 10-11 some of the residents of this city noticed a bright light at Santa Rita and at once came to the conclusion that some of the buildings were on fire. The fire lighted up the Kneeling Nun, which is also known as the Santa Rita monolith and is a landmark for miles around, so that it stood out in bold relief and its outlines could be plainly discerned although it is 16 miles distant. . .


The Early Twentieth Century-The Kneeling Nun Becomes Established


By the early twentieth century, the Kneeling Nun became progressively more established in both scientific and popular literature as a landmark and as a culturally important place. Fayette Jones (1904:39) noted in his review of mining across New Mexico that:

To the east of the Santa Rita basin on the rim is a peculiar isolated column of stone which rises to a considerable height, and may be seen from certain directions for long distances. By a little imagination the stone resembles a woman kneeling in the attitude of prayer; this monolith is known as the "kneeling nun."

The importance of the Kneeling Nun as a place name is perhaps best indicated by its appearance on a series of U.S. Geological Survey maps published in 1909 (USGS 1909a, 1909b; see Figure 4 below). As a notice in the Silver City Enterprise indicated, these maps were prepared in 1907-by which time the Kneeling Nun appears to have become firmly established in local lore (SCE 7 June 1907).

Despite the fact that the U.S. Geological Survey began to use the name, some locals-notably, the county surveyor C.E. Johnson-persisted in using Wheeler's original designation. Figure 5 below shows the 1910 county map prepared by Johnson where "Kneeling Jesus" is still used to designate the rock monolith.







 On the heels of formal recognition by the U.S. government of the Kneeling Nun as a regional landmark, geologists routinely began to use the Nun as a means of orienting readers to the character of the Santa Rita basin (e.g., Jones et al. 1967:3; Lawson 1909:10; Spencer 1935). A few quotations underscore the Nun's importance in this respect:

Extending from the Kneeling Nun in a direction slightly west of north is a comparatively steep, serrated slope that forms the western boundary of the limestone mesa (Lindgren et al. 1910:310).

The geologic map of the Silver City folio shows that the outcrop of the laccolith extends in a belt 1 to 2 miles wide for about 8 miles from Central to a point east of the Kneeling Nun (Spencer and Paige 1935:33).

The emotional connection between the myth of the Nun and the stone monolith appears to have been well-established in the popular press by the early twentieth century. In 1901, for example, the Silver City Enterprise noted that Fourth of July fireworks would be set off "on the summit of the mountain just above the famous Kneeling Nun" (SCE 28 June 1901). By 1909, the local reporter from the Santa Rita mining camp began signing letters to the Silver City Enterprise with the nom de plume "Kneeling Nun" (SCE 9 April 1909). Shortly thereafter, in 1909, Walter Sellers, a resident of Ft. Bayard, published a poem entitled "The Legend of the Kneeling Nun." This poem, often reprinted (e.g., The Mountain Breeze (MB) 11 August 1922, New Mexico Magazine 1929), recapitulates one variant of the Kneeling Nun legend. When reprinted in the Silver City Enterprise in 1911 (SCE 3 February 1911; see Appendix E for complete poem), it was prefaced with the following editorial comment:

For the benefit of Enterprise readers who may not be familiar with the meaning of the title, it may not be amiss to explain that the Kneeling Nun is the name given a peculiar rock formation in the Santa Rita Mountains and overlooking the busy camp of Santa Rita. The formation consists of a monolith of rock standing many feet high in front of an abrupt break in the mountain cliffs. This monolith, at a distance, looks like a veiled figure kneeling in prayer before the cliff, which, to complete the picture, can easily be imagined as an altar. Just where the legend of the fleeing nun being turned into rock while running away from the convent, had its origin, is a mystery, but it has been told and re-told [sic] by the natives to their children, and has thus been handed down through the ages until the beautiful story has become indisolubly [sic] associated with the Santa Rita curiosity.

Also in 1911, the Silver City Enterprise noted that students from local schools traveled to visit the Santa Rita mine and took the opportunity to view the Kneeling Nun (SCE 30 June 1911):

High above the camp and overshadowing it, is the legendary Kneeling Nun mountain famous in the folk lore [sic] of that section of the country, and in poetry and song, and for the first time the teachers had a superb view of this hoary old mountain with its traditions of love, romance, and tragedy. . .

The importance of the Kneeling Nun as a local landmark is further confirmed by photographs appearing in the Silver City Enterprise (2 October 1914) in which the monolith is named. Similarly, in a serialized article appearing in the Silver City Enterprise, and accompanied by a photograph of the Kneeling Nun, Sully (13 October 1933 to 1 December 1933) noted:

Just above the camp and at the point of the bluff is a monolith of rhyolite, which when viewed from the southwest looks like the roughly hewn statue of a nun kneeling before an altar. This monolith, which from its appearance has been termed the "Kneeling Nun," is a prominent landmark for miles; many legends are associated with the mammoth figure.

In a wide-ranging review of New Mexico's history and traditions, Ross Calvin (1934:231) suggests that the Kneeling Nun, which he described as "statuesque, bending exactly like a Sister of Perpetual Adoration," was part and parcel of Hispanic traditions whereby landmarks of many kinds were instilled with religious overtones. Similarly, Morey's (1938:7; See also Salome 1969:2, Weigle and White 1988:306) interviews of local residents in the 1930s confirm that the Kneeling Nun was viewed by some residents as a religious icon:

[It is] strange, but true, [that] many of the present day inhabitants of this region regard the story of the Kneeling Nun as sacred and liken unto the Bible story of Lot's wife. . . .I wish to add that this Kneeling Nun Monument has furnished many persons a place of prayer and worship, in the present as well as in past generations. This one small monument has not only furnished a place of repentance, but it has given the mountain a name that has lasted more than a century.

The religious importance of the Kneeling Nun is confirmed by an article appearing in the April 21, 1914 edition of the Silver City Enterprise. Here, a photograph of the Kneeling Nun is shown with a caption entitled "An Easter Offering of the Eternal Hills: The Kneeling Nun." Likewise, Ricardo Muñoz (1984: 2) uses one of the alternate legends of the Kneeling Nun as a springboard for understanding the character of life in Santa Rita before the open pit mine was expanded, noting in the course of his narrative that "Everybody in this village prays to her" (1984:2). Considered jointly, these accounts indicate that the Kneeling Nun is viewed in a religious sense by some segments of the local population.

Even if the Kneeling Nun is not viewed in a strictly religious sense by all segments of the population, it does appear to constitute an important cultural identifier for the region's inhabitants. As Mildred Jordan (1936:1) noted more than 50 years ago, "perhaps no story is so dear to the people of Grant County as the Legend of the Kneeling Nun." This would seem to be confirmed by the many poems that have been written about the Kneeling Nun over the past 125 years (see additional discussion below). Only 30 years ago, the Silver City Enterprise (25 July 1968) noted that the "Kneeling Nun created many legends" while, in 1978, Alice Bullock (1978:59-61) found the Kneeling Nun to be a pivotal part of the region's lore. What, then, is the lore surrounding the Kneeling Nun and what information can be gleaned from differing accounts of the Kneeling Nun? These issues are examined in more detail below.

Alternate Forms of the Kneeling Nun Legend


Varying accounts of the legend of the Kneeling Nun appear in the popular press beginning, as noted above, as early as the 1870s. As with earlier names given to the monolith, these legends provide conflicting information regarding the character of the Kneeling Nun legend.

One of the earliest poetic efforts, entitled "The Kneeling Nun," was completed in 1899 by Harry Burgess. Selected extracts from Burgess' poem sketch the outlines of one of the alternate legends (Appendix C contains the full version; see Salome 1969:3 for a variant similar to this story):

In the days of Spain's great glory,

When her sway was undisputed,

O'er this great outlying region,

Stood a convent on the mountain,

And a monastery 'side it,

From the western sky, the sunset,

Flooded all in crimson glory

Gliding cross and convent belfry

With a light almost ethereal.

Slowly fades the light of crimson,

From the valley, gently rising,

Creep the purple shades of evening,

'Til the mount is clothed in darkness.

But the gardens of the convent,

Lie within the deepest shadows,

Here, on mossy bank reclining,

Of their holy vows forgetful,

Rita and a young monastic,

Vows of earthly love are pledging.

. . . .

In her lovers arms reposing,

Rita, dreaming dreams of rapture,

Wakes to find her lover fleeing,

Wakes to find the irate Abbess,

Wakes to hear that death awaits her.

. . . .

Grant, O God, unto a sinner,

Who for broken vows, asks pardon,

Strength to stand against entreaty

Firm and staunch as rock, unyielding,

Thus she prayed, but he unheeding,

Stoops to lift the kneeling figure,

Finds but ponderous stone before him,

Nothing but the semblance human.

