National Park Service
Kiva, Crown, Crown


The Invaders

The New Mexico: Preliminaries to Conquest

Oñate's Disenchantment

The "Christianization" of Pecos

The Shadow of the Inquisition

Their Own Worst Enemies

Pecos and the Friars

Pecos, the Plains, and the Provincias Internas

Toward Extinction



Chapter 2: The New Mexico: Preliminaries to Conquest, 1542-1595

Spaniards Attack

sketch of Spaniard in battle
After Códice Florentino, central Mexico, 16th century.

As the Spanish battleline advanced toward the walls, the Indians showered the horsemen with arrows and rocks, some hurled by hand and some with slings. Displaying fierce courage, the women kept on carrying rocks to the men on the roofs. Castaño, noting a house block on one side where there were no defenders, shouted at four soldiers to scale the wall and hoist up one of the little cannon. At the same time he attacked some Pecos who were harassing the climbers from behind parapets. With the four firing their arquebuses from the elevation, the lieutenant governor galloped back around to where the main force was assaulting the most heavily defended section of the pueblo. Blasting away with their firearms, the Spaniards expected the Pecos to break and run. They did not. "Each defended the post assigned to him without giving ground—a most incredible thing, that barbarians should be so astute."

Ironically, a couple of Indian servants turned the tide in the Spaniards' favor. When Tomás and Miguel began shooting arrows at the Pecos, for some reason they panicked. The defenders began to fall back. While some of the invaders entered the rooms, others climbed up onto the roofs. Firing from the first high point taken by the Spaniards, Diego Díaz de Verlanga, with an incredible shot, felled a Pecos war leader who was bringing up reinforcements. The Indians withdrew. As Capt. Alonso Jáimez and his squad climbed from level to level, other soldiers covered them from below, bringing down at least three Pecos. The ascent was risky.

No one could go up except by ladder made of poles which only one person can climb at a time. There are no doors for going from room to room or up, only some hatchways just large enough for one person. As a result, our men to get through these hatchways and climb to the roofs had to do so without sword or shield, passing them from one to another.

Suddenly the battle was over. Like Cortés, Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, utilizing horses, fire power, and steel, had humbled a foe that greatly outnumbered him. He had suffered very few wounded and apparently no dead. "As a sign of rejoicing and victory" he sent his ensign and the buglers to the top of the strongest house block to blow their trumpets. "Now, as the lieutenant governor walked through the pueblo with some of his men, no Indian threw a stone or shot an arrow. On the contrary, all tried by signs to show that they wanted our friendship, making the sign of the cross with their hands and saying 'Amigos, Amigos, Amigos.'"

Not all the Pecos believed the fight had ended. One entire house block held out. The inhabitants who crowded the outside corridors of the other house blocks refused to come down. These corridors were "made of wood along all the streets, plazas, and house blocks. The natives get from one house to another by means of them and some wooden bridges from rooftop to rooftop where a street intervenes." When Diego de Viruega climbed up to greet the captain face to face, the natives ran from him, all but one old man. The Spaniard embraced him.

Viruega scrambled down and the captain and people reappeared. By signs Castaño tried to convince them that they had nothing to be afraid of. In response some brought food and threw it down. When one Indian started to descend, the others restrained him.

The lieutenant governor made them understand that he wanted the weapons, saddles, and clothing taken from Heredia returned. That, the native captain replied, was impossible. The clothing had been distributed among the people and everything but a few sword blades had been destroyed. Castaño would not be put off. He dispatched soldiers to apprehend, if they could, some Indians from the unyielding house block. Back in camp they might be made to reveal the truth about the missing gear.

Then he returned to where he had left the captain of the pueblo, telling him that the Indians should not be afraid because no harm would come to them. They understood it clearly and gave signs of wanting our friendship. The Indian captain climbed up onto the rooftops and from there in a loud voice delivered a speech to his people and the pueblo. Immediately we saw many natives coming out onto all the corridors with signs of happiness and of good will. Still, with all this, not one wanted to come down to the plazas and the streets.

