Taos County, New Mexico
Miguel Mirabal

He carved a name for himself, his family served with dignity
By Mary Katherine DeLong, For The Taos News

He called my mother, Katherine DeLong, "Patrona." Though I was a good two-inches taller than my mother, he called me the diminutive "Patronita."

Miguel Mirabal worked for my mother in the 1940s and 1950s, when she was expanding her home at Agua Viva Ranch in Taos Canyon. He carved all the postas in "rope" pattern -- those for the portals at the entrances of both the main house and the guest house. On the interior of the main house, he carved a posta that was installed at the end of the half-wall dividing part of the kitchen from the dining area. He carved the dining-room table -- chairs were designed and made by my late brother, Ellis DeLong.

The kitchen cabinets were exceptional, doors and trim. Miguel carved them all. Also on the interior, he carved supports for the wall-mounted bookshelves in the living room, as well as two interior doors, both rounded at the top.

And furniture! I still have a small end table and a two-tiered five-foot coffee table, both of which he carved. A small desk he made and trimmed with postas was purchased by his daughter, the late Maria (Mrs. Louis) Bernal, after my mother died in 1974.

One day, probably in 1950 or '51, Mother came back from walking/hiking up on Sunset Hill and told Miguel she had come across a large, curved log. She visualized it as the ideal hearth trim for the fireplace in the newly completed east bedroom. "But it's heavy -- it will take both of us to bring it down," she said. Mother was about 70 years old at the time. So Miguel stopped whatever he was working on at the time, and the two of them managed to drag it down the mountain. Miguel subsequently carved it in the traditional rope pattern and it was duly installed, a perfect fit, a perfect touch.

Miguel surely learned from Nicolai Fechin when he worked on the building of the Fechin house. As Eya Fechin said of her father, "He liked having the Indians work, because they didn't talk much, and he didn't either."

Tonita, his wife, was a wonderful woman, a treasure. Of substantial build, she moved slowly, but with incredible grace. Although she spoke no English, I always felt as though we communicated, somehow above and beyond the verbal. Tonita exuded a sense of peace. When she held our one-year-old son, Jonathan, on her lap, her peace enveloped him like a blanket.

These Mirabals, Miguel and Tonita, had two children, Raphael and Maria. Raphael married Juanita in November 1941, the couple having met when they were both attending the Native American School in Albuquerque. They had two sons -- Leon, born in 1946, and George Lee, born in 1950.

Raphael was the first Taos Native American drafted in the war (World War II). The other 95 from the Pueblo went in different groups. Eleven, for instance, were on Bataan -- Big Jim, Henry and Jimmy Kay Lujan (three brothers), Santano (San) Romero, Onolfe Montoya, Fernando Concha, Joe I. Lujan, Jerry and Lupe Lucero (brothers), Tony Reyna (born Feb. 1, 1916), and Mike Romero. Today, only the latter two are still living -- Tony at his famous Indian Shop at Taos Pueblo, where he has two postas carved by Miguel Mirabal, and Mike Romero, who now lives at Santa Clara Pueblo.

Raphael Mirabal was the only Native American in his outfit, the 99th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force. Only the first month was difficult for him, being alone with Spanish and Anglo boys from all over the country. After three years and three months in the service, mostly in North Africa and Italy, Raphael returned to the pueblo to work in his fields -- 30 acres of corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa, peas and beans. For working his farm, six miles from their house in the pueblo, Raphael had a wagon team, riding plow, mower, rake and binder. His son, Leon, especially liked to tag along. Leon also liked to fish with his father, and ride -- Raphael had two saddle horses, in addition to his wagon team.

In 1950, Raphael, with 17 others from the pueblo, attended auto-mechanic school five nights a week, getting home at 2 o'clock in the morning. He thought then he would probably finish his education at a farm-trade school, for he loved the land and wanted to continue the cultural pattern established by his forefathers.

Life does not always work out according to man's plan, however, and Raphael died before his plans were realized.

Widowed then, with two boys to raise, Juanita went to work in town. She worked at Taos Mox for Van and Gladys Hinds. When Van started the business, the catch line was "Indian made" and only women from the pueblo were employed in the factory on Santa Fe Road, renamed El Camino del Pueblo Sur. She waited tables at the restaurant next door to and in connection with Sake Karavas' La Fonda Hotel, the favorite gathering place of E.J. Bisttram and his cronies.
She was also a waitress, graduating to a managerial position at El Patio Grill, considered one of the very best eateries in town. Always, Juanita's primary concern was caring for her sons, who grew up and eventually married.

Louis Bernal family
Marie Priscilla Mirabal married Louis Bernal, also of Taos Pueblo, and they had seven children -- Linda (Yardley), Roy, Diego, Cynthia (Pemberton), Gerald, Fernando (called Fred), and Nell (Mrs. Daniel Marcus). Only Roy and Nell are still married; all live on pueblo land, except for Linda, who lives in Denver.

Roy Bernal (born Oct. 26, 1947) is currently employed in fund-raising and public relations for the Institute of American Indian Arts, headquartered in Santa Fe. Last year, he was busy assisting victims from the Cerro Grande Fire with crisis counseling. For several years, he has lobbied for the Council of Eight Northern Pueblos, including Nambé, Picuris, Pojoaque, San lldefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, Taos and Tesuque, and the All-lndian Council, a consortium of all 19 pueblos in New Mexico. He was named chairman of the All-lndian Council and served in that capacity for several years.

Louis Bernal, the father, had returned to the pueblo after his wartime service in the U.S. Army (his brother, Paul, was in the U.S. Navy). He went to work for his friend, Ernie Blake, in the development of Taos Ski Valley. He also served the pueblo in a governing capacity for a number of years.

Marie, the mother, died Feb. 11, 1999, and is still mourned by her loving family. Louis continues to live in the family home and to serve his pueblo.

Miguel Mirabal's home
Built in the late 1920s, Miguel's home was one of many private dwellings surrounding the two main pueblo buildings. The house, a kind of duplex, had two closely connected, but separate, establishments. Each unit had a living room, bedroom and a combination kitchen and dining room. A storage room on the main floor and a second-floor room, sometimes used for sleeping, completed the dwelling.

This is where the newlyweds, Raphael and Juanita, came to live and raise their sons. Whenever our family visited Taos from our California home at a Fiesta time, we were invited to the traditional festive meal. The only other Anglo present was Charles B. Brooks, now 88 and living in Green Valley, Ariz.

This is where the widowed and bereaved Juanita Mirabal lives today. (Miguel died in 1959; Tonita had died earlier.) At 85, she is quite active, although under doctor's care. She is comforted by her grandsons, one of whom gathered her collection of family photographs to make a story board with appropriate captions, which was displayed in the lobby of the administration building at the entrance to the pueblo when my friend, Dorothy Burns (who is a language teacher at the pueblo), took me to visit Juanita in August.

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© Karen Mitchell