Adolf Bandelier: A Biography by William H. Wroth


By William H. Wroth

Adolph F. Bandelier (1840-1914) was one of the most important and influential historians and anthropologists in New Mexico in the nineteenth century. He was born in 1840 in Bern, Switzerland, the son of Adolphe Eugene Bandelier and Mary Senn, both members of prominent families of that city. In 1847 Bandelier’s father made a trip to Brazil. He was considering emigrating, but after visiting the Swiss colony in Rio de Janeiro and traveling around the country, he decided against it. In January 1848 he traveled from Rio to New Orleans and up the Mississippi River to Illinois where he settled in the Swiss emigrant colony of Highland, originally named “New Switzerland,” 35 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. Eight months later Mrs. Bandelier and young Adolph joined Mr. Bandelier in Highland. In Highland the family quickly found their place among the leading citizens, and Adolf junior was well educated by his family and private tutors.

In 1857 Bandelier traveled with his father back to Switzerland where he had further education, possibly studying with a geologist, Professor Studer at Bern University. In January 1861, back in Highland he married the daughter of another Swiss immigrant, Josephine (“Joe”) Huegy. His earliest scientific work began in the 1860s when he carried out a series of meteorological and climatic studies, working as a meteorological recorder for the Smithsonian Institution. About 1869 he began to study the pre-Columbian culture of Mexico, making use of the archives and books at the Mercantile Library in St. Louis. By this time he was fluent in three languages: French, English, and German, and later he learned Spanish.

In 1873 on a trip to Rochester, New York he met the famous American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan who became his friend and his mentor in the study of Native American cultures. Bandelier began historical study of pre-Columbian Mexico, based upon early colonial manuscripts, at least one of them at the Mercantile Library. In 1878 Morgan traveled to the Southwest to study archaeological ruins; his reports no doubt turned Bandelier’s interest to this region for the first time. Thanks to Morgan’s support, in 1880 Bandelier was given a contract by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) to do field work in the Southwest. This contract was slow in coming due to the resistance of some AIA board members to the study of the “barbarous” American Indians. However, among other supporters was the renowned anthropologist John Wesley Powell who wrote a letter to the AIA on Bandelier’s behalf.

Finally in August 1880 he received his contract and traveled by rail to Lamy and by buggy to Santa Fe to begin his field research. Within days he made contact with leading citizens in Santa Fe, among them Governor Lew Wallace, territorial librarian/archivist Samuel Ellison, Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, vicar-general Father Peter Eguillon, local photographers George C. Bennett and W. Henry Brown, and curio dealer Jake Gold. Bandelier’s first field work was at the abandoned Pecos Pueblo where he carefully measured the surviving ruins of buildings. He was alarmed at the neglected condition of the Pueblo and in his 1881 report wrote that “the vandalism committed in this venerable relic defies all description…. treasure hunters…have recklessly and ruthlessly disturbed the abodes of the dead.” In spite of his words, in just a few days at Pecos, Bandelier collected two boxes full of artifacts which he sent to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. Bandelier did little or no excavating at Pecos and probably did not collect any human remains, but the later archeologist Alfred V. Kidder collected between 1915 and 1929 nearly 2000 skeletons at Pecos for the Peabody Museum. In 1999 the Peabody under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) returned these human remains to the Pecos descendants at Jemez Pueblo.

In addition to his archaeological work, Bandelier interviewed several people connected with Pecos including an elderly Jemez man, who gave him valuable information about the demise of the pueblo and the migration of the few surviving members to Jemez. Through his continuing study of Southwest archival materials, Bandelier also learned the important historical role of Pecos. Here began Bandelier’s pioneering multi-disciplinary approach to the study of Native American cultures, which included historical research, folklore, mythology and native traditions, ethnography, ethno-history, and archaeology. Throughout his career he pursued research in this wide range of disciplines to establish the fullest possible picture of the subject in question.

Bandelier next went to Peña Blanca where through the resident priest Father José Rómulo Ribera he was able to do field work at nearby Santo Domingo Pueblo. Soon in residence at Santo Domingo, he began measuring buildings and collecting ethnographic information from the Pueblo members. However, he soon alienated the leaders of this conservative Pueblo first by bringing in George Bennett to take photographs without permission and then by watching a burial ceremony when he was told not to. After ten days he realized that he was no longer welcome at Santo Domingo and went to Cochiti where he was better received. Cochiti was more open to outsiders, and no doubt Bandelier had learned by his experience at Santo Domingo to be more respectful and sensitive to the values of the Pueblos. At Cochiti he again collected a great deal of ethnographic information, was allowed to sketch artifacts including ceremonial objects, and made his first visit to Frijoles Canyon, which became one of his favorite places for archeological research. In 1916 the area encompassing Frijoles Canyon was acquired by the United States Forest Service (later taken over by the National Park Service) and named Bandelier National Monument in his honor.

