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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Spanish Borderlands

Herbert E. Bolton

in the
Chronicles of America edition,
Yale University Press,
New Haven, 1921

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p165  Chapter VI
New Mexico

Old Castañeda, who wrote a belated chronicle of Coronado's expedition, gave Coronado a black eye and at the same time encouraged new flights of fancy. He made it appear that for some man of destiny the north held prizes. From the resemblance of the Pueblo to the Aztec dwellings the region came to be called New Mexico. It was, after all, the "otro Mexico," which so many had sought. For nearly four decades after Coronado's day the Pueblo Indians were not revisited; but, during the interval the frontier of settlement in the central plateau of Mexico pushed northward, and the post of Santa Bárbara was set up at the head of the Conchos River, which led to the Río Grande. This opened a new highway to New Mexico. Coronado's roundabout trail by way of the Pacific slope, made dangerous by hostile Indians using poisoned arrows, was now no longer necessary. In  p166 the course of slave-catching and prospecting raids down the Conchos, frontiersmen crossed the trail of Cabeza de Vaca and from the Indians heard new reports of the Pueblo country. Some one at Santa Bárbara had a copy of Vaca's Narrative, and the marvelous tale of adventure was read again with keen attention. To the friars, newly heralded Cíbola appeared a virgin field in which to save souls; to the soldiers and miners, a new world of adventure and treasure.

New Mexico was again the scene of exploration. But, by the ordinance of 1573, military expeditions among the Indians were forbidden, and as a consequence any new enterprise must go in missionary guise. An expedition was organized at Santa Bárbara in 1581, led by Fray Agustín Rodriguez, with whom went Fray Francisco López, Fray Juan de Santa Maria, nineteen Indian servants, and nine soldier-traders. The soldiers were led by Francisco Chamuscado, "the Singed." They were equipped with ninety horses, coats of mail for horse and rider, and six hundred cattle, besides sheep, goats, and hogs. For barter with the natives they carried merchandise. While the primary purpose of the stock was to provide food on the way, the friars were  p167 prepared to remain in New Mexico if conditions were propitious.

Leaving Santa Bárbara on the 5th of June, the party descended the Conchos River to its mouth and proceeded up the Río Grande. They were followed by a retinue of Indians who regarded them as children of the sun — so the chronicler thought. They passed through the Piros towns and continued to the Tiguas above Isleta, and on to the Tanos on Santa Fé River. Here Father Santa María set out alone to carry reports to Mexico, against the wishes of his companions, whose fears were justified, for he was killed three days later by Indians east of Isleta. The two friars and their party continued to Taos, near the Colorado line, and crossed to the Buffalo Plains, east of the Pecos River. Returning westward, they were obliged to fight a band of hostile natives in the Galisteo valley. Then they crossed the Río Grande and visited the Indian towns of Ácoma and Zuñi. On the way some of the men, boylike, or with an historical sense, carved their names on El Morro Cliff, now called Inscription Rock, where they are still visible.​a At Zuñi they found three Mexicans who had come with Coronado, and after forty years had nearly forgotten their native tongue. Back eastward came the  p168 expedition. Rodriguez and López decided to found a mission at Puaray, a Tigua town on the Río Grande above Albuquerque, and there, with a few servants, the two friars made their abode. The soldiers returned to Santa Bárbara. Chamuscado, the leader, became ill on the way and was carried on a litter of hides strung between two horses. Before reaching his destination he died.

Three months later two servants from the mission fled to Mexico and reported that López had been killed by the Indians. A rescue expedition was hastened, for Fray Agustín might still be alive. But expedition was too late. On reaching Puaray it was learned that Fray Agustín also had been slain.

