Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987 Page: 49
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What evil lurks in Holy Cross Mountain? At night the blackened slope of Sierrita Santa Cruz rises out
of a terraced plain above La Junta, one of North American's oldest continually cultivated regions.
hem the valley. Another story has the
devil balancing on a rope drawn between
Sierrita Santa Cruz and the Texas Chinati
Mountains while he pommels the valley
with a huge iron ball and blasts the
people and their crops with fiery breath
and devastating whirlwinds.
As support for this myth, there is a
large iron ball mysteriously embedded in
the ground at the comer of an empty
block near Ojinaga's central plaza. No
structure occupies this space in the otherwise
crowded downtown area. In homage
to it, passers-by reach down and touch
the ball, whose top now gleams with the
silvery polish of years of caresses.
To the Catholic calendar, the release of
the devil not only is symbolic of Holy
Cross Day but also seems to relate to a
more ancient Mesoamerican tradition of
five days of evil, as well as to beliefs in
For a place widely known to be as hot
as Hades, where ten out of every twenty
desert years are marked by drought and
other extremes, why not believe that the
devil so often emerges to control the destiny
of La Junta?
Existence here has always been in
tenuous balance. The archaeological
record of La Junta bears witness to the
mysterious and much-pondered periodic
expansion and sudden demise of settled
aboriginal populations, spin-off Pueblo
groups that migrated to the valley after
A.D. 900. La Junta is one of North
America's oldest continually cultivated
No doubt, even in the minds of the
valley's prehistoric residents, the evil spirits
too often got out of hand. Most likely,
they pointed to the unseen power of the
jagged Sierrita Santa Cruz, with its moaning
caves, as the source of their problems
with contrary spirits.
With the first Spanish entrada to La
Junta in 1582, there probably came a
ready-made antidote for the hoodoo
mountain. Although no records exist as
proof of the deed, it is theorized that
Spanish missionaries were able to win
over Indian converts by making a bold
ascent of the mountain with a cross and
miraculously trapping the evil within
To keep the Indian faith alive, the
Spanish invented the spooky annual ritual
of retrieving the cross and thereby encouraging
devotion during the four-day
novena period that ensued while the
devil roamed free at night.
After sundown, the innocent souls of
children and young virgins could be
trapped by the devil and forever held in
his dark and lonely cave.
For at least three centuries, the processions
of the mountain cross were the
most colorful and inspiring ceremonies of
La Junta. The faithful from a dozen Mestizo
villages around the river junction
made their annual midnight pilgrimages
to the Sierrita Santa Cruz by the light
of corridors of burning brush laid from
the river up the mountain slope. The
spectacle could be viewed from many
Nowadays, fewer than two dozen faithful
carry on the ancient tradition. After
1910 the role of the religious was restricted
to church property and, of course, the introduction
of modern beliefs has tended
to wipe out old superstitions. The chanting
cross bearers make their way down the
dusty streets of Ojinaga almost without
notice by traffic and passers-by. Most
lights go out after the TV news, and from
only a handful of old adobe homes do the
smells of scented candles and the sounds
of prayer vigils still emanate into the early
Bob Parvin is a free-lance writer who lives in
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987, periodical, Summer 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45437/m1/49/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.