I’ve been reading the 1898 novel Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss. The novel is the sequel of Serviss’s Fighters from Mars, which, depending on how generous you are, is either a barely legal retelling of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds or a thinly disguised plagiarism. Despite the dubious nature of the first book, the second one introduced many science fiction tropes including space suits, disintegrator pistols, alien abduction, and asteroid mining. These elements are all interesting, but there is one line that stood out to me. At one point, the character of Colonel Smith exclaims, “She is a prisoner…and by the Seven Devils of Doña Ana, we’ll not leave her here!”
As a horror writer who lives in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, I was curious who this particular Doña Ana was and who were the Seven Devils she’s been cavorting with? It seemed possible Serviss would refer to the Doña Ana of the county since the character of Colonel Smith was an “Indian Fighter” and the county was smack in the heart of Apache Country.
It turns out, the county is named after Doña Ana Robledo, a noblewoman who was noted for giving money to charities. She died near the Organ Mountains in 1680 as the Spanish fled from the Pueblo Revolt. It seems unlikely this Doña Ana was the one consorting with the devils, even if the Spanish were not known for treating the Native American population well.
A more likely candidate seems Doña Ana from the Don Juan legend. In 1907, George Bernard Shaw would take the lovers into Hell itself. In Act III, Scene 2 of Man and Superman, Doña Ana has the following encounter:
ANA. Are you—
THE DEVIL. [bowing] Lucifer, at your service.
ANA. I shall go mad.
THE DEVIL. [gallantly] Ah, Señora, do not be anxious. You come to us from earth, full of the prejudices and terrors of that priest-ridden place. You have heard me ill spoken of; and yet, believe me, I have hosts of friends there.
ANA. Yes: you reign in their hearts.
THE DEVIL. [shaking his head] You flatter me, Señora; but you are mistaken. It is true that the world cannot get on without me; but it never gives me credit for that: in its heart it mistrusts and hates me. Its sympathies are all with misery, with poverty, with starvation of the body and of the heart. I call on it to sympathize with joy, with love, with happiness, with beauty.
Of course, in this scene, we find only one devil—perhaps two if you count Don Juan himself. Certainly Don Juan is something of a demonic figure in the 17th century writings about him, but in Shaw’s play, Don Juan is opposed to the devil. What’s more, Shaw’s play was published nearly nine years after Serviss’s novel. So of course it couldn’t serve as a direct inspiration. It seems inspiration for both Shaw and Serviss would have to come from a common source.
So, I’m left with two mysteries. Was the phrase “By the seven devils of Doña Ana” a phrase that was actually used in the late nineteenth century? If so, where did the phrase come from? If not, what inspired Serviss to make up the phrase?
If nothing else, “The Seven Devils of Doña Ana” sounds like an interesting title for a historical, paranormal thriller! Although Doña Ana herself doesn’t appear in the novel, Doña Ana County features prominently in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In fact, it’s likely the vampire Rudolfo would have known the real life Doña Ana. The novel is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Lachesis Publishing.