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Field Division of Education
Preliminary Report on the Ethnography of the Southwest
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It is unnecessary to enter into the history of the Southwest further than wherein it may have bearing upon the ethnology of the region. For this purpose it is sufficient to sketch the early contacts of whites with the Indian tribes in the Southwest. This is essential in order that we may bear in mind the degree to which the native cultures may have been modified by European contacts.

Cabeza de Vaca was probably the first white man to hear of the tribes of the Southwest. Wrecked on the Gulf Coast, together with three other survivors of the expedition to Florida under Panfilo de Narvaez, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions traversed southern Texas and part of the Southwest. His route is now fairly well established, and, while he may have crossed southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, probably his path lay a trifle to the south. Eventually he reached Spanish settlements in Sinaloa on the Pacific Coast in 1536.

Cabeza de Vaca's stories fell upon willing ears in Mexico, and in 1539, Mendoza, then Viceroy of New Spain, sent Fray Marcos de Nizza to investigate the cities of Cibola of which Cabeza de Vaca had heard. Nizza was accompanied by one of Cabeza de Vaca's companions, Esteban, a negro, who was to act as guide and interpreter, Esteban pushed on ahead, reaching one of the Zuni towns with an Indian escort. Following a few days behind, Nizza met members of the escort who reported Esteban had been killed. The intrepid friar pushed on far enough to get a distant view of one of the towns, then returned, not daring to approach closer. From this distant view and from the stories of the Indians, Fray Marcos pieced together a glowing account of the cities of Cibola which set New Spain aflame with excitement.

With the memory of the conquest of Mexico and Peru only too fresh in their minds, the Spanish sent off an expedition immediately under that great gentleman, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Departing from Mexico in 1540, the Coronado expedition reached first the Zuni villages, moving later to the valley of the Rio Grande, where it wintered. Various members of the expedition probably visited or saw practically all the inhabited pueblos of the Southwest, but they seem to have had little or no contact with less civilized tribes. In 1542 the expedition withdrew, leaving two missionaries, one in the Plains region and the other at Pecos. Three Mexican Indians were left at Zuni where they were found some years later by another expedition; but, the missionaries were soon killed.

Nearly forty years later, in 1581, Fray Roderiguez with two other priests, escorted by a small party of soldiers under Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado, settled themselves on the Rio Grande, probably near Bernalillo, New Mexico. Near the end of the year the soldiers withdrew.

Late the following year Antonio de Espejo and Friar Bernardino Beltran started north to learn the fate of the three missionaries, Although soon learning the three had been killed, Espejo and his handful of companions persevered it what, under the circumstances, was one of the most remarkable exploration trips in Southwestern history. Although the country was seething with hostility, he visited Acoma, Zuni, Hopi, and the pueblos north of Santa Fe, returning down the Pecos River.

In 1590 Castano de Sosa brought a party with the intention of founding a colony. He explored the Rio Grande and Pecos country as far north as Taos but he was forced to return because he had not secured the necessary permit for his explorations.

The real settlement of New Mexico began in 1598 under Onate. Settlements were begun and the missionization of the eastern Pueblos undertaken in vigourous fashion by a group of Franciscan missionaries. For the next 80 years little is known about the history of the region, owing to the destruction of records in the revolt of 1680. That year a concerted revolt by the Pueblos resulted in the expulsion of all the Spanish as far as El Paso. For ten years the governor, Otermin, and his successor, Cruzate, made futile attempts to reconquer the country. in 1692 Diego de Vargas undertook the task and was finally successful in bringing peace after eight years of intermittent warfare.

From this time on, all the Pueblos, except the Hopi towns, seem to have been continuously under the domination of the Spanish. Peace did not last, however, for the Comanche arrived in the Southern Plains about 1700, and immediately became dangerous enemies of Pueblos and Spanish alike. Other nomadic tribes, Apache, Navaho, and Ute, became increasingly annoying.

In the meantime various tribes of the rancheria groups to the southwest of the Pueblos were missionized with more or less success, particularly the Opata and Pima-Papago groups. With the other tribes the Spanish had few contacts other then hostile encounters. Brief efforts to missionize the Apache and Navaho were unsuccessful.

In the 19th century American traders became frequent at Santa Fe and some fur trappers penetrated south and west of Santa Fe as well as the northern fringe of the Southwest. In 1848 most of the Southwest became part of the United States with, however, little alteration in the relations between Indians and whites for many years. In general the Pueblo Indians seem to have been better disposed toward the Americans than toward the Mexicans. The Navajo and Ute were early brought to see the advantages of peace, but struggles with the Apache continued under American occupation almost to the end of the century.

The significance of this brief synopsis lies in the extent and nature of the contacts with whites. The Pueblos, with the exception of the Hopi towns, were in intimate contact with the Spanish and Mexicans from 1598 on. The Gila River peoples were in equally close contact with whites from about 1700 on. The other Indian tribes of the area were in varying relations with the Spanish; at times at war, at times at peace, and visiting Spanish settlements for trading purposes. Yet despite this long period of contact, Indian life continued essentially in an aboriginal condition for a very long time; and in the case of the Pueblos, life may still be said to be primarily aboriginal in character despite the undoubted and important modifications which have occurred.

(A good summary from the ethnological point of view occurs in Kidder, 1924. See also other historical sources: Winship; Luxan; Espejo; Rodriguez; Bonevides; Cabeza de Vaca; Carrasco; Chamuscado; Coues; Hackett, 1911, 1916; Bolton, 1919, 1930; Bandelier, 1910, 1890a, 1884, 1890b, 1881, 1892, 1893; Hammond, 1927, 1927a; Hodge, 1907; Hull, 1916; Kino; Mange; Onate; Penalosa; Siguenza y Gongora; Twitchell, 1911, 1914.)


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