It was getting dark. Asked a second time for the weapons and clothing, the Pecos threw down from the corridors a couple of sword blades without guards, one piece of thigh armor, and a few worthless scraps. Castaño told the native captain to have a further search made. He then returned to his camp where he learned that the soldiers had failed in their attempt to catch an Indian or two of those holed up in the one house block. It was almost impossible, they claimed, because "there were in this house block so many trap doors and hatch-ways and underground passages and counterpassages that it was a real labyrinth." Castaño ordered the maese de campo to post guards on the rooftops of this house block and horsemen around the entire pueblo to prevent an exodus under cover of night. Then the new Cortés slept.

restoring Pecos pueblo
Artist's restoration of Pecos pueblo by S. P. Moorehead, detail. Kidder, Pecos, New Mexico

A Graphic Portrayal of Pecos

Next morning—New Year's Day 1591—in full dress regalia don Gaspar mounted his horse to inspect the pueblo he had won. The description preserved in his Memoria, taken with the details of the day before, is the best ever written of Pecos in its heyday.

The lieutenant governor proceeded to the pueblo, accompanied by some soldiers on horseback and afoot, in order to reassure the entire population as best he could and to see what was there. A great many people showed themselves and made signs of real friendship toward the Spaniards, who saw everything there was to see.

Most noteworthy were sixteen kivas—all underground, thoroughly whitewashed, and very large—constructed for protection against the cold, which in this country is very great. They do not light fires inside but bring from the outside numerous live coals banked with ashes in so neat a manner that I am at a loss to describe it. The door through which they enter is a tight hatchway large enough for only one person at a time. They go down by means of a ladder set through the hatchway for that purpose.

The houses of this pueblo are arranged in the form of house blocks. They have doors leading out all round and they are built back to back. They are four and five stories high. There are no doors opening on the streets on the floor just above the ground. They use light ladders which can be pulled up by hand, Every house has three or four rooms [per floor], so that the whole of each from top to bottom has fifteen or sixteen rooms, very neat and thoroughly whitewashed. For grinding, every house is equipped with three and four grindstones with handstone, each placed in its own little whitewashed bin. Their method of grinding is novel: they pass the flour they are grinding from one to the next, since they do not make tortilla dough. They do make from this flour their bread in many ways, as well as their atole and tamales.

There were five plazas in this pueblo. It had so great a supply of maize that everyone marveled. There were those who believed that there must have been thirty thousand fanegas, since every house had two or three rooms full. It is the best maize seen. There was a good supply of beans. Both maize and beans were of many colors. Apparently there was maize two or three years old. They store abundant herbs, greens, and squash in their houses. They have many things for working their fields,

The dress we saw there was for winter. Most if not all the men wore cotton blankets and on top of these a buffalo hide. Some covered their privy parts with small cloths, very elegant and finely worked. The women wore a blanket tied at the shoulder and open on one side and a sash a span wide around the waist. Over this they put on another blanket, very elegantly worked, or turkey-feather cloaks and many other novel things—all of which for barbarians is remarkable.

They have a great deal of pottery, red, varicolored, and black—plates, bowls, saltcellars, basins, cups—very elegant. Some of the pottery is glazed. They have an abundant supply of firewood as well as timber for building their houses so that, as they explained it to us, whenever anyone wanted to build a house he had the timber right there at hand.

There is plenty of land as well as two waterholes at the edges of the pueblo which they use for bathing since they get drinking water from other springs an arquebus shot away. At a quarter-league's distance flows the river [the Pecos] along which we had made our way, the Salado as we called it, although the brackish water is left many leagues back.

We spent the entire day looking at the things there are in the pueblo. Never once did an Indian come out of the houses.

Pecos Desert Homes

Because the Pecos returned a few more worthless bits of the equipment lost by Heredia and his men, Castaño decided to remove most of the guard that night as the Indians had requested. At dawn the next day in the crystal cold air, the pueblo seemed unusually still. The Spaniards began a house by-house search. Not a soul—man, woman, or child—could be found. The entire population had vanished.

Their tracks in the snow should have been easy to follow. Instead, Castaño waited for them to come back. They did not. A further search of the houses turned up more bits of Spanish gear, all of it smashed to pieces. Taking a portion of maize, beans, and flour from each house—in all, claims the Memoria, no more than twenty-one fanegas—the lieutenant governor ordered eight soldiers and eight or ten attendants to transport these provisions to the half-famished main camp downriver. Four days later there was still no sign of the Pecos. "Therefore the lieutenant governor resolved to break camp so that the Indians might return to their pueblo. He felt very sorry for them because they had left their homes in the bitter cold of this season, with its winds and snows, so incredibly severe that even the rivers were completely frozen."

drawing of room interior
Interior of a pueblo room at Zuñi, showing grinding bins. Century (Feb. 1883)

Because he could not hope to get the carretas through the narrows along the river south of Pecos, the lieutenant governor hoped to find other more accessible pueblos where the entire expedition could wait out the winter. He was also prospecting. When he had shown the Pecos ore samples, they pointed west and north, perhaps intentionally in the direction of the Tewa pueblos.

