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 6: Their Own Worst Enemies, 1680-1704

Demise of a Monumental Church

In their campaign to eradicate lo español, someone demolished the massive Pecos church. The Pecos later claimed that they did not, that the Tewas had done it. And perhaps they had, during El Popé's triumphal tour. Pecos or Tewas, or both, it was no mean feat. The Spaniards said that the rebels "burned" the great monument. The roof and the heavy vigas, the choir loft, and other wooden features would have burned, but not the towering butressed adobe walls. [10]

Firing the roof must have been spectacular. The rebels probably heaped piñon and juniper branches and dry brush inside the cavernous structure. When the roof caught and began burning furiously "a strong draft was created through the tunnel of the nave from the clearstory window over the chancel thereby blowing ashes out the door." It was like a giant furnace. When the fire died down, the blackened walls of the gutted monster still stood. To bring it low, Indians bent on demolition clambered all over it, like the Lilliputians over Gulliver, laboriously but jubilantly throwing down adobes, tens of thousands of them. Unsupported by the side walls, the front wall toppled forward facade down, covering the layer of ashes blown out the door. With an explosive vengeance, the Pueblos had reduced the grandest church in New Mexico to an imposing mound of earthen rubble.

They did not raze the entire convento. The two-story west side suffered most. Here the Father guardian had had his second-floor cell with its mirador looking out in the direction of Santa Fe. The Pecos may have lived in some of the rooms. A circular kiva twenty feet across was dug in the corral just south of the convento and faced with adobes from the fallen church. Bedrock lying close beneath the convento must have thwarted the defiant intrusion of this "house of idolatry" right into the friars' cloistered patio. But the symbolism was clear. The ancient ones had overcome. The saints, mere pieces of rotted wood, were dead. [11]

During the following year, if the Spanish accounts are accurate, the rebel faction at Pecos twice confirmed that they would defy a return of the Spaniards. Their earlier defeat at Santa Fe had not destroyed their rebellious spirit. When a couple of Indian servants who had retreated to El Paso with Spanish masters ran away and appeared again among the Pueblos, some of the Pecos who had fought at Santa Fe recognized one of them as an ally of the Spaniards. The traitor paid with his life. [12]

Otermín's Abortive Reconquest

Governor Otermín did attempt a reconquest in the winter of 1681, but it aborted. He and Father Ayeta badly misjudged the temper of the rebels. Moving upriver with their none-too spirited three hundred soldiers, servants, and Indians, the Spaniards half expected to be greeted as liberators by throngs of repentant pueblos. The Piro communities lay utterly deserted, so they set fire to them. They captured Isleta by surprise. The friars absolved the people, baptized their infants, and burned the objects of their idolatry. From here, Otermín sent the veteran Juan Domínguez de Mendoza with sixty picked horsemen and some Indians on foot to scout conditions upriver.

As far as Cochiti, the wary Domínguez de Mendoza found that the Pueblos, defying driving snow and cold, had taken to the hills. Making his camp in the protected plaza of Cochiti, the Spaniard encountered nearby hundreds of rebels gathered on a fortified mesa. Domínguez and his men claimed to recognize among them Taos, Picurís, Tewas, Tanos, Pecos, Keres, Jémez, Ácomas, and Southern Tiwas. In a series of parleys, replete, in the Spaniards' report, with pious rhetoric, embraces, and copious tears of contrition and absolution, the rebels very nearly caught Domínguez in a trap.

The mestizo Alonso Catiti, leader of the concourse, begged for peace, and for time to send messengers to all the people so that they would come down to their pueblos and receive the Spaniards. Actually he was buying time to rally his forces. Indian informers told Domínguez that Catiti planned to send into the Spaniards' camp the most comely Pueblo girls and to spring his trap while the enemy enjoyed the carnal pleasures of the bait. Recognizing their peril, the Spaniards beat an orderly retreat to the camp of Governor Otermín.

Just before the entire expedition turned back for El Paso, Father Ayeta expressed his disillusionment. He had expected Pueblos by the hundreds, sorely abused by Apaches and despotic rebel leaders, to fall on their knees and beg for absolution. Instead he had found them "exceedingly well satisfied to give themselves over to blind idolatry, worshipping the devil and living according to and in the same manner as when they were heathen." It was a shock to the evangelist.

