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 1: The Invaders, 1540-1542

A Spaniard's Description of Cicuye

For an Indian pueblo, all agreed, it was impressive. "Cicuye," wrote chronicler Pedro de Castañeda,

is a pueblo of as many as five hundred warriors. It is feared throughout that land. In plan it is square, founded on a rock. In the center is a great patio or plaza with its kivas (estufas). The houses are all alike, of four stories. One can walk above over the entire pueblo without there being a street to prevent it. At the first two levels it is completely rimmed by corridors on which one can walk over the entire pueblo. They are like balconies which project out, and beneath them one can take shelter.

The houses have no doors at ground level. To climb to the corridors inside the pueblo they use ladders which can be drawn up; in this way they have access to the rooms. Since the doors of the houses open on the corridor on that floor the corridor serves as street. The houses facing open country are back to back with those inside the patio, and in time of war they are entered through the inside ones. The pueblo is surrounded by a low stone wall. Inside there is a spring from which they can draw water.

The people of this pueblo pride themselves that no one has been able to subdue them, while they subdue what pueblos they will. [10]

sketch of pueblo
Southwest corner of Pecos plaza. Artist's restoration by S. P. Moorehead. Kidder, Pecos. New Mexico

Origin of Cicuye

Ever since at least the thirteenth century by Christian reckoning, the upper Pecos River Valley had been a frontier of the Pueblo Indian civilization that flowered in the cliffs and valley floors to the west. While Spaniards under the sainted Ferdinand III took the offensive against the Moors, recapturing Córdoba in 1236 and Sevilla in 1248, a sedentary, farming, pottery-making people was settling the banks of the Pecos. This cultural and human migration came mainly from the area of the San Juan drainage. It seems also to have absorbed increments from the plains to the east. Geographically, the upper Pecos lay between; culturally, it owed more to pueblos than to plains.

sketch of birds
Bird forms from Forked Lightning-Pecos black-on-white pottery. After Kidder, Pottery, I

The immigrants had lived at first in haphazard collections of rectangular rooms built mostly of coursed adobe mud, easily added to or abandoned as need arose, sometimes more or less linear, sometimes enclosing small patios, "straggling affairs on flat land open to attack from any direction, sites chosen with no eye to defense." One such town, known to archaeologists as the Forked Lightning Ruin, lay on the west bank of the Arroyo del Pueblo, or Galisteo Creek, just half a mile below the site of the future Cicuye and a little over a mile above the arroyo's confluence with the Pecos. Its time of maximum occupancy, during which it must have housed hundreds of people, had run from about 1225 A.D. to 1300, when nomads from the plains, or other Pueblos, began sporadic raiding.

Forced for the first time to think in terms of defense, the people of Forked Lightning had made an orderly exodus up the arroyo and crossed over to where a steep-sided, flat-topped ridge afforded them an unobstructed view all round. To the north loomed the great gray-green mountains in whose ponderosa fastness the river rose. Clear and cold but shallow, really no more than "a small perennial stream," it flowed by their ridge a mile to the east. The valley here, four or five miles wide, was contained toward the sunrise by the gentler foothills of the Tecolote Range and toward the sunset by the towering reddish cliffs of Glorieta Mesa. Here, too, scattered piñon and juniper trees, chamisa bushes and cholla cactus gave way to open spaces of tall native grasses. If one followed the river southeastward around the end of the Tecolote foothills, he soon looked out upon the ocean-like expanse of the true plains.

sketch map of ruins
A. V. Kidder's excavations of the Forked Lightning Ruin, 1926-1929. Black walls masonry, all others coursed earth; skeletons (flexed) shown as oriented, cross-lined buried above floor level, others below or in open. Kidder, Pecos, New Mexico

For about a century and a half, from roughly 1300 to 1450, generations of the Forked Lightning people and others who joined them on their long narrow ridge, or mesilla (literally, little mesa), had moved about from one spot to another, building new clusters of one-storied dwellings rather than repairing the old ones. Because there was an abundance of sandstone at hand, they had become masons, laying up walls of "stones embedded between cushions of mud." Curiously, their earliest work was their best. Examining examples of later buildings, pioneer archaeologist Adolph Bandelier concluded that it was no better than "judicious piling," and sometimes worse.

Presumably because of pressure from enemies, everyone in the valley had gathered on the mesilla by about 1400. Around 1450, a year before Isabella of Castile was born in Spain, they had begun a monumental community project. Designed in advance and built as a unit, a single, defensible, multi-storied apartment building, it took the form of a giant rectangle around a spacious plaza. In all, it covered about two acres at the mesilla's north end. This was the fortress-pueblo of Cicuye, or Pecos.

Factionalism at Cicuye

sketch of pottery
Pecos Glaze IV pottery. Kidder, Pottery, II.

By the time the Spaniards appeared, Cicuye, with a population of two thousand or more, stood alone as the easternmost of the Pueblo city states. Although its people shared the Towa language with the Jémez pueblos sixty miles to the west, they were in no binding way allied with them. In fact, to the Spaniards' bewilderment, each of the one hundred or so native communities that qualified as pueblos in l540, whose citizens spoke eight or more mutually unintelligible languages, was a politically autonomous unit. Alliances for the most part were unstable and shifting. Still, Cicuye commanded respect. Among the largest and most powerful of the city states, it enjoyed by 1540 the benefits of a well-developed commerce between pueblos and plains. Inside Cicuye's protective walls of stone and earth, however, in the midst of prosperity, the seeds of factionalism may already have taken root.

