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 7: Pecos and the Friars, 1704-1794

Father Esquer Damns Governor Bustamante

The minister at Pecos in 1731 was a fighter. Described by a fellow Franciscan as "an anvil when it comes to work," the steadfast, undaunted Fray Pedro Antonio Esquer administered not only his own mission but, whenever needed, the villa of Santa Fe as well. He had first signed the Pecos books on February 24, 1731, when he baptized three infants. Little over three months later, there occurred an event which Father Esquer had been awaiting eagerly: the residencia of the venal, blaspheming, immoral Gov. Juan Domingo de Bustamante. Given the opportunity, the Pecos missionary unburdened his conscience with gusto.

Fray Pedro Antonio Esquer

In a lengthy and impassioned indictment, during the course of which he warned the residencia judge that Bustamante had planted spies in his house, Esquer charged the governor with extorting, tyrannizing, intimidating, and perverting soldiers, citizens, and Indians. He told how Bustamante had been trained in corruption by ex-governor Valverde, his uncle and father-in-law, originally a poor man who had risen to wealth by cheating the soldiers and Indians of El Paso and who, by connivance, had secured the governorship of New Mexico. To cover his muddy tracks, Valverde had bought the governorship for his nephew for twenty thousand pesos. After nine years and two months in office, Bustamante, Esquer alleged, "now has some 200,000 pesos, rather more than less, and is the owner of wrought silver, coach, slaves, fine clothes, household furniture, pack train with not a few draft mules, and not a few horses." In the friar's opinion, Bustamante was an irreverent ogre without a single redeeming grace. "We can indeed say in Catholic truth that we have suffered martyrdom during the time of his administration."

Esquer labeled the governor's subordinates "fruit of the same tree." They corrupted the Indians, teaching them to lie and be deceitful, even to one another. This was dangerous, for even Indians could recognize the many injustices that lay so heavy on the land, and in such recognition grew the seeds of revolt. "As a result," the Pecos friar confessed, "we suffer torment beneath the death-dealing club for the truths inherent in the Holy Gospel, because the Indians live like Moors without a lord, serving only the alcaldes mayores, who deny them a fair wage, restrain them from doing good, and supply them with lies and evil." [31]

Maybe he was right. Maybe the Pecos were cowed. Whatever their reasons, they lauded Governor Bustamante. Testifying at his residencia, Antonio Sidepovi, indio principal and governor, pled ignorance of any wrongdoing on Bustamante's part and agreed that the royal governor had acted as a protective father to the people of Pecos. He had bought their maize when no one else would, and he had paid them in "mattocks, axes, plowshares, and other tools." He had helped the pueblo progress, nurtured the Faith, and defended the Pecos from their enemies. In fact, Governor Bustamante, his alcaldes mayores for Pecos and Galisteo, who were Alfonso Rael de Aguilar and Manuel Tenorio de Alba, and all his other officials had "administered justice with complete fairness, without being brought gifts or bribes, and they had treated the people of his pueblo well with complete love and affection." [32]

Juan Domingo de Bustamante

In taking the governor's side, the Pecos acknowledged who could do them the most good, and the most harm. Their missionaires' influence had begun to wane. In the lives of the Pecos, the alcaldes mayores, minions of the governors, offered more continuity. Some of them served a decade or longer. Most were native-born New Mexicans. They were the ones who regulated trade and sounded the call for native auxiliaries. In the eighteenth century, the casas reales had replaced the convento as the focus of Spanish influence at Pecos.

New Mexico Visited by Bishop Crespo

By 1731, the Franciscans of New Mexico were very much on the defensive. It was difficult enough coexisting with the likes of Juan Domingo de Bustamante, but at least governors came and went. Now a challenge of more lasting consequence faced them. After two centuries of nominal jurisdiction, the bishop of Durango had begun to press with vigor his claim to New Mexico. In 1725, Bishop Benito Crespo had gotten as far north as El Paso on an episcopal visitation. Five years later—at the invitation of Governor Bustamante—he came again and insisted on proceeding up the Rio Grande, the first bishop ever to do so.

