By Mike Smith
There are lives, and there are afterlives: real people who become legends, and real events that become stories that lead to other stories and other events.
Take, for instance, the event of a brigade of Confederate soldiers, primarily Texans, passing through the Sandia Mountains in March of 1862, an event best described in historian Don Alberts’ Rebels on the Rio Grande and The Battle of Glorieta.
The brigade camped a snowy night in the village of Tijeras, then moved up the old wagon road (now North Highway 14) to the village of San Antonio. There, right around the present-day site of the locally famous Burger Boy eatery, they pitched their tents or lodged in the adobe homes of local families, making camp for eight days, waiting.
Their stay seems to have been relatively uneventful, though cold and unpleasant, at least according to the journal of Sergeant A.B. Peticolas. “Card playing is the principal amusement,” he wrote. “ . . . Nothing else of interest happened today. Spent my time reading . . . Lying in camp and nothing unusual going on . . . Still lying in camp. Talk of our leaving soon.”
Eventually, the brigade moved on, filing north through San Antonito and Golden and on to the battle at Glorieta Pass, where the Union would defeat the Confederacy and drive their troops from the state.
The brigade moved on, and yet they didn’t.
They stayed as a part of San Antonio history, earning mentions in several books, and causing the kids of local families, like the Jinzos and the Sanchezes, to search the arroyos and hillsides for traces of them, for bullets and for buttons.
They stayed as well as the inspiration for a late-1970s scam, in which con man Howard Elam salted the area with bullets and artifacts from the Deep South, assembled Confederate skeletons out of Native American bones, and led paying treasure hunters to the area to search for and then excitedly “discover” the items he had planted. According to a personal interview with Don Alberts, one of Elam’s most-used sites was the area right across the highway from the Qwest phone building, just south of San Antonio, where Elam would use stories of the brigade’s former camp to legitimize his claims.
And, perhaps most appropriately, the brigade stayed on in local ghost lore, most impressively in the account of Pat Romero of Moriarty, reported in the October 31, 1996 East Mountain Telegraph. Romero and a friend had been driving home along Highway 14, sometime in the 1960s. It was late, and the narrow road was empty. The men talked as they drove, but ceased their conversation immediately when they glimpsed something unexpected in the trees just off the road. There, on the outskirts of San Antonio, about a dozen young men were gathered around a fire. Some were feeding or unsaddling horses, and all were dressed in the gray uniforms of Confederate soldiers.
“My friend and I thought we were seeing things, since we’d both been drinking,” said Romero. Regardless of whether what they saw was real or imagined, those ghosts are a good metaphor for what stories such as this have left behind.
The soldiers have gone, but they haunt and trouble us still. They refuse to leave us alone, and we can’t just let them rest.
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