The soldier-traders of this rescue party were led by Antonio de Espejo, a merchant of Mexico, and Espejo had other business in New Mexico. From the Río Grande he explored northwest to Jémez and went to Ácoma and Zuñi. Here he left Father Beltrán, the Franciscan who accompanied him, and went on in search of a lake of gold he had heard of. Arrived at the Moqui towns, in Arizona, he obtained four thousand cotton blankets and saw the snake dance performed by the Hopi Indians, who still raise cotton and still perform the famous  p169 dance, usually as a prayer for rain. Espejo now pushed westward and reached the region of Prescott, where he discovered rich veins, later to be known as mines of fabulous wealth. Then, retracing his steps to the Río Grande, he returned by way of the Pecos River to Santa Bárbara, whither Father Beltrán had preceded him. Espejo's report of the mines, of course, set the frontier on fire.

The rumor that Drake, after raiding Spanish ships on the Pacific (1579), had found the Strait of Anian, and had sailed home through it, impelled the Spaniards to extend their power northward to the shores of that Strait. So Philip ordered the Viceroy of Mexico to make a contract with some one for the conquest and settlement of New Mexico. Several applicants came forward, including Espejo, who proposed at his own expense to colonize New Mexico with four hundred soldier-settlers and to build a port where the Strait of Anian entered the North Sea! So great was the excitement in Mexico that some adventurers did not wait for official sanction, but set out on their own authority, knowing that nothing succeeds like success. No result came of these unauthorized ventures, and, what with red tape and jealousies and disputes, it was  p170 some years before a contract was concluded with any one. The King had his Armada on his mind and, for the time, was pinning all his hopes on that. But, in 1588, his Armada was beaten and almost wholly destroyed. His command of the sea was gone. And he turned again to his subjects in Mexico for help to make his power in the New World secure. At last, in 1595, just when Vizcaíno was commissioned to colonize and hold California, the contract for the conquest and settlement of New Mexico was awarded to Juan de Oñate of Zacatecas. The two expeditions, indeed, were regarded as parts of the same enterprise.

Oñate was the scion of a family distinguished for generations through service to the Crown in Spain and in Mexico; and he had married Isabel Tolosa Cortés Montezuma, a descendant of both Cortés and Montezuma II. He was granted extensive privileges in New Mexico, much like those conferred upon Menéndez in Florida thirty years before. His colonists were promised the rank of hidalgo — for themselves and their heirs. The expedition was prepared in feudal style. Men of means were made captains. They did homage and swore fealty to Oñate, sounded fife and drum, set up standards, and raised companies at their  p171 own expense. Rich men staked their fortunes on the gamble.

Zacatecas was made the central rendezvous for the colony, which was recruited from far and near. Jealousies and underminings interfered so much in the preliminary stages that it was 1598 before Oñate left Santa Bárbara, the last important outpost on the frontier. In his train went one hundred and thirty soldier-settlers, most of them taking their families, a band of Franciscans under Father Martínez, a large retinue of negro and Indian slaves, seven thousand head of stock, and eighty-three wagons and carts for transporting the women and children and the baggage.

The baggage must have been ample indeed if all the officers were as well supplied as Captain Luís de Velasco with wardrobe and appurtenances suitable to a cavalier in the wilderness. Don Luís had one suit of "blue Italian velvet trimmed with wide gold passementerie, consisting of doublet, breeches, and green silk stockings with blue garters and points of gold lace," a suit of rose satin, one of straw-colored satin, another of purple Castilian cloth, another of chestnut colored cloth, a sixth and daintier one, of Chinese flowered silk. He had two doublets of Castilian dressed kid and one of royal lion skin  p172 gold-trimmed; two linen shirts, fourteen pairs of Rouen linen breeches, forty pairs of boots, shoes, and gaiters, three hats, one black, trimmed around the crown with a silver cord and black, purple, and white feathers, another gray with yellow and purple feathers, the third of purple taffeta trimmed with blue, purple, and yellow feathers and a band of gold and silver passementerie. He took four saddles "of blue flowered Spanish cloth bound with Cordovan leather," three suits of armor, and three suits of horse armor, a silver-handled lance with gold and purple tassels, a sword and gilded dagger with belts stitched in purple and yellow silk, a broadsword, two shields, and — as a protection against weather and sneezes — a raincoat and six linen handkerchiefs. A bedstead and two mattresses with coverlet, sheets, pillows, and pillow-cases and a canvas mattress-bag bound with leather completed his outfit — not forgetting servants, thirty horses and mules, and a silken banner.

