September 2015

Linda and Peyote / Interview Excerpt: Linda Martínez de Pedro

Conducted by Jack Loeffler on June 28, 2008

My name is Linda Martínez de Pedro, and I’ve lived for 37 years here in Chimayó. I call myself a hearth-keeper. I would say, first and foremost, that I feel my spiritual journey with peyote created a most incredible life for me, way beyond anything I ever imagined.

When I was a senior in high school, 17 years old, I was hanging out where the beatniks hung out at the Denver Folklore Center. This man came down the street and, all of a sudden, it looked like he was making a beeline for me, and it alarmed me. I tried to identify him, as he got closer. I didn’t know him, had never met him.

I was talking with this friend, and he came up to me and put three things in my hand, three dried, strange-looking little things. And I said, “What?” And he said, “These are for you,” and just kept walking.
“Okay,” I said, and I looked at them. “What is this?”
The guy next to me said, “Ah, I think that’s peyote cactus, dried peyote.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
He said, “Well, go ask that guy who’s a silversmith right off of 17th. He knows about peyote. They eat it with the Indians in a ceremony.”

I went down the street, and I said to this guy, Thane, “Hey, Thane, is this peyote?”
He said, “Where did you get that?”
I said, “Some guy just came walking up to me on the street and gave it to me.”
“Oh,” he said, “that’s sacred medicine to the Native Americans. They have a ceremony that heals your mind and body and spirit.”
“Wow. I wonder why he gave it to me,” I said.

About a week later, a friend showed up at the Denver Folklore Center. Mana Pardiathan had his studio right around the corner. He took me over to Mana’s, who was making pottery. “Hey, I want to give you something,” Mana said, and handed me this bowl that had a bird in it with a peyote on its chest and the initials NAC. “Wow, there’s peyote again,” I thought. I’d never made an altar or gone to a [peyote] meeting, but somehow it so impressed me that I went home and made a little altar in my room. I’d never done anything like that. I put the medicine and bowl on the altar.

I was an art student and was really close to my main art teacher. Two weeks later, I went into class early one morning, and she said, “Linda, I have a book for you. You must read it: Frank Waters’ The Man Who Killed the Deer. It’s the story of how peyote comes to Taos Pueblo.” So I read it.

About a month later, I was getting ready to graduate from high school. My dad let me come to Santa Fe, to stay with my aunt Jean out in Arroyo Hondo for spring break. My friend, Jim Hopper, and I drove into town and went up Canyon Road. Patrick Sky was singing at Three Cities of Spain. After we listened to him, we went up to talk to him. We didn’t know who he was. He was a folksinger, that’s all we knew. “Oh, you guys must have heard of my girlfriend, Buffy Saint Marie,” he said. And I had, of course. We start talking and, pretty soon, he reveals that he’s been using peyote for years, and I thought, “Oh my God, here comes peyote again,” because this was all in a series of months. About an hour later, Patrick, some other people and I walked over to his friend Beth’s house. There was peyote drying, hanging from the ceiling, peyote in pots, and she opened a drawer to show Pat gourd rattles and feather fans. I thought, “Wow.”

So, long story short, back to Denver, graduated from high school, spent the summer in New York, went to the Newport Folk Festival in ’64. I got to hear Bobby Dylan. Came back, went to college, met Randy [Allen], and I was miserable in school. He said, “Well, if you’re that unhappy, why don’t you just quit? I’ll help you.” He was going to New York and thought maybe I should go with him, but I didn’t think I should. So when I put him on a bus to New York, he handed me a bible with the same initials that Mana had painted in the bowl, “NAC [Native American Church].”

The following spring, I went back to Santa Fe. When I got there, I was taken to my first [peyote] meeting. There I was—this young girl just out of high school, going to college, dropped out—within a year of that, and medicine was being given to me in my first peyote ceremony. I knew at that moment why that medicine had been following me, as young as I was, for a whole year. Although I didn’t know much of anything, I knew that I’d waited my whole life to be where I was at that moment. That was really clear to me.

And here I am, 43 years later, still using that medicine. I have a tipi grounds, which I consider a miracle because a little after a year when I started using medicine, I was in a catastrophic accident that paralyzed me from my neck down. The doctors predicted that I had three to nine years to live—nine if I was lucky.

That’s a whole story in itself, after the accident, when Little Joe [Gomez] and John Gomez from Taos Pueblo and John Kimmey came to Denver. I was past super-critical condition, in a neck brace and another brace because I couldn’t breathe. They told the doctor that they wanted to take me out of the hospital to a peyote ceremony. I said to Little Joe, “They’re not going to let you take me out, you know.” And he said, “Wait.” I introduced him to the head doctor, and he said, “I want to talk to you.” The doctor was very gracious to Joe. He sat him down, and Joe said, “We want to take her and pray for her. We’ll bring her back, OK?” I mean, I couldn’t even sit up. They had to lift me up. But the doctor said yes!

The funny part about that story was they brought a drum to the hospital. I said, “I think we better not play it out here in the hall. Let’s go to my room.” So we went into my room, shut the door and Little Joe, John and Kim started singing. Later, the head nurse told me, “One of the nurses came about an hour ago and said, ‘You know what? It sounds like real Indians in Linda’s room.’” The head nurse said, “It is real Indians. I don’t know where they came from. They came to see her.”

But I think of that, and the way John and Joe prayed for me, and Kim bringing them, at a time when the doctors gave me very little time to live. John and Joe’s instructions repeatedly to me were about trusting the medicine. “We’re going to pray for you, and it’s going to take you a long way,” they said. And I know how far their prayers took me. I got to live to see my grandchildren and have an incredible life.”

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