Rael, Juan Bautista, 1900-1993

Birth 1900-08-14
Death 1993-11-08

Biographical notes:

The Collector

Linguist and folklorist Juan Bautista Rael, highly regarded for his pioneering work in collecting and documenting the Hispano folk stories, plays, and religious traditions of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, was born on August 14, 1900, in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico. His bachelor's degree, from St. Mary's College in Oakland in 1923, led to a master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1927. After deciding on a university career of teaching and research, Rael relinquished his family inheritance in land, cattle, and sheep to his three brothers and his sister. He had realized that the wealth in northern New Mexico that most interested him was the vast repertory of folk narrative, song, and custom that had scarcely been documented.

While teaching at the University of Oregon, Rael returned to Arroyo Hondo in the summer of 1930 to begin compiling his famous collection of over five hundred New Mexican folk tales. By then his work had attracted the attention of pioneer Hispano folklorist and mentor Aurelio Espinosa, who invited Rael to Stanford in 1933. Rael completed his doctoral studies in 1937 with a dissertation on the phonology and morphology of New Mexico Spanish that amplified the dialectological work of Espinosa with the huge corpus of folk tales, later published as Cuentos Españoles de Colorado y Nuevo Mexico: Spanish Folk Tales of Colorado and New Mexico .

Well-versed in the historic-geographic theory of transmission and diffusion of motifs, tale types, and genres, Rael set out on the formidable, almost quixotic task of gathering all the possible versions and texts of the tales, hymns, and plays he was studying. The vast majority of tales are of European provenance, with only minimal local references. He meticulously traced the shepherds' plays to several root sources in Mexico, and his study The Sources and Diffusion of the Mexican Shepherds' Plays is a standard reference on the subject. His ground-breaking study of the alabado hymn, The New Mexican Alabado, is also a prime resource. Inevitably the text-centered historic-geographic approach led more to collection building than to analysis. It has been left to later generations of scholars to develop performance-centered studies, but the collections of Juan B. Rael continue to be an indispensable landmark in the field.

Note: This biography was excerpted from an essay by Enrique R. Lamadrid. For further information on the collector and the collection, see the framing essays written by Lamadrid to accompany the online presentation Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande: The Juan B. Rael Collection . See Folder 16 below.

From the guide to the Juan B. Rael Collection, 1939-1999, 1940, (Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center Library of Congress http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.afc/folklife.home)

Frances Gillmor (1903-1993), was the first Chair of the University of Arizona Folklore Committee, from 1945 to her retirement in 1972, and founded its archives. A novelist and a professor of English at the University of Arizona, she held an M.A. in English from the University (1931). Her studies in Mexican folklore and cultural anthropology subsequently led her to complete a Doctora en Letras at the Universidad Nacional Autònoma de México, awarded in 1957.

Gillmor's diverse interests and research led her around the world. One particular area of interest was the traditional dance dramas of Mexico, a subject upon which she published several studies. In 1959 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study folk drama at village fiestas in Spain, for comparison with those of Mexico. Many of the transcripts that she collected have been included in this collection.

Juan B. Rael was a fellow scholar and colleague of Frances Gillmor, who shared her interest in Mexican folk drama. Rael collected material for his book The Sources and Diffusion of the Mexican Shepherds' Plays, published in 1965. These materials are unpublished texts or versions, in manuscript or typescript form, collected on field trips to Mexico and the southwestern United States. The original manuscripts are now housed in the Stanford University Library. These copies were sent unsolicited to Dr. Gillmor in 1967, and were added to the collection.

From the guide to the Southwest Folklore Archive folk drama collection, 1837-1970, (University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections)


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Ark ID:


  • Hispanic Americans--Colorado--Music
  • Folk music--Colorado
  • Pastoral drama, Mexican
  • Marches--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Field recordings--Colorado
  • Hispanic Americans--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)--Music
  • Pastoral drama, Spanish--Mexico
  • Coplas--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Dance music--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Spanish Americans--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)--Music
  • Field recordings--New Mexico
  • Recitations
  • Folk songs, Spanish--Colorado
  • Waltz--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Hispanic American Catholics--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)--Social life and customs
  • Spanish Americans--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)--Religion
  • Fiddle tunes--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Folk drama, Spanish--Mexico
  • Folk songs, Spanish--New Mexico
  • Alabados
  • Folk drama, Hispanic American (Spanish)--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Hispanic Americans--New Mexico--Music
  • Christmas plays, Spanish--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • New Year music
  • Posadas (Social custom)--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Christmas plays, Spanish--Mexico
  • Decimas, Spanish American--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Hymns, Spanish--Colorado
  • Folk music--New Mexico
  • Wedding music--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Folk music--Rio Grande Valley Region (Colo.--Mexico and Tex.)
  • Hymns, Spanish--New Mexico


  • Collector


  • Santa Fe, NM, US
  • Arroyo Hondo Grant, NM, US