The feet of the Don Juan de Oñate statue in New Mexico are seen intact. The original right foot was removed in 1997 and replaced with a recast on the bronze monument. Photo: Jon

Filmmaker Chris Eyre helps shed light on 1997 theft of foot from colonial statue

A decades-old mystery in New Mexico and the history behind it is gaining renewed attention thanks to filmmaker Chris Eyre, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Eyre was enjoying a meal in Santa Fe when he was handed a note, The New York Times reported. It turned out to be from a person who played a role in the removal of the right foot from a statue of Don Juan de Oñate back in 1997.

Oñate was a colonial figure who was known for his brutal campaigns against tribes as he sought to take over their territories on behalf of the government of Spain. In 1599, he oversaw a massacre at the Pueblo of Acoma and ordered the right feet of the surviving men to be cut off -- hence the removal of the corresponding foot from the bronze monument.

Although the missing foot was replaced, the original is still being kept by the man who approached Eyre. With the filmmaker's help, a reporter from The Times who grew up in New Mexico interviewed the man and even saw the legendary appendage.

“I always wanted to walk the foot all the way to Acoma,” the man told reporter Simon Romero. “Or maybe it’ll get buried as a time capsule.”

According to the paper, the mystery man melted a portion of the bronze and made it into medallions for tribal leaders. The foot, which is clad in a boot with a large spur, otherwise remains intact, as seen in a photo published in The Times.

Eyre is now planning to make a documentary about the incident and its impact in New Mexico, The Times reported. The issue is timely, as Pueblo activists continue to protest the celebrations and depictions of Spain's treatment of their ancestors.

“When the foot was cut off, I didn’t hear one person from Acoma disagree with that act,” Maurus Chino, who is an artist from the tribe, told The Times. “If monuments like these can’t be taken down, maybe it’s time to cut some more feet off.”

Oñate's atrocities, including those at Acoma, eventually resulted in him being convicted by the government of Spain. Although he was banished from present-day New Mexico as part of his punishment, the statue was erected in his honor in 1991. Someone recently poured red paint on the left foot of the monument.

Read More on the Story:
Statue’s Stolen Foot Reflects Divisions Over Symbols of Conquest (The New York Times September 30, 2017)
It Takes a Foot Thief (The New York Times October 2, 2017)

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YES! Magazine: Pueblo activists challenge annual depiction of Spanish 'conquest' (September 18, 2017)

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