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Anton Docher

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Anton Docher

Father Anton Docher with the Order of Leopold and the colonial medal
Father Anton Docher and Tiwas friends- Tomas Chavez on the right
King Albert I of Belgium and the Queen during their visit in Isleta pueblo 1919 with State Governor and Anton Docher
Anton Docher in front of his house in Isleta with Tomas Chavez and beehives
Isleta church 1895
Mass of funeral of Father Anton Docher in the church of Isleta Pueblo-December, 1928
Birth house of Anton Docher in Le Crest 1900
Anton Docher Isletan house
Painting of a funeral procession in Isleta in the 1900s featuring Father Anton Docher by Lucille Joullin

Anton Docher (1852-1928) was a French Franciscan[1] Roman Catholic priest, missionary and defender of the Indians. He was born in 1852 in Le Crest, a small wine growing village of Puy de Dôme in Auvergne. He lived in the pueblo of Isleta in the state of New Mexico for 34 years. His French name was Antonin Jean Baptiste Docher (pronounced ), but his American first name became Anton, and in the American literature he was sometimes called Antonin, Antonio, Anthony, Antoine, Antonine or Antonino.


During his youth, Father Docher worked in the vineyards with his three brothers and his widowed mother.[2] At the age of 18, he became a student at the "Petit" Seminary of Saint Sauveur in Puy de Dôme, staying there for eight years. At the age of 27, during his first year studying Philosophy in the "Grand" Seminary of Clermont-Ferrand, he was conscripted for military service and was sent to Africa[2][3] then to Cochinchina[4] where he fought for five years in the colonial army, achieving the rank of sergeant. Docher was wounded and decorated for bravery, but his experiences led him to recognise the immorality of colonialism, which he later compared to the fate suffered by Native Americans.[4] Having contracted lung disease whilst in Africa he returned to the "Petit" Seminary as a Prefect.

On October 21, 1887, he went to New Mexico where, after two years of additional studies, he was ordained as a priest in the Cathedral of Santa Fe by J.B.Salpointe.[5] He then served two more years in Bernalillo[2] and in Taos,[6] before arriving in Isleta on December 28, 1891. The Indian village of Isleta is situated on the left bank of the Rio Grande, south of Albuquerque, being populated by Tiwa Indians of the Pueblo people. During his period in Isleta he also served as a priest in Laguna, Acoma,[7] Los Lunas, and Peralta.[8]

In Los Lentes, in 1893, he acquired a massive ancient bell for the chapel which he put in a prominent central belfry.[9]

"The Padre of Isleta" spent 34 years with the Indians. He was a very close friend of Adolph Bandelier,[10][11] Charles Fletcher Lummis[12][13][14] and Pablo Abeita.[15] Like his friend Bandelier he collected Indian objects during this period (kachinas, pottery, basketry and weapons),[16] some of which have been preserved by the Docher and Morvan families. Respected by the Natives Americans for his open-minded attitude to their customs and ancestral faiths (quite normal with friends such as Lummis and Bandelier),[17][18] he was called "Tashide" which means "little helper" in Tewa language.[19] He was also well known to have owned a parrot named Tina which used very foul language,[20][21][22] and a beautiful and luxuriant garden.[23]

During his long stay to Isleta, he met celebrities of this time like the George Wharton James among others.

Father Docher raised an Isletan orphan boy named Tomas Chavez and when as a man Tomas took a wife, named Lolita Delores, Father Docher gave the couple five acres and a house in Los Lunas as a wedding gift. Tomas developed a vineyard on this land and supplied wine to the Isleta and local churches. Tomas died in 1925, three years before the Father himself. Lolita Delores was left with nine children, and Father Docher paid for two girls, Stella and Margaret, to attend the Sisters of Loretto Orphanage.

Very proud to have been granted American citizenship, Docher described himself as an "Indian" in the letters which he sent to his family.

In September 1912, he presided over the funeral mass of Solomon Luna, powerful businessman and politician of New Mexico, found mysteriously dead in his ranch on August 30, 1912. The mass took place at the Immaculate Conception church of Albuquerque because the parish church Los Lunas was far too small to accommodate the large crowd in attendance.[24]

On October 26, 1919, he was decorated with the Belgium Order of Leopold by King Albert I, who visited the village of Isleta with his Queen Elisabeth and Prince Leopold.[25] In return Father Docher presented the King with a beautiful turquoise cross mounted in silver, and a silver sword made by the Indians.[26] 10 000 persons journeyed to Isleta for the occasion.

In 1923, Father Anton Docher undertook a major remodeling of the San Agustín de la Isleta Mission (previously named San Antonio de Isleta),[27] constructing prominent spires on the adobe walls.[28] He also constructed a sloping roof in order to avoid the water leaks which destroyed the altar constantly.[29][30] The mission has now been restored to a more "traditional" frame.

Father Docher spent the last three years of his life as a patient at the St Joseph Hospital (Albuquerque) and died at the age of 76 on December 18, 1928. Albert Daeger, archbishop of Santa Fe, presided the mass of funeral in the church of Isleta(see photo below). Father Docher is now buried by the side of Father Juan de Padilla in Isleta.[31]


His adventurous life was told in a novel of Samuel Gance, Anton ou la trajectoire d'un père. The book depicts its childhood in Auvergne, its military period in Tunisia and in Indochina, its departure for New Mexico, its meetings with Charles Lummis, Adolph Bandelier, Pablo Abeita, Willa Cather and the king of the Belgians. The narrative lingers especially over its paternal relation with Tomas Chavez, a young orphan Indian.

A part of his biography was the subject of a book, The Padre of Isleta by Julia Keleher and Elsie Ruth Chant, first published in 1940 and then in 2009 (Sunstone Press).

