Burro Alley Café
The Burro Alley Café is famous for its Mexican-inspired food and its historic location in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. During the 19th 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. Santa Fe celebrates Burro Alley and its history by commissioning a life-size wood-laden donkey in bronze in the middle of the alley, which was sculpted by Charles Southard in 1988. One of the most famous historical figures that frequented the area during the 19th century was saloon owner and professional gambler, Maria Gertrudis Barceló, or as she was often referred as "La Tules." Barceló was often depicted negatively in US newspapers, but these depictions were intended to suggest the general low morals of Mexican populations and justify the US invasion of Mexico. However, Barceló was believed to have loaned money to the U.S. army during the U.S.-Mexican War in 1846 and prevented a massacre from occurring.
Backstory and Context
Maria Gertrudis Barceló (c.1800-1852), or commonly known as “La Tules,” was one of the of the most famous Santa Fe locals that frequented Burro Alley during the 19th century. She was a saloon owner and professional gambler during the time of the U.S.-Mexican War. Barceló earned her vast wealth by capitalizing on the flow of American and Mexican traders along the Santa Fe Trail, and eventually, she became a notorious figure in the United States due to how US newspapers and pieces of travel writing negatively depicted her as a madame and a The media depicted her as a madame and a prostitute. The US media has called her the Mexican “Queen of Sin.” However, these depictions were intended to suggest the general low morals of Mexican populations and justify the US invasion of Mexico. Interestingly, despite her general poor reputation in the US, she was believed to have done good deeds for the US military during the war. For example, 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.
Born in Spain to an upper-class family, Barceló moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico at the age of 23. Even before the beginning of her gambling career, Barceló was an incredibly independent woman for the time. She married in 1823, but she kept her maiden name and all of her own property throughout her marriage. Many believed that the death of her two children caused her to go against traditional gender roles and shift her role as a mother to a businesswoman. Her gambling career began in the mid-1820s where she would dominate at the game of Monte. She was close friends with the Americans and the governor of Santa Fe, and she admired for her beauty and wit. However, some were also jealous and intimated by La Tules, saying her "sinful ways" were corrupting the town. 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 successful during her career, accumulating a fortune totaling over $10,000 and several houses by the time of her death in January of 1852. Madame La Tules left her fortune to both her family and charity, and she was the last person to be buried at the Parroquia Church in Santa Fe.
Since her death, Barceló and her legacy have been a popular subject in literary and theatrical productions. Depictions of her in popular culture include Ruth Laughlin's 1948 novel, The Wind Leaves No Shadow where Barceló is portrayed as the protagonist. In the early-1990s, the musical, Viva Santa Fe! Laughlin’s depiction of Barceló is written to be sympathetic. However, most Mexican characters Laughlin's novel are depicted as morally inferior, not historically accurate, and often driven by racist and/or sexist assumptions. In addition, Mexican actress, Katy Jurado played La Tules in an episode of the US western anthology series, Death Valley Days in 1962.
Two centuries after Barceló's death, Burro Alley has become tourist attraction in Santa Fe. The area was given the name Burro Alley because many travelers would bring their donkeys there and used them carry firewood to the establishments in the area. In the center of the alley, there is a life-size wood-laden donkey in bronze in the middle of the alley, which was sculpted by Charles Southard in 1988. In addition to the donkey statue, there is Burro Alley Cafê, which is best known for their Mexican-inspired dishes, such as huevos rancheros, tacos, burritos, fajitas, and enchiladas. The establishment also serves breakfast dishes, salads, appetizers, and pastries.
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