Instead of continuing down the Conchos, Oñate opened a new trail direct to the Río Grande. Early in April (1598) he reached the Médanos, the great sand dunes south of El Paso. On the twenty-sixth he camped on the river just below El Paso. Here on the thirtieth he took formal  p173 possession "of all the Kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico, on the Río del Norte, in the name of our Lord King Philip." The day was given up to a celebration beginning with artillery salutes, Mass, and a sermon, and concluding with the presentation of a comedy written by Captain Farfán. On the 4th of May Oñate crossed the Río Grande at El Paso. Then with sixty men he went ahead in person "to pacify the land." Two months later, at the present Santo Domingo, a pueblo west of Santa Fé, he received the submission of the chiefs of seven provinces. Continuing north a short distance, on July 11, 1598, he established headquarters at the pueblo of Caypa, then renamed and ever since known as San Juan. With the aid of fifteen hundred natives he began the construction of an irrigation ditch. His colonists came up with him early in August; and, on the 8th of September, they celebrated the completion of the first church erected in New Mexico. On the next day chiefs from all the explored territory assembled to do honor to their Spanish super-chief and to receive their rods of office as lieutenants of King Philip. A tone of solemnity was given the scene by holding the ceremony in the kiva, or sacred council chamber, of the pueblo. There, on  p174 bended knee, the chiefs swore allegiance to God and the King of Spain, and sealed the oath by kissing the hands of Oñate and Father Martínez.

The ceremony over, Oñate gave his mind to plans for exploration. He wished to explore the Buffalo Plains, discover the Strait of Anian, open a land route to the Pacific, and take a look at the country northeastward beyond Quivira.

Sixty men went to the plains to procure meat and tallow and to capture buffalo to domesticate. After a few tilts the plan to tame the ugly beasts was given up, but more than two thousand pounds of tallow were obtained. Oñate went to Moqui, and from there Marcos Farfán led a party to the gold-fields of Arizona which Espejo had discovered, and staked out claims. On their way to join Oñate, Juan de Zaldívar and fourteen companions were slain at Ácoma, by the rebellious People of the White Rock. To punish the offenders Oñate sent out an expedition which captured Ácoma after two days of terrific fighting on its stone stairs, laid the pueblo waste by fire, and exterminated most of its inhabitants. Shortly afterward Oñate led eighty men down the Canadian River, crossed Oklahoma, and entered Quivira at Wichita, Kansas; but he was forced to retreat by  p175 Indian hostility. Another golden dream had a prosaic awakening.

Meanwhile disaster had befallen the colony, which by this time had moved its headquarters across the Río Grande to San Gabriel, near Chama River. A dry season had made food scarce and, when Oñate returned, he confiscated the supplies in the pueblos, leaving the Indians destitute. The friars, whose first thought was for their missions, were now in conflict with Oñate. One of them wrote of him: "In all the expeditions he had butchered many Indians, human blood has been shed, and he has committed thefts, sackings, and other atrocities. I pray that God may grant him the grace to do penance for all his deeds." Hunger drove most of the settlers and all the friars but one back to Santa Bárbara. Among those who withdrew, ruined in fortune, was Captain Luís de Velasco, the erstwhile Beau Brummel of the satin coats. Oñate sent soldiers after his faint-hearted colonists to arrest and bring them back. Some of them returned, and Father Escobar came north as the new superior of the missionaries, bringing six new friars.