. . . .

Loud the lover's cry of anguish,

Backward over the brink he staggers,

And his body, plunging, hurtling,

Dashes lifeless at the bottom,

Still the nun bends o'er her penance,

Kneeling onward through the ages,

Making endless reparation.


Another early twentieth century account presented by Jones (1904:39) indicates that the Kneeling Nun acquired its name as a result of the following events:


In the early days of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, upon the mountain there stood a mission or cloister, wherein dwelt monks and nuns; and one of the latter, a Sister Rita, a nun professed, who had broken her vows, was turned into the stone or monolith now standing on its brow.


A third account derives from L.C. Foster's (n.d.) poem entitled "The Kneeling Nun." In this version, neither the nun nor her lover is named, although the general coda of the legend remains similar to other versions (Appendix G contains the full version; see also Salome 1969:2):

Were you once a breathing woman,

Loving as a nun must not?

Did a God of vengeance smite you,

As once he smote the wife of Lot?


A fourth account derives from Walter Sellers (1929) poem entitled "Legend of the Kneeling Nun." Extracts from this poem outline one variant of the myth as follows (Appendix E contains the full version):

 Fairest of all the workers was the Sister Teresa, the Nun,

Teaching the Indian children, quickly their hearts she won,

Soon through the desert country, where're spread the Mission's fame,

Even the gurgling infants were trying to lisp her name.

. . . .

This is the tale as they tell it, how Diego the Soldier came,

Staggering into the courtyard, weary and sore and lame,

Leagues he had crawled through the desert, seeking a kindly hand,

The last of all his comrades, dead in the new-found land.

. . . .

So did their hearts grow stronger, till ever she bore in her mind,

The name of Diego the Soldier, and love to her vows were blind,

Till at last in his arms they found her, eyes like the stars above,

Shining into the depths of her lover's, breathing the Life of Love.

. . . .

This is the tale as they tell it, how on that fateful day,

Stripped of the garb of her Order, they turned the Sister away,

Forth to the desert she wandered and builded an altar of stone,

There she knelt in her suffering, at last with her God alone.

. . . .

This is the tale as they tell it, how with the coming of light,

There where had been an altar, a mountain had grown in the night,

While before it was kneeling, so saw the Mission flock,

The Sister Teresa of yesterday turned to eternal rock.


A highly fanciful play entitled "The Kneeling Nun: A Vindication" was based on this version of the legend. Written by Mrs. John Cowman in 1940 for inclusion in the Coronado Exposition, the play was later removed from consideration for being, in the words of the Exposition's Assistant Supervisor, "historically incorrect." This implies, of course, that there may be a "historically correct" version somewhere in local lore.

In contrast, Mrs. Mildred Jordan (1936:1) of the WPA Writer's Project presents two alternate versions of the Kneeling Nun myth. The first suggests that the myth originates in events that occurred in the days of Coronado:

In the early days of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, a band of men under Coronado came through Santa Rita searching for gold. Shortly after, there came a band of Monks and Nuns, building a monastery. Times were hard not only to make a living, but there was the constant fear of Indians. Soldiers of the Coronado army were brought to the monastery wounded and dying. One of these soldiers, wounded and brought to the monastery, was tenderly cared for by a young nun, Sister Rita. Love came to these two although she fought and prayed against it. But, alas, they were reported by a jealous man, and Sister Rita condemned to die. She prayed to be turned to stone and her wish was granted. A terrible earthquake shook the walls of the monastery and only the Kneeling Nun or form of Sister Rita was left alone through countless ages of time. Santa Rita is supposed to have been named from this legend.


The second, presented as a poem, does not indicate when the events leading to the Kneeling Nun occurred, nor does it provide the name of the Sister or soldier who became lovers (Jordan 1936:2-3). An extract of this poem is as follows (Appendix H contains the full version):

Ancient tales of Spanish Roamers,

Unfold the tale of the Kneeling Nun and warrior bold,

He, injured, but nursed by her to health and loved

Regardless of the cloak of Order,

The Kneeling Nun

. . . .

Stripped of raiment of the Order,

Flung aside, from out their midst,

Warrior gone, here prayers of Ave Maria unheard,

She builded an altar on yon mountainside of rock,

The Kneeling Nun

. . . .

Her vigil kept throughout the years,

Her lover's pleas unheard,

Prayers of Ave Maria in vain,

Body, soul racked with pain,

And, in the end, cast in stone by the omnipotent One,

The Kneeling Nun


In 1978, Bullock (1978:59-61) published an account of the Kneeling Nun legend which differs substantially from earlier versions:

Legend says that a very long time ago a group of good Sisters established a frontier hospital not too far from this mountain ridge. Here they cared for the poor, the aged, the ill, and taught Indian children at a nearby school.... One evening a soldier, wounded, delirious, torn by thorns, staggered up to the gate in the wall surrounding the hospital compound and fell senseless. A sentry had seen him, and soon a litter was fetched and hospital workers brought him in. Though his wounds were serious, bit by bit they brought him back to life. He had not only lost much blood, but his system was dehydrated from the hot sun, lack of water and his painful staggering walk to help. When his sunburned skin had peeled and attendants had gently bathed and shaved him, he was a nice looking young man, with clear blue eyes and sunburned brown hair. One Sister, the youngest in the order, took care of him consistently, tenderly, carefully. When he had gradually recovered, he told her his story. He had been on a six-man patrol, searching for the Apache who held a small white lad prisoner. The patrol was ambushed and all were killed save this one young man, and they thought him dead too. When he revived he started walking. He had heard of this hospital in the desert, and he set out to find it. Without water or food he traversed the rolling hills, trying unsuccessfully to catch even a baby rabbit to give him strength. Though not a religious man, he prayed and when he saw the low adobe building and surrounding walls of the hospital, his prayers were answered. The Sisters cared for him, feeding him gruel, then bit by bit more solid fare as he improved. His wounded shoulder and leg healed, and he began walking in the hospital garden, supported by the Sister's willing hands and shoulder. He told her of his youth on the faraway eastern seaboard, of his running away "to go west" and joining up with the armed forces. He did not want to go back to that. Instead, he wanted to go home, to see tall green trees, lush meadows, and tell his mother he would never run away again, his father that he would gladly take over and farm the land they owned. The Sister nodded compassionately. She too had grown up in that far-off east-less than a hundred miles from his father's farm. They listened to the night call of the coyote, and gradually, more than either realized, they fell in love. "Let us go home-together," he begged her. And he may have added, "This wild desolate desert is not for either of us." Sorrowfully she shook her head, her veil blowing over thin young shoulders. Her fingers slipped over the beads on her rosary, her lips moved in prayer. Then one day the soldiers came, stopping at the hospital for water and a night's rest. It was our young soldier's troop, and they greeted him joyfully. For all these months he had been listed as dead. That night the Sister and the soldier talked under the desert moon. But she was adamant. Tears squeezing from her closed eyes, she bade him goodbye. The next morning the troop gave the soldier a mount and they all rode away together. They were to camp just over the ridge for several days or until joined by another troop in that region. The area beyond the ridge would be their meeting place. That evening when the moon came up, the little nun could bear it no longer. She slid back the bar on the gate and made her way painfully through cactus and thorny bushes to the ridge. With the dawn she could see down. The land below the ridge was empty. The other troop must have arrived first and all had now moved out. Far to the west she could see a cloud of dust as they rode away. Kneeling, she prayed. There was neither strength nor the will to return to the hospital, for in her heart she had broken her vows. The morning winds felt cold, but she prayed on. Slowly her shoulders, her arms, her body, turned to stone. She became one with the facing cliffs, doomed to kneel, praying, for all time.

What is notable about this account is that both participants appear to be from the Eastern seaboard-implying that the legend's protagonists are perhaps Anglos. Also, a hospital, rather than a mission, is the focus of the events.

More recently, Weigle and White (1988), as well as Muñoz (1984), present versions of the Kneeling Nun legend that vary markedly from those discussed above. Weigle and White (1988:306), relying on a version originally presented by Morey (1938:6-7), indicate that a nun at a nearby convent fell in love with the convent's gardener, not a soldier:

It happened one day, that the priest employed a young Spaniard from Santa Rita, to show the Indians how to garden. During his work at the convent, he met one of the beautiful nuns, and they at once, fell in love. The priest found this out and discharged the young man, because the nun had pledged her life to her work, and the church. Many days passed and the nun dreamed of her lover, who she knew had just gone over the hill to the little village of Santa Rita. At last, her love of him became so strong, that she decided to follow him and give up her life at the convent. She stole out into the night, and walked for several days, alone, over the plains and hills. All the time she journeyed along, her conscience was hurting her for turning her back upon the convent. When at last she arrived at the foothills of a large mountain overlooking Santa Rita, the town where her lover was, she knelt to pray. She was so overcome with grief, that she had turned her back on her pledges, that she prayed to be sacrificed as a monument to the people of this new country, and her lover in Santa Rita. So it is said that the rock that stands in the form of a nun, at the foot hills [sic] of the "Kneeling Nun Mountain" at Santa Rita, New Mexico, is the exact image of the nun who repented for forsaking her church.

