The New Mexico: Preliminaries to Conquest
The "Christianization" of Pecos
The Shadow of the Inquisition
Their Own Worst Enemies
Pecos and the Friars
Pecos, the Plains, and the Provincias Internas
Actually, neither people nor place really died. They
simply parted company.
At Jémez pueblo, the Pecos refugees settled into
homes and planted fields provided by their hosts, but they did not
forget who they were. They spoke the same language, noted Lt. James H.
Simpson in 1849, but they "differ somewhat in their religious customs."
They did not forget even as one generation followed upon the next.
Studying Jémez in the early 1920s, anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons
came away with the impression
that in the ceremonial organization there exists
something of a cleavage between the "Pecos race" and the
old-timers of Jémez. In particular I recall the scorn expressed by a Pecos
descendant in opining that "these Jémez people don't know anything," and
in describing a meeting of the Old Men where it was plain that the only
ones who knew anything were the chiefs of the Pecos societies,
including the chief of the tab ö' sh who had married into Pecos
The Jémez people had welcomed the remnant of
powerful Pecos. These immigrants, headed by Juan Antonio Toya, brought with
them religious objects and practices to add to those of Jémez. They
brought with them the Pecos bull, and fetiches, and the Pecos Eagle
Catchers' society. And they brought an image of Nuestra Señora de los
Ángeles, La Porciúncula, whose feast, August 2, the pueblo of Jémez
began to celebrate along with that of its own patron San Diego. Not
everything they carried from Pecos stayed at Jémez however. In 1882, for
example, Judge L. Bradford Prince "obtained" from Pecos immigrant
Agustín Cota a wooden plaque of Our Lady of
the Angels from the mission church at Pecos, or so
Cota led Prince to believe.
The pueblo of Jémez by R. H.
Kern. Simpson, Journal
They did not forget. From time to time they made
pilgrimages back to their ancestral home, where they continued to
maintain shrines. Another link, forged mainly of paper by agencies of
the United States government, bound the displaced Pecos and the memory
of the land they had once occupied. For more than a century, from 1855,
when a claim to the Pecos league was filed in behalf of "the inhabitants
of Pecos Pueblo," until 1959, when the Indian Claims Commission
dismissed the last Pecos bid for additional compensation, the existence
of a recognizable community of Pecos Indians at Jémez vaguely disquieted
those who took up the land in their absence.
Not that the Pecos ever seriously thought of
reoccupying their league. They were too few. Besides, Hispanos had long
been farming the good land along the river. What they wanted, they
explained to Superintendent of Indian Affairs Michael Steck in 1864, was
permission to sell the 18,763.33 acres confirmed to them by Congress.
Steck promised to ask the commissioner in Washington. The claimants,
all residents of Jémez, now numbered seven men and twenty-five women and
children. Because the Pecos Pueblo grant included several hundred acres
of fine farm land "and one of the best water powers in the Territory,"
its sale, Steck though, could bring $10,000 or more. Later in 1864, the
government issued a patent. Juan Antonio Toya now had a paper.
"The watch for Montezuma" by Paul
Frenzeny and Jules Tavernier. Harper's Weekly (May 22,
Four years hence, Toya and ten others, three of them
women, put their x's on paper and their grant in the hands of
indispensable, resilient, sometimes drunken John N. Ward, special agent
to the Pueblos, their friend. For $10.00 they sold to Ward the northern
quarter outright, that portion already encroached upon by Hispano
residents of Pecos village. At the same time, they gave him power of
attorney to sell the rest in their behalf. Ward cast about for a buyer.
The U.S. Supreme Court, meantime, lent its support, deciding in
United States v. Joseph (1876) that the Pueblo Indians were not
wards of the government and therefore, like other citizens, could
dispose of their property as they saw fit.
By 1872, Ward had found his buyer, the debonair Las
Vegas merchant and speculator Frank Chapman. The price to the Pecos for
their three-quarters was $4,000, the price to Ward for his quarter,
$1,300. That should have been that, as far as the Pecos were concerned,
but it was not. Forty years down the roadafter title to the grant
had changed hands several times, at least once over a meal in a
New York restaurant, after "a large hotel scheme for the ruins of Pecos"
was scrapped and a fortune made cutting railroad ties, after purchase by
the mercantile firm of Gross, Kelly and Companythe Supreme Court reversed itself. It found in
United States v. Sandoval (1913), marvelous to relate, that the
Pueblo Indians had been wards of the government after all. Therefore
they could not have alienated their lands. Therefore Gross, Kelly and
Company's paper title was invalid, or was it? Therefore the Hispanos of
Pecos village were illegal squatters, or were they?