Finally, in 1604, Oñate carried out his intention of reaching the South Sea. It was his last throw of  p176 the dice. By this time he and his friends were ruined in fortune, and his reputation was under a cloud as a result of charges made by his rivals and enemies. New Mexico was already a white elephant on the royal hands. Oñate must make a hit somewhere, and Vizcaíno had just focused attention on California. Westward, therefore, Oñate again turned. With thirty men he followed the footsteps of Espejo and Farfán and went on to the Colorado, down the Colorado to the Gulf of California; explored the shore of the Gulf, found no pearl fisheries, and returned to San Gabriel convinced that California was an island. On the way he had heard from an Indian wag of a land to the north where people slept under water and wore golden bracelets; of a race of unipeds; of giant Amazons on a silver island to the west; of a tribe with long ears trailing on the ground, and of another nation which lived on smells. And, as Father Escobar indited of these matters, since God had created greater wonders and "since they have been affirmed by so many and different tribes . . . they cannot lack foundation."

New Mexico was an expense. It had not led to discovery of the Strait of Anian; the distant mines of Arizona could not be worked without Indian  p177 labor, which could only be procured by keeping a large and costly military force in the country. The new Viceroy of Mexico reported on the province unfavorably to the King and urged that all efforts now be concentrated on California. The colonists were as disheartened as the Viceroy. They threatened to leave if ample supplies did not arrive within the year. At the same time, in August, 1607, Oñate asked for his release, unless sufficient aid was to be sent to him. This may have been a bluff. If so, it was called. His request was granted and early in 1609 Pedro de Peralta arrived in San Gabriel as the new Governor with instructions to find a better site and move the capital and colony thither. Thus Peralta founded the town of Santa Fé. Oñate returned to Mexico, where the charges against him were pending for more than a decade. The rewards for his services were poverty, enemies, and disappointment. Nevertheless, he had founded a permanent outpost for Spain and a colony which after three centuries gives character to one of our commonwealths.

Hopes of finding rich minerals in New Mexico having failed, the province remained chiefly a missionary field, with its principal secular settlement at Santa Fé. But as a missionary province  p178 it flourished. According to Father Benavides, by 1630 there were fifty friars at work. Their twenty-five missions included ninety pueblos and sixty thousand converts. At each mission there were a school and workshops, where the neophytes were taught reading, writing, singing, instrumental music, and the manual arts.

The account which Father Benavides gives of the Queres missions is typical of all. "Passing forward another four leagues," he says, "the Queres nation commences with its first pueblo, that of San Felipe, and extends more than ten leagues in seven pueblos. There must be in them four thousand souls, all baptized. There are three monasteries with very costly and beautiful churches, aside from those which each pueblo has. These Indians are very dexterous in reading, writing, and playing on all kinds of instruments and are skilled in all the crafts, thanks to the great industry of the friars who converted them."

For eighty years Spaniards and Indians dwelt at peace with each other. But while Indians accepted the religion of the friars, they also preserved their own — as they have preserved it to this day — and, under demands that they give it up, coupled with penances and punishments, they  p179 became sullen. Then, too, they were driven to labor for their conquerors. The secret bitterness flamed up in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, led by Popé, a Tewa medicine man, who had suffered chains and flogging. At this time the Spanish population numbered nearly three thousand settlers, living chiefly in the upper Río Grande valley between Isleta and Taos. Besides the towns of Santa Fé and Santa Cruz de la Cañada, a settlement had also been formed on the river at El Paso, now the Mexican town of Juárez. In addition to the labor enforced on them, the Indians paid tribute yearly in cloth and maize for the benefit of the alien settlers. They were more than willing to listen to Popé when he talked of casting out the heavy-handed strangers. Popé — whipped out of San Juan for witchcraft — made his headquarters in Taos, whither he called the northern chiefs. The depth of his hatred for the Spaniards may be gauged by the fact that, having reason to suspect the fidelity of his son-in‑law, Bua, governor of the San Juan pueblo, he slew him with his own hand. Isleta and the Piros pueblos to the south did not join in the conspiracy, but their lack was more than compensated by an alliance with the fierce Apaches. So masterly was Popé's general­ship that the blow  p180 fell simultaneously on all the settlements. Men, women, children, and friars — over four hundred all told — were slaughtered indiscriminately; the churches, houses, and property destroyed. About twenty-five hundred Spaniards escaped to the settlement at El Paso.

