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 2: The New Mexico: Preliminaries to Conquest, 1542-1595

I traveled throughout the whole of that new land on all the explorations made. I saw with my own eyes all that there is in it and I perceived with the utmost clarity . . . the particular malice that intervened to obstruct and prevent what was to the best interest of your royal service, namely, that it be settled.

Juan Troyano to the king, December 20, 1568

From this Río de Tibuex, which they say is four hundred paces wide, the army marched toward Cicuic, the best and most populous of the pueblos discovered by Coronado and Antonio de Espejo. It is congregated on a high and narrow hill and enclosed on both sides by two streams and many trees. The hill itself is cleared of trees. Half a league from the site is a heavy growth of cedars, pines, and oaks. Entrance is on the east and west sides. It has the greatest and best buildings of those provinces and is most thickly settled by gente vestida [clothed people]. They possess quantities of maize, cotton [?], beans, and squash. It is enclosed and protected by a wall and large houses, and by tiers of walkways which look out on the countryside. On these they keep their offensive and defensive arms, bows, arrows, shields, spears, and war clubs. On the shields are painted some red crosses like the Tau insignia [evidently a familiar phallic symbol among the Pueblos].

Baltazar de Obregón, Historia, 1584

A Veteran Remembers

Juan Troyano, veteran of Coronado's army, had not forgotten. More than a quarter-century had passed, yet he could still see the crowded plaza of Cicuye, the people's feather robes and their turquoise. The haunting strain of their flageolets and the cadence of the chants came back to him. He recalled the incredible sight of a buffalo herd that blackened the horizon and the strength of an angry bull hoisting a horse on its horns. He could see the tierra nueva, the new land, in his wife's face. She was, he claimed, the only woman brought back from there.

Still, in all the years since his return from the north, Troyano had found only three government officials, or so he said, who would admit the truth—that Spain had knowingly turned her back on a countless multitude of heathen souls, and in so doing had denied them the saving water of baptism.

book page
Title page of Cabeza de Vaca's book, first edition published in Spain, 1542, featuring Spanish Hapsburg coat of arms. Wagner, Spanish Southwest, I

Troyano wrote to the king from prison. He had been put away five years before, in 1563, for, in his words, "speaking the truth and remaining faithful to your royal crown against those who exceed their authority." As a partisan of New Spain's jealous second-generation, Troyano laid to venal, power-mad royal officials the corruption and confusion he saw around him. He begged Philip II to send honest judges and to restore military command to the second Marqués del Valle, son of Cortés. For himself, he sought a reprieve and the authority to implement reforms as protector general of Indians. And lastly, stressing the advantage of having a native wife, Juan Troyano wanted to join the, Marqués del Valle in an expedition "to settle that new country which Francisco Vázquez de Coronado discovered and add to our Holy Catholic Faith and the majesty of your royal crown another new world." [1]

But Philip II, sobered by near civil war in New Spain, had no intention of allowing don Martín Cortés another chance. If new expeditions to Quivira were to be, they would spring not from a junta of disgruntled conquerors' sons, but from the frontier society emerging to the north, a society based on silver, slaving, and stock raising.

Silver Strike at Zacatecas

The spectacular failure of Coronado set the conquest of the far north back a lifetime. Realized wealth closer at hand, in the form of an incredibly rich silver strike, soon captured the fancy of New Spain. Quivira was forgotten.

In September 1546, six months after Coronado was acquitted of all charges arising out of the Cíbola quest, a small party of mounted Spaniards with their ever-present Indian auxiliaries and four Franciscan friars camped at the foot of a distinctive hump-backed mountain a hundred and fifty miles north of Guadalajara. Capt. Juan de Tolosa was out pacifying Indians and prospecting. When he enticed some scared Zacatecos down the mountain, whose shape reminded someone of a hog bladder, the natives handed him chunks of silver ore. Within four years there had sprung up "a turbulent mining camp, full of prospectors from all parts of New Spain, who abandoned mines as quickly as they opened them up, jumped claims and neglected to register their workings." Fifty mine owners with mule-driven stamp mills and smelters and foundries, employing hundreds of Indians and black slaves, soon operated in the shadow of "La Bufa."

