For untold centuries long distance communications throughout the Southwest, Mexico, Central and South America were carried by running messengers, who dedicated their lives to this critical role. They knew the secret ways and could cover vast distances, finding their counterparts and spreading the word.
An ancient internet connecting clans, neighbors and villages. The messengers were the story tellers, bringing the news from places near and far. Their trade was information and their mission vital to the people.
In 1680, two young messengers from Tesuque Pueblo, Catua and Omtua, carried a message some 27 miles to a village south of Santa Fe, evading the Spanish soldiers along the way. They received an unexpected response and knew what they had to do – run back to Tesuque as fast as they could. Upon delivering the message and confirming to the chief the critical success of the mission, they fell into a deep sleep. Not long after, Spanish soldiers arrived and before the Pueblo Revolt caused the Spanish to flee from the land, they became martyrs. A monument to their heroism telling the story stands in the Catua and Omtua Plaza of the Santa Fe Convention Center. Word of the coming battle was carried as far as the lands of the Hopi in northern Arizona, who cast the Spanish missionaries out from their lands, at least, once and for all.
Stories of running messengers exist in all cultures. Until recently, the entirety of our history, information and news existed only in the mind and was passed on by word of mouth. As cultures grew and their territories expanded, connections became more tenuous, held together by footsteps across the land, sometimes on dangerous missions. Messengers who could pass by unseen, like Catua and Omtua, continued their journey and spread the word into the future.
Imagine the societal investment in each running messenger’s knowledge and ability to swiftly cover long distances. The leaders relied on them and reliable messengers’ fame spread along with their stories and deeds. It was on the plains of Marathon that Athenian soldier Phidippides famously delivered a message of victory over the Persian Army and a warning of approaching Persian ships – and then perished from exhaustion. His story is celebrated by footraces held every weekend around the world!
Before the first running of Santa Fe Thunder, I pulled out a book from my library that I had not opened since reading it in 1982. Indian Running, by Peter Nabokov, tells the story of runners from Taos and other northern New Mexico Pueblos who celebrated the Tricentennial of the Pueblo Revolt with a running relay all the way to Hopi. The first photo in the book is a petroglyph of a running messenger “in the Galisteo Basin.” I was floored – the running man is about 10 miles from my house!
This year’s T-shirt, designed by Carolyn Karnes, features the Galisteo Running Man and honors all running messengers, including each participant in The Race Different. We are all messengers, whether we run or not, and share the wisdom of our ancestors as best we can with our families, peers, and most importantly with the next generation.
We are blessed in New Mexico to be surrounded by ancient footpaths. A few years ago, hearing my story, a friend told me that she knew of a running man petroglyph atop a mesa a couple of miles above her home near Taos. I took the next opportunity to visit her and she pointed up, saying “you will find it if you are meant to.” I ascended the mesa, which turned out to have a large top, and wondered whether I would find it. I kept the faith and suddenly was brought to a standstill by not one, but 3 running messengers etched into a rock! Climbing the highest point in the area, I looked north toward Taos and south to Santa Fe and imagined how many generations of runners had worn the paths that I stumble upon regularly during my cross country explorations. Hundreds upon hundreds left their footsteps across the land, occasionally along with a sign assuring future messengers that they are on the right path.
Taos became famous for its its end of summer mountain rendezvous more than a century ago. Santa Fe Thunder is a modern day rendezvous for running messengers from around the world, including this year’s honoree, Peter Koech. By participating, you add your footsteps to the ancient path north from Santa Fe, homelands of the Tesuque People. You will run behind (most of you!) world class runners from Kenya, Ethiopia and other far away lands, and perhaps alongside Rarámuri ultramarathoners and runners from across the country. We invite you to share this special time with one another and be inspired by your experience to continue your journey ahead. ¡Vamanos!