Living together in such close quarters, the Pueblos had long striven for conformity of behavior. Passive assent to the group will, suppression of individualism, and the pursuit of uniformity in all things characterized Pueblo tradition. There was no place in the rigidly controlled Pueblo community for the boastful self-assertiveness esteemed among some plains tribes. Yet at Cicuye, gateway to the plains, the danger of such "contamination" ran high. Plains Indians came regularly to trade at Cicuye. Slaves from the plains lived in the pueblo. And certain men of Cicuye, it would seem, in the interest of diplomacy and trade had become virtual plainsmen themselves, men like Bigotes. [11]

Reception of Spaniards

They all came out that day to gawk and to receive the Spaniards. "With drums and flageolets similar to fifes, of which they have many," they escorted their visitors into the pueblo. The mood was one of guarded festivity. As an offering, the Indians laid before Álvarado and his men quantities of native dry goods—cotton cloth, feather robes, and animal skins. They held out objects made of turquoise mined locally. As intently as any fortune seeker, Father Padilla studied these natives for just one ornament of gold, for some indication of trade with the rich Seven Cities he sought so passionately,

But they wore none. Their beads and pendants were of turquoise, shell, and non-precious stones. They prized eagle claws and grizzly bear teeth. Flageolets, whistles, and rasps they fashioned from bone, and jingles from shell. Despite his disappointment, the friar must have proceeded as in the other pueblos. [12]

sketch of flageolets
Pecos flageolets made from bird bones, up to 8" long. Kidder, Artifacts

Ever since the first twelve Franciscan apostles of New Spain had erected a great cross at Tlatelolco in 1524, members of the Order had been setting up crosses in Indian communities wherever they went. Father Padilla reported to Coronado from Tiguex that they had put up large crosses in the pueblos along the Río de Nuestra Señora. And they had "taught the natives to venerate them." Watching the Indians sprinkle sacred corn meal and tie prayer plumes to the crosses, the Spaniards assumed that they were venerating them. "They did it with such eagerness," Father Padilla observed,

that some climbed on the backs of others in order to reach the arms of the crosses to put plumes and roses [feather rosettes] on them. Others brought ladders, and while some held them others climbed up to tie strings in order to fasten the roses and feathers." [13]

Reading the Requerimiento

At some point during the festivities, Álvarado was obliged to explain to assembled Cicuye what it meant to be vassals of the Spanish crown. Almost certainly he had the requerimiento read to them, as he had ordered it read to the Hopis. This remarkable manifesto, which had accompanied all Spanish conquerors in America since 1514, related how God the creator and lord of mankind had delegated His authority on earth to the Pope, "as if to say Admirable Great Father and Governor of men," and the Pope in turn had donated the Americas to Their Catholic Majesties, the kings of Spain. Therefore, Cicuye must acknowledge the sovereignty of "the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world," the Pope, and in his name, Charles, king of Spain. They must also consent to have the Holy Catholic Faith preached to them. They would not be compelled to turn Christian unless they themselves, "when informed of the truth, should wish to be converted." If they did, there would be privileges, exemptions, and other benefits.

But should they refuse, the requerimiento continued, "we shall forcefully enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses." Their wives and children would be sold into slavery, their goods confiscated, and their disobedience punished with all the damage the Spaniards could inflict. "And we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, or of these soldiers who come with us." [14]

If they understood any of it, which is unlikely, the people of Cicuye did not object, not initially.

The invaders stayed several days, camped outside nearby. One of them, after a look around, reported that the pueblo had "eight large patios each one with its own corridor." He must have been referring to patios on the upper levels of the house blocks, not to the great central plaza. [15] Even though made of rough sandstone and mud, some of the houses struck him as tolerably good. For the characteristic underground rooms they found in the pueblos, the Spaniards used the descriptive word estufa, in Spanish a heating stove, and by extension, an enclosed heated room for sweat baths. They assumed that these warm estufas with their fire pits served as quarters for the unmarried lads of the pueblo and as council rooms for the men, as baths in the Roman sense, On first contact, the invaders missed the kivas' religious function.

Pedro Cajete
Pedro Cajete, a Pueblo Indian with bigotes, or mustaches. Photographed by F. A. Rinehart, 1898. George Bird Grinnell, The Indians of To-Day (Chicago, 1900).

The People of Cicuye

The inhabitants of Cicuye, in the Spaniards' eyes, were no different from those of Tiguex. They looked the same. They showed the same respect for their old men, practiced the same division of labor between men and women, and raised the same crops—maize, beans, and squash—except for cotton and turkeys which they obtained in trade. They dressed the same, made similar pottery, and observed many of the same customs. As in the other pueblos, the Cicuye maidens, Castañeda noted later, "go naked until they take a husband, because the people say that if they do wrong it will soon be seen and therefore they will not do it." [16]

Álvarado and Father Padilla pressed their hosts about what lay to the east. The Indians obliged with two guides, captives from "the kingdom of Quivira" on the eastern plains. Because one of them looked to the Spaniards like a Turk, they called him El Turco. The other, known as Sopete, was the same lad who had sported the buffalo painting on his body. Despite language barriers, El Turco proved extremely apt at communicating. He soon grasped what the invaders were after.

drawing of bison
Buffalo as pictured in López de Gómara's history, 1554.

With the loan of El Turco and Sopete, the Spanish column sallied forth from Cicuye. "After four days' march from this pueblo they came upon a land flat like the sea. On these plains," wrote an eyewitness, "is such a multitude of cattle that they are without number." Álvarado had discovered the buffalo plains. After his men had enjoyed some sport jousting with the beasts, the captain ordered an about-face. He had something more important than buffalo to report to his general.

top of pageTop

previousPrevious Table of Contents Nextright