Not to be outdone, the Grant County Chamber of Commerce printed and distributed a version of the Kneeling Nun legend based on information collected by Lucien File (1968). In this variant, presented in Salome (1969), an entirely new cast of characters is introduced that bears no relationship to other variants of the myth:

The Kneeling Nun is looked upon with peculiar reverence by western miners of all races. Among the miners who came from Mexico was a family by the name of Mendoza. A son of this family, Carlos, was to become the father of Raquel. Raquel's mother, the legend says, was a beautiful Apache maiden. The area around the mine [Santa Rita] was not a fit place to raise a daughter so Carlos and his wife sent Raquel to a convent in Chihuahua at the age of 10. It was back to a life of hardships that Raquel returned from Chihuahua a beautiful girl of eighteen. One day, into the placid life of Raquel came one Captain Fernando Don Alarcórn [sic], a Spanish soldier sent to the area on a reconnoitering [sic] expedition. It is small wonder that Raquel, a nun for two years, fell in love with the handsome dashing young soldier. Fernando among other things was possessed of an intellect equal to that of his beloved. Raquel had given her life over to religion out of sheer ennui. Within her being a severe struggle must have taken place between the calm deliberate stoicism of an Apache mother and the wild, passionate strain of a Spanish father. When Carlos Mendoza heard of his daughter's renunciation of the church he became furious, and forbade her mother to even mention the girl's name. Raquel and her lover moved continually from place to place. Raquel's love persisted, but Fernando abandoned his wife two weeks before the birth of a baby boy. A short time after the son's birth, Raquel heard that Fernando was ill in a mission at Hatchita, but when she arrived at the mission she found that the patient was not her husband. Heartsick and with her money entirely gone, unable to obtain work and not knowing where to turn, Raquel climbed to the summit of old "Ben Moore" one evening at dusk. Drawing her shawl about her, she knelt to pray. Miners returning from their days labor in the mines paused a moment to look at the kneeling figure in the dusk, then went on to the warmth of their own firesides. For a week snow fell in the Black Range and Raquel did not return. A neighboring family took the baby boy and after the snow had cleared upon the mountain top where Raquel had last been seen, there stood an exact replica of Raquel in the attitude of prayer.

According to Muñoz (1984:1-2), the catalyst for the legend began her life as a simple married woman named Teresa. Teresa is turned to stone in an effort to prevent her husband and sons from committing the mortal sin of murder:

A long time ago the Spanish came across this land. They found the beautiful rock formation. The cliff-like, protruding rhyolite composition served as a look-out for the settlers. The monolith figure was but an empty space. The village of Santa Rita was located about 500 yards west of the gigantic rock formation. Teresa, an only child, lived with her widowed mother. At the age of 13, she asked her mother to let her enter the convent. This was not allowed because the mother had promised her late husband that Teresa would marry Raúl, a prominent friend of the family. Raúl turned out to be a mean, unfaithful husband. Teresa patiently took all his abuses and insults. Her prayers, gentleness and faith at last won his heart. Raúl turned his life over and became a good husband. Teresa's happiness did not last long. One day an intoxicated man murdered Raúl's brother. Teresa forgave the murderer and tried to persuade her husband and her two sons to forgive him, too. When she realized that they were determined to avenge the death of their beloved relative, she prayed, "Lord, I would rather see my husband and sons dead than see them stain their souls with sin." The late summer rains came pouring down. Thunder and lightening startled the mining camp. Raúl and his sons drank hard liquor under a low lit lantern. Teresa heard their murmur. They were planning their revenge. Teresa climbed the mountain, and in courageous prayer she knelt in front of the gigantic cliff. With faith and without ceasing, she prayed the night away. The heavens poured out their fury. Lightening and thunder crashed throughout the land. The rains came down in violent waves. The waters came rushing from the mountains. They came destroying everything in their turbulent path. Raúl and his sons were washed away in the flood. As the morning sun illuminated the eastern horizon, the town's people in absolute amazement saw the eternal rock figure of a nun carved in front of the rhyolite cliff.

More recently, Fugate and Fugate (1989:444) comment that the legend of the Kneeling Nun involved Sister Teresa and a soldier named Diego. This recent commentary clearly subscribes to the variant of the legend that was presented by Walter Sellers early in this century (see above).

Finally, the most recent variant of the Kneeling Nun legend appeared in the 24 December 1997 edition of the Silver City Daily Press, penned by Luis Perez. This variant is unlike any of the others presented above:

When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me that, once, some missionary nuns from San Luis Potosí had come into old Santa Rita to help with a church program among the families. This was long ago when the copper mines were barely starting, you know. One of the nuns was very learned and educated, and her name was Sister Maria Ester. . .named after our blessed Mother of Christ and a famous queen of the Old Testament. Well, Sister Maria Ester was so beautiful that people loved to see her just so that they could gaze at her face. But, she was also beautiful in Christian character and was always helping the families and the poor. Anyway, there was a contingent of Spanish soldiers in the area and a handsome young sergeant fell in love with the beautiful nun. She could not accept his love because of her religious vows and the sergeant became very depressed over this. Shortly afterward, he was found dead not too far from the path where he used to keep vigil on the passings of Sister Maria Ester. When the news of the death of the sergeant was known, many bad people. . . .mala gente. . . .blamed the poor sister and she became distraught and anguished. She tried to explain, but no one would listen. To prevent further scandal, she was ordered to soon transfer to faraway Chihuahua. Now it happened that it was the night before Christmas, and with turmoil in her breast, the nun left her quarters and, wandering in a daze, began climbing a tortuous path that led up the mountain. She slipped and fell, again and again, and soon, her hands were bloodied. Soon her habit was also bloodied and torn. Finally, exhausted physically and in spiritual agony, she stopped under a huge bluff near the top and made her final prayer: "O Lord, I have not sinned but the people are against me. Please, Lord, if it be thy will, lift this burden from my soul so that I can serve you faithfully forever." And as she bowed her head, there was, suddenly, a bright star overhead and a shaft of silver light illuminated the nun. Next morning, no one could find Sister Maria Ester and in the days that followed, her disappearance caused near-panic among the people of the town. Consciences began to bother those who had unjustly accused the nun. Those who had openly accused her of consorting with the sergeant suddenly kept to their homes. . . .Well, some say that on the Christmas night when the sister was lost, a bright star appeared over Santa Rita and a silver beam shone upon the mountain near the copper mines. Next morning, a giant stone had fallen below the bluff and remained upright. Many said that the rock looked like a person kneeling in prayer. . .and that's why the boulder is known today as the Kneeling Nun. . .in memory of Sister Maria Ester. And it is said that people who still believe in the miracle of the birth of Christ are rewarded, even today, by seeing a star and a silver beam shining on the Kneeling Nun.

Historical Basis for the Kneeling Nun Legend


As noted above, a play prepared for inclusion in the Coronado Cuatrocentennial eventually was rejected on the grounds that it was "historically inaccurate." Unfortunately, the specific ways in which the play was inaccurate are not specified. Nevertheless, it is possible to evaluate in a preliminary fashion the historical basis for the legends of the Kneeling Nun.

Standard works regarding the early history of the Catholic Church in New Mexico contain no reference to missions in or near Santa Rita in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, or early nineteenth centuries. For example, Domínguez (1776) does not indicate that any missions were present in the region (Adams and Chavez 1956). Similarly, there is no evidence of any mission near Hatchita-a place that appears in the Alarcórn version of the Kneeling Nun legend. Clearly there were no missions in the region that predate the appearance of mining operations at Santa Rita in the early 1800s.

The earliest reference to the presence of Catholic priests at Santa Rita appears in Pattie's Narratives. Pattie noted (Thwaites 1905:117):

This old priest, out of a reverend regard for his own person, had fled from this settlement [Santa Rita] at the commencement of the Indian disturbances; and had not returned until now, when the Indians made peace. . . .The priest, meanwhile, prophesied, that the peace between the Spaniards and Indians would be of very short duration. On the 18th, he left the mines and returned to the place whence he had come.