This entrada has dispelled the misapprehension under which we have been laboring, namely, that only the leaders would be to blame for the atrocities committed, and that all the rest of the Indians would be found tired of their cruel and tyrannical government, which it was thought was imposed by force. But they have been found to be so pleased with liberty of conscience and so attached to the belief in the worship of Satan that up to the present not a sign has been visible of their ever having been Christians. [13]

kachina masks
Jémez kachina masks. Parsons, Jémez

Pecos Foreign Policy

If in fact some Pecos were party to Alonso Catiti's "perfidy," it is not likely that the entire pueblo cooperated to repulse the Spaniards. Traditionally aloof and internally divided, the Pecos seem to have maintained their trade and friendly relations with certain of the Plains Apaches, especially those the Spaniards called Faraones, and, whenever it suited them, to have entered into the loose and shifting Pueblo alliances. They had no use for the Tewas, an enmity noted by Spaniards for a century, ever since Castaño de Sosa. By 1689, the Pecos were reported allied with the Keres, Jémez, and Taos "in unceasing war" against Tewas, Picurís, and probably Tanos, their former allies in the attack on Santa Fe. Three years later, the Tanos and Tewas who had moved in and remodeled the casas reales in Santa Fe, swore that the Pecos and Apaches were their mortal enemies. [14]

Diego de Vargas
Diego de Vargas (copy of a Spanish portrait). Museum of New Mexico

What deference, if any, the Pecos practiced toward the various rebel leaders is not apparent. Some Pecos obviously responded to the calls of El Popé and Catiti. But after the initial fall of Popé, which had already occurred by the time Otermín reappeared in 1681, they do not seem to have acknowledged his successor, Luis Tupatú of Picurís. Curiously enough, not one of the many Pueblo rebels mentioned by name in the Spanish records of the 1680s was identified as a Pecos.

In sharp contrast, the Spaniards would record by name and deed in the next decade a dozen prominent Pecos. Some would give aid and comfort to the reconquerors. Others, as the fatal rift widened, would press for another revolt.

coat of arms
Diego de Vargas' coat of arms. Espinosa, Crusaders

Diego de Vargas Takes Over

Had they met, don Diego José de Vargas Zapata y Luján Ponce de León y Contreras, last legitimate male descendant in the noble Vargas line of Madrid, might have looked down his aquiline nose at the criollo Juan de Oñate. A strutting aristocrat hungry to perform glorious deeds in an inglorious age, Gov. Diego de Vargas, capable, cocksure, and visibly daring, on February 22, 1691, assumed command of the dispirited New Mexico colony in exile. He found El Paso a hole.

The poverty, the misery, and the constant dread of Indian attack had driven many New Mexico refugee families to desert the El Paso settlements. A muster of men capable of bearing arms; counting not only the poorly equipped presidial garrison organized in 1683 but Indian allies as well, turned out scarcely three hundred in all. There were few horses and mules, an acute shortage of grain, and almost no livestock. Sumas, Mansos, and Gila Apaches daily threatened life and property. As he labored to overcome these obstacles, the new governor found himself drawn into Indian wars on the Sonora frontier to the west. Finally, in August 1692—while witches were being hanged in the Massachusetts Bay Colony—don Diego de Varges embarked on the venture that would make him a national hero. [15]

When the Pecos first heard he was coming, they evacuated their pueblo. At Santa Fe, the Spanish governor had symbolically repossessed the villa, barely averting a battle by his sheer boldness and his confident preparations for a siege. Luis Picurís, formerly called Tupatú, leader of the Tewa-Tano-Picurís alliance, had come down from the north and to all appearances had made his peace with the invaders. Among the enemies of his people, Luis had identified "the nation of the Pecos, which is very numerous, and which maintains friendly relations with the Apaches they call Faraones." Now the Spaniards, accompanied by Luis and many warriors, were marching on Pecos.

