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Roadside Crosses of New Mexico Oral History Project

Identifier: MSS-680-BC

Scope and Content

The collection contains 35 interviews with 52 respondents. These interviews were recorded on 33 audio-cassette tapes and 3 videocassette tapes. Audio-cassette tapes #'s 1-19, and videocassette (DVD) #'s 1-2 contain interviews taken from the northern and central area of New Mexico. There are tape logs for these interviews, most of which were composed by David F. Garcia in 2002. The other 15 tapes, #'s 20-35, contain interviews that were conducted in southern New Mexico. Tape summaries were provided by Kathleen McRee. An additional videocassette (DVD) contains a lecture given by the project's coordinators, Samuel Larcomb and Kathleen McRee. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. There are a verbatim transcripts and translations available to some of the interviews conducted in Spanish. Videotapes have been copied to DVD for patron use.

Also included in the collection are survey forms used to document additional sites in which roadside crosses were found, along with photographs. The documentation forms cover the geographical area of New Mexico and 1 site in Arizona. Also included in the collection are copies of the original grant proposals, letters dealing with the project, and newspaper clippings.

Professional quality photographs remain in the possession of Kathleen McRee. Duplicate tapes for patron use are available in the collection. Master tapes are located in B3.

The collection is also known as Descansos Oral History Project.


  • 1992-1996

Language of Materials

English Spanish

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.

Project History

The Roadside Crosses of New Mexico Oral History Project was conceived in 1992 and conducted between 1994 and 1996, funded in part by a grant from the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities. The core project team consisted of Samuel Larcomb (historical researcher), Troy Fernandez (oral historian), and photographer Kathleen McRee. Fred Reade did the videography. Oral interviews, photo-documentation, and scholarly research were the main components of this project. The original project was titled, "Roadside Crosses of North Central New Mexico: Their Makers and Their Meanings." The project area was Santa Fe, Taos, Rio Arriba, Mora, and San Miguel counties. The scope later expanded to include southern New Mexico.

The purpose of the project was to bring a deeper awareness of the Spanish descanso or roadside cross tradition to the citizens of New Mexico, by documenting the historical origins, the contemporary cultural history, and the geographical locations of descansos in New Mexico. Traditionally, the descanso was a cross placed in the ground to mark the spot where mourners rested the coffin while on the walk from the home of the deceased person to the cemetery. With the introduction of the automobile, the tradition evolved to mark the place of death for victims of traffic or pedestrian accidents.


1 box (1 cu. ft.)


This oral-history collection documents the reflections and meanings given to roadside crosses, or "descansos" in New Mexico. The interviews within the collection give an abundance of information on traditions, customs, and beliefs in regards to the death of a loved one.

Separated Material

VHS and audiocassettes are stored in B3.

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • Welhausen, Candice A. Roadside Crosses in New Mexico. Thesis (M.A.)--University of New Mexico, Dept. of English, 2001.
  • Pacheco, Ana. "Angelo" in La Herencia del Norte.Winter 1998, p. 30.
  • Dunnington, J. O. "The Cross a Universal Symbol" in La Herencia del Norte. Spring 2000, p. 22.
  • C?rdova, G. B. "Descansos: New Mexico's Highway Markers to Heaven" LaHerencia del Norte.Summer 1994, p. 17.
  • Romero, Pablo. "Pojoaque Valley's Our Lady of Guadalupe" in La Herencia delNorte.Winter 2000, p. 21.

Processing Information

Audio cassettes reformatted to CD in Feburary 2012. Tape 15 was inaudible and therefore not reformatted, and not included in the collection.
Finding Aid of the Roadside Crosses of New Mexico Oral History Project, 1992-1996
Processed by D. Garcia
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 680 BC::Roadside Crosses of New Mexico Oral History Project)//EN" "nmu1mss680bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131