The events described by Pattie apparently occurred in September of 1826 and the name of the priest and his point of origin have been lost to history. Based on information presented in Salpointe (1898:261), it is likely that he was affiliated with the Durango, Mexico, archdiocese. It is clear that there was no permanent mission in Santa Rita at this early time. Equally, if not more important, there were no nuns present in Santa Rita at the time the mines were owned by Carrasco and Elguea or operated by the Patties and McKnight.

Further, the Santa Rita mines were abandoned between 1838 and the arrival of the Boundary Commission in 1853. Again, Bartlett's 1857 Narratives contain no reference to any mission, priests, or nuns at the time the commission was based at Santa Rita. Mining remained suspended well after the Boundary Commission departed from Santa Rita. Further, a succession of observers, including Emory (1857:21), Cozzens (1858:51-52), and Ailman (Lundwall 1983:31), indicate that the mines remained abandoned through at least 1871. It seems extremely unlikely for a mission to have been present in an area that was, by all accounts, utterly abandoned for many years.

These conclusions are confirmed by the Most Reverend John Baptist Salpointe's (1898) history of the Catholic Church in New Mexico. Salpointe (1898:286-288) provides no evidence pointing to the presence of any mission in the vicinity of Santa Rita in the sixteenth, seventeenth, or eighteenth centuries. Only after May, 1879, was a priest present in Silver City and only after 1884 were nuns of the Sisters of Mercy order present in Silver City (Salpointe 1898:270, 284). This time period post-dates the earliest appearance of the Kneeling Nun legend by 11 years.

Consequently, it seems reasonable to conclude that the legend itself has little or nothing to do with actual historical events, particularly events related to church activities in the region. Second, the timing of most of the variant legends of the Kneeling Nun is without historical foundation. Specifically, most variants refer to church-related events that purportedly occurred prior to about 1879-a period before there were missions, convents, priests, or nuns in the region. Considered together, the competing legends and competing names for the rock monolith itself (i.e., Kneeling Nun, Kneeling Jesus, and Kneeling Virgin) are more consistent with the appearance of a legend that is not based on historical fact, but which has become established as the myth has, in effect, stabilized and been retold over the years.

This historical analysis does not answer the question of the basis for the Kneeling Nun legend. As has been shown, there are a number of variants of the legend. The occurrence of so many variants suggests that the Kneeling Nun may reflect a conflation or recombination of elements from early Catholic theology and the assignment of these recombined elements to a specific landmark, the Santa Rita monolith.

West (1988:73), for example, notes that the occurrence of the soldier Juan Diego in one variant legend is reminiscent of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe (1988:73). Clearly, however, Juan Diego in the Our Lady of Guadalupe legend was not a corrupter of young nuns, and the appearance of a soldier with the same name in the Kneeling Nun legend may simply be coincidental (See also Salome 1969:6 for a similar conclusion).

Similarly, the variant legend presented by Muñoz (1984:1-2) contains many elements that closely resemble the original legend of Santa Rita of Cascia. Specifically, the character of Teresa-Saint Rita in the original-manages to reform her husband through her exemplary behavior. Unlike the original Saint Rita, however, Teresa in this version is turned to stone as a reminder to all for people to behave appropriately. In contrast to other variants of the Kneeling Nun legend, she is not turned to stone as punishment for any indiscretions.


Summary and Implications


As noted at the beginning of this report, it is unusual for social scientists to be present at the time myths are established and legends become commonly accepted by large segments of a populace. This is no less true of events leading to the establishment of the Kneeling Nun in local folklore.

The preceding discussion has documented the advent, development, and importance-both cultural and religious-of the Kneeling Nun monolith near Santa Rita, New Mexico. The major points and implications of these findings are summarized below.


The historical analysis presented here demonstrates the following salient points regarding the Kneeling Nun:

1. Based on documentary evidence, the rock monolith now known as the Kneeling Nun does not appear to have had any name whatsoever through about 1867.

2. Based on documentary evidence, the rock monolith now known as the Kneeling Nun has at various times been referred to as the "Kneeling Nun," "Kneeling Virgin" and "Kneeling Jesus." As well, the monolith was often referred to simply as the "Santa Rita mountain" or "Santa Teresa mountain."

a. The name "Kneeling Nun" appears after Carleton's 1864 map of New Mexico was prepared and absolutely no later than 1873. This suggests that the monolith was named between 1865-1872.

b. The name "Kneeling Virgin" was ascribed to the monolith in 1874, but seems to have disappeared from local parlance shortly thereafter.

c. The name "Kneeling Jesus" first appeared in 1877 and remained in use through at least 1910.

d. "Kneeling Nun" and "Kneeling Jesus" appear to have been used interchangeably during the period 1877-1910, although "Kneeling Nun" was used far more commonly (at least in newspaper articles). The use of these two names does not seem to coincide with specific ethnic groups.

3. Documentary evidence shows there to be no fewer than seven different variant legends attributed to the Kneeling Nun monolith. The earliest variant appears in 1873 and the latest appears in the 1990s. The salient characteristics of variant legends are:

a. Santa Rita Mountain (John Wood - 1873): nun named Saint Rita entombed in stone "for crimes to dark to tell" (implied sexual indiscretions) and her soul would be released only when the rock eroded.

b. Kneeling Nun (Frank Camblos-1881): at the time of Cortés, a Carmelite nun named Sister Rita from Valencia, Spain, was stationed at a mission near Santa Rita. She forsakes her vow of chastity with an unnamed individual (probably a soldier) and was imprisoned. During an earthquake, the mission was destroyed, but Sister Rita was saved by a monk. As the earthquake abated, the monk found the nun turned to stone after having been forgiven for her sins.

c. Kneeling Nun (Harry Burgess-1899): nun named Sister Rita was stationed at a mission near Santa Rita forsakes her vows and falls in love with a monk. After surviving an earthquake that destroys the mission, she prays to be turned into stone so that she might resist future temptations. Her lover, after discovering her transformed to stone, falls over a cliff and dies.

d. Kneeling Nun (Walter Sellers-1929): nun named Sister Teresa stationed at a mission near Santa Rita forsakes her vows and falls in love with Diego the Soldier. She is banished from the mission to wander in the desert. She is turned to stone during a storm similar to version presented in "b" and "c" above.

e. Kneeling Nun (Lucien File-1968): nun named Sister Raquel stationed at a mission near Santa Rita renounces her vows after falling in love with Captain Fernando Don Alarcón [alt. Alarcorn]. Wandering about, Raquel is abandoned by Alarcón, but gives birth to a boy. She is turned to stone during a severe snowstorm.

f. Kneeling Nun (Ricardo Muñoz-1984): unnamed nun at a mission near Santa Rita forsakes her vows and falls in love with the mission's gardener. Otherwise similar to "b" and "c" above.

g. Kneeling Nun (Luis Perez-1997): a nun named Sister Maria Ester from San Luis Potosí arrives at a mission near Santa Rita. Although she is pursued by an unnamed Spanish soldier, she does not forsake her vows. Still, the people turn against her and she prays for relief from their contempt. In response, she is turned into stone on Christmas Eve as a reminder to all of one who kept her vows.

4. Documentary evidence indicates that there is not any historical basis for any of the Kneeling Nun legends. In other words, the legend(s) cannot be linked to actual historical events, particularly those revolving around the role of the Catholic Church in New Mexico. In particular,

a. There is no evidence for any missions or priests either in Santa Rita or Hatchita at the time periods suggested by some variants of the legend.

b. There is no evidence for any convents or nuns either in Santa Rita or Hatchita at the time periods suggested by some variants of the legend.

c. There is no evidence that Coronado established a mission near Santa Rita.

d. There is no known archaeological evidence of a mission around the base of the rock monolith.

5. It is clear that the legend(s) of the Kneeling Nun are not uniform in terms of content and are not historically accurate. However, neither of these conclusions detract from the fact that the Kneeling Nun is now, and has been for many years, a culturally important icon in the Grant County area. This historical review clearly supports the following important points:

a. There have been one (or more) legends associated with this rock monolith for a period of not less than 125 years.

b. These legends appear to have religious connotations for some segments of the local population and have had these connotations for a period of not less than 125 years.

1. The monolith has been the focus of religious observances (prayers, on-site celebrations) by some segments of the local population for a period of not less than 125 years.

2. The religious importance of the monolith appears to have been quite well established among progressively larger segments of the population, particularly Hispanics, by the early 1900s.

c. Earlier information collected by other scholars demonstrates that the Kneeling Nun, even if it was not viewed as religiously important, was viewed as culturally important for many of Grant County's residents. Further, its importance as a cultural icon extended to both Hispanic and Anglo elements of the region's population.


