Obelisk Timeline

Our annotated chronology of the history of the object

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.

U.S. Cavalry attacking an Indian village. (Francis S. Drake)

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.

13th United States Infantry Band, Plaza, in front of Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1885. (James R. Riddle)


1948: Pueblo Indians in New Mexico win the right to vote.

Native Americans attempting to register to vote in New Mexico in 1948. (Courtesy / Native American Voting Rights Act)

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.

“Our brother” in black marker replaces “savage” on the Plaza obelisk in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1991. (Steve Northup)

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.

Santa Fe Plaza obelisk monument at night, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1989. (Leslie Tallant)


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.)

2018: Mayor Alan Webber takes office, announces historic tribal recognition and abolishment of the Fiesta Entrada.


June 14: Rio Arriba County removes a statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate, a source of similar inflamed racial tensions in Northern New Mexico.

Statues of Juan de Oñate were removed from both Alcalde and Albuquerque. (Public Domain)

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.

June 18: The city removes the statue of Diego de Vargas from the Cathedral Park in the early morning. Mayor Webber says he take action to remove obelisk, as well.

An empty space remains in Cathedral park after city officials removed a statue of Diego de Vargas that once stood there. (SFR File Photo)

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.

READ MORE >> Read about the cultural conflicts and the CHART committee

READ MORE >> Read about the police response

READ MORE >> Read about the other obelisk

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