It was a warm day in July 1730. As His Most Illustrious Lordship don Benito, twelfth bishop of Durango, approached the pueblo of Pecos attended by his entourage, Fray Juan George del Pino hid upstairs in the convento. The bishop's secretary rode on in advance. When he noticed the bishop's cook standing outside the convento, he yelled at him to get away from there and go to the casa de comunidad. "Under no circumstances did His Most Illustrious Lordship wish to stop or to dine in the convento." At that, Father Pino leaned out of the mirador and offered the convento, saying that all was ready. He had made no preparations in the casa de comunidad. He would of course comply most willingly with the decision of His Most Illustrious Lordship. Just then, he caught sight of the bishop's party coming up the trail.

Alerting the convento servants as he went, the friar rushed downstairs, through the convento, and into the church to receive the bishop at the church door. Solicitous to show all due respect, but not subordination, Father Pino welcomed the eminent visitor, begging earnestly that he deign to accept the hospitality of the convento where a meal was waiting. The prelate responded graciously but firmly. He would accept the meal, but not in the convento. "With that, he took his leave of the Father, who afterward ordered that the food be transferred to said casa de comunidad." [33]

The nice maneuvering that day at Pecos by bishop and friar was no game. Outspoken Custos Andrés Varo, on orders from his superiors in Mexico City, maintained steadfastly that the custody was not subject to the episcopal authority of the Durango see. Just as steadfastly, Bishop Crespo maintained that it was. The two, who had met at El Paso and traveled upriver together, had negotiated a temporary compromise. The bishop would refrain from making a formal visitation of the churches, baptisteries, mission books, and the like, and he would publish no edicts. But he would be received in the churches by the friars, and he would be allowed to preach and to perform the rite of confirmation. Both men were at pains not to do or to say anything that might prejudice their cases in the future.

Crespo Finds Fault with Franciscans

Although he maintained his episcopal decorum throughout, Benito, bishop of Durango, found much that displeased him in Franciscan New Mexico. Writing to the viceroy from Bernalillo and El Paso, he leveled a number of serious allegations. The king, who paid forty royal allowances annually in support of these missions, had every right to expect the services of forty missionaries, yet the bishop had found seven lacking, and from what he was told, "they have been lacking for a long time." On the basis of one brief visit, he recommended consolidation, one friar for several pueblos, one for Pecos and Galisteo, one for San Juan, San Ildefonso, and Santa Clara, and so on. He charged that the friars lacked the zeal to convert the peoples who bordered on the pueblos but were content instead simply to trade with them. In the pueblos themselves, he claimed to have seen signs of paganism, idolatry, apostasy, "and the reciprocal lack of love" between missionaries and Indians.

Benito, Bishop of Durango

Perhaps the bishop's most serious charge, the one he kept returning to, was that none of the missionaries knew the native languages. Not only did this demonstrate, in his opinion, a woeful lack of dedication "when the languages are not so difficult," but it also meant that the friars were aliens in their own missions. Moreover, the church's precept requiring annual confession and communion went unfullfiled in New Mexico since the Indians refused to confess "except at the point of death because they do not want to confess through an interpreter."

That was not entirely fair, countered Fray Juan Antonio Sánchez. He himself knew Tewa. So did Fray José Irigoyen. Fray Pedro Diaz de Aguilar and Fray Juan José Pérez de Mirabal each knew a Pueblo language, the former Keresan and the latter Tiwa as spoken at Taos. Many others had a start learning several. That, in fact, was the problem, according to Sánchez. Every time a missionary mastered a few words of one language, the superiors transferred him somewhere else. What did they expect?

Before he left the custody, Bishop Crespo appointed Santa Fean don Santiago Roybal, a secular priest he had ordained in Durango for the purpose, as his vicar and ecclesiastical judge, an act of dubious legality. He also posted a schedule of fees for marriages, burials, etc., and took one last dig at the Franciscans. The fees they had been charging were, he said, both arbitrary and exorbitant. [34]

Jesuit Father Ignacio Keller, en route to the Hopi pueblos in 1743, is repulsed by Apaches. Detail after a map, c. 1748, drawn in conjunction with a visitation by Fray Juan Miguel Menchero.

