Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Guadalupe Robles

Another story from my grandfather, Tom Miranda

Guadalupe Robles was a great big man, about 200 pounds; he had blue eyes and his hair was as white as this wall. He was my girl’s grandfather. Lived there in Santa Barbara – oh, there was a big family of them Robles; I bet there was 500 Robles in Santa Barbara at one time. I remember visiting Keta. I said, I’m going to take your Grandfather for a walk.

I told him, you can’t walk very fast, eh? No, he says. He’s a big man. I took him down the road. He wanted to show me a tree. This one tree, he told me, Tomás, he says, when I was a young man just down from the border, I was sixteen, seventeen years old, this was a little tree. The fishing boats used to drive clear up to it and the Indians would tie their boats to it. Mira, look now, the ocean is about a mile from here. There was a beach and the highway and the railroad. See how much different the ocean is now? It was a good mile from that tree over there to the beach. Agua over here, he said.

Guadalupe, he was a white man, his eyes were blue and his skin was just as white as any white person, and of course since he was old, his hair was just snow white. And I used to look at him and say, mucho pelo, eh? He’d say, No, poquito now, muchacho. But he had a lot of hair. It was white all his life. He wouldn’t let none of his relations take him walking ‘cause muy malo, he said. Oh, he hated drunks. Cochinos, he called them. He asked me, you don’t drink do you? No, I said. Cochinos.

I took him a couple times down the highway about a half mile, exercising. He wouldn’t let anyone touch his cane either; he had a long cane, and it was about this big around from the top, and that thing was the hardest piece of wood I ever saw. Papa Guadalupe, I said, where did you get your cane? Oh, muchos años a good many years ago. He got it when he was a young man down on the border somewhere I guess. He might’ve been sent to Mexico to be raised by family there, since he was illegitimate. We don’t know. Boy that cane was the prettiest piece of wood I ever saw; it shined just like it had varnish.

Poor old Guadalupe Robles. I guess he’s been dead now for 70 years, 60 anyway. But he said he was no Indian. He said the Indians muy prietos. And he was white as snow; his father must have come from Spain. That’s what I figured. He couldn’t speak English: nada, he said, nada. He said probably the Mission had been there 50 years before he came.

The old man -- Guadalupe was his name. I remember they called him Papa Guadalupe. There was no Mexican down there that was like him.

- Tom Miranda

Guadalupe Robles remained a mystery for my mother, the genealogy sleuth. She searched for his birth certificate for years, finally tracking down a death certificate that contained very little information about his origins. Was Robles a mixedblood? a descendent of Spaniards who married into the local Indian population? My mother didn’t think his parents had ever been married, which gives rise to all sorts of speculation. I have a picture of Guadalupe Robles and someone named “Jose Robles,” standing together with hats and boots on;

Both men have a big bushy mustache and appear very dark (contrary to Tom's impression of Guadalupe late in life), although it is difficult to tell if that is the lighting or complextion. This is a photo of a photo that someone shared with my mother; I found it in her belongings with the names "Guadalupe & Jose Robles" in her handwriting underneath the image. I don't know where she found the photo (it is a photograph of a photo), or who has the original. I don't know how she identified these two men, nor do I know which one might be Guadalupe, and which one Jose (a good guess is that she wrote the names down left to right, perhaps because the men are posed in the order she wrote the names). My mother did a lot of research in California, attended many family gatherings, celebrations, libraries; the photo of a photo looks like the original was posted on a board, perhaps as part of a display. If anyone knows more about this picture, please contact me!

Decades later, while searching through the Berkeley photograph database, I found a strange connection to that photo:

Documentation provided by Bancroft Library for this photo is as follows:

Title:People; 133 prints; 20 negatives, 3 positives. No. 1-22 (Vol. 47) No. 23-79 (Vol. 48) No. 80-133 (Vol. 49)
C. Hart Merriam Collection of Native American Photographs, MISCELLANEOUS PHOTOGRAPHS Uncataloged or unidentified; broken up into general categories People; 133 prints; 20 negatives, 3 positives. No. 1-22 (Vol. 47) No. 23-79 (Vol. 48) No. 80-133 (Vol. 49)
Contributing Institution:
The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.

Clearly, this is a picture of Guadlaupe OR Jose Robles in exactly the same pose, same place, same clothes – obviously taken at the same time. In one corner is a shadow whose hat and shoulders match up perfectly with the man from the first photo. This second photo was part of Merriam’s collection (C. Hart Merriam Collection of Native American Photographs, ca. 1890-1938, located online at but nothing was noted about identity, time or place. In fact, the photo is located in Merriam's "misc" photos, prefaced with these words: This is a largely random accumulation of photographic prints either given to Merriam by persons who know of his interest in Indians, or photographs taken on the Alaska Harriman Expedition in 1899, of which Merriam was a member, and kept by him. The catalog numbers in this section take the form "Misc/P1 no. 1" "Misc/P2 No. 1" etc. "Misc" refers to "miscellaneous," "P" refers to a specified and sequentially numbered group of pictures, and "no." to the individual items within a group.

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