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.