There was nothing subtle about life in the west in 1868. When the city of Santa Fe erected this sandstone and marble monument in the town plaza, years of multifaceted conflict had shaped public attitudes and subsequently public art. These attitudes were immortalized in both the choice of an obelisk, the most ancient symbol of masculine energy, and the language praising “heroes” for defeating “savage Indians.”

Of course times changed, and attitudes did too. As a diverse population developed, largely driven by Native American and Mexican cultures, the outcry against the monument grew. For years city officials dragged their feet, uncertain how to reconcile the city’s major historic artifact with the reality of what Santa Fe had become.

Then in August of 1974, a man wearing a denim jacket with “City of Santa Fe” stenciled on the back climbed over the fence surrounding the obelisk. He neatly chiseled away the word “savage”, then walked away without saying a word.

He was never identified, and the monument has remained that way ever since.