The preceding discussion details a number of inconsistencies surrounding the Kneeling Nun, including (1) names given to the monolith, (2) the character of competing legends associated with the monolith, and (3) disjunctions between legends and actual historical events in the history of the Catholic Church in the region. At the same time, the analysis shows rather clearly that the Kneeling Nun monolith is a cultural and religious icon of long-standing tradition, particularly among at least some segments of the Hispanic residents of Grant County. This latter point becomes quite pivotal since it is directly related to federally mandated requirements for identifying and preserving "Traditional Cultural Properties" (TCPs), especially where TCPs may be adversely affected by federal undertakings. A brief explanation of the potential regulatory implications of CMC's activities is presented below.

In a statutory sense, federal "undertakings" include actions that will take place on federal lands or which may take place on private lands but require federal permits to proceed (e.g., wastewater discharge permits). This obviously includes CMC's proposed land exchange with the Bureau of Land Management. Federal regulations require land-managing agencies-in this case the Bureau of Land Management-to identify and evaluate the importance of a wide range of natural and cultural resources that may be affected by a federal undertaking. Among the kinds of cultural resources explicitly recognized by law (National Historic Preservation Act, 1966) are "Traditional Cultural Properties" or TCPs.

TCPs are deemed significant and eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places (16 U.S.C. 470(b)(2)) if they meet one or more criteria outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically 36 CFR '60.4. The criterion most usually applied to TCPs is one where a property has "traditional cultural significance" - i.e., "it is linked to beliefs, customs and practices of a living community of people that have been passed down through generations, usually orally or through practice." It can include "locations where a community has traditionally carried out economic, artistic, or other cultural practices important in maintaining its identity." However, the fact that a TCP is eligible for inclusion on the National Register under 36 CFR SS 60.4 requires only that consultations with appropriate federal agencies be made consistent with the requirements of 36 CFR 800.

The analysis presented here indicates that the Kneeling Nun meets multiple criteria consistent with 36 CFR 60 and outlined in National Register Bulletin 38 (U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1989). Specifically, the Kneeling Nun:

1. is a recognized tangible and definable property;

2. has remained important as a locus for transmitting beliefs for at least 125 years (relationship to community is intact);

3. is viewed by some segments of the region's inhabitants as a religious property. This might exclude it from possible inclusion on the National Register, consistent with consideration A in 36 CFR '60.4.

4. is, however, simultaneously a property that is important on cultural (not necessarily religious) grounds to other segments of the region's population.

Thorough evaluation of TCPs generally entails three phases of work including (1) background research, (2) interviews with local residents, and (3) detailed recording of TCPs. CMC should be aware that this report constitutes only the first of these three phases and additional work will be necessary to meet the regulatory intent required as part of its EIS now being prepared for submission to the Bureau of Land Management.




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1881 Rita: A Tale of the Santa Rita Mountains. 28 May 1881.


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September 20, 1873

pg. 1

"LEGEND OF SANTA RITA" [Santa Rita is an enormous rock resembling a kneeling female figure, about 15 miles north-east of Silver City, and from that distance seems about 12 or 15 feet tall, but in reality nearly 150 feet. It kneels facing a precipice some 200 feet high, and is the most prominent feature in the whole county, except Cook's Peak. The legend, of an early day, is that a nun, in one of the numerous Jesuitical convents, committed an offense for which she was condemned to death, and her soul banished to this rock, to remain until the action of the elements released it to join the blessed throng of the redeemed-Editor]

"Oh, kneeling saint, at lofty shrine.

Carved out by nature's hand divine,

Thou standst a monument sublime

Of wonder and of fear.

For underneath that rocky heart

Thy troubled soul can ne'er find rest

Till time has wrought the dread behest

And worn away the stones,

For ages yet the storms that ring

Above thy rocky crest

On gentle south, winds murmuring low

Like dreams of peaceful rest

Shall shriek in terror round thy form

When loudly hails the midnight storm

Or lingering in the sunbeams warm

That lie upon thy breast

But all unheeded is the storm

Or gentle south wind blowing warm

Or breath of flowers, or song of birds

Thy soul in silence dwells

For thus the dread decree was given

When lightning dashed athwart the heavens

The sulphurous forms of hell were driven

And shrieked the demons wild,


That thou, the sainted bride of Heaven,

For crimes too dark to tell,

Entombed within a rocky form

For ages thou shall surely dwell

Thy guilty soul should know no rest

No sainted one from 'mongst the lest

No angel come at God's behest

To guard thee in the wild

But through long ages yet to be

Thy only hope and prayer should be

Oh, God but grant me liberty!

All else I will abide

The rocky form is fading slow,

The summer heat, and winter snows,

The storm king and the zephytes low,

Will wear away the stone

And often yet when sweeps the storm

Above Saint Rita's croft

The prayer of agony is heard

Within the rock bound breast

And many a mother tell her child

When shrieks the demon fierce and wild

They are laughing of the hopeless cry

That rends Saint Rita's breast.













July 30, 1909

pg. 1

"Legend Of The Kneeling Nun Done In Verse"

The Enterprise reproduces in this issue the beautiful verses on the "Legend of the Kneeling Nun" at Santa Rita, as it originally appeared in this paper in 1881. (NOTE: This originally appeared in May 28, 1881 issue of The New Southwest and Grant County Herald). The author of the verses and the prefatory note was Frank Camblos, a faro dealer in Silver City in the early days. Camblos was highly educated, being it is said a graduate of Yale and a man of rare cultural and poetic tastes.

(To the Reader.) The Santa Rita mountains are situated in Grant county, New Mexico, about twelve miles east of Silver City. The chain emprises [sic] several high peaks, forming a circle around a vale. Upon this vale are small hills, many of them covered with the mountain oak and pine. When the summer rains clothe the trees in foliage and the ground in verdure, it then becomes a scene of wonderous [sic] beauty.

The mountain referred to in the legend is one of the chain described above and stands at the southern extremity of the vale. Its northern face and two sides are nearly perpendicular, and tower in the air some five hundred feet. Its brow forms quite a plateau, in the center of which stands rocks, in form like the ruins of a dome or watchtower. Between these rocks and the northern edge of the plateau stands a monolith. When the mountain is viewed from a distance, it assumes the appearance of a fortress or castle of the Medieval ages. The rising stone or monolith resembles a human form in a kneeling position. Imagination would readily picture it as the old-time seneschal, "who had mounted the wall to parley hold."

It is traditional that at one time the Mexican government established in this vale a colony or Presidio for the purpose of working the mine with peon labor. That it is substantially true is proven by the ruins of an old fort still standing, as well as the deep shafts found, sunk for mining purposes. Moreover, a few years since, when some workmen were cleaning out some of the shafts, they came upon a large quantity of human bones, which gave rise to the supposition that the mine must have caved at some period and thus destroyed a large number of lives. Superstition has clothed the mountain and monolith with the following legend:

"In the early days of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, upon this mountain there stood a Mission or Cloister wherein dwelled monks and nuns, and one of the latter, a Sister Rita, a nun professed, who had broken her vows, was turned to the stone or monolith now standing on its brow." As the legend goes no farther, the author has supplied the details in his own way..

Silver City, May, 1881 V.C.


View Santa Rita's rocks of grey

When setting sun has closed the day;

And mellow beams from out the west

Bathe hill and plain and mountain crest

With golden light: then, in that hour

Let fancy paint a Feudal Tower.

Wall and Bastion as true do stand

As if uprear'd by human hand.

Turret on battlement is there,

And rising dome proportion'd fair,

On parapet fac'd to the north

What seems a human form stands forth,

A seneschal to guard the wall.

And parley hold when foeman call.

When in the distance it is view'd

With living life it seems imbu'd.

'Tis but a rock, time stained and worn.

And from the earth was duly born.

Upheav'd in nature's frenzied throe

In ages past-how long? None know

When center'd heat and rocking earth

Unto volcanic fires gave birth,

Then in a mood of fiery sway

Was wrought the change as seen to-day.

Perchance where Rita's base cloth stand,

An ocean lav'd a shining strand.

And where the billows swept the main

'Twas once a fair and fertile plain.


When Papal Rome with outstretch'd hand,

Would treasure grasp in every land;

'Twas not with sword and blazon'd shield,

To conquer or die, ere she would yield;

But, with mysteries sought to bind

And 'slave the superstitious mind.

Then saint and miracle were wrought

To awe and sway untutored thought;

They were of earth, not of heaven,

Else the chain would not be riven.

Alas! poor Rome, who envies thee,

Thy purple throne and Holy See?