Vargas Marches on Pecos

Having camped out of view of the pueblo, Vargas and his soldiers received absolution from Fray Miguel Muñiz de Luna early Tuesday morning, September 23, and advanced. As usual, the governor had instructed the men to cry out five times on their arrival at the pueblo the hymn "Alabado sea el Santísimo Sacramento," Praise be to the Blessed Sacrament. Not until they saw him unsheath his sword were they to shout the "Santiago!" and charge.

As the mounted column moved forward through piñon and juniper, scouts picked up the fresh tracks of two Indians on horseback leading in the direction of the pueblo, as if they had alerted the Pecos. Descending a hill and a steep arroyo, they at last came in sight of the imposing earth-colored fortress. Two columns of smoke curled upward, seemingly from the pueblo. Vargas divided his horsemen. They would attack on three sides. Just then, the Indian auxiliaries passed back the word that the rebel Pecos were coming out on horseback. Vargas encouraged his men. If these Indians wanted battle, the Christians "should trample them under foot, capture them, and kill them." But be warned: they could have Apaches with them. Now the Spaniards closed at full gallop.

Pecos was deserted. Believing that the two Indian riders had given the warning only a short while before, Vargas ordered his men to follow what tracks they could. Soon the Spaniards were scattered all over "the mountainous ridge that borders on the maize fields on the other bank of the river from this pueblo, the ravines, ascents, and barrancas." With his guard, the governor rode down into a deep arroyo where one of his servants discovered children's footprints. A shot rang out, echoing through the mountains in the still air. Vargas spurred his horse to where a soldier was descending with an aged Indian woman as his prisoner.

A painting on hide of Santiago by Molleno. Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska

Vargas Interrogates Pecos Prisoners

The governor summoned "general interpreter" Pedro Hidalgo, a swarthy, well-built man, thick of beard, with short curly hair and the scar of a burn on his neck. Born and reared in New Mexico and now in his mid-forties, Hidalgo had witnessed the death of one of the missionaries in 1680 and lived to tell about it. Whether or not he understood much of the Towa language of Pecos, as well as Tano, Tewa, and Tiwa, the willing Hidalgo interrogated the old woman for Vargas. Where had the Pecos gone, when, and for what reason, the governor wanted to know. If Hidalgo understood her correctly, her answer revealed that the Pecos were torn.

The young people had cleared out six days before, as soon as they heard that Vargas was at Santa Fe. The old men of the pueblo wanted to go meet the Spanish governor and sue for peace. The young men had said no, and had prevented their elders from going. The few Pecos who stayed behind, while working that morning in their maize fields, had been warned by the two Indian riders.

Another prisoner was brought to Vargas, this one a man who appeared to be about sixty, stark naked. Ordering the woman to give her compatriot one of the skins she wore to cover him up, the Spanish governor had Hidalgo ask him the same questions. He gave the same answers. Vargas decided to make him an emissary. Explaining to the old Indian through Hidalgo that he had come to pardon the Pecos in the name of the king, the Spaniard urged that he go to his people and convince them to return peacefully. No harm would come to them or their property. As a sign of peace, the governor hung a rosary around the Indian's neck. He had him make a little cross just over a quarter-vara long and attached to it a letter as a safe-conduct so that the soldiers would not kill him. Then he embraced the old man and sent him on his way, "repeating to him that he should believe me, and that I would wait at the pueblo for him and his people or for whatever answer they entrusted to him."

Vargas waited four days. He and his soldiers helped themselves to lodging in the pueblo itself, which the governor found to be "very large, and its houses three stories tall, and entirely open." The place was well supplied with maize and all kinds of vegetables. Combing the rocky hills and arroyos that first day, the soldiers rounded up a total of twenty-seven prisoners. They also discovered among the trees caches of animal skins left by the fleeing Pecos, indicative perhaps that the Spaniards had just missed a party of Plains Apache traders. Between two and three that afternoon, another venerable Pecos showed up bearing the cross that had been sent earlier in the day with the first emissary.

