In the twenty-first century, we can expect historical discoveries in deserts or jungles, but writer-researcher Louis Serna made a very unusual discovery in a hotel lobby. Serna was in the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico, when he spotted a 42-inch stone pillar inscribed with a Templar cross on each side.
When the identity of the object was asked about, the hotel clerk said it was a Santa Fe Trail marker. Having grown up in the area, and having written about places on Northern New Mexico, Sera immediately dismissed the suggestion that the pillar was a trail marker. If it was a trail marker, he reasoned, there would be numerous copies along the trail.
Both the town of Cimarron and the St. James hotel have some interesting history of their own. Cimarron means “untamed” and it was famous between 1850 and 1880 when Kit Carson, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, and Annie Oakley came through. Butch Cassidy, Jesse James, and Zane Grey also passed through and stayed at the St. James. The 15-room hotel had been the scene of 26 murders.
The Spanish who came to New Mexico in the sixteenth century did not blaze the Santa Fe Trail. Indeed, it was early pioneer William Becknell who first charted a trail in 1821. The trail would link Missouri to New Mexico and further west. It did, and still does, have markers but most appear like tombstones sitting on foundation rocks. They do have inscriptions but in English writing. None present the splayed cross of the Templars.
A Second Pillar
The pillar in the St. James lobby is one of two that were taken from an area known as the Carson National Forest. The National Forest is a picturesque area surrounded by mountains. The nearest city is Taos. The second pillar still stands within the forest. Like the one in the St. James lobby, this one is also covered in symbols; the most numerous are Templar crosses. Other symbols have been described as castles, crowns, cups, and chalices and solar symbols. The second pillar is in close proximity to other stones that might be described as grave markers.
So far archaeologists, historians, and even the park service have not been able to shed light on the origin of these pillars. In general many of the unusual inscribed discoveries in America are derided as fake. One is the Bat Creek Stone discovered in Tennessee in 1889. Cyrus Gordon, a Semitic language scholar, said the markings were Canaanite letters spelling “for Judiah.” In Massachusetts, epigraphic evidence of Phoenicians has been found on a 300-pound stone on Cape Cod. It is dubbed the Bourne Stone, for the town in which it was found, in the foundation of a Wampanoag home. A similar inscription was found on Monhegan Island in Maine.
One stone in New England was described early on in the seventeenth century. The Dighton Stone had Cotton Mather and others debating its language and origin. Scholars wondered if it could be Phoenician or Portuguese. One of the most hotly debated stones is the Kensington, discovered in 1890. It has been dated to 1362, but many believe it was only a nineteenth century hoax. Discovered by Olof Ohman, an immigrant from Sweden, the runic inscription on it was said by skeptics to be the work of Ohman. Nevertheless, others witnessed his unearthing of the stone under tree roots where he was clearing a field.
Ohman was ridiculed as a fraud, and his discovery was said to be the work of his own hands. These events occurred at a time when the ‘NEBC’ (No Europeans Before Columbus) school of thought vociferously ridiculed everything that might suggest something different. This persistent narrow-mindedness was severely challenged in 1960 when Norwegians Helge Instad and wife Anne Stine excavated Norse ruins on the northern coast of Newfoundland at L’Anse aux Meadows. The remains of several sod houses, a smithy, a kiln, a bathhouse, and a large shed for boat building were uncovered. Despite this, the NEBC school continues to deny any other discoveries.
The Spanish Arrive
While it is possible the Atlantic was crossed intentionally, or by accident, long before Columbus, there is no doubt that the Spanish explored and settled the American Southwest. In 1540 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado put together a massive expedition to search for the Seven Cities of Gold. A Franciscan friar from Nice, Friar Marco de Niza, had claimed to have seen one of those cities ‘Cibola’ from a distance and embellished his report to claim he had actually visited the city. Coronado like many other Spanish explorers lusted after the rumored riches of the New World. Coronado’s expedition brought 1,300 horses and mules as well as hundreds of sheep and cattle as a food source. The expedition was a failure as, in all likelihood, the legend of Cibola was a myth. Reluctant to admit defeat Coronado traveled all the way to Kansas before returning to Mexico.
A second, large expedition traveled from Mexico to New Mexico with 500 settlers, soldiers, eight Franciscan monks, and 7,000 head of livestock. Led by a man named Juan de Onate they arrived in Northern New Mexico on July 11, 1598. Onate founded New Mexico’s first Spanish town. They named it San Juan de los Cabelleros, meaning St. John of the Knights. Onate also pioneered El Camino Real de Tierra Adento, a 700-mile trail to his new town.