Feeble and with dissensions torn,

Thy luster dimm'd and power shorn,

Dost think thou ever on the day

When in thy might and ruling sway

On Albion's king and Albion's home

Of Milan mail they armor wore

And on their lance their color bore.

In sheath of steel inlaid with gold

A Bilboa blade each one did hold;

Device and motto on every shield

Was quarter'd on a burnish'd field;

Crested banners on high did wave;

Clarion and bugle music gave;

Heralds proclaim'd with trumpets' tone

"This land is tief to Spanish throne

By conquest right- by right of cause

Sanctioned by church and by our laws;

''Twill be maintained by mortal fight

With all who durst dispute our rights"

No enemy seen- no fight begun

Yet Mexico was lost and won!


When Cortes landed on Spanish-main

In search of conquest, gold and gain,

Adjunctive to his arm'd command

There with him came a priestly band

Prelates in surplice, monk in stole,

Hooded nuns, and friar in cowl,

Were gathered on the sunny strand

Around a cross rear'd by their hand,

A goodly band with purpose bent

To 'slave the mind where'er they went;

Not with the sword and spear and shield

To fight and die on tented field

But with the olive branch would gain

Rome's share of India's rich domain.

When Cortes viewed his followers o'er

In battle line form'd on the shore,

And as the vanguard march'd him by,

His heaving chest and blazing eye

Denoted pleasure and delight

Warrior never look'd on fairer sight!

In stately grace on palfreys sate

Dignitaries of Church and State,

Rob'd in velvet of varied hue

Purple, scarlet, orange and blue

Cloak and doublet on every fold

Were braided o'er and fring'd with gold.

On prancing steeds march'd four abreast,

With spur on heel and arms in rest,

Two hundred knights; and each in vein

Glow'd gentle blood, the best in Spain:

Well skill'd in arms and valor tried

Oft in battle when ebbing-tide

Of strife had paus'd would they with cry

"For Spain! For Spain! Yield Ye, or Die!"

Turn back the wave, and with the sway

Of sword and spear, thus gain the day!

Not they to look for mounds of gold.

But in Church's name to seize and hold

(And by its law made good their claim)

The richest land in this domain.

The troops examined the rocky mound,

But "solid gold" 'twas nowhere found

Retrac'd their steps; the priests remain'd.

When the troops turn'd into the west

Did stout hearts throb 'neath saintly vest;

And as they march'd from out the glen,

The priestly cheek was blanched then.

Good cause had they to pale with fear,

For deadly foes were lurking near.


Five hundred leagues north of the main,

Where Cortes landed with his train,

There mountains stand with haughty crest;

And lying between in sleepy rest

Are hill and dale in wavy line,

Partly covered with oak and pine,

With darksome cave and rocky dells

'Neath lofty peaks and sentinels

To guard this fair and beautious vale

From the furious mountain gale.

Upon this hilly plain so fair

Tower'd a mound of rocks in air.

One day there marched into the glen

A motley troop of armed men,

Detailed from Cortes' main command

To explore and search the land

Until they found as legend told

"A mountain huge of solid gold,

"Like a fortress in shape and face,

"When if you find look at its base,

A cave you'll see. Within that hold

Will be found the solid gold."

And gold they found in ample store,

But not the solid form it wore;

'Twas in the rock where sweat and toil

Must delve it from its mother soil.


Adjunctive to the troops there came

Of Carmelite friars of goodly fame

A noble band, endowe'd with nerve

To danger brave, their cause to serve;

Ye hurl'd the dreaded curse-of-Rome?

For from that hour of fate to thee,

Thy glory wan'd o'er land and sea.

Yet relics of the grandeur past

Will ever live and ever last

While time rolls on-while mountains stand

Inscribed with name, done by thy hand!

Many are found in every clime

Call'd after patron-saint of thine:

And why so named? This tale of yore

Will tell of one- 'this legend lore.


Time's twenty years of ebbing wave

Was buried in Past's misty grave

Since priestly band and warriors bold,

With clasped hands had good-by told,

With throbbing heart and pallid face,

In rocky dell at mountain's base.

This dell in nature's grandeur wild

Then slumbered as a sleeping child,

And now with life was teeming o'er,

Seeking from earth its golden store.

Deep shafts were sunk and hills were bor'd

To where the shining rock was stored.

Where the antelope was wont to speed

Like the fiery and untam'd deed

Courses o'er the plain- there now was seen,

When vale was clothed with verdure green,

Flocks and hills feeding on its hills

And drinking at its running rills.

The priests had thrived by hearty toil

They wealth had wrung from stubborn soil:

To savage wild they taught their creed,

Then turn'd his service to their need;

Easy to teach his darksome mind,

Supernaturally inclined,

And mold and form its plastic thought

And thrall its will, when it was wrought,

Then o'er its sight a glamour throw

Of mysteries and pomp and show.


Upon the vale nature had plac'd

A mountain- like a fortress-fac'd,

And on its brow there then did stand

Uprear'd by the Carmelites' hand

A Monastery. No! not like those

Describ'd by Scott in verse and prose

"With castled wall and carvings rare

And shrines deck'd o'er with jewels fair."

Yet it had its wall, cell and dome

And altar shrine, a gift from Rome

For priestly use, when mass was said

For the living and for the dead.

There dwell'd within the Cloister wall

A dozen nuns each and all

The brown garb of their order wore,

With them the Carmelite cross they bore,

They came from Spain the year before

The Abbess was strict and severe

For breach of rule. Why so austere?

Perchance 'twas age, for years three score

Upon her brow she grimly wore;

Or, perhaps 'twas her girlhood's dream.

Always present and ever seen

Lying upon Past's misty shore,

Wash'd by the storm over and over;

And every wave rolling to land,

Buried it deeper in the sand,

Whate'er the reason or the cause,

Rigid was she in Convent laws.


The Cloister world mov'd calmly on,

And not a ripple disturb'd its throng.

Until one day, in hall and cell,

One to the other nun would tell

In whisper-tone and bated breath

Something of "Rita and of death."

The bell had tolled the matin hour,

The Abbess sat 'thron'd in power

On a dais in vaulted room,

'Mid a light of shadowy gloom,

She held within her bony hand

A crosier-'twas her septer'd wand

And by her side in silence grim

Stood Sister Pablo, tall and slim,

The executress when offense

'Twas scourges pain, as the penance.

Arraign'd here stood with quiet mien

As fair a maid as e'er was seen.

Hair black as raven'd plume she wore

In short, thick curls, clustering over

A head of classic mold; her face

An artist's pencil ne'er could trace

More beauty with form lithe and tall,

Graceful and dignified withal.


The Abbess from her throne of state

Unto Rita 'twas thus she spake:

"Nun profess'd of Valencia, Spain,

Before this bar I thee arraign.

And charge thee by our Convent laws

And by our Church's holy cause

With broken vows, and perjured soul.

The pain caused by the statute roll

Of our order, 'this death to those

Profess'd to God, to break their vows.

But our statutes permit not I

To give the word for thee to die;

"This three superiors of my rank

Who must in judgment sit in bank;

They only can the order give

To condemn to death or to let live.

And 'till that hour of fate doth come,

Thy life is saved from out the tomb.

Yet, in this Cloister, while ye live,

Penance I've the power to give

Ere I adjudge or make decree,

Something would know, would ask of thee,

There as ye stand in very shame:

Thy accomplice, wilt speak his name."


When the Abbess her charge began,

O'er Rita's form a shiver ran.

'Twas like the tremor of the oak

Beneath the woodman's sturdy stroke.

On the Abbess a look she bent,

'Twas of despair, though penitent.

'Twas answered back: those grey eyes shone

As pitiless and cold as stone!

She dropp'd her gaze upon the floor

And as the Abbess looked no more

Till wounded by the venem'd dart.

Then the blood leap'd from her heart

And the blush mantled to her brow

Where pallor had o'erspread till now

As when the tiger's sought for prey

And sees no 'scape-he turns at bay

And stood defiant, erect and bold,

'Twas woman's pride the will controlled.

With heaving breast and scarlet cheek,

And blazing eye (she never did speak)

Fixed upon this woman of fate,

Gave back the look of hate, with hate,

And thus resented the crud blow,

There thrust to crush a fallen foe.

Tamely, her pride never could withstand

So foul a blow from woman's hand;

Then as the wave recedes from shore

And joins the sea, 'tis seen no more.

From cheek and brow, shadow'd with pain,

The purple tide ebb'd back again.

"Dost thou refuse? Ye will not tell?

Then minion to thy prison cell!

Whene'er thy flesh is free from bruise,

Pablo the thongs will freely use

On thee. Nun, look thou to heaven

For thy sin to be forgiven:

No power on earth ne'er can save

Nor keep thee from a living grave;

The sun will fail its light to give

Ere our Order will let you live!"

