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

Pecos Mission at Mid-Century

Despite the crescendo of royal governors and missionaries having at one another, life at Pecos changed little. Every year there were fewer people. A squad of Spanish soldiers moved in west of the convento beyond the casas reales to help defend them against assault by the Comanches. Governor Codallos y Rabal petitioned the Franciscan commissary general in 1744 to remove Fray Juan José Hernández, on-again off-again minister at Pecos, because, in Codallos' words, "every day I receive pitiful complaints from the Indians because of his bad treatment of them." [42]

Six years and six missionaries later, the Pecos governor and the cacique, responding through an interpreter, answered the vice-custos' questions about Fray Francisco de la Concepción González just the way they were supposed to. He was never absent from the mission. He said Mass on Sundays, he instructed them and their children daily in the catechism, and he spoke to them in Spanish "so that they might learn the language." He charged no fee for baptisms, marriages, or burials, or for celebrating the patron saint's feast, August 2. He succored the pueblo when in need. Never had he taken anything from their homes or corrals. Never had they woven mantas for him. Willingly they planted four fanegas of wheat and half a fanega of maize for his sustenance and that of four boys, a bell-ringer, a porter, a cook, and three grinding women. They also provided firewood for the convento. [43]

Father González, their missionary for part of 1749 and 1750 had scars to show, figuratively speaking, from his battles with royal governors. Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza, 1739 to 1743, had accused him of complicity in the alleged native uprising plotted by one Moreau, a French immigrant later sentenced to die. As a result, the friar's superiors had recalled him to Mexico City and had subjected him to judicial inquiry. A fellow missionary, testifying in González' behalf, swore that his conduct had been exemplary, that he had always tried to keep the peace by preaching the Gospel. Moreover, he had repaired the churches and conventos of Santa Fe and Nambé and had rebuilt the Tesuque church from the foundations up, begging the means from among the citizenry and donating a large part of his own royal allowance.

Acquitted and back in New Mexico, the undaunted Father González had run afoul of Governor Codallos. When the friar objected to the governor's use of some Tesuque laborers, whom Codallos allegedly had taken away from catechism and church construction and then had failed to pay, and when the missionary refused to perjure himself in Codallos' behalf, the governor's friendship turned to mortal hatred. He vowed to break the insubordinate friar. And in that spirit he revived the old charges. [44] But Gonzales outlasted Codallos and moved out to Pecos late in the summer of 1749. While there, he compiled the most accurate census of the pueblo to date, correcting in the process the wild guess of Custos Varo.

The Pecos Census of 1750

Contrary to what Varo said, there were not as many Pecos at mid-century as there had been fifty years before, not nearly as many. Disease, emigration, and attacks by hostile Plains Indians had cut their number in half. Finding no census in the provincial archive in 1749, Varo had estimated the pueblo's population at more than a thousand. Father González counted each and every one, but he did not bother to add them up. Someone else, taking issue with Varo, noted on González' census "there are probably 300 persons here." Actually there were 449: 255 adults and 194 children.

Except for Agustín, who headed the list as cacique, and Francisco Aguilar, evidently an Indian or a thoroughly accepted mixed-blood González valiantly rendered the native surnames of every adult male and nearly every woman along with his or her Christian given name. He grouped them according to where they lived, but in such a way as to drive an archaeologist up the wall. He began, it would seem, with the South Pueblo and then moved north:

"east side of the community house block (cuartel de la comunidad)"
     36 adults, 40 children
"west side of said house block"
     50 adults, 35 children
"small plaza (placita)"
     29 adults, 15 children
     88 adults, 70 children
"east side of plaza house block"
     52 adults, 34 children [45]
page from census
First page of the 1750 Pecos census, in the hand of Fray Francisco de la Concepción González (BNM, leg. 8, no. 81).

Bishop Tamarón Made Welcome

During the 1750s, while the population of Pecos fell from 499 to 344, the governors kept the Franciscans pretty well muzzled. When, in 1759, a third bishop of Durango announced his intention to visit New Mexico, the friars were almost eager. They wanted to talk. This bishop, the untiring, practical, wide-eyed Dr. Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, the bluerobes made welcome, in his words, "as if they were secular priests." [46]

The bishop and his suite, which included a corpulent black valet who "must have excited the Indians' imagination," rode in the company of Custos Jacobo de Castro and an armed escort over the mountain from Santa Fe to Pecos on Thursday, May 26, 1760. Despite the weight of his responsibilities, His Most Illustrious Lordship was enjoying himself. "He was one of those inveterate tourists who delight in new scenes and little-frequented places and have a flair for collecting odd bits of interesting information." [47]

sketch of Bishop
Bishop Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, a sketch from his portrait at the cathedral in Durango.