Appointed as the first governor and the first to bring in the Franciscans, Onate was, nevertheless, not to be a friend of the native population. His ostensible mission was the spreading of the Catholic faith and the reduction and pacification of the natives in his province. For that purpose, he sent missionaries to Pueblo towns. Both the missionaries and the settlers felt the native population was there to work for them. An early revolt saw a handful of soldiers and settlers killed. The Spanish retaliation took hundreds of lives.
The Spanish in New Mexico actually predated the mission system that is well known in California. The buildings were older and came under attack during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon
The naming of San Juan of the Knights is a clue to the representation of the Templar Cross on the pillars. St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of the Templars. The Knights of St. John were an eleventh century order that fought in the Crusades. No ordinary military group, they became one of the richest entities in Europe. They created banking, they had the largest navy, they took over many ports as traders and merchants, and, thanks to freedom from paying taxes, they became among the largest of landowners. While they were required to answer only to the Pope, they aroused the ire of the French King Phillip IV. Phillip was deep in debt, so first he expelled the Lombard bankers and seized what he could. Next he turned against the Jews, and, again, appropriated what wealth he could. Finally he looked at the Templars and their accumulated wealth. At first he wanted to join the order; when he was refused he decided to break the order. On trumped up charges of heresy and other crimes, he received permission from the Pope. The first action was to take the Paris Temple where their wealth was held.
On Friday the thirteenth of 1307, sealed orders went out all over France to take the Temple and arrest all Templars. Besides being the greatest military, possessing the largest navy and controlling a network of banks, the Templars most likely had the greatest intelligence force as well. Days before the king’s forces could take the Paris Temple’s treasures, it is thought that they were loaded onto wagon trains that went to the Templar port of La Rochelle. From there, Templar ships brought their wealth to safety.
Templars who were arrested suffered through years of imprisonment and many were burned at the stake, but the order survived.
In several places the order was simply reconstituted as a new order. In Portugal the Knights Templar became the Knights of Christ. The grandmaster of this order is known to history as Henry the Navigator. He sent several expeditions into the Atlantic. One of these discovered Madeira. Led by a Genoese captain Bartolomeo Perestrello the discovery earned him the title of Capitano with his duties being governor. His daughter Felipa married Christopher Columbus. Columbus sailed across the Atlantic with the red Templar Cross on his sails.
He did not sail for Portugal, however. Instead he sailed for Spain. The Spanish king had allowed the Templars to reunite as several orders. The orders included Acantara, Calatrava, Montesa, and the Order of Santiago. Santiago was the largest and the richest and in possession of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella. Their flag was similar to the Templar flag, as it was in the shape of a cross, but distinctly different, as the arms were different symbols.
Is it possible the original Templar order reached the Americas well before the Spanish? A book written by Italian Ruggero Marino said they reached America in the thirteenth century. His book, Christopher Columbus the Last Templar, said not only did they reach America, but the cartographer Martin Benhaim knew of the discovery.
It is typical of the history of the Templars that very little can be documented. Their exploits battling the armies of Islam are recorded. So are their trials. Everything else is shrouded in mystery. There was never any uncovering of a Templar archive, so the extent of their real beliefs, the extent of their travels, and the vast treasures they held has never been revealed.
Knights Templar and Aztec Knights
Part of the circumstantial evidence is that both the Templars and the Aztecs placed a great importance on martial arts. In Mexico, like in Europe, elite orders emerged from the basic military. In Mexico the Knights of the Jaguar and the Eagle Knights were the elite orders. The Jaguar warriors, like the Knights Templar, were part soldiers and part a religious organization. The Jaguar Knights had their own symbol in an animal that embodied courage and power.
The other pivotal order was the Eagle Knights. Like the Jaguar knights, they were mostly made of men of noble birth, although others were allowed in for bravery, and success in capturing the enemies needed for their devotion to human sacrifice. The Eagle Warrior symbol survives as AeroMexico’s logo.
The helmet of the Eagle Knight was not unlike a medieval knight’s helmet except it protruded further over and under the face of the warrior. It offered both protection and the ability to induce fear.
Both orders had their own Temples. They also held privileges granted only to the elite including being allowed to keep concubines and being welcome to dine in the Royal Palace when they were not at their own Temples. At the Eagle Knight Temple a large carved, basalt eagle served as both a totem and a religious representation of the Sun.
Marino’s book points out that the Templar Order had a great deal of gold and silver at a time when precious metals were scarce in Europe. He also states that half of the Atlantic crossings (which were mostly for cod) left from the Templar port of La Rochelle. One of the Templar seals with the words Secretum Templi depicts a man in a loincloth with a feather headdress. This he takes as evidence that the order had kept secret one or more expeditions to the New World.
Are the New Mexico Templar Cross pillars evidence of an early trans-Atlantic connection? The evidence of Spanish Trail markers doesn’t exist. The sixteenth century Spanish explorers did not use the original Templar flag. While the evidence of a much earlier Templar presence is circumstantial, it cannot be ruled out.