When vesper-hill rang out its tone

Then oft was heard the wail and groan

From Rita's cell, "God, let me die!"

And in her anguish oft would cry,

"Would prayer and penance e'er atone

"Would God forgive and turn to stone

"Her maiden form?" The answer came

In thunder's tone and fiery flame.


The setting sun had gone to rest

Behind grey clouds: and over their crest

Came streaming up a ghastly light,

Imbuing dale and mountain height

With ashy hue, and in the north

Portentious clouds came rolling forth,

Slowly advancing till o'erhead

They hung like a pall o'er the dead.

In fitful gusts and gaining strength

Then came the wind, until, at length,

A deluge fell of rain and hail,

And o'er the mountain swept a gale.


Within the Cloister wall there reign'd Confusion and dismay, though train'd

To know the elemental strife

As a part of heavenly life,

And knowing not that death was near,

Yet the inmates were pale with fear.

In the chapel, deep in prayer,

Knelt Abbess, nun, priest, and friar,

With blanched cheek as of the dead,

With furies ranging over their head,

Heaven seem'd on destruction bent.

And in her wrath gave furious vent.

Earth labored in a fiery throe,

A shriek arose upon the air,

'Twas like the wall of death's despair.

A monk with face of ashy hue

Silently from the throng withdrew

And strode through hall 'mid rocking floor

With rapid strides to Rita's door.

He knock'd, listen'd, and then his cry:

"Come forth! Come forth! Fly, Rita, fly!

'This death to stay! This house accurs'd!"

With giant strength the door he burst

And clasp'd her form, in semblance dead,

And through the Cloister walls he fled.

Outside the wall upon a stone

He sate her down, she in a moan

Of anguish cried, "O God forgive!

O let me die, I would not live!"

The storm had paused: now with new life

And double force renew'd the strife;

And like a ship in breakers keel'd;

The mountain groan'd, heav'd and reel'd;

The vault of heaven rift and clash'd

In thunder tones: the lighting, flash'd

A stream of living fire; the priest

Told over his beads; the storm increas'd

Its fury; through air rolling on

Came globes of fire; they struck the dome.

"Come, Rita, haste! Let us away

Death's around us- we must not stay!"

There came a voice as though from heaven:

"REST IN PEACE, THOU ART FORGIVEN," Around her form his arms did clasp;


He gave one long and piercing yell;

The Cloister rock'd and sway'd, then fell

Engulf'd in earth's capacious womb.

The inmates gained a living tomb,

The monk in haste strode o'er the hill

The storm had ceased, and all was still.












(ca. 1899-Manuscript on file, Silver City Public Library)

In that vast Southwestern country,

Where the great chain of the Rockies

Dwindles down into the foothills;

Where the plains slope up to meet them,

And the landscape, of that union,

Bears the features of both parents:

Where the mountains, tho not lofty,

Often show in rugged beauty,

Mighty rocks in forms fantastic,

Colored by the fires volcanic,

Which in ages past had scorched them,

And the dark green of the pine trees,

Or the oak, or gnarled Juniper,

Shows harmoniously between

Where from lofty peak of mesa,

Can be seen the billowy surface

Of the plains, which stretching dimly,

Dotted o'er with thorny cactus,

Or the waving, tufty bear-grass,

Fade into the far, blue distance:

Where within the mountain's bosom,

Toils the miner, dark and swarthy,

Searching ever for the treasure,

Which in sinuous vein and sparely,

Traverses the rock unyielding;

Oft for gold or silver seeks he,

Oftener the metal copper,

Is the object of the searching,

Days laborious, and of darkness:



Where on plain, and in the mountains,

Plies the cowboy, his vocation:

Broad sombrero, leather leggings,

Jingling spurs and big revolver,

Are the badges of his calling;

Wild and reckless in his riding,

Naught of danger ever fearing,

Yet in character, and temper,

Big of heart and generous ever,

Like a child of that rough nature,

Wild and rugged that environs him.

Where in deep and tangled canyon,

On the wild slope of the mountain,

Roam the bear and mountain-lion,

Or the deer in antlered beauty,

Flies in flight before intruder:

Where on plains between the mountains,

Fleet of foot, flit things of shadow,

Antelope, athwart the vision,

Lost to sight a moment after,

Prairie-dogs with yelps and scurrying,

Seek their homes in perturbation,

When the biped, man, approaches:

In this strange yet beauteous region,

Isolated, tall and frowning,

Stands the Santa Rita Mountain.

Like the steps unto an altar,

Slope the mountain sides in verdure,

Then the mighty cliff uplifting,

Springing tall and square and stately,

Makes an altar seem no fancy,

See a human figure kneeling,

At the foot of this great altar,

Head bowed down in adoration,

As in act of reparation.

It is Rita of the mountain,

Santa Rita, ever kneeling,

Making endless reparation.



Though the winter wind be bitter,

Though the summer zephyr balmy;

Though the noon-day sun beat fiercely,

Though the moon-beams lave the mountain;

Though the thunder crash in fury,

Though the mocking-bird sing sweetly:

All indifferent is the kneeler.

Never shrinks with cold or terror,

Never thrills with warmth or welcome,

All of stone the heart within her,

All of stone the garb about her,

All of stone the mighty figure,

Which to distant eyes seems human.

Ye who love the ancient legend,

Love the woof of human fancy,

Woven round the works of nature;

Ye who love the olden story,

Or the love which knows no binding;

Ye who think the hearts atonement,

Can in one brief throe of sorrow,

Make amends for all transgressions,

Thus escaping death eternal,

Thus deserving heavenly laurel;

Listen to the tale romantic,

Woven by the Spaniards fancy,

Round the rock upon the mountain.

In the days of Spain's great glory,

When her sway was undisputed,

O'er this great outlying region,

Stood a convent on the mountain

And a monastery 'side it.

From the western sky, the sunset,

Flooded all in crimson glory,

Gilding cross and convent belfry,

With a light almost ethereal.

Slowly fades the light of crimson,

From the valley, gently rising,

Creep the purple shades of evening,

'Til the mount is clothed in darkness.

From the windows lights are twinkling,

But the gardens of the convent

Lie within the deepest shadows.

Here, on mossy bank reclining,

Of their holy vows forgetful,

Rita and a young monastic,

Vows of earthly love are pledging.

Now the convent bell is ringing,

For the exercise of evening,

And the hooded sisters gather

In the dimly lighted chapel.

One is lacking from their number,

And the Abbess, stem, impatient,

"What of Rita? Far too often

Doth she keep the sisters waiting".

Thus she spoke in accents wrathful,

Then the signal having given,

And the chant in cadence rising,

Steals she softly from the chapel,

Peering, searching for the truant.

In her lovers arms reposing,

Rita, dreaming dreams of rapture,

Wakes to find her lover fleeing,

Wakes to face the irate Abbess,

Wakes to hear that death awaits her.

Deep within the covent's dungeon,

Rita fills the time with weeping,

Of her crime still unrepentant,

'Tis the awful doom before her,

Makes her fear and tremble ever.

Loud without the tempest rages,

Loud within the human terror,

Prayers and cries of fear ascending,

From assembled nuns and friars,

Who, with faces blanched, and trembling,

Tell their beads and call on heaven,

For protection in their danger.

Lurid gleams the vivid lightning,

Deafening are the thunder-crashes,

And the earth, with fitful shuddering,

Heaves and groans with fiery mouthing,

As the earthquake works its ruin,

Wide a yawning chasm opens,

On its brink the convent totters,

Reels as though in drunken orgie,

Then in thunderous wrack and ruin,

Disappears from human vision.

Sweetly gleam the stars of heaven,

Peaceful now, the great theatre,

Of the tragic scene just ended.

By some miracle of nature,

That dark cell where languished Rita,

'Scaped alone complete destruction.

Not more changed the face of nature,

Than the now repentant Rita,

Who in fitful voice and tearful,

Pours her grateful soul to heaven.

"Rita," cries a voice beside her,

"Rita, fly this scene of terror,

Come. away, O Rita mia".

"Grant, O God, unto a sinner,

Who for broken vows, asks pardon,

Strength to stand against entreaty,

Firm and staunch as rock, unyielding."

Thus she prayed, but he unheeding,

Stoops to lift the kneeling figure,

Finds but ponderous stone before him,

Nothing but the semblance human.

Loud the lover's cry of anguish,

Backward o'er the brink he staggers,

And his body, plunging, hurtling,

Dashes lifeless on the bottom.

Still the nun bends o'er her penance,

Kneeling onward through the ages,

Making endless reparation.









