Tony Reyna (1916—2016)

By: Bill Whaley
5 December, 2016

Tony Reyna

(Editor’s Note: Taosenos shall dearly miss Tony Reyna, a venerable and elegant presence in the community. The photograph above and the piece below are excerpted from Paul O’Connor’s Taos Portraits. On the day we discussed his life and times for the book, Tony said he was determined to live to be 100. As with all artists featured in “Taos Portraits,” Tony had the final say on the copy. I was always very proud that Tony purchased each month a small ad in Horse Fly, indicating his tacit support for RISE and the Pesky Insect, as Frank Concha of Taos Pueblo used to call me.)

Tony Reyna (1916—2016)

When you cross the cattle guard or boundary of Taos Pueblo, one of the first buildings you see on the right is “Tony Reyna’s Indian Shop—Indian Owned and Operated Since 1950.” Tony built his shop and his home a few years after being discharged from the military in WWII. He had served on the burial detail of the Bataan death March during the war and survived the ordeal, returning to Taos Pueblo.


Local merchants in Taos extended credit to Tony for the building. “I paid off the loans in two years,” he said. Tony said the shop was meant to serve as a role model for Indian craftspeople and shopkeepers at the Pueblo.


Tony was born at Taos Pueblo. He volunteered for military duty in 1941 and was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines. He served on the burial detail of the Bataan Death March. After being liberated in 1945 and later discharged, he returned to Taos Pueblo—one of several local war heroes from Taos who survived Bataan.


During the following decades, Tony served as secretary of the Tribal Council and twice as governor in 1982 and 1992. He was appointed to federal and county grand juries, the police commission in the Town of Taos, and was President of the local Kiwanis Club. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Pueblo as a World Heritage site. Tony was the first member of Taos Pueblo to serve on the Taos School Board, the boards of the Millicent Rogers Museum, the Santa Fe Indian Market, and the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.


On the day Tony sat for his photograph, he wore a blue shirt and a bolo tie decorated with an emblem in silver and turquoise. “Jesse Monogya made it,” he said, referring to the Heart of the Dragonfly, a symbol of the 7th Annual Spirit of the Heard (Museum) Award. The Phoenix museum bestows the award upon Native Americans who exemplify excellence as individuals and for their community leadership. To many people in Taos, Tony is the bridge between two worlds, an iconic representation of hospitality and human courage.


Inside the shop and house, the windows on the east side frame Taos Mountain. On the west side, you can see out past the road deep into the western horizon. The piñon fire in the kiva fireplace keeps the winter chill away. “I made all the doors, tables, and chairs,” he said, gesturing at the furniture. He learned woodworking skills from the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 30s.


When Tony opened the shop, he sold jewelry made by Indians throughout the Southwest. Today, his son Philip works in the shop and one daughter, Marie, manages the Taos Pueblo’s Oo—Oonah Children’s Art Center. Both make jewelry.


Tony said, “My mother and father used to sell milk and cheese. They worked sunup to sundown. We rode horseback to town on a muddy wagon road. There was a shed where Conoco was at the entrance to Taos Plaza. We tied the horses in an alley by the Taos Inn.”


Tony’s two sisters and five brothers are gone. “I’m the only one left.” Tony just turned 96 more or less. He has given up driving, but thanks to friends and family members you can still occasionally catch him at the post office in Taos.


In the book, “The Taos Indians and the Battle for Blue Lake,” by R.C. McCutcheon, Tony says, “We pray for everyone and give thanks for everything.” In Tony’s presence, you feel the serenity of a long tradition and see a life lived with grace. — Bill Whaley

P.S. Yesterday’s announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers has curtailed, however temporarily, the Dakota pipeline at Standing Rock, is directly related to the historic victory of Taos Pueblo and the “Battle for Blue Lake.” Taos Pueblo set the modern precedent for Native Americans’ sacred rights. Let us think of Tony smiling as O’Connor depicts him above.

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