Witch Hunts

Gruber, Bernardo (17th century)

German trader accused of sorcery by Pueblo Indians in northern New Mexico.

Bernardo Gruber was imprisoned.

He escaped but died a strange death.

In 1668, Gruber arrived in New Mexico with a pack train of mules bearing fine goods.

It was said that he was fearless and traveled through the lands of the fierce Apache without harm.

Perhaps it was his ability to avoid Apache attacks that led to his downfall.

Soon after coming to New Mexico, several Pueblo Indians betrayed him to a priest for possessing sorcery skills that would make him invulnerable.

According to the Indians, Gruber had given them instructions in sorcery that he had learned in his native Germany.

They said that if certain spells were written on the first day of the feast of the Nativity when the Gospel was being spoken and the person ate the writings they would become invulnerable for 24 hours and could not be harmed or killed by any weapon.

Gruber reportedly claimed that this spell was undertaken whenever Germany went to war.

Supposedly it was tried out on an Indian boy and an Indian adult from Las Salinas, both of whom could not be wounded with knives.

An investigation by the Franciscan prelate revealed that many Pueblo said they had been taught the magical formula by Gruber.

Summoned to appear before church authorities, Gruber readily admitted that he did indeed possess such a spell, and he wrote it down:

+A. B. N. A. + A. D. N. A.+

Upon this confession and evidence, the church arrested Gruber, and he was put in irons in the Pueblo mission at Abo.

While in jail, he talked freely of other magical things he had learned in Germany, evidently unaware of how folk magic was regarded by the Catholic Church authorities in New Mexico.

His admissions only solidified the case against him as a sorcerer.

The authorities intended to transfer Gruber to the Inquisition in Mexico City.

Before this could happen, Gruber’s servants sneaked into the mission and pried open the bars of his cell so that he could escape. Gruber remained at large for several weeks.

Then one day, Captain Andrés de Peralta made an odd discovery on a desert road in southern New Mexico.

A dead roan horse was tied to a tree.

Near the carcass were a blue cloth coat lined with otter skin and a pair of blue breeches, both severely decayed.

The captain recognized the distinctive clothing as items worn by Gruber.

He searched the Gruber, Bernardo 149 area and found Gruber’s hair and several of his bones, all widely scattered: the skull, three ribs, two long bones and
two small bones.

It was assumed that Gruber had been killed by Indians, giving the case a bizarre twist.

In the end, it seemed that his sorcery had failed him.

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