For eighteen years the Indians held New Mexico. There was not a resident Spaniard north of the El Paso district. In 1692 Governor Diego de Vargas led an expedition for the reduction of the province. The reclamation and fortification of that territory, and the spread of Spanish rule beyond it, had again become vital. Vargas reconquered New Mexico with comparatively little bloodshed; for most of the pueblos, taken by surprise, submitted without a blow. But when Vargas returned in 1693 with a colony of eight hundred settlers, the northern towns made a stiff resistance. It was not until the end of 1694 that they were conquered. Taos, where the old conspiracy had its roots, was sacked and burned. The Indian warriors, taken prisoners in the battles, were executed; hundreds of women and children were made slaves. Once more in the following year did the Indians rise to repel the invader, but their strength was broken. A series of bloody  p181 campaigns by Vargas and his successor, Cubero, crushed at last their heroic spirit. The reconquest was complete, and Spanish rule was made secure exactly a century after it had first been established by Oñate.

For another century and a quarter New Mexico continued under Spain; then it became a part of independent Mexico. It was a typical Spanish outpost, isolated and sluggish, quite unlike the lively mining and political centers of New Spain farther south. At Santa Fé a long succession of military governors ruled over the province and engaged sometimes in unsavory quarrels with the missionary superiors.

The Indian pueblos were missions under the spiritual control of the padres, and mimic municipalities with their own officers under the political and economic control of alcaldes, appointed by the Governor. In the larger pueblos Spanish and in the smaller half-caste alcaldes were usually appointed. The alcaldes appointed agents and seldom visited their Indian charges. The offices were means, not alone of controlling, but more particularly of exploiting the natives. Each pueblo was required to carry provisions to the alcalde's  p182 home — a sheep a week, butter, beans, tortillas, and other provisions. The natives also rendered personal service on the alcalde's hacienda or in his household. They planted, tilled, and harvested his crops, sometimes going long distances and carrying their tools. When the wool or the cotton was gathered it was parceled out to the Indians to manufacture into fabrics — for the alcalde's benefit. Women were required for household service, with resulting scandals. Indians often bought, at high prices, freedom for their women from this household service. The alcaldes and the Governor monopolized most of the trade with their pueblos. Weekly labor for the Governor was so distributed that Indians from Río Arriba went to Santa Fé to work between Resurrection Day and All Saints' Day; those from Río Abajo going during the rest of the year. Every week five women were sent to grind corn and do other work at the Governor's palace, while a certain number of men worked on his haciendas.

For a picture of New Mexico in 1744 we are indebted to Father Menchero, procurator of the missions. The province included not only the settlements of the upper Río Grande but the El Paso district as well, on both sides of the river.  p183 At that time there were seven hundred and seventy-one households, or about ten thousand persons, for families were surprisingly large. Two-thirds of these people lived in the four principal cities of Santa Fé, Santa Cruz, Albuquerque, and El Paso. Of these El Paso was the largest. The remainder lived on haciendas and ranchos — rural villages they were, ranging from five to forty-six families each. The Franciscans still administered twenty-five missions, each containing from thirty to one hundred families. Nineteen of these missions were in the upper district, between Isleta and Taos, Pecos and Zuñi. Six were strung along the Río Grande below El Paso within a distance of twenty leagues. All these were then on the right bank of the stream, but subsequent changes in the river bed have left some of them in Texas. Population increased slowly but steadily to the end of Spanish rule, when the province, not counting the El Paso district, had thirty thousand settlers.

The Spaniards, so‑called, were by no means all full-blood Castilians. In every frontier Spanish colony the soldiery was to a large extent made up of castes — mestizos, coyotes, and mulattoes — and New Mexico was no exception to the  p184 rule. As time went on, the Indian admixture increased. The laws of the Indies provided that Spaniards and castes should not settle in the Indian towns and missions, on the theory that the association was bad for the Indian. Nevertheless, before the end of the eighteenth century many Spaniards, and especially the castes, settled in the Indian pueblos, where they gained possession of the Indian lands, and by getting the Indians in their debt, kept them in practical peonage. Similarly, the castes often got control of the pueblo government. The Indians were required by law to nominate their own "governors," but in many cases the coyotes and mulattoes managed to secure the election.