In fairness to the friars, it should be said that the crusading Bishop Crespo was prejudiced. Like his predecessor, Pedro Tapis, he was strongly pro-Jesuit. Seven years before, he had had the sacred rites making him bishop performed in Mexico City at the Jesuit church of La Profesa. He warmly endorsed a Jesuit takeover of the apostate Hopi pueblos, and he was always, sometimes openly, sometimes by implication, comparing the Franciscan missions unfavorably with those of the Jesuits. Besides, there was more than a little truth in the friars' contention that Crespo had come to New Mexico uninvited by them, had spoken mainly with their enemies, had ignored their merits and the adverse circumstances of their ministry, and had catalogued only their faults. Still, some of what the bishop had said was true, and the Franciscans of New Mexico knew it. [35]

For the next thirty years, during which the charges and countercharges varied little, the friars strained to defend themselves and the sacredness of their Order from a convenient alliance of bishops and governors and, at the same time, to put their missionary house in order. Considering the odds against them, even their limited success was a credit. They persevered.

Menchero Calls for Rededication

Busy, enterprising Fray Juan Miguel Menchero, preacher, censor of the Holy Office, procurator of the custody of the Conversion of St. Paul, and visitor by order of the Franciscan commissary general for New Spain, enjoyed being a superior. Sent out from Mexico in 1731, in the wake of Bishop Crespo's visitation, it was his task to marshal the friars' defense and to correct whatever abuses he found.

Arriving jaded and sweaty at El Paso in early July, Fray Juan Miguel issued the usual official letter announcing his visitation. He cited his authority from the Father Commissary General and proclaimed a list of mandates. Every missionary must keep in his mission a book of expenses and income from crops and livestock. There must be no women cooks in the conventos "so as to avoid the scandal that can follow from it." Inspired by the zeal of the "old Fathers," the present friars should dedicate themselves to the upkeep and repair of their churches and conventos, "repairing drains and other things that can cause their destruction." But the crux of the letter had to do with language.

First, Spanish should be taught at every mission, as the king had ordered repeatedly. Primers, catechisms, and readers should be distributed according to the number of catechumens. And second, to prevent the scandal of it being said that the friars administered confession to Indians only through interpreters, to the discredit of their holy habit,

we admonish all Your Reverences to devote special effort to learning the [native] language, each of you at the mission where obedience has placed you, with the assurance that he who complies with this our mandate will be recognized. Likewise for this reason, insofar as our religious life permits, you will not be transferred to another mission, except when the contrary is judged the more proper course. And especially will the effort of those who devote themselves to writing or having a grammar made of said language be recognized. [36]

It was a good try. None of their relatively short-term, part-time missionaries in the eighteenth century seemed to know the Towa language of the Pecos. A few of them, like Francisco de la Concepcion González, 1749-1750, and Juan José Toledo, 1750-1753, strained mightily to transliterate the difficult Pecos names, names like Extehahuotziri, Sejunpaguai, Guaguirachuro, Huozohuochiriy, and Timihuotzuguori. But if any of them attempted even a simple word list or vocabulary, it has not come to light.

Before he could get on with his visitation, Father Menchero, as supply man of the custody, had to deliver the goods purchased in Mexico City for the missionaries against their annual royal allowances. Because of Bishop Crespo's allegations, Menchero was especially scrupulous in his accounting.

Mission Supply

The supplies for Pecos, which evidently were supposed to last three years, came to 807 pesos 4 reales, 503 on account and the remainder advanced against the 330-peso allowance for 1731. In August, missionary Pedro Antonio Esquer of Pecos checked the goods against the list in Santa Fe and signed a receipt before witnesses. It was up to him to have the stuff hauled out to Pecos.

By far the most costly items, valued together at more than two hundred pesos, were two cases of fine chocolate. Other boxes, trunks, and odd bundles contained sugar, cinnamon, saffron, and other spices; olive oil, candle wax, and fine-cut tobacco; majolica, china, and pewter dishes; two habits, two cowls, a cloak, and two cords; quantities of cloth of different varieties; a ream of paper, razors, a brass wash basin, comb, mirror, and 500 bars of soap; assorted kitchen utensils, tools, bridles, needles, and pins; a set of vestments of flowered silk and a Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe; and, for the teaching of Spanish, two sets of primers, two dozen catechisms, and two dozen readers; as well as numerous other goods not readily available at the ends of the earth. [37]