August 31, 1906

pg. 1

''To The Kneeling Nun Of Santa Rita"

The following beautiful lines on the famous Kneeling Nun of Santa Rita, a curious rock formation in the cliffs which tower above that big copper camp, were written by Captain Waters of Topeka, and dedicated to Miss Belle White of this city in commemoration of a recent trip to that well known spot.

Amid the circling blue she stands,

With darkened eyes and folded hands,

O'erlooking wide extended lands.

The winding roads beneath her crawl,

And sunshine's gleam and shadows pall

Sweep thwart her gusty mountain wall.

Down caverned ways wild waters flow,

And homes of men lie far below,

Whose joy or grief she cannot know.

There, wheels a hawk on laggard wing:

And harken what the breezes bring,

When all the bells of Silver ring.

The hosts of night above her shine;

And day, whose hours are all divine,

Its glories in her tresses twine.

The thunder heads fill half her skies,

And round about tall peaks arise

As alters [sic] fit for sacrifice.

Above all petty strifes and greeds,

Above all doubts and doubtful creeds,

Alone and mute she tells her beads.

With matin praise and vesper prayer,

For all oppressed by carking care,

Alone with God she wrestles there.

Was it for sin she prays apart,

Or was it hurt from love's fierce dart,

That turned to stone a broken heart?

Niobe like, with saintly grace

She gives no sign from her high place;

No smile we see, no tear we trace.

It may be sweet as bee may sip,

Or bitter as the aloes drip,

Yet mute as morrow is her lip.

Her hooded face though none may see,

Though stilled her mortal pulses be,

Oh, Sphinx-like Saint, remember me!






























February 13, 1911

pg. 1

The following beautiful poem, on the Legend of the Kneeling Nun, was written by Walter Sellers, who was for years a patient at the United States General Hospital at Fort Bayard, and was no doubt inspired by a daily view of the great rock formation at Santa Rita, five miles east of the post. Mr. Sellers is a step-son of Major General Duggan, who, with Mrs. Duggan, spent several winters in Silver City in order to be near their son. The poem originally appears in "Army and Navy Life," now out of existence, and is published through the courtesy of Mrs. Alice Cooley, who was given one of the original copies of the poem by the author.

For the benefit of Enterprise readers who may not be familiar with the meaning of the title, it may not be amiss to explain that the Kneeling Nun is the name given a peculiar rock formation in the Santa Rita mountains and overlooking the present busy camp of Santa Rita. The formation consists of a monolith of rock standing many feet high in front of an abrupt break in the mountain cliffs. This monolith, at a distance, looks like a veiled figure kneeling in prayer before the cliff, which, to complete the picture, can easily be imagined as an alter [sic]. Just where the legend of the fleeing nun being turned into rock while running away from the convent, had its origin, is a mystery, but it has been told and re-told by the natives to their children, and it has thus been handed down through the ages until the beautiful story has become indisolubly associated with the Santa Rita curiosity-Ed. Note.

The Legend of the Kneeling Nun

This is the tale as they tell it. How in the days of old.

Came the explorer and the soldier; seeking the glitter of Gold.

Robbing and burning and killing, all in the name of the King.

Eyes agleam for the honors men to the Conqueror bring.

After them came the Fathers, close on the steps they trod;

Holding aloft the sign of the Faith, chanting the Glory of God;

Gentle were they, and tender, healing the wounds of pain;

Left by the sword and fireguard of the pitiless hand of Spain;

This is the tale as they tell it; How by the Aztec trail;

They built an Indian Mission, the Knights of the Holy Grail;

Here in the desert they labored, teaching the Truth and the Light;

Showing the ways of another race to the savage sons of night;

Fairest of all the workers was the Sister Teresa the Nun;

Teaching the Indian children quickly their hearts she won;

Soon through the desert country where'er spread the Mission's fame;

This is the tale as they tell it; How Diego the Soldier came;

Staggering into the courtyard, weary and sore and lame;

Leagues had he crawled through the desert, seeking a kindly hand;

Last of all his comrades, dead in the new-found land;

Then through the long days of sickness, quietly there by his bed;

Watched the Sister Teresa, cooling his fevered head;

And while he raved of his tortures, there through the night;

Faithful, kindly and patient she watched for the coming light;

This is the tale as they tell it; How Diego's eyes grew clear;

And gleamed anew with a shining light when the Sister nurse was near;

Hours would they talk together-he with his stories of strife;

Strange to her quiet seclusion, these tales of the struggle of life;

So did their hearts grow fonder, till ever she bore in her mind;

The name of Diego the Soldier, and love to her vows was blind;

Till at last in his arms they found her, eyes like stars above;

Shining into the depths of her lover's breathing the life of Love;

This is the tale as they tell it: How on that fatal day;

Stripped of the Garb of her Order they turned the Sister Teresa away;

Forth to the desert she wandered and built an altar of stone;

There she knelt in her suffering, at last with her God alone;

Then came the storm and darkness-madly the thunder crashed;

Loud rolled the earth in its anger-cruel the lightning flashed;

And oft through the night to the Mission was borne her piteous cry;

"O, Madre de Dios! Thy mercy on such as I!"

This is the tale as they tell it: How with the coming of light;

There where had been an altar, a mountain had grown in the night;

While before it was Kneeling-so saw the Mission flock;

The Sister Teresa of yesterday, turned to eternal rock.

So in the desert country, through all the length of the days;

Kneeling before her altar, for the erring souls she prays;

Oft when the storm is raging, they hear her piteous cry;

"O, Madre de Dios! Thy Mercy on such as I!"

Walter Foote Sellers









May 11, 1915

pg. 4

'The Kneeling Nun"

A suppliant on her alter near the sky

She bows in prayer. Sunlight, and starlight, sees

Her as she ponders earthly miseries

And sends to God a pleading, silent cry

For stricken ones who in far regions die

Unless from prairies and the rims of seas

They come about her alter, hear decrees

God gives the airs in places wide and high.

Undaunted by the wild winds and the storm,

Alone she kneels, knowing Humanity

Needs one to suffer and to understand.

With a strange peace the seasons touch her form

There while she prays, and now it seems to me

The World must hear-and bless this Wonder-Land!

-Glenn Ward Dresbach.



















The Kneeling Nun

(From a Sheaf of Nature Verses)

(In front of a sheer rock wall in the mountains near

Silver City, New Mexico, is a stone image of a nun in

kneeling posture about which many Iegends cling.)

BY L. C. FOSTER (circa 1940)

What would you, holy maiden

Of that rock face, cold and grim?

Were you seeking for a loved one,

When you knelt in prayer to Him?

Lost among the rocks and canyons

Did you kneel in sheer despair

To the living God of mountains

Pouring out your soul in prayer?

Were you once a breathing woman

Loving as a nun must not?

Did a God of vengeance smite you

As once he smote the wife of Lot?

Bid you kneel throughout the ages

Cold and hard as mountain face,

Nevermore to feel life pulsing

Through your heart, thy sin to efface?

God of love and God of mercy,

Bid Thy mountain torrents run;

Hurl Thy stormy winds about her

Bid them free the kneeling nun.












New Mexico Federal Writer's Project Papers, Manuscript on file at State Archives and Records Center, Santa Fe.

Ode The Kneeling Nun

Apalling in yon montainous splendor

O'erlooking man's domain of mines and vales,

High above us sits that mighty maid of ancient lore,

The Kneeling Nun.

Travelers, plainsman, fast vanishing Indians,

Health seekers, miners, maidens fair,

Have through the ages asked her for guidance, succor, prayer

The Kneeling Nun.

Ancient tales of Spanish Roamers

Unfold the Tale of the Kneeling Nun and warrior bold

He, injured, but nursed by her to health and loved

Regardless of the cloak of order,

The Kneeling Nun.

Strlpped of raiment of the order,

Flung aside, from out their midst,

Warrior gone; her prayers of Ave Maria unheard,

She builded an alter on yon mountainside of rock.

The Kneeling Nun.

Her vigil kept throughout the years,

Her lovers pleas unheard;

Prayers of Ave Maria in vain; body, soul racked with pain

And, in the end, cast in stone by the omnipotent One,

The Kneeling Nun.

Guiding human's destinies down through all the years

Tortured by man's pilferage, his lust for copper

Unmindful of preposterous man made thunder, she sits,

Slowly weakening, slowly crumbling.

The Kneeling Nun.



Withering away, breaking, torn asunder,

Pleading for her love to return,

By Ave Maria in vain for forgiveness,

Knowing soon she'll call no more, as to dust and earth she returns,

No more to guide men or fair maidens.

The Kneeling Nun.

L.E. King quoted in Jordan (1936:2)