Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

Back to Treasures Index

Ramón Montes

Honored June, 2009

Ramón Montes

Always quietly and always humbly, Ramón Montes has lived a life so wide and full it almost defies belief. But every part of it is true.

Born in Santa Fe in 1919, he spent his childhood speaking Spanish and seeing burros and horses and wagons in the streets. As a boy he was given a pocket knife, and began carving little animals and other wooden toys for his six younger brothers and sisters. He sold newspapers on the Plaza and did other odd jobs to help support the family. With his father and grandfather he helped build houses.

By the time Ramón was 19, his parents and two older brothers had died, so he became the man of the family, caring for his younger siblings. He kept them fed and clothed, cooked for them, gave them money for things they needed, made sure they studied and went to church. During this Depression era he found work with the Civilian Conservation Corps and learned to be an electrician. He built a house with his own hands, and borrowed no money for it.

When World War II came he went to Europe as a machine gunner and fought in the front lines. He lost the hearing in one ear. An allotment from his pay went to his family, and he faithfully wrote to his siblings. When he returned he married, and resumed working as an electrician. His projects included several of Santa Fe’s most historic and significant buildings: the Palace of the Governors, the Oldest House, St. Francis Cathedral, the Governor’s Mansion. He brought electricity to Rancho de Chimayo. He was one of the few electricians in town brave enough to climb to the top of a 224-foot radio tower to install its 50-pound signal light. He raised a son and a daughter, who became a poverty lawyer and a speech therapist.

His wood carving advanced to the level of art, and he became a noted santero. But he declined to sell his work, giving it away and keeping it for his permanent home, which he also built himself. He carved its doors, its cabinets, and many other decorative touches.

“Santa Fe has many unsung heroes, who have contributed deeply to the fabric of the community, and sacrificed so that future generations will have a brighter future” wrote Ramón’s son in a tribute. “My father is one, and the best example I will ever know.”

Story by Richard McCord

Photo © 2009 by Genevieve Russell