(1853 - 1934)
From the earliest contact between North American Indians
and white European settlers, the Europeans held the upper hand. Almost
unremittingly, the Europeans imposed their idea of private ownership
of land on the Native Americans, obtaining it from them by purchase,
stealth and war. Virtually every Indian tribe in North America found
its contacts with white settlers painful, if not fatal, and few Indians
trusted or respected, much less loved, the white men and women they
One exception to this generalization was Solomon Bibo, a white trader
who won the trust and affection of the Acoma Pueblo Indians of New Mexico.
In 1888, "Don Solomono," as he was known to the Acomas, became
governor of the Acoma Pueblo, the equivalent of chief of the tribe.
Remarkably, the Acomas asked the United States to recognize Bibo as
their leader. Even more remarkable is that Bibo was a Jew.
Solomon Bibo was born in Prussia in 1853, the sixth of eleven children.
In 1866, two of Solomons brothers ventured to America and settled
in New Mexico, which in 1848 had become part of the United States after
being first a Spanish colony and then part of Mexico. Initially, the
older Bibo brothers worked for the Spiegelberg family, pioneer Jewish
merchants in New Mexico, but moved on to the tiny village of Ceboletta,
where they set up a trading post to exchange goods with the Navajos.
In 1869, at the age of sixteen, Solomon Bibo left Germany for America.
After spending some months on the East coast learning English, he joined
his brothers in Ceboletta.
All three Bibo brothers developed reputations for fairness in their
dealings with the local Indian tribes, who used to bring the Bibos the
farm produce they grew. In turn, the Bibos, under contract to
the U. S. government, supplied the army forts in the area with this
produce. The Indians were paid a fair price by the Bibos, which
encouraged the Indians to improve their farming techniques. The Bibos
also became deeply involved in mediating the many disputes over land
ownership that arose between the Indians and the Mexican residents of
the area, who for centuries had coveted the Indians lands. They
also tried to intercede with local white Americans (Anglos) who tried
to purchase Indian lands at below market prices. The Bibos were considered
pro-Indian and were not particularly embraced by either the Mexicans
or their fellow Anglos.
None of the Bibos became more endeared to the Indians than Solomon
was to the Acomas. In 1882, he arrived at the pueblo and set up a trading
post. He learned Queresan, the Acoma language, and helped the tribe
fight its legal battles to restore its traditional lands. By treaty
in 1877, the Acomas had been granted 94,000 acres of land by the U.S.
government, far less than the Indians thought they were entitled to
according to historical evidence. The Acomas were determined that they
should lose no more than had already slipped through their hands.
To accomplish this end, in 1884 the tribe decided to offer Bibo a 30
year lease to all their land, in exchange for which he would pay them
$12,000, protect their cattle, keep squatters away and mine the coal
under the Acoma lands, for which he would pay the tribe a royalty of
ten cents per ton for each ton extracted. Pedro Sanchez, the U.S. Indian
agent from Santa Fe, learned of the deal and, jealous of the success
of the "rico Israelito" (rich Jew), tried to get the federal
government to void the lease..
The Bibo family fought back. Simon Bibo petitioned
the Board of Indian Commissioners in Washington to the
effect that his brother Solomons "intentions
with the Indians are of the best nature and beneficial
to them because the men, women and children love
him as they would a father and he is in the same manner
attached to them." In 1888, convinced finally that
Bibo had acted honorably, the Indian agent for New Mexico
wrote, "To the people of the pueblo of Acoma, having
confidence in the ability, integrity and fidelity of
Solomon Bibo... I hereby appoint [him] governor of said
In 1885, Solomon married an Acoma woman, Juana Valle,
granddaughter of his predecessor as governor of the
Acoma Pueblo. Juana was originally a Catholic, but observed
the Jewish faith and raised her children as Jews. In
1898, wanting their children to receive a Jewish education,
Solomon and Juana relocated to San Francisco, where
he invested in real estate and opened a fancy food shop.
Their oldest son was bar
mitzvah at San Franciscos Ohabei Shalome,
and the younger attended religious school at Temple
Emanuel. Solomon Bibo died in 1934, Juana in 1941. Solomon
Bibo, governor of the Acomas, Americas only known
Jewish Indian chief, is buried with his Indian princess
in the Jewish cemetery in Colma, California.
Jewish Historical Society