Acoma’s Lincoln Cane

By Katie Needham

Acoma Sky City is considered the oldest, continuously occupied settlement in the United States. The adobe community is located in New Mexico and is currently inhabited by 4,800 tribal members. The Pueblo of Acoma owns and operates Acoma Sky City. As a National Trust Historic Site, Acoma Sky City has access to the support and expertise of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in order to assist with the continued preservation of the site, just as President Lincoln’s Cottage does.

Theresa Pasqual, Director of the Pueblo of Acoma Historic Preservation Office recently contacted the President Lincoln’s Cottage staff to find out if we had access to additional information about Acoma’s “Lincoln cane.” The history of canes in Pueblo communities dates back to 1620, when the Spanish decreed that all Pueblo communities be ruled by Governors. The native Governors were given silver-headed canes to represent their authority under Spanish rule. Additionally, land grants were given to the Pueblo communities which provided each with ownership of its land.

When the Mexican government took over in 1821, the Pueblo land grants continued to be honored. The community Governors received canes from the Mexican government as recognition of their authority. Following the Mexican-American War, the Pueblo land grants were recognized by the United States government. In 1863, during Lincoln’s administration, canes were given to19 Pueblos to signify that the Federal government would honor the land grants as previously done by Spain and Mexico and recognize the Governors as the tribal authorities.

The “Lincoln canes,” as they are often called, are silver-headed and inscribed with the presentation year and President Lincoln’s name. They are still used by the Pueblo Governors to represent authority and the Pueblo relationship with the Federal government. As shown in the 1923 photograph (above), the Lincoln canes have always had a ceremonial and political function. Here, several Pueblo leaders are shown in Washington, D.C. protesting the Bursum Bill, which threatened the Pueblos with land loss.

The Lincoln canes have also been featured in a 1951 western film entitled “New Mexico.” The film, which chronicles the adventures of a young officer in the U.S. Calvary, features a scene between “Chief Acoma” and President Lincoln. While most of the footage is exaggerated and inaccurate, the clip is a unique mix of history and cinematic license. 

Ms. Needham is the Administrative Asst. at President Lincoln’s Cottage.


Filed under History

4 responses to “Acoma’s Lincoln Cane

  1. Reinhold Beuer-Tajovsky

    Very interesting article.
    Please be advised that I am ( have been for over a year now ) in the process of researching the “canes’, ‘Lincoln’, their significance to native Americans and to Lincoln, his attitude-feeling toward the natives, etc. From research I gather he had great empathy for them.
    It has been a very slow process. Any information, source suggestions would be most appreciated.
    Thank you for your reply.
    Reinhold Beuer-Tajovsky

    • Another cane… from the book “Jamesons in America”
      Mr. James Buchanan Jameson was ist Lieut. Union Light Guards, and on the staff of Gov. David Todd, of Ohio. When Lincoln, became president. Lieut. Johnson received a captain’s commission, and was made officer in command of President Lincoln’s escort, part of the 7th Ohio calvary. He was with President Lincoln when assassinated, and later was commander of the escort of President Johnson. In 1887 he was stationed at the Washington barracks.
      Mrs. Lincoln presented Capt. Jameson with a cane carved out of orange wood, an exquisitely elaborate piece of workmanship, for which he refused an offer of five hundred dollars.

  2. Ned Smith

    I inherited our family’s Lincoln cane from my grandfather, the first Ned C Smith (my father was the second). This cane has a gold head which was affixed and dedicated by Robert Todd Lincoln. The cane was given to my great grandfather, C.C. Smith in Illinois in 1860 but I have no idea of the occasion . Since it has little historical value outside of my family it will remain a treasured heirloom to be passed from generation to generation.

  3. I was told my Great, Great Grandfather also recieved a cane. We don’t have the cane in our family, have no idea what happened to to it. I didn’t believe my father when he told me this story. I did research and found this story. We live in New Mexico and am told we are Native American’s..our last name is Lopez…WOW

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