Many tales along the Santa Fe Trail have captivated the imagination including the saga of Manuel Salustiano Delgado. In the 1830s Manuel Salustiano Delgado, an enterprising businessman developed cholera and died along the Santa Fe Trail in route from Franklin, Missouri. His death occurred during the summer hundreds of miles from New Mexico. The people on the wagon train knew that because of the heat and distance that his remains would not make it back for a proper burial. An Indian guide by the name of Susano Leyba was very knowledgeable about the terrain and chose a familiar site for his burial.
Burlap & Brandy
Leyba wrapped Delgado’s body in burlap then filled gravesite with charcoal. The guide poured brandy over his body as a form of preservation. Prior to heading back on the trail they marked the spot of the gravesite. The following winter Susano Leyba returned with a group of men and exhumed the body. To their amazement they found Delgado’s body in an almost perfect state of preservation. The search party travelled back to Santa Fe. Manuel Salustiano received a proper funeral and a burial proceeded at the San Miguel Cemetery.
In the early par of the 19th century New Mexico experieinced outbreaks of smallpox and other epidemics. The communities had to revert to mass burials for the deceased. The gravesites were chosen from the town to avoid contagion. These communal graves were also used during Indian raids that resulted in numerous fatalities. Since it was commonly believed that burial within the proximity of the church provided a gateway for the soul, the bones of a loved were often retrieved at a later date for a proper burial on sacred ground.