To begin his formal visitation, Father Menchero accompanied Esquer down to Pecos, where he found everything in accord with the dictates of the Council of Trent. In the privacy of a cell in the convento, he put to the missionary a series of questions under vow of holy obedience. Had he observed faithfully the Institute, Rule, and Constitutions of the Order? Did he administer the Holy Sacraments to Indians and Spaniards? Had Custos Varo done his duty in everything, including the distribution of the tithes to the poor? To everything Esquer answered yes. [38]

cover of missal
A Franciscan missal printed in Antwerp in 1724. Museum of New Mexico

Back in Santa Fe after visiting several of the missions, Menchero paused to address "certain things worthy of attention." Henceforth, no missionary was to order Indians to work outside the mission "unless payment is made to them in advance." No friar was to charge an Indian any fee whatsoever for administering the sacraments. Considering "the malice and passion that reigns in this kingdom," he must not accept anything, under any circumstances, even if offered freely. For the sake of decency and cleanliness, Menchero appealed to them to get the nests of swallows out of their churches. Any friar who showed up in Santa Fe without permission of the vice custos and good reason would be subject to six months at the mission of Zuñi for the first offense, and for subsequent offenses, arrest by "the secular arm" and summons before the custos.

Fray Juan Miguel Menchero, Comisario Visitador

Lastly, he pleaded with the friars to get along with government officials. If an alcalde mayor did something "contrary to the service of God, the welfare of the Indians, and the will of the Catholic Majesty"—like forcing them to herd stock in various places without pay—the missionaries were to try prudent and fraternal persuasion. If that did not work, they should report the offense to the vice-custos, who would take it up with the governor. "From the unity of Your Reverences with the great zeal of His Lordship," quoth Menchero rhetorically, "better service to Both Majesties is bound to result." [39]

He might as well have been beating his head against an adobe wall.

Bishop Elizacoechea at Pecos

As for bishops, another soon came visiting, despite the unsettled question of his legal right to do so. This time, the friars backed down. Crespo's successor, Doctor don Martín de Elizacocchea, "bishop of Durango, the kingdom of Nueva Vizcaya, its confines, and the provinces of New Mexico, Tarahumara, Sonora, Sinaloa, Pimas, and Moqui, of His Majesty's council, etc.," rode up to Pecos with his Basque suite late in August of 1737. He was permitted free access to the church, the mission books, and everything else.

"Having inspected the church of said pueblo," read the note in the Pecos book of baptisms, "its baptismal font, oils and holy chrism, the sacristy, vestments, altar stone and altar, and having said the responsories in the form prescribed by the Roman Ritual, he declared that everything was appropriately decent and according to law." He expressed his thanks to Pecos missionary Fray Diego Arias de Espinosa de los Monteros and encouraged him to continue the good work. He included no admonition to learn Towa. Whether the bishop spent the night in the convento or in the casas reales, the note did not say. [40]

In the twenty-three years that elapsed between Elizacoechea's visitation and that of a successor, the friars came to see bishops as the lesser of two evils. The governors were their real scourge.

title page
Title page of a brief of the lawsuit brought by Bishops Crespo and Elizacoechea against the Franciscans over episcopal jurisdiction in New Mexico. Wagner, Spanish Southwest, II

Apostles to the Hopi and Navajo

While neglecting Pecos, where the Comanches began to make themselves felt in the late 1730s, the Franciscans directed their apostolic labors to the west. Old Fray Carlos Delgado went out to the apostate Hopi pueblos in 1742 and led back a migration of hundreds of refugees, mostly descendants of the Tiwas who had fled during the 1680s. He also opened up the Navajo field for his brethren, claiming thousands of conversions. Later in the 1740s, the irrepressible Fray Juan Miguel Menchero picked up the initiative.

These new spiritual conquests were the friars' best answer to their critics, a demonstration to the world that the missions of New Mexico were still "living vineyards of the Lord" and their missionaries true heirs of the apostles. Yet the governors opposed them, maliciously, it seemed to them. When reports by the outspoken Fray Andrés Varo reached the viceroy, he decided to send a member of his household, don Juan Antonio de Ornedal y Maza, to New Mexico to get the facts. Instead, Ordenal got together with the hot-headed, youthful Gov. Tomás Vélez Cachupín, another member of the viceroy's "family," and "hell conspired" to roast the missionaries of New Mexico as they had never been roasted before. But they did not wither. Rather they fought hellfire with hellfire. [41]

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