The Pecos Divided Again

This second old man told Vargas the same story, that the old people and the women had not wanted to abandon their pueblo, but the young braves, "los mocetones who defend them from the enemies who do them harm and engage in war," had compelled them. He also informed the Spaniards that the earlier emissary was in fact the Pecos governor, who now was trying to round up his dispersed people. As an incentive, Vargas vowed that he and his men were ready to move out the moment the Pecos returned to their homes. He reiterated his desire that the fugitives return to the fold as vassals of the Catholic king and as good Christians, and that they reconcile their differences with The Tanos and Tewas, some of whom he had brought with him, "so that they would be like brothers and do no harm to one another."

rosary beads and cross
Rosary beads and corroded cross recovered in excavations at Pecos. National Park Service photo by Fred E. Mang, Jr.

All day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the calculating Vargas attempted to negotiate a return of the Pecos. Three women, brought in by the Indian allies, greeted the Spanish governor with the "Praise be to the Blessed Sacrament." Another old messenger arrived with news that the pueblo's governor had already gathered some of the people and was awaiting others. In response, Vargas sent a physically fit younger woman who told him that she was the daughter of a former Pecos governor. Twice she tried to find her people, the second time with a soldier escort part of the way, but she failed, or so she said. Summoning a lithe young Pecos male, Vargas hung a rosary around his neck and sent him.

Three more Indian women, two of whom he thought must have been over a hundred years old, were hauled before Governor Vargas, along with a youth who claimed that he had been held captive since 1680. The lad said he was a son of the murdered Cristóbal de Anaya Almazán. Reuniting him with an uncle, Capt. of artillery Francisco Lucero de Godoy, Vargas charged Lucero to teach the boy the armorer's trade. Interrupting his negotiations with the Pecos, the Spanish governor sent an emissary with the standard rosary, cross, and letter to tell the Keres of Santa Ana and Zia that he would soon be coming on a mission of peace. He was losing patience with the Pecos.

On Friday, September 26, about four in the afternoon, the young Pecos runner reappeared with another youth, the only person he had found. The Pecos people had dispersed: the young rebels had threatened to kill the old men who were opting for peace. Disgusted, Vargas had these two, who gave their names as Agustín Sebastián and Juan Pedro, placed with the rest of the prisoners, while he decided what to do next. A report from Domingo of Tesuque, a leader of his Tewa allies, helped him make up his mind.

Scouting in the mountains earlier that day, Domingo and his men had spied three Pecos on a ridge above them. Domingo called to them to come down, that it was safe. The Pecos were wary.

They told him that now they did not want to return to their pueblo. They [the Tewas] were dirty dogs for having made friends and keeping company with the Spaniards, who were liars. They did not want their offers of peace or their friendship. Some of them would go with the Taos and others with the Apaches. Although he said more to them, they paid him no heed and took off whooping through the mountains.

Vargas Withdraws in Peace

To Vargas the message was clear. He was wasting his time. At this point, don Diego reached one of the most far-sighted decisions of his career, or, as he put it a few days later, "I acted with such judicious and prudent resolution." By their refusal to accept his offer of pardon, the Pecos had shown themselves to be, in his words, "rebellious and confirmed in their apostasy." He could punish them, burning their pueblo and their maize in the tradition of his predecessors, or he could release the twenty-eight Pecos he held, leave everything including kivas, "many of which were found in this pueblo," stores, and fields unharmed, and withdraw. He chose the latter course.

Early Saturday morning, he freed the Pecos prisoners with an admonition to tell the others of their good treatment. As a symbol of peace he ordered a large cross set up in the pueblo and others painted on the walls. He left a cross half a vara long and a piece of paper marked with a cross as signs of safe-conduct for the Pecos peace delegation he hoped would come looking for him. Then, taking only the Anaya boy, three Tiwa women with their three infants, and a Spanish-speaking Jumano woman, all previous captives of the Pecos, don Diego de Vargas led his soldiers and allies out of the pueblo past the great mound that had been the church. By three that afternoon, after a strenuous twenty-mile march by "the bad road through the sierra," really only a horse trail, he was back in camp before Santa Fe. [16]

By his restraint at Pecos—something the Pueblos did not expect of Spaniards—Diego de Vargas had cut the ground out from under the young hawks. The soldiers had not even ravaged their kivas. Vargas was gambling. By this act of good faith, he hoped to win an ally.

top of pageTop

previousPrevious Table of Contents Nextright