Of all the elements in the population none was more unhappy than the genizaros, or Janissaries. These were Indians of various tribes of the plains, ransomed or captured in childhood, employed as servants, and Christianized. They were employed especially as scouts and as auxiliaries in campaigns, hence their name. They were an extraneous element in society, and they tended to segregate themselves from both Spaniards and Pueblos. Frequently they ran away. For these outcasts the missionaries in 1740 founded a mission  p185 settlement at Thomé on the Río Grande, just below Isleta; others were founded later at Belén and Sabinal.

The river valleys of New Mexico were highly productive. Irrigation was commonly practiced. In the upper districts maize, wheat, cotton, garden truck, cattle, sheep, goats, horses, mules, and fowls were raised on a considerable scale. Sheep raising flourished especially in the north, and cattle abounded at Taos and Soledad. The Indians manufactured fabrics of cotton, wool, buffalo, deer, and rabbit hides. At Albuquerque woolen and cotton fabrics were woven by the Spaniards. At El Paso a fine acequia watered large fields of wheat and maize and vineyards which produced "fine wine in no way inferior to that of Spain." Some of haciendas were large and productive. That of Captain Rubín de Celis, ten leagues below El Paso, had on it twenty Spanish families. The Treval hacienda, at Laguna, customarily planted two hundred fanegas (400 bushels) of wheat and three hundred fanegas of maize, all by means of tributary Indian labor.

At Taos annual fairs were held. Wild Indians brought captive children and buffalo and deer skins, to exchange for horses, mules, knives,  p186 hatchets, and trinkets. The Moqui pueblos had a large commerce in cattle and fabrics with the surrounding tribes, particularly with the Yumas and Mojaves of the Colorado River. The Spaniards conducted Indian trade at long distances, making frequent or even annual expeditions to the Jumanos of central Texas, to the Pawnees and the Arapahoes beyond the Arkansas, and to the various tribes of the Utah Basin, as far as Lake Utah. The monopolistic system of Spain restricted external trade to narrow channels. The great commercial event of the year was the departure of the annual caravan of cattle, carts, and pack mules, bound for Chihuahua, whither exports were sent and whence manufactured articles were obtained.

In the eighteenth century the French of Louisiana began to smuggle into New Mexico much needed merchandise. After Louisiana passed into the hands of Spain, communication was opened with St. Louis, and trade with the Plains Indians increased. Early in the nineteenth century American traders and adventurers attempted to enter the country, but usually fell into Spanish prisons. In 1806 Zebulon Pike, the American explorer, was captured by Spaniards and taken to Santa Fé. To his American eye Santa Fé's one-story houses of  p187 thick adobe walls looked from a distance "like a fleet of flat-boats which are seen in the spring and fall seasons descending the Ohio. . . . The public square is in the center of town, on the north side of which is situated the palace or government house, with the quarters for the guards, etc. The other side of the square is occupied by the clergy and public officers. . . . The streets are very narrow, say, in general, twenty-five feet. The supposed population is 4500."

When Mexico threw off the Spanish yoke in 1821, New Mexico became a province of Mexico, with a northern boundary at the forty-second parallel, including Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and most of Arizona. The exclusive policy of Spain was now relaxed, and American trappers and traders found free access. American pioneers like Kit Carson and Charles Bent adopted the country and married its daughters; and traders opened the great caravan trade from St. Louis to Santa Fé, thence to Chihuahua and to Los Angeles. When New Mexico passed into American hands the population had reached sixty thousand — a figure about equal to the total French population in North America at the end of the French régime.

Thayer's Note:

a For the striking site of the pool at El Morro and the inscriptions there that have made it a National Monument, see the U. S. National Park Service site with its pages on preserving the inscriptions.

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