Public opinion about the obelisk varies greatly, though many Santa Feans agree that Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber could have done more to prevent a group of people from tearing it down Oct. 12. The history of the object and the issues around it goes much further back than Webber time. Here’s our annotated chronology.
1863: Long used as a gathering place in the center of the town, the Plaza gets a symmetrical scheme of radiating paths focused on a bandstand.
1865: The New Mexico Territorial Legislature authorizes and funds construction of a monument to those who died in the Civil War, which replaces the bandstand.
1866: With the Plaza obelisk unfinished, the Legislature allocates more money, but adds a provision that the monument should also honor soldiers who died in "Indian Wars."
Oct. 24, 1867: Territorial leaders lay the obelisk's cornerstone.
1868: The obelisk is officially completed.
1948: Pueblo Indians in New Mexico win the right to vote.
1966: The Plaza is designated a National Historic Landmark.
1974: Someone chisels the word "savage" off one of the obelisk's plaques; it had appeared as a descriptor before the word "Indians." The same year, the city applies for a HUD grant to renovate the Plaza.
1986: A letter to the city from the state Office of Cultural Affairs Divisions affirms that any "conversion" of Plaza features must get approval by the secretary of the US Department of Interior.
2003: The city hires Beverly Spears to design a permanent gazebo/bandstand on the edge of the Plaza, leaving the obelisk in the dead center of the best dance space.
September, 2017: Protests against the portrayal of the "peaceful reconquest" in the Fiesta Entrada lead to the highly publicized arrest of Jennifer Marley, clad in a traditional Pueblo dress. A "free speech zone" tries to confine a protest organized by The Red Nation.
November, 2017: Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales asks the city Arts Commission to evaluate monuments and to seek to strike a balance in how it memorializes its own contentious history. A report is supposed to include public comments the following year. (That does not happen.)
June 14: Rio Arriba County removes a statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate, a source of similar inflamed racial tensions in Northern New Mexico.
June 15: A protester in Albuquerque calling for the removal of an Oñate sculpture there is shot by a counter-protester. The Red Nation plans a protest for Juneteenth in Santa Fe.
June 17: A work crew visits the Plaza late at night, unannounced. The top section of the obelisk is removed.
Friday Oct. 9 and Saturday Oct. 10: People take turns chaining themselves to the obelisk. Organizers distribute an unsigned statement that reads, in part, "A coalition of groups will occupy the Santa Fe Plaza to demand the removal of the racist obelisk at the center of the town square. The three-day occupation leading up to Indigenous Peoples Day seeks the liberation of Indigenous peoples from all forms of colonialism including the removal of racist monuments and an end to the continued, systematic oppression of Indigenous communities."
Sunday, Oct. 11: As evening falls, protesters leave the obelisk and Plaza at behest of police.
Monday, Oct. 12, 2020: Indigenous Peoples Day midday gathering ends with people wrapping chains and tow straps around the monument and pulling it to the ground. That evening, the city cleans up large debris. Dylan Wroble, 27, and Sean Sunderland, 24, are arrested during a scuffle with police before police pulled out of the public space.
Tuesday, Oct. 13: Police Chief Andrew Padilla says commanders made the right call in backing off the scene a day earlier and promises to "round up" people who participated in toppling the monument.
Wednesday, Nov. 4: Police announce that Lily Sage Schweitzer, 33, and Ryan Witt, 29, will face charges of criminal damage to property (over $1,000), conspiracy, unlawful assembly, criminal trespass; and resisting, evading and/or obstructing an officer. Witt also is accused of unauthorized graffiti (over $1,000). District Attorney Marco Serna vows to prosecute the felonies without offering plea agreements.
Friday, Nov. 6: Dawn Furlong, 44, a local tattoo artist who more commonly uses the last name Purnell, is charged by police.
Monday, Nov. 10: Police name two more women facing charges: Melissa Rose, 44, and Lauren Straily, 28, bringing the total number of arrests to seven.
Sources: Estevan Rael-Gálvez, "Centering Truths, Not So Evident," published on Medium; Archives of SFR, KUNM, Rio Grande Sun; Society of Architectural Historians.