The mines of Zacatecas represented more than princely wealth for Tolosa and his Basque cronies. It represented a commitment to bring within the Spanish empire the vast and harsh Gran Chichimeca, a region twice the size of "civilized" Mexico. It meant conquest and pacification by sedentary New Spain of the nomadic peoples who inhabited the high deserts and jagged sierras, and who by their ferocity and oneness with the environment more than made up for the sparsity of their presence.

The Nomadic Chichimecas

They were the "Chichimecas," a generic term of contempt picked up by the Spaniards from the natives of central Mexico meaning something like "dirty, uncivilized dogs." Far-ranging hunters and gatherers who planted maize only marginally, they presented the conquerors with a wholly different challenge. They refused to settle in pueblos. They refused to work voluntarily in stinking mines. The more the Spaniards learned of the Chichimecas, the more they despised them.

At first the nomads struck at stragglers on the lonely roads between mining camps and at isolated ranches. They favored ambush and surprise hit-and-run attack. Their deadly accuracy, penetration, and rapid fire with bow and arrow awed Spanish soldiers. No Spaniard who survived ever forgot an attack by the screaming, stark-naked Guachichiles, their bodies painted grotesquely, their long hair dyed red. Stories of the excruciating, slow mutilation practiced on captives, of frenzied Chichimecas drunk on fermented juices, and of ritual cannabalism deepened the Spaniards' disgust.

sketch of Natives with bow-and-arrows
After a 16th-century map in Powell, Soldiers

War by Fire and Blood

sketch of Spaniards on horseback
After Códice Florentino, central Mexico, 16th century.

For a generation and more, from roughly 1550 to 1585, most Spanish frontiersmen so abhorred the Chichimecas that they could think of no alternative to enslavement or annihilation. Even in the face of intensified Chichimeca hostility, the mining-slaving-ranching frontier advanced hundreds of leagues, creating pockets of Spanish settlement in the vastness between the two great coastal sierras. Towns were fortified, travel was restricted to armed convoys, and military men preached all-out war, guerra a fuego y a sangre, by fire and blood! In response, the Chichimecas banded together, at times under the effective leadership of indios ladinos, natives who had lived with the Spaniards and had learned their ways. They began to use horses. Now they attacked towns and wagon trains.

While royal officials sought to impose peace on contentious Spaniards in central Mexico, they left the Chichimeca war pretty much in the hands of individual frontier captains. Not until the politically stable viceregency of Martín Enríquez, 1568-1580, did the government take the initiative. A general build-up, the founding of defensive towns, new regulations on slaving, plus unified command, financing, and supply—these measures, the hawks avowed, would rapidly bring the savages low.

A chain, of frontier garrisons, or presidios, was set out along the major roads and manned by the first regularly paid and organized Spanish troops in New Spain. Still, jealous, sell-serving captains more interested in profits than military advantage kept taking natives, peaceful as well as hostile, and selling them as slaves. Despite the government's war effort, the Chichimecas struck at will. Mines lay idle, towns deserted. Not all the Spaniards in New Spain, wrote the disillusioned Enríquez to his successor, would be enough to conquer the wild men of the north. [2]

sketch of Spaniard on horseback
After Lienzo de Tlaxcala, central Mexico, 16th century.

A Peaceful Alternative

There was an alternative to military conquest—peace by persuasion. The famous Fray Bartolomé de las Casas had spent a lifetime preaching its virtues. But not until Spaniards on the embattled northern frontier began to admit that they were losing the war against their detested enemies could such an idea influence general policy. Long before that, however, certain vocal individuals spoke out against the war.

One advocate of peaceful persuasion, a sort of frontier Las Casas, was Fray Jacinto "Cintos" de San Francisco, conqueror-turned-Franciscan lay brother. As Sindos de Portillo, soldier of Cortés, he had been rewarded with Indian tributaries, mines, and laborers. But he had renounced all that for the habit of St. Francis. Unlike many of his religious brethren, Fray Cintos refused to end his days at a comfortable convento among the sedentary Indians close to Mexico City. He looked instead to the pitifully neglected north and beyond to el nuevo México, the new Mexico, that mysterious land from which the Aztecs and their civilization allegedly had sprung, a place Coronado had somehow failed to find.

