"In the Midst of a Loneliness":
The Architectural History of the Salinas Missions
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In the 1580s, when the first Spanish explorers marched through the area, the Salinas pueblos were already large villages. They had grown up over the previous centuries, the inheritors of the cultures that for several thousand years had occupied the Salinas Basin and the surrounding mountains and deserts. The Spanish incorporated the Salinas area into their existing social and administrative structures: the Roman Catholic Church and the civil government.

The church established a series of outposts called missions along the west edge of the Salinas Basin. Using the missions as starting points, the church endeavored to convert all the Indians of the Salinas area to Christianity and a European life-style. The missions were the hands of the church, part of a hierarchy of authority and responsibility extending all the way to the pope in Rome. At the same time they were agents of the Spanish crown, part of the pacification mechanism used on new frontiers. They supplied moral teaching, pragmatic training in farming and ranching, new food plants and animals, and instruction in the ways of European culture. They demanded labor and obedience in return.

The civil government of the Province of New Mexico also extended its authority into the Salinas Basin. This authority ultimately derived from the king of Spain, who ruled by Divine Right. The governor, appointed by the king's viceroy, the political head of New Spain, established his headquarters in Santa Fe. He appointed prominent settlers as alcaldes mayores, the representatives of his authority in subdivisions of the province called jurisdicciones, or jurisdictions. The governor gave selected men of the province the right to collect tribute from the pueblos in the form of cloth and grain, in return for their promise to supply military service when it was needed. The privilege was called encomienda, and the men who received it encomenderos. The encomendero, and others, also acquired some control over land not legally used by the Indians. The Europeans settled in the Salinas area as they had in the Rio Grande Valley, establishing a subsistence economy dependent on sheep and cattle ranching and farming. [1]

The settlers brought ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, that differed from the teachings of the church. The encomenderos demanded their tributes, sometimes without regard for whether the Indians had enough to feed themselves. The alcalde mayor enforced the decrees of the governor, although sometimes they undermined the authority and image of the church. The result was conflict between the church and the civil government, the two authorities that claimed the right to rule the pueblos.

The daily life of the pueblos and missions, and the changes in that life resulting from the stresses between the church, the pueblos and the government, left their marks on the structures built by each group. In order for the origin, changes, and abandonment of the structures at the Salinas pueblos to be understood, the context within which these events occurred must be known.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006