Don Solomono, Jewish Indian Chief

Solomon Bibo won the trust of the Acoma Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, and in 1888 he became governor of the Acoma Pueblo.

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From the earliest contact between North American Indians and white European settlers, the Europeans held the upper hand. Almost unremittingly, the Europeans imposed their idea of private ownership of land on the Native Americans, obtaining it from them by purchase, stealth and war. Virtually every Indian tribe in North America found its contacts with white settlers painful, if not fatal, and few Indians trusted or respected, much less loved, the white men and women they knew.

One exception to this generalization was Solomon Bibo, a white trader who won the trust and affection of the AcomaAJHS Logo Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. In 1888, “Don Solomono,” as he was known to the Acomas, became governor of the Acoma Pueblo, the equivalent of chief of the tribe. Remarkably, the Acomas asked the United States to recognize Bibo as their leader. Even more remarkable is that Bibo was a Jew.

Solomon Bibo was born in Prussia in 1853, the sixth of eleven children. In 1866, two of Solomon’s brothers ventured to America and settled in New Mexico, which in 1848 had become part of the United States after being first a Spanish colony and then part of Mexico. Initially, the older Bibo brothers worked for the Spiegelberg family, pioneer Jewish merchants in New Mexico, but moved on to the tiny village of Ceboletta, where they set up a trading post to exchange goods with the Navajos. In 1869, at the age of sixteen, Solomon Bibo left Germany for America. After spending some months on the East coast learning English, he joined his brothers in Ceboletta.

All three Bibo brothers developed reputations for fairness in their dealings with the local Indian tribes, who used to bring the Bibos the farm produce they grew. In turn, the Bibo’s, under contract to the U. S. government, supplied the army forts in the area with this produce. The Indians were paid a fair price by the Bibo’s, which encouraged the Indians to improve their farming techniques. The Bibos also became deeply involved in mediating the many disputes over land ownership that arose between the Indians and the Mexican residents of the area, who for centuries had coveted the Indians’ lands. They also tried to intercede with local white Americans (Anglos) who tried to purchase Indian lands at below market prices. The Bibos were considered pro-Indian and were not particularly embraced by either the Mexicans or their fellow Anglos.

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Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. From 1991 to 2004, he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization, and from 2004 to 2008 was its director of research.

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