The Burro Alley Café is famous for its pastries and its historic location in downtown Santa Fe. During the nineteenth century, Burro Alley was known as a district for licentious activity, such as gambling and prostitution. It was called Burro Alley because of the donkeys that were used to carry firewood to the establishments in the area.
One of the most famous Santa Fe locals that frequented this area during the nineteenth century was Maria Gertrudis Barceló, commonly known as “La Tules.” She was a saloon owner and professional gambler during the time of the US-Mexican War. She became wealthy by capitalizing on the flow of American and Mexican traders along the Santa Fe Trail. She became a notorious figure in the United States because of her depictions in newspapers and pieces of travel writing. The media depicted her as a madame and a prostitute, called her the Mexican “Queen of Sin.” These depictions were intended to suggest the general low morals of the Mexican populations and justify the US invasion of Mexico. Interestingly, despite her general poor reputation in the US, which she likely knew nothing about, she loaned funds to the US army in 1846. It is also believed that she exposed a conspiracy against the US military that prevented a massacre.
Even before the beginning of her gambling career, Barceló was an incredibly independent woman for the time. She married in 1823 but kept her maiden name and all of her own property throughout her marriage. Her gambling career began in the mid-1820s. In 1825, she was fined by Mexican authorities for running a gambling establishment in the Ortiz Mountains of north central present-day New Mexico. She was incredibly successful during her career, amassing what was at the time the incredible fortune of $10,000 and several houses by the time of her death in January of 1852.
Since her death, Barceló has been a popular subject in literary and theatrical productions. Depictions of her in popular culture include the 1948 novel The Wind Leaves No Shadow by Ruth Laughlin, in which Barceló is the protagonist, and the early nineties musical Viva Santa Fe! Laughlin’s depiction of Barceló is written to be sympathetic; however, most Mexican characters in the novel are depicted as morally inferior. Like Laughlin’s novel, most of these depictions are not historically accurate and are often driven by racist and/or sexist assumptions.