New Mexico

By the time a Spanish expedition crossed the Rio Grande into what is now New Mexico, Pueblo Indians had been living in a string of settlements from El Paso to Taos for more than three centuries. The story of colonial New Mexico is, at its core, the struggle of autonomous Pueblo villages to resist Spanish military force and cultural conquest from 1540 to 1846, when the United States took control of the region.

The Rio Grande Valley was home to between sixty and seventy independent native communities, totaling less than 40,000 people, when Francisco Vzquez de Coronado approached it from Mexico in 1540. The independent pueblo was the main unit of political organization, and the pueblos had relatively little contact with one another. The Pueblo peoples of New Mexico spoke at least five mutually unintelligible languages (Tiwa, Tewa, Piro, Tano, and Keresan), and each language was broken down further into dialects. The Pueblo were farmers, who had mastered the skill of raising crops in a harsh, unforgiving climate.

Like Hernando de Soto, who was cutting a path of destruction through the Southeast at the same time, Coronado had no system of conquest. He moved through Pueblo country with 300 Spanish soldiers and Christianized native servants. After establishing a base camp near modern-day Albuquerque, Coronado required local Tiwas to furnish his army with food, clothing, and women. Not surprisingly, the Tiwa resisted Coronado’s demands; Coronado responded by burning 200 of the native people at the stake. Ten of twelve Tiwa villages were ultimately abandoned as a result of the fighting with the Spanish; the remaining two were conquered. Although Coronado left New Mexico as soon he learned that there was no treasure to be had, the Spanish gained a reputation for violence among the Pueblo.

In 1598, Juan de O±ate brought a different style of Spanish colonization to New Mexico. After declaring all of New Mexico to be under Spanish rule, he assembled Pueblo leaders at several locations along the Rio Grande to inform them of the benefits of Spanish rule. Chief among these benefits were peace, justice, new crops, livestock, and trade. O±ate also indicated that if the Pueblo would submit to the Catholic Church, they could avoid an eternity of suffering.

Spanish records indicate that the Pueblo agreed on the spot to become servants of the Spanish Crown and the church; however, O±ate’s tenure as governor of New Mexico was marked by constant violence between the Pueblo and their Spanish masters. When O±ate’s own nephew was killed in a surprise attack, the governor responded ferociously. Spanish forces overwhelmed the people of Acoma Pueblo, killing 500 men and 300 women and children. Some 80 men and 500 women and children stood trial; many of these had their feet cut off, and all were forced into twenty years of servitude. Powers in Mexico City eventually brought O±ate up on charges of cruelty and adultery.

New Mexico’s native people were caught in a conflict between the colony’s civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Various governors tried to reduce the power of the missions. The more the Pueblo people worked on missions, the less they could contribute to the colony’s labor supply, thereby robbing the colony’s government of valuable resources. Missionaries and governors accused each other of using native labor for personal gain. In reality, both sides abused the Pueblo, and, between 1630 and 1680, the situation deteriorated rapidly. Missionaries embarked on a new program to crush native religion by force. At the same time, warfare between the Pueblo and Apache was intensifying.

All these forces came to a head in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Pueblo began the revolt by killing missionaries and all the Spaniards they could find. Then, they laid siege to Santa Fe. Within a matter of days, all the missions had been destroyed; and half of the forty or so priests and hundreds of Spanish colonists had been killed. The surviving Spanish colonists left for El Paso, where they stayed for twelve years. The Pueblo Revolt marked the first time that Pueblo peoples from different regions had acted in concert toward a single goal.

The Spanish reconquest of New Mexico began in 1692. Eventually, Spain did regain control of the Pueblo. Still, the first half of the eighteenth century was marked by factional strife between the various pueblos and simmering conflict between the Spanish and the Pueblo people. Missionaries reconsidered their attempt to quell native religion, and they stopped confiscating ceremonial objects. In the second half of the eighteenth century and beyond, Spain’s influence on New Mexico, and indeed its influence in the Americas as a whole, markedly declined. Matthew Jennings See also: Borderlands, Spanish; Santa Fe; Spanish Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology). Bibliography Simmons, Marc. New Mexico: A Bicentennial History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977. Spicer, Edward H. Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533 1960. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962. Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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