Friar Baltazar Montoya was a priest at Acoma in the early 1700s. He loved food and insisted that the Indians tend his gardens and carry up water and fresh earth so that he could grow an impressive garden. Food was his only sensuality, and no effort was too great to obtain new seeds, new cuttings, or some different meat. The Indians acquiesced to him because he had a painting that supposedly brought rain, and they were unsure as to the extent of his magic.
One summer, the Friar decided to invite four priests from the neighboring missions to dine with him and to admire his gardens and orchard. An excellent cook, he had many recipes and spent much time planning and preparing the food. An Indian boy, pressed to serve the guests, accidentally spills sauce on one of the guests. In a fit of drunken anger, Montoya throws a mug at him and kills him. The other priests leave in disgust. That evening, the Indians throw Montoya from a cliff. They are happy to be rid of the priest who used them as slaves. They bear no grudge, however, for subsequent priests.
The story of Friar Baltazar Montoya is a typical Cather device to give depth and variety to her work. It is also a repetition of a motif. In the Prologue, priests dine in an airy garden on a shelf of rock. They are preoccupied with food, music, and worldly pursuits. Montoya and his guest also dine on an airy rock, thinking of the good things of life. In Montoya's case, he goes too far by forcing the Indians to be his garden slaves. When he kills the boy, he finds that justice in the New World acts swiftly.