On Epiphany, January 6, 1591, the Spaniards made ready to leave deserted Pecos. Castaño told Maese de campo Heredia to conceal four men with good horses inside the pueblo. If they could capture a few Indians, these might be convinced to bring back the others. But just then a couple of natives approached. They were grabbed and brought before Castaño, who plied them with gifts. In their presence, he had a tall cross erected "giving them to understand what it meant." He asked his secretary to draw up a proclamation of amnesty in the name of the king, handed it to one of the Indians, and told him to take it to the Pecos captain. Then, with the other Indian "contentedly" leading the way, Gaspar Castaño and company departed Pecos.

Natives in clothing
Dress of the Indians of New Mexico, after a map illumination by Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco, 1758.

Two leagues later they came upon another Indian, reportedly a son of the Pecos cacique. Taking him as a second guide, the party fought through Glorieta Pass in a snowstorm. Probably these two Pecos led the invaders northwest toward the Tewa pueblos for good reason. Their own people had likely taken refuge among the Tanos in the Galisteo Basin, southwest of Pecos, motive enough to steer the Spaniards in another direction. Moreover, there was, it would seem, no love lost between Pecos and the Tewas. [27]

A sequence of Pecos pottery design, from 1200s to 1800s. After Hooton, Indians of Pecos.

Castaño Tours the Pueblos

As he traveled first through Tewa country and then back by some of the Keres and Tano pueblos, no one dared oppose the conqueror of Pecos. Only once, at a large northern pueblo, possibly Picuris, did the inhabitants show signs of resisting. But Castaño chose not to force entry, vowing instead to come back later. The Spaniards had it their way everywhere else. At each pueblo, they set up tall crosses to the blare of trumpets and arquebuses, whereupon the lieutenant governor, with all the pomp he could muster, took possession in the name of Philip II. As the awed natives rendered obedience in the manner shown them, he appointed a governor, a justice (alcalde), and a constable (alguacil).

Late in January after a month's absence, Castaño reappeared at the main encampment on the Pecos River. Remobilizing the benumbed colony, he now led it westward toward the closest of the Tano pueblos. More snow fell and carts broke down. Once among the Tanos, who shared of their stores like it or not, the colonists revived. Meanwhile their leader rode back to settle accounts with the Pecos.

Don Gaspar had taken Pecos in battle but he had yet to receive the obedience of its people. Approaching again on March 2, he deployed Maese de campo Heredia on a commanding elevation to prevent a second exodus. This time he found the Pecos "confident and very much at ease." This time they made no show of war.

Many people turned out to receive him and also the maese de campo on the other side where he had gone. Not a person fled from the pueblo. When all of them assembled there was a very large number of Indians. To further reassure them and overcome their fear, all the Spaniards paraded through the pueblo on horse back, sounding their trumpets to the great entertainment of the Indians—men, women, and children.

With the crowd milling around them, the Spaniards made camp "next to the houses." This time the natives volunteered quantities of maize, flour, beans, and "some of their trifles." The invaders accepted.

Next day the lieutenant governor summoned them all and appointed a governor, an alcalde, and an alguacil. A cross was set up to the resounding of trumpets and volleys, which pleased the entire pueblo immensely. Despite what had passed, as related earlier, they were so at ease and content that it was a pleasure to behold them.

Many women and children came down to converse with us, and the lieutenant governor greeted them cordially. They brought him five sword blades intact and two others broken in half, as well as some shirts, capes, and a few pieces of coarse cloth. They did this with real earnestness, so that we took it for granted that if they had known of more they would have given it to us. And thus we saw that all were confident and obedient, showing real friendship toward us. They presented us with maize, flour, and beans, as much as we could carry. We spent three days here. [28]

The Viceroy versus Castaño

While Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, the outlaw colonizer, boldly met the challenges of the trail, the weather, and the Pecos, the viceroy of New Spain moved against him. Within days of the colony's unauthorized departure for New Mexico, a courier had galloped south with a full report from Castaño's "old rival" Juan Morlete of Mazapil. Viceroy Velasco acted swiftly. On October 1, 1590, he instructed the eager Morlete to mount a military counter-expedition. "Since, as I have said, the primary purpose of this expedition is to stop Gaspar Castaño, it is important that you do not come back without him and his men, using all suitable care and taking every precaution." [29]

Juan Morlete

In the viceroy's mind, a great deal more was involved than the letter of the law. He and his predecessor had reversed the long-standing policy of war by fire and blood on the northern frontier. Through diplomacy, expanded missionary effort, placement of sedentary Indian colonies, and large-scale government subsidies, they had brought unprecedented peace to the Gran Chichimeca. The cost of supplying once-hostile wild men with maize and beef had proven far cheaper than war. Now as Velasco sought to consummate the peace, an obstacle stood in his way—the unscrupulous self-serving Indian slaver. [30]

Natives with gifts
After Lienzo de Tlaxcala, central Mexico, 16th century.

