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

Renewed Interest in the Pueblos

After decades of dealing with naked Chichimecas, friar and slaver approached the Pueblo peoples with new respect. They gratefully distinguished these rumored city dwellers as gente vestida, clothed people. A captured native, who told of "very large settlements of Indians who had cotton and who made blankets for clothing, and who used maize, turkeys, beans, squash, and buffalo meat for food," fired their imaginations, for different reasons.

By the late 1570s, such reports, which seemed to confirm the allusions to rich northern cities in Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's book, had emboldened a small company of veteran Indian fighters and prospectors. They had talked Fray Agustín Rodríguez, an overeager Franciscan lay brother, into petitioning the viceroy for a permit "to preach the holy gospel in the region beyond the Santa Bárbara mines." [5] Without the cover of evangelization, such an entrada would have been illegal.

A native of Niebla, not far from where Columbus sailed in 1492, Fray Agustín had made his profession in 1541 at the Franciscans' Convento Grande in Mexico City. He had traveled widely among the Chichimecas "with the zeal of converting those barbaric infidels." In the Santa Bárbara area, this simple Franciscan evangelist fell in with frontiersmen Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado, Pedro de Bustamante, and Hernán Gallegos, an ambitious young paisano from Andalucía. When he learned of their willingness to join him in exploration, Rodríguez trudged back to the capital where he appeared before the viceroy in November 1580 and won approval to travel as a missionary north from Santa Bárbara. Moreover, he might take with him other friars and up to twenty men as an escort. Before he set out again for the frontier, he recruited two priests from the Convento Grande, Fray Francisco López, another Andalusian who went as superior, and Fray Juan de Santa María, a native of Cataluña well versed in the science of astronomy. [6]

Rodríguez-Chamuscado Foray

Before anyone had second thoughts, the little expedition trooped out of Santa Bárbara in the dry heat and dust of early June 1581. [7] Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado led the escort of mounted men-at-arms which, including him, numbered nine. Each had an Indian servant. The three friars took along half a dozen Indians and a mestizo. Driving several hundred head of stock, they followed the drainage of the Río Conchos northward to the Rio Grande, which they eventually called the Guadalquivir after the river that flows through Sevilla, birth place of both Fray Francisco López and Hernán Gallegos. These were the first Spaniards of record to approach the pueblos up the great river.

sketch of three friars
After Códice Azcatitlan, central Mexico, 16th century.

Although some of the naked peoples first encountered fled—for fear they were slavers—the Spaniards, according to Gallegos' account, inspired both respect and friendship by firing their arquebuses, giving cheap trade goods, and setting up crosses. By August 21, they were camped beside the first inhabited pueblo, some thirty miles below today's Socorro. Here they took possession of the province for Spain, naming it San Felipe in honor of the king. Again they had to entice the natives back from the hills. Traveling on through the Piro pueblos of gente vestida, who lived in tiered houses "white-washed inside and with well-squared windows," they exulted that surely they were being "guided by the hand of God."

For the next five months this daring party of nine armed Spaniards with servants, friars, and livestock toured the pueblos. Because they were constantly reminded of the sedentary Mexican Indians—and because they were quite naturally maximizing the importance of their exploration—the members of the expedition began calling the province of the Pueblo Indians "the new Mexico." This time the name stuck. [8]

Though the accounts are vague, evidently Sánchez Chamuscado and his men, who now threw off their guise of subordination to the Franciscans, proceeded eagerly up the Guadalquivir through the Tiwa pueblos. These Indians, so badly beaten by Coronado's army forty years before, received the Spaniards with cautious hospitality, as did the Keres farther north. From here, it would seem, the intruders were led on a quick "one-day" trip to see a pueblo which, with the possible exception of Ácoma, impressed them as more populous than any other. This probably was Coronado's Cicuye.

Nueva Tlaxcala

They did not say that they entered it, only that they saw and "discovered" it. It had, wrote Gallegos, "five hundred houses of from one to seven stories." In a later effort to ingratiate themselves with the king, the discoverers designated this prominent pueblo a royal town whose tribute, once New Mexico was pacified, would go directly to the crown. "Because of its size," they called it Nueva Tlaxcala after the capital city of Cortés' stalwart allies. The people of this new Tlaxcala indicated by signs that there were other pueblos farther on, but the Spaniards, short of horseshoes and gear, turned back. They made no demands of the inhabitants. [9]

Spaniards on horseback
Spanish horsemen portrayed by the native artists of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, central Mexico, mid-16th century. Redrawn by Jerry L. Livingston.

Valley of the Rio Pecos
Valley of the Río Pecos at La Cuesta, twenty-five miles downstream from Pecos pueblo, after a painting by Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen, 1853. Whipple, Report of Exploration.

A 16th-century map of New Spain west and north of Mexico City, featuring Guadalajara, the "rich mines of Zacatecas" (top center), and the ferocious Chichimecas (AGI, Torres Lanzas, México, 560). Courtesy of the Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, Spain.

The Death of Father Santa María

The expedition had already begun to break up. Apparently just before or just after the discovery of Nueva Tlaxcala and a successful buffalo hunt, the astronomer Fray Juan de Santa María struck south from the Galisteo Basin with two native servants. He meant to report the soldiers' insubordination and to bring back more friars. The date was September 7, 1581. A few days later while he lay sleeping somewhere just east of the Manzano Mountains, the local natives dropped a big rock on him, crushing him in the manner they reserved for evil witches. [10]

When the rest of the little band learned of Fray Juan's murder, they pretended not to understand. Instead, keeping up a bold front, the soldiers threatened to burn the pueblo of some Indians who had killed three horses and to execute the culprits. All that fall they explored the province, from the extensive salines of the Estancia Valley to the "great fortress" of Ácoma and the Zuñi pueblos beyond. Because of snow, they did not go to Hopi.

The surviving two friars meanwhile had begun evangelizing the southern Tiwas of the Rio Grande. On January 31, 1582, at Puaray, the escort bid the Franciscans and their servants farewell—reluctantly, says Gallegos—and made for Santa Bárbara with the news of their discoveries.

Native ceremony
Shalako, the Zuñi winter solstice ceremonial. Century (Feb. 1883).

The Escape of Gallegos

The ailing Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado, bled by his companions with a horseshoe nail, died en route. The others rode into Santa Bárbara and woke up the town with a volley from their arquebuses. It was Easter Sunday, April 15, 1582. Early next morning, the aspiring Hernán Gallegos, taking all the pertinent documents and two of his comrades, galloped out of Santa Bárbara hell-bent for Mexico City. He barely eluded the grasp of local officials who sought to secure for the Ibarras this "new discovery which they are calling the new Mexico." [11]

The second expedition of rediscovery, another small scale impromptu affair, resembled the first and grew out of the Franciscans' concern for their two brethren left defenseless among heathens two hundred leagues beyond Santa Bárbara. Again, an opportunistic frontier "captain" stepped forward to offer the friars his services. Again, dissension split the expedition once it reached New Mexico. And again, a handful of haggard adventurers returned full of wonders they had seen or imagined. [12]


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