After two months in residence at Cochiti, in December 1880 Bandelier traveled back east to Highland and to Boston, and then in February 1881 journeyed by ship from New Orleans to Veracruz. In Mexico he made a thorough tour of the important pre-Columbian sites, including Teotihuacan, Cholula, and Mitla. While in residence at Cholula, in July 1881 Bandelier, raised as a Protestant, converted to Catholicism, a step he had been considering for some time. In addition to surveying and mapping the ruins, he spent time in local archives and libraries, searching for documentary material concerning the sites. He returned to the United States in October and spent the winter at home in Highland writing a report on his Mexican research.

In March 1882 he returned, this time with his wife, to Santa Fe and continued his research at Cochiti, also visiting Tesuque, Acoma, and other Pueblos. Josephine’s poor health brought this trip to end in July. After a few months in Highland he returned again to Santa Fe and explored further west, traveling to Laguna, Acoma and Zuni Pueblos. At Zuni in February 1883 he met anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing who impressed him as “the direct successor to Mr. Morgan in the study of Indian life.” A later trip in October took Bandelier into northern Mexico where he traveled on horseback through Sonora and Chihuahua, visiting and surveying the ruins at Casas Grandes and other sites.

In 1884 the family bank in Highland in which he had an interest failed, leading to serious legal and financial problems for Bandelier. He was arrested for alleged complicity in the failure, but was finally released without ever going to trial. In November 1885, his legal problems behind him, Bandelier left Highland, moving with his wife to Santa Fe. They rented a house on East De Vargas Street where they lived for more than five years. Bandelier continued his studies of the Pueblos while living in Santa Fe, and he also worked for the Archdiocese writing a 1400-page history of the missions of New Mexico which was sent to the Vatican in Rome, then lost for decades. It still has not been published in its entirety. In 1886 he was appointed Historian for the Hemenway Expedition and did archival research in Mexico City. At the same time he began writing a novel, The Delight Makers, about the ancestral Pueblos Indians, which was published in 1890. It was not an immediate success, but in the twentieth century it gradually gained the stature of a Southwest classic. It has been reprinted numerous times and today is still in print. Also published in 1890 by the AIA was Bandelier’s important Contributions to the History of the Southwestern Portion of the United States.

In 1892 Bandelier and the writer/ethnologist Charles F. Lummis approached the railroad magnate Henry Villard in New York to fund a trip by Bandelier to South America. Villard provided half of the needed funds and the remainder was made up by a contract with Century magazine. In June Bandelier and his wife said goodbye to Santa Fe and sailed from California to Lima, Peru. In Lima in December Josephine very suddenly took sick and died. Bandelier soon after this sad event married his second wife, Fanny Ritter, the daughter of Swiss immigrants in Lima. For the next ten years Fanny accompanied Bandelier on his exploration and study of major pre-Columbian sites in Peru and Bolivia, providing valuable support for him as both spouse and research assistant.

In 1903 the Bandeliers returned to New York. By this time in his life Adolphe Francis Alphonse Bandelier was a highly revered scholar because of his pioneering work in the Southwest, Mexico and South America. In New York he was given a research position at the American Museum of Natural History as well as a lectureship at Columbia University. The position at the American Museum ended in 1906, but soon it was followed by another one at the Hispanic Society of America and further support from the AIA. In 1907 Bandelier began to have serious trouble with his eyes, becoming almost blind, but a cataract operation restored his vision enough to continue work. In 1911 he received a grant from the Carnegie Institution of Washington to copy colonial documents in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City. The Bandeliers stayed in Mexico until the spring of 1913, returning to New York with over 500 pages of transcribed documents.

In October 1913 the Bandeliers sailed for Spain to fulfill his long-standing desire to do research in the Archivo de las Indias in Seville. Arriving in Seville, Bandelier set to work immediately in the archives, but his health quickly began to deteriorate and he died in Seville on March 18, 1914. Fanny Bandelier by this time was well trained in archival research, and after her husband’s death she continued his work in the Archivo de las Indias, staying in Seville for another year and a half. Much of Adolph and Fanny Bandelier’s archival work in Spain was published by the Carnegie Institution under the editorship of Charles Wilson Hackett as Historical Documents Relating to New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, and Approaches Thereto, to 1773 (3 volumes, 1923, 1926, and 1937). In 1977 Adolph Bandelier’s mortal remains were exhumed in Seville and sent to New Mexico and in 1980 they were cremated and the ashes scattered in Frijoles Canyon in Bandelier National Monument.

Sources used:

Hodge, F. W. “Biographical Sketch and Bibliography of Adolphe Francis Alphonse Bandelier.” Reprinted from the New Mexico Historical Review, 1932.

Lange, Charles H. and Carroll L. Riley. Bandelier: The Life and Adventures of Adolf Bandelier. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996.

Lange, Charles H. and Carroll L. Riley, eds. The Southwestern Journals of Adolph Bandelier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1966-1984.

Wilcox, David R. and Don D. Fowler. “The Beginnings of Anthropological Archaeology in the North American Southwest.” Journal of the Southwest, vol. 44, no. 2 (Summer, 2002).


Adolf Bandelier: A Biography by William H. Wroth


Adolph F. Bandelier (1840-1914) was one of the most important and influential historians and anthropologists in New Mexico in the nineteenth century.

Adolph F. Bandelier–Forgotten Lessons and Missing Links