Rightly or not, Velasco put Gaspar Castaño in that category. Moreover, when the accused Judaizer and slaver Luis de Carvajal died in Mexico City, the viceroy transferred his ire to Castaño, Carvajal's lieutenant. From his vantage point in the viceregal palace, he saw the members of Castaño's illegal entrada as "vagabonds who had joined him and indeed all the riffraff left over from the war against the Chichimecas. . . . And since I regarded as extremely improper and injurious the damage these men were doing in capturing and selling Indians, and was mindful of the danger involved, I decided to send Capt. Juan Morlete in pursuit of the malefactors," [31] Quashing Castaño, as the viceroy saw it, would put an end to the whole sordid business of Nuevo León.

Even as the unknowing Castaño celebrated his pacification of Pecos in early March 1591 with trumpets and volleys, Morlete, Fray Juan Gómez, and forty soldiers were closing on their prey. The confrontation occurred at Santo Domingo. Castaño had moved his colony to this Keres pueblo on March 9 and 10; then a couple of days later he had set out with twenty men "in search of some mines and a people he had not yet visited." Toward the end of the month, just hours before the lieutenant governor got back, Morlete reached Santo Domingo.

Castaño Arrested

Castaño rode up at a gallop, dismounted, and embraced his rival. He asked what brought him to New Mexico. All of them, replied Morlete, were under arrest. His orders from the viceroy called for him to escort the entire colony to Mexico City. Castaño demanded proof. When he had seen and heard the orders for himself, he yielded without a struggle. Unlike Cortés, he had discovered nothing in this new Mexico with which to bribe his rival's force. A goodly number of his own people were sick of the venture and ready to desert him. Thus Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, the would-be master of New Mexico, commanded that his own banner be lowered. He then submitted to the leg irons.

Readily conceding that he was a miserable sinner in the eyes of God, Castaño never would admit willful crimes against the king. He began his defense en route. "I insist," he pleaded in a letter to the viceroy, "as God is my witness, that if I have indeed erred I did so in sincere reliance upon authority granted by His Majesty's order to Luis de Carvajal as governor and captain general of the kingdom of Nuevo León." As for the reports of slaving among peaceful Indians, these, Castaño averred, were malicious lies told by envious and hateful rivals.

Tried before the audiencia of Mexico on charges of "in vading lands inhabited by peaceful Indians, raising troops, entry into the province of New Mexico, and other acts," Gaspar Castaño was found guilty and sentenced to six years' military service in the Philippines. He sailed in 1593. Later, word was received in Mexico that the ill-starred don Gaspar had died at the hands of mutinous Chinese galley slaves on a voyage to the Moluccas. Only then did the results of his appeal to Spain arrive. He had been acquitted of all charges. [32]

By the closing decade of the sixteenth century, the precedents were set, not only in the heartlands of Mexico, but in the far north as well, A half-century of frontier experience—of first fighting then buying off the Chichimecas—had given shape to the familiar institutions of the next centuries: the mining-hacienda complex, the presidio, the frontier mission, and peace by purchase. Both the massive church Fray Andrés Juárez built at Pecos in the seventeenth century, and the peace with the Comanches signed there by Gov. Juan Bautista de Anza late in the eighteenth had their roots deep in the century of Fray Cintos de San Francisco and the Ibarras.

Men of great wealth, products of the silver frontier, vied for the New Mexico contract. Viceroy Velasco bided his time. "It is readily apparent," he advised the king, "that no one will care to enter into a contract for this venture without assurance of great advantages and profit, or without the aim and prospect of encomiendas and tribute from the Indians." Because he rightly presumed that the Pueblo Indians were New Mexico's greatest asset, he suggested that the king himself finance their conversion. [33] But crotchety old Philip was in no mood, European wars cost mighty sums. The viceroy must seek a rich and suitable Christian gentleman.

Whether the king of Spain chose to call it conquest or pacification, New Mexico's time had come.

King Philip II
Philip II, king of Spain, 1556-1598. Rivera Cambas, Los gobernantes, I.

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