The Pecos came out on horseback to meet him, performing "many tilts to show how skillful and practiced they are in riding." Fray Francisco Javier DÁvila Saavedra, a native of Florida now in his mid-forties, awaited him at the church door. Inside, Bishop Tamarón administered the sacrament of confirmation to 192 Pecos, although, as he later admitted, it caused him considerable mental anguish. The adults simply were not properly instructed. During the ceremonies, one of the principal men, Agustín Guichí, a Pecos carpenter, seemed to be studying the bishop's every move.

In the course of his inspection, Tamarón charged Father DÁvila to prepare a book of confirmations so that these and subsequent ones might be legally recorded. He asked why there had been no marriage entries in more than a year. No marriages had been performed, DÁvila replied.

The Language Problem

With the Pecos books before him, the bishop began to lecture the friar. One thing more than any other "saddened and upset" him. It was the same thing that had dismayed Bishop Crespo thirty years before. In all these years, the friars had failed to learn the native languages or to teach the Pueblos intelligible Spanish.

His Most Illustrious Lordship charged him exceedingly to try his utmost to dispose the Indians, his parishioners, to confess annually, for it has been said that they do not do so, but rather leave it only for the point of death, the reason being that said Father missionary does not understand them. He has two alternatives, either have them learn the Spanish language or work up an interrogatory for confessions in their language.

hand-written note
Notice of Bishop Tamarón's visitation, May 29, 1760, in the Pecos book of burials (AASF).

It was not only confession. The Pueblos, in the opinion of Bishop Tamarón, were woefully ignorant of the chief truths and duties of the Christian faith. They could recite in unison some of the catechism, but since they did not understand Spanish, they had no idea what they were saying. For one thing, he ordered Father DÁvila to give up the current practice of having the native fiscales, or catechists, lead the Pecos in group recitations. Rather, each individual should be examined separately.

Again language was the key. Interpreters, who only added to the confusion, were not the answer. The friars simply had to come to grips with the Pueblo languages. He commanded them to. He begged them to. He offered to pay the printing costs of native-language catechisms and guides to confession. Still, after repeated and vehement admonitions, the custos and missionaries "tried to excuse themselves by claiming that they could not learn those languages."

It was, to be sure, the friars' most glaring failure in New Mexico, and some of them admitted it. But it was not all their fault. The Pueblos had learned by the eighteenth century that the surest defense of their traditional culture was to guard their languages. By refusing to surrender this key to their closed Pueblo world, they not only blocked Christian invasion but they insured as well its quiet permanence.

Those few friars who did learn a Pueblo language in the eighteenth century did so most often at Zuñi or one of the other western pueblos where the people were not so much under the eye of the Spaniards and not so secretive. In utter frustration, Castro related to Bishop Tamarón how his friars were thwarted by Pueblo interpreters who seemed to be deliberately confusing them or by "the rebelliousness of the people." The bishop himself had admitted that in matters of trade and profit "the Indians and Spaniards of New Mexico understand one another completely," Yet when it came to the catechism, the Pueblos were ignorant. [48]

That was no accident. The Spaniards' Christian zeal, diluted in eighteenth-century New Mexico, was no longer a match for the reinforced tenacity of the Pueblos.

A Memorable Burlesque at Pecos

Three months after Bishop Tamarón's visitation, there occurred at Pecos one of the most delightful events in the annals of New Mexico's past, at least when viewed from the twentieth century. The bishop had an account of it published to illustrate the marvelous workings of Christian divine retribution. It also said something about the Pecos after a century and a half of domination by Both Majesties, after assaults by smallpox and Comanches, after the violence of their own discord, and after the reduction of their people by eight of every ten. Their spirit had not broken.

It was mid-September, about harvest time. They must have been feeling glad. There were a few soldiers on escort duty at the mission, but the missionary was probably off in Santa Fe. The Pueblos had long featured "sacred clowns" in their ceremonials, clowns who, unlike the rest of the people, could ridicule even the supernaturals. Why not ridicule a bishop?

