"In the Midst of a Loneliness":
The Architectural History of the Salinas Missions
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In 1669, Fray Juan Bernal remarked on the twin misfortunes that had caused so much difficulty in the Province of New Mexico for the last three years and that threatened to "put it out of existence." These were the war with the Apache Indians, which had escalated in severity since the mid-1660s, and crop failure, which had been causing problems in one part or another of the Province of New Mexico since 1667. [1]

Bernal was prophetic: he was observing the beginning of the process that put the Province of New Mexico "out of existence." The twin stresses of famine and Indian insurrection eventually caused the abandonment of the Salinas Jurisdiction in the late 1670s and contributed to the loss of the entire Province of New Mexico in 1680. The famine was not quite as catastrophic as he stated--Indians were not dying of hunger in wholesale fashion beside the roads of the entire province--but there were severe food shortages in the province and perhaps four hundred and fifty deaths from starvation and thirst at Las Humanas. In addition, some of the Indian uprisings were not just Apache attacks, but Pueblo Indian revolts on a small scale. [2]

The Decline and Abandonment of the Salinas Missions

As the situation in New Mexico deteriorated, civil and religious authorities in the province began to consider the possibility of pulling back from some of the more exposed or less self-supporting pueblos. The areas of greatest concern were those at some distance from the northern Rio Grande Valley. These were the jurisdictions of the Hopi, the Zuñi, Las Salinas, Galisteo and the Piro at the south end of the province. The closing of a mission at a pueblo during the famine years was the direct equivalent of abandoning the pueblo. When the missionary moved, he attempted to move the Christianized Indians with him to prevent their returning to their old pagan ways or being harmed by anti-Christian factions. The removal of Franciscan support and some number of Indians from a pueblo caused severe damage to the subsistence system of the pueblo, perhaps leading to abandonment by anti-Spanish factions, too. From the viewpoint of the Spanish government, however, the situation was even worse. Since the closing out of a mission under the circumstances of the late 1660s and early 1670s meant the probable abandonment of the place, or at least the end of effective Spanish control over the pueblo, the provincial government lost the tribute of that pueblo. This, in turn, theoretically meant the loss of the services of the encomendero who received that tribute. The closing of a pueblo could translate directly into a reduction of the military strength of the province. Closing a pueblo had serious implications and far-reaching consequences, and would not have been carried out without painful reassessments of strategy and the military situation by both the civil government and the Franciscans. The loss had to be outweighed by the gain in terms of the survival of the province. If the province had not gained by the closing of the Salinas pueblos, one by one, the combined capabilities of the civil and religious administrations would have found a way to keep them occupied.

Poor harvests caused the missions to institute food distribution in the Salinas pueblos and other areas of New Mexico in the winter of 1667-68. In 1668, Bernal stated, more than 450 Indians died of starvation at Las Humanas. At the same time, Apache raids increased. In 1670 the mission at Las Humanas was seriously damaged in an attack on September 30. The Apaches probably destroyed the church of San Isidro and several rooms of the old convento. [3] This was effectively the end for Las Humanas. The Franciscans probably closed the mission in 1671, and Fray Joseph de Paredes and the surviving population of five hundred families retreated to Abó and then on to the Piro-speaking missions of the Rio Grande valley to the west probably Isleta, where Paredes became guardian in August, 1672. [4] To facilitate the defense and the provisioning of the province of New Mexico, the final consolidation of the Salinas frontier had begun.

In November, 1671, if not earlier, Fray Francisco Gómez de la Cadena, the guardian of Tajique and its visita, Chililí, began feeding those two pueblos out of mission stores. [5] At the same time a detachment of soldiers was stationed at Chililí, from which they patrolled the area. They, too, were supplied out of the mission storehouses. [6]

The situation continued to deteriorate. A second, larger military detachment was assigned to Abó in May, 1672, again supplied out of mission stores. [7] Fray Alonso Gil de Avila, the resident minister, was also feeding the pueblo of Abó by this time. A similar military detachment was probably stationed at Quarai, where Fray Diego de Parraga would see to their supplies. [8]

The Crisis

These difficult years demonstrated that the claims made by the Franciscans about storing up for the bad days were true. Throughout the seventeenth century the civil government criticized the missions for their huge flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and their storehouses full of corn and wheat. The missionaries invariably replied that in times of famine "rations were distributed to their parishoners, whenever requested, on Sundays for the entire week . . . ." The mission storerooms and herds had supplied the pueblos of Tajique and Quarai during the famine of 1659-60, and did so again in 1667-72. [9]

The accountings from Abó and Tajique clearly document the Franciscan effort in 1671 and 1672. From November 1671 to July 1672, Fray Francisco Gómez de la Cadena of Tajique gave 11,063 pounds of corn, 202 pounds of beans, 12 cows, 14 sheep, and 554 feet of cloth for clothing to needy families in the pueblo. He also gave 3,451 pounds of corn to the pueblo of Chililí and 609 pounds of corn and 16 sheep to the military detachment. [10]

From May to September, 1672, Fray Alonso Gil de Avila of Abó gave 4,466 pounds of corn, 12 cows, and 37 sheep for food, 605 pounds of corn for planting the fields in May, and the fleeces of 250 sheep to be made into clothing for his pueblo. During the same period he supported the military detachment at Abó with 990 pounds of wheat, 84 pounds of beans, and 21 sheep. [11]

Quarai may not have suffered from the same famine as the other missions, since its water supply, a series of springs, was more dependable than that of the other pueblos. A military detachment at Quarai the same size as that at Abó would consume perhaps four sheep and 198 pounds of wheat (or 159 pounds of corn) per month. [12] The detachments were probably about ten men and thirty or more horses at Chililí, and thirteen men and forty or more horses at Abó. [13]

During the emergency of 1667 to 1672, the resources of the entire Franciscan establishment in New Mexico were used to meet the needs of the pueblos. Fray Alonso Gil de Avila, at the end of his list of expenditures for 1672, stated that "all of which [supplies] I have sought after and obtained, for the love of God, aided only by the Religious of the Conventos and especially our most revered Father Custodian." At least seven other pueblos on the frontiers of the province were also being supplied by the Franciscans. This amounted to a staggering expenditure of food, and a convincing argument that the Franciscans were serious about their planning for the lean years. [14]

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006