Indians Confront The Spanish

INDIANS CONFRONT THE SPANISH

 

As De Soto's men pushed west toward and beyond the Mississippi, another Spanish expedition approached the great river from the west.

 

From 1540 to 1542, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an expedition of Spanish soldiers and Indian allies north from New Spain in search of treasures.

 

A Franciscan friar named Marcos de Niza had reported seeing the cities of Cibola in 1539 when he looked from a distance on the Zuni pueblos in western New Mexico.

 

Coronado found the Zuni towns but the inhabitants of Hawikuh resisted in a desperate battle in 1540.

 

As the Spaniards commandeered food, most Pueblo peoples adoted a strategy of urging the invaders north in the hope they would get lost in the Great Plains.

 

An Indian guide whom the Spaniards acquired at the pueblo of Vecos spoke of his native country to the east as a land of great riches.

 

The Spaniards called this place Quivira and wandered on to the Great Plains looking for it.

 

When they reached the villages they called Quivira, pro~ably those of the Wichitas in Kansas, they realized there were no cities of gold and strangled their guide.

 

Meanwhile, in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed up the coast of California.

 

In 1550, the impact of the Spanish invasions on Indian peoples gave rise to a formal debate about the moral basis of Spanish treatment of those peoples.

 

According to a priest named Bartolome de Las Casas, "What we committed in the Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses committed against God and mankind.""

 

Las Casas's opponent, Juan de Sepulveda, declared that Indians were naturally inferior and therefore were meant to be slaves;

 

if the Indians refused to submit, the Spanish were justified in using force against them.

 

Indians were like children and would benefit from subordination to "civilized" Christians.

 

Sepulveda would not be the last person to justify taking Indian lands and destroying Indian culture on the assumption that "it was good for them" or that assimilation was their only alternative to destruction.

 

From Invasion to Colonization

Spaniards established permanent colonies along with conducting expeditions through Indian country.

 

They established missions among the Florida tribes and founded St. Augustine in 1565.

 

In 1598, Juan de Onate led a colonizing expedition into New Mexico.

 

The Spaniards founded Santa Fe in 1610, though Indian laborers built most of the city.

 

As elsewhere, the Spaniards aimed to transform Indian peoples into Christians and laborers.

 

In the wake of their conquests to the south, Spaniards established the encomienda system, whereby the authorities assigned indian workers to mines and plantation owners on the understanding that the recipients would pay taxes and teach the workers Christianity.

 

After 1550, however, that system was largely replaced by the repartimiento, which required Indian towns to supply a pool of labor.

 

Indians resisted the systems, and Spanish missionaries often played a leading role in extracting labor as well as confessions of faith from indian people.

 

Indian people who survived the demographic disasters unleashed by the diseases the Spaniards brought responded to invasion and colonization in a variety of ways.

 

Many fled from the invaders, generating a "domino effect" of population pressures and group migrations over thousands of miles.

 

Others resisted violently.

 

Guale Indians in Florida killed missionaries in 1597.

 

A year later and more than two thousand miles to the west, the people of Acoma Pueblo attacked a party of Spanish soldiers;

 

Juan de Onate retaliated by despatching troops who climbed to the top of the mesa where Acoma sat, turned cannons on the inhabitants, and killed as many as eight hundred people.

 

The Spaniards "made an example" of the survivors: males over the age of twenty-five were sentenced to have one foot cut off;

 

women over twelve years of age were sentenced to twenty years of servitude;

 

children under twelve were placed in the care of missionaries to be raised as Christians and as servants.

 

Franciscan friars among the Pueblos forbade dancing and ceremonies and even raided kivas to confiscate religious objects.

 

They also demanded that Pueblo people change their attitudes toward sex:

 

what Pueblo men and women regarded as a natural, life-affirming, and perhaps even a sacred act that united male and female, missionaries taught were "sins of the flesh."

 

Pueblo women traditionally enjoyed considerable influence as a result of their control of the household, their production of corn, and their fertility

 

The patriarchal Catholic church sought to undermine female influence and rights in Pueblo communities.'

 

Pueblo people resisted in subtle ways.

 

They accommodated the Spanish presence and adopted some of the outward forms of Catholicism but kept Spanish missionaries at arm's length, preserving their religion underground in the kivas.

 

Missionaries were unable to stamp out traditional beliefs and rituals even among Pueblos who participated in Catholic services.

 

Friars did not supplant local religious leaders and medicine men.

 

"Kivas and village plazas, not churches and mission compounds, remained the focus of village life,"

 

"The Christian faith was, if accepted to any degree, regarded as a supplement, not an alternative, to a religion that had served the Pueblos and their ancestors we11."'6

 

The Pueblo War of Independence

 

In 1680, after years of economic and religious oppression, the Rio Grande Pueblos rose in synchronized revolt against the Spaniards.

 

The Pueblo Revolt was one of the most effective Indian resistance movements in American history, what Pueblo historian Joe S. Sando calls "the first American revolution.""

 

For more than eighty years, Pueblo peoples had endured Spanish persecution of their religious practices, Spanish demands for corn and labor, and Spanish abuses of their women.

 

New diseases as well as famines resulting from the diSruption of their traditional economies had scythed their numbers, from as

many as 100,000 in the late sixteenth century to a mere 17,000 by 1680.'"