The originator of this performance was one of the Indian principal men of that pueblo, called Agustín Guich´, a carpenter by trade. He made himself bishop, and, in order to present himself to his people as such, he designed and cut pontifical vestments. Making the mitre of parchment, he stained it with white earth. Out of a cloak (tilma), he made a cape like the cope used at confirmations, and he fashioned the rochet out of another cloak. He made a sort of pastoral crosier from a reed.

The aforesaid Agustín donned all this, mounted an ass, and two other Indians dressed themselves up to accompany him in the capacity of assistants. One took the part of the Father Custos. They put a garment like the Franciscan habit on him, and they painted the other black to represent my man. These two also rode on similar mounts, and, after all the Indian population had assembled along with others who were not Indians, to the accompaniment of a muffled drum and loud huzzas, the whole crew, followed by the three mounted men with Agustín, the make-believe bishop garbed as such in his fashion, in the middle, departed for the pueblo. They entered it at one o'clock on the fourteenth day of September, 1760. They went straight to the plaza, where the Indian women were kneeling in two rows. And Agustín, the make-believe bishop, went between them distributing blessings. In this manner they proceeded to the place where they had prepared a great arbor with two seats in it. Agustín, who was playing the part of the bishop, occupied the chief one, and Mateo Cru, who was acting the Custos, the other.

And the latter immediately rose and informed the crowd in a loud voice that the bishop ordered them to approach to be confirmed. They promptly obeyed, and Agustín, garbed as a bishop, used the following method of confirming each one who came to him: He made a cross on his forehead with water, and when he gave him a slap, that one left and the next one came forward. In this occupation he spent all the time necessary to take care of his people, and after the confirmations were over, the meal which had been prepared for the occasion was served. Then followed the dance with which they completed the afternoon. On the next day the diversion and festivities continued, beginning with a Mass which Bishop Agustín pretended to say in the same arbor. During it he distributed pieces of tortillas made of wheat flour in imitation of communion. And the rest of the day the amusement was dancing, and the same continued on the third day which brought those disorders and entertainments to an end.

On the fourth day, when the memorable Agustín no longer found occupation in the mockery of his burlesque pastimes as bishop, he went about the business of looking after his property. He went to visit his milpa, or maize field, which was half a league away near the river. Then he sat down at the foot of a juniper tree opposite the maize. He was still there very late in the afternoon as night was drawing in, when a bear attacked him from behind, so fiercely that, clawing his head, it tore the skin from the place over which the mitre must have rested. It proceeded to the right hand and tore it to pieces, gave him other bites on the breast, and went away to the sierra.

According to the investigation of this singular event conducted by don Santiago Roybal, vicar of Santa Fe, the mortally wounded Agustín repented. He acknowledged to his brother that "God has already punished me." As he lay in his house dying, he called for his son and told him "to shut the door." Then in confidence he admonished him: "Son, I have committed a great sin, and God is punishing me for it. And so I order that you and your brothers are not to do likewise. Counsel them every day and every hour."

Agustín confessed his terrible sin, through interpreter Lorenzo, to Fray Joaquín Rodríguez de Jerez, who afterward administered extreme unction. Then he died. The friar interred his mutilated body on September 21 in the Pecos church. [49]

Fiscal Juan Domingo Tarizari testified that he had examined the bear's tracks. It had come straight down out of the sierra, had mauled Agustín, and had gone back without even entering the milpas to eat maize. This was strange behavior for a bear. A bear simply did not attack a man unless the man was chasing the bear. To Bishop Tamarón, the message was clear.

The Most High Lord of Heaven and Earth willed this very exemplary happening so that it should serve as a warning to those remote tribes and so that they might show due respect for the functions of His Holy Church and her ministers, and so that we might all be more careful to venerate holy and sacred things; for the punishment that befell [Agustín Guich´] does not permit us to attribute its noteworthy circumstances to mere worldly coincidence. [50]

title page
Title page of Tamarón's six-page Narrative of the Attempted Sacrilege Commited by Three Indians of a Pueblo of the Province of New Mexico and the Severe Punishment Divine Retribution Inflicted upon the Main Perpetrator among Them, México, 1763. Wagner, Spanish Southwest, II

The Decline of Pecos

In the generation after Agustín's memorable burlesque, the gods, both Christian and Pueblo, frowned on Pecos. Not that it was all smallpox, Comanches, famine, and death, but the Four Horsemen did gallop through these years with devastating clatter. Immersed in their own problems, not the least of which was manpower, the Franciscans neglected Pecos more and more, to the point in the 1770s and 1780s that they expected the people to come up to Santa Fe for baptism and marriage. The statistics, devoid though they are of human pathos, of the whimper of a dying child, chart the pueblo's unrelenting downward course.