In 1561, after he had been recalled temporarily from the tierra de guerra, the war zone, because of Zacateco hostility, the friar professed his commitment in a letter to Philip II written from Mexico City.

In the hope of seeing in my time another spiritual conquest like that of this land, I set out from this city in the company of two other religious, now more than two years ago, in search of the New Mexico, of which there has been word, although unverified, ever since we came to this land. . . . We traveled one hundred and fifty leagues from this city to where there is a great disimilarity in the people. They are at war with the Spaniards. I do not know if it is a just war. I do know that they came to see us and to beg that we go baptize their children. They appeared very content with us.

Had the viceroy provided a captain, fifty "good Christian" Spaniards, and a hundred peaceful Chichimeca auxiliaries, Fray Cintos believed, "without wars, killing, or taking slaves, the way might have been opened from here to Santa Elena and to the new land where Francisco Vázquez de Coronado went, and many leagues farther." This was a region so immense in the friar's mind that he envisioned a thousand or two thousand Franciscans engaged in the conversion of its inhabitants. The new Mexico would have been verified at last. But unfortunately the viceroy, occupied in launching Tristán de Luna y Arellano's ill-starred expedition to La Florida, could not spare the men.

Fray Cintos appealed to the king. Like Las Casas, he inveighed against Spanish greed and cruelty toward the natives. He wanted the Chichimeca war and the killing stopped. He urged a peaceful campaign completely under the management of the Franciscans with the assistance of a God-fearing captain and a hundred moral Spaniards.

In a related memorial to the king, Dr. Alonso de Zorita, justice (oidor) of the audiencia, or high court, of Mexico and the Franciscans' choice for the assignment, proposed to conquer the Chichimecas "by kindness, good works, and good example." If the Spaniards would but give these Indians the chance, asserted Zorita, they would settle down in towns, respond to the friars' gentle rule, and embrace the civilized agricultural way of life. In the long run, the expenses of such a policy would be less than the cost of waging war. But the Council of the Indies disagreed. Fray Cintos and Alonso de Zorita were a generation ahead of the times. [3]

sketch of Native with bow-and-arrows
After a 16th-century map in Powell, Soldiers.

Franciscans on the Silver Frontier

Under the cloud of guerra a fuego y a sangre, war by fire and blood, condoned by a majority of their Order, the few Franciscans in the north did what they could to instruct the Chichimecas. Fray Cintos and a handful of his brothers worked in the early 1560s alongside the young Francisco de Ibarra, founding towns like Nombre de Dios and Durango and exploring the sprawling, ill-defined province of Nueva Vizcaya. Lucas, the donado who had been with Coronado and who had witnessed the death of Fray Juan de Padilla, assisted the missionaries as interpreter and catechist. He must have filled old Fray Cintos' head with grand stories of the buffalo plains and populous pueblos like Cicuye.

By 1566, the year Fray Cintos is supposed to have died from a scorpion's sting, Francisco de Ibarra had trekked back and forth across the rugged western Sierra Madre over much of Sinaloa and Sonora, the region that would later become the Jesuits' northwest missionary empire. Ibarra and Fray Pablo de Acevedo camped in the impressive Casas Grandes ruins in the northwestern corner of the present state of Chihuahua, just days short of the Pueblo Indians. Meanwhile east of the mountains, the mining frontier vaulted north up the "middle corridor" as Avino, Indé, and Santa Bárbara were staked out.

The first of a cluster of settlements in the rich Parral mining district, Santa Bárbara developed slowly. Founded about 1567 by Ibarra's able associate, Rodrigo del Río de Losa, the community in the mid-1570s had a population of only some thirty Spanish families and a few natives. A serious labor shortage at first retarded the mining operation. The nearby Concho Indians, whom the Spaniards described as naked, lazy, and unattractive, were little inclined to work for Spanish masters. So the slavers pushed farther, provoking, hostilities and catching what hostiles they could. The mesquite and grasses of this entire foothill region proved ideal for grazing, and the valleys grew good wheat. The mining, stock raising, slaving frontier had reached present-day southern Chihuahua. [4]

With a thousand arroyos leading north to the Río Conchos and then to the Rio Grande, it was now only a matter of time before Spaniards would appear anew to demand allegiance from the Pueblos.

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