In 1962, I was working at Three Cities of Spain, a bar in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was afterhours one night when two men and a woman whom I had never seen before walked in. They looked interesting, so I engaged them in conversation. Their names were Jimmy Hopper, Randy Allen and Jonnie Baynor. They said they’d been down in México and were passing through Santa Fe, hitchhiking their way up to Seattle to the World’s Fair. I asked them, “Do you have a place to sleep?” I invited them to my place on Canyon Road. They had some peyote and, when we got to my house, they shared it with me. That was my first experience with peyote.
Right about that time, the Cuban Missile Crisis was happening. It was a high-anxiety moment. We thought perhaps this was “it”—the end of the world was nigh. What to do? Well, Jimmy remembered how “real” peyote meetings went, so we built an altar and tied a drum, sang songs and prayed the best we knew how. Jimmy Hopper and Randy Allen had gone farther afield in their peyote quest—to Iowa and to Pyramid Lake, Nevada, where they found other non-Indians using peyote.
I went to San Francisco for a couple of years. When I returned, in 1964, I rejoined our little group, which now included an anthropologist, Beth Dickey. Around this time, Beth looked into state laws pertaining to peyote and found out that it was legal if you were part of a bona fide religious organization. So we decided, let’s organize one; let’s write a charter. Linda Pedro’s Tia Jeanne, who worked at the New Mexico Supreme Court library, helped us do the research. We called it the American Church of God (ACG), and on Oct. 7, 1965, we filed papers with the state of New Mexico. That was the birth of the ACG, and it still exists today. Original charter signers included Jimmy, Beth, John Kimmey and Linda Pedro, age 19.
Not long afterwards, Beth made the acquaintance of Little Joe Gomez, an elder from Taos Pueblo. She brought him to Santa Fe to an ACG [peyote] meeting. We asked him: would you run this meeting? He said, “No, I’ll just sit on the side.” He liked our sincerity and became our friend. I believe he was the first Indian to take part in what we were doing. Soon, other Indians including Joe’s brother, John, found out about us. Little Joe, John Gomez, Henry Gomez, an elder by the name of Telesfor Goodmorning and others began to teach us the intricate songs and educate us in the proper way to conduct the night-long prayer ceremony. They helped guide ACG’s development during its formative years.
To Linda, the ACG complimented the Catholic ritual she had been raised with. She appreciated how the female presence was honored within the peyote ceremony. This includes a drum made from a woman’s cooking kettle and water that is ritually shared by a female water bearer at the end of a full night’s invocation. The woman then addresses the assembly with a final prayer smoke.
On a curve past Taos, in 1966, the car in which Linda was traveling went into a skid and rolled over. Linda injured her spinal cord. She was airlifted to St. Vincent’s Hospital, in Santa Fe.
At that time, for all but the wealthiest, there was no in-home nursing care, no 24-hour assistance, no devices to improve mobility and maintain health for quadriplegics – basically nothing but the physical strength of people to lift, carry, transport and attend to all daily needs. The ACG community rallied to provide these services and help maintain Linda’s tenuous hold on life. Groups of caretakers were organized; and undergirding these efforts, church members prayed and tribal elders accompanied her on every step of the journey.
Dick Brown has lived in New Mexico most of his life. He worked for the New Mexico Archeology Department doing site analysis prior to road construction projects and is a UNM graduate in nursing.
Suzanne Jamison and Camilla Trujillo contributed to this article.