* includes some refugee Tanos
** no entries for 1780-1781, time of great smallpox epidemic
x first Spaniards and genizaros at San Miguel del Vado, 1798-1799 (150 by 1799)

Before he was through with his thankless assignment, Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, chosen comisario visitador in 1775 because of his capacity for incisive observation, his meticulousness, and his candid integrity, would cause his superiors to rue their choice. He was too incisive, too meticulous, too candid. Worse, he was a perfectionist, although not without a redeeming wit and sense of the ridiculous. The superiors wanted a report on conditions in the custody, which they knew were bad, but evidently they had not expected to be told, in such painful detail, just how bad.

The conscientious, Mexico City-bred Father Domínguez hit it off with Col. don Pedro Fermín de Mendinueta, a native of Navarre thirty-five years in the royal service. Mendinueta, who reflected the heightened attention to duty of Charles III's bureaucracy, had governed New Mexico for nearly a decade. In the spring of 1776, while Domínguez and his two companions shared Mendinueta's table, visitor and governor talked.

sketch of church and convento
The Santa Fe church and convento. Horace T. Pierce's drawing based on the 1776 description by Father Domínguez. Adams and Chávez, Missions

Franciscan Neglect of Pecos

"In the private conversations we two had during those days," Domínguez reported to his provincial, "he asked me for a friar for the Pecos mission, giving me good reasons, among them the long time those souls have gone without spiritual nourishment." The visitor agreed and at once assigned one of his companions, the youthful Fray José Maríano Rosete y Peralta. But just as Rosete was leaving, a letter arrived from Fray Silvestre Vélez de Escalante of Zuñi. Vélez, who would join Domínguez that summer in an attempt to reach Alta California by striking northwestward from Santa Fe, asked that Rosete be named assistant at Zuñi. The visitor consented, and "the mission of Pecos remained as before."

It was as if the friars of Santa Fe, who were supposed to be looking after Pecos, along with Galisteo and Tesuque, had forgotten the mission existed. During 1767 and 1768, Mendinueta's first two years in New Mexico, they had celebrated twenty-one baptisms for the Pecos, but since then only fifteen in seven years. During his entire tenure to date, nine years, they had entered in the Pecos books only two marriages and seven burials. "The lord governor deplores this," Domínguez continued, "but he is satisfied with the reasons I have given him to persuade him that not everything can be as we should like."

Mendinueta was satisfied but not satisfied. When the Father Visitor began to speak and gesture earnestly of explorations north and west from New Mexico, and of all the heathen peoples crying out for baptism, the governor stopped him cold with a question. "If there are not enough fathers for those already conquered, how can there be any for those that may be newly conquered?" It was a good question, one calculated, in Domínguez' words, to "chill a spirit ardently burning to win souls." [51]

The Meticulous Visitation of Domínguez

In late May or early June 1776—as sweat ran down the necks of delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, two thousand miles away—Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez conducted his visitation at Pecos, the most thorough ever. He began with a brief description of the physical setting.

The pueblo and mission of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Pecos is 7 leagues southeast of Santa Fe at the foot and lower slope of the Sierra Madre [later, the Sangre de Cristo] mentioned at the said villa. It is located and established on a good piece of level ground offered by a low rock, which is easy to climb. This rock is more or less boxed in between a sierra and a mesa. The sierra [the Tecolote Range] lies to the east, about 3 or 4 leagues from the pueblo, and the mesa to the west, about a quarter of a league from it. The buildings are on the said rock, surrounded by a fence, or wall, of adobe [stone].

He moved on next to the meticulous portrayal, paraphrased earlier in this chapter, of church and convento. He did not bother with the casas reales, saying only that a former alcalde mayor, Vicente Armijo, had taken the balusters from the western mirador of the convento and put them in the casas reales. [52] To feed the missionary, when they had one, and his convento staff, the Pecos tended five pieces of ground: a "beautiful" walled vegetable garden abutting the cemetery on the west and four large milpas north, west, and south of the kitchen garden not more than a quarter-league away. They would not tell him what the yield was. Instead, "they do say uproariously that wheat, maize, etc., are sown, except for chile, and that a sufficient amount is harvested." Since there was no missionary, they had planted these field for themselves.

top of pageTop

previousPrevious Table of Contents Nextright