In Willa Cather's novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, he served as a model for the character of Padre Jesus de Baca.[32] Willa Cather met Father Anton Docher during a visit in Isleta while he was suffering from cataract and near the end of his life.[33] She noted that he lived very poorly and was beloved and respected by "his" Indians, she noted that emanated from his person a great kindness and great humanity. In the novel, the Father de Baca is described "simple like a child and superstitious", while the Padre Docher was often described as droll, intelligent and cultivated.[34][35]

Father Docher wrote an interesting ethnological article published in The Santa Fé Magazine on June,1913, in which he describes the early 20th century's life in the Pueblos,[36] and notably the special Administration of the Pueblo, fully recognized by the United States Government, with a Cacique appointed for life, a Governor (judge in civil cases) elected yearly by the people with two assistants and a War Captain and other officials who have charge of the various celebrations and dances.

History and legends

The life of Docher was also tightly bound to the legends of Isleta, in particular the legend of Padre Juan de Padilla the body of which was considered for getting up of its grave and for roaming in the village some evenings.[4] One day (April 25, 1895), Antonin Docher decided, to investigate this ghost's appearance in the presence of other witnesses and opened the grave of Padre Padilla.[37][38] During this operation Anton Docher injured his arm and the gangrene settled down so much that the doctors recommended amputation. The natives inhabitants evoked the malediction of Padre Padilla. Antonin Docher made a prayer to Padre Padilla to cure him, and the wound disappeared.[39][40][41][42][43]


  1. ^ 20minutos
  2. ^ a b c The Indian Sentinel.1913,p.41-43
  3. ^ The Guardian, Little Rock, Arkansas, 12 Jan 1929. P. 1-4
  4. ^ a b c Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 24-26.
  5. ^ The Indian Sentinel, Volumes 7-10. Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, 1927
  6. ^ Leo Crane. Desert Drums: The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, 1540-1928. Rio Grande Press, 1972.
  7. ^ Willa Cather. Death Comes for the Archbishop. Alfred Knopf, 1927, p. 110.
  8. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 30-77.
  9. ^ Jaramillo.A Small History and Folklore – El Pueblo de San Antonio de Los Lentes New Mexico. Los Lunas, San Clemente Parish, 1990.
  10. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 41.
  11. ^ The Southwestern Journals of Adolph F. Bandelier: 1889-1892, edited and annotated by Charles H. Lange, Carroll L. Riley, and Elizabeth M. Lange
  12. ^ Lummis in "The Indian Advocate",1 August 1905,p.241
  13. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p.88 .
  14. ^ Lawrence Clark Powell. Southwest Classics: The Creative Literature of the Arid Lands: Essays on the Books and their Writers. W. Ritchie Press, 1974 , p.47
  15. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p.88-93.
  16. ^ Willa Cather. Death comes for the Archbishop. Alfred Knopf, 1927, p.109.
  17. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 46-49.
  18. ^ Tisa Joy Wenger. We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom, p.52
  19. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p.37.
  20. ^ Samuel Gance. Anton ou la trajectoire d'un père. L'Harmattan, 2013, p.165/190.
  21. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 83-87.
  22. ^ Willa Cather, John Joseph Murphy, David Stouck, Frederick M. Link. Shadows on the Rock
  23. ^ Emma Franklin Estabrook.Ancient lovers of peace.1959, p. 57-58.
  24. ^ Richard Meltzer. King Solomons Mysterious Demise. New Mexico State Record Center and Archives, 2004-2011
  25. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 94.
  26. ^ W.A.Keleher.The Indian sentinel.1920,vol.2. p.24
  27. ^ Frank D. Reeve,History of New Mexico, Volume 1.Lewis Historical Publishing Co.1961 , p.152-153.
  28. ^ Chritopher Vecsey. On the Padres' Trail. University of Notre Dame Press, 1996 , p.182.
  29. ^ The Guardian, Little Rock, Arkansas, 12 Jan 1929. P. 1-4
  30. ^ Guggino, Patty. "Los Lentes". New Mexico State Record Center and Archives.
  31. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p.108-109.
  32. ^ New Mexico magazine, Volume 33, 1955, p.41
  33. ^ Willa Cather. Death comes for the Archbishop. Alfred Knopf, 1927, p.425.note 88-89
  34. ^ Overland monthly and the Out West magazine, 1908, p.518.
  35. ^ James, George Wharton,A little journey to some strange places and peoples in our southwestern land (New Mexico and Arizona), 1911, p. 68.
  36. ^ Anton Docher. The Quaint Indian Pueblo of Isleta.The Santa Fé Magazine,1913,vol.7,n°7,p.29-32.
  37. ^ Joe L. Montoya. Isleta Pueblo and the Church of St. Augustine, 1978, .p.35-36
  38. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 50-53.
  39. ^ Alice Bullock. Living Legends of the Santa Fe Country, 1985, p.84-85
  40. ^ Samuel Carson. The Overland Monthly, Vol. 51, 1908, p.518-520
  41. ^ Westways, Vol. 74, 1982, p.46-48
  42. ^ Keleher and Chant. The Padre of Isleta. Sunstone Press, 2009, p. 109.
  43. ^ Ray John de Aragón. Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico, 2012, p.81


Novels and biographies
  • Samuel Gance, Anton ou la trajectoire d'un père, L'histoire romancée du père Anton Docher. L'Harmattan, Paris, 2013, 208 p. ISBN 978-2336290164
  • Keleher, Julia M.; Chant, Elsie Ruth (2009). The Padre of Isleta: The Story of Father Anton Docher. Sunstone press Publishing.  
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