Friday, September 14, 2007

Who Was Juan Tabo?

Almost every city has streets named after famous people in history. For example, in Portland, Oregon, where we lived for a long time, there is a street named Couch (pronounced kooch) Street. It was named after a 19th century sea captain who was an early resident and founder of Portland. And in Juneau, Alaska, where we also lived, Seward Street runs through the center of downtown. Seward Street is named after William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia -- for two cents an acre!

So, when we moved to Albuquerque, and I saw the name of a major north-south road, on the East side, called Juan Tabo, I was curious about this (apparently) Spanish gentleman. I figured he must have been very important in Albuquerque's history, especially considering all of the businesses also bearing his name.

I took Spanish in junior high and high school, so using the rules of pronunciation that I'd been taught, I figured this name was pronounced Juan Ta'bo, with the accent on "Ta." Nope, I was quickly corrected by my very nice neighbor, Lorraine. It is Juan Ta-Bo' - accent on "Bo." Ever since, I've been trying to figure out where this mysterious sort-of-Spanish-sounding name came from. And what I've learned is that it is an Albuquerque mystery.

As I suspected, people agree that the last name, Tabo, does not appear to be Spanish. But no one knows for sure who Juan was. Everyone, however, has a theory:
  • Some people say Juan was a Pueblo Indian shepherd who pastured his sheep in that East Mountain area (near where the road is today), and that Tabo was his nickname, not his real last name.
  • Some say he was a Spanish priest, but the name doesn't appear in early church records.
  • Some old-timers here say that Juan was a guy from Carnuel who walked along the edge of town with his cows, sheep and a bunch of dogs, and sold tortillas and tamales to the townspeople. They say this shepherd's route later became a well-traveled road, and was named after Juan. The tough part of this theory, though, is that Juan Tabo Blvd. is located many miles from where "town" would have been back "in the days." I don't think he'd have had many tamale customers.
  • Others claim that the name Tabo came from the Toboso Indians of Texas.
  • I read one person's theory that Juan Tabo was the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coronado's pet cat! (Not a likely theory, but someday, if I ever have a cat or dog, I think I might name it Juan Tabo.)
  • Another person claims that Tabo is a Spanish word in the Philippines, meaning "cup made from coconut shell." Now that really clears things up, doesn't it?
And here's an interesting piece of trivia - there is also a road named Juan Tabo in Tucson, Arizona - this little shepherd-tamale-salesman-priest guy got around!

I'll keep asking questions, but I've learned that Albuquerquians just seem to pick their favorite Tabo story and claim it as truth - or make up a new story to add to the collection. I might mention here, though, that if you come to Albuquerque to visit, you'll probably want to go to Juan Tabo Blvd., and take the cutoff up to the Juan Tabo Picnic Area. It's really a beautiful drive, especially in the evening when the sun is setting, no matter who it is named after!

The cutoff road going up the mountain to Juan Tabo Picnic Area

[References:
http://www.dukecityfix.com/index.php?itemid=2607
http://www.city-data.com/forum/albuquerque/57337-who-juan-tabo-why-did-they.html]

6 comments:

Gary Borger said...

To complicate matters further, there is a Juan Tabo street in North Scottsdale, AZ just south of Carefree.

Linda said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Gary Borger! And isn't that something! Who WAS this man? I wonder if anyone in Scottsdale knows another part to the puzzle.

John Richard said...

I'm very confident that the name, "Juan Tabo" was imported to Arizona from Albuquerque. In Tucson, it only appears in the relatively new Rita Ranch development as Paseo Juan Tabo, Placita Juan Tabo, and Plaza Juan Tabo. I'm not sure of the age of road that runs just south of Carefree (which I crossed today on a business trip to the Phoenix area), but this is also an area that has only seen significant development in the last 20 years, or so. I think this mystery belongs entirely to Albuquerque.

ruben said...

You're absolutely right about the pronunciation of "Tabo" the last syllable should not be stressed if in fact this were to be Spanish language word. It should rhyme with "Cabo" as in "Cabo San Lucas". We know "Juan" is Spanish so you're right it is kind of a mystery.

Bonne of Beautiful Flowers said...

I live in Albuquerque, and Juan Tabo is the street to get to Paul's Monteray resturant. Not everything in New Mexico has to have a meaning. Somethings just are and we leave it at that. It's more fun and creates dialog such as this! Thanks Linda

Teri said...

I lived in New Mex for some years and also wondered who Juan Tabo was. No one knew for sure. Now I live In San Antonio Tex. In one of the upscale sub-divisions I came across...you got it, a small street named Juan Tabo. I'm still looking for info on this little tamale selller who has managed to get way down to Southern Tex.