 

Many Pueblos blamed their misfortunes on Spanish assaults on the religious ceremonies that kept their world in balance, and there was a resurgence of the ancient rituals.

 

Spanish officials responded with intensified oppression:

 

in 1675 they hanged three Pueblo religious leaders and whipped many others.

 

Meanwhile, drought produced food scarcities among Plains nomads to the east, and the Apaches stepped up their raids on Pueblo farming communities:

 

"the whole land is at war with the widespread heathen nation of the Apache Indians, who kill all the Christian Indians the)l can find," wrote a Franciscan friar in 1669."

 

By 1680, the Pueblos were facing crisis.

 

They could no longer save themselves by coexistence and accommodation.

 

The move to open confrontation came initially from northern Pueblo leaders.

 

The Spaniards credited Pope, a medicine man from San Juan Pueblo who had been publicly flogged and fled, with masterminding the revolt.

 

But Luis Tupatu, governor of Picuris Pueblo and "an Indian respected among all the nations,"'" and other leaders also played important roles.

 

They made plans to strike at a time when the Spaniards would be low on supplies--just before the arrival of a Spanish supply caravan from the south.

 

Their goals were to cut off the Spanish capital at Santa Fe and overwhelm Spanish settlements in the outlying areas.

 

As historian David Weber notes, it required careful planning to coordinate "an offensive involving some 17,000 Pueblos living in more than two dozen independent towns

 

They were spread out over several hundred miles and further separated by at least six different languages and countless dialects, many of

them mutually unintelligible.

 

Runners carrying knotted strings that indicated the number of days until the revolt went from pueblo to pueblo,"under penalty of death if they revealed the secret

 

Word of the planned revolt leaked but Pope advanced the date and, as the viceroy of New Spain reported to the King the following February,

 

the Indians fell upon all the pueblos and farms at the same time with such vigor and cruelty that they killed twenty-one missionary religious--nineteen priests and two lay brothers—

 

and more than three hundred and eighty Spaniards, not sparing the defenselessness of the women and children.

 

They set fire to the temples, seizing the images of the saints and profaning the holy vessels with such shocking desecrations and insolences that it is indecent to mention them.

 

They left thirty-four pueblos totally desolated and destroyed, not counting many other farms and haciendas...

 

Some Indians plunged into rivers to scrub themselves and their clothing, believing that in this way they would be cleansed of "the character of the holy Sacraments.

 

The Indians laid siege to Santa Fe for nine days and cut off the town's water supply.

 

Rather than face the prospect of dying from starvation and thirst, Governor Don Antonio de Otermin fought his way through the Pueblo cordon and led about one thousand Spanish soldiers, "their families and servants ... Mexican natives, and all classes of people" in retreat south to El Paso.

 

The next year, Otermin attempted to retake the province.

 

Divisions had surfaced among the Pueblos, and the town of Isleta welcomed the returning Spaniards.

 

But elsewhere, Pueblo resistance remained strong, and Otermin was able to do little more than interrogate captured Indians as to their reasons "for rebelling, forsaking the law of God and obedience to his Majesty, and committingg such grave and atrocious crimes."

 

The Indians sai d "that the uprising had been deliberated upon for a long time."

 

Some placed blame on Pope or the devil.

 

Others cited continued Spanish oppression and said "they were tired of the work they had to do for the Spaniards ...

 

and, that being weary, they rebelled:'

 

One eighty-year-old man, whose life spanned the era of Spanish colonial rule, declared

 

"that the resentment which all the Indians have in their hearts has been so strong, from the time this kingdom was discovered, because the religious and the Spaniards took awayu their idols and forbade their sorceries and idolatries."

 

He had "heard this resentment spoken of since he was of an age to understand.'""

 

The coalition that Pope and others had woven together began to unravel soon after the Pueblos had liberated their land.

 

Beginning in 1692, Diego de Vargas reconquered New Mexico for the Spanish.

 

Pueblos revolted again in 1696 but resistance was promptly crushed.

 

Most opted for more subtle forms of resistance, quietly maintaining their cultures and communities, preserving a Pueblo world within a Spanish colony.

 

The Spaniards for their part learned to govern with less of an iron hand.

 

They reduced demands for labor and tribute, and the encomienda system was never reestablished after 1680.

 

They assigned land grants to individual Pueblos, giving them clear European title to their own lands.

 

And they adopted a more tolerant approach to the traditional religion of the Pueblos.

 

Spanish New Mexico in the eighteenth century became more concerned with defending its northern borders against Apache, Navajo, Ute, and Comanche attacks than it was with subjugating and converting its Pueblo populations.

 

Change occurred at a slower rate and in both directions as Hispanic and Pueblo people interacted and intermarried.

 

The Spanish colony was restored and survived in New Mexico, but not entirely on Spanish terms.

 

Pueblo people had to make adjustments and accommodations in order to survive, but their resistance and resilience also reshaped Spanish New Mexico.

 

By the time Mexico surrendered California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah and Colorado to the United States in 1848, Indian peoples living in those regions had been in contact with Spanish-speaking peoples for almost three hundred years.

 

Many of them displayed the marks of that contact: they rode horses, tended sheep and goats, carried crucifixes, spoke Spanish, and wore Spanish-style clothing.

 

Indians and Hispanics had intermarried extensively.