Agustín (Cota) Pecos, last of his
pueblo, died 1919. Photographd by Kenneth M. Chapman, 1902. Museum of
The outcry was resounding. Dozens of lawyers hurried
into the fray, along with champions of Indian rights like John Collier
and Stella Atwood. One estimate put the number of
non-Indian, property-holding trespassers on Pueblo
grants at three thousand. Were they all to be ejected and the lands
restored to the Indians? Were they to be compensated? Or were they to
stay put and let the government compensate the Indians? And what about a
long-abandoned pueblo like Pecos? On the advice of white friends, Pablo
Toya, son of Juan Antonio, requested in 1921 a certified copy of the
patent to the Pecos Pueblo grant. The paper issued to his father had
The three-man Pueblo Lands Board, created by Congress
in 1924 to identify all valid non-Indian holdings within the external
boundaries of recognized Pueblo Indian grants or purchases and to assess
the Pueblos' losses, did not get around to Pecos until 1929. Even
though, the pueblo had been abandoned under the previous sovereignty of
Mexico, the Board reasoned that the United States government, by
confirming the grant to the Pecos remnant at Jémez, had obligated
itself to protect the Indians' interest, which it had failed to do. As a
result, the Indians claiming Pecos ancestrywhose numbers based on
church records were now estimated as high as 250deserved an
A somewhat exaggerated 19th-century
sketch of Pecos. William M. Thayer, Marvels of the New West
In the meantime, Gross, Kelly and Company had filed
suit to quiet title on the whole grant. Rather than do battle in the
courts with the exising village of Pecos, the company gave up its claim
to the northern half in return for a quitclaim to the southern 9,831
acres. That settled that. The Pueblo Lands Board found in 1930 that the
339 adverse claims to Pecos lands had legally and utterly extinguished
all Indian title to the entire 18,763.33-acre grant. None of
the land was recoverable. As compensation, the Board recommended $1.50
per acre, based upon "approximate average value from the
occupancy of this territory in 1846 to the present time," which
amounted to an award of $28,145.00. In 1931, Congress appropriated that
sum to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Pecos remnant at Jémez.
Again that should have been that.
Abandoned "Catholic Church" and
convento, Pecos, 1846, by John Mix Stanley. Emory, Notes
But in 1946 the Indian Claims Commission Act,
intended to settle once and for all Indian claims against the United
States for loss of aboriginal lands, opened the door again. Instead of
seeking to establish the Pecos Indians' shadowy claim to aboriginal
territory, which, in the hands of competent expert witnesses might have
been made to encompass all the drainage of the Pecos River for at least
sixty miles from Tererro to Anton Chico, attorneys for the "Pueblo de
Pecos" attacked only the amount of the previous award. It was, they
alleged in a petition filed July 30, 1951, both "inadequate and
insufficient." In response, the government alleged that the Pueblo de
Pecos was not now a proper party to bring suit. The Pecos remnant and
the Jémez, it seemed, had been merged in 1936 into the consolidated
Pueblo de Jémez. Only it could bring suit.
Undaunted, the lawyers for the Pecos in 1955 bid to
amend their original petition by making the claimant all-inclusive: the
"Pueblo de Pecos, Pueblo de Jémez, and Pueblo de Jémez acting for and on
behalf of Pueblo de Pecos." They further moved to include "a plea of
lack of fair and honorable dealings" on the part of the Pueblo Lands
Board. It worked. Over government objections, the Commission allowed
the a mended petition.
Finally heard on its merits in 1959, the Pecos plea
fell short. The Commission, after reviewing the dealings of the Pueblo
Lands Board, could find no evidence of negligence or unfairness. Since
neither the Pecos nor the United States had appealed the decision at the
time, the initial award stood as "a final judgment fixing the value of
the lands and water rights lost by the Pecos Pueblo." Such a judgment
was not subject to review or revision by the Indian Claims Commission.
Still, they have not forgotten. Emboldened by the
precedent of the Taos Blue Lake decision in 1971, which returned to the
ownership of Taos pueblo an object of religious veneration, the Pecos
have asked the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game to return to them
the cave at Tererro, sixteen miles up the Pecos River from their former
pueblo. It is sacred ground, they say.