Thursday, July 10th, 2014

New Book on the Hermit of La Cueva

Giovanni Maria de Agostini, Wonder Of The Century — The Astonishing World Traveler Who Was A Hermit

Giovanni Maria de Agostini Book
This book is about a remarkable man, Giovanni Maria de Agostini, born in Italy in 1801, who combined two seemingly contradictory aspirations: a fervent desire to devote his whole life to “perfect solitude” and an astonishing urge to travel incessantly.

As his decisions and actions emerge from the lightless silence – the time-covered past – a unifying purpose becomes evident.

Following extensive travel in Europe, Agostini takes vows revocable only by formal dispensation from the Pope. He immediately leaves forever his “beloved Italy” for South America. Twenty-one years he spends traversing that, at the time, greatly unexplored continent, visiting Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile – and so doing multiple times. During this spectacular solo Odyssey, he survives a trip down the Amazon River by canoe, crosses the Alps by foot several times, walks vast distances, and endures living alone in scalding deserts and subzero mountains. In spite of oppressive and infuriating obstacles, including death threats, unjust arrest, deportation, jail, and forced confinement in a mental asylum, Agostini persists undeterred in the solemn goal he set for himself when he left Europe.

Seeking change and another continent, Agostini leaves South America for Mexico, passing through Panama and Guatemala, and then Mexico for North America, passing through Cuba. In Cuba, he is hailed as an extraordinary adventurer, his photograph is taken, and he is proclaimed “The Wonder of Our Century.” After arrival in New York, he walks to Canada, where he spends almost a year, then “goes west,” eventually reaching, in the midst of the American Civil War, the Territory of New Mexico, where he meets his merciless fate.

Agostini is remembered in many places — in South America as Monge João Maria, in North America as Ermitaño Don Juan Agostini; however his life story is encrusted with myth and false fact. As the veritable events of his life are unveiled, a man of fascinating originality, prodigious endurance, intelligence, self-discipline, and self-sufficiency, infused with an indomitable spirit of adventure, emerges.

Today in Argentina, as many as 15,000 people participate in a yearly festival initiated by Agostini at Cerro Monje, “Monk’s Hill.” In Brazil, at Cerro Campestre, “Campestre Hill,” and Santo Cerro do Botucaraí, “Holy Hill of Botucaraí,” over 10,000 people celebrate annual events founded by Agostini. In Lapa, Brazil, a national park protects the pilgrimage route to Gruta do Monge, “Monk’s Grotto.” At Araçoiaba Hill, near Sorocaba, Brazil, the Trilha da Pedra Santa, “Trail of the Holy Rock,” is climbed annually by thousands of people desiring to pay respect to the memory of the Monge do Ipanema, the “Monk of Ipanema.”

These are just a few examples of Agostini’s cultural legacy, 145 years after his death.

“David G. Thomas has finally pulled back the veil of obscurity that long shrouded one of the most enduring mysteries in New Mexico’s long history to reveal the true story of the Hermit, Giovanni Maria de Agostini. Tracking Agostini from Italy throughout South and North America to his final resting place in Mesilla, Thomas has once again proven himself a master history detective. Of particular interest is the information about the Hermit’s life in Brazil, which closely parallels his remarkable experience in New Mexico, and required extensive research in Portuguese sources. Thomas’s efforts make it possible to understand this deeply religious man.” — Rick Hendricks, New Mexico State Historian

20 maps and 65 photos, including 2 rare photos of Agostini, one taken in 1857 and one taken in 1861.

Table of Contents here.

See also:
La Cueva – Hermit’s Cave

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Did Billy the Kid Stay at La Posta in Mesilla?

“Best history of Mesilla.”

“La Posta: From the Founding of Mesilla, to the Corn Exchange Hotel, to Billy the Kid Museum, to Famous Landmark” consists of 5 sections:

  • Chapter 1 is a history of Mesilla, beginning with its founding in 1850 by Rafael Ruelas.
  • Chapter 2 gives the original and early ownership of all the properties around the public square in Mesilla, identifying previously uncertain locations such as the Butterfield Overland Stage location.
  • Chapter 3 is a history of the Corn Exchange Hotel, founded in 1874, the most famous hotel in New Mexico at the time. Almost all the major participants of the Lincoln County War stayed at the hotel.
  • Chapter 4 is a history of the Billy the Kid museum and its founder, Mesilla pioneer and impresario George Griggs.
  • Chapter 5 is a history of La Posta, Mesilla’s most famous landmark.

“Mesilla is full of Billy the Kid history. It’s where he started off rustling with Jesse Evans and it’s where he was tried and convicted of murder. At one point, rumor has it, he even stayed at the Corn Exchange Hotel (along with many of the other heavy hitters from the Lincoln County War).”

“For someone who grew up in the area of Mesilla, it’s nice to have a well-researched book about the area — and the giant photographs don’t hurt either (honestly, I love to see photos that take up the whole page so you can actually make out the detail)….”

“And the thing I was most excited to see is a photo of the hotel registry where the name of “William Bonney” is scrawled on the page. I knew this registry had existed at one point but I always thought it was missing…. There is some debate as to whether or not Billy the Kid really signed the book, which the author goes into, but what would Billy the Kid history be without a little controversy.”

Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang Newsletter, Winter, 2013

See also:
Pat Garrett’s Marker

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Lightning Strikes Bishop’s Cap

Lightning Strikes Bishop's Cap
This pefectly-captured photo of a lightning strike on Bishop’s Cap was taken by David Cutcher:

“This photo was taken 2 years ago, mid August. The digital camera I used took about 45 seconds to cycle after each shot, because it was ‘computing’ its way through the dark. I’d taken more than 30 shots, decided to abandon my perch & get back in the car as lightning got closer. This was the only really good shot. The lens was already open when the lightning happened.

Pure luck.”

See also:
Hike to Bishop’s Cap Cave
Mine House Spring – Hayner Mine
Mine House Spring – Hayner Mine – The Video
Visit to Apache Wells
Hiking Dripping Springs – Part 1

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Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

La Cueva – Hermit’s Cave

La Cueva (“the cave”) is the name of a rock formation in the foothills of the Organ Mountains in the Dripping Springs Natural Area. You can see it here:
La Cueva - Dripping Springs Las Cruces
At the center of the photo, where you see the two trees, is the cave that gives the formation its name. You can see the entrance here:
La Cueva - Dripping Springs Las Cruces
Once you enter the cave, you see:
La Cueva - Dripping Springs - Hermit's Ca ve
The cave has been used as a shelter by humans for at least 5,000 years. You can easily see the blackened ceiling caused by innumerable fires:
La Cueva - Dripping Springs - Hermit's Cave
Also inside the cave a Parks Service plaque giving information on the most famous occupant of the cave, the Hermit de Agostini. Like almost all the information published about the Hermit, this plaque is full of incorrect facts.
La Cueva - Dripping Springs - Hermit's Cave
His birth name was Giovanni Maria de Agostini and he was born in 1801 at Sizzano, Piedmont, Italy (not Lombardy as other sources say). After he began his travels and on his passport, he called himself Juan Maria d’Augustine. Physically, he was short, had brown eyes and a long face.

He come from a fairly well-off family and received a formal education, learning Latin, French, and studying theology.

In his early-twenties he began his life as a wanderer, visiting religious sites in Italy, France, and Spain. In 1838 he took the rule of Saint Anthony the Abbot – a decision to lead a Monastic life of poverty and the most austere practices of virtue. Shortly thereafter, he departed Europe for the New World, arriving by boat at Caracas, Venezuela. He was 38 years old.

In South and Central America he traveled in Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Panama, Guatemala, and Mexico.

In 1861 he left Mexico for Cuba, then New York City. He walked from New York City to Montreal, Canada. From Canada he went to St. Louis, Missouri, then Westport, Missouri, then Council Grove, Kansas. Except when he took boats, he always traveled by foot.

The story on the Parks Service plaque is more or less correct about how he got to Mesilla, after spending several years in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The reason for his murder is unclear. The motive was clearly not robbery because his large silver cross, silver rosary, and several other items of silver jewelry were not taken. A local priest was indicted for his murder but never tried.

Related posts:

New Book on the Hermit of La Cueva


Hiking Dripping Springs – Part 3

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Monday, March 5th, 2012

Hike to Bishop’s Cap Cave

Bishop’s Cap Peak is located at the southern end of the Organ Mountains. It was named because it looks something like a Bishop’s Cap — or so the early namers thought. It is easily seen on the east side of Highway I-25 when driving between Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, Tx.
Bishop's Cap Peak
Bishop's Cap Peak -- Topographic Map
Bishop’s Cap cave is located on the western side of the peak, about one-fifth of the distance to the summit. The eastern side of the mountain is off-limits. A power line access road traverses the western side of the peak. At the point at which you can see the mouth of the cave, there is a short spur that climbs about 150 feet toward the mountain.
Bishop's Cap Peak
The point where you begin the ascent is marked on the map above (32.18698 -106.61020). You can see the power line road and spur in the satellite image below.
Bishop's Cap Peak
The cave as it appears from the road is shown below.
Bishop's Cap Peak Cave -- New Mexico
I rate the hike to the cave fairly difficult. There is no path, it’s rocky, and it would be easy to get hurt. Don’t climb alone, and if you are climbing during snake season, be cautious.

The cave mouth (click for larger image):
Bishop's Cap Peak Cave
Some images of the cave (click for larger image):
Bishop's Cap Peak Cave -- Dona Ana, New Mexico
Bishop's Cap Peak Cave -- Las Cruces
Bishop's Cap Peak Cave
The view from the cave (click for larger image):
Bishop's Cap Peak

See also:
Lightning Strikes Bishop’s Cap
Mine House Spring – Hayner Mine
Mine House Spring – Hayner Mine – The Video
Visit to Apache